Friday, July 28, 2006

Rare Noir & The Hidden Blade

More Fantasia is up: Tokyo Zombie, SARS Wars, Blood Rain.

I like the Brattle. They know me there. When I went to Trailer Treats last week, some of the folks asked if I'd seen The Hidden Blade yet, and I had to say that I'd been out of town inhaling a whole bunch of other Asian theater. The way things worked out, I didn't get a chance to see it until Wednesday night, when it was down to one screening a night, and not much chance to give the last day a hard sell.

Still, that doesn't mean that the best part of Tuesday night's Rare Noir double feature wasn't seeing the Psycho trailer twice. Some of these things are rarely screened and not available on video because they're just not very good. The Captive City is mainly just overly earnest, Witness to Murder just invites a pun involving the use of the word "witless" for a tagline.

Hitchcock & Friends at the Brattle this weekend - I fully intend to make Matt come to Rear Window on Sunday, because it's Rear Window, darn it, and the boy has never seen it but liked Dial M For Murder in 3-D last year and more Grace Kelly is a good thing. Hopefully I'll be able to do The Birds and Jaws tomorrow. I have, to my shame, never seen Jaws. And I love Spielberg. So even if I don't particularly love The Birds... Yeah, I'll probably skip whatever I was planning to see after The Ant Bully at the furniture store. Hitchcock and Spielberg, after all.

The Captive City

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2006 at the Brattle (Rare Film Noir)

There's something almost quaint about this movie by cinematic chameleon Robert Wise. I can't imagine a movie inserting a member of the U.S. Senate so prominently and in such an unambiguously positive light as Estes Kefauver's cameo appearance here. The characters go out of their way to define what the mafia is, and their primary concern seems to be gambling. Mention is made of vice and narcotics, but only briefly. It's almost like the filmmakers are willing to scare the audience about the mob being in their town, but they're not going to imply the presense of prostitutes or drugs.

Still, pretty cut and dried. John Forsythe's reporter never seems to seriously think about backing down, so it's just a matter of time before we're back at the beginning, where he started telling his story in flashback - at which point the tension just dissolves.

Full review at HBS.

Witness To Murder

* * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2006 at the Brattle (Rare Film Noir)

Still, that's better than this thing. I mentioned the greatness of Rear Window earlier, and while this starts from the same basic premise - person sees a murder in the neighbor's apartment, but has no proof - but this just goes completely off the tracks. Stanwyck is clearly too old for the part, and the relationship between her and the detective played by Gary Merrill is just peculiar. How great a romance can you get when the man is constantly trying to convince the woman that she was just seeing things? It's weirdly paternalistic and vaguely mysoginistic, I think. Still, props to George Sanders as the oily villain of the piece, especially when he gets to go into Nazi mode toward the end.

Full review at HBS.

The Hidden Blade (Kakushi ken oni no tsume)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2006 at Landmark Kendall Square #9 (First-run)

I came into this expecting to like it, but a little wary, because I figured that a lot of what made The Twilight Samurai was how self-representative it was; there was a clear line to be drawn between Yoji Yamada and his hero, both being loyal soldiers who finally, at the end of their runs, got to show what they really capable of (but regretted nothing becaues family came first).

Which meant I was very pleasantly surprised by the actual result. This is a sweet, lovable movie starring Masatoshi Nagase as a samurai whose sense of duty compels him to do more (and less) than obey orders. He loves Takako Matsu's Kie, but they can't be together because of the differences in caste. It's tragic but real, which makes the last scene just a thing of beauty.

I also love the way samurai are portrayed in these movies. They are, today, revered as a class of honorable warriors, but they're also just guys. Nagase's character can be a guy who is acknowledged as a great swordsman, but he and the other samurai aren't out of place in scenes teasing his little sister, finding themselves uncomfortable with new modern warfare, and the like. I can't think of many other movies which do such a good job of portraying characters both as noble warriors and regular guys.

The backlog: 11 Fantasia films, 13 from around here. It seems almost possible to catch up sometime in August or September.

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