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THE MAGNIFICENT SCOUNDRELS: If PARASITE had been a Hong Kong movie from 1991

27 Jun

I’ve been going through my shelves and found a number of previously unseen Hong Kong movies from the 1990s on import DVDs purchased in Chinatown stores earlier this century. One of them was THE MAGNIFICENT SCOUNDRELS (1991), a comedy about small-time criminals trying to pull off a big-time scam and starring Stephen Chow, one of the biggest boxoffice stars in HK in the 1990s and early 2000s and best known in the U.S. for SHAOLIN SOCCER (2001) and KUNG FU HUSTLE (2004).

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Setsuko Hara Centennial

17 Jun

The great Japanese actress, Setsuko Hara, would have turned 100 today, June 17, 2020. She died five years ago at the age of 95. She’s most famous for her films for director Yasujiro Ozu, including LATE SPRING, EARLY SUMMER, TOKYO STORY, LATE AUTUMN and THE END OF SUMMER. She starred in NO REGRETS FOR OUR YOUTH (1946), Akira Kurosawa’s first postwar film, and again for Kurosawa in THE IDIOT. She made four films for Mikio Naruse, including REPAST, SUDDEN RAIN, THE SOUND OF THE MOUNTAIN and DAUGHTER, WIVES, MOTHER. Her last film was Toho’s all-star saga of the 47 Ronin, CHUSHINGURA (1962), and she played the wife of the protagonist, Oishi, a chamberlain secretly plotting over the course of a year to rally the ronin and avenge the death of their disgraced lord. Continue reading

Movie Titles with the Star’s Name in Them

20 May

I recently watched a Japanese movie called HIDEKO, THE BUS CONDUCTRESS (1941), starring Hideko Takamine as the title character, and I started recalling other films with the star’s name featured in the movie’s title. Sometimes the star’s full name is featured, as in the film pictured above; sometimes only the star’s first name was featured, as in TEX RIDES WITH THE BOY SCOUTS (1937, starring Tex Ritter), and sometimes only the star’s last name was featured, as in the 1941 serial, HOLT OF THE SECRET SERVICE, starring Jack Holt. The stars didn’t always play themselves in the movie. For instance, the Abbott & Costello name is featured in the titles of several films starring the popular comedy duo, but Bud Abbott and Lou Costello rarely play characters by those names in the films. And when any of these stars did play characters with the same name, they were still completely fictional. Gracie Allen nearly always played a character named Gracie Allen in her films, but it was a comic character she created for the act she did with her husband, George Burns.

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SHAOLIN MANTIS: A Masterpiece of Acting, Design, and Choreography

11 May

I recently re-watched SHAOLIN MANTIS (1978), one of the greatest kung fu movies ever made, for the first time in seven years and I wanted to highlight three elements of the Shaw Bros. production that really strike me now as key to its success. (The film’s English-dubbed edition was known as DEADLY MANTIS when it played theaters in the U.S. and ran on American television in the 1980s. For the record, I watched the Dragon Dynasty Region 1 DVD edition, in Mandarin with English subtitles, for this review.)

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Toshiro Mifune Centennial, Part 3: Fifty Years a Fan

31 Mar

April 1, 2020, marks the centennial of the birth of Toshiro Mifune, Japan’s greatest film actor and, arguably, the greatest film actor who ever lived. I first became aware of Mifune when his films played New York arthouse theaters in the 1960s and were advertised widely in the newspapers and sometimes reviewed in the local press. A number of older Mifune films got released for the first time in the U.S. during this period as the arthouse crowd became enamored of Japanese films and those of Akira Kurosawa and Mifune in particular.

