E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) movie poster

director Steven Spielberg
viewed: 04/26/2013 

In 1982, I was all about E.T.  I sat through it twice the first time I saw it.  I read the novelization of it.  I even got the Michael Jackson record thing with E.T.  I was 13, but I was totally into it.  I thought that Drew Barrymore was the cutest kid in the world.

That said, I don’t know that I ever actually saw the movie again.  At least after 1982.  I might have gone to see it again in the theater.  That was the old fashioned way of seeing movies multiple times.  Not necessarily pre-VHS or pre-Beta but certainly before we had them.  And when things didn’t go to pay cable right after the fact.

Anyways, I hadn’t seen E.T. in a long, long time.  The kids had seen it some years before, not with me.  Long enough ago that Clara didn’t remember it at all and Felix probably couldn’t remember it too well.  But after watching A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) the week before, certain parallel notions arose in my mind, though maybe it was just the style of the title, with two initials followed by the longer words for which they stood.  That and some crazy adventure for an alien being of great good and innocence.  Frankly, the parallels stopped seeming parallels after re-watching E.T.

E.T. is a good, probably not great movie.  It’s greatest strengths are the child actors Henry Thomas as Elliott, Drew Barrymore as Gertie, and Robert McNaughton as older brother Michael.  Director Steven Spielberg has always had a way with child actors, and E.T. was one of the films that really solidify that truth.

It’s also quite the snapshot of early 1980’s Southern California (as Everytown, USA).  I’ve always seen some parallels between the landscape of Poltergeist (1982) and E.T.  It’s almost as if they used the same landscape shots of suburbia.  Spielberg was producing Poltergeist at the same time and the film certainly feels a lot like a Spielberg movie in many places.

The nuclear family in E.T. is a broken one.  Dad is in Mexico with another woman.  The wounds on the family, particularly on Elliott and his mom (Dee Wallace) are still open and painful.  E.T. carries that other very Spielbergian sensibility of child endangerment and dissociation from the family.  Adults are almost entirely shot from the perspective of someone of either E.T. or Gertie’s height, simply waists and feet, no faces.  The mysterious government agents are just body parts, not men, until the very end when Peter Coyote shows up and has a face and a voice.

The magic that I felt in 1982 (in which I was far from alone) really doesn’t resound as powerfully today.  Felix and Clara enjoyed the film’s more comic aspects, like when E.T. gets drunk or gets dressed in drag, or simply gets knocked around.  As surprised by E.T.’s death and resurrection, neither of the kids seemed very overwhelmed by the emotion of the story.  I remember tearing up when I saw the film back in the day.  Again, I don’t think I was exactly alone in that.

I asked them what they thought about E.T. vis-a-vis A.I. Artificial Intelligence, which was sort of the notion of pulling E.T. out at this point.  Clara preferred the movie about the robot boy to the friendly alien invader.  And interestingly, I think that I too think it’s a better film.  While it’s certainly had less cultural impact, less commercial success, less notoriety, I think it’s a better film.

E.T. is as much a time capsule of a film as anything, so it seems.  While it was one of the films that really embedded product placement in its evil corporate form in earnest, it also maintains some image of a kid’s California life of the time, surrounded as one is with the cultural effluvia of one’s period: Star Wars toys, Hulk posters, Speak’n’Spells.  For me, it’s particularly evocative, as I stayed that summer in California with my grandparents and still vividly remember that time.  But that is the uniqueness of my experience, not the least objective.

It’s also sentimental and soppy and silly cutesy.  Some of the cutesy is still effectively cute (Drew Barrymore is still a doll as Gertie), some a little more groan-inducing.  And some of the “magical” images, such as Elliott riding his bike across the giant moon, flying in air, with the John Williams score grabbing at the heartstrings (heartlights?), it’s not necessarily ham-fisted but still most obvious.

Iconic, yes.  Masterful, maybe not.

