Three Outlaw Samurai (1964)

 ★★★★★

 

While growing up here in America, I never experienced samurai films. It wasn’t until much later in my life that I enjoyed my first samurai film, but since I already had a huge love for western films, it was easy to attach myself to samurai storiesThree Outlaw Samurai (1964) as well. Their themes and plot lines are similar and the characters themselves are virtually interchangeable. My only problem is that I have quite a few samurai films that I now need to see! The most recent sword-slashing addition to my viewing list was Hideo Gosha’s Three Outlaw Samurai (1964).

In a farming community there is a corrupt magistrate (Hisashi Igawa). Local peasant farmers have kidnapped the magistrate’s daughter in an attempt to get him to listen to their desperate pleas. A wandering samurai, Shiba (Tetsuro Tamba), stumbles upon the hostage and her captors. He stays to see how things unfold, but when the magistrate comes with his own group of samurai, Shiba gets himself involved by Three Outlaw Samurai (1964)standing up for the farmers. After Shiba makes his stand against injustice, two other samurai, Sakura and Kikyo (Isamu Nagato and Mikijro Hiro), change sides and help Shiba in his fight for this community.

Three Outlaw Samurai is a remarkable action film. The fighting scenes are choreographed like dance steps, and each one is executed with perfection. One of the main reason I associate western and samurai films is because of the speed with which someone is killed. Each sword fight takes only a few seconds, similar to two cowboys dueling in the middle of a deserted dirt street. The actors in Three Outlaw Samurai move like ballerinas, as they quickly jump about the screen. They are agileThree Outlaw Samurai (1964) and graceful, but they are also filled with a fierceness and intensity that is second to none. Shiba and his fellow samurai warriors are extremely brutal, just the way one would hope.

In addition to being a great action film, Three Outlaw Samurai stands out as a remarkably well made film. Cinematographer, Tadashi Sakai, filmed this hard hitting action film with a softness that is unexpected. It is beautiful from beginning to end, and is pieced together with the highest possible quality. The music was also an interesting and stimulating addition to the overall enjoyment. Its reoccurring theme stayed in my head long after I finished watching. (Quite similar in that respect to The Good, the Bad And The Ugly.)

Shiba is an extraordinary character. His intensity and desire to help those less fortunate is both stirring and inspiring. No Three Outlaw Samurai (1964)matter the obstacles, he is going to power through not because he is paid or respected, but because he understands the difference between right and wrong. He would never surrender, nor would he ever give in under any circumstances. Brave doesn’t even begin to explain who Shiba is deep down, and through all of his trial and tribulations, he still stands straight and prepares for whatever task is waiting.

Three Outlaw Samurai was the first of Hideo Gosha’s films that I haveThree Outlaw Samurai (1964) had the privilege to see. He is remembered as one of the greatest and most revolutionary samurai filmmakers of all time, especially for his most popular films, Goyokin (1969) and Hitokin (1969). Hopefully someday all of his films will be more readily available.

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The Illusionist (2010)

 ★★★★

 

The Illusionist (2010) is an animated drama film directed by Sylvain Chomet. The film contains almost no dialogue, and what little is in the film is barely audible. Instead of putting the focus of the film on the words, The Illusionist isThe Illusionist (2010) completely reliant on the story and the marvelous animation.

The main character is a struggling illusionist called Tatischeff. At the beginning of the film he is working in Paris in the late 1950’s. He is performing for small audiences that don’t seem to appreciate his talents, but it doesn’t seem to bother him. He soon travels to London where he is the second act to a young British rock band, but once the band finishes their set, the audience leaves and Tatischeff is once again playing to an empty house.

The Illusionist (2010)He gets invited to Scotland where his talents are more appreciated, especially when a young girl named Alice sees him and believes he has actual magical abilities. Tatischeff buys Alice a new pair of red shoes because he sees that her old shoes have become ragged and worn.

When he leaves this small town, Alice packs a bag and follows him. When Tatischeff discovers that she has followed him he doesn’t exactly know what to do with her, but he accepts her company and begins to take an active interest in her wellbeing. They move into a small apartment in a building filled with unemployed and struggling performers, all of whomThe Illusionist (2010) see their careers fading away. Tatischeff continues to shower Alice with gifts, and without steady work as an illusionist, he finds himself having to take jobs not in the entertainment community in order to survive.

