The Bad Sleep Well (1960, Kurosawa Akira)

I had no idea it was Mifune Toshirô (nor did I get the Hamlet subtext).

Kurosawa mixes genres a lot with The Bad Sleep Well. It’s an incredibly romantic film, but not from the start. The start is a twenty minute wedding scene, all told from reporters’ points of view. It creates a distancing effect, it makes the narrative peculiar. It keeps the audience removed from the characters–in fact, the protagonist isn’t revealed until forty minutes into the film. I know what Mifune looks like, I’ve seen him in quite a few films, but since I wasn’t looking for him (another advantage to going into a film unaware), I let myself get caught up in what was going on.

The distancing–which continues into a police investigation into government corruption–isn’t off-putting. The film follows multiple characters around in a procedural manner Kurosawa used again in High and Low (to much less effect) and manages not to disengage the viewer. This device is successful because no one–not even the viewer–has inkling of what’s going on until a very specific point in the film. It’s not a short, 150 minutes, and this point happens reasonably early… forty-three minutes in or so.

The film develops awkwardly. Significant events occur and the film doesn’t stop. It keeps going after these impossible situations, resolving them, building on them. Besides it not being much like Hamlet, I think it didn’t occur to me it might even be Hamlet because of the feeling. It’s an incredibly tender film and playful film and I’ve never thought of Hamlet as tender or playful. The Bad Sleep Well probably has more feeling in it then any Kurosawa film I’ve seen.

It’s a great film and a perfect example of why writing about great films isn’t any fun. I mean, I don’t have anything to bitch about and its quality wasn’t a surprise. It’s kind of exciting to have seen it, found it (the Criterion DVD only came out a couple months ago, meaning it’s not one of Kurosawa’s best known works in the U.S.), but I really shouldn’t have been expecting anything but a great film. It’s just been too long since I’ve seen Kurosawa in his prime.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed and edited by Kurosawa Akira; written by Oguni Hideo, Hisoita Eijiro, Kurosawa, Kikushima Ryuzo and Hashimoto Shinobu; director of photography, Aizawa Yuzuru; music by Sato Masaru; production designer, Muraki Yoshiro; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki and Kurosawa; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Mifune Toshirô (Koichinishi), Koto Tokeshi (Itkaura), Mori Mosayuki (Iwabuchi), Shimura Tokashi (Moriyama), Nishimura Akira (Shiroi), Fujiwara Kamatari (Wada), Kogawa Kyoka (Keiko) and Mihashi Tatsuya (Tatsuo).


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Jade (1995, William Friedkin), the director's cut

Jade not only ended David Caruso’s leading man career, it also ended Chazz Palminteri’s mid-1990s upswing, and probably slowed down Linda Fiorentino’s post-Last Seduction career as it started (she never had a lead in a major studio production). Amusingly, when Paramount started making the film, back in 1995, they had no idea who to cast in the female lead, so they asked film critics, who, of course, were raving about Fiorentino at the time. All three of these actors–at times–do a lot of good work in Jade, but the film’s so poorly written, so poorly produced (by Robert Evans of all people, in his comeback attempt), it’s all for nothing.

The story could have been an update on Manhattan Melodrama, the love triangle with civic complications, but instead, Joe Eszterhas recycles Basic Instinct. There’s a lot of recycling going on in Jade–Friedkin fills it with chase scenes (I’d totally forgotten he’d done The French Connection, I thought it was Frankenheimer… I guess a good script does help, doesn’t it?) and James Horner recycles a lot of his older material in the score, including the end title from Aliens, which is cute since Michael Biehn is in Jade. Except Biehn turns in one of his incredibly bad performances. It’s hard to believe he was ever good (in Aliens) and I wonder if the continued exposure to Friedkin (starting in 1988) ruined his acting. Seeing Jade, it’s certainly a possibility.

