Archive for the 'Gangster' Category

21
May
08

God of Gamblers (賭神 or Dǔshén; lit)

God of Gamblers [1989]

This classic from Hong Kong stars Chow Yun-Fat as ‘Ko Chun’ AKA ‘Chocolate’,  one of the best professional gamblers in the world.

Ko Chun agrees to clean out a Singaporean gambler when its learned he killed a friends family member. The match is set up, but Ko Chun accidentally falls down a hill and hits his head the night of the game.

He suffers from amnesia and is picked up by some local pranksters and pickpockets. He regresses to a child like state and they name him Chocolate. His life is still on the line since he is a target for gangsters. He must gain back his ability and learn his past so that he can beat the Singaporean and put an end to all the mess.

Either this is a huge classic, or its just hard to find. The average price is like $25-$30 on amazon for a used copy. I always wanted this as I am a fan of romantic gambler movies and card manipulation. I found it at a local import store that was clearing out their movies for $6. I was very excited and picked it up right away.

Dang… I sure was disappointed. Chow Yun-Fat is awesome and a favorite of mine. But I don’t understand the draw to this movie. It has plenty of appeal, but never delivers. There is some action. There is some laughs. There is even a little XCM! But its too far, too few, too little, too late.

I think the thing that killed it the most for me is, in most gambling movies, (Maverick, Cincinnati Kid, Big Hand for the Little Lady, etc) people are blessed with extreme skill, wit, and even lady luck. But in this film, how good you are is completely based on how well you cheat. Everyone cheats, and everyone knows it. This includes our protagonist. So the question is, HOW did they cheat. To me, there is no honor in that. Where are the poker face mind games we all crave?

Unless you work security in a casino, why would you want to watch a movie where you have to tell how they cheat?

I’ll make this quick. 2 stars. Its got a tiny bit of action, comedy, charisma, and even card manipulation. But its lack of more delivery and the fact that cheaters always win that irks me. I traded in in and got $10 cause it was ‘rare’. I hope someone else gets their moneys worth.

07
May
08

Youth of the Beast (野獣の青春 or Yajū no seishun)

Youth of the Beast [1963]

Youth of the Beast is one of Seijun Suzuki’s best known films. This film was made 4 years before his departure from Nikkatsu Studios in Japan.

Joji “Jo” Mizuno (Joe Shishido) is the new tough guy in town. For now, he may join a yakuza or two, but only if it helps him on his quest for vengeance. He seeks justice for the death of an old friend, and he wont stop until everyone involved has paid their price!

Well, I cant say TOO much about what goes on in this movie, for fear of giving too many plot twists away. But even if you knew the entire story, you would be surprised at how great it was.

I bought this not knowing anything about it. I liked the cover on the DVD, I knew it was part of the Criterion Collection, and I saw through Amazon that it had no real negative rankings. Boy was I in for a treat! Right in the first 5 minutes, the movie leaps out of the screen and you are suddenly in for a ride.

Joe Shishido does a wonderful job playing the tough guy. And I’m sure his overtly large cheeks helped out quite a bit. Lots of style and charisma. Its also very easy for him to fly off the handle and loose control. Very very well played. All the characters did a good job acting. I cant think of one bad performance in the entire movie, even if I tried.

A twist ending can make you remember a film long after you have seen it. This movie has its share of twists, and the final characters demise is unforgettable. The action scenes were terrific for a “old Japanese movie”. The parking lots, office buildings, fields, and even dining rooms were transformed from average to full out thrilling locations!

Although not as “artisically liberal’ as some other Seijun Suzuki flicks, (Tokyo Drifter, Branded to Kill) you are still treated to some eye poping colors and visuals that Suzuki is ever so famous for.

If it sounds like I am going to give this movie 5 stars, you are correct. 5 stars. You need to watch this movie. You need to own your own copy to show to others. I have not shown it to anyone yet that hasn’t absolutely fallen in love with it.

03
May
08

Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown [1997]

Pam Grier stars as ‘Jackie Brown’ in Quentin Tarantino’s film adaptation of the now famous novel ‘Rum Punch’.

The film has an all-star cast including not only Pam Grier, but Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Robert De Niro, Michael Keaton, and Bridget Fonda as well.

Jackie works as a flight attendant for a small Mexican airline. However, the pay is minimal, so she is involved in bringing illegal money into the country for a ruthless, low-life weapons dealer, Ordell Robbie (Jackson). As the police begin to crack down on Ordell, they take various people into custody, including Jackie Brown. Fearing his employees may snitch, Ordell begins to find ways to ‘silence’ them.

