Film Review: Seven Samurai (1954)

Also known as: Shichinin no Samurai (Japan), The Magnificent Seven (US premiere title)
Release Date: April 26th, 1954 (Japan)
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Written by: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni
Music by: Fumio Hayasaka
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima, Isao Kimura, Daisuke Katō, Seiji Miyaguchi, Yoshio Inaba, Minoru Chiaki, Kamatari Fujiwara, Kokuten Kōdō, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Eijirō Tōno, Jun Tatara, Atsushi Watanabe, Yoshio Kosugi, Bokuzen Hidari, Yukiko Shimazaki

Toho Co. Ltd., 207 Minutes, 160 Minutes (international), 202 Minutes (2002 re-release), 150 Minutes (original cut), 190 Minutes (1991 re-release), 207 Minutes (restored), 202 Minutes (DVD)

Review:

“What do you think of farmers? You think they’re saints? Hah! They’re foxy beasts! They say, “We’ve got no rice, we’ve no wheat. We’ve got nothing!” But they have! They have everything! Dig under the floors! Or search the barns! You’ll find plenty! Beans, salt, rice, sake! Look in the valleys, they’ve got hidden warehouses! They pose as saints but are full of lies! If they smell a battle, they hunt the defeated! They’re nothing but stingy, greedy, blubbering, foxy, and mean! God damn it all!” – Kikuchiyo

Akira Kurosawa is absolutely one of the greatest film directors to ever live. Hell, he could be the best but there are other elite talents in that discussion and taste is subjective.

But for a man that is such a master of his craft, it is hard to imagine that there is one film that stands above all the others. This is that film.

Seven Samurai is at or near the top of most legit film critics all-time best lists. It is cinematic perfection, a film of the highest artistic caliber. I can’t call it my favorite of all-time but it is definitely the king of Asian cinema and boasts a story so rich and beloved that it has gone on to inspire countless other movies, television shows, novels, comics and stage plays.

I know that I am really talking the film up but what I’m saying is not an oversell. From top to bottom, everything about Seven Samurai is top notch. So good, in fact, that it is hard to break it all down and review it.

The direction is superb, the acting is captivating and convincing, the narrative and the plot’s pacing are intriguing and perfect, this boasts incredible cinematography, lighting, shot framing and employs an understanding of mise en scène that allows this film to exist on a level that most other filmmakers will never be able to achieve.

Seven Samurai is truly a perfect storm. It is one of those films that I assume that everyone claiming to be a “film aficionado” has seen.

Sure, it is very long, which is something I tend to be annoyed by with many films but there isn’t a dull moment and every scene has genuine purpose.

But I also get that a three and a half hour, subtitled, black and white movie about samurai and farmers in 1500s Japan won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s also not as action packed as action fans would hope for but the combat situations are still quite compelling.

This is a drama more than it is an action or adventure story, however. But that is also why this stands shoulders above other films in the jidaigeki genre. Seven Samurai is about life, perseverance and heroism. It is a tale that most people are familiar with and should love.

If you’ve made it this far in life and have never seen the film but fancy yourself a real film fan, you need to correct that injustice. You owe it to yourself.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other films by Akira Kurosawa: The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Kagemusha, Throne of Blood, Ikiru, Rashomon, etc.

Film Review: Ginger Snaps (2000)

Also known as: Transformare (Romania)
Release Date: August 1st, 2000 (München Fantasy Filmfest)
Directed by: John Fawcett
Written by: Karen Walton, John Fawcett
Music by: Mike Shields
Cast: Emily Perkins, Katharine Isabelle, Kris Lemche, Mimi Rogers, Lucy Lawless (voice)

Motion International, 108 Minutes

Review:

“It feels so… good, Brigitte. It’s like touching yourself. You know every move… right on the fucking dot. And after, you see fucking fireworks. Supernovas. I’m a goddamn force of nature. I feel like I could do just about anything.” – Ginger

I remember liking this film when I saw it way back in 2000. I think I watched it again once or twice a year or so after but I haven’t seen it since then, almost twenty years ago now.

Sadly, this doesn’t hold up very well and I’m not sure what I liked about it back in the day, other than I was crushing hard on Katharine Isabelle. Well, until she started transforming and got weird cat eyes and wolf titties.

