High and Low (1963)

This is going to be an uncharacteristically long review this time around because I have a lot to say about this film. High and Low, or Tengoku to jigoku, is a film directed by Akira Kurosawa. It’s about a man who loses everything when his chauffeur’s son is kidnapped and held for ransom. The movie is essentially broken up into 3 acts: the ransom, finding the kidnapper and arresting the kidnapper.

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In the first act, Gondo is a high up executive of a shoe company who is attempting a take over so that he can create quality shoes that he believes the public deserves. Right off the bat, he’s a very likable and heroic character. He stands up against all the executives who are dead set on producing the cheapest shoes for maximum profit. This man actually has morals and a good work ethic, and I was really rooting for him to take over the company. Of course that isn’t going to happen because he gets a phone call saying that his son has been kidnapped and to get him back he must pay 30 million in ransom. Very quickly, he finds out that it was actually his chauffeur’s son instead and he says something to the chauffeur to the effect of, “It’s okay, he’ll let him go when he realizes he has the wrong kid.” It’s this false optimism you get when you know something bad is coming, and you just don’t want to face the ugly truth until you absolutely have to. After the police are phoned in, they tell him things aren’t going to work out that way and the kid isn’t going to just be released. The next 20 or 30 minutes of the film are intense as Gondo slowly comes to the realization that he has to pay the 30 million. He knows that his life is ruined whether he pays it or not, but he can’t just let a child be killed. I felt every minute of this movie up until the boy is re-united with his father. It was just great writing and acting all around.

However, I wouldn’t be me if I couldn’t find something that made me scratch my head in confusion. Once Gondo realizes that he has to pay the ransom, he phones up his bank and almost word for word says, “It’s Gondo from National Shoe. I need 30 million delivered to my house in non-sequential bills.” And they actually give it to him! No security question, no pin number, they just hand it right over. If it’s this easy to have 30 million delivered to your house why didn’t the kidnapper just spend some time learning to mimic his voice then make the call himself? Even for 1963 this seems a little ridiculous.

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I can look past that though and move on to the second act which is about the police trying to find out who the kidnapper is. They have a large team of detectives on the case that use interesting clues to start building up a profile on the guy. They use the different sounds of trolleys, the placement of the sun when the ransom call was made, and they even stopped every car of the model they were after just in case the plates were changed. I found those little details quite entertaining and for me it injected some realism into the film. Now, I’m not sure if this was just the subtitles that I was using, but one guy stands up and says, “I met with The National Shoe executives. What a bunch of assholes,” and I just laughed out loud. His deadpan delivery and the fact that they seriously are a bunch of assholes was perfect. At that point, I was pretty much convinced that it was someone in the company that kidnapped his son, or one of them hired someone so that Gondo couldn’t purchase the shares to take control of the company. The timing of it all seemed too perfect. Literally, right as he is getting the money together, he gets this phone call out of nowhere. Sadly, it started to look like I was wrong as they closed in on the man responsible and finally got a name.

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This leads into the third act where the movie started to slow down a little bit for me. They know who the kidnapper is and now they’re trying to arrest him. However, they don’t want him to just get 15 years, they want him to be executed. The way they go about it didn’t really work for me because they pretty much bait him into trying to re-kill the heroin addicts that he killed earlier in the movie. I’m not a detective or anything, but I feel like this is entrapment. I don’t think you can try to coax someone into committing a crime and have it hold up in court. Not only that, but a woman died because of it. If they just arrested him immediately she would still be alive, albeit still a withdrawing heroin addict, but at least she wouldn’t be dead. The ending just left me feeling sad for everyone involved. Gondo sounded like a man who started at the bottom and worked his way up the ladder through hard work, but the kidnapper just sees him as some rich guy that doesn’t deserve what he has. This guy was clearly mentally ill, and because of that, Gondo’s, and even the chauffeur’s, family has to suffer.

Even though the third act let me down, I really did enjoy this film. It was exciting, interesting and well written. I highly recommend this movie if you like crime dramas.

This is Bwaffles from the Waffleton Post, can I have a Verdict of 9/10 delivered to High and Low?