Blancanieves (2012)

Blancanieves (2012) movie poster

director Pablo Berger
viewed: 04/25/2013 at Embarcadero Cinemas, SF, CA

A Spanish “Snow White” by any other name… or literally Blancanieves.  An oddity of sorts, it’s a modern silent film, shot in the style of the 1920’s, in black and white, even using what would have been the typical aspect ratio (4:3) of the time as well.  Perhaps less odd after the success of The Artist (2011), though the film’s creator, Pablo Berger, swore that this film was in production before The Artist became such a thing.

It is perhaps not ridiculous to compare the two films, though they are not really alike outside of their cinematic throwback concepts.  Many have considered Blancanieves a superior film.  I would not say that myself.  It has its charms but it’s not a particularly good film.  It’s a little hard to judge perhaps but I didn’t find it so wonderful.

It is a “Snow White” minus the magic (mostly), set in the bullfighting world in Spain in the 1920’s.  A child is born to a famous singer mother and a famous toreador father at a point of great tragedy for both.  The mother dies in childbirth and the father is gored and turned into a paraplegic.  In steps the wicked step-mother, a conniving nurse, who seeks to punish the young girl, whose existence causes her so much ire.  She even sends her to the woods to be killed by a henchman.

And Carmencita (Blancanieves to her friends) even encounters some dwarves, a group of traveling entertainers who also “fight” bulls.  She even sort of falls in love with one of them (there is no handsome prince in this telling).

It all sounds quite good and lovely.  And it is certainly not without its charms.  It’s even a little extra interesting (sort of) for me as I’ve seen a few “Snow Whites” of late: Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), and Snow White (1916).  In fact, in concept the whole thing seems pretty cool.  Which it is.

It’s just not very well-done.  Which is a shame.  It will be interesting to see if other silent films get made now into features.  It’s quite a different thing to make them today.  In their day, they were the medium.  It wasn’t as if something additional, like sound or color, was available and forgone.  Even silents that were made after the advent of sound production were commodities or artistic choices.

These two films are both intentional throwbacks, full of homage, and even set in the period of the Silent Era.  They are what they are.  But they can never be what they emulate.

Alien Resurrection (1997)

Alien Resurrection (1997) movie poster

director Jean-Pierre Jeunet
viewed: 04/24/2013

To complete the Alien cycle, sort of, I pulled up the 1997 film, Alien Resurrection, which I hadn’t seen since its initial release.  When it first came out, I was kind of excited about it.   Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, fresh off the amazing The City of Lost Children (1995) and featuring the ever-waifish Winona Ryder, this strange mix of elements seemed to bode of something unusual and potentially cool.  On paper, at least.

The screenplay was written by Joss Whedon, though at the time that wouldn’t have meant a lot to me.  Whedon’s contributions were not enough to rescue the film, either.

Set 200 years after Alien 3 (1992), the never say dead Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is “resurrected” via DNA with an alien queen inside her.  All hell, of course, breaks loose.

Ron Perlman and Dominique Pinon, also fresh off  The City of Lost Children show up, as do the tropes and ideas that comprise an “Alien” movie.  Sort of like a jazz take on material, flashing familiar elements of a song whilst reinventing and playing with the elements.  Though in this case it would be a rather poor rendition.

Winona does indeed also appear.  As the resident android, though apparently one with emotions.  She’s not bad here. Those big brown eyes are as luminous as ever.

Sadly, Alien Resurrection is probably the worst of the original four films.  It’s not unfun.  It’s kind of entertaining. If a sloppy mess of a movie.

The Alien series Alien (1979), Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992), and Alien Resurrection (1997) doesn’t end here.  It moves into Alien vs. Predator (2004) and then Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007).  And then does it not become re-resurrected in Prometheus (2012)?  And beyond?

As I started my venture into the “quadrilogy,” I actually also became intrigued by its knock-offs.  I haven’t watched any of them yet, though I’ve queued some.  Maybe more to come.  Maybe.

