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Chocolate Shake Man
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« on: August 24, 2015, 12:55:12 PM »

I know we have a movies thread already but I thought we could use a new one for reviews. I have been in a mood lately to watch old movies - mostly foreign films but some English-speaking movies too and I thought I'd write about them here if anyone is interesting. I will try to avoid spoilers. I hope you enjoy and feel free to contribute your own and to comment on my own reviews for further conversation.

Last night, I watched Brian DePalmaís Scarface for the first time. Admittedly, I havenít watched much DePalma. The only other one that Iíve watched is Carrie and, to be honest, I wasnít particularly blown away by it. However, Iíve been into Tarantino again and I know that DePalma is one of his favourites so I thought that now would be a good time to give this movie a watch.

I will say that I thought that Scarface was a fine movie but, for me, I didnít find it particularly fantastic. What did surprise me was how much the structure of the film mirrored the structure of Martin Scorseseís Goodfellas, a later movie which has for a long time been one of my favourites. In a way, it sort of saddened me to re-consider just how much Goodfellas really does fall so neatly into an arc: the ambitious young man who turns to a life of crime and achieves a level of power that is so great that it becomes his own undoing. Actually, in many ways, one could say that Scorseseís Casino plays out this scenario even more rigidly.

Nevertheless, Goodfellas to me, remains the far more satisfying film. Maybe itís because Scarface was written by Oliver Stone and Stone has a tendency of eliminating the nuance. Oliver Stoneís work has almost always been completely devoid of any depth. Platoon was a shallow war film, JFK and Nixon were politically naÔve despite being presented as if they were products of great political knowledge. And I could go on.

But Scarface is likewise very surface level. I wasnít particularly moved in most of the parts where I was supposed to be moved (I wonít provide spoilers just in case) if I was, indeed, ever supposed to be moved at all. There is virtually no character in this film other than Tony Montana that we really know anything about. Worst case of this is Tonyís wife, Elvira, who goes from hating Tony to marrying Tony with almost no explanation other than the fact that Tony has just killed her previous boyfriend and then asks her to come with him now. Then we seem to be years into the marriage (itís probably only a few months) and she hates him again, leaves him, and what happens to her after that is anyoneís guess. There are other characters in the movie too, such as Tonyís friend Manny and his sister Gina, but the fact that the film can go for a half an hour and you have forgotten that any of these characters existed is a testament to how interesting they are and how much I cared about them.

Nevertheless, that doesnít mean the film is bad. The reason we donít get too much out of the other characters is, really, because itís the Tony Montana show starring Tony Montana and Tony Montana is admittedly a pretty interesting guy. Heís not as interesting as, say, Henry Hill in Goodfellas, mostly because Henry Hill is a smarter guy. DePalma and Stone kind of present Montana as a bit of dope who canít really understand what people are saying sometimes. Thatís not to say he wasnít a great criminal but even then he wasnít brilliant, he was just able to capitalize briefly in a system that rewarded excessive behaviour to a limit (which, really, is how this movie can be summed up). Henry Hill, while not a genius, was nevertheless quick witted, funny, interesting, and didnít talk about his balls incessantly. Still, Pacino is great in this performance and the lines, purposefully over-the-top, achieve their goal. Obviously, ďsay hello to my little friendĒ is not meant to be serious. Weíre supposed to laugh here and we do.

The film also has two remarkably compelling moments (two and a half if you count the final ten minutes which is also nicely over the top). The first is the famous chainsaw sequence in the bathroom on Tonyís first big American deal. While Tony and his associated are getting destroyed in a bathroom, DePalma pans out of the bathroom and then out of the hotel room and down to the car where Montanaís other two friends are sitting. This moment is brilliant in that it violates all of our expectations about movies Ė we expect to see the sequence carried out and then when we are at the edge of our seats, DePalma slowly pulls us out of the moment to give us another perspective. Then, just when we think we are safe, he brings us right back to it, to a scene of cringe-inducing violence. Itís a great moment that I can see being replicated in the famous ear scene of Reservoir Dogs.

The other great moment comes when Tony is taking part of a hit job against a guy who is about to make a UN speech denouncing the drug trade. Tony and his gang have placed a bomb under the guyís car and are getting ready to blow it up at the right location. The gang though watch as the guy is joined in his car by his wife and two daughters. Itís a moment of high tension as we are lured into Tonyís moral quandary (the first he has experienced in the whole film). Itís a great cinematic moment. The consequences of Tonyís decision are also quite intriguing and speak to, perhaps, some interesting things that DePalma and Stone might be saying about the nature of humanity. Unfortunately, to go into detail about that, would mean spoiling the film.