The Illusionist is nothing like your typical animated movie. It is touching and sad, and even embodies a realistic quality. The realism isn’t because the animation make the people look realistic, but because unlike most animated films, these characters are dealing with “real life” problems. Right from the start I felt sorry for Tatischeff and I wanted to see him succeed, even The Illusionist (2010)though it seems impossible. His art is something that was fading in the late 1950’s, and along with everyone else in his run down apartment building (clowns, a ventriloquist and acrobats), times will force all of them to find a new way of life. The rock band shows how the entertainment industry is changing, and if you can’t adapt with the times, you will be lost.  At one point the ventriloquist is forced to sell his dummy. It sits for sale in the shop window until eventually the price tag changes to free. Even then, nobody takes the dummy, and like the illusionist himself, he becomes a worthless relic.

Besides the story of the illusionist and his work, there is the heartfelt story of his relationship with Alice. The Illusionist isThe Illusionist (2010) based on an unpublished story by the accomplished director, actor and mime, Jacques Tati. (Hence the beauty of a film with little dialogue.) Although there is some controversy around the details, The Illusionist has been said to be based on his own real life relationship with his estranged daughter. The film indicates that Tatischeff had a long lost daughter himself. Perhaps he believes Alice to be his daughter, or maybe he just treats her like his daughter because of his own pain and guilt over his own child. Either way, Tatischeff is saddened by his past and Alice is his chance at redemption.

The Illusionist was a wonderful film, although I wasn’t expecting something quite this serious. The quality of the film is extremely high The Illusionist (2010)and it is obvious that director Sylvain Chomet and his team put everything they had into this film’s production. They went well over budget and had essentially no chance of ever breaking even, but The Illusionist was not a film that intended to make people rich. It is an art film and is indeed worthy of praise for its quality.

Miracle On 34th Street (1947)

 ★★★★★

 

A film can be great for any number of reasons. In fact, sometimes all it takes is one great performance to make the Miracle On 34th Street (1947)difference between a mediocre film and a film that will live on forever. That is exactly what happened with Miracle On 34th Street (1947).

By now, most everyone is aware of this imaginative story about Santa Claus (Edmund Gwenn) coming to New York City on Thanksgiving to see the Macy’s Day parade. He sees that the Macy’s Santa is intoxicated, and while reporting this atrocity to the parade coordinator, Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara), she convinces the real Santa to step in and save the day. Of course Doris doesn’t believe that this is the real Santa, no matter how hard he tries to convince her and her young daughter, Susan (Natalie Wood), of his true identity. Doris hires Santa to come be the Santa at Macy’s, and Miracle On 34th Street (1947)he gladly accepts.

Santa continues to mix things up with all the doubters of the world as he marches toward Christmas day. He brings together mother and daughter, neighbors, Macy’s and Gimbals, as well as the rest of the world, as his identity is questioned in the American courts.

Miracle On 34th Street is a wonderful film, and would be with or without actor Edmund Gwenn. With that being said, it is his performance that makes this film a must see, year in and year out. Gwenn was a solid actor throughout his career, but he will be remembered for Miracle On 34th Street above everything in which he appeared. He is Santa. Everything that anyone relates to Santa is embodied within Gwenn performance, and if right now a fat, jollyMiracle On 34th Street (1947) old man in a red suit came sliding down my chimney, I wouldn’t believe it was Santa…unless of course it was Edmund Gwenn. He won a much-deserved Academy Award for his performance, which speaks to the fact that many viewers were impressed with his abilities in 1947, just as we are today.

I don’t mean to take anything away from the rest of the cast and crew that worked on Miracle On 34th Street. Without Gwenn it is still a highly enjoyable film. It is heartwarming and delightful, leaving every viewer ready to forget about their Christmas shopping and enjoy each others company (at least for a minute). Miracle On 34th Street also won two different Academy Awards in writing categories, as well as being nominated for Best Picture.

Miracle On 34th Street (1947)Maureen O’Hara is her usual charming self, filled with warmth and love. Natalie Wood shows the early child acting talent that we have since seen on numerous occasions. John Payne gives his best Cary Grant impersonation as the attorney and friend of Santa, and truthfully he pulls it off rather well. Everything about Miracle On 34th Street is great, but Edmund Gwenn makes the film…well, magical.

