Violence in Chicago

My brother just told me about this series of short documentaries looking at the tragedy of violence in parts of Chicago. Each focuses on one of the 10 Most Violent Neighborhoods in the Second City. Back of the Yards is number 10.

I live north of the city, but it’s still troubling that others must live in a war zone.

I agree with the reporter that if you don’t understand a problem, you can’t solve it.

Stray Dog

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The first noir crime film in Japan, in Kurosawa’s Stray Dog (1949) rookie detective, Murakami, gets his pistol stolen while he’s riding a crowded bus. Humiliated, Murakami (Mifune) takes responsibility for his carelessness and begs his boss to fire him. The pragmatic boss brushes his request away and pairs the rookie with a veteran detective (Shimura) named Sato. The two set out to track down the pistol.

Plagued by guilt, Mifune is obsessed with finding his pistol and disguises himself to search the black markets of aprés-guerre Tokyo. We see the squalor and darkness of these markets (which aren’t quite as bad as the poverty in Dos’ka den). These scenes are beautifully and masterfully shot to show this underworld full of hustlers, prostitutes, bums and drunks.

Aprés-guerre is a term Murakami and Sato discuss at length as Sato notices the difference between the pre-WWII generation and the aprés-guerre generation. A WWII veteran, Murakami expresses his sympathy and understanding for the culprit whom he imagines is a product of a rough society. Yusa, the thief, also is a veteran so Murakami identifies with him and knows how the war damaged the soldiers.

However, Sato tells him that thinking is generational and won’t help a cop do his work. If a cop’s philosophy views a criminal as being without choice or responsibility, the officer just won’t be able to work as he should, Sato asserts. Sato reminds Murakami that he’s chosen law and order, while Yusa’s chosen exploitation and crime. There is a difference, a big one.

As time passes, the missing gun is used in robberies and a murder. Murakami knows the pistol had all seven bullets and the plot becomes a race to get to the gun. In this race, the heroes’ search takes us through Japanese society from local watering holes, to a packed baseball field, to a burlesque hall, to a filthy shanty and to Sato’s simple, loving home. Along the way we’re treated to Sato’s wise practice.  It’s fascinating to see him deal with each subject, be it a showgirl or a pickpocket, with just the right approach. His understanding of people makes chasing and shootouts unnecessary.

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I learned about Stray Dog from the commentary feature with the Drunken Angel DVD. Mifune and Shimura starred in Drunken Angel. Here they both play completely different characters. Mifune moves from angry gangster to exemplary rookie cop and Shimura shifts from righteous drunk doctor to wise, veteran cop. Another pivotal performance was given by Keiko Awaji, who plays a showgirl, an uncooperative witness. In the extra features, Awaji explains how she didn’t want to be in this or any film. She wanted a career in operettas, but she got talked into this role. She was terribly pouty and unpleasant about the filming process and this difficult attitude made her performance work.

I never intended to get into Japanese films as much as I have. I now have been so impressed with the performances that it’s clear that it’s high time I learn the names of these actors.

Here’s a compilation of Mifune’s performances:

Crimereports.com

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Worcester, MA

I just found a helpful website if you’re looking to move somewhere, Crimereports.com. You type in a town and state or zip code and can see a map and data of all the recent crime reported in the vicinity. If you click on each symbol, you’ll get a brief description of the crime and it’s case number.

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University of Illinois, Champaign

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DePaul University, Chicago Illinois

Surprisingly, DePaul University in Chicago has far less crime than these smaller cities.

Dragnet Girl by Ozu

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Dragnet Girl: Joji (l) and Tokiko (r)

Director Ozu’s Dragnet Girl is an absorbing silent film about Tokiko,a gangster moll, who becomes jealous when Joji, her boyfriend, gets a case of the wandering eye. Tokiko looks as sweet as can be, but actually she’s quite a coquette. She works at a company by day and the boss’s son is smitten with her plying her with expensive gifts that she’s happy to take.

Her night’s are spent with Joji, the head of a small crime outfit that seems to fix boxing matches. Tokiko is Joji’s main squeeze. Selfish and extravagant, she’s quite brazen and disloyal as she’ll wear her boss’s gifts in front of Joji.

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Kazuko

When a high school boy, impressed with Joji’s flash and power, tries to join his gang, the boy’s sister, Kazuko, who’s simple and innocent, begs Joji to get her brother back on the straight and narrow. Joji’s instantly smitten with Kazuko. He starts hanging around her music shop and starts appreciating classical music and all that Kazuko, who pays him no mind, appreciates.

