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Remember Tom Cruise and Michael Caine in Cocktail? Yeah it was an awful movie but leave it to the Japanese to produce a miniseries about bartenders and make it work! Bartender (2011).

Hello JPFmovies fans and welcome to another review of something a little different.  The JPFmovies staff remembers watching Tom Cruise and Michael Caine in the 1988 film Cocktail and wondering just how low Michael Caine could go after his stellar performance in Blame it on Rio (1984) and rolling our eyes at the thin plot, predictable ending and an overall shitty film—but of course earned a ton of money.  After that fiasco, members of the JPFmovies staff were certain that we had seen the last of media glorifying bartenders who, according to Michael Caine were “the aristocrats of the working class.”  However, in our relentless efforts to review the good, the bad and the ugly the JPFmovies staff was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon Bartender (2011) a Japanese mini-series based on a manga of the same name.

Ryu Sasakura (Masaki Aiba) is a bar tending prodigy who won a European cocktail contest. He got into an argument with his instructor and was fired. In a state of dejection he came back to his native country of Japan.  He finds work again in Tokyo and also meets Miwa Kurushima. Meanwhike, Ryu Sasakura is able to listen to his customer’s problems and help alleviate their worries with his special cocktail mixes including work and love and family troubles, one drink at a time.  Our bar tending prodigy even takes on a disciple and enters him into a contest—only to have his lose magnificently!

Why is the Japanese series tolerable?  Because it does not portray the bartender as some flamboyant circus performer out to land a babe, some cash or another material recompense but a person who takes his craft seriously and listens to his patrons without judgment while providing honest, simple advice.  He even goes so far as to track the water used in a customer’s hometown to make the drink authentic.  What more could you want in a bartender?  No Ryu was not flinging glasses three feet in the air while dancing to some 80’s rock, he made his drinks with precision, attention to detail and an eye to match the booze with its drinker.  A consummate professional.  This is not a heavy and gritty film that makes you sweat, but a nice lite series that provides a decent respite from the world today, much like going to your favorite watering hole.  Take a few hours and watch it, you will be glad you did.

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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The JPFmovies staff and longtime contributor Tom V. discuss the current state of the American film industry.

The JPFmovies staff and longtime contributor Tom V. discuss the current state of the American film industry.

Hello again JPFmovie fans yeah, we know our staff needs to bring some more game to the table so here is a fresh start.  As anyone who has followed the JPFmovies posts over the years will tell you we have taken the position that Hollywood churns out nothing but crap.  However, after a recent discussion with long time contributor Tom V., we have refined our position, what follows is our discussion with Tom V:

JPFmovies:  It is nice to hear from you again.  During our last meeting about potential reviews you and the JPFmovies staff were considering when you brought up some excellent points.  You have a different take on why the state of the Hollywood film industry is what is it is today.

Tom V: Yes, I do on several fronts.  Look at the advertising/marketing budgets of films like “Fury” an excellent film in my opinion versus some Transformers movie for example.

JPFmovies:  Could you expand on that a little more.  I mean it sounds like you think that Hollywood has become nothing more than a giant spreadsheet and a bunch of focus groups.

Tom V: Yes, that is exactly it.  Hollywood no longer backing classics, they will reluctant will.  Movies like Mutiny on the Bounty, Casablanca, Good Fellas and Reservoir Dogs.  These films are either not made anymore or the studios simply don’t invest in these types of films the way they used.  They seem to have a sixth-grade focus mentality because that is what seems to sell because these films are costly babysitters.

JPFmovies: Well what has happened to the talent that made some of the best movies in history like Sir Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner, Blackhawk Down or Kill Bill?

Tom V.: Over the past couple of years you’ve seen the talent move to Netflix, Amazon Prime and other independent film outlets.  What Hollywood has been regulated too are comedies with singing animals and politically correct films, action films more about the more expensive special effects scenes and other formula driven rubbish.

 JPFmovies: OK so you see all of the talent migrating (both actors and writers) to the new business models like Netflix and Amazon—do this that Hollywood with adjust to these changing times?

Tom V.: It will never happen Hollywood seems to be stuck in a holding pattern of mediocrity.

JPFmovies:  Ok why don’t proven directors like Scott, Tarantino or David Lynch get the resources they deserve?

Tom V.: Because it doesn’t sell as many tickets as a formulaic Transformers movie despite the obvious merit of films like of Blade Runner 2 because their focus groups projected lower profits.  That film for instance should have been made by Netflix or Amazon because it would have been funded and promoted much better.

JPFmovies: So, you believe that the free market has allowed companies like Netflix, Amazon, AMC and others to think outside of the box and make great entertainment for far less money.