The Collection (2012)

The Collection (2012) movie poster

director Marcus Dunstan
viewed: 04/22/2013

Why did I watch The Collection? Well, I watched The Collection because I had accidentally watched The Collector (2009), thinking it was The Collection, which I only wanted to see because local film critic Mick LaSalle wrote so negatively about it.  His pompous writing has made me a tad reactionary over the years I’ve been here and he’s been lead film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle.  So, I watched The Collector, missing the entire point of the activity, so I felt somewhat compelled to complete the task and actually watch The Collection.

Really wasn’t worth the effort.

The Collector wasn’t half bad in its own way.  Particularly in comparison with The Collection.

The Collection starts off sort of where The Collector left off.  The thief who has escaped a house of horrors escapes a new house of horrors and is cowed into helping a private detective and crew to rescue the deaf daughter of some rich guy, hidden in the latter house of horrors, an abductee of “the collector”.

You see, he’s this serial killer/mass murderer/torture artist who kills and kills and kills with elaborate traps and complex mechanisms.  An entire dance floor of young people with rotary blades.  Others crushed in a cage-like compress.  Some drugged into crazed zombie insanity.  Others just spiked, shot, stabbed, mutilated.

So they raid his building, getting killed quickly and efficiently (it all clocks in at under 80 minutes, possibly much less).  Whereas its predecessor was at least partially baked, this one was obviously cooked up in a kitchen with a broken oven.  It’s just movie sludge.

A couple of the actors seem like they could have made for interesting characters if they’d stuck around long enough.  They are just grist for the mill, though.  Quite literally.

And this film, I will agree, is very bad.  I don’t see it as the end of cinema or the end of horror.  Just sort of pointless crap.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (2012)

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012) movie poster

director Bill Condon
viewed: 04/21/2013

The immensity of the crapitudue.

I’d like to just leave it at that, but having spent however many hours with this franchise of films, I feel I owe it to myself to say a few other things.

The gist of this film is about a war among vampires about whether or not Renesmee, baby of Bella and Edward, is an “immortal child”, which is apparently a very dangerous thing.  She is not an immortal child, but Edward’s family reaches out over the globe to various vampire groups to support his point that she is “normal” and doesn’t need to be killed.  The Vampire Vatican feels differently.  She grows fast and Jacob “imprints” on her when she’s a baby (In other words, he’s in love with her and she and him are eternally linked.)  He’s all like, “Hey, I didn’t choose to be pedophile!”  Lucky for him, in a year she’ll be old enough to rent a car at the rate she’s aging.  It all comes down to a battle.  But it doesn’t.  It’s all a vision, a vision of doom that averts the slaughter and yet perpetuates an opportunity for future sequels and stories since nobody is dead.

This whole series of films and books has proven to be almost a right wing agenda of fantasy films, with no sex before marriage, carrying babies to term even in threat of death to the mother, and other “family values”.  It’s also blah, bloodless, fake crap.  The effects are awful (why does everybody go in “superspeed” mode to move from one thing to another?)  Why is this so damn popular? I’ve heard that the books are terrible too.  I don’t need to read them to find it out.  I’m happily done with this series, with no desire to ever, ever revisit it.

Looking back at my thoughts on the films of this series (and my star ratings in Netflix), as bad as the first film was, it was the most tolerable of them all.  The rest vary from awful to godawful, while remaining morally objectionable.  I would be willing to argue that this is an exemplar of American mainstream cultural crap at its lamest.  I mean that for the whole.  Why single one film out from the rest?  They are all of one long soap opera of mute bullshit, sexless sex, terrible acting, writing, everything.

