The Yakuza

December 21, 2012


The Internet Movie Database       Movie Reviews

A movie about Japanese gangsters and an American who gets mixed up in a vendetta

I was visiting The Barracuda and The Dog Master, and he and I got to talking about movies. He loaned me several, and this one was great.

Firstly, the star is Robert Mitchum, who I’ve always liked.

Secondly, it’s about the Yakuza, the mafia-like Japanese gangster organization.

But thirdly and most importantly, it’s from 1974, which means that not only is it NOT solely a martial-arts fest, but also it’s an interesting, thoughtful Film Noir movie with great character development. Sure, there are kickass action scenes, but the people and what they do and why they do it is the most important part of this film. And the love story was so good, another surprising thing in an action film.

Brilliantly directed by Sidney Pollack, this was a real treat. Both Mr. Otter (who was dubious about it) and I really enjoyed it.

Oh, and the cats do just fine. Which is the part that Mr. Otter and I were concerned about, of course.

Yankee Doodle Dandy

December 21, 2012


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OK, kids, get out your flags, start waving them around! Stamp your feet! and now, let’s everybody SING!!!

This is such a great movie. It’s a sort of loosely drawn life of George M. Cohan, but mostly it’s full of wonderful songs, excellent musical numbers, a great deal of charming good fun, and of course James Cagney, who was a song-and-dance guy before he became a movie gangster.

Now, granted, he really can’t sing, but he is a HECK of a dancer, you betcha! what a joy to watch…verve, energy and humor all wrapped up in one little package. And the script is good, amusing and fast moving…excepting the obligatory ‘blackface minstrel show’ scene.

Sigh. Why did people in the 40s think that this was a charming piece of their past instead of a blatant display of racism? Ah well. This one isn’t as embarrassing as Mickey and Judy’s foray into that awful field, at least. You can fast forward through it and not lose much…and the rest of the movie is really really good.

Oh, and Walter Huston (the old coot from Treasure of the Sierra Madre does a very creditable job singing and dancing, playing Cagney’s father.


December 21, 2012


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CinemaSins      Movie Reviews

Vin Diesel plays a world famous extreme sports guy who becomes a spy.

OK, I got sucked in by the previews. I like Vin Diesel a lot, thought he was FAB in Iron Giant and Pitch Black, and even though he’s dumb lookin’ in the face, as we say chez otter, he’s got a sense of humor and is fun to watch.

But I knew I was in trouble when I saw the PG-13 rating…generally, that means it’s a sucky compromise between getting young teens to see it for the action and not being able to have any real mayhem for fear of losing the rating…Men In Black II had that problem.

And indeed, even though this flick has Samuel L. Jackson (generally worth watching), some good f/x, a few good lines and a couple of good scenes, it got kinda dull by the end.

Don’t bother with this one unless you absolutely have nothing more exciting to do than sitting around watching the cats play with their little toys. And a sequel is coming out this year, imagine my excitement…

X Men: First Class

December 21, 2012


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A reboot of the X-Men movies, starting with all of them (including Xavier and Magneto) as kids.

Confession time: I don’t really like the X-Men. Not at all.

But I did go to the first X-Men movie, and it was okay. (I just looked to see what I said about it when I reviewed it…and was surprised to see that it came out in 2000, two years before I started reviewing movies. How time flies…)

Anyway. Yes, I love comic books. Not much on superheroes, and never got bitten by the X-Men bug. I recognize Wolverine when I see him, and Prof. Xavier, and I knew enough about them to know (in this origins movie) who Magneto is and that he’s a Bad Guy.

And, although the first X-Men movie was okay, I never went to see any of the others- 2, 3 or Wolverine. Just not that interested.

But this one got GREAT word-of-mouth. Everyone said it was the best ever, good writing, good acting and it’s the origin story, which is almost always the best of the series…so I put it in the netflix queue along with some other explodo and finally watched it, a month after it came.

And you know what? It was pretty darn good.

Not good enough to make me an X-Men fan, or run out and read all the comics I can get my hands on…but good. The story was interesting, the writing was good, it was cool to see these superhero mutants as they discovered their powers, and among this year’s crop of superhero movies, it was one of the better ones.

So no, you don’t have to buy it…but if you like action/explodo with good characterization and writing, this one is a very good choice.

Wyrd Sisters

December 21, 2012


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From the Discworld novel of the same name by Terry Pratchett.

The real heir to the throne is hidden, and the three witches are the only ones who know where he is.

Although I love SF and fantasy, and am always looking for really funny novels in the genre, I am not a Discworld fan; I read the first couple when Pratchett started writing them, and they were amusing, but I didn’t keep up with the series.