The two main characters here are insufferable. It really starts to grate on you about three minutes into the movie. They’re both overly goth-y and obsessed with death like total cliche dark ’90s teens. Now I loved goth chicks around the time that this film came out (and still do) but this is written in a way that is pure cringe and just really fucking awful. It is to goth chicks what The Big Bang Theory is to nerds.

Additionally, no one in this film is likable or has any redeeming qualities except for the pot dealing cool kid who is just trying to help. The mother, played by Mimi Rogers was sweet but by the end of the film, she kind of throws it all away in a weak moment, trying to desperately cling on to her shitty, ungrateful, bitchy daughters.

A lot of people absolutely love this film though and many consider it a classic. I don’t get it, really. The whole werewolf thing is a metaphor for puberty and it’s done in a heavy handed, obvious and predictable way. There is nothing in the film that is surprising or that will catch you off guard.

I think the thing that really drags this film through the mud the most is the dialogue. It’s ’90s edgy teen angst to the nth degree and it is just as much cringe as it is derivative and exhausting.

Also, the movie starts out fairly strong but then it drags and drags and is pretty boring. The big finale is way too long by at least ten minutes. Plus, by that point, you don’t care about anyone in the film.

For something trying so hard to convince its audience that it is edgy and cool, it did so with the strength and steadiness of a nursing home handjob.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequels: Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed and Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning.

Film Review: M (1951)

Release Date: March, 1951
Directed by: Joseph Losey
Written by: Norman Reilly Raine, Leo Katcher, Waldo Salt (additional dialogue)
Music by: Michel Michelet
Cast: David Wayne, Howard Da Silva, Luther Adler, Raymond Burr, Jim Backus

Superior Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Ordinarily you look for a dame or a bankbook, get a victim with known enemies, what do we got? Some missing shoes. What’re we looking for? A man with a twisted mind. Could be anybody.” – Inspector Carney

M is a film that never needed a remake. Fritz Lang’s 1931 original is a perfect film and even though it pre-dates film-noir by a decade, it is one of the absolute best films in that style. In fact, it’s a stylistic bridge between German Expressionism and the classic film-noir look of 1940s Hollywood.

However, the original M was a German film and its dialogue was in the German language. So with Hollywood being Hollywood, it was only a matter of time before there had to be an American adaptation.

This certainly pales in comparison to its German counterpart but it is still a very, very good classic film-noir.

One thing that gives this some real merit is in the cinematography and the shot framing. There are incredible shots in this film. The use of the City of Los Angeles, primarily the Bunker Hill neighborhood, is superb. Many of the shots have lots of depth and texture. The shot where the child killer and the little girl are running down the stairs is haunting and then there’s this other great shot of a guy sitting on a crooked bench on a hill with the city behind him, as the camera is positioned to shoot directly down the street in the background. Props to whoever scouted out some of these locations, as the city really is a character in this film. It’s also a real time capsule to a bygone era because Bunker Hill no longer exists and it was well represented in this picture.

Additionally, the shots within the Bradbury Building, which was used in a lot of movies, probably most famously Blade Runner, look fantastic. The Bradbury Building is almost always the star whenever it’s used and even though it is used sparingly in this film, man, does it really feel alive in this.

The acting is also great. The evil child killer in the film is played by David Wayne, who I mostly know as the Mad Hatter from the ’60s Batman TV show. Now his performance is nowhere near the level of Peter Lorre’s, who played the same role in the original German version, but he is convincing as hell and pretty damn stellar in this. His speech at the end is incredible and emotional. I also really enjoyed Howard Da Silva, Raymond Burr and Jim Backus.

To be frank, this is not a movie that probably needed to be made but it justifies its own existence and is still a superb motion picture. That being said, the original M is, in my opinion, impossible to top. But this finds a way to stand on its own two feet and it was well crafted and better than it deserved to be.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the original, superior 1931 Fritz Lang version of M, The Prowler and Footsteps In the Night.

Film Review: The Maze (1953)

Release Date: June 24th, 1953 (Portland, Oregon premiere)
Directed by: William Cameron Menzies
Written by: Daniel Ullman
Based on: The Maze by Maurice Sandoz
Music by: Marlin Skiles
Cast: Richard Carlson, Veronica Hurst, Katherine Emery

Allied Artists Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“SHOCKING CHILLS..Bloodcurdling suspense! A thousand thrill-maddening horrors!” – tagline

I never knew of this film’s existence until I stumbled across it on YouTube. But I’m glad that I gave this a watch, as I was pleasantly surprised by it.

