Film Review: Streets of Fire (1984)

Release Date: June 1st, 1984
Directed by: Walter Hill
Written by: Walter Hill, Larry Gross
Music by: Ry Cooder
Cast: Michael Paré, Diane Lane, Rick Moranis, Amy Madigan, Willem Dafoe, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, E.G. Daily, Richard Lawson, Bill Paxton, Lee Ving, Stoney Jackson, Robert Townsend, Grand Bush, Mykelti Williamson, Ed Begley Jr., John Dennis Johnston, Lynne Thigpen

Universal Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Well, it looks like I finally found someone who likes to play as rough as I do.” – Raven Shaddock

I have always looked at 1984’s Streets of Fire as a sort of spiritual successor to 1979’s The Warriors. They share the same director, some of the same themes, some of the same acting talent and take place in a vivid and surreal fantasy version of urban America.

While music often times drove the narrative and the action of The Warriors it takes over Streets of Fire and propels this picture forward as a perfect balance between the action and musical genres. Granted, this isn’t a traditional musical, it is mostly a string of live performances setting the tone, as the action flows around it. It is a movie full of energy and it is incredibly kinetic.

The film also has a neo-noir look, which was becoming popular in the 80s thanks to films like Blade Runner and slew of independent movies employing the visual style. While made in the 80s, the picture mostly looks like an homage to the 1950s and the rockabilly scene of that decade. The movie is a hybrid of 1950s and 1980s culture but the 50s were on a comeback in the 80s and this film really embraces that.

Streets of Fire also crosses over into the biker gang genre of film and Willem Dafoe’s Raven Shaddock seems to channel his character Vance from his debut film The Loveless, a biker gang picture that was also Kathryn Bigelow’s directorial debut.

The film also stars Michael Paré, Diane Lane, Rick Moranis and Amy Madigan.

Paré was a good hero and it is unfortunate that he didn’t do a whole lot after this movie. His acting was a bit better than average, at this point in his career, but he had a presence and just epitomized cool. Diane Lane was beautiful and did great with the musical numbers, even if it wasn’t her voice. Rick Moranis was incredibly unlikable but even then, who doesn’t like Moranis? This film was Amy Madigan’s coolest role and second only to her part in Field of Dreams. I wish she would have got more roles like her character McCoy.

There are a lot of cameos by up and coming actors, as well as Walter Hill regulars. We get to see a young Bill Paxton, as well as Ed Begley Jr., Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Lynne Thigpen, Lee Ving of the punk band Fear, as well as small roles played by Stoney Jackson and Robert Townsend, who were members of the band The Sorels.

For the most part, the acting is not exceptional and the script is often times cheesy and bare bones but for this picture, it works. This is exactly what it markets itself as, “A rock & roll fable.”

The film is exciting and fast paced and never has much downtime. Sure, the plot might not be as developed as many would like but this isn’t that sort of movie. It is a roller coaster ride of bad ass tunes and bad ass characters where two manly men duel in a fairly original fashion. Plus, Dafoe’s presence adds so much to the picture, despite his lack of experience when this was made.

Streets of Fire was a true throwback when it came out and it still fits that mold, over thirty years after its release. It doesn’t need to be set in a defined space and time. It is imaginative and well executed and it has gone on to become a cult favorite among film aficionados.

TV Review: Jessica Jones (2015- )

Original Run: November 20th, 2015 – current
Created by: Melissa Rosenberg
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Sean Callery
Cast: Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Rachael Taylor, Wil Traval, Erin Moriarty, Eka Darville, Carrie-Anne Moss, David Tennant, Leah Gibson, J.R. Ramirez, Rosario Dawson

ABC Studios, Marvel, Tall Girls Productions, Netflix, 13 Episodes (so far), 46-55 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2015.

Jessica Jones is the second series in Netflix and Marvel’s television shows about the Defenders. It is directly connected to Daredevil and sets up what will become Luke Cage’s show, which will then be followed up by a show for Iron Fist. All of these heroes will then combine into the Defenders and get their own team up miniseries. And maybe they’ll eventually end up in the bigger Marvel Cinematic Universe alongside Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the others. But probably not.

