Movie Review – “Poltergeist” (1982)

 

“Poltergeist” works as a horror film for the same reason “The Exorcist” works – Both movies toy with the unknown, as we watch a family torn apart by supernatural forces. They focus on the the parents, in “Poltergeist”‘s case Steven and Diane Freeling (Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams), as they are helpless to stop beings from another plain of existence from stealing their children away from them.

The difference between the two films is that “The Exorcist” slowly built up the horror, as we watched Reagan deteariorate overtime as she was lost to the devil. The scares came from the tension and concept of a little girl being swallowed by the hell.

“Poltergeist” on the other hand executes its frights visually, leaving very little to the imagination. We see first hand what these ghosts are capable of, including bringing inanimate objects to life, from something as small as a toy clown to as big as a tree, manipulating people into thinking there are maggots in their food, to physically taking people into their realm.

“The Exorcist” makes you think about what this demon is capable of, while “Poltergiest” shows you exactly what they can do.

Neither approach is worse than the other, especially since both movies execute it so well. “Poltergiest” doesn’t take itself as seriously as “The Exorcist,” taking some time to crack jokes and have a bit of fun with the supernatural elements, but it works for the suburban environment and how desensitized the kids are to violence. One of my favorite little moments is when their daughter, Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke), is staring at a fuzzy television, and Diane says she shouldn’t be watching that and turns the channel to a violent movie. She doesn’t care what her daughter watches, as long as it’s not “bad” for her.

 

 

Pop culture tainted by first viewing of “Poltergeist” a bit, since I knew most of the scenes before watching the film. Famous moments like the “They’re here” scene, or the fight against the tree, have been referenced in so many other movies and television shows that you feel like you’ve watched the film before you see it. As such, I didn’t find “Poltergeist” as scary as others might have. But that doesn’t deny how effective the scares are.

Overall, “Poltergeist” feels like “E.T.” crossed with “The Exorcist.” The scares come naturally and stick with you long after watching the film, but there’s a child-friendly atmosphere that makes it accessible to people of all ages. As such, this is a horror film that even people who don’t like scary movies can enjoy.

Final Grade: B+

 

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Mini-Review – “Lethal Weapon” (1987)

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I know “Lethal Weapon” was the first buddy-cop film, but I can say that it is one of the most successful of its genre and was the blueprint for dozens of buddy-cop films that would follow.

So what exactly did the film do that earned that status? Well, among many aspects, “Lethal Weapon” gave us two vastly different characters, one likable and relatable and the other tragic and misunderstood, put into a situation that brings out the best and worst in both, giving us a full range of emotions and thrills.

We watch as Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) deals with his own emotional baggage and deals with every violent police situation in the worst possible way, always being reckless with no regard for his own life. Riggs puts the lives of others ahead of his own, because he sees himself as expendable and danger to everyone around him. He lives out of a trailer on the beach, with his dog as his only companion, after the loss of his wife.

Meanwhile, Roger Murtaugh (Donald Glover) is a family man who just turned fifty. He doesn’t have much to call his own, just his wife, children and a boat that he doesn’t know how to fix. And he is content with that. He has found his happiness in the world and wouldn’t want to change that for anything, except possibly making a better world for his children to grow up in.

There is little of solving the case throughout “Lethal Weapon” and more of Riggs and Murtaugh talking about their problems with one another, ultimately coming to respect each other. Murtaugh is blown away by Riggs’ dedication to the job and his selflessness, while Riggs appreciates that Murtaugh can find his own happiness in a world that he finds so bitter and harsh.

Later buddy-cop films like “Rush Hour” focus more on the crimes and action sequences, but “Lethal Weapon” is drawn to the characters and how the police force brought them together. Though there are some thrilling action moments in the film, they feel almost personal by the time we see Riggs holding a sniper position while Murtaugh keeps a grenade on him to protect his daughter.

