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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Up Next “Ronin” with Robert DeNerio–Movie Buff SS Says It Has One Of The Greatest Car Chase Scenes In Movie History. Well We WIll Just See About That.

Good friend and sterling movie viewer was emphatic that Ronin has one of the greatest car chase scenes in movie history. Naturally I am skeptical. So we will just see about SS’s statement and make him put his money where his mouth is.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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Finally A Remake That Lives Up To The Original: Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai (2012).

Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai.

Takashi Miike’s “Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai” is a retelling of Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 black-and-white classic “Harakiri” reviewed by JPFmovies on March 28th, 2011.  On the heels of a successful remake of “13 Assassins,” Takashi Miike looks more to storytelling than drawing blood with “Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai,”  a theatrically faithful retelling of Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 black-and-white classic “Harakiri.” Anyone expecting the action packed samurai sword fighting of 13 Assassins is looking in the wrong place.  This drawn-out tragedy is a variation on the old-fashioned samurai-movie themes of honor, sacrifice and retribution and his second salute to the Japanese films of yesteryear.

In 17th-century Japan, a long period of peace has thrown most of the samurai population out on the streets making our protagonist, Hanshiro, the latest penniless ronin seeking an end to a disgraceful life through ritual suicide.

Hanshiro, an older, battle tested samurai, approaches the rich House of Li wanting to use the mansion’s courtyard to commit seppuku.  The clan’s leader, Kageyu begins telling Hanshiro the story of the unfortunate young man named Motome, who recently made the same request.  Motome, however, expected that he would be turned away with a few coins but the Li samurai called his “suicide bluff,” forcing him to cut his stomach open with a dull bamboo “sword.”  They called his bluff to so that word would get around the poor ronin circuit not to go to the House of Li for a handout.

As the story of Motome is told to Hanshiro, the viewer is faced with a downright gruesome visual of Motome’s seppuku, much longer and more detailed than in the original film, Motome’s seppuku is almost torture to watch.  Because technology has advanced in the 50 years since the original movie was made, you feel the ghastly impact of every squirt and squish as the bamboo blade tears at the flesh.  This is a hard scene even for a seasoned film veteran, but it is also the film’s sole moment of violence until the end.

As the movie progresses, Hanshiro begins to tell his story, slowly revealing that he knows all about Motome, who in fact was his son-in-law.  He then tells the crowds of samurai watching this event the tale of how Motome, the proud son of a local official and samurai, came to be struck so low as to try and get three ryo from the House for his sick wife and infant child who ultimately died.  Hanshiro also tells the clan that he has come for revenge, and throws three top-knots on the ground—the ultimate insult to a samurai.  What’s more, is that Hanshiro has acquired these top-knots without killing their owners, subjecting them to unbelievable shame.  Unlike in the original film, the viewer does not see the sword battles between Hanshiro and his prey.  Instead, the fights make a mockery of his opponent’s skills with them lasting just a few seconds.  While it fits perfectly in the remake, it may not appeal to modern audiences expecting every action sequence they see to be better than the last.

After playing with his opponents for a while, Hanshiro eventually succumbs to his wounds but not before knocking down a full suit of armor sacred to the clan, scattering its pieces all over the room.  In both films, this samurai suit of armor looms large, signifying the warrior’s life to which the clan’s retainers’ aspire.  The samurai are speechless when the armor falls and the film closes with scenes of the three samurai that have lost their topknots committing seppuku.

Like in the original film, Hara-kiri questions the “honor” of the samurai completely.  It shows them playing their parts with pomp and circumstance, despite the fact that none of these samurai have seen real combat.  When it comes to fighting Hanshiro, an older (but battle tested), dirt poor, tired ronin who makes umbrellas for a living, he exposes them up for the frauds they are.  In both films, the samurai suit of armor looms large, heralding the warrior’s life to which the clan aspires.  If anything, destroying the armor is far more powerful in the original film: that the retainers and samurai have learned nothing from this encounter and simply cover their tracks to avoid embarrassment.

