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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.


August Rush

August Rush [2007]

My wife is a big Freddie Highmore fan, and she has to see everything he is in, because, “He’s just so cute! That’s OUR son!” So off we went to the theaters to see ‘August Rush’.

August rush is the story of orphaned boy named Evan Taylor AKA August (Freddie Highmore). August dreams of finding his parents and has an exceptional talent for music. Well guess what? His musician parents (Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Meyers) also dream of finding him.

August goes from orphanage, to the homeless streets, and to the halls of Juilliard to hone and practice his craft. All along, he believes music will reunite him with his parents. When this musical prodigy gets a gig with the New York Philharmonic, his separated parents find him and each other under extreme coincidence and fairy tale bliss.

Hmmmmm. Well, I didn’t really care for this movie much. Perhaps it is because, if you read the last two paragraphs, you know all about the movie already. If you even read the back of the DVD box, you’re sure to never be surprised.

The movie was strange because it was trying to make things seem so dark, depressing, and deep. Most of the time, he spends his time being homeless with other kids. But in trying to paint such a realistic picture, they forget that you cant do ‘magic’ out of nowhere and suddenly make it a puff piece. It was VERY sappy, and not touching at all. EXTREMELY predictable. It felt constantly like they were trying to make you cry. But its hard to cry when you feel nothing for the actual characters. You may know a little of their story, but none of them have much depth or presence. All you know is that they all like music a whole bunch.

OK! And we get that August can pluck guitar strings and pound on the sound box! If they show it one more time, or try to impress me with the same tired song again, Im gonna freakin throw up!

The movie had some OK parts. A vagrant simply called ‘Wizard’ (Robin Williams) is creepy. Robin Williams proved once again that he can play a good lunatic. But didn’t we already know that??? (Death to Smoochy, One Hour Photo, Insomnia, etc) Terrance Howard has a small role as a child services worker. He is always smooth, even in tiny roles.

But that’s not enough to save this sinking ship. 1 star. I wouldn’t touch this movie. If you read about it, you know all you need to know. I guess if you were a SUPER fan of classical music, and the wanted to see Julliard on screen or the New York Philharmonic, then you could justify your viewing and make it perhaps 2 stars. But I’m not a fan. And neither is my wife now of Freddie Highmore. I want my money back.


The Cincinnati Kid

The Cincinnati Kid [1965]

This classic card shark film is highly regarded as the best poker movie of all time.

Steve McQueen is ‘Eric “The Kid” Stoner’.  Edward G. Robinson is ‘Lancey “The Man” Howard’. The Kid is about to play the biggest game of his life against The Man. Once he wins, he will become The Man.

But its going to be much more complex than that. Soon, trusted friend and dealer Shooter (Karl Malden) is threatened by Slade (Rip Torn) into cheating in The Kids favor. Also, Shooter’s wife Melba (Ann-Margret) is constantly attempting to seduce The Kid away from his current rocky relationship. In the end, it is up to The Kid to wipe out all distractions, confusion, and obstacles so he can beat The Man on a fair playing field.

Like most movies starring Steve McQueen, this has that same flowing vibe. OK, so he is the ‘King of Cool’. I hear it all the time. And I DO think he is a cool guy and actor. But I refuse to call it a ‘cool’ vibe, because its different. Its difficult to explain. It’s similar to Bullitt or The Getaway. No filler or fat, all straight forward. This movie is more of that. Flows very nicely.

One great thing is that you don’t need to know poker to enjoy the movie. Everything is played out in such a way, that you can understand whats going on, even if you don’t get the jargon. The story is very gripping, and the acting is extremely natural. It all boils down to the all famous ending that you just cant beat.

Also, Ann-Margret is very easy-on-the-eyes in this film. From what people tell me, she usually is. Although I was shocked to find out she was the not-so-easy-on-the-eyes mom in the rock opera ‘Tommy’. And If you love rare Jazz funerals (like the one in Live and Let Die), make sure to catch the opening!