No more, I tell you.  No more.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001) movie poster

director Steven Spielberg
viewed: 04/20/2013

I’ve been writing about the movies I watch for over a decade now.  All that really gives me is some sense of perspective on what I was thinking at the time that I saw a film, a particular instance, close to the actual experience of watching a movie and my immediate reactions, thoughts, feelings.  In the case of A.I. Artificial Intelligence, it’s kind of interesting because of all of the films that I’ve watched in the past decade (nearly 1700), there are those rare few that really stick with a person, linger far beyond their watching, stay fresh in one’s mind despite having so much else that has had opportunity to push it out and take its place.

Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, from 2001, is absolutely among those.  Looking back on what I wrote about it in 2002, I gave it much shorter shrift than I did in my mind over the ensuing eleven years.  The film continued to haunt and linger, and while I always acknowledged some of its lesser qualities, it actually grew in stature over the time.  And so, as I was trying to think of movies to watch with the kids, it suddenly struck me that they might find this movie very interesting.

Adapted from a script that Stanley Kubrick had developed over many years, Spielberg got A.I. Artificial Intelligence into production shortly after Kubrick’s death in 1999.  Originally from a Brian Aldiss’s short story “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long,” Kubrick crafted a story of a robot boy seeking real life, a modern, sci-fi Pinocchio.  In its long journey from story to concept to film, bandied between two of the 20th century’s major American directors, A.I. Artificial Intelligence is a singular work of a multitude of visions.  But it’s also perhaps one of Spielberg’s best films.

Really, the most powerful thing in the whole film is Haley Joel Osment.  Fresh off his break-through role in The Sixth Sense (1999), this film further underscores the probability that he is one of the great child actors of all time.  There is something uncanny in his performance, but so utterly effective, so endearing, that the emotional charge of the film, this lost child abandoned to a cruel world, yearning for his mother hits like a ton of bricks.

The kids were really impressed by him as well.  In the beginning of the film, before his emotions have been “turned on” and even after as he seeks to learn how to behave, there is a creepiness to him, cute as he is, that somehow he is indeed “other” than human.  His journey through the desolation of this futuristic world where robots are ubiquitous yet have no status other than machine is an epic, sad, torturous affair.

The kids usually will say that they liked a film, but that it “was sad”, as if that is a criticism of it.  It is a sad story.  An effective one.

There are themes of abandonment that I believe are consistent in Spielberg’s oeuvre, but this time I specifically thought of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) this time through, correct or not.  There are Holocaust parallels common in his films, and aliens ultimately.

I think as I saw this film in 2002, then Minority Report (2002) and then War of the Worlds (2005), that something opened up for Spielberg in regards to science fiction, that his return to genre offered up three of his best films of the decade.  It also opened him up for me. Coming out of film school, the cynicism toward some of film’s major popular figures, especially those who evoke great sentimentality and/or commercialism, make them very suspect, more prone to critique.  But this group of films struck me, and as I delved into more of Spielberg’s filmography over the years (and particularly of late), I’ve come to a greater and greater appreciation of his work, his strengths, his qualities.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence does have some weaknesses.  The long, strange, drawn-out ending is certainly one of the most obviously imperfect, but this modernized fairy tale is also a powerful, evocative story, with a brilliant performance at its (and as its) heart.  I would posit that history will accept this film better and better over time.

Oblivion (2013)

Oblivion (2013) movie poster

director Joseph Kosinski
viewed: 04/20/2013 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

Trailers for Oblivion, the new Tom Cruise sci-fi vehicle, didn’t inspire me to see it.  Set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where Cruise and pretty, English actress Andrea Riseborough are sole caretakers of these giant sea-sucking machines (collecting sea water to convert to energy) and their drones left on the planet, the world is abandoned.  Riseborough is the monitor, Cruise the handyman.  But Cruise runs into odd things in the desolation, not the least of which is the scavengers, supposed leftover aliens from the invasion that broke the moon and wiped out the human race.