Let me start by pointing out that I loved Daredevil. He is one of my top five superheroes of all-time and it was fantastic seeing him get a series that was on the mark, after that Ben Affleck-led dud from a dozen years ago. That being said, I like Jessica Jones, as a show, much more.

I feel like the show benefited from the character of Jessica Jones not having as rich of a history as Daredevil. She is a lesser known character, by far, but that is one of the many reasons as to why she is compelling. There is a lot more creative freedom with the character and it is ballsy on Marvel and Netflix’s part, as she is such an unknown outside of hardcore modern comic book readers.

Additionally, the villain, Kilgrave, known more prominently in the comics as the Purple Man, is barely known as well. He certainly isn’t familiar to mainstream audiences and David Tennant was able to bring him to life in his own way, which is terrifying and exhilarating, especially if you are a fan of his fun and carefree version of the Doctor from Doctor Who. Tennant deserves an Emmy nomination for this, as he proved how great he can be, which was also made apparent by his role in the spectacular Broadchurch.

Speaking of acting, Krysten Ritter was perfect as Jessica Jones. While she had darker hair and the purists will probably complain about that, her performance was solid and very organic. She was believable as the bad ass Jessica and when looking at the other actresses who were finalists for this role, I don’t think any of them could have pulled off the character in the way that Ritter does. I’ve always been a fan of hers, since Breaking Bad, and this is the best she has ever been.

When it comes to our other heroes, Mike Colter was the quintessential Luke Cage. Hell, he didn’t have to act and if he was acting, I couldn’t tell. He is Luke Cage like no other actor has owned a role as a comic book character. While he is used sparingly, as he is getting his own show in a few months, the scenes he shares with Jessica are pretty awesome. For those who don’t know, they do get married and have a child in the comic books and I can’t imagine that Netflix will alter that but it is also probably a few seasons away from going into that territory. Also, Luke Cage becomes a key member of the Avengers in the comics. I’d certainly like to see him make the roster in the films.

Rachael Taylor is really good as Trish “Patsy” Walker, Jessica’s best friend and part-time sidekick. In the comics, she becomes the hero known as Hellcat.

The show never has a boring moment and each episode gets pretty intense. There isn’t a lot of filler and every episode serves a purpose. That’s seemingly hard to accomplish in modern television but that’s probably also why shows that run for twelve or thirteen episodes a season are better than shows that do twenty-plus.

The only real negative, for me, was that the final showdown between Jones and Kilgrave, after everything that happens, felt a bit underwhelming. The outcome was satisfying but I hoped for more of a mental battle. I also would have loved to see him be able to come back, as Marvel has the habit of doing “one and done” villains. A trend I had hoped they broke with the Kingpin in Daredevil.

I am really enjoying Netflix’s attempt at making Marvel properties for more adult audiences. Not every comic book property has to be made kid friendly. Jessica Jones, like Daredevil, certainly isn’t a vehicle for toy and lunchbox sales. I hope that this paves the way for more adult comic book adaptations in the future.

Also, I would probably buy the lunchbox.

Film Review: Drunken Angel (1948)

Release Date: April 27th, 1948 (Japan)
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Written by: Akira Kurosawa, Keinosuke Uegusa
Music by: Ryoichi Hattori, Fumio Hayasaka
Cast: Takashi Shimura, Toshiro Mifune, Reisaburo Yamamoto, Noriko Sengoku

Toho Co. Ltd., 98 Minutes

Review:

“He tormented you, made you sick, and then deserted you like a puppy. And you still wag your tail and follow him.” – Dr. Sanada

Drunken Angel is just the seventh film directed by Akira Kurosawa. While that would be a lengthy career for any director, this was really the beginning of his long and storied journey of cinematic creation. He had 23 more films after this and many of them are considered the best ever made.