Tom V.: Yeah sure.  Amazon and Netflix are on the cutting edge but don’t have the resources to go toe to toe with a company like Paramount—yet.  For instance, the Netflix series Marco Polo was an amazing series had to be canceled because of the $100,000,000.00 price tag for another season—which for a company like Netflix or Amazon which could have probably handled the costs, but they wisely spread those resources to other programs.

JPFmovies:  What are your favorite series to date from Amazon and Netflix?

Tom V.:  Marco Polo for sure from Netflix and Man in the High Castle from Amazon.  And even these films sucked, at least I would have avoided robots beat the crap out of each other yet again.

JPFmovies:  Do you have any predictions for the upcoming Raspberry Awards?

Tom V.: Too early to call.

JPFmovies:  What can we expect your next review to be?

Tom V.: I think it will be Brad Pit’s 2014 film Fury—which cost $68,000,000.00 and took in approximately $211,000,000.00, so these good movies can in fact be profitable. This film defied the odds of the Transformer garbage.

JPFmovies:  Any closing remarks you want to tell the audience.

Tom V.:  The only way you can change the mediocrity of Hollywood is with your pocketbook.

JPFmovies:  Thank you for your time. And we look forward to your next review.

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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Hello JPFmovie fans I know we are a little late in paying tribute to the late Elvis Presley 40th anniversary of his death on August 16, 1977. We wanted to wait until all of the gushing died down before we paid our respects to the King. We’re going to look at one of his lesser known films Roustabout (1964). Who knew you could make a musical about a carnival worker that actually turned out to be one of his bestselling albums?

On August 16th, 2017, people lined up to have their bags probed and prodded by security officers to get inside the barrier near the mansion for the annual vigil honoring the King, who died of a heart attack Aug. 16, 1977.  Elvis Presley is still one of the most revered entertainers even 40 years after his death.  Putting aside how he died, as a young man he had a remarkable career and only when the temptations often put in front of celebrities got the better of him did we lose one of the finest performers of all time.

 

Roustabout was Elvis’s 16th movie made in 1964 by Paramount pictures.  The film’s soundtrack was one of the King’s most successful reaching number one on the Billboard Album Chart.  Despite the soundtrack’s success, this film remains one of his lesser known productions.  Co-starring in the film is the legendary Barbara Stanwyck, who needs no introduction.  Stanwck’s long career spanned over 90 films and in 1944 the government listed her as the nation’s highest-paid woman, earning $400,000.  She received four Academy Award nominations and in 1982 was awarded an Honorary Academy Award for her contributions to the acting industry.  She was nominated five times for Emmy Awards, winning three of them, and she received four Golden Globe nominations, winning one. She received Life Achievement Awards from the American Film Institute, the Screen Actors Guild and the Los Angles Film Critics Association.

 

Legend has it Elvis made this movie so he could work with Stanwyck and, as is typical of many of his films, other cast members appeared in subsequent roles of the King’s future films including “Paradise, Hawaiian Style,” “Blue Hawaii,” “Girls! Girls! Girls!,” “It Happened At The World’s Fair,” “Viva Las Vegas,” (previously reviewed), “Kissin’ Cousins” and “Girl Happy.”  So, the film has a sort of a duality to it, its musical score reaching number one on the Billboard charts yet reviled by the critics as clichéd and formulaic– which is true.  But enough of that, let’s take a look at the movie.

As with many of the King’s movies the plot is relatively simple: Musician Charlie Rogers (Elvis Presley) is fired from a gig at a teahouse after brawling with several college. After a night in jail, Charlie hits the road on his Honda 305 Superhawk motorcycle. He spots Cathy Lean (Joan Freeman) driving with her father Joe (Leif Erickson) and their employer, Maggie Morgan (Barbara Stanwyck).  When Charlie tries to become friendly with Cathy, Joe forces him off the road and the bike is wrecked after crashing into a wooden fence.

 

Maggie offers him a place to stay and a job with her struggling traveling carnival while the bike is being repaired. Charlie becomes a “carnie,” a “roustabout.” Maggie recognizes his musical talents and promotes him to feature attraction.  His act soon draws large crowds.  Off stage, Charlie romances Cathy, which creates animosity with Joe.  After the two men repeatedly clash and Charlie is accused of holding back a customer’s lost wallet that Joe was accused of stealing, Charlie leaves to star in the much better financed show of rival carnival producer Harry Carver (Pat Buttram).

Once again, he is a great success. However, when Charlie learns that Maggie is facing bankruptcy, he returns to her carnival.  In the musical finale, he is happily reunited with Cathy.  In the carnival saved from bankruptcy.

