It’s Come To This

I am sooooo far behind in my blogging about the movies I’ve seen in the last month (five alone in the last three days) that it’s time for a little speed reviewing, or I’ll never catch up…

Ran
Japan, Akira Kurosawa (1985)

: RanI was enthralled by all 160 minutes of this amazing film. Procrastination paid off, and I was able to see it on the big screen this weekend (though I can’t imagine why I never got my butt to the theatre when it originally came out 1985 to see it on the really big screen. I’m kicking myself for that one now.)

The word epic was made for films such as Ran. Borrowing from Shakespeare’s King Lear, Kurosawa sets his tragedy in 16th-century Japan, where an aging warlord (Tatsuya Nakadai, in a riveting performance) makes the fatal mistake of stepping down as head of his clan, dividing his territory between his sons and elevating his eldest to leader. Greed, betrayal, death and destruction follow. Brother turns against brother, father is betrayed by son, armies of thousands rush at one another on horseback across huge battlefields, and castles are engulfed in flames as this family drama plays out in the color red.

Here’s the Gist: I cannot recommend it highly enough. [*****]

Ziegfeld Girl
USA, Robert Z. Leonard (1941)

: Ziegfeld GirlThe crazy hats! The outlandish dresses! The hallucinatory Busby Berkeley musical numbers! Where to begin…

Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr and Lana Turner are freshman chorus girls in the Ziegfeld Follies. Judy’s the sweet girl with (as they’re oft referred to in movies like this) a great set of pipes and a fierce loyalty to her pop, a vaudevillian who’s strictly old school. Lana Turner is discovered in an elevator (perhaps a nod to her own mythical discovery at the soda fountain in Schwab’s drug store) and quickly kicks it into high gear, downing cognac and champagne and collecting furs and men, leaving her truck driving beau (Jimmy Stewart) in the dust. Hedy Lamarr is the drop dead gorgeous wife of a violinist, tagging along on his audition for the orchestra and landing a job instead, losing her husband in the process.

Ziegfeld Girl seemed to have a lot more plot than the usual Hollywood musical review type entertainment, which might explain why it seemed a tad bit long. But are these musical numbers worth it! In typical Busby Berkeley style, there are sets that go on forever and seem three stories high. The number set to “You Stepped Out of a Dream” is my favorite, with the Ziegfeld girls parading down huge winding staircases and across the stage, their arms stretched out wide, wearing the most outlandish costume/evening dresses you’ve ever seen: butterflies on wires dangling over one girl’s head, Seussian puff-balls covering another, and on another, fake parrots perched on her arms and shoulders.

Here’s the Gist: They sure don’t make ‘em like this anymore! [***]

The Godfather
USA, Francis Ford Coppola (1972)

: The Godfather What can I say that hasn’t been said before? It’s The Godfather! I hadn’t seen it in many years, so I trekked down to the Film Center to catch it (for the first time) on the big screen. I’d forgotten how good this film really is. Mostly I remember the clichés and the horse’s head, but there’s so much good stuff in between. And Nino Rota’s score, with the theme that’s now become the quintessential Mafia theme song, is so appropriate and effective in the context of the story. It was fun to see Al Pacino before he became AL F#%*ING PACINO.

Here’s the Gist: If it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, go ahead and pay the Corleone clan a return visit. [*****]

Starsky & Hutch
USA, Todd Phillips (2004)

: Starsky & HutchI had no expectations for this film other than a light diversion from work. We called a special “seminar” in the middle of the day last Friday to see it, since a co-worker’s brother had a small but memorable part in the film. It was fun for that reason, but otherwise, Starsky & Hutch is instantly forgettable. Granted, I was never a fan of the TV show it’s based on (in fact, I can’t remember a single instance where I actually watched an episode) but I didn’t figure that was crucial to the enjoyment of a film spin-off set in ‘70s TV-land. Maybe it would have helped.

S&H is talkier than I expected it to be (and not in a ha-ha funny kinda way,) and I must say a tad violent for the audience of youngsters I was sitting with. Apparently it was yet another school holiday on Friday, because the audience I saw S&H with was predominantly kids, and they barely looked able to qualify as PG-13. Halfway through the film, the kids in the row in front of me started to get visibly antsy and bored; apparently they didn’t dig all the ’70-flava humor. Hmmm, imagine that. Quick, time for another car chase! Actually, next to the flashy car, the most memorable cast member has to be Snoop Dog, making the role of informant Huggy Bear his own. For the sequel (and you know they’ll be one) they should ditch the crime fighting duo and give the entire movie over to the Bear and the wheels.

Here’s the Gist: It’s exactly what you think it is…no more, maybe less.[**]

Kagemusha
Japan, Akira Kurosawa (1980)

Tatsuya Nakadai, who was so amazing in Ran, is equally dynamic in the title role of this Kurosawa film, made five years earlier. When a warlord dies, his political cronies employ a thief with an uncanny resemblance to their leader to impersonate him for three years. The thief is able to pull it off, fooling his enemies, concubines, soldiers and even his grandson. As time goes by, the thief becomes more comfortable in his new skin, enjoying the trappings of royal living and the affection of his grandchild. And then, the ruse is discovered…

This is probably not the best film for first-timers to Kurosawa, with its excess of battle scenes and cavalry charges, but I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good, epic war drama.

Here’s the Gist: True stories always make the best films. [****]

Monster
USA, Patty Jenkins (2003)

: Monster Yeah, yeah, yeah, she won the Academy Award. Whoopdidoo. This film was nothing special—just a Lifetime made-for-TV movie with a little more sex and a lot more swearing.

Here’s the Gist: Mark my words, in ten years, no one will remember this film. [**]

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