Personally, my favorite scene in Miracle On 34th Street is when Edmund Gwenn is sitting at Macy’s, talking to the different children about their Christmas wishes. A young Dutch girl comes up, and although she can’t speak English, she still wanted to wait in line to see Santa. Her new adoptive mother explains the situation to Santa, and much to her surprise and delight, he begins to speak to the girl in Dutch. They talk and sing together as the new mother watches with tears welling in her eyes,Miracle On 34th Street (1947) but the highlight of the scene is in the toothless smile from the little girl the moment Santa begins to speak her language. It’s not a smile about wants, desires or presents like all the other kids, but a smile of pure joy in having someone to speak to, even if only for a minute. I know the end of the film is supposed to make me overjoyed for young Susan and her new life, but for me Miracle On 34th Street will forever remind me of the Dutch girl and her smile.

Thankfully this film is still seen every year because no matter how hard people try, the best Christmas movies will continue to be the ones from around the 1940’s. Modern Christmas movies focus on comedy situations often having to do Miracle On 34th Street (1947)more with commercialism than the holiday itself. The greatest Christmas movies, like It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), Christmas In Connecticut (1945), The Bishop’s Wife (1947), Scrooge (1951), Holiday Inn (1942) and Miracle On 34th Street focus on the “true” spirit of Christmas, without as many ridiculous situations, considerable less physical injuries and much better story lines. I guess the real difference between the classics and the followers comes right down to the stories and their scripts. But it doesn’t hurt to have Gwenn as your Santa, does it?

 

Wild River (1960)

 ★★★★

 

Wild River (1960) is a drama film directed by Elia Kazan. It has been a hard film to come by over the years, but is now available as part of the “Kazan At Fox Volume 2” collection. It will also be release in a single disc version sometime inWild River (1960) January.

During the 1930’s, on a small island in the Tennessee River, Ella Garth (Jo Van Fleet) has lived with her family for most of her life. She never leaves the island and has no intention of leaving in the future, ever. Unfortunately for her, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has decided to build a dam downriver that is going to flood her Wild River (1960)island almost completely. Everyone else in the community has sold their land to the TVA, but Ella refuses to even consider their proposition. She has lived there too long to leave without putting up a fight. In addition, she also has several black families that have been working her land for years, who would now be displaced.

After several failed attempts to convince her otherwise, the TVA is sending a young, idealistic man, Chuck (Montgomery Clift), to talk to her before they finally have to remove her by force. Chuck thinks that he will be able to get her off the land quickly, butWild River (1960) soon realizes that her reasoning is not just pure stubbornness, but rather passionate and quite understandable.

In Chuck’s mission to remove Ella and her family, he begins to fall in love with Ella’s widowed granddaughter, Carol (Lee Remick), and her two children. Carol agrees with Chuck and is the first to leave the island. Then Chuck convinces the workers to leave the island and come work for the TVA in their attempt to clear the land before the dam is closed. Of course hiring black workers at the same rate he is already paying white workers creates an entirely Wild River (1960)new set of problems for Chuck. Now he has to fight against racial prejudice that is running wild throughout this already racist community.

Once again, director Elia Kazan is completely fearless in his work. It seems that each and every one of his films tackle hard hitting issues, and he always does it without trepidation or apprehension. His constant passion for making thought provoking and insightful films has left us with one of the most impressive filmographys, and Wild River is just another stirring chapter to his life’s work.

Kazan shines as a director on Wild River with an immensely stirring and realistic feel to a time and place long forgotten. There are no surprises in this film. No plot twists or shocking conclusions. The entire story plays out exactly the way anyone would guess, but it doesn’t matter. The film is beautiful because Kazan makes it beautiful. He gives the characters depth and passion without overdoing anything. The sets and the lights help to create a realistic tone that transport the viewers back to this time. Nothing is sugar coated and everything is left raw and authentic. The flies alone make you feel like you’re in Tennessee yourself.Wild River (1960)

Wild River came at that awkward place in Montgomery Clift’s career. After his car accident he had trouble with almost every role he attempted. His best work came at the beginning of his career, but somehow despite all of his personal problems, this performance comes out looking good. Even though he appears to be in need of confidence and perhaps some concentration in this role, I can’t say that his performance is lacking in any way. His character doesn’t have a lot of depth, and therefore many scenes he actually is under acting in order to not take away from the other characters. His scenes with Jo Van Fleet and Lee Remick Wild River (1960)seem to have Clift almost sitting on the sidelines, but it is the women that have the most emotional roles in the film, and if Clift were to be more dramatic he would take something away from the other marvelous performances.