 

When members of the JPFmovies crew visited Graceland, we went to the Elvis DVD gift shop and asked to purchase a copy of the DVD version of Roustabout.  Incredibly, the store did not carry the film.  We couldn’t believe our ears, here we are at the King’s headquarters and we couldn’t by a copy of his 16th movie, you’re killing me!  We made fun of that store manager for at least 20 minutes and asked if there were any other Elvis movies they didn’t have in stock.  He offered to order it for us and pay the shipping costs; however, we turn down this “generous” the offer of the Presley Empire knowing we could acquire the DVD from other sources probably at a much lower price.  What kind of operation focused on one performer does not carry all of his movies for sale?  Graceland is geared to making money, but when asked to purchase one of his films they didn’t have it?  Are you kidding?

Leaving all that aside, Roustabout remains one of the JPFmovie team’s best liked films, because it involves such a strange plot, a bad boy going good while working as a carnival worker?  Obviously, this film was not written by a brain trust, yet it is worthy of watching.  So, if you want to honor the King’s memory, Roustabout is a good choice to watch.

 

We still miss you Elvis and you are still the King.

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2017 in Movie Reviews

 

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Let’s take a look at some great Femme Fatale flix—you know the attractive, seductive woman who will ultimately bring disaster to a man (or men) that becomes involved with her. Our first look: The Last Seduction (1994) staring Linda Fiorentino, Peter Berg, and Bill Pullman.

When the discussion of Femme Fatale films came up the first movie we here at JPFmovies immediately thought of was The Last Seduction.  Many of you probably never heard of it because even though Fiorentino’s performance generated talk of an Oscar nomination, she was deemed ineligible because the film was shown on HBO before it was released into the theaters.  October Films and ITC Entertainment sued the Academy, but were unable to make Fiorentino eligible for a nomination.  So, the film went right from HBO to DVD—what a waste.

To say The Last Seduction is a neo-noir erotic thriller doesn’t do the film justice.  It is an outstanding example modernizing the traditional stereotype of the deadly women of classic fim noir that were generally disliked, detested, and sometimes hated by patriarchal society.  Here the Director and Fiorentino bring some of the enduring cultural images of the femme fatale while bestowing her with modern, distinguishing characteristics.

 

The film opens with, Bridget Gregory (Fiorentino) pressuring and scolding the salesmen in some boiler-room telemarketing office in New York City selling worthless coins.  She knows how to use the hard sell, close deals, and manage men with fear and degradation.  She runs a tight and ruthless ship.  After work, she races to her apartment to see if an important deal her medical school husband made selling $700,000 worth of pharmaceutical grade cocaine to some street thugs paid off.  It did, the husband (Bill Pullman) had to stuff the 700K in his jacket on the way home, After Bridget makes some rude remark to her husband, he gives her a pretty good smack across the face which seems to set the wheels of this tale of deceit in motion.

While her husband is taking a shower, Bridge to use a phrase from the Steve Miller Band “go on take the money and run.”  Naturally her husband is upset but does not seemed too surprised.

 On her way to Chicago, Bridget stops in a small town called Beston to gas up. It’s in a nearby bar that we – and Bridget – meet the film’s third principal character, Mike Swale (played to naive, lustful perfection by Peter Berg). In the bar, Bridget’s order is ignored by the bartender, and, instantly attracted to her dark good looks, Mike Swale gallantly steps in to help. Bridget, however, is not interested. “Could you leave?  Please?” she asks. “Well, I haven’t finished charming you yet,” Mike responds, to which Bridget retorts: “You haven’t started.” Still endeavoring to win Bridget’s heart – or some part of her – Mike informs her that he’s “hung like a horse.”  Perhaps wishing only to amuse herself, perhaps with other, more far-reaching plans in mind, Bridget asks to see for herself, unzips his pants right in the bar, and then fires off a series of questions: how many lovers has he had? Have any been prostitutes? Does he have his own place? Does it have indoor plumbing? Before long, the two are in Mike’s apartment.  He is now under her spell.

As the movie progresses, an evil disorder dwells deep within Bridget. She seems to scorn men. She uses men to her advantage, catching them, conquering them, and bending them to her will. She values money, power, and independence over relationships. She enjoys humiliating men, deriding them as ‘eunuchs,’ ‘Neanderthals,’ ‘maggots,’ and ‘sex objects.’ A trace of revenge lurks in Bridget’s behavior towards the opposite sex.