So there are some very significant moments in the movie and I would definitely not write it off. But there are weaknesses Ė both at the level of writing and at the level of the visuals. DePalma makes a movie with a lot of pretty sets but he doesnít photograph those sets in a particularly artful way. Itís a filmed in a generally realist mode. Itís not particularly surprising Ė Scorseseís characters tend to be poetic, while DePalmaís characters (at least in this film) are far from poets (to illustrate my point, just look at the beautiful yet non-realistic way that Jake LaMotta speaks all throughout Raging Bull or even the opening narration of Goodfellas). So I suppose this speaks to my preference for filmic poetry over filmic prose (though the latter when it is done well can be just as good as the former). There are a lot of great locations here Ė Miami, New York, etc. but DePalma doesnít film them the way, say, Fellini films Rome or the way the Coen Brothers paint their towns.

Still, a good movie is a good movie and this is it. It has some highly entertaining and unique moments and a great character at its centre.
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« Reply #1 on: August 24, 2015, 01:41:12 PM »


The other great moment comes when Tony is taking part of a hit job against a guy who is about to make a UN speech denouncing the drug trade. Tony and his gang have placed a bomb under the guyís car and are getting ready to blow it up at the right location. The gang though watch as the guy is joined in his car by his wife and two daughters. Itís a moment of high tension as we are lured into Tonyís moral quandary (the first he has experienced in the whole film). Itís a great cinematic moment. The consequences of Tonyís decision are also quite intriguing and speak to, perhaps, some interesting things that DePalma and Stone might be saying about the nature of humanity. Unfortunately, to go into detail about that, would mean spoiling the film.


That's the great final act of the movie. After all the reprehensible things Tony has done, it's a rare moment of decency that brings about his downfall and seals his fate.
I recommend the other DePalma/Pacino film Carlito's Way.
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« Reply #2 on: August 24, 2015, 02:14:54 PM »

I'm about to give a SPOILER below so beware at all costs!


The other great moment comes when Tony is taking part of a hit job against a guy who is about to make a UN speech denouncing the drug trade. Tony and his gang have placed a bomb under the guyís car and are getting ready to blow it up at the right location. The gang though watch as the guy is joined in his car by his wife and two daughters. Itís a moment of high tension as we are lured into Tonyís moral quandary (the first he has experienced in the whole film). Itís a great cinematic moment. The consequences of Tonyís decision are also quite intriguing and speak to, perhaps, some interesting things that DePalma and Stone might be saying about the nature of humanity. Unfortunately, to go into detail about that, would mean spoiling the film.


That's the great final act of the movie. After all the reprehensible things Tony has done, it's a rare moment of decency that brings about his downfall and seals his fate.
I recommend the other DePalma/Pacino film Carlito's Way.

Exactly, Mike's Beard! It is a remarkable choice that DePalma makes by having Tony's downfall come as a result of his only act of kindness when usually it's the other way around. Not only that by Tony is brought down by someone with an even more questionable set of ethics than Tony's. Ultimately then DePalma's vision of the world in this movie is pretty dark and pessimistic, no?

Thank you for the recommendation. I remember that movie coming out when I was a kid and it being a big deal but I was too young to see it then and never got around to it but I hope to see it soon. The next DePalma on my list is Blow Out.
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« Reply #3 on: August 24, 2015, 02:21:36 PM »

I recommend carlito's way as well!
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« Reply #4 on: August 24, 2015, 05:53:50 PM »

Here's a few more. And I should say SPOILER ALERT for these two:

In the past month or so, Iíve watched two Kurosawa movies that I thought I would talk about here as well. The first is Ikiru and the other is Seven Samurai. In my younger days I had seen portions of both, but these were more concerted efforts at watching these movies more carefully.

They were both rewarding experiences. Kurosawa is typically associated with the samurai movie, but, in fact, several of my favourite Kurosawa movies are not directly samurai stories. Rashomon is probably the best example but another good one is the contemporary Stray Dog. Ikiru, like Stray Dog, is a contemporary story. This one is about an old man who discovers he only has a short time to live and what he decides to do with his time.

The story is wonderfully structured, the performances are excellent, and the photography is beautiful. It is probably my favourite Kurosawa movie after Throne of Blood and Rashomon. Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of this movie is in its presentation of bureaucracy. Itís not so much an indictment of the bureaucratic system so much as it is a comment on the way that society can constrain us Ė that the structures that we build in society, which are inevitable and quite often necessary, nevertheless prevent us from acting in a way thatís human.

This is what Kanji, Ikiruís protagonist, finally confronts at the end of his life Ė thatís heís about to die and heís never been a real person. But itís not just his condition, Kurosawa tells us, itís everyoneís. Consider whether now you would put everything at risk to build a park for children, as Kanji does. Or, for that matter, anything meaningful? If you did, youíd run the risk of being told that you are not living in the real world. But Kurosawa asks us what are the costs of this world? The film ultimately offers the compelling point that, in fact, no one really lives in the real world.