Jo Van Fleet was phenomenal. At the age of 45 she plays an 80-year-old woman, and she pulls it off without anyone even think twice about her age. She is brilliant, and it would seem that she and Elia Kazan worked extremely well together between this role and her Academy Award winning role in Kazan’s 1955 film East Of Eden.

Today, Wild River is a film that is easy to overlook. It certainly isn’t Kazan’s best film. It isn’t Montgomery Clift, LeeWild River (1960) Remick or Jo Van Fleet’s best performance either, but that shouldn’t take away from the overall quality that this film has. Wild River has been selected for preservation by the Library Of Congress for its importance and significance in film history, but there again, many of Kazan’s other films have been as well. Wild River is yet another step in the incredible career of Kazan, and is a film that any fan of his certainly won’t want to miss.

New Blu-ray And DVD Releases For The Week Of November 27th, 2012

With everyone being tired from all of their shopping, the new release community has attempted to give you a break this week. But what if you are looking for something to watch while relaxing after another day of pushing your way through endless crowds? Here are the few new choices you will have:

On Tuesday, the 27th:

  • Lawless (2012): From director John Hillcoat (The Road), comes this gangster film set in 1931. Three brothers (Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke) become moonshiners, but things take a violent turn when a localLawless (2012) mobster (Gary Oldman) gets involved. Also starring Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain and Guy Pearce, Lawless is said to be a beautifully filmed period piece that boasts strong performances throughout the cast. The only downside is a flawed story, but overall it’s still a worthwhile movie. If you are interested, you can read more thoughts on Lawless from  3 Guys 1 Movie.
  • ParaNorman (2012): This is an animated tale of a young boy (Kodi Smil-McFee)that has the ability to speak with the dead. His is the town outcast until he finds a way toParaNorman use his power to help save his town. It’s kind of an animated version of The Sixth Sense. Also starring the voice talents of John Goodman, Casey Affleck and Anna Kendrick, ParaNorman has received great reviews and looks like a solid animated film. I did read that it is not intended for young children and even provides plenty of scares for the older kids, so beware. For more opinions on ParaNorman you can here what the folks at French Toast Sunday think.

And on Friday, the 30th:

  • MIB 3 (2012): What is there to say about the Men In Black series? Well, this time agents J and K (Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones) are back to save the world yet again, but this time J will have to go back in time to save aMIB 3 (2012) younger  K (Josh Brolin) from being murdered by a time-traveling alien. (That is a sentence I never thought I would write!) Director Barry Sonnenfeld (Get Shorty, MIB 1 & 2) is back again as director, and Steven Speilberg has returned as executive producer, so the thought here is that if you liked the first two, I imagine you will have fun with this one as well. Also starring Emma Thompson, MIB 3 was a huge success this last summer, and they already have part 4 in the works.

Well, that’s it for now. All I can say is, “Where are all the classic films this week?” Happy Watching!

 

Angel Face (1952)

 ★★★★

 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Otto Preminger is an underrated filmmaker. His films are a highly enjoyable mixture of all different stories and characters, and each unique film is crafted with such miraculous skill and fervor. His 1952 film noir, Angel Face is no exception.Angel Face (1952)

Frank (Robert Mitchum) is a displaced man trying to find his place in America since his return from WWII. Working as an ambulance driver, he arrives at the home of a wealthy family where the mother may or may not have been the target of a murder plot. Frank meets the woman’s stepdaughter, Diane (Jean Simmons), and she instantly becomes interested in Frank on many levels. When Frank leaves the house, Diane follows him to a diner where she begins some not so innocent flirting. She succeeds in getting Frank to take her, and not his girlfriend, Mary (Mona Freeman), out to dinner.

Diane plots to take Frank away from Mary and is more than willing to do anything to achieve her goal. She convinces him to quit his job at the hospital and come work for her family as a Angel Face (1952)chauffeur. Once he is living over the garage they begin a more intimate relationship, even though Frank suspects that Diane may be attempting to kill her wealthy stepmother in order for her father to gain the inheritance.