Max Cherry (Robert Forster) a bail bondsmen, comes to Jackie’s rescue and begins to fall deeply for her. Together the two plan an elaborate scheme to get Ordell’s cash money, ditch the cops, and leave their dead end lives behind. This proves difficult as the police are watching their every move. Not only that, but Ordell has his own movers and shakers including Louis Gara (Robert De Niro) and Melanie Ralston (Bridget Fonda) to put the squeeze on them.

I find this movie to be one of the most solid movies available. The script is tight, the acting is the best around, and the story telling is fantastic! They really found a diamond in the rough with Pam Grier. Other than her skin color, you would never guess she got her start in Blaxploitation films. She carries herself with such a presence, you would swear she studied at Juilliard. Not only that, she look amazing for 48 (at the time of the films release). Another star that shines perhaps more than it was intended to, was Robert Forster as Max. Forster does a terrific job as a gentle, reliable, and tough when necessary aging man. His performance is defiantly reminiscent of the leading roles in classic western movies. And when this old ‘square’ white guy falls in love with a slick sista, he preforms it innocently and makes it more than realistic.

On the villain side, Samuel L. Jackson does a terrific job in what I think is one of his best roles ever. He perfectly walks the fine line between too cool for school and paranoid. If you had your own personal Samuel L. Jackson, you could throw out your microwave, because his stone cold gazes would heat your food up in a jiffy. As usual, you can count on Bobby De Niro to bring his A game. People thinking acting dumb is easy. I find it to be one of the most challenging roles an actor can take on. Like Sylvester Stallone in Cop Land, Robert De Niro plays it second nature. Trust me, its much harder than it looks. Both together seem harmless, but the danger is real when you cross them.

The story is awesome, and much like Scorsese’s Casino or Goodfellas, you are taken for a ride by the seat of your pants, with every factor explained to you in detail. The only thing I could find wrong with this movie, was Jackie gets off the hook a little too easy, and Ordell’s last scene has no real satisfaction.

But overall, it was so well done, it effortlessly deserves 4 stars. Its very close to a 5 star, but I just don’t see it as a movie you would love to show off to all your friends when they come over. It being over 2 and 1/2 hours makes it hard to pop in over and over.

03
May
08

Mean Streets

Mean Streets [1973]

Martin Scorsese takes us on a honest and turbulent journey through Little Italy. This is done in the eyes of Charlie (Harvey Keitel). Charlie is always searching for something with a deeper meaning. Wether its the local mafia, church, or his friendships, he strives for a greater connection. Unfortunately, for Charlie, all seems to be against each other. Within the mafia he wants to move up. Within the church, he seeks true salvation. And within his friendships, he feels the need to protect and look out for those less fortunate than him.

Enter Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro). Johnny Boy is a character most of us in life have known. And if you don’t recognize him, you probably are like him. Johnny Boy is irresponsible, free-spirited, and self destructive. The kind of guy that you swore said he would give you gas money, and when you reach empty, he suddenly doesn’t know what you are talking about. But he can be fun to be around, and his life is in worse shape than yours, so you constantly forgive him, smile, and move on.

Charlie feels the need to help out, protect, and even clean up Johnny Boy’s messes. But even Charlie seems to know that by patronizing him, he will only prolong the inevitable. As magnetic as Johnny Boy is, and as minor as his misdeeds may be, every one knows the wild roller coaster will eventually have to come to an end.

This movie really spoke to me on many levels. The character of Charlie is one I can relate to. He seeks true salvation rather than the cliche religious lip service some churches give out. He is mentally trapped between his lover, his friend, his salvation, and his job. None of them want to cut him some slack for the other. Keitel plays the role effortlessly, proving he can be a power house, or a quiet storm. De Niro, however, steals the show. Its no wonder he won Best Supporting Actor from The National Society of Film Critics. He plays perfectly this irresponsible ADDish looser with a perfect balance between rowdy and just plain insane.

Scorsese is a master of putting together small, almost insignificant scenes to achieve an over all theme, mood, or style. This is observed when Charlie often tries to touch fire, or when Charlie decides to get with a black chick, then changes his mind. Things like these seem meaningless at the time, but little did you know, it was painting a grand picture for you to step back and really think about when looking at it. And when you do step back and look at it, the picture is amazing.

With great direction, classic Scorsese style soundtrack, powerful acting, subtle yet strong story, and engaging theme, this flick will stick with you long after you view it.

Mean Streets gets 4 stars. It is a very well deserved classic. Its not gonna totally rock your cinema world, but if you get the chance to see it, you will most defiantly want to take up the opportunity. You WILL NOT be sorry!




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