Friday, January 29, 2010

WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS (1960)


Keiko, known as Mama to everybody, is the hostess of one of the 700+ bars in the Ginza district of Tokyo that caters to well-to-do businessmen. It's not a whorehouse, but more like a bar where men can come and just 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 Keiko she's at a crossroads in her life. Should she marry one of the rich customers or should she try to get enough money together to open her own bar? That's the two main choices she has, but as we all know, life can throw 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 Kikushima and such wonderful acting by everybody, including one of my all time favorite actors, Tatsuya Nakadai, as the bar manager who secretly in love with Mama, I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. I actually watched it twice just for this review. I love it.

I've probably mentioned this in an earlier review, but I really believe that the absolute height of Cinema was in Japan from the late 40's to the mid-60's. There was so many amazing films to come out in that period that the only other moment in movie history that can even come close to matching it is America is the 30's.

I cannot say enough wonderful things about this movie.  Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

T-MEN (1947)

People often never ask me "What film would be a good starting point if I wanted to learn about film noir?", but if they did ask me one of the films at the top of my list would be T-MEN. A lot of noirs have all kinds of crazy twists and double-crosses and triple-crosses and it's sometime hard to follow, but T-MEN is very straightforward and enjoyable, not to mention the amazing cinematography by John (RAW DEAL, THE BIG COMBO) Alton who had one of the best quotes ever by a cinematographer: "It's not what you light - it's what you don't light."

Anyway, the story is told in a semi-documentary style complete with a narrator. There's a counterfeiting gang run out of Los Angeles that the Treasury Department has been after for awhile, but the only lead they have is there's a connection with another gang in Detroit, so they send two T-men undercover to infiltrate the gang and see what they can find out. That's all you really need to know. I've seen the film a number of times and still I get really into the story, especially the first half where they are working their way into the gang's confidence.

The direction by Anthony Mann is great as is the acting by everybody involved. The main T-man is played by Dennis O'Keefe who's definitely not a household name, but I've always found his career to be fascinating. As far as I can tell there's never been a book written about him, but I've noticed him quite playing a bit parts in various movies, so I found out who he was, looked him up and he's (according to IMDb) been in over 253 movies and TV shows!!! Usually just as a bit part or an extra but still he's been in a ton of films including DUCK SOUP, I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG, SCARFACE, LIBELED LADY and even his own TV show that only last 18 episodes! Anyway I just thought that was interesting, because nowadays only the biggest of movie nerds would even know who he was.

Back to T-MEN, one of my favorite scenes has this one guy talking shit right before they kill him, they shoot him and as he's falling down he gasps, full of venom, "You...sucker!" What a badass! LOL. Great movie and worthy of earning a spot in your movie collection.

Another plus for T-MEN is Jack Overman actually gets some respectable screen time. Good for him!
Jack Overman

You can see the reflection of the person he's watching.

Monday, January 25, 2010

N-GIRLS VS. VAMPIRES (1999)

It says Takashi Miike on the credits but you wouldn't know it just from watching it...all three fucking hours of it!!!! The story idea is pretty exciting: some teenage girls find out that a local modeling agency is run by vampires...vampires that only feed on the blood of virgins! That + Takashi Miike should = fucking awesome!!!, but it isn't. It's pretty much fucking terrible. First off it's a TV movie(!) and secondly, there's giant chunks of time wasted on these girls just babbling on about Satan only knows what. It was torture.

There's no violence, the special effects are painfully horrible, zero tits, very little cussing and the performances by the actors are all shitty. The only saving grace of the entire disaster is there's numerous scenes shot out on busy city sidewalks and you can see pedestrians staring at the camera and just acting confused. I found that kinda funny, but not funny enough to enjoy this turd. Skip it. I would say for hardcore Miike fans only, but I am a hardcore Miike fan and I found this entire movie to be rubbish. Skip it.
Crew visible in reflection.