Directed from a screenplay that he co-wrote from a graphic novel that he also co-wrote, Joseph Kosinski isn’t yet an inspiring name for science fiction or film.  His only other movie to date is the slick but lame Tron: Legacy (2010).  So, matched with a trailer that seems to tell you too much (the supposed scavengers are humans! led by Morgan Freeman! in a leather suit! and they’re whole existence seems to be a lie!) didn’t urge me on to see it either.

And of course Tom Cruise.  I guess that I don’t hate him.  But he’s not someone that I want to see in a movie.

What it came down to was timing.  Free day and happened to be at the theater at just the right time.

The movie has a slick, refined aesthetic.  Especially the design of the housing and craft that Cruise and Riseborough abide in.  It’s a penthouse perched above the world, with a dangling, see-through swimming pool (how cool!).  And while Cruise wears functional futuristic adventure gear, Riseborough is clad in some pretty haute couture.  The craft that Cruise flies around the planet is a cool design, with pivoting spheres allowing multi-directional flying, shooting, seeing.  It’s all very nice.  But in the context of the movie: Who designed it?

Outside of the movie, sure, there are designers fantasizing all cool about the future.  Designs perhaps not practical or real today but might be possible.  And the aesthetics of the house…it’s a rich fantasy.

But here comes the spoiler.

In the movie, it turns out that Earth was invaded by an artificial intelligence.  It is in the form of the giant spacecraft floating in Earth’s atmosphere and presumably in the forms of the drones and the sea-sucking mechanisms.  For some reason, they needed a couple of humans around to maintain things, a maintenance crew.  Why not robots?  Not clear.  Thus we have the duo, duped as they are with erased memories, working to solve the mystery of what is really going on.  And it does have some twists.  Maybe I haven’t spoiled them all.

I guess the bottom line for me about Oblivion is that it’s a pretty decent movie.  Not great, not special, not unique.  Very slick-looking.  I’m not sure that it reflects any greater depth.  Like I kept wondering about the false family of Cruise and Riseborough and their lush penthouse life as in what does that mean to signify?  The false life they lead, does it mean to represent society or something?  Marriage?  Science fiction typically is loaded with social commentary.  Oblivion is mostly oblivious to this, I believe.  It’s a scenario but not necessarily one for us to think too much about.  A devastated Earth with a broken moon floating in space looks cool.  It’s just not too likely to happen this way.

The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

The Man with the Iron Fists (2012) movie poster

director RZA
viewed: 04/17/2013

It’s been said elsewhere but I will certainly second the thought that director/writer/star RZA’s The Man with the Iron Fists is the best bad movie in a long time.  It’s bad but it’s kinda great and not entirely due to irony.  What it lacks in sophistication, it makes up for in lack of sophistication.

The film is an homage to the martial arts genre and is itself a product of the genre, co-written and produced in part by Eli Roth.  There is a convoluted story revolving around a number of clans and a clan war taking place in “Jungle Village”.  But the story’s center is around RZA’s character, a freed slave, who has learned Eastern wisdom upon his arrival in China, but for some rather unclear reasons now works as a pacifist weapons maker.  Of course, when his girl is killed and his hands are chopped off (for helping someone escape), he is forced to craft some “iron fists” (which he can control with his spiritual wisdom) and seek revenge.

It’s a sprawling chaotic mess but it’s pretty fun throughout.  The action is quick, over-the-top, and frequent.  Characters are a bit too numerous to keep track of but it’s just more heads to roll.  Lucy Liu shows up as a brothel madam/leader of a secret love-girl clan of assassins.  Russell Crowe shows up as a gun/knife-wielding hedonist who sides with the good guys.  And surprisingly notable is pro wrestler/mixed martial artist/bodybuilder David Bautista as “Brass Body”, the menacing figure with an impenetrable physical trait of turning to metal when attacked.

The most laughable aspect of the film is the flashback to the slave narrative.  RZA himself plays his character seriously and very understatedly, while most of the cast chews scenery left and right with great camp (though Crowe is sort of on his own level, actually deporting himself quite well within the strange confines of the film kind of like he’s the only one successfully “acting”).  But RZA’s slave hairdo is something right out of parody.