Probably the most notable thing about this picture is that it was the first of sixteen collaborations between Kurosawa and his favorite lead actor, Toshiro Mifune. Kurosawa and Mifune would go on to make Seven SamuraiYojmboRashomonThrone of BloodThe Hidden FortressRed BeardSanjuro and several other films considered to be true classics. In fact, their director-actor relationship was one of the longest running and greatest in motion picture history.

This picture also teams up Kurosawa with another one of his favorite actors, Takashi Shimura. In this film, Shimura plays a cranky drunk doctor while Mifune plays a young Yakuza gangster that the doctor treats for a bullet wound. The doctor then diagnoses the young man with tuberculosis and insists that he quit his drinking and wild lifestyle, to which the youngster refuses. The two develop a shaky but strong bond and as the story progresses, their worlds collide in unforeseen ways. Mainly, the doctor’s assistant has ties to an evil and strong Yakuza boss that is moving into the area to take it back from Mifune’s character.

The film is considered to be Kurosawa’s breakout film and for good reason. It uses a lot of the themes that became synonymous with Kurosawa’s work and it utilized them better than anything before it. This was his most fine tuned picture when it came out and really opened up doors for him on an international stage. Without this picture, we might not have gotten his masterpieces.

Drunken Angel is the first post-World War II Yakuza picture but it doesn’t reflect a lot of the common tropes that would come to define that genre of Japanese film. In fact, Drunken Angel, in style and tone, is much more in tune with the American film noir pictures of its era. It also shows an American influence on the Japanese culture after the war, especially in regards to the youth culture through their hair styles, style of dress and the blazing jazz performance in the middle of the movie.

Akira Kurosawa made a damn fine picture for 1948. His work also helped to put Toho on the map before they really started hitting it big with the Godzilla pictures that would start the following decade. For a film that is nearly seventy years-old, it is still effective and hits the right notes.

Film Review: Blood Simple. (1984)

Release Date: Septhember 7th, 1984 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Joel Coen
Written by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, Samm-Art Williams, M. Emmet Walsh

River Road Productions, Foxton Entertainment, Circle Films, USA Films, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Gimme a call whenever you wanna cut off my head. I can always crawl around without it.” – Private Detective Visser

I was glad to find this streaming on The Criterion Channel, which I have access to through my FilmStruck subscription. It’s a pretty stellar service and worth the price tag if you are really a film lover.

Blood Simple. is the debut motion picture of the Coen Brothers. While the brothers would go on to be real auteurs, they had to start somewhere and in all honesty, Blood Simple. is a fantastic movie for a debut.

The picture is a visual delight and really encompasses the feel of a neo-noir film. It is dark but the color palate is still vibrant and vivid. The use of lighting and contrast is near perfect and this is a film that has aged exceptionally well. It really matches the Coen style that would become more and more famous with each new release in their always growing oeuvre.

Frances McDormand, a Coen regular and wife of Joel, makes her film debut and she knocks it out of the park. It’s pretty incredible that she got to start her career with something so well written, directed and featuring spectacular cinematography. McDormand’s acting matches the quality of the film, top to bottom, and is a testament to how good she is, even when lacking the experience that would eventually lead to several awards for her craft.

The film also stars John Getz, Dan Hedaya, M. Emmet Walsh and Samm-Art Williams. Each actor brought their A-game to their roles and this is one of the best acted films of 1984, which was an iconic year in cinema history. While the film didn’t get a wide release until 1985, it spent 1984 winning over critics and audiences on the film festival circuit.

Blood Simple. was funded by a trailer that the Coen Brothers made in an effort to do just that. The film had a $1.5 million dollar budget and it makes the most of what it had, financially. Ultimately, it birthed the career of one of Hollywood’s greatest creative duos. Without Blood Simple., the world may have never gotten Fargo, The Big LebowskiO Brother, Where Art Thou?No Country For Old Men and a slew of other true classics.

The plot is well structured and has a lot of layers to it. Essentially, a woman cheats on her husband, he hires a killer, the killer tries to play both sides against one another to his advantage, everyone reacts on instinct and makes things worse due to a lot miscommunication and deception. The ending is a perfect exclamation point on the story.

