Wednesday, September 2, 2015

WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS (1960)

Keiko (played by Hideko Takamine) is lovingly referred to as Mama to everybody in her little world.  She's the hostess of one of the 700+ bars in the Ginza district of Tokyo that cater to well-to-do businessmen. It's not a whorehouse, but more like a laid back nightclub where men can come and relax and hang out with sexy chicks and, who knows, you might get lucky. At 30-years-old Mama is older than most of the girls, but because she's a widow and has never slept with a customer she has developed a kind of reverence among the customers and the other girls.

When we meet Mama she's at a crossroads in her life. Should she try to marry one of the rich customers or should she try to gather up enough money to open her own bar? That's the two main choices she has, but as we all know, life has a way of throwing you all kinds of unexpected twists.

To most people that probably sounds boring, but thanks to Naruse's masterful direction, the amazing screenplay by Ryuzo (THE HIDDEN FORTRESS, YOJIMBO,SANJURO) Kikushima and such wonderful acting by everybody, including Tatsuya Nakadai as the bar manager who secretly in love with Mama, I couldn't take my eyes off the screen.  Lovely music, good pace, beautiful photography...I cannot say enough wonderful things about this movie.  Highly recommended.  It gets even better with repeat viewings.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

STRAY DOG (1949)

Inspired by a true event, Jules Dassin's THE NAKED CITY and the writings of Georges Simenon (and maybe even De Sica's BICYCLE THIEVES), STRAY DOG is the story of a rookie homicide detective (Toshiro Mifune) who's gun is pickpocketed one hot summer day on a crowded bus.  He almost immediately realizes what happen and chases the criminal but the man gets away.  Mifune becomes obsessed with getting his gun back and then riddled with guilt when the gun is used in random crimes.  Mifune's superior teams him up with veteran detective Takashi Shimura to locate the gun and stop the rabid dog that is using it in a one-man crime spree.

STRAY DOG is an interesting film.  It's pretty cool seeing Kurosawa's take on the police procedural film noir genre (my favorite is still T-MEN), but STRAY DOG is simply too long (the black market montage and the interview scenes towards the end should have been trimmed down) and the script is clumsy at times.  Most notably...the borrowed gun moment was totally unneeded.  That said, it's still a good film that's definitely worth a viewing.  Good acting, fair script, nice cinematography, probably around 20 minutes too long, a young Isao Kimura.  Also this is the first of nine writing collaborations between Akira Kurosawa and the very talented Ryuzo Kikushima.  Eleven if you count TORA! TORA! TORA! and RUNAWAY TRAIN.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

FRENCH QUARTER (1978)

A poor country girl heads to New Orleans.  Lost and penniless in the big city she takes up a job as a stripper, but then when she drinks some tea given to her by a voodoo woman she falls asleep and wakes up/dreams that she's actually a prostitute living in 19th century New Orleans.

In the right hands that lame story idea could be turned into something entertaining, but unfortunately, instead of simply making it a light sex comedy the filmmakers for some reason decided to make FRENCH QUARTER a mostly serious film about a dim-witted chick involved with sex slave trafficking.  The next poor decision they made was filming the entire "back in time" section (the majority of the movie) with what looks to be Vaseline smeared on the edges of the camera lens.  I'm assuming this is to give it some kind of dreamy feel and that would've been alright for a few seconds but 75 minutes is just ridiculous.

The acting was alright (I have absolutely no idea how Virginia Mayo got involved with this film), but like I said...this should have been a comedy instead of a serious film.  I'm sure there are people out there who like this movie, but I found the whole thing to be very slow and ultimately pointless.  Skip it. 

There was some lackluster nudity if anybody cares.