It is less about the scenarios and more about the dynamics between the characters. It is about how these cops become buddies.

“Lethal Weapon” is a classic 1980s action film, like “Die Hard” and “The Terminator,” that keep the characters in front of the high-octane action, so that when we see our heroes almost enveloped in a ball of fire, we are invested in their imminent destruction.

Final Grade: A-

Mini-Review – “The Running Man” (1987)

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I’d like you to watch this video for me. This has many of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best quotes and one-liners throughout his many films, most of the best ones coming from films in the 1980s (and “Batman and Robin”). A large portion of those quotes come from this movie, “The Running Man.”

That should give you an idea of what movie you’re in for – Lots of cheesy one-liners from Arnold, set in a dystopian future envisioned by the 1980s, with all the flashy neon colors and rummaging through the streets that you would expect.

As such, its difficult to take this movie seriously. “The Running Man” wants to give you a look at a future where the government uses television to keep us under control, and one where we watch people fight to the death for our amusement. But then almost all Arnold’s lines are laughably corny that I am unsure what they movie is going for.

The best part of the movie was certainly the host of the Running Man game show, Damon Killian, played by Richard Dawson, one of the first hosts for “Family Feud” and a number of game shows from the 1960s and 1970s. He maintains his usual charisma from those shows, where he wasn’t afraid to question the audiences’ intelligence, but we also get an added level of absurdity when we find out how vulgar and diabolical he is, not afraid to fire people who run into him in the hallway and blackmailing others to do his will.

Overall, “The Running Man” stands out-do to Richard Dawson’s performance and having so many quotable moments for Arnold. Outside of that, this is a standard 1980s dystopian future sci-fi movies, like “Escape From New York,” and doesn’t do too much to stand out from that.

Final Grade: C

Paul’s Favorite Films – Common Themes

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This final entry in my favorite films countdown is going to be different from the others. I would like this one to be as interactive as possible, because I want your input and thoughts. If you have extensive film knowledge, or even if you don’t and only know about these 25 movies I’ve mentioned simply through my reviews, I want to hear what you have to say.

 
The question I’d like to ask is – what do you think are the common points that connect these films together? What do any of these 25 films have in common, if anything? You don’t have to relate all 25 together, but I would like to see what you think even two of these films share. This could be anything from common plot points, to characters, themes, atmosphere, message, tone, production values and anything that you can think of.

 
And, for those that do have a massive film knowledge, there is an optional question – With these common points in mind, what other movies can you think of that also share those points? Just to give myself some recommendations for the future or to possibly rethink another film in a whole new light.

 
I’ll give this a starting point and talk about the most common type of story throughout my favorite films – the misfit in a world of misfits.

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There are several of these twenty-five films that focus on a particularly strange character, for one reason or another, in a world that is either full of characters that are strange of a different variety or characters that contrast the protagonist. At times, his/her behavior is not so different from a passionate and driven individual, but in a world where that is frowned upon, this character is seen as an outcast.

 
Jefferson Smith was ridiculed by the majority of Congress in “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” for staying far too close to the ideals of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, just like Edward D. Wood Jr. was never taken seriously in “Ed Wood.” Both of these characters stayed true to their passions and outlook on life, even when everyone seemed to be against them. In a way, they are both films about fighting the system for ones’ beliefs.

 
Other examples include Marge Gunderson and her husband Norm being the only competent and intelligent people in “Fargo,” Tobey Maguire and Resse Witherspoon being literally from a different time in “Pleasantville,” WALL-E being the only creäture to have come in contact with Earth for over 700 years, and of course Kanji Watanabe in “Ikiru” daring to challenge the bureaucratic symbol of Japan when he realizes that he has so little time left to live.

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We also see this go to opposite extremes with characters like Bruno Anthony in “Strangers On A Train” and Reverend Harry Powell in “The Night Of The Hunter.” Two characters that have a lot in common, but are also radically different. They are in love with themselves more than anything else and love what they do. They both have silver tongues, but to varying degrees. Harry Powell can convince just about any body to join his side by using religion and God to his evil benefits, while Bruno is more crazed and people are merely fascinated by his theories.