At first Tokiko dismisses her rival, but when she sees that Joji is changing for real she gets nervous. She goes as far as plotting to shoot Kazuko, but then she comes to appreciate Kazuko’s magnetic innocence. Tokiko is not to be trusted after telling Joji she wants to change and become more like her rival. She’s been branded as a delinquent and that label’s impossible to remove.

The film has the style of a noir classic and takes some interesting turns as Tokiko refuses to marry her boss and plots to rob him with Joji. It’s a beautiful simple film that didn’t need talking.

Bicycle Thieves

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I’ve heard that Bicycle Thief is a classic film but never saw it — till now. I got the DVD, and see that the title’s been correctly translated to Bicycle Thieves, which makes more sense. (Bravo, Criterion Collection!)

I wasn’t sure what I expected, but I didn’t expect the emotional power this simple movie packed.

In a nutshell, Bicycle Thieves shows the poverty of post-WWII Italy. Many men stand in line for job opportunities. Only a couple will get anything. Since he has a bicycle, Antonio Ricci is lucky enough to get a job putting up posters. He must have a bike. The first problem is that his bike has been pawned. It recoup it his wife Maria pawns the family’s sheets, sheets they got as wedding presents. Since this job will pay well and steadily and since there’s nothing else of value, pawning the sheets seems sensible. Though I did have a feeling of apprehension as soon as they got their money.

Antonio uses most of the money to recover his bike and starts work. As the title suggests it isn’t long before some ne’er-do-well, someone just as needy as Antonio steals the bike. The rest of the movie is the search for the thief and the bike. While it seems like little can be done with such a simple problem, director DeSica presents a journey through impoverished Rome that breaks your heart and shows you the self-absorbed rich, the dangers of pedophiles, the ties between a father and a son and the longing for better by people who’re more than willing to work for what they get.

The ending is particularly moving and well earned. The emotional journey we’re taken on is real. As a neo-realistic film Bicycle Thieves portrays life as it probably really was for many. I could definitely watch this again and again.

Sherlock: Season 3, Episode 1

Sherlock Series 3

Finally, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have returned after a too long Sherlock hiatus. Like all Sherlock fans I was eager to learn how on earth Sherlock survived. My book club read “The Empty House” this month in honor of Sherlock’s return and I’ve got some thoughts on that here.

PBS has a thorough synopsis here so I won’t offer one. I will have spoilers so watch the episode first online if you can.

I did like the parallels I noticed in the modern “The Empty Hearse” episode. While in the original, Sherlock doesn’t fall all the way down the falls and his death is faked, there’s a modern equivalent solution. This modern fall was also faked for the same reason: Moriarty and his cronies had to see Sherlock was dead. The screenwriters Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss accomplish this with a plot wherein Molly Hooper gets Sherlock a body to use to replace his corpse and a set up of 13 eventualities that have Watson’s view obstructed and manipulated. It’s clever and does work.

In the original story in which Roger Adair is murdered in a room that seems to not have been entered by an murderer. In the television show the screenwriter replaces the unentered room with a subway car that is entered but mysteriously exited. The last train leaves one station with a sole passenger, but that man has disappeared by the next stop. Quite clever.

I was delighted to see Sherlock, Watson, Molly, Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson again. I welcome Mary, whom Watson is going to marry, as he was in the originals. However, there was one odd point in the story when she’s teasing John about shaving his mustache, which is just awful. The actress seems to take on Moriarty’s tics as she teases. It’s a bit odd and I blame the director – and I suppose the writer too.  I’d like to see Mary have her own career rather than just being Dr. Watson‘s assistant. It is 2013 after all. If John had the wherewithal to set up a practice and is bored with his work, he would have had the energy to date, maybe not the first year after Sherlock died, but later. So give him a girlfriend with her own profession.

I didn’t buy how Anderson, the forensic specialist who dislikes Sherlock, now has become a scraggly fan who leads a Sherlock groupies in conspiracy theory meetings. Also, I miss Moriarty. There will be a new villain, but Jim Moriarty was perfectly despicable and two seasons wasn’t enough.

I wish there was more time given to solving the crime and developing the character of this turncoat terrorist. He didn’t get so much as a line of dialog. A lot of time that was spent on jokes that winked at the fans could have been sacrificed to flesh out the criminal.

The scene on the subway when Sherlock and John must defuse the bomb was tense, but it whimpered at the end when Sherlock saved the day by simply flipping the off switch. Too far fetched for me.