The downers are there. The movie can appear very ho-hum. At times, it seems overly built up, but the tension is at an all time low. With little regard for audience, the last poker game is casually going by and WHAM you’re suddenly at the last match. Was not a smooth lead in…

3 stars for The Kid! Its very well done and solid. But nothing will really blow your mind, and compared to other Steve McQueen movies, its not as much fun.


The California Kid

The California Kid [1974]

The California Kid is a 1974 TV movie starring Martin Sheen, Vic Morrow, and Nick Nolte. It has gained a cult status over the years and has recently been resurrected on DVD.

In this small town, would be speeders find there is no escaping the long arm of the law. It is rumored that the local sheriff (Vic Morrow) is so strict about speeding, he will do ANYTHING in his power to stop lead foots.

Fiction becomes fact when the sheriff decides to ram two naval cadets off a cliff when caught speeding. Too bad one happens to be the brother of Michael McCord (Martin Sheen) AKA The California Kid. McCord rolls into town in his 1934 Ford three-window coupe. After doing some research on the death of his brother, he finds it is no accident. From then on, it is his personal job to settle the score and bring justice to the sinister sheriff.

This movie no doubt gained cult status for one of three reasons. One, it has a mean classic beast of a car. Two, it is one of Martin Sheen’s earliest roles. And three, it is an odd premise… a killer whos choice of weapon is a car. Perhaps this is where Tarantino got his idea for ‘Death Proof’?

I liked the car very much. And Martin Sheens cool as stone demeanor was a perfect compliment to the automobile. Vic Morrow does his ‘Cowboy Cop’ routine with ease. And…. that’s about it….

Its a very short movie, probably because it was made for TV. There’s not a lot to it. Very short, simple, to the point. No one part particularly stands out. But its not worthless. Good short Sunday movie.

2 Stars. It has its use. Watch it to pass time or veg out. Luckily, its very cheap. I got it sealed for $5.99 and Amazon has it for less.



Bedazzled [1967]

Most of you are familiar with the movie made in 2000 called Bedazzled with Elizibeth Hurly and Brendan Fraser. But not all may be aware it was a part remake of a classic british hit staring comedy duo Dudley Moore and Peter Cook.

We start with Stanley Moon (Dudley Moore). Stanley is a short order cook at a local cafe. His one wish in life is to gain the courage to ask out the waitress that has worked there with him for years. After years of frustration, he decides to end his life. Before he does, the Devil (Peter Cook), offers him seven wishes in return for his soul.

After reluctantly accepting, he begins using his wishes. In between wishes, he spends most his time talking with the Devil and his many employees. The Devils employees include Anger, Sloth, Gluttony, and Lust (Raquel Welch) to name a few.  Soon, he starts to realize each wish has a twist or a catch. It is then up to him to out smart the Devil into getting what he really wants.

Well, lets begin with the positives. Cook and Moore work well together, and their timing is very natural. There are moments when I laughed out loud. Including the ‘pop star’ scene, the ‘bouncy nun’ scene, and other parts where the two would banter. The movie is shot beautifully. It completely captures the ‘MOD’ scene of Swinging London. The music, the visuals, the clothing…. it’s all there!

But man, is it gonna cost you. The movie seems too long. Maybe they were revolutionary for the time, but I feel majority of the jokes were so small and tiny, you could see them coming a mile away. I wanted to fast forward often. And its no wonder they made the Devil a woman in the remake. Perhaps its because they are English, but at times, Stanley and the Devils relationship seemed down right homosexual. So when you have two males sharing the entire movie together, you should throw in some eye candy to get your mind on the ‘straight’ path right? Well, perhaps that was what Raquel Welch was for. They have her plastered all over every poster, booklet or DVD cover for this movie. But shes hardly in the movie. I think you may see her twice and that’s it. So, Raquel fans, you will be disappointed.