I was initially drawn to the film because the idea of a horror film that takes place in and around a maze intrigued me. Plus, it takes place in Scotland with a Scottish castle and promises of “The Deadliest Trap in the World!” This film actually had several good marketing taglines but there wasn’t a single trap at all, really.

Now even though I enjoyed this film, it is very slow. But it does build up suspense pretty well so that once you get to the big finale in the maze, you feel a legitimate sense of terror and tension.

The big reveal at the end was pretty damn surprising too. The first time you see the creature scurry across the ground in the shadows, it’s a really bizarre moment and it’s hard to make out what you’re looking at. However, the full reveal is pretty damn shocking even for the hokiness of the monster.

If you want to watch this movie, ignore this spoilery paragraph and skip to the next. The creature is a big frog but it’s really a dude in a suit with a pretty realistic frog head. What’s really bizarre, is that he crawls across the ground. He sort of does this hop thing but barely. And what’s even more bizarre is that the frog dude’s screams sound like an elephant. Still, this was a really cool creature and I was caught off guard by it and also amused by it.

While the slow walk through the dark maze, at the end, was really well done. The lighting needed to be better. To simulate candlelight, the crew used a spotlight to illuminate the two women. However, it just looked like they were walking towards a spotlight and it didn’t seem to work as faux candlelight. Even for 1953, there were better techniques for lighting a scene like this. The only real reason why I’m actually pointing it out though, is that it distracts the viewer during this sequence, which was near perfect other than this glaring flaw.

Regardless of that one lighting issue and the slow pace, this was still thoroughly enjoyable. The last ten or fifteen minutes were solid. But that great climax probably wouldn’t have had as much impact if not for the slow, suspenseful build up.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: The Night Walker, The Psychopath and X the Unknown.

Film Review: The Deadly Bees (1966)

Release Date: December 23rd, 1966 (Deming, New Mexico)
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: Robert Bloch, Anthony Marriott
Based on: A Taste for Honey by Gerald Heard
Music by: Wilfred Josephs
Cast: Suzanne Leigh, Guy Doleman, Frank Finlay, Michael Ripper, Katy Wild, Michael Gwynn

Amicus Productions, Paramount Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“[Referring to a liquid he has] I’ve made this especially for you, Vicki.” – H.W. Manfred

The Deadly Bees has a really low rating on IMDb and pretty much everywhere else you might look. Despite what seems to be most people’s disdain for the film, I actually like it.

I think this may be due to my love of British horror from this era but I’ll always have a pretty big soft spot for Amicus Productions, along with Hammer Films: the two studios that really made their mark in the ’60s and ’70s and epitomize the second wave of classic horror.

The Deadly Bees was also lampooned by Mystery Science Theater 3000 in one of the later seasons. I understand why it was rife with material to riff but there is still something truly eerie and effective about the film.

The biggest factor working against the movie is the special effects where the bee attacks are concerned. I mean, even for the ’60s, it’s kind of horrible. All of these scenes are comprised of victims flailing around, simulating a bee attack with yellowish bee blobs superimposed over the screen. It’s really bizarre looking and I know that funds on these sort of pictures were very limited but it bogs the rest of the film down in its cheap hokiness.

The plot is actually decent, most of the characters are good and there is a predictable twist at the end but I think it still works and it doesn’t diminish the feeling of dread when the damsel is in mortal danger.

The film also features Michael Ripper and Michael Gwynn, two actors that you’d see pop up in several Amicus and Hammer films.

I thought that Suzanne Leigh was pretty good in this and put in a convincing performance. She truly is an old school beauty and with that, has an enchanting presence.

Guy Doleman did a good job too, as you never really knew where he stood in the story. Was he an evil bastard or was he just kind of a jerk?

The Deadly Bees does have some issues but I don’t think any of them outweigh the positives to the point that this deserves a 3.6 out of 10 on IMDb. I think that its inclusion on MST3K has negatively effected the public’s view of the film. It’s far from the worst movie that you’ll see on MST3K.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other Amicus and Hammer horror films of the ’60s and ’70s.

Film Review: Glass (2019)

Also known as: Mister Glass (Israel), Cristal (Spain)
Release Date: January 7th, 2019 (Paris premiere)
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Music by: West Dylan Thordson, scores from Unbreakable by James Newton Howard
Cast: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Anya Taylor-Joy, Sarah Paulson, M. Night Shyamalan (cameo)

Blinding Edge Pictures, Blumhouse Productions, Buena Vista International, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney, 129 Minutes

Review:

“This was an origin story the whole time.” – Elijah Price

This is the third and final film in M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable trilogy, assuming that’s what we can call the three pictures that started with Unbreakable, continued with Split and ended with this.