I loved the original film and I am always weary of remakes.  Having said that, Miike really does an excellent job—even casting actors that are almost identical looking to the characters in the 1962 film, right down to Hanshiro’s facial hair.  Moreover, Miike makes good use of advancements in technology.  The set for the movie is immaculate and detailed to the point of seeing the pattern on the columns.  Masaki Kobayashi would probably be quite flattered if he saw this film—as he should be.  Having seen the original took much of the greatly cultivated suspense out of the film for me.  The first time viewer, however, will have the privilege of being drawn into this Shakespearean tragedy.  Commercially, Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai will not reach the box office receipts that Miike’s previous remake of 13 Assassins did.  But this movie is for a much different crowd.  To enjoy Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai you have to be patient and unfortunately 99% of the movie watchers trained by Hollywood have the attention span of a gnat—which is too bad because it is a better film than his remake of 13 Assassins.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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I watched the Zero Effect with Dr. H a few days ago and came to the realization that the JPFmovies original review of this great (yet sleeper) film was piss-poor and the movie deserved better. So here we go.

To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the woman.  I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name.  In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex.  It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler.  All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind.  He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position.  He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer.  They were admirable things for the observer—excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives and actions.  But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. —Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “A Scandal In Bohemia

I watched the Zero Effect with Dr. H a few days ago and came to the realization that the JPFmovies original review of this great (yet sleeper) film was piss-poor and the movie deserved better.  So here we go.

The Zero Effect is one of my favorite movies probably because it is based on the great Sherlock Holmes short story A Scandal in Bohemia by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as quoted above.  The film stars Bill Pullman as Daryl Zero (Sherlock Homes), a gifted but bizarre private detective who is socially awkward and inept when he is not on the job.  His “Dr. Watson” is portrayed as Steve Arlo (Ben Stiller) a lawyer.  Zero keeps himself locked in his apartment where, like Holmes and his violin, he composes dreadful songs on his guitar and subsists on a diet of tuna, Tab, and amphetamines (Holmes’ drug use included cocaine, morphine and other narcotics).

Put succinctly, the Zero Effect starts out as a case of a tycoon who lost his keys.  The keys turn up in the place where most lost keys are found in between the cushions of the couch.  From there, the story opens up into a tale of blackmail, family secrets and a decades-old murder for hire. 

The film continues to mimic A Scandal in Bohemia.  Zero is retained by Gregory Stark (Ryan O’Neal), a wealthy man who hires Zero to investigate who is blackmailing him.  Likewise, Holmes is retained by his Majesty the King of Bohemia to find some compromising documents involving the King and his indiscretion with “the woman.”  During the investigation, Zero ventures outside of his apartment encountering Gloria Sullivan (Kim Dickens) the film’s Irene Adler (Adler, as we know, was the only woman who had the wit to outdo Holmes, and he loved her for it).  Sullivan is the blackmailer (like Adler) and as the film progresses, they begin to fall in love.  While in the end of the film Zero bests his Adler, but because of his love and admiration for Sullivan, he lets her go with the blackmail money to hide from Stark who alludes to killing her.

There are even more detailed similarities between the ingredients of the Zero Effect and those of A Scandal in Bohemia, featuring the sole romantic imbroglio of Holmes’ career as one can see in the above passage—and a minimal one at that.  Likewise, Daryl Zero experiences the only romantic predicament of his career with Gloria Sullivan—though significantly more explicit which can be attributed to the passage of time between the two works. 

Additionally, both the film and the story use false fires to flush out the blackmailer.  In the story, Watson tells us that “at the signal I tossed my rocket into the room with a cry of “Fire!” The word was no sooner out of my mouth than the whole crowd of spectators, well dressed and ill–gentlemen, ostlers, and servant-maids–joined in a general shriek of “Fire!”  Thick clouds of smoke curled through the room and out at the open window. I caught a glimpse of rushing figures, and a moment later the voice of Holmes from within assuring them that it was a false alarm.”

Ryan O’Neal is instructed by the blackmailer (Sullivan) to pull the first fire alarm he sees after depositing the blackmail money at the drop point where Daryl Zero is waiting to see who emerges from the bathroom with the cash.

Written and directed by Jake Kasdan (son of the famed of Lawrence Kasdan whose career includes such works as Body Heat and Dreamcatcher) and considering the peculiar nature and tenor of the film, the Zero Effect should have a following akin to that of The Big Lebowski or Napoleon Dynamite.  Unfortunately, even though technology now allows film watcher to find virtually any movie with little or no effort thereby turning previously disregarded films into cult classics, fate seems to have passed over the Zero Effect.

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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Jane Fonda you turned down making the classics Bonnie & Clyde and Rosemary’s Baby to star in Barbarella (1968)? A very courageous decision, I’ll never think of you the same way again.

