Stray Dog

This is a 1949 film by Akira Kurosawa, and is supposedly a precursor of the buddy cop film genre, as well as one of the earliest police procedural films.

The story is about a rookie cop whose gun is pick-pocketed while he on a bus. He reports the theft to his superior and feels so much remorse that he tirelessly follows any lead to get his gun back. Things get worse when he finds out that his gun was sold in a black market and used in two shootings, one fatal. He is told to assist an older detective (Takashi Shimura), and together they track down the murderer.

Mifune, Shimura, and Keiko Awaji.

The film is mostly about the desperation and guilt Mifune’s character feels as he desperately tries to track down the murderer. Mifune was absolutely brilliant (this was his second Kuorsawa film), and his portrayal of a desperate man reminded me a lot of the main character in Bicycle Thieves, which was released a year earlier.

Takashi Shimura too was absolutely fabs. He appeared in many Kourosawa films, 21 in all, compared to 15 for Mifune. I have one of his Kurosawa films Ikiru on DVD somewhere, I must watch it.

Looking through the cast list for this film it came as no surprise that all of the cast passed away some time ago, but with one exception. A woman who was in one scene and is called “Wooden Tub Shop woman” is still alive at the age of 107 (the English version of Wikipedia says 108, but the Japanese version says 107), Noriko Honma is her name.

Noriko Honma

Compared to later Kurosawa films this is more crudely made, but even so it is still a well crafted film. It was very interesting to see post-war Japan. There were very few cars on the roads (dirt roads, even in the city), and the houses in the poor areas were just wooden shacks. I was surprised to see a rich part of town, apart from the dirt roads it looked like another world. Apparently, the black market scenes were filmed in real black markets.

Despite having been defeated in the war only five years previous to this film, Japan while being very poor seemed to be a vibrant and busy place. This was most evident in the baseball game scene which was actually filmed by a newsreel crew rather than Kurosawa himself (for authenticity). So it was an actual game filmed at Tokyo Stadium with a crowd of 50,000 people. The crowd were all wearing white (I guess there was clothes rationing or something) and the fervour of the crowd was obvious.

A most excellent film, one that I will watch again some day. I can’t quite give it a full score because there are better Kurosawa films, but not by much.

Date watched: December 15th
Score: 9.5/10
Film count 2018: 82

Barton Fink

After Miller’s Crossing I just had to watch another Coen Brothers film, so I chose this one, a film I last saw probably over 20 years ago.

Re-imagined poster

The story, if you have forgotten, is about a successful and intense Broadway writer who reluctantly accepts an offer from a Hollywood studio to write for movies. So, he goes to Hollywood and for his first picture is asked to write a wrestling story, something far below his talents. He tries to give it a go, but knowing nothing about wrestling flicks he gets nowhere.

Barton Fink

He stays at a dodgy hotel which has very gooey wallpaper that peels off in the heat, and a neighbour (John Goodman) who talks a lot, but ends up being the only friend Barton has. Also in the story is a famous writer who gets extremely drunk when he has writer’s block, which is where we find him in the film. His assistant/lover tries to help Barton write the wrestling movie, and that is where the story turns very bad for Barton.

The rest of the story is a murder cover-up and serial killer story, that by the end is also quite surreal and confusing.

Reading about this film online reveals that the story is supposedly an allegory for the rise of fascism in Nazi Germany, which is the time period that this film was set in. Film forums have all kinds of theories about what the film is about, and one film review even hypothesised that Charlie (John Goodman) was in fact Barton’s alter ego. I just took most of it at face value…over-thinking does nothing more than killing precious brain cells.

The Coens actually wrote this film while they were taking a break from making Miller’s Crossing because they were having problems with it. This film was written in three weeks with the main role specifically written for John Turturro. The Wikipedia page on this is long and interesting. A lot of thought went into the writing and production of the film, and there were influences galore.

Everything in this was superb, as every Coen Brothers film is. John Turturro and John Goodman were perfect, as were the rest of the cast which included a few Miller’s Crossing actors. I was just thinking what it would have been like if The Cruiser played Barton instead…best not to.

But, I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as Miller’s Crossing, I can’t quite pinpoint why. Maybe it was the effort of trying to figure out the deeper meanings of the story. Barton stared at a painting on the wall of his hotel wall of a woman sitting on a beach several times, a scene that would play out in real life at the end of the film…brain hurts.