Angel Face is a first rate film noir with a delightfully wicked story. The plot works well because Robert Mitchum plays the prototypical Mitchum character, with his bravado and confidence shinning in every scene. He acts exactly the way we expect, he speaks the way we expect and he even smiles the way we have seen him smile a hundred times before. That’s what makes Mitchum so wonderfully enjoyable to watch. We know what we are going to get, and he doesn’t disappoint.

Jean Simmons, on the other hand, is unusually out of character for this film. At several points all of the evidence points toAngel Face (1952) her being a selfish, conniving femmes fatales, but because it is Simmons in the role and not a “Gloria Grahame” style actress, it is hard to believe she is capable of any of the atrocities. She just seems so pure, innocent and sweet. She’s superb in the role and it certainly stands out among her best.

Otto Preminger had mastered the art of the “mystery thriller” at this point in his career. At many different times he seems to be toying with the audience, and you can almost picture a smile on his face. Preminger was constantly pushing the limits of what could be shown in a movie, and Angel Face is no exception. For a film in 1952, there is a sexual frankness and understanding between everyone that is Angel Face (1952)unparalleled. Frank and Mary openly speak about the nature of their relationship in a way that no other film would even try. I was shocked when Diane asked Frank to describe Mary, and he tells her that, “She weighs 105 pounds, stripped.” I can’t think of any other movie from that time that would be that open about a relationship. Leave it to the rebellious Preminger to find some way to sneak something taboo into his film.

 

Christmas In Connecticut (1945)

 ★★★★★

&

My Hall Of Fame

 

Why is Christmas In Connecticut (1945) the perfect movie to kickoff the Christmas season? Because among other things, if you watch this hilarious movie now, you can easily get to it again before the Christmas season is over!Christmas In Connecticut (1945)

Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) is a wealthy publishing magnate. One of his most popular writers is Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck). She is a wife and mother living on a farm in Connecticut, and her articles help teach housewives all over the country how to take care of their home and family, especially when it comes to the cooking. The problem is that unbeknownst to Mr. Yardley, Elizabeth Lane isn’t who she claims to be. She isn’t married, doesn’t have a child, doesn’t live on a farm and most importantly…she can’t cook…at all!

Mr. Yardley has received word from a nurse that an American survivor of a U-boat attack is recovering in a hospital, and having never had a real home, the nurse is wondering if there is anything Yardley can do for him this Christmas. Yardley asks (or Christmas In Connecticut (1945)rather tells) Elizabeth to have Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) over to her farm for the Christmas weekend. Yardley also manages to invite himself to her farm.

Forced with the prospect of losing her job if her secret is discovered, Elizabeth plans to marry her longtime admirer, John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner), who just happens to have a farm in Connecticut that they can use. Elizabeth also brings along her good friend Felix (S.Z. Sakall), who is the wonderful chef that has provided her the recipes for all of her articles. Now with everything in place, Elizabeth is prepared to appear the loving wife, mother and accomplished cook, but what she never expected was for Jones to come in and sweep her off her feet!Christmas In Connecticut (1945)

I’ve never felt so much like a commercial before, but the truth of the matter is I am trying to sell you on this wonderfully delightful film. Christmas In Connecticut is a marvelously entertaining movie that is full of screwball comedy. The laughs are endless, and these loveable characters have made this film one of my holiday favorites.

Barbara Stanwyck is charming in a role that she breezes through, winning the audiences hearts with very little effort. She is adorable in a role where she isn’t strong and confident, but rather is looking for someone to take care of her. You will never be able to eat pancakes again without thinking about her.

Somehow her equal, Sydney Greenstreet, gives the most relaxed and joyful performance in his career. The script, written by Lionel Houser and Adele Comandini, plays to his strengths, and by the end Greenstreet Christmas In Connecticut (1945)looks like a large teddy bear waiting for a hug. S.Z. Sakall is also wonderful and the exchanges that he shares with Greenstreet are the highlights of this amazing script.

It is the perfect way to kick off the holiday season, as well as being highly enjoyable, fun filled entertainment for the whole family. It’s definitely a great way to get into the spirit of the season, and in another month… it will be too late!