 
Characters like Kanji, the Tramp in “City Lights,” Marge and George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life” are not afraid to challenge what is expected of people. One could say that they live in a world separate from the one they inhabit, and wish to show everyone else the benefit of this other world. One free of hate, greed and selfishness, and instead replaced with self-less passionate people.

 
Which brings me to the next common theme throughout most of these films – hope.

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Perhaps there is a subconscious reason why I chose “Son Of Godzilla” and “Mothra Vs. Godzilla” of all the films in the series to be on this countdown that even I wasn’t aware of. Not because I think they’re the best Godzilla films, but because they are the two most optimistic of the series. For a series that includes nearly thirty movies of a giant monster destroying Japan, those are the two that choose to show mankind battling these monsters in a whole new way and focus on making a better world for the future.

 
“Son Of Godzilla” does this through not only the human endeavors to perfect a weather machine and make lands in Africa and South America fertile, while “Mothra Vs. Godzilla” has a theme of removing distrust in the world for the sake of protecting humanity. That a world divided is much more easily conquered and that the biggest threats can only be taken down together.

 
We see hope shine in so many of my favorite films. Hope for George Bailey and the struggle of man against the industry in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” hope for the Tramp and to not judge others by their status in life in “City Lights” and hope for the survival of the human race “WALL-E,” so that they can understand there is a lot of world out there.

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To opposite ends of that, we have films like “Apocalypse Now” and “Ran,” which were founded on pillars of hope and kindness, only to watch it all turn sour and rotten. In the case of “Ran,” Lord Ichimonji was blinded by pride and love for his sons to see that they were greedy selfish people who wanted nothing more than control over the entire kingdom, even if that meant destroying everything their father worked for. “Apocalypse Now,” has hope in the characters that travel down this navy patrol boat, as they want to get this done and over and move on to the next mission. But as they travel further down to the river and into the maws of hell, we see them turn to desperation and drugs, in trying to hide from the tragedies they’ve witnessed.

 
But if there was a common type of story told throughout my top 25, it would the tale of a “loner,” like Kanji Watanabe or Marge Gunderson, as they put their beliefs and morals on the line, against a threat that is not uncommon. It could be something as simple as cancer or their own greed, like “The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre.” And as the film progresses, we learn this loner is not unlike us and their struggle is just as simple.

Or, to put it in the terms of one of my favorite quotes, these characters are realizing they don’t want to merely survive, but to live.

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Some of these characters knew from the beginning what it meant to live, like Marge, and is content with her life with Norm, despite everyone else in the film trying so hard to get “a bit of money” and failing at it. Others realize it over time, like George Bailey, who is so caught up in his work that he never realized just how big of an impact he had on Bedford Falls until he saw what the town would be like if he never existed. There are even characters that try their best to live, given their surroundings, like L.B. Jefferies in “Rear Window,” as he makes up names and back stories for every one of his neighbors.

Then you get characters like Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard” who is merely surviving, but lives in her own twisted world where she is the living the dream and can’t wake up from something that has since turned into a nightmare.

But these characters are fighting for something the chance to live, and to give this chance to others as well. Whether they are running from giant monsters, hiding from a shape shifting alien or loving every second of the gangster lifestyle, there is something worth fighting for in all of their minds.

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Anyway, those are the common threads I noticed between most of my top 25 favorite films. There are a few more obvious ones, like how James Stewart is in four of these films or reoccurring directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Akira Kurosawa, but I decided to go with something a little more interesting.

What do you think my 25 favorite films have in common? I would really like to hear what everyone has to say and I cannot wait to see the varying responses. And remember, if you think there are any other films that aren’t mentioned in my countdown but you think I might enjoy due to those commonalities, be sure to mention those.