So when my sis and her hubs offered to show me this animated version of one of them, I was willing to give it a try, but didn’t expect a lot…and was very pleasantly surprised.

It’s both funny and charming, which is a combination that is hard to do. According to the reviews, it sticks very closely to the books; I recognized some of the themes and running jokes from the ones that I read, and they translate very well into this format.

The animation was good, in the sort of style one would expect from Saturday morning cartoons, but infinitely better done; the characters, backgrounds, movement and expressions are all created with style and panache, and the voices are perfect for the characters.

The story gives a nod to Macbeth, but the characterization is much more interesting; in fact, the characters are the most amusing thing about this movie, especially the eponymous witches and their interactions with each other and the rest of the cast.

Now, that’s not to say that everyone will like this style of over-the-top punning humor, or a fantasy world that is such a directly satiric reflection of our own…but if you’re tired of ponderous straight faced fantasy epics, this is a truly refreshing change.

The Wrestler

December 21, 2012


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The tail end of the career of an old, broken-down professional wrestler.

I’m glad I didn’t see that Darren Aronofsky had anything to do with this movie til it was over, because The Fountain left such a bad taste in my mouth I probably would never have seen it.

But I didn’t know, and I did see it, and it was very good.

Mr. Otter and I were having a day at the local movie theater (actually two theaters, two movies at each). I had made a list of six movies I might want to see, and we ended up with four between 11:30 am and 9:30 pm. This was the first, and we both enjoyed it very much.

Mickey Rourke is WONDERFUL in this movie. I had also liked him very much as Marv in Sin City*, couldn’t have cast anyone better for the role, but there wasn’t much acting needed, he was just a big tough guy down on his luck. But in this, Rourke carries just about the whole movie himself. There are plenty of other people, but the camera is almost always on him. And he is really, really good. Very believeable as a wrestler who was famous twenty years before, and now is reduced to local auditoriums for almost no money, and fans who remember him back when.

You can really see what his life is like, and the problems he has, and what a dead end he’s in. One thing I liked is that there’s a scene where he’s lying in bed in his mobile home reading a paperback book, and is halfway through it. Nice they made the point that he’s not stupid, something they show several times without beating one over the head with it…it would have been easy to present him as ‘too stupid to do anything else with his life’ but instead, we are shown a man who loves what he does and used to be good at it, but can’t do it any more.

Marisa Tomei plays the girl he likes, who works in a strip club (which occasioned a later discussion chez Otter about how, in the scenes where she is dancing, one can see that her nipples are pierced, which led to a debate about whether it was fake nipples with rings glued over her own, or computer special effects…pretty amusing…) And although she is stone gorgeous, you can see that she’s getting too old to be doing this too, and is trying to figure out what to do with HER life.

Mr. Otter, who hates organized sports with a fervent passion, actually liked this one (which I thought he would not, I was surprised he even wanted to see it) because you get to see the kind of planning and choreography and play-acting that go into a wrestling competition like this. That was another really great part of this movie.

But Rourke is the focal point of it all, and he is so worth watching. See it in the theater or rent it, you’ll be glad you did.

*I looked up Rourke on IMDB to see how old he is, I’ve been thinking he’s about 35 or so…but no! He’s EVEN OLDER THAN OTTER, by a couple of years. And yet he still lives and breathes…

I also looked at his (pretty long) list of movies to see if I had seen him in anything besides Sin City…and there was a movie called Once Upon A Time in Mexico. Hm, I thought, why didn’t I see that? it came out in 2003…that’s wierd. I should have seen it and reviewed it if it came out then. And I checked my review page…AND I HAD REVIEWED IT. And had FORGOTTEN ALL ABOUT IT.

I suspect that this has more to do with the quality of the movie itself than my rapidly aging memory…

The Wizard of Speed and Time

December 21, 2012


The Internet Movie Database       Movie Reviews

A special-effects moviemaker tries to get a feature film made in 1980s Hollywood.

This 1989 movie includes a short of the same name made ten years earlier by Mike Jittlov. It tells about his trials and tribulations, attempting to create the eponymous movie, and the hurdles that the Hollywood system throws in his way.

Although dated (who besides this old otter remembers 16mm film cans?) the special effects, all done either manually or with a 1970s era computer, are good. The film is charming, as is Jittlov, who plays himself. A really fun romp, well worth seeing.

Except (like Nelson and Jeanette movies) you can’t. Because it’s only on laserdisc and video. If you go to amazon, you see it listed on dvd for huge, extortionate prices…but that’s because Jittlov has given consent for the movie to be downloaded via BitTorrent (here is one of the authorized sites) and unscrupulous people are trying to make a buck off it.