The Maltese Falcon & Citizen Kane (1941)

There was a time before I started my crazy journey where I couldn’t sit through a black and white movie. Now, I’m starting to almost like them more than colour. Maybe it gives my mind something to work for by trying to fill in the colour blanks… maybe it’s simply the style of film that happened to be around during the black and white period. Who can really say for sure? Regardless, I took a double dip into 1941 today and watched 2 black and white classics.

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The first is The Maltese Falcon, a film-noir about a private detective who gets caught up in the middle of some murders and a statue of a bird. I’d say I’ve really enjoyed about 50% of the film-noir’s I’ve seen. This movie fits right in because I enjoyed about 50% of it. I liked the beginning up to about half way then I started to lose interest. I’m not a huge fan of the film-noirs that in the last 10 minutes have the main character figure out the entire mystery. It’s kind of like most of the movie is just to entertain then at the end they go “Ok, so here’s what happened if you were still interested.” It just seems like lazy writing to me that they feel the need to explain everything at the very end, instead of giving us pieces of information throughout the movie so that maybe we could piece it together ourselves. Or, they could’ve had Spade talk more about his theory a little earlier. The bottom line is that this was just alright for me and that’s really all I have to say about it… it’s time to move on to something a little different.

Orson Welles standing on stacks of newspapers in a scene from the film 'Citizen Kane', 1941. (Photo by RKO Radio Pictures/Getty Images)

The second movie I watched is what some consider the greatest movie ever made. Yeah, you know the one… Citizen Kane. How can I even go about discussing a movie with this kind of reputation? Well, I’m reminded of a post I read where someone mentioned how they never met anyone who legitimately liked this movie and could answer the question “What did you like about it?” without regurgitating lines about cinematography from articles or reviews. So that is exactly what I’ll do. Here is why I liked Citizen Kane, regurgitating only lines from my own brain.

The pacing and execution of the story was, for the lack of a better word, rhythmic. It was like being caught in wave after wave of exquisite storytelling. The movie starts off (after the whole Rosebud scene of course) with a really broad summary of Kane’s life–this is the bottom of the wave. The reporters read from his father’s memoirs which gives them a run down of his life from when he was a child. We get more details that flesh out the initial summary that was given, like how Kane got his wealth and how he got started in the newspaper–this is the top of the wave. As the memoirs go on, the details start becoming more vague–bottom of the wave again. The reporters then go talk to his friend who knew him at the paper and we find out some of the details behind the headlines we saw while we were on the last wave–back to the top of the wave. Near the end of this one, we get some vague details about Kane and his opera theater–brought down once again. Finally, the reporters go and talk to Kane’s ex-wife who fills us in on the details about the opera theater–brought right back up. After her story, we are suddenly thrown from the top of the wave when we hear the reported at Kane’s house say that we may never know just what Rosebud means. Just as suddenly, we’re picked up and taken to the top of the final wave in the very last shot of the sleigh on fire. Any movie that manages to leave me at the top of a wave will keep my brain thinking after the credits have rolled and that’s usually a very good thing.

However, story alone does not make a movie great… so it’s a good thing this one also had some pretty good dialogue, acting and camera work. My favorite line is from Kane’s father, “He thinks it’d be fun to run a newspaper…” Why is that my favorite? I guess because I wasn’t expecting it and it made me laugh. When he delivers it, he breaks the fourth wall and stares right into the camera at me. My favorite moment of acting is after Kane’s speech when he is talking to Emily in the car. She asks him if he will come with her to see his “mistress” and he doesn’t say anything right away, but you can see it in his face. You know how they say acting is about action and reaction? This is a great reaction… you can read the scene right off their faces, no words are even needed. He’s thinking “Oh shit,  the jig is up.” and she’s thinking “You asshole, get in this car right now… I know what you did.” Finally, my favorite shot will have to be when the camera starts on the roof of the El Rancho and zooms in through the sign then looks down through the glass roof and transitions into the interior of the building all in one mostly fluid shot. It was one of the shots that stood out for me and was pretty nice for 1941.

I can’t lie and say I was exactly looking forward to watching this movie, but I have to say it more than lived up to it’s reputation and some day in the future I think I will watch it again. The Maltese Falcon, not so much.