 

 

Paul’s Favorite Films – Honorable Mentions

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Of all the couple thousand films I have watched in my lifetime, it was actually quite difficult to narrow it down to just 25 of my favorite films. I have an entire collection of movies which I adore that did not make it into the countdown. So many films that I could watch at any point and still love every scene, but only so many spots on showcase my favorites.

Which is why it seems fitting to talk about some of the other films that just missed making this countdown. These are the ten honorable mentions to my top 25 favorite films of all time. I’ll give a brief explanation to each film. Who knows? Maybe some day, I’ll come back and review each of these ten movies in detail.

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“2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)

The only Stanley Kubrick film to make either the top 25 countdown and the honorable mentions, “2001: A Space Odyssey” transcends what most movies attempt to be, and enters into a state of mind. With virtually no story, we are left with two and a half hours of atmosphere and questions about the future.

Like most Kubrick films, he pays attention to every single tiny detail and draws it out for the audience to enjoy. The reason “2001: A Space Odyssey” gets here over other Kubrick films is because of the scope of space, and to make a film that covers such a vast distance of time and space while keeping the audience entranced.

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“Ace In The Hole” (1951)

Billy Wilder followed up “Sunset Boulevard” with this look at the newspaper business, in which Kirk Douglas finds the story of the century – a man is trapped in a collapsed cave and is slowly being crushed to death. But once Douglas is told they can rescue the man in a few days, he delays the rescue to draw out the story and take the credit for saving this man.

Just as in “Sunset Boulevard,” the dialogue is crisp, but never to the point of absurdity. It is a joy to listen to these people talk about how this story needs to heard across the country. But what really gives “Ace In The Hole” its bite is Kirk Douglas’ performance. He is haunting and disturbing, yet keeps his values and morals close to his heart, even as things get far worse.

“Ace In The Hole” is a tragic tale of searching for fame, only to realize that it often comes at the price of ruining innocent lives, especially in the journalism business.

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“Shadow Of A Doubt” (1943)

Of all the films Alfred Hitchcock made, he often said this was his favorite – the tale of a young Californian family that is visited by their uncle, whom one of the children is named after, only to slowly realize that the uncle may not be who he says he is.

Perhaps this was Hitchcock’s favorite because it was one of the first films he made after coming to Hollywood, and it represented his own fears and doubts about the Hollywood system. Maybe it was the often brilliant cinematography that captured how small our family is to this monster of an uncle they all adore. It could also be the performances of Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright, as they fight for their twisted morals of nature versus nurture.

In any case, this is a classic early Alfred Hitchcock film that hits right at home and how family can often be a bad thing.

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“No Country For Old Men” (2007)

Anton Chigurh. Just Anton Chigurh. “No Country For Old Men” makes this part of the countdown simply because of its villain, a man who feels like he must be anarchy and misery in the world. That he has no other choice but to be this evil, uncaring maniac. He certainly doesn’t get any enjoyment out of killing anyone who sees him, but he remains dedicated to causing mayhem, otherwise he would have no purpose.

“No Country For Old Men” is, more or less, about the evolution of the dark criminal mind and how it has gotten to the point where can no longer understand it, much less control it. Anton is the perfect representation of that darkness, never satisfied with his work, uncaring about those he kills, unconcerned if he is doing right or wrong, and he couldn’t care less about any of it.

A villain the perfectly encapsulates chaos, along with a mostly silent film that sees our hero get chased across Texas and Mexico for just a bit of money. This is one Coen Brothers film that won’t be forgotten soon.

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“Giant” (1956)

The next two films I have already talked about in great detail, but that’s because these are the only films on both countdowns that I have previously reviewed. In a way, I have a greater respect for them because I got to share my new-found love for these films with all of you.

“Giant” is a perfect representation of an epic – Large scale, covering a massive range of both land, people and time, yet it still feels comfy with its focus on the Benedict family and their conflict over pride, race and legacy. We watch as the world changes, but our characters never take that into account and go ahead like the world has always been flat and was the center of the universe.