The whole thing is just goofy fun, though I think part of the fun comes from the fact that the film is written in such earnest.  It’s perhaps an arguable statement to say that the martial arts genre is loaded with campy over-acting, crazy action violence, nonsense kung fu, flying, nutty tricks and near magic.  RZA uses traditional FX where possible (those geysers of blood actually spewed on a set somewhere), though he employs CG FX in clever ways, too.  The qualities of the film are not entirely ironic.  The action is often successful as it is intended to be.  It’s just the whole film is a hectic, energetic mess.

Most bad movies are not enjoyable, they’re just bad.  Those of us who like to enjoy a good bad movie often sit through any number of movies that are just genuinely bad and not enjoyably so.  The Man with the Iron Fists actually delivers much more what you might want from a crazy, goofy, convoluted martial arts action film, homage or not, kitsch or camp, or not.

Killer Joe (2011)

Killer Joe (2011) movie poster

director William Friedkin
viewed: 04/14/2013

Director William Friedkin (The French Connection (1971), The Exorcist (1973)) scored a relative amount of attention in his 2011 film, Killer Joe, mainly because it rated an NC-17 for sex and nudity, among other things.  It’s the second film he has made of late with writer Tracy Letts, who, as in 2006’s Bug, adapted one of his plays to a screenplay for The Exorcist director.

This one is a chicken-fried black comedy, with a harsh reality center.  It features Matthew McConaughey as the title killer, a Texas cop who sidelines as an assassin for hire.  He is hired by a trailer park family who decides to have an ex axed for insurance money.  The family consists of Thomas Haden Church (loser dad), Emile Hirsch (loser son), Gina Gershon (looser step-mother), and Juno Temple (sweet little young thing sister).  Joe takes a liking to the Dottie the virgin and accepts her as his “retainer”.  Of course, with a family this dumb and low, things are not going to work out the way they planned.  It’s bound to get ugly.

Unlike Bug, which bugged me because it felt so much like a play, Killer Joe manages to break away from that trap that films adapted from plays often have.  That is feeling like a filmed staged thing rather than a “movie”.  It’s a personal issue.  Don’t mind me.

Juno Temple (daughter of director Julien Temple) does a pretty good job with the naif waif Dottie.  At times she really looks and seems a teenager.  At other times, she seems a bit older, no doubt her actual age, casting a glint of maturity which contrasts starkly with the role.

There is a moderate amount of nudity.  Not that much sex.  Notoriously there is a sex scene involving a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is where the film caught the MPAA.

Frankly, this struck me while watching season one of Game of Thrones, but almost all of the popular pay-cable television dramas feature tons and tons of sex and nudity.  They are virtually defined by that fact.  Movies used to have a lot more of it in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  How much is adequate or too much is not at issue here.  But because movies are rated by the MPAA and wind up with severe marketing and sales penalties if rated NC-17, meaning that they can’t be sold in WalMart or distributed or shown in X number of venues reduces their marketability and thusly has them almost always edited down to what the MPAA considers an R.

Has a film ever been given an NC-17 purely for violence?  Nope.  It’s sex.  And the while one might come to think from studying movies over the past fifty years that American cinema has become far more prudish and far more violent.  Maybe you would even think that people don’t want to see nudity and sex in films and media.  But those pay cable shows prove that is utterly, utterly the opposite.  Those programs don’t get limited in their distribution, though they arguably are by definition.  But they are also not limited in their content choices, be it cursing, fucking, or beheading.  There is a double standard in media at the moment that is extreme and pronounced.  Films are much more “self-censored” than cable television.

It’s pretty freaking ridiculous.  I mean, the MPAA has never been a standard of consistency or intelligence.  When you count the number of times the word “fuck” is uttered in a film to determine its acceptability (like a threshold exists), but allow for endless amounts of evisceration, it’s stupid.  I believe that rating systems do have value but the level between R and NC-17 creates a greater problem for making something with freedom.

