I'm hard at it, writing the follow-up volume to Stray Dogs & Lone Wolves, my samurai film book, so I'm behind on my blogging. Here are some films I've seen recently. Bare with me ...
Edward Dmyrtyk borrows from King Lear, but not nearly enough to make this horse opera rise above the level of, well, horse opera. Spencer Tracy's hot-headed cattle baron and his sons (male versions of Regan, Goneril and Cordelia plus Earl Holliman as a superfluous, dimwitted fourth brother) remain flat western stock characters throughout and the film falls in upon itself from the sheer weight of its mundane MGM melodrama.
The Battle of Algiers
This electrifying cinema verite-style depiction of the struggle against French colonialism in 1950s Algiers is an eye-opening experience for anyone trying to make sense of headlines coming out of Iraq, Afghanistan or Israel -- and it was released 40 years ago! A virtual textbook on revolution, insurrectionary violence, and police state retaliation, Battle of Algiers is shockingly frank in its depiction of shootings, bombings and torture (on both sides), taking a cold, hard look at foreign occupation and what happens when the occupied decide enough is enough.
Monica Vitti, Terrence Stamp, Dirk Bogarde, psychedelic 60s style and decor, exciting European locations and camped-up crime capers -- a home run, right? At first yes, but Joseph Losey is a bit out of his depth here, and the demands of a demented action romp/comic book adaptation begin to seriously tax his abilities in the third act, by which time the energy has all but dissipated and the film limps through what should have been a thrilling climax (a la Danger Diabolik). Perhaps Losey should have stuck to low-key psychodramas and left this one to Mario Bava?
Festival of Swordsmen
Samurai action and melodrama blend in this 1961 Toei offering featuring Ryutaro Otomo and Tomisaburo Wakayama as rivals who compete with swords as well as their hearts -- they're both in love with (and loved by) the same woman. There's also a tough jujitsu babe/cross-dressing princess that's got her eye on Otomo plus a whole slew of martial artists converging on Tokyo for a big competition before the Shogun. Everyone wears a ton of makeup and there's a general MGM feel, compared with the more gritty Daiei chambara of the same period (think Warners). Conventional yet solid samurai entertainment.
It's a sprawling Sonny Chiba/Haruki Kadokawa thing, very big, very epic (142 minutes). Basically you've got The Chiba and his men going up against Sengoku-jidai warlords like Shingen Takeda with a tank, an APC and a bunch of guns, grenades and mortars. Of course he gets his ASS KICKED by his kickass forebears. Not bad, but the whole thing is awash in horrendous 70's sensitive singer-songwriter-type music: Lots of inappropriate ballads pouring like honey over scenes of carnage, that sort of thing. But over all, quite entertaining, and an interesting cultural take on Japan's martial history.
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