The conflict between Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor comes naturally, as if they came from different worlds, but see a lot of themselves in each other – their thick-headed pride, but also their devotion to their life philosophies.

“Giant” feels like it takes up all of Texas, while still keeping focus on the marriage of these two and the consequences of their actions.

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“her” (2013)

Simple, yet innovative. This is a science fiction piece that understands technology in cinema is not just fiction, but can be relatable and logical, yet still fascinating and imaginative.

I found myself just as invested in this futuristic Los Angeles as I was in the romance between Theodore and Samantha, finding a love story set in a world not too different from our own. A world where technology might have advanced further than us, and has replaced us in many capacities, but “her” finds a middle ground where humans and technology make one another more desirable. That we wouldn’t be complete without the other.

With that quirky, off-the-wall craziness you can only get out of a Spike Jonez film, “her” is one of the most creative and heart-warming films in recent memory.

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“Godzilla” (1954)

One last time, we return my favorite film franchise.

Since “Son Of Godzilla” and “Mothra vs. Godzilla” made my top 25, “Godzilla” is my third favorite film in the franchise, but this is the movie I respect more than any other. For what this film set out to do, given their budget and the attitude towards nuclear weapons in 1950s Japan, this could have easily failed. Instead, we got a dark and eerie look at how fragile life can be in the face of unrivaled strength and power.

“Godzilla” isn’t just a great monster movie, but a great movie in general. Rather than focusing on a monster running rampant through Japan, we get a film about a weakened Japan attempting to combat such a threat, and the lives that are affected by this tragedy. Throughout the film, we watch as lives are crushed, burned, irradiated and ruined by something out of our control.

With effects that still hold up today, a creepy yet atmospheric score, and the theme of man’s evolution of weaponry taking shape, the Japanese version of “Godzilla” is one of the stand out monster films of all time.

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“Bride Of Frankenstein” (1935)

Speaking of stand out monster films, we have another amazing one at the opposite end of the spectrum as “Godzilla.”

Rather than a monster terrorizing helpless people, we have a monster that never set out to hurt anyone, didn’t wish to be created, and yet is seen as nothing more than an abomination. We fear him simply because he is different and must perish because of it.

Yet, Doctors Frankenstein and Pretorious play god and reanimate the dead just because they can. They attempt to set out and prove they are a higher grade of man by doing what no one else can do – decide to lives and who dies.

All while one of their creations meets an old blind man, and takes him in to his home, feeds him, warms him back up and gives him a good night sleep. And in this case, who is truly the superior man?

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“adaptation.” (2002)

The second Spike Jonez film in these honorable mentions. Even I didn’t know how much I adored his films.

Like Jonez’ other films, it is hard to nail down exactly what happens in “adaptation.” but what makes it far more difficult is the screenplay written by Charlie Kauffman, and then proceeds to make himself the main character of the film. We follow Kauffman as he attempts to adapt “The Orchid Thief” into a screenplay, but finds it impossible given the source material and his twin brother Donald, constantly interfering about how his screenplay is coming along.

I have never seen a film like “adaptation.” and I hope I never do. It is about the struggle of a screenwriter who somehow gets wrapped up in the ongoing story, and then works all of that into his screenplay. Are we watching Kauffman as he writes the screenplay? Or are we watching his interpretation of how it all went down? Or are we watching a man’s slow descent into madness?

I also love the overall message of the film and the realization that Kauffman comes to at the end of the film – You are what you love, not what loves you. An outstanding message for everyone.

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“The Princess Bride” (1987)

Part of the reason I love this film is because of how effortlessly the fantasy seems to come. Every character fits like a glove into the story, their motivation and dialogue feels natural and it all contributes to the narrative that never stops. “The Princess Bride” is beautiful to listen to, as their accents give way to crisp words said with passion and ferocity.