Barbarella?  I’d never heard of it until a reader requested that it be reviewed.  After watching the film, I am sort of at a loss on what to write.  Some scenes in Barbarella remind me of Caligula’s world (like a huge hookah filled with water and a man floating around being smoked by several women as “essence of man”).  I could see Caligula embracing something akin to the human hookah seen in Barbarella; then there is another completely campy side to the film like when some strange children start sending remote control dolls with razor sharp teeth to torture and presumably kill her.  Strange, yes, weird, yes should you watch it on LSD or mushrooms?  Not a chance.

 

We are treated to an opening scene where Jane Fonda (our hero Barbarella) is provocatively stripping off her space suit during the opening credits.  This striptease will be one of many outfit changes throughout the film.  After she is done taking off her space suit inside her gold shag floor to ceiling carpeted spaceship command center, she gets a call from the President of the republic of earth—who tells her not to bother putting on any clothes for the video call and she agrees.  The President assigns Barbarella to retrieve the evil Doctor Durand Durand (Milo O’Shea) from the planet Tau Ceti in order to save the Earth.  Apparently, Durand Durand invented a Positronic Ray, a weapon that could to fall into the wrong hands and destroy earth.

Barbarella finds the planet and crashes her ship.  She is soon knocked out by two strange girls that hit her with a snowball filled with ice and capture her.  Barbarella is pulled behind some sort of stingray like creature that the girls use as a sled dog and is taken to the wreckage of a spaceship called the Alpha 1 (presumably, this is Durand Durand’s ship.  Barbarella’s own vessel is the Alpha 7).  Inside Alpha 1, she is tied up and a gang of insane looking children emerge from the shadows and set out several dolls which have razor sharp teeth to bite her.  Barbarella faints but is rescued by Mark Hand (Ugo Tognazzi), a “Catchman,” that patrols the ice looking for these deviant children.  The grateful Barbarella offers to reward him for saving her.  Without batting an eyelash, Mark Hand asks to make love to her.  Barbarella is dumbfounded after she realizes he means using “the bed” or “the old-fashioned way.”  Barbarella reveals that people on Earth no longer have traditional sex, but make love by consuming exaltation transference pills, and pressing their palms together when their “psychocardiograms are in perfect harmony.”  Hand prefers the bed, and Barbarella agrees, insisting there’s no point to doing it that way.  Hand’s vessel makes long loops around Barbarella’s crashed vessel while the two make love (off screen), and when it finally over Barbarella is in a state of grace.  Hand repairs the ship, and Barbarella departs, promising to return, and agreeing that doing things the old-fashioned way is best.

 

She takes off and upon emerging from her ship, Barbarella is knocked unconscious by a rockslide.  She is found by a blind angel named Pygar—the last of the ornithanthropes, but he has lost the ability to fly.  Barbarella discovers this labyrinth is a prison.  Pygar introduces her to Professor Ping (Marcel Marceau), who offers to repair her ship.  Ping points out that Pygar is capable of flight, but can’t for mental reasons.  Barbarella shows her thanks by making love to Pygar who has regained his will to fly.  Pygar flies Barbarella to Sogo, a decadent city ruled over by the Great Tyrant and powered by a liquid essence of evil called the Mathmos.

 

Barbarella is caught by some sort of creature and is to be pecked to death by parakeets.  Barbarella is rescued by Dildano (David Hemmings), leader of the resistance to the Great Tyrant.  Barbarella eagerly offers to reward Dildano, and begins to remove her torn suit, but Dildano says he has the pill, and wants to experience love the Earth way (literally a hair curling experience for Barbarella). Dildano offers to help Barbarella find Durand Durand in exchange for her help in deposing the Great Tyrant.  Barbarella is given an invisible key to the Tyrant’s bedroom the only place she is vulnerable.

 

Barbarella is captured by the Concierge, who announces it is his turn for some fun.  She is placed inside the Excessive Machine, a device played like an organ and when played, increases pleasure and her clothes start flying out of the machine.  The Concierge tells her when he reaches the crescendo, she will die of pleasure.  However, the machine overloads and burns out, unable to keep up with Barbarella.  We then discover the Concierge is none other than Durand Durand, aged thirty years due to the Mathmos.

 

The Great Tyrant then releases the Mathmos, which consumes all of Sogo and Durand Durand with it.  Barbarella is protected from the Mathmos by her innate goodness and finds Pygar (who, having rejected the Tyrant’s earlier advances, had been thrown in the Mathmos, and who was similarly protected by his own goodness).  Pygar then flies Barbarella and the Tyrant away from the Mathmos.  When asked by Barbarella why he saved the Tyrant after everything she had done to him, Pygar responds, “an angel has no memory.”