The Maltese Falcon Verdict: 7/10

Citizen Kane Verdict: 9/10

Rashomon (1950)

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There isn’t much else I can say other than this movie has messed with my head. I wasn’t really too interested in it for the first 20 minutes or so, then I started to realize what the plot was about and began enjoying it more and more with each version of the story that was told. This was like Life of Pi but with even more versions of the story. Normally I don’t like being lied to or tricked in a movie cause usually it’s done in a cheap way to throw some twist in because the writers got lazy. In this case, the trick/twist/lie was that the guy with the axe that found the body didn’t tell the story as it really happened. I pretty much assumed that it happened how I saw it on screen, only later did I realize that the whole movie was about as accurate as a friend telling you a story about something amazing they did 20 years ago or a 5 year old telling you how your new 60″ TV screen was cracked. People have a tendency to lie to cover their asses or make themselves seem better than they are. This movie really played with that and by the end had me scratching my head. Maybe one version was right, maybe none of them were right. I feel like the woman’s story was more accurate because she admitted to killing someone which I don’t think a lot of people would do in court… especially if everyone else was saying how she didn’t do it. Although, if everyone is saying it wasn’t her then maybe her saying it really was her is a lie and she really didn’t do it. Or maybe the movie was saying that men lie and women tell the truth, but that they’re cold blooded killers. Quite the puzzler and is worthy of a repeat viewing down the line.

Now, if I may, as is tradition I will go into the things that I somewhat disliked. The laughing was incredibly over the top and actually pretty annoying near the end. I suppose in everyone’s version of the story they may have embellished things a little to make Tajomaru seem more insane and evil, but that doesn’t really explain why he laughed like a madman at the court. Perhaps he is just a madman after all, it doesn’t make the laugh any less annoying though. I was also not too impressed with the court scenes. I guess this movie was 12 years older than Harakiri, but I loved the talking scenes in that movie so much more. In this one it was very one sided… almost as if we were the judge… woah. You know what, that was actually kind of awesome. And the “judge” never asked the questions, it was always the one telling the story that sort of repeated the question and then answered it. It was like we were in the movie the entire time! Ok I guess I can’t say anything bad about that, but this next part I really didn’t like, I promise. The scenes like when the guy with the axe was walking through the woods reminded me a lot of a silent movie. Exaggerated movements, no speech and constant music. I will admit here that I am not a fan of silent movies. I’ve seen 3 or 4 of them and it just didn’t do it for me. A lot of the comedic elements in this movie didn’t really do it for me either. Maybe you had to live in Japan in the 40s to truly get that kind of humor, but I didn’t and it pulled me out of the movie whenever it happened.

It took quite a bit of pondering to write this post and as a result of that and of my mid-sentence realization I have decided to give a better verdict to this film. For a 1950 movie, I think the story was excellent and the camera work was just as fantastic. I can see why this movie is on so many top lists now. It wasn’t my favorite old Japanese movie, but it definitely makes me more interested to watch the others I have on my list.

Verdict: 8/10 AHAHAHAHAHA

Zodiac (2007) Take #2

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I feel like shaking things up a little bit so I’m going to write a review on my first re-watch of Zodiac. Sometimes when you re-watch something you pick up on all the things you missed the first time around, whether they’re good or bad, so Zodiac will be appealing its original verdict in hopes of coming out with something a little higher.

Take #1 Verdict: 8/10

I remember the first time I watched this movie I was pleasantly surprised. It held my attention the entire time and it even made me curious enough to read up on the real Zodiac killer. I’m a fan of the who done it, find the perp detective movies and this movie really delivers. It has the right pacing, good characters and acting in general, and has a bit of humour to break the tension. I particularly liked the interactions between Paul and Robert like the discussion about Robert’s office nickname and when Robert orders the Aqua Velva drink, although I’ll never understand people that order a drink and then leave some left in the glass… they wasted so much alcohol. I mean you see the waitress walking away with a couple glasses in her hand and there are some left on the table, I bet that’s almost a full glass that they wasted. And it must not be very strong because neither of them look too drunk after drinking 3-4 glasses each…