This is a charming movie and even in this age of incredible special effects it made me go “Wow!” several times. There is also a lot of information on Mike Jittlov’s web site about how he made it.

Worth downloading and watching!

Witness for the Prosecution

December 21, 2012


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Tyrone Power is charged with murdering an older woman that he had befriended; Marlene Deitrich is his wife, whose testimony is the only thing that can save him…

Pretty typical Agatha Christie mystery, better than most. Plot twists galore, and a surprise ending (which we are warned during the closing credits NOT TO TELL A SOUL…)

I remembered seeing this as a young otter and thinking it was very good…and I was not far wrong. Marlene Deitrich is going down the road of too many face lifts, and her impersonation of a lower-class English girl is ludicrous, but otherwise, she wasn’t too bad…and Tyrone Power, although past his peak of good looks, is good for the role he plays. And Charles Laughton, what a delight to watch and listen to. Worth watching for him alone, as is anything he did. Not to mention Elsa Lanchester as his overprotective nurse, their byplay is classic.

Stands up well to the test of time, worth seeing (or seeing again).


December 21, 2012


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From the play by Margaret Edson

Up close and personal with a woman who is in the hospital dying of cancer, and is reflecting on her life as a professor of english literature, teaching John Donne, and of course Donne’s poetry is a perfect counterpoint for her questions about life and death.

Really really sad and hard to watch, but at the same time excellent. Emma Thompson and Christopher Lloyd were both very good, as were Audra McDonald and Jonathan M. Woodward as two of the hospital staff.

Don’t fool around, open a brand new box of kleenex, you’ll use them all.



December 20, 2012


The Internet Movie Database       Movie Reviews

Navajo code talkers in the Pacific in WWII.

This review contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen this movie you may want to wait to read what’s below.

The Rules of War
(according to Windtalkers)

  1. All the good guys have blindingly white perfect teeth.
    • No matter how filthy and unshaven they are.
    • Even if they’ve just been blown up or shot
    • Even if they just had the crap beaten out of them by another Marine or a Japanese soldier
  2. Nicholas Cage never gets hurt until the very end of the movie
    • Even when he’s running through machine gun fire
    • Even when everyone around him is shot
    • Even when there are a million soldiers aiming guns at him

    Exception: he gets hurt a little at the beginning of the movie for character development, since he’s certainly not doing any of that on his own.

  3. Every bullet fired by our guys kills an enemy.
  4. Hardly any of the bullets fired by the enemy kill our guys except where it advances the plot.
  5. All the explosions are very carefully planned to be REALLY COOL. Especially when they add fireworks… (give me a break!!)
    • Any guys caught in these explosions will be thrown around but have no other damage, even if killed. The body flies away perfectly intact with no blood on the uniform.
  6. Marines got deep thoughts, which they express at appropriate times.
  7. Japanese soldiers are just an interchangeable evil faceless mob.
  8. Even saturation bombing does not destroy the big guns if they are hidden by palm fronds.

This was very much like the kind of war movie that was made before 1960, and I’m sure it had my friend the Barracuda repeating, “The HORRORS of WAR” in a monotone all the way through it, just as she used to do when we were young sea creatures and I would make her go see these things at the movies.

Mr. Otter said it best: “They were trying to make Saving Private Ryan, except instead of the half hour of boom and whango in the beginning, to show you how horrific the landing on Omaha Beach was, they put the boom and whango in the middle to show that they could do it just as well as Saving Private Ryan…only they didn’t.”

Imponderable: I checked the Navajo Times online, and all I saw was praise for this movie; I searched Google, and saw nothing about the fact that the Navajo don’t even want pictures of themselves taken, much less movies, for religious reasons, and their reverence for the dead is such that in the museum in Santa Fe there are signs near the archaeological artifacts telling museumgoers that they are about to see grave goods and that the Navajo think this is wrong, so that visitors can skip this section of the museum if they wish.

So here’s this movie showing real Navajo people (Adam Beach is a Salteaux from Manitoba, but the rest of the Navajo were actually Navajo), lots of death and destruction (and yes, it’s just a movie, but still) and also rituals that are purported to be actual Navajo ceremonies.

True, it does show an important and fascinating bit of history and cast a good light on a people who are all too often shown as evil stereotypes in movies, that’s good, but doesn’t the rest of that strike anyone as a little odd???

Maybe not. Anyway, skip this one, it’s pretty tedious.

And Nicholas Cage is NOT a honey in this, he’s just whiny and annoying.