 

Barbarella was probably the hardest summary I’ve had to write in the three years I have run JPFmovies.  This film is straight out of the 1960’s sexual revolution.  The film was directed by Fonda’s then-husband Roger Vadim and is based on a French comic—which explains a lot but is a variation on Alice in Wonderland.  The only possible explanation why Fonda did the film.  As you can see from the clips, the effects are outright crazy making think you are on an acid trip.

 

Apparently, the film has developed a cult like following and there was even a talk of a remake as late as 2009.  However, the remake was shelved because the $62,000,000 budget was enough for the directors’ et al, as they wanted $80,000,000.  I don’t why they wanted that much money to remake the movie, as the original film looked like it cost $10,000.  The film was flop both at the box office and critically.  At the time, no-one seemed to like it or would pay to see it.  Like the phoenix, the film seems to have risen from the ashes through its cult following and near remake with a studio putting $62,000,000 on the table for the project.  Either you love this film or you hate it—that is the bottom line.

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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I dont know about you but I wish they would hurry up with the English subtitles for Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

Anyone who knows anything about 1960’s Asian films knows of the legendary Harakiri (1962) epic (I believe we already reviewed here at JPFmovies).  While I am not much for re-makes, I must admit this film has me hook line and sinker.  For the life of me I can’t find English subtitles, so if any one knows where to find them please let me know, I am on pins and needles waiting for this one.  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1728196/

 

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

Lone Wolf & Cub VI–We Still Need Closure or How to Get Your Daughter Killed.

Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell is the final in a batch of six Japanese martial arts films based on the long-running Lone Wolf and Cub manga series about Ogami Ittō, a wandering assassin accompanied by his young son, Daigoro.  As most of his family is already dead at Ogami’s hands, Retsudo (the head of the evil Yagyu and archenemy of Itto) makes a last ditch effort to destroy Itto by sending: Hyouei, an illegitimate son who practices the black arts, and Kaori, a female expert in the lethal art of knives.  In the only truly supernatural aspect of the series, Hyouei wages psychological warfare on Ogami and Daigoro, by killing any innocent person the pair come into contact with.  The Lone Wolf and Cub are forced into a truly solitary existence in order to save the innocent victims from harm. 

 

Ogami dispatches with the daughter rather quickly, but things are a little more complicated when dealing with the supernatural.  Needless to say, Ogami comes through, but not before the stoic Ogami becomes unnerved and expresses fear for the first time.  The big battle takes place on a snowy mountain, where the baby cart becomes a sled.  Ittō defeats the entire army, shooting, stabbing, slashing, dismembering, and beheading the entire bunch using Musashi’s two sword technique.  But the one-eyed Retsudo again gets away, vowing to kill Ittō another time and while exhilarating, it lacks the closure followers so eagerly needed.

 

It should be noted that Ogami Ittō has 150 on screen kills in this film, the most of any individual character in a movie.

 

While boasting one of the most memorable battles ever filmed, the final installment in the Lone Wolf and Cub series came as somewhat of a disappointment as I was anticipating a final confrontation between Ogami and Lord Retsudo Yagyu.  Alas, this battle never occurs.  According to legend, the reason for this omission is that the entire six-film series was filmed between 1972 and 1973, while the manga was still a work in progress.  There could be no conflict between the film and the manga so the makers of Lone Wolf & Cub had to work with that they had.  Though the manga version does have a final showdown between Ogami and Lord Yagyu, it was not published until 1976.  Because this had not been published yet, White Heaven in Hell lacks the closure that everyone was looking for.

Looking back on the series it is truly one of a kind.  But the reason this review is much shorter than the other Lone Wolf and Cub editorials, is because there is a lot less to talk about.  The film seems rushed, written in a hurry with no clear plot in mind.  Of course, the body count is high, but the first five films offer much more in terms of story and character development.  However, the makers were under pressure and probably did the best they could under the circumstances.  Anyways, I was one of what I am sure are many fans that was wondering if the film or the film series was really over.  There needed to be a confrontation between the two to settle the score otherwise Itto would keep wandering and Retsudo would simply keep trying to kill him.

 

Be that as it may, we made it through was is almost universally accepted by Asian film watchers as one of the finest series of that genre.

 

Next up  . . . it will be an American Comedy.

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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