I watched Jade because I remembered it a few weeks ago. Friedkin did a director’s cut for cable and VHS, which Paramount did not release on DVD, and I got it off eBay for a couple bucks. I remember when it came out–I probably saw it at a Suncoast, the release was so long ago I still went to Suncoast–the director’s cut was an improvement over the original version, which I had seen in the theater. Well, if the director’s cut truly is an improvement, the original must be really terrible. Besides Biehn, Angie Everhart turns up for a few minutes, starting her assault on the sanctity of acting, but Donna Murphy is really good. She and Caruso should do a family drama or something.

The last tidbit of Jade trivia I have is about the home video presentation. I wasn’t going to get it, but I remember talking to a Ken Crane’s LaserDisc operator on the phone about the laserdisc. Friedkin had Paramount release it pan and scan only–just like the VHS, just like the DVD. Now, Jade was not matted for theatrical release, so, apparently, Friedkin is a big supporter of pan and scan for the film (but none of the others in his oeuvre, even his eating tree classic, The Guardian, is available widescreen). Eszterhas amusingly blames the whole mess on Friedkin, who he says only got the directing gig because his wife was running Paramount at the time. It’s a load of crap–Eszterhas has never written a good line in his life–but it’s rare to see such hacks acting against each other to create a piece of garbage… all of it ruining some of Fiorentino’s best work… potentially best work… she was really good–unspeakably wonderful–for like a minute… in fifteen second sequences….

I can’t believe I just watched Jade. More, I can’t believe I just watched the whole thing.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by William Friedkin; written by Joe Eszterhas; director of photography, Andrzej Bartkowiak; edited by Augie Hess; music by James Horner; production designer, Alex Tavoularis; produced by Robert Evans, Craig Baumgarten and Gary Adelson; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring David Caruso (David Corelli), Linda Fiorentino (Trina Gavin), Chazz Palminteri (Matt Gavin), Richard Crenna (Gov. Lew Edwards), Michael Biehn (Bob Hargrove), Donna Murphy (Karen Heller), Ken King (Petey Vesko), Holt McCallany (Bill Barrett), David Hunt (Pat Callendar), Angie Everhart (Patrice Jacinto), Kevin Tighe (Dist. Atty. Arnold Clifford) and Robin Thomas (Mr. Green).


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Bright Victory (1951, Mark Robson)

Mark Robson made some great films. I first saw Bright Victory before I knew who he was (I think Victory was probably my first Robson, actually). I saw it on AMC in 1997 probably. Julie Adams is in it and maybe I had AMC flagged for Julie Adams movies somehow. I can’t remember if they had a website. Somehow, I saw the film. It was probably my first Arthur Kennedy film too. Kennedy’s one of those actors who’s fallen through the cracks. He never did a disaster movie or a guest on “The Love Boat.” He’s a fantastic actor and Bright Victory offers him a great role.

It’s World War II and Kennedy is blinded. Unfortunately, even though he’s the protagonist, he’s not altogether likable. He’s a Southern bigot who can’t wait to get home to marry in to money. From the title, it’s obviously Bright Victory does not end badly for Kennedy’s character. I could ramble about Bright Victory, I just realized, so I’m going to need to rein it in. First, the film’s from 1951 and a 1951 film making the lead out to be a jerk for being a bigot is a rarity. Robson had done another film about race relations (Home of the Brave), but Bright Victory is a Universal-International picture, not a smaller studio like that one. I remember, in 1997, I had never seen the issue discussed in this filmic era. Since, I’ve seen some films cover it, but never so straightforwardly.

The script, by Robert Buckner, stays with Kennedy for most of the film. The rare deviations–once for the culmination of another blind soldier’s story arc and then for a scene with the fiancée, played by Adams–don’t stick out. The film’s constructed with a roaming eye. Since Kennedy’s learning how to be blind, so is the audience. The roaming eye doesn’t stop with that usefulness, however, it goes on to become the film’s most interesting presentation principle. Bright Victory features a few scenes–three I can think of–where the characters talk to each other, but never let the audience know what’s going on. Both the characters know, but we do not. That device is never used–it’s probably one of the particularities I noticed about Bright Victory back when I first saw it.