A classic comedy it may be, but for me, I would say 2 stars. I think if you were REALLY in the mood for this sort of thing, it could be 3 stars. If you do watch it, I recommend watching it with friends so you can goof off during the movie MST3K style, it would make it a lot better than it was for me (alone in a room).


Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead [1985]

George A. Romero continues half horror, half human commentary in his living dead series with Day of the Dead. Taking place after Dawn of the Dead and just before Land of the Dead, Day of the Dead deals with some key developments in the series.

We start in Florida with a group of human survivors after the zombie infestation. Although very small, this group is organized into 3 parts. Military, doctors, and working civilians. Their goals are to find other survivors, wait for word from Washington D.C., and continue scientific research on zombies.
The movie revolves primarily around ‘Sarah’ (Lori Cardille). But many others are key players too. Such as Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty). Although very kind, he is somewhat of a mad scientist. He shrugs off the nickname ‘Frankenstein’ and continues his research. Other doctors search for a cure. He believes that will take far more time and research than they may have left on this planet. Instead, he focuses his time on trying to find a method of domesticating them, or as he says “…teaching them to behave…”
His most promising subject is a zombie named after Logan’s father. Simply ‘Bub’. Bub is showing great progress as he tries to grasp concepts from his former human life. If you put a book in front of him, he picks it up and slowly attempts to turn the pages as if to read.
Despite the progress, the 3 groups are NOT cooperating well, and the new military commander is becoming a dictator. There is a lot of stress when you have been living in an underground base and you have the same contact with the same 12 people. No fancy dinners, no radio, no TV, no companionship of the opposite sex… As ego’s rise and tempers flare, the humans become more dangerous to each other than the zombies ever were.
Well, without giving too much away, this zombie movie is damn good. Romero’s carrier has highs and lows, and this is very much one of his highs. Most his movies deal with a social commentary if you will… It is often cited, but is without a doubt at its most strongest with Day of the Dead. You get a ironic contrast with ‘Bub’ the somewhat nice zombie, and the evil dictator like military commander Capt. Rhodes (Joe Pilato). The humans start to wonder if they deserve this terrible fate. Because they cannot treat each other with any decency. Its beautifully done. I absolutely loved the story.
The special effects (or EFX as they were called back then) are second to none. Tom Savini once again easily proves why he is the king of preCGI special effects. Simply a terrific job on his part. And that also has to do with the violence. The violence was powerful, horrifying and gratuitous. Man, there were quite a few times where I screamed in pain as something was happening to someone! Now that’s entertainment! Oh yeah! The soundtrack was super 80s eerie. Very well done.
B u t . . . not all is perfect in this zombie infestation. Just as horrifying as movie was the horrifying acting. I found most of it to be quite amateur. Like a play where everyone from your church or school has to participate. Sure, some are better than others… even OK… but there is 80% bad ones dragging you down. And it really doesn’t help the movie…
Which leaves me with this. 4 stars. Very good for a zombie movie, almost to the very top! But there has been much better acting in zombie films. And line after line, this one slowly drains itself of a 5 star rating.

A word about movie, music, and other media reviews

Here is a rundown of rankings:

1 Star: Terrible. Don’t waste your time or money.

2 Star: It’s got some good stuff, but enjoy it for cheap or free.

3 Star: Pretty good. Nothing mind blowing, but very decent.

4 Star: Great! Make sure to try it out if you get the chance! Very solid!

5 Star: What are you doing reading this review? Go out and buy a copy this moment! It should be in everyones collection!

Just so you all know, my ranking for media is not simply graded by a sliding scale. I am actually pitting media against their genre. For example, Gods Army may not be a 5 star movie by normal movie standards, but when you put it with the category it belongs (Mormon movies), then it becomes a lot better. Or Bandidas may be a terrible movie, but when you grade it as a western, its still… well OK, it would still be terrible. But it moves up a tiny bit.

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