This is nothing new.  It’s been a decade almost since This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006), in which filmmaker Kirby Dick tried to dig into what the arbitrary reality was of the rating system.  But it just struck me while watching all the titillating sex on Game of Thrones and True Blood that this dichotomy is extremely unfair to film.

You never know what is going to strike you when you sit down to watch a movie.  Or at least I don’t.  But for Killer Joe, which I thought was decent, not great,…this is what it was.

Seven Samurai (1954)

Seven Samurai (1954) movie poster

director Akira Kurosawa
viewed: 04/12/2013

My venture into cinema with my kids has typically been quite a broad one, but seeking to expand it yet further, I set us up with Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai for Friday night.  I, myself, hadn’t seen it until five years ago, shamed-faced as I was to realize that.  But Seven Samurai was actually only the 2nd film that we watched in a foreign language together, with me reading the subtitles to them so they wouldn’t have the challenge of keeping up, but would have the sound of the language in their ears.  They were certainly open-minded about it.  I had, however, forgotten that it was over 3 hours long, which has been more daunting (the length) than many other possible impediments to success with them.

When the intermission rolled around, both Clara and Felix groaned, “What! It’s only half-over?”  Fair enough, fair enough.  Epics are epics.  They require endurance.

Being familiar with The Magnificent Seven (1960) and A Bug’s Life (1998) (oddly to a slightly lesser extent), I had talked to them about how this film was adapted into those two, and how many elements of the story, characterization, action and adventure had been pulled into many other films since.  Felix has been particularly keen to see many of the films considered to be among the best ever made.  Whether he is at the right age to appreciate them fully, or whether Clara is, might be somewhat questionable, but I also thought that having seen Seven Samurai now, at this age with me, it will be a part of his/her landscape of cinema going forward.

Queried at the end of the film, Felix said it was “okay”.  Clara said she liked it.  These are typical post-movie responses from the two of them, probable to be repeated time and again after many varied films we see together.

For me, it had been five years since I’d first seen it, and while much of it remained strong in my mind, oddly the fact of its epic length had been forgotten.  Maybe that is a statement to how engaging the film is.  Even at 3 hours plus, it doesn’t feel overlong.  In fact, through much of it, the pacing seems apt and energetic.  And really, the kids did not wane through the film.  They made it all the way and were involved throughout.

It really has been the template of a great action/adventure film, from the build up of the characters to the inevitable battle sequence that finishes the story.  Takashi Shimura is great as Kambei Shimada, the eldest, noble, first samurai enlisted to protect the farming village.  I also particularly liked Seiji Miyaguchi as Kyūzō, the quiet, serious, deadly capable member of the team.  And as always, the great Toshiro Mifune is great as the rambunctious, wily rebel, Kikuchiyo.  There is much of class, not so much critique perhaps, but representation in what the ideals of the samurai are meant to be.  Like the classics of the Western genre, which I so often consider in contrast with the Samurai film, such an early genre film tends to establish more of the tropes, traditions, effects, character types than to subvert them.

What I noticed this time that I hadn’t before was that each of the samurai that are slain in the film are felled by musket fire.  None falls to the traditional weapons of the samurai, not swords, spears, arrows, knives, but each are brought down by essentially “cheap shots”.  Set as it is in 1587, these weapons are rare and almost seem anachronistic.  Throughout the siege, though, the samurai are keenly aware of the number of guns that the enemy has, with two of the weapons being uniquely captured by the daring of two of the samurai.  It is the third, uncaptured gun that brings down the last two, even with Kikuchiyo surging forward, bullet wound in his gut, to slay the man with the firearm.

It’s an interesting point, with perhaps some interesting interpretations.  I won’t overly hazard much here.  But I will say that it struck me.

Great movie.  Maybe I’ll give the kids a break next week.