My anticipation for this movie was pretty high, as I love the two films before this one. That being said, this is my least favorite of the three movies but this is still really damn good and someone had to be the odd man out. But still, this non-traditional superhero film series is actually a lot better than most of the more traditional superhero film franchises that oversaturate the market today.

This film series feels plausible and grounded in reality, as it isn’t overly fantastical and littered with special effects and epic battles featuring the mass destruction of just about everything on screen. These three films feel much more like a great indie superhero comic come to life, as opposed to something that adapted Marvel or DC stories. It’s smaller, more personal and well, more human.

And I’m not saying all this to knock big budget, over the top, superhero movies. I love a lot of those films. But this trilogy by Shyamalan is very different and very refreshing.

Additionally, all the performances in this movie are spectacular. James McAvoy switches from personality to personality in rapid succession even more than he did in Split. Samuel Jackson just kills it as Mr. Glass and he feels so comfortable and at home with the role. Bruce Willis is pretty much just stoic and intense but it works. Sarah Paulson does a convincing job as the psychiatrist that’s trying to analyze the three men. But the real scene stealer for me is Anya Taylor-Joy, who I always seem to talk highly of in every film I’ve reviewed that features her. She has immense talent and it is on full display here.

In typical Shyamalan fashion, this film has a twist. In fact, it has a layered twist that comes with its own surprise even after it’s revealed. But I won’t give anything away.

The film also looks beautiful. It’s amazingly shot with enchanting cinematography, lighting and shot framing.

There isn’t anything bad to say about the movie. It’s not perfect but for fans of this series, this is a very satisfying conclusion.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: the films that precede it: Unbreakable and Split.

Film Review: Woman On the Run (1950)

Release Date: October 12th, 1950 (Boston premiere)
Directed by: Norman Foster
Written by: Alan Campbell, Norman Foster, Ross Hunter (dialogue)
Based on: Man On the Run by Sylvia Tate
Music by: Arthur Lange, Emil Newman
Cast: Ann Sheridan, Dennis O’Keefe, Robert Keith

Fidelity Pictures Corporation, Universal Pictures, 77 Minutes

Review:

“Frank’s condition isn’t any worse than tons of men that strain their hearts running in track meets in the misguided belief that they were building up their bodies.” – Dr. Arthur Hohler

I didn’t know much about this movie until it was featured on TCM’s Noir Alley. But apparently the Film Noir Foundation restored it almost two decades ago and then about ten years ago, that print was lost in a fire. Then, more recently, a negative print of the film was found in London and it was restored for a second time.

It’s a pretty unique and energetic film-noir that really is carried by the charm of Ann Sheridan. But in addition to that, she’s paired up well with both Dennis O’Keefe and Robert Keith. She is usually playing off of one actor or the other from scene to scene but man, the dialogue exchanges between Sheridan and both of the top billed men is really entertaining stuff.

Plus, the writing is witty and clever and Sheridan’s charisma is only enhanced by the strong dialogue and unique situations she finds herself in.

Really, all parties involved are top notch in this movie and while I can’t quite call this a film-noir masterpiece, I think this is better than several of the films that are looked at in much higher regard than this nearly lost gem.

Originally, it was supposed to be filmed in New Orleans but due to the movie being produced by a new, upstart studio and the budgetary concerns that come with that, it was shot in San Francisco. But this actually benefits the film, as it really captures noir era San Francisco in a beautiful way. Although, with so many film-noirs being filmed in San Francisco, a New Orleans setting could have made this a bit more unique.

Additionally, this picture feels like a moving painting. Since it spends a good amount of time looking at art, within the film, it’s kind of neat to see the motion picture have the same sort of majestic allure as a beautiful painting. The lighting, cinematography and shot framing are incredible, especially in the big finale at the amusement park.

That being said, the amusement park stuff is stupendous. I love the sequence with Sheridan on the roller coaster even if it looks hokey and dated almost 70 years later.

In fact, as much as I like this film, it’s the big finale that really takes things to another level and cements this as a real worthwhile and enjoyable classic film-noir.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Too Late for Tears, Please Murder Me!, The Man Who Cheated HImself and Impact.