Across 110th St.

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This week I watched the police drama Across 110th St. starring Anthony Quinn as Capt. Mattelli. Made in 1972, Across 110th St. is a look at racial tensions during that era. Quinn plays a middle-aged detective afraid of losing his job to a younger, Black detective named Lt. Pope.

When that movie begins, some mobsters are dividing $300,000 from drug deals when a couple of gangsters dressed as police officers force their way into the apartment the mafia is using. The Black gangsters make off with the cash and the mafia vows to get even. In spite of their icy relationship the police have to get both the mafia and the gangsters behind bars.

Harlem is impoverished with high drug use and other crimes destroying the neighborhood. 

There was a lot of brutal violence, which I couldn’t take. Thus I didn’t enjoy the movie and when much have preferred less violence, and more detective work. The theme of racial tension is significant and worthy of our consideration, but I just couldn’t  take the brutality.

Remembering Tragedy

A well done, concise story on the Tiananmen Square Massacure that culminated in violence 30 years ago today. I’m amazed how China’s government has been able to keep their citizens in the dark about this tragedy.

Above is a longer video, a TED Talk by a Tiananmen Square survivor.

After the Protests

Today some Chicago about 150 citizens* took to the streets during rush hour to bring attention to the problems they face on the Southside. Shootings, school closings, poverty are all serious in Chicago neighborhoods and the mayor isn’t doing enough about it.

A few weeks ago there was another group took to the streets for some of the same reasons.

I think the mayor, Rahm Emmanuel, should hold a televised (local or cable TV) meeting to brainstorm a list of changes that can really make a difference. Representatives of the marchers, representatives of the schools, law enforcement, and other stakeholders should be invited. Show the city what you want and how it can be done.

*This number was reported on Chicago Tonight on August 2, 2018.

Gran Torino

I’m still scratching my head as to why two friends recommended I see this film. They just raved about it. It sure isn’t my cup of tea. Starring Clint Eastwood, who also directed and produced it, Gran Torino shows Walt Kowalski, a tough curmudgeon whose wife has died who’s just a pain in the neck to his two sons and grandkids and neighbors. The person he’s closest with, and he isn’t that close to, is his barber, with whom he trades insults and profanity. There’s young, out-of-step priest who tries to connect with Walt, but the grouch has no patience for this cookie-cutter stereotype.

Next door to Walt live a family of Hmong refugees, whose lives Walt is forced to become involved with. A gang of about 5 Hmong guys terrorize the neighborhood. Walt’s teenage neighbor Thao is a bit wimpy and thus a target for his cousin’s gang. The gang forces Thao to try to steal Walt’s classic 1970s Gran Torino, but Thao is caught. When Walt sees the extent of how Thao gets pushed around by the thugs, the teaches the boy how to “man up.” All this moves to a showdown between Walt and the gang.

I felt all the actors overdid it. There wasn’t one subtle role. Too bad Toshio Mifune’s not around to teach how to be tough and subtle. The only natural performance came from Ahney Her who played Thao’s sister.

Replete with stereotypes and clichés, I couldn’t buy what I was seeing. Except for the end, Walt is in a foul mood about everything. Everything. I’ve seen this sort of grump in bad movies but never in real life.

There’s a good message about sacrifice and breaking through one’s racism, but since few are as biased as Walt, most audience members will just see themselves as better than the hero rather than in the same moral boat. I don’t need that. The Two of Us is a much better movie about racism. Yojimbo is a better film for action and defeating a gang.

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Dodes’ka-den

Kurosawa’s 1970 Dodesu ka-den (どです か でん) was his first color film and the first film he released in five years after going though a rough experience directing a film for 20th Century Fox, a studio that didn’t trust him and spread rumors about him having had a nervous break down. To prove his detractors wrong, Kurosawa brought a collection of short stories to life on film.