Still, this is superbness.

Date watched: December 8th
Score: 9/10
Film count 2018: 81

Miller’s Crossing

After the recent low-grade film viewings I decided I needed to see a quality film again, so I chose this Coen brothers masterpiece. I have seen this before, but this is the first post for this film on MBMS, so I must have last watched this a long time ago. Still, I remembered a lot of it.

There is not much to say about this one really, except that it is a perfect gangster film, not even Scorcese could do any better. The casting, cinematography, sets, writing, and of course directing were all top-notch. There is no use writing more, no need to. So to fill in some space, here are some images…

Gabriel Byrne as “Tommy”.
Albert Finney as “Leo”.
Albert Finney (on right) as a maid.
John Turturro as “Bernie Bernbaum”.
Sam Raimi in a cameo.
J.E. Freeman and Marcia Gay Harden

It is amazing that this film is now 28 years old, it hasn’t aged a day. I would love to see it at the theatre.

And the Coen Brothers are now in the MBMS Page of Fame.

Date watched: December 1st
Score: 10/10
Film count 2018: 80

Stanley Clarke – Modern Man

I bought this a few weeks back on vinyl, from Good Times

Click on the cover to listen to the title track.

I bought his self-titled album a while ago, and liked it so much that I wanted more. So, when I saw this I bought it, no questions asked.

Unfortunately though it is a little disappointing. It is supposed to be a jazz fusion album, but to me it sounds more like a mix of disco and funk, and in fact it came out in a still very disco 1978. There are plenty of horns, disco-guitars, and various singers, along with piano and Stan’s funky bass playing. But, it just doesn’t do it for me, as much as I like Stan and disco, the two just don’t go together for me. Reviews on the Interwebs are also quite mixed.

The vinyl, cover, and insert are all in minty condition, all good there. It is a Japanese pressing.

I do like the cover though, Stan was a cool customer back in those days.

Stan’s best album cover.
This one is cool, too.

I am sure though this is just a blip in the Stan catalogue, so I shall continue seeking out more of his albums, those two above albums especially.

Stan has a great website, check it out.

Music count 2018: 105
Total vinyl count: 22

Reform School Girls

Browsing on YouTube for eighties films I chanced upon this and chose it because it had the name Wendy O. Williams attached to it. She was of course the vocalist for the Plasmatics, a band I got into a while back.

The story is about a teenager busted for a crime she unwillingly took part in (a shootout between her boyfriend and a security guard), and she is sent off to reform school. The school turns out to be run by a mean and unhinged ward head, and a nazi-like reform school warden. The school is populated by bad girls, mostly wearing designer lingerie and sporting very 80’s hairstyles.

Wendy plays a bully who is also best buds with the ward head, Edna. Together they terrorise the new girl and her fellow new inmates. The story follows pretty much any other story of this type: the girls rebel against the oppressive regime, fight the bully, a kind-hearted doctor at the school tries to expose the goings-on at the school but fails. But after the suicide of one of the girls, all of the girls go berzerb and trash the place then march on the warden. Edna totally flips and goes on a shotgun rampage then dies after climbing up a tower (while blasting away with the shotgun), which caught fire after Wendy drove a bus into the tower, causing an explosion and fire, and she fell to a flaming/screaming death.

Williams, the warden, ward head “Edna”.

It all sounds rather fun, but for the most part it just played out like a bad 80’s action flick, but with scantily-clad females and of course a nude shower scene or two. Reading about it on the Interwebs I see that the director actually intended this film to be a spoof of two of his own earlier “women-in-prison” films which he was not pleased with. It didn’t really feel like a spoof, it mostly played out quite straight except for Edna who was playing her part way over the top.

Still, it was kind of fun to watch, mostly because of Edna and Wendy. I suspect Wendy was pretty much playing her on-stage self, when she yelled angrily in one scene you could hear the angry singer of the Plasmatics.

Some trivia from IMDB:
Wendy O. Williams refused to wear any outfits that weren’t her own for the film. She also refused to take off her boots and even wears her boots in the shower scenes.

Wendy O. Williams would come to work and do 200 sit-ups before coming onto the set.