Who does not get excited when Inigo Montoya finally meets the six-fingered man and has a chance to redeem his father? Who doesn’t adore the relationship between Wesley and Buttercup? Who does not get a kick out of the three trails that Wesley must endure to rescue Buttercup?

But the other reason this film gets here is rather simple and often overlooked – that all of this is being told second-hand, as an old man tells this to his grandson. This is a story passed down through the generations, not as just a way to make people feel better when they’re sick, but to teach them about love and acceptance.

In the end “The Princess Bride” tells a story of two vastly different generations. One of fantasy and a fight for true love, and the other of a family growing close together through shared loves. To me, the scenes with Fred Savage and Peter Falk turn this film from a great fantasy into a timeless classic.

Well, those are just some of the my other favorite films that could have easily made my top 25 if there was a bit more room. I hope you enjoyed the quick looks at each of those films. Like I said, I might take a deeper look at each of those films in the future so be on the look out for those.

In the mean time, there is only one film left to look at this countdown – my favorite film of all time. If you’ve known me long enough, then you can probably guess what my favorite is. But if you only know of me through this blog, my top pick may surprise you.

Just in case, here is a refresher of the previous 24 films on this countdown.

25. “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” (1939)

24. “Ed Wood” (1994)

23. “Seven” (1995)

22. “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” (1966)

21. “Goodfellas” (1991)

20. “The Thing” (1982)

19. “Son Of Godzilla” (1967)

18. “Pleasantville” (1998)

17. “Singin’ In The Rain” (1951)

16. “Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan” (1982)

15. “Under The Flag Of The Rising Sun” (1972)

14. “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962)

13. “The Night Of The Hunter” (1955)

12. “Fargo” (1996)

11. “Strangers On A Train” (1951)

10. “Sunset Boulevard” (1950)

9. “The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre” (1948)

8. “Ran” (1985)

7. “It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946)

6. “WALL-E” (2008)

5. “Mothra Vs. Godzilla” (1964)

4. “Rear Window” (1954)

3. “City Lights” (1931)

2. “Ikiru” (1952)

Stay tuned, because tomorrow I will reveal my number one pick and my favorite film of all time.

 

Mini-Review – “Bloodsport” (1988)

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This is the epitome of a “no plot, just fight” kung-fu movie. Even hours after watching “Bloodsport,” I cannot recall the story, other than – guy goes to martial arts tournament to kick some ass.

There are certainly times for story and character development, but in the hour and a half run time more than 75 minutes is dedicated to watching Jean-Claude Van Damme helicopter – kick, spinning heel kick and perform perfect splits while punching his opponents in their privates, leading him to be the inspiration for Johnny Cage in “Mortal Kombat.”

“Bloodsport” has nothing on films like “The Raid: Redemption” and “Ip Man,” even though the three have a lot in common. “The Raid: Redemption” might have focused more on the fights, but we cared about these characters climbing to the top of this massive building. They were fighting for something and had a reason to keep going other than to extend the run time.

In “Bloodsport,” I never cared if Jean-Claude lost. I knew he would get into a good fight, but whether he was defeated meant nothing to me. He was just another face in the crowd that could punch really well.

Overall, “Bloodsport” was rather forgettable. It certainly didn’t do anything wrong, but there was nothing that stood out besides Jean-Claude doing what he always does – Being the most physically fit kung-fu master while having the strangest accent.

Final Grade: C

 

Paul’s Favorite Films – Number Eight

Now that we’re in the top ten, we finally get to take a look at my favorite filmmaker – Akira Kurosawa.

Most filmmakers have a difficult time breaking the language barrier, as their movies tend to resonate without their country. For some reason, Kurosawa’s films work better in the United States than they do in Japan, giving him one of the largest international audiences of any filmmaker. Perhaps because most of his samurai pieces play out much like a western.