Last, I need to go over the actors. This post is already one of the longest I’ve done–I haven’t seen Victory since the first time, probably, so I could go on and on. Peggy Dow stars as the rival love interest. She has a few particularly great scenes. James Edwards is Kennedy’s friend, again, has some great scenes. Jim Backus (from “Gilligan’s Island”) shows up and does well–Backus was a great 1950s character actor. Will Geer plays Kennedy’s father and the two have a wonderful scene together, elucidating how Kennedy’s blindness has changed their relationship. When I finished the film, I realized it managed to posit Kennedy could not have made his personal achievements without the blindness, but did never became melodramatic, contrived, or hackneyed.

TCM has the film now–they’ve played it twice–and you can even vote for a DVD release on their website (even though it’s a Universal title). It’s absolutely fantastic, just like much of Robson’s work.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Robson; screenplay by Robert Buckner, based on a novel by Baynard Kendrick; director of photography, William H. Daniels; edited by Russell Schoengarth; music by Frank Skinner; produced by Buckner; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Arthur Kennedy (Larry Nevins), Peggy Dow (Judy Greene), Julie Adams (Chris Paterson), John Hudson (Corporal John Flagg), James Edwards (Joe Morgan), Nana Bryant (Mrs. Nevins), Richard Egan (Sgt. John Masterson), Jim Backus (Bill Grayson) and Will Geer (Mr. Nevins).


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Minoes (2001, Vincent Bal)

After we finished watching Minoes, my fiancée turned and asked me if it was a children’s film or if the Dutch just made weird films. While it appears to be assigned to the children’s film genre in festivals, the film won best picture and best actress at the Netherlands Film Festival. Still, I wouldn’t just say it isn’t an odd film. I think it’s my first Dutch film, actually.

While Minoes is good, I did watch it dubbed, so it’s possible I got something or lost something or neither. Again, it’s intended for young audience–lot of mild swearing, actually… those naughty Canadian dubbers–and maybe that level of storytelling depth made dubbing less offensive. Minoes is an enjoyable experience, though probably not for people who don’t like cats (it’s a cat who turns into a young woman). The film doesn’t ask any questions about the transformation, sticking to expected child-level of acceptance. Since the questions are never raised, there’s no expectation of an answer, which might only be nice at the end, but Minoes establishes early there won’t be any questions… It establishes its setting, its conflicts, then sticks with them.

The director, Bal, has a great sense of composition and the film’s rooftop sets are wonderful–both functional and imaginative, while never unrealistic. I’m not sure how the special effects were done, if there were any (the cats mouths appeared to be moving to words, but since it was dubbed, I don’t know for sure), but they were excellent as well. The talking cats fell immediately into the film’s agreement with itself and the audience so there was never an issue. None of the special effects looked CG (but well could have been) and there was no gee whiz factor to the film. All the cats just happened to talk in Minoes.

Since I did see it dubbed, I can’t really can’t say anything about the acting, though the lead, Carice van Houten, seems like she did a good job….

The film seems to agree with Mel Stuart's excellent observation: make a movie for adults and kids will be smart enough to figure it out.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Vincent Bal; screenplay by Bal, Burny Bos and Tamara Bos, based on the novel by Annie M.G. Schmidt; director of photography, Walther van den Ende; edited by Peter Alderliesten; music by Peter Vermeersch; production designer, Vincent de Pater; produced by Burny Bos; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Carice van Houten (Minoes), Theo Maassen (Tibbe), Sarah Bannier (Bibi), Hans Kesting (Harrie de Haringman), Olga Zuiderhoek (Mevrouw van Dam), Jack Wouterse (Burgermeester van Weezel) and Pierre Bokma (Meneer Ellemeet).


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