Director ‘Tom DeSimone’ has stated that actress Pat Ast could be a headache on set as he would have to feed her lines, and in one scene in particular she refused to walk because the ground was too soft.

This documentary about Wendy, while not well made, was interesting.

Date watched: November 30th
Score: 5/10
Film count 2018: 79

Krull

The opening shot of the huge evil mountain spaceship making a slow pass across the screen on it’s way to conquering the planet of Krull seemed quite promising, it was quite impressive. But, as it would turn out it was also the best thing about the whole film.

This adventure fantasy film was made in 1983, the same year Return of the Jedi came out. It was also the most expensive film of the year with a budget of 47 big ones, compared to 42 big ones for Jedi. It was a flop though, and it is not hard to see why.

The main problem was the story which was very dull, even the action sequences were tedious and lacking. Some things happened on screen without explanation, and scenes which would have required actors to act surprised, shocked, or otherwise were just met with looks of boredom or not knowing what is going on. One such scene is where we are introduced to the comedy relief, a magician who suddenly appears by flying into the scene as a fireball, landing into a pond. The two main characters who were taking a rest next to the pond just looked on as if they were waiting for a bus, not even any dialogue such as “What the flippin’ heck was that?!”, or “Bajeezas!”.

The acting was adequate and included fine actors such as a young Liam Neeson and equally young Robbie Coltrane. All of the cast were British in fact, except for the hero dude who was an American, of course. The lead female (one of only two women in the film) was British but the producers decided her voice should be completely dubbed over with an American voice…sheesh! Robbie Coltrane’s voice was also dubbed, but by a fellow Brit actor for some reason.

“Time to save the day!”. “Careful dear, you might cut yourself!”.

It would appear that most of that 47 million went towards the elaborate sets and the filming locations (Italy mostly). The set in the photo below in particular was quite impressive, but was only used for a very brief part of the film.

Made on the 007 sound stage at Pinewood studios.

The interior sets too were pretty fancy. Twenty-three sets were made in all.

The director was Peter Yates who also directed Bullitt.

This is now considered a cult classic, but I really can’t see why. I wouldn’t say this is a disaster, but it should have been a whole lot better.

Date watched: November 30th
Score: 4/10
Film count 2018: 78

Better Off Dead

I thought this 1980’s teen comedy might be fun to watch, but it wasn’t at all.

John Cusack plays a teenager (John was 19 at the time) who loses his girlfriend to the high school ski team captain, and he attempts to get her back. Along the way he meets a French exchange student and by the end of the film he is no longer interested in his ex but in the French girl instead, of course.

Also in the story is David Ogden Stiers (he died this year), Curtis Armstrong (Booger from Revenge of the Nerds), and a cast of mostly unknown but at least decent actors.

Roy Stalin (ski captain), Charles De Mar (Booger), ex-girlfriend, and Lane Myer (Cusack).
Davod Ogden Stiers and Kim Darby (she played the girl in the original True Grit film).

The jokes were mostly very silly, very much only jokes that teens in the eighties would enjoy…today’s teens would probably not even watch this film. The actors though did the best they could, and towards the end of the film the French girl fixed up John’s Chevy Camaro which was a real nice car, so that kept my attention while it was on screen.

French girl, John, Camaro.

Also of interest was when I realised that Curtis Armstrong did the voice of Scooter on Terrible Thunderlizards, and old fave cartoon series, he sounded exactly as he did in the cartoon, especially in this scene. Savage Steve Holland who directed this film also created, directed, and voiced the character Doc (Doc is the character on the left, Jason Priestley’s “Squat” character on the right) in Terrible Thunderlizards. And I just learned that Jason Priestley also voiced a character on that show.

So as a film it was not much at all, but I imagine for many it is a piece of eighties teen comedy nostalgia. I did enjoy researching this one though, there is a lot going on in the background of this film, this site has some juicy facts.

Something you may not know about John Cusack is that he was a kickboxer. From Wikipedia: He trained in kickboxing under former world kickboxing champion Benny Urquidez for over two decades. He began training under Urquidez in preparation for his role in Say Anything… and holds the rank of a level six black belt in Urquidez’s Ukidokan Kickboxing system.

I will continue with eighties films though, I have Krull lined up next.

Date watched: November 25th
Score: 3/10
Film count 2018: 77