One of the main reasons Kurosawa’s films have stuck with me more than the works of Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Capra and Billy Wilder, is because every single actor in a Kurosawa film is boiling with emotion. They don’t use their face and voices to describe how they’re feeling, but their entire bodies. Any role that Toshiro Mifune or Takashi Shimura performed under Kurosawa will show that his films are bursting with characters that don’t want to hide anything from the camera and put everything on the line for the audience to witness.

Kurosawa’s films take some of the better aspects of filmmaking, as they combine the suspense and thrill of a brilliant action movie, but the movies never lose touch with their humanity, all too often taking a difficult moral route. Films like “Rashomon,” “Seven Samurai,” “The Hidden Fortress” and “Throne Of Blood” excel at showing human trials at a time in history when humanity needed a little more hope.

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But the tipping point that pushes Kurosawa ahead of other filmmakers in my eyes is his story of being a filmmaker, and the difficulty he faced in Japan. This may seem impossible, but back in the 1960s and 1970s, the Japanese film industry hated Akira Kurosawa. For basically the same reason we love him now – his films were far too western. Japanese audiences couldn’t relate to these lone swordsmen who acted like cowboys.

After a string of films in the mid-1960s, the Toho film company got increasingly more frustrated with each film Kurosawa put out, as box office returns diminished and the Japanese critics didn’t care for his movies. After his 1965 film “Red Beard,” Toho let go of Kurosawa, and he entered into filmmaking exile. No Japanese film studio wanted to be associated with any of his work, for fear of being too American.

During the 1970s, Kurosawa only made two films, despite constantly looking for companies to fund his projects. One of these films, “Dersu Uzala,” had to be made in Russian, since only one film studio in Russia was willing to fund the film. Kurosawa was at a low point in his life, where at one point he attempted suicide and failed.

It wasn’t until 1980 that Kurosawa would catch a break. Having such a gigantic influence in Hollywood, two young filmmakers stepped forward to pay for Kurosawa’s next movie – George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, the director of “The Godfather” series. This would lead Kurosawa’s grand return to filmmaking, “Kagemusha,” which was well-received around the world and finally shown that Akira Kurosawa was a filmmaking that transcended language barriers.

But, in Kurosawa’s own words, “Kagemusha” was merely a set-up for his next film, a project he had worked on since “Red Beard,” and would bring together the scale and size of films like “Seven Samurai,” the atmosphere of “Kagemusha,” and the personal turmoil that Kurosawa had experienced for over twenty years – his magnum opus “Ran.”

Set in medieval Japan, during a time when waring factors would endlessly fight over land, a young shogun Hidetora Ichimonji rose to power, collecting the armies of his fallen foes. For fifty years, Ichimonji fought and conquered the majority of Japan. Now, Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai) has reached an old age and is content with keeping peace throughout his land. He figures that his three sons feel the same way, and that is why he splits up his territories and powers among his sons, hoping that this will make everyone happy.

Turns out Ichimonji was wrong. Very wrong. He had forgotten that his sons grew up in a time of constant war and death, always seeking power and greed. Now his sons plan to fight among themselves to claim ultimate control over the land, while Hidetora watches his empire crumble right before his eyes.

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Many have pointed out that “Ran” is a Japanese adaptation of Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” only replacing Lear’s three daughters with sons. Kurosawa actually debunked this early on, saying it is merely a coincidence that “Ran” turned out a lot like “King Lear.” Kurosawa said that his biggest inspiration for “Ran” was of a real Japanese shogun who gave his land to his three sons, and everything turned out for the better. Kurosawa then asked himself, “What if those three sons were actually bad people?”

There is an analogy early on in “Ran” where Lord Ichimonji has his sons each break an arrow, which they all do with no problem. Then he tells them to break three arrows bundled together, and none of them can break it. Ichimonji does this to prove that it is more difficult to break something when it has support from others, and that if his sons worked together, no one could defeat them.