Bridget continues to exhibit her psychopathic behavior, cunning and naked ambition.  As the film progresses we see that Bridget Gregory, is total bitch. Hot, genius smart, kinky and slinky. Feline and ruthless. Politically incorrect chain smoker. New York City telemarketer/con artist. Catty call floor conniver. Rough Rider floor boss. And I mean all of that as a compliment.

Interesting enough we try to find a linkable character in the film but no one comes to this dance with clean hands.

We could go on for pages but there will be no spoilers here.  You need to make the time watch The Last Seduction, you are getting the JPFmovie seal of approval that it is worth watching.

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2017 in Movie Reviews

 

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Don’t you forget about this review The Breakfast Club (1985).

We know many of you thought we here at JPFmovies were going to start this review reminiscing about when Generation X saw this film in the theaters and its impact on us, the career of its director and the actors who, because of this, movie eventually became known as the “Brat Pack.”  Obviously named after the famed “Rat Pack” of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

A little over 30 years ago the JPFmovies team saw the Breakfast Club (1985) in the theaters and then on VHS tapes.  The ground-breaking John Hughes coming of age film deals with many of the issues faced by parents and their children today.  Then it occurred to us, we are the parents now, and if our kids were in detention today they wouldn’t be talking to or otherwise interacting with each other.  Instead they would be playing on their phones.  During our research, we discovered that many believe this type of human interaction causes them some form of social anxiety—what a waste.  The Breakfast Club is much more than a classic movie that has withstood the test of time, it also contains a lesson our children need to learn; that talking and listening each other isn’t so bad.  Put down the God damn phone and really communicate!  You might actually learn something about yourself and the others around you that can’t be articulated in a text or some “Emoji.”

Now let’s take a look at the film.  The movie starts with 5 different kids that personify the stereotypes often seen in high school clicks: the popular girl, Claire (Molly Ringwald); the jock, Andrew (Emilio Estevez); the rebel, John (Judd Nelson); the outcast, Allison (Ally Sheedy); and the geek, Brian (Anthony Michael Hall).  Throughout the film we learn when each of them has done to land themselves in the all-day detention. Under strict orders from the assistant principal.  There not allowed to talk, move from their seats and are required to write a 1,000-word essay on “who you think you are.”  The overbearing assistant principal then leaves, returning only occasionally to check in on them.  Bender, who has a fantastically antagonistic relationship with the vice principal, ignores the rules and frequently riles up the other students, teasing Brian and Andrew as well as harassing Claire.  Allison is initially quiet, except for an occasional random outburst or when she is eating her fingernails.  See the film clip below:

 

Initially tensions run high between both the students and the authority figure embodied by the vice principal, Vernon.  The vice principal treats all of the students with blatant disrespect, especially when he and Bender get into a battle of wills over how far he is willing to go to let Vernon know that he is not afraid of these Saturday morning detentions which is the only real hold this vice principal has on our rebel.

 

The students begin to pass the hours by talking, arguing, Allison drawing and then using her dandruff to simulate snow. 

After lunch, they smoke some marijuana that Bender retrieves from his locker. Gradually, they open up to each other and reveal their deepest personal secrets: Allison is a compulsive liar; Andrew cannot easily think for himself; Bender comes from an abusive household.

Brian was planning suicide with a flare gun due to the inability to cope with a bad grade; and Claire is a virgin who feels constant pressure from her friends to be a certain way. They also discover that they all have strained relationships with their parents, which are a key cause for their personal issues as well: Allison’s parents ignore her due to their own problems to the point that she shows up at detention because she had nothing else to do.

Andrew’s father constantly criticizes his efforts at wrestling and pushes him as hard as possible; Bender’s father verbally and physically abuses him; Brian’s overbearing parents put immense pressure on him to earn high grades; and Claire’s parents use her to get back at each other during frequent arguments. The students realize that, despite their different situations, they face similar pressures and complications in their lives.

As the day wears on, despite their differences in social status, the group begins to form friendships (and even romantic relationships).  Claire gives Allison a makeover, to reveal just how pretty she really is, which sparks romantic interest in Andrew. Claire decides to break her “pristine” virgin appearance by kissing Bender in the closet and giving him a hickey.  However, they know that these relationships will end when their detention is over.

As their time in “jail” nears its end, the group requests that Brian write one essay for all of them.  Brian writes the essay and leaves it in the library for Vernon to read. As the kids begin to part ways, Allison and Andrew kiss, as do Claire and Bender.  Allison rips Andrew’s state champion patch from his letterman jacket to keep, and Claire gives Bender one of her diamond earrings, and director John Hughes makes a cameo appearance as Brian’s father driving the cat that picks him up.  Vernon reads the essay (read by Brian in voice-over), in which Brian states that Vernon has already judged who they are, using simple definitions and stereotypes. One by one, the five students’ voices add, “But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.” Brian signs the letter as “The Breakfast Club.”