Blood Simple. might not be as well known as the Coens other films but it was a launching pad for their great work that is still top notch, decades later.

Film Review: Tokyo Drifter (1966)

Release Date: April 10th, 1966 (Japan)
Directed by: Seijun Suzuki
Written by: Yasunori Kawauchi
Music by: Hajime Kaburagi
Cast: Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara, Hideaki Nitani

Nikkatsu, 83 Minutes

Review:

“A drifter needs no woman.” – Tetsuya “Phoenix Tetsu” Hondo

I never want to oversell a movie with a bold statement but on a rare occasion, I have to make such a statement. In the case of Tokyo Drifter, this may be the coolest movie I have ever seen.

The film is highly stylized and it starts with a sort of Wizard of Oz vibe, where it is presented in black and white but then opens up to vivid and surreal color. This was done to show a transition from the older Japanese culture into the more colorful modern culture of the time. This was a reflection of cultural shifts in Japan after it hosted the 1964 Summer Olympics.

From a style standpoint, Tokyo Drifter is a mixture of several genres of film. Visually, it is very avant-garde and has an intense colorful array that also utilizes shadows and contrasts similar to the Italian giallo style, which was just starting up around the time this film was made. It could also be compared to the neo-noir films of the late 1970s and early 1980s; The American Friend and Blood Simple. immediately come to mind.

Tokyo Drifter also brings things full circle for Japanese cinema. While a lot of westerns were channeling the work of Akira Kurosawa, Seijun Suzuki channeled the western genre in this Yakuza picture. Tetsu, the main character would whistle and sing like cowboy heroes as he walks on foot from battle-to-battle. Also, there is a big brawl in a saloon. Granted, it is an incredibly stylized modern parody of an old western saloon. Everyone in the bar joins the fight however and the scene is reminiscent of a saloon brawl from any western ever made.

While this is a Yakuza film, it parodies some of the genres tropes in an effort to show the other side of it. For instance, it plays up the aspect of loyalty but it shows that blind loyalty can have really bad consequences. In this film, Tetsu shows unquestioned loyalty to his former boss Kurata, only to be betrayed. The film conveys how power can be abused against its loyal followers.

Tapping into the Yakuza film trope of corporate corruption, the film also parodies this idea, as it shows how the main character is essentially an expendable part in the bigger picture, in this case the corporation being the Yakuza itself.

Tokyo Drifter also looks at the effects of conformity in Japanese culture in general but with most of its attention on the role it plays in the Yakuza lifestyle. It also analyzes the excess of that lifestyle.

Adding to the awesomeness and mystique of this incredible picture is the character of Tetsu, whose full name is Tetsuya “Phoenix Tetsu” Hondo. “Hondo” most likely being a reference to the John Wayne movie and its novel by Louis L’Amour.

Tetsu is just one of the coolest antiheroes to ever grace the screen. He has swagger, he has killer moves and he can hold a tune as he walks through Japan awaiting the next Yakuza ambush. Played by Tetsuya Watari, Tetsu is like Michael Corleone mixed with the DNA of James Bond, The Man With No Name, Indiana Jones and Han Solo.

Tokyo Drifter is one of the coolest movies I have ever seen and I’ve seen thousands. Yes, I started this review with that statement but it is worth repeating. Few movies can ever put me in a true state of awe but Tokyo Drifter did just that.

You should definitely check out the Criterion Collection version of the film if you have access to it.

Film Review: The American Friend (1977)

Also known as: Der amerikanische Freund (Germany)
Release Date: May 26th, 1977 (Cannes)
Directed by: Wim Wenders
Written by: Wim Wenders
Based on: Ripley’s Game by Patricia Highsmith
Music by: Jürgen Knieper
Cast: Dennis Hopper, Bruno Ganz

Axiom Films, 127 Minutes

Review:

“It’s December 6th, 1976. There’s nothing to fear but fear itself. I know less and less about who I am, or who anybody else is.” – Tom Ripley

I didn’t know much about this movie going into it. I came across it on FilmStruck as a part of the Criterion Channel. Also, it wasn’t until I was halfway through it that it dawned on me that Dennis Hopper was playing the same Tom Ripley that Matt Damon played in The Talented Mr. Ripley.