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Toshiro Mifune Centennial, Part 2: SHINSENGUMI – ASSASSINS OF HONOR

26 Mar

As part of my ongoing celebration of Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune, leading up to his centennial on April 1, 2020, I decided to re-watch one of his most important films, SHINSENGUMI: ASSASSINS OF HONOR (1970), arguably his best film that wasn’t directed by Akira Kurosawa, Masaki Kobayashi, Hiroshi Inagaki or Kihachi Okamoto. Mifune produced the film himself for Toho Pictures and had Tadashi Sawashima direct him for the first time. (It was also Sawashima’s very last feature and the only one of his films I’ve seen.) In the film, Mifune plays Isami Kondo, leader of the Shinsengumi, a sort-of paramilitary group formed in 1863 by sword-wielding farmers and ronin (masterless samurai) eager to defend the Shogun, Iemochi Tokugawa, and his entourage during meetings with the Emperor in Kyoto at a crucial time in Japan’s history. In the course of their self-imposed mission, they get into pitched battles with pro-Imperialist factions and kill dozens of their political opponents, often as a result of murderous raids on Imperialist meeting places. With the exception of small details here and there, the events depicted in the film are generally historically accurate, as far as I can determine.

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Toshiro Mifune Centennial, Part 1: The Samurai Trilogy

11 Mar

April 1, 2020 will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune, arguably the greatest film actor in history. (He died in 1997.) I have tons of Mifune films I want to write about and I realize I can’t do it all in one piece, so I’m putting together a series on Mifune leading up to his centennial date. I’ve written about the Samurai Trilogy before, including a planned blog post that got delayed once I learned Criterion had released a new, updated, remastered edition that I needed to acquire and watch first. (The previous Criterion edition suffered from inferior print quality and inadequate subtitles.) I watched the new edition this month.

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Kirk Douglas: A Painter, a Gambler and a Warrior

8 Feb

Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas died on February 5, 2020, at the age of 103. I’ve seen 45 of his 74 movies. In a nearly 60-year film career, he made more than his share of classics. My favorites include THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS (1946), OUT OF THE PAST (1947), ALONG THE GREAT DIVIDE (1949), YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN (1950), ACE IN THE HOLE (1951), DETECTIVE STORY (1951), THE BIG SKY (1952), LUST FOR LIFE (1956), GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL (1957), PATHS OF GLORY (1957), THE VIKINGS (1958), SPARTACUS (1960), THE LAST SUNSET (1961), LONELY ARE THE BRAVE (1962), SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (1964), IN HARM’S WAY (1965), HOLOCAUST 2000 (1977), and THE FURY (1978). Among the great directors he worked with were Lewis Milestone, Jacques Tourneur, Raoul Walsh, Michael Curtiz, Billy Wilder, William Wyler, Howard Hawks, Vincente Minnelli, King Vidor, John Sturges, Richard Fleischer, Stanley Kubrick, Robert Aldrich, John Huston, John Frankenheimer, Otto Preminger, Anthony Mann, Martin Ritt, Elia Kazan, Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Brian De Palma. That’s quite a record.

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Great Moments in Classic TV 2019

25 Jan

In 2019, I saw 425 TV episodes, 325 of them American and 100 Japanese. I will focus here on highlights from classic American TV that I discovered this past year.

The single series I watched the most episodes from was “Perry Mason,” for a total of 70. I’ve been going slowly, but methodically, through the nine-season box set I purchased in 2017 and I watched from “The Case of the Renegade Refugee” (Season 5 / #13, Dec. 9, 1961) to “The Case of the Simple Simon” (Season 7 / #24, April 2, 1964).

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Actors We Lost in 2019

31 Dec

I regularly keep a running tally of celebrity deaths during the year and what struck me about 2019 was the sheer number of actors I was familiar with who died, more, I believe, than any other year I’ve been keeping tab. There were 83. And this number was followed by a large number of actors from other countries whom I was unfamiliar with who died during the year, including many English ones (e.g., Nicky Henson). I’m astounded by the longevity of so many of these performers. I decided to pay tribute to the 44 actors on the list that I’m most familiar with, listed here in descending order by their age when they died, oldest first, with remarks on what I’ve seen them in and how I remember them. I realize that many of these actors are more famous for their work in recent popular TV series, but that’s not how I know them, so forgive me if I don’t cite those series.

Doris Day (97)

One of the biggest Hollywood movie stars in the 1950s and ’60s. I especially like her comedies with Rock Hudson, PILLOW TALK (1959) and LOVER COME BACK (1962) and her one musical drama with Frank Sinatra, YOUNG AT HEART (1954).

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