Then the Simple Minds theme song of the movie begins as Bender raises his fist in triumph while he walks across the school football field toward home.

Note Billy Idol did a fantastic cover of Don’t You Forget About Me (When I’m gone).  You can listen to it here:

Princess or prisoner, nerd or nut-job, these five different teens bond over their conviction that they can’t talk to their parents, which leaves them adrift at a time when they could use help the most. Has anything changed?  If there is one thing we here at JPFmovies can say to the next generation it’s go watch the Breakfast Club, but don’t get into too much trouble because detention isn’t really like the film, but we can dream.

Sincerely, JPFmovies.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2017 in Movie Reviews

 

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The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945) Censored by the Freedom of Speech Advocates (the United States) until 1952.

Here is a Kurasowa film that was made in 1945 during the final days of WWII, but prevented from general release by American censors until 1952 when the U.S. forces essentially withdrew from Japan ostensibly because the film contained elements of the bushido code.

This is not your run of the mill movie in the eyes of most westerners.  It is less than an hour long and filmed against what is clearly a painted set meant to be the mountainous horizon of Japan.  In addition, half of the dialogue is poetry that is sung making it more of a narrative now that I think about it.  People attribute these cinematic devices to director Kurasowa’s faithfulness to the “noh” style play upon which the story is based.  If, like me, you have no idea what that is, noh is a genre of classical Japanese musical dramas that has been performed since the 14th century.  Apparently, the plays focus on technical form rather than creativity and what we would call traditional “acting today.”

While researching this review I noticed something; that is, people either loved this film or hated it.  Very few opinions were “middle of the road” when discussing the merits of the movie with some going so far as to say “well it left me feeling that the best part of this film was its short 58 minutes.”  Something I’ve never heard or read about a Kurasowa film until now.

The film follows the Japanese jidaigeki or “period drama” telling the story of The Gempei War, which has just ended and now, two brothers – allies of that war – have turned into enemies.  Yoshitsune, a victorious general in the War, is being hunted by his brother, Yoritomo. Yoshitsune, along with six men, attempt to reach Hidehira Fujiwara, who may offer Yoshitsune safety. To do so, they have to pass through a barrier in the Kaga Province, under the command of its magistrate, Saemon Togashi.  The film is how are they going to get through the barrier.

Getting through the checkpoint is not going to be as easy as passing through a tollbooth.  With Yoshitsune’s right hand man, Benkei (a formidable historical figure in his own right), leading the way, the six men, disguised as monks, with Yoshitsune disguised as a porter and another real porter providing comedy relief (and in my opinion helping to save their skin in the end), travel to the barrier, but word has already reached the officials that the fugitives are moving incognito as wandering ascetic priests.  Naturally, they are stopped at the checkpoint since they fit the description of (and are in fact) the wanted men.

Since all of the fugitives have been trained in ritual, their show is very convincing.  Togashi proceeds to ask a number of questions designed to prove their priesthood.  As a real priest, Benkei has been steeped in the traditions of the Buddha and he alone speaks, and he does so convincingly.  Togashi’s final test requires Benkei to recite his mission for the temple he claims to be collecting donations for.  He famously takes up a blank scroll and recites, partially from memory and partially improvisational, in typical Buddhist fashion.  Togashi’s suspicions ostensibly assuaged, the band of merry men are allowed to pass, but as they depart, Togashi’s right-hand believes he recognizes the one of their number as Yoshitsune.  Benkei thinking on his feet, beats the heck out of his lord Yoshitsune with his staff.  In Japan during that time, no retainer would ever lay a hand upon his master, and thus the guards are convinced of their authenticity.

The best part of this movie is not the dialogue in and of its self, but the psychological questions hanging out there.  Does Togashi know that it is indeed Yoshitsune’s band and therefore allow them to pass out of some admiration for their performance?  Or has Benkei truly succeeded in fooling them?  Other versions of the story try to leave their audience hanging by making them try to guess what he knew and when did he know it.  In this film, it is clear that Togashi knows and that Benkei knows that he knows.  This may not be so easily diffused from a single viewing.  Kurosawa himself, it could be argued, winks and nods at this reading, but he never spells it out in the final product (through montage, composition or otherwise).  Instead, he leaves it to the cunning of his actors who make these points.

So here are my middle of the road thoughts on The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail the film’s narrative singing gets a little annoying after the first song, but the tension described in the preceding paragraph add significantly to the merits of this movie.

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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