I’m glad that I discovered this film however, as it was fantastic and a really refreshing experience, as I’ve been in a bit of movie limbo lately.

From a directorial and cinematic standpoint, this is one of the best films I have ever seen. The framing of every shot is damn near perfection. The visual composition feels alive and the world truly feels authentic and lived in. There is a vivid flare to the picture that is similar to the Italian giallo style. The European cityscapes and late 70s New York City give the movie a genuine grittiness that perfectly emphasizes the tone of the film. The American Friend is one of the best looking and mesmerizing motion pictures I have ever seen and I don’t say that lightly.

Bruno Ganz and Dennis Hopper are both stellar in this picture. Their relationship changes and evolves throughout the story and you never really know what each man thinks of the other. Add in the criminal elements of the plot and all the twists and turns and this is very true to the film noir style albeit modernized with incredible visual style.

Director Wim Wenders would go on to have a great career but here, he gives a real nod to those who influenced his work. In the roles of the gangster characters, Wenders cast Gérard Blain, Nicholas Ray, and Samuel Fuller – all three being directors that Wenders had a deep admiration for. He essentially gave props to his influences and mentors in the same way Quentin Tarantino would do decades later.

This film primarily takes place in Europe and is a German and French production but most of the movie is in English. There are some subtitled bits but surprisingly not as many as you would think.

I don’t want to get into the plot too much, as I went into this blindly and fell in love with it. I’d prefer for others to have the same experience, especially in a day and age where movies are spoiled by their trailers alone.

It is hard comparing the film to anything, as I can’t think of anything else like it. It is an amalgamation of a lot of cool things that can be taken away from more famous films but the overall composition is truly original. And frankly, this film deserves more recognition than it has.

Film Review: Double Indemnity (1944)

Release Date: April 24th, 1944
Directed by: Billy Wilder
Written by: Billy Wilder, Raymond Chandler
Based on: Double Indemnity by James M. Cain
Music by: Miklos Rozsa
Cast: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Porter Hall, Jean Heather, Byron Barr, Richard Gaines, John Philliber

Paramount Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

Thanks to Flashback Cinema, I got to see this classic film noir Academy Award winner on the big screen. I had actually never seen it, so it was cool experiencing it in its intended format while viewing it for the first time.

The story sees an insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) and a black widow femme fatale type Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) conspire to fraudulently take out an accident insurance policy on her husband and to then murder him, taking advantage of the double indemnity clause to double their money. There are a lot of twists and turns and if anything, this film builds a lot of suspense, as you never really know how it will pan out, even though Neff starts the film by recording his confession for his boss at the insurance company.

The film is told as a flashback, as Neff recalls, in full detail, all the events that led him to his confession. It goes through his sinister plan with a fine tooth comb and shows how he adapts to the changing situations. Eventually, we learn the true nature of both of our main characters, as they are seemingly pitted against one another. Paranoia and new conspiracies arise and, as can be expected with how the film starts, things go really south.

The plot was well written, well paced and executed on screen almost flawlessly. No stone was left unturned and it was intelligently crafted, leaving no room for any glaring plot holes.

The use of contrast and lighting in the film was stellar. It certainly had the standard noir look but the stylistic flourishes such as the Spanish style home of the Dietrichsons and the insurance office added a lot of depth and character to the picture.

The acting was absolutely fantastic across the board. MacMurray and Stanwyck had an uncanny chemistry. Jean Heather was sweet, innocent and lovable. Tom Powers, as Mr. Dietrichson, had the right balance of being a curmudgeon and a jerk but not so much so that, as a spectator, you couldn’t justify his murder. The show stealer however, was Edward G. Robinson as Neff’s boss Barton Keyes. Robinson was the brightest spot in this starlit motion picture.

Double Indemnity is a fine film in every regard. I’ve liked the work of Billy Wilder my whole life and this picture just adds more credibility to his massive and incredible oeuvre.