Thursday, December 31, 2009

THE QUIET DUEL (1949)

Normal readers will know that I prefer to go into a film knowing nothing about the story. It's more fun that way and I think it's more fair to the makers of the film if I go into it completely blank. That said, the only thing I knew about THE QUIET DUEL before I watched it was the cast/director and the poster made it look like a medical thriller. Well, I was wrong. It wasn't a surgical room duel between two surgeons with differing ideas on how a surgery is suppose to go or maybe they've been kidnapped and are now performing surgery on a yakuza boss or something.

None of that happened. Instead we get Mifune as a surgeon who during the War cuts himself while working on a soldier and contracts syphilis. He has a fiance back home who's been waiting for him for 6 years so when he returns from the War he breaks it off with her and keeps his secret from everybody. He returns to work at his fathers clinic then one day he runs into the guy who gave him the disease.

Of course other stuff happens, but I'm not going to give it all away. Overall it was a good film, but if it wasn't for the well-known cast and director the whole thing would just be forgotten. If you're new to Kurosawa this is not the film to begin with. Try YOJIMBO, STRAY DOG or HIGH AND LOW instead. THE QUIET DUEL (I have no clue what that title means) is for completists only.

Update: I just bought an excellent Kurosawa book "The Films of Akira Kurosawa" and it seems even Kurosawa agrees with my opinion: "When I remember this film, it seems to me that only the early scenes in the field hospital have any validity. This is because I didn't describe things too well in this picture. When the locale moved back to Japan, somehow the drama left the film."
How many American movies in 1949 had the word "asshole" in it?

Well, fuck there she goes again!

Monday, December 28, 2009

NEVER A DULL MOMENT (1950)

NEVER A DULL MOMENT does not live up to it's title. By 1950 audiences had already seen most of these city-slickers-on-the-country jokes in superior films like THE EGG AND I, GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE and MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE so it really boggles the mind why two excellent actors like Fred MacMurray and Irene Dunne would even sign up for an unoriginal clunker like this, but they did and it shows right from the start that they were just here for the money.

Irene Dunne is a popular songwriter/singer who lives in NYC and one day at a charity auction she meets rodeo rider Fred MacMurray and BAM! a few weeks later they're married and living on his rundown farm with all his annoying country neighbors barging in the house 24/7 and raising Hell. I guess these jokes are suppose to be funny, but I just found depressing to watch Irene Dunne sad and dishearten because she's surrounded by a bunch of dimwitted assholes.

I didn't even smile once. Skip it.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

TOGETHER AGAIN (1944)

The always beautiful Irene Dunne is the widower who is also the mayor of the a small town. With so much responsibility she hasn't had any time for romance. A fact that her former father-in-law is frequent to bring up. One night during a thunderstorm lightening knocks the head off the statue of her late husband. Charles Coburn (the father-in-law) says it's a sign from her late husband to carry on with her life. Dunne laughs it off but when she meets the sculptor who's going to make a new statue she starts to maybe believe the story is true. The sculptor (Charles Boyer) is a very handsome man and instantly in love with Dunne.

Different romantic screwball hijinks take place and even though the beginning was a little slow it really starts to pick up steam in the second half, especially when Dunne's attractive teenage daughter accidentally thinks that the sculptor has proposed to her! That part was really funny.

Not the greatest Dunne movie, but I enjoyed it and would watch it again.

THE TWILIGHT SAMURAI (2002)

After the overexposure of Samurai movies in the late 60's and early 70's there really hasn't been many good Samurai films since Kurosawa's RAN in 1985. Out of the handful that have been made THE TWILIGHT SAMURAI is my favorite, because not only is the action thrilling and the tender moments very moving I also think it might be the most realistic Samurai film ever made. I could be completely wrong about that, since I haven't seen every Samurai movie ever made (yet), but out of the hundred or so I have seen this one seems to me to be the most true to life.

If you are looking for nonstop fastest sword in the East-style ass kicking then go rewatch THE SWORD OF DOOM, cause this is a quiet, subtle film about a low-ranking samurai who's a widower (and in debt because of his wife's sickness) and now sole provider for his two small daughters and his senile mother. During the day he does his duties to the Clan and every afternoon just before twilight he rushes home to take care of his endless duties at home. He feels that he's better suited to be a farmer, but fate has lead him to the life of a samurai.

I won't give away the ending, but I will go so far as to say that when the time comes Sir Twilight (as his fellow samurai's jest) knows how to kick ass and he does. There's also some romantic stuff going on, but it's all very natural and not forced.

If you like movies that have character depth along with the action then you'll enjoy THE TWILIGHT SAMURAI.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

LE MAGNIFIQUE (1973)

Super-spy Bob St. Clair makes James Bond look like a pussy! He can shoot a single bullet into a tree and kill 5 soldiers, he can fight his way out of evil villains lair without even breaking a sweat and of course he always gets the girl. Unfortunately, Bob St. Clair is just a figment of novelist Francois Merlin's imagination. Merlin's real life is nowhere near as perfect. He has no money, his apartment is a dump and he's divorced. He has very little control over the things that happen in his real life so when somebody pisses him off he throws that person into his story and lets St. Clair shoot him to pieces. The same goes for the good things in his life like his sexy upstairs neighbor, who just happens to be St. Clair's current love interest.

But things turn out to not always be perfect in St. Clair's world either, especially when Merlin gets mad at him and turns him into a bumbling idiot and then finally a limp-wristed homosexual who runs off with the villain on a two-seater bicycle!

Everybody in this movie does a great job, especially the three main actors who all play duel roles, but I think the main praise should go to director/co-writer Philippe de Broca who does an excellent job of blending the two worlds so seamlessly that the story never lets up for even a moment. I was happy and smiling from beginning to end. Not many films can do that.

Favorite moments: when St. Clair's cyanide tablet falls out of his hollow tooth and kills all the tourist in the swimming pool; when a clumsy St. Clair gets mad at his robe; when St. Clair pours the hot water on his infected finger and all of the moments with Jacqueline Bisset.  She is absolutely radiant in this movie.

Highly recommended.