But moving on from the weak wasted drinks, something that equally disturbed me on take #2 was the stabbing scene by the lake. I’m not really squeamish when it comes to that kind of thing but I found it incredibly hard to watch. It was entirely too realistic sounding and looking for me to be able to activate my desensitization powers. Yeah so what, I covered my eyes and couldn’t watch it… I’m only human dammit! But one of the things I like about this movie is that the murders were all tastefully done and they didn’t try to gore it up or do it for the shock factor alone. Every scene had its place. However, some of the suspense was lost on take #2, specifically in the basement scene near the end. Obviously for take #1 I had no idea what was going to happen so my eyes were glued to the screen, but I knew Robert wasn’t about to get Zodiac killed this time and I could relax a bit. The rest of the film though was just as enjoyable as I remembered it being the first time around.

David Fincher is making a run at becoming my favourite director because for some reason I end up liking almost all of his movies, with the exception of The Game which was pretty awful. All the main characters were great in their roles and the story was captivating throughout it’s entire 2h 42m runtime. With that in mind, if I could give out partial points for my verdicts I would, but the rules are pretty strict in these cases and I am left with no choice but to affirm the original verdict… but damn was it close to moving up a point.

Take #2 Verdict: 8/10

The Third Man (1949)

source: http://silberius.deviantart.com/
http://silberius.deviantart.com/

I put a lot of effort into trying to enjoy this movie; sadly, it didn’t happen. The Third Man is currently in at least 31 official top movie lists including the top 100 British films, the top 50 film-noir, the best of rotten tomatoes and various others. Sometimes you watch a movie you don’t enjoy but you can see why other people would and why it’s held in such high regard. I didn’t feel that way towards this movie, so much so that I’m considering adding it to my grossly overrated movie list. The only moments I enjoyed were when Anna started talking about how she felt about Harry Lime and the scene on the Ferris wheel. These were the only moments where I felt any connection to the characters. For the rest of the movie, I honestly couldn’t have cared any less for what happened to any of the characters. I don’t need to know a character’s entire life story, but give me something more to work with here.

Another problem I had with getting into this movie was the story and how it was presented. People praise this movie for the cinematography and I can see why, since some shots were fantastic. Most of the scenes, however, were really short and the movie felt very fragmented. A new scene would start and last maybe 20 seconds then change to a completely different setting and you have to keep readjusting. I’m not saying that a movie has to stay in the same place so that my tiny brain can follow along, but I felt like I wasn’t given a lot of time to take everything in. I had such a hard time figuring out what was supposed to be happening in the beginning that I went back 10 minutes to try and catch up. An hour into the movie I was still unsure so I looked up a synopsis for the plot up to that point. Even that wasn’t enough to get me interested in what was happening.

Combining the lack of character development, the jumping around from scene to scene, and the muddy plot made for a rather unenjoyable movie. I don’t have much more to say about this one. Maybe in a few years I’ll give it another watch, but for now I’m just going to stay disappointed.

Verdict: 6/10 Needs more character investment

Let Me In (2010)

Here I am, back to my regular format which is good because it would be a short post otherwise. Apparently you can’t trust the word on the street anymore because this movie was not better than the original. Part of it might be that I enjoyed the original so much, but most of it is because it really wasn’t as good. It wasn’t a terrible movie by any means though. The plot was solid and they were able to show certain elements of the plot that I didn’t piece together in the original. Of course, they had to take out a spoon and feed them to me. Even though I didn’t get everything in the original on my first viewing, I still prefer their method of storytelling because it gives me a reason to go back and watch it again. The remake laid everything out on the table for you and didn’t leave much room for interpretation. Anyways back to the good parts… I like that they… uhh… kept some lines almost word for word from the original. The parts I liked in the remake were the parts that they kept the same. The only exception to this is the part when Oskar/Owen cuts his hand to make a blood pact with Eli/Abby. In the original it was pretty weird the way he did it, but the aftermath of her drinking it off the floor was good. In contrast, the remake did the actually cutting part better, but wow was the aftermath ridiculous. She turned into some kind of veiny demon monster and it just seemed so unnecessary.