Kurosawa said he heavily disagreed with that analogy. That there are plenty of ways to break three arrows, and that a family bond can be broken just as easily.

In Japanese, “Ran” translates to “chaos.” An accurate description to this film, as we witness literal hell on Earth. Something that started off so simple and kind, quickly turns to brother killing brother, abandoning loved ones to acquire more power, and bloody battles that lead to massive castle getting burnt to the ground.

Lord Ichimonji witnesses all of those happen around him. From the beginning it is strange, as the new lord Taro, demands that his father give back the family crest and that he is in charge of every decision the kingdom will make, showing zero respect for the legacy of his father. After that, Taro outlaws his father’s best troops from going along with him, to show Hidetora has gone insane in his old age and is no longer fit to rule anything.

Which leads to one of the greatest sequences I’ve ever seen, as Hidetora takes refuge in his last remaining castle, only for his two eldest sons, Taro and Jiro, to converge on him and assault the castle. Hidetora’s troops are caught off guard and are overwhelmed by the stream of blood-red and sun yellow soldiers that continually enter the castle gates.

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This isn’t a war, but a massacre, as each body is rattled with arrows and musket bullets. One of the few survivors lies on the ground, holding his severed arm. Hidetora’s concubines commit seppuku on each other, while hundreds of troops begin shooting the castle with fire arrows, setting the stone fortress ablaze. All while Hidetora sits atop the tower, watching his fifty-year legacy get reduced to ash.

The assault on the castle is complimented by the lack of any sound effects for the first half, only a haunting score that demonstrates the chaotic nature of Hidetora’s senile decision to bring peace in a time of war and control. We are left with nothing but the strong visuals of bodies being brutally destroyed. No computer effects were used in “Ran,” so when Hidetora walks out of that burning castle, every bit of it was real.

A reoccurring theme throughout “Ran” is the Gods that are watching all of this unfold. That these Gods either fell tremendous sadness for not being able stop man’s self-destructive nature, or that there are no Gods at all. What kind of God would let a man so insistent on peace and prosperity watch his dream and empire fall apart? One of the most common shots throughout “Ran” is of large clouds, or the sun barely breaking through those clouds, as if the Gods are attempting to watch the horror unfold.

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But what gives “Ran” its staying power are the resemblances between Hidetora and Akira Kurosawa. Both are men who have lived long fruitful lives, have seen large amounts of success and failures, and have essentially built empires. Yet when they least expected it, the world turned on them. Hidetora’s sons betrayed his trust and disrespected him, while Kurosawa was forgotten by the Japanese film industry. Both are forced into exile, forgotten by the world for all the great things they had done. They even both attempt suicide and fail at that.

Hidetora Ichimonji is Akira Kurosawa. All his hopes, dreams, failures and personal tragedies are put on full display for the world to see. We watch as Hidetora is reduced to a quivering mess of a man who would rather pick flowers than face the trauma of his decisions, driven into senility. Kurosawa made “Ran” when he was 75, after dealing with 20 years of filmmaking exile in his home country. One of the greatest filmmakers of all time, unable to create his dreams.

Hidetora has more in common with Kurosawa than he does with King Lear.

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In my look at John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” I mentioned there was one film that scared me more than that horror film. “Ran” is that movie. While I would certainly hesitate to call “Ran” a horror film, it is horrific in its tragic imagery. To watch Hidetora, a once powerful man with hundreds of thousands of troops at his command, be reduced to a walking ghost, powerless to stop everything he built from collapsing, is haunting to witness.

“Ran” is one of the greatest tragedies I’ve seen, complimented by a beautiful color palette that makes every shot of Hidetora stand out. Most of the background are drab and colorless, like rocky terrains, but the blood remains bright red and are impossible to miss because of the unimpressive backgrounds. But ultimately, “Ran” is about an old man who has seen enough war that he believes he can influence the next generation, unaware that life is constantly changing and will tear his weakness and kindness.

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