Set in a post-war slum, Dodesu ka-den follows a group of beautiful or actually mainly grubby losers, most of whom aren’t regulars at the public bath. The story begins with a boy we’d now consider on the autism spectrum. He begins his day praying with his mother who’s distraught by his behavior. Every day, this boy, who lives out the fantasy that he’s a trolley driver by pantomiming every action of one. The actor’s skill would give Marcel Marceau a run for his money. The boy meticulously follows the rules of trolley service and scolds anyone who’s accidentally sitting on his “tracks.” Of course, he’s the prime target of taunting neighborhood boys.

There’s a group of half a dozen housewives who spend their days overseeing the comings and goings of everyone in the surrounding shanties. They gossip about the two women who’re married to men seemingly competing to be the town drunk and who casually swap their husbands from night to night. These women are little better than their husbands in terms of temperance or temperament.

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Another woman has five children and another on the way. Each child has a different father. She’s selfish and doesn’t care for anyone else. The scene when her current “husband” comforts the kids who’re crying because their pals have told them that each one has a different father and that this good-natured guy is not their “real” dad, was a highlight.

The scenes with the homeless dreamer who has his son beg for food and helps the young boy keep his spirits up by sharing his imagined view of the glorious house they’ll one day have with a English gate, a Scottish living room, and a swimming pool, were poignant and touching.

One of my favorite characters was an engraver who was the one sensible person in the neighborhood. He quietly made the right decision or said the right thing whenever someone was on the brink.

The film doesn’t have a typical story structure where people are facing a defined problem and its resolved by the end. Most of the characters had bleak existences that would make a Dickens character look privileged. Yet the film does offer respect and hope. Sometimes that hope was the charactes’s greatest flaw.

Interviews with North Koreans

A must see. Just incredible to go through these experiences.

Being a woman in North Korea is worse than I thought.

Thank you, Asian Boss, for these outstanding videos.

Badlands

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I’d never envisioned Martin Sheen playing a morally bankrupt adolescent so watching Badlands (1973) was something of a shock. In Badlands Sheen plays Kit an outsider with just enough smarts to be dangerous. I can’t quite make out his percentage of psychosis, but Kit sure has plenty. Evidently the film was based on an actual couple, Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate.

As the film begins, Kit’s bored with his garbage collecting job, which he soon loses by telling off the boss. He finds an odd kind of love when he meets Holly, played by Sissy Spacek. Holly’s an even keel (or flat line?) teen whose mother died a while back. She’s never had a boyfriend or lots of friends at school so hey, Kit’s interested in her so why not stick with him. Her father’s rather taciturn and aloof so she’s morally empty and will go along with anything since nothing in life seems like a big deal to her. She attaches herself to Kit since he’s there and he’s good looking and she doesn’t seem to have the depth to make moral judgments of any sort. Life’s rather boring in her South Dakota town and she’s got no social circle, no village is raising this girl so she goes with whatever comes along.

So we see this ho hum relationship, and both Holly and Kit are more inclined to the ho hum than to passion, flow along until Holly’s father gets wind of it. He forbids Holly to see Kit. Now Kit’s wild with love and can’t live without Holly. He breaks into Holly’s home and confronts the father, who wants him out. Dad won’t listen to Kit. He certainly doesn’t want his only child to settle for an uneducated loser who can’t keep a job. When the father turns his back to Kit to go call the police to get the trespasser out, Kit shoots him in the back. Kit and Holly burn the house down to thwart the authorities who’ll soon want evidence and they take to the road. It is odd, yet compelling to see Holly blithely go off with Kit after he’s murdered her father in cold blood.

Just like Kit, Badlands goes in directions viewers won’t expect. There’s never a police officer who’s determined to catch the pair. This isn’t Bonnie and Clyde, though the bodies start piling up as the story progresses. It’s more of a look at a lost, bored adolescent couple who make some odd and wrong choices, shrug them off and keep going in their way. Because the plot employs few Hollywood conventions and because the leads are compellingly low key and lost, the film works.

Who’d thunk that Jeb Bartlett could play a low key, psychopathic James Dean?