I’m just going to start firing off what I didn’t like about this movie. I’ll start with all the awkward dialogue such as Owen’s mom having the divorce talk with his dad on the phone right in front of him, the second thing Abby ever says to Owen is that they can’t be friends even though he never even said anything to warrant it, and Owen’s dad complaining about Owen’s religious mom while they’re on the phone together. If there was a time when the dialogue wasn’t awkward then it was the delivery that was really awkward. I found the acting sub-par and felt as though the actors were trying to emulate the original way too much. Owen kept going back and forth between sounding like Oskar in the original and sounding like his own character. Acting-wise Abby was not nearly as good as Eli; it felt like she really was a 12 year old girl and not an old vampire. Something I loved in the original was the “what happens when you become a vampire” subplot. This was changed substantially in the remake and didn’t add anything to the plot. You see her drink her own blood and then burst into flames which was presented more like they were trying to gross out or scare the audience than trying to provide us with exposition on vampires. I will end this post with the following list of random observations: bully’s older brother says the same thing to bully that bully says to Owen so we can sympathize with the bully trope; Guardian drops container of blood down hill, runs to get it, sees car coming, suspenseful music starts playing… and nothing happens trope; Guardian hides in back seat of potential victim’s car with a garbage bag over his face in plain view if either of the kids decides to ever look in the backseat stupidity.

If I learned anything from these two movies it’s that you can’t believe what you hear on the streets and, for the most part, remakes never live up to the original.

Verdict: 6/10 Needs more CGI cat attacks

Mirai Nikki (2011-2012)

I’m going to start this post with a disclaimer, read this at your own risk because this could very well be the most rage filled post I’ve written to date. It took a godly amount of will power to finish this 26 episode series. The mere fact that I survived it is a miracle. The only thing I liked about this show is the OP. The first OP was pretty awesome, which really does mislead you into thinking you’ll be watching a good show.

I suppose it’s getting pretty clear now how much I liked this show so let’s just dive right into it. I never want to hear the name “Yukki” ever again and if I do I might purposely rupture my eardrums. You can youtube videos of Yuno saying that name over and over if you’d like to get an idea of what this show is all about. I actually heard this rumour that they use it as a new torture technique for extracting information from hostages. I hate almost every single character on this show. They are the most annoying cliche ridden characters in anime. I mean the creator of this game is named Deus Ex Machina! I don’t know if the writers did that on purpose just to rub it in or maybe it was supposed to serve as a warning to anyone that might watch the show. If you don’t know what it is, it’s when the writers don’t know what to do next and make up some random plot device to solve the problem and save the day. This show had so many of them and so many “plot twists” that it became absolutely ridiculous. There was no consequence for any characters in this show because if one of them happens to die they almost always come back to life in some way. Maybe they were wearing a good ol’ bullet proof vest, or it looks like they died cause they gave this great death speech then the scene goes black and 10 minutes later you find out that they escaped in the nick of time off screen. This one is my favourite though, the one where someone gets shot, the screen goes black, and it’s all in slow motion, then you find out in a few minutes that they were shot but it just grazed their ear or they’re really hurt but not totally dead yet. Someone gets their hand blown off in an explosion? Oh wow, that’s crazy… good thing in the next scene they’re totally okay and just need a bandage to fix it. Someone gets stabbed? Oh wow that’s crazy… good thing in the next scene they’re totally okay and just need a bandage to fix it. I could keep going on and on, but for the sake of anyone reading this I’ll stop there.

Now I’ll talk about Yuno and Yukki’s “relationship”. It is appalling that anyone could be so stupid as to fall for Yuno. She is clearly a psychopath with more rage issues than me. I don’t care how many times someone says they love you, if they go from loving you to trying to murder you then you need to run in the other direction. There is absolutely no reason why he should ever love her and spend 10 years of his life grieving for her. He says he loved her because “she was always there for him” wow that’s a great reason. Even he knows that her only redeeming quality is that she’s a stalker who is literally always there for him, whether he wants her to be or not.

Look, for 26 episodes there are so many things that drove me absolutely insane and caused me to shout obscenities at my screen. If you’ve agreed with any of my previous posts then you won’t like this show and you should stay away. Please stay away. I don’t want to keep going with this post because I can come up with things I hate all day long. I am just going to give it a score that’s possibly more than it deserves and call it a day. I will be back soon with an anti-rage post to lighten things up a little.

Verdict: 4/10 Needs less existing