This is why everyone who plays by the rules of the real world ultimately resents Kanji. When Kanjiís actions win the respect of the townspeople, the heads of the bureaucratic system immediately leap in to take credit Ė because, for them, it is impossible that anyone could actually be successful outside of this system of constraint, which Kurosawa shows us prevents anything from ever actually happening. But most people know different and Kanjiís legacy is fairly secured.

And thatís partly what this movie is about too. I was surprised when, in fact, Kurosawa has Kanji dying about a half hour before the movie actually ends. It was a bold and brilliant move, illustrating just how Kurosawa is a master of cinema who works to challenge audiences at every turn. In that case, the movie is not simply about confronting mortality Ė thatís too easy. Itís about what we do once weíve confronted our own inhumanity and what are the consequences of finding it, particularly in a world that denies it Ė where the very act of living is something to scorn. The question is whether Kanji will motivate others or will his actions be subsumed by the system that took away his individuality in the first place? We donít really know, but itís an important question.

Ikiru is a complex film that deals with these compelling questions but is has a wonderful emotional resonance Ė Kanji is someone we feel for but we donít just feel for him but also for others caught up in the system but are trying to escape, like, for example, the novelists that he runs into or the girl who briefly works in Kanjiís office. Like in most Kurosawa movies that Iíve seen, thereís a great deal of heart here, as we discover a man who begins to love life at a time when there is so little of it left.

Seven Samurai is probably considered to be Kurosawaís masterpiece Ė either that or Rashomon. I did indeed find Seven Samurai to be a wonderful movie, but I was less impressed by it than I have been by several of the other Kurosawaís that I have seen. Perhaps it is just because I do not particularly love action movies, and this is a great example of an action movie. However, as I observed upon watching the film again this time, how many action movies today would be so bold as to have its final shot be a bunch of grave sites.

With that in mind, then, this movie is very much about cost. A simple reading might say that itís about the cost of war, but really, itís about the cost of being in a interpersonal family dynamic. The seven samurai, who really only all meet just shortly before they go to war against a bunch of violent bandits, are truly a family with Kambei Shimada (played by the same actor who played Kanji in Ikiru) as the patriarchal head. Look beyond the samurai regalia and talk, and Kambei is every bit as fatherly as Ward Clever, but Ward never had to deal with bandits. Nor did he ever have a son as belligerent as the wonderful Kikuchiyo played by the great Toshiro Mifune.

Indeed, the relationship that Kikuchiyo has with the rest of the samurai is the critical highpoint of the film. Kikuchiyo is not a traditional or even an official samurai Ė heís wild, heís not properly trained. But at the end of the say, he is the most human of them all. At one point he goes off to steal a banditís gun after samurai Kyuzo does the same much to the awe of Katsushiro Okamoto, the youngest, child-like samurai. But whereas Kyuzo goes on a dangerous mission, Kikuchiyo leaves his post at a critical point, which leads to several bandits breaking through and a villager ending up dead. Terrible though this is, we sympathize with Kikuchiyo. He really just wants to be as accepted as everyone else and simply canít quite grasp how. He is the samurai, I think, that we are all meant to identify with.

Ultimately, this movie is about action, wonderfully shot and poetically paced out by Kurosawa. But more importantly it is about the samurai family Ė a family that is always destined to end tragically. There will be survivors, yes, but the survivors are the ones that have to bear the burden of surviving Ė they are the ones that do the burying, which is hardly a pleasant task. Beyond the historical period, Kurosawa shows us the joys of belonging to a large family but he also shows us the sadness of it. Being part of a big family can be fulfilling, enriching, and joyous but it could also mean losing your greatest friends over and over again.

Again, I cannot stress more that this movie is excellent. However, I think that there are story elements in Kurosawa that are better elsewhere (Throne of Blood and Ran, for instance, though, when your source material is Shakespeare, itís hard to go wrong) and his cinematic prowess is perhaps stronger in movies like Rashomon, Ikiru, and Ran. Again, while there are emotionally moving moments here, they do not quite fall as nicely as they do in Ikiru. Nevertheless, Seven Samurai is a wonderful movie and worth watching.

I would say that Ikiru definitely is part of my Top 120. Seven Samurai might but it could also be squeezed out by others.
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halblaineisgood
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« Reply #5 on: August 31, 2015, 11:42:43 PM »

Saw the wrecking crew movie. Frank Capp seems like a very prickly guy. (Bonus features)
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« Reply #6 on: September 02, 2015, 06:59:42 PM »

Just finished A Man Called Horse (1970).  I'd recommend it. 
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« Reply #7 on: September 13, 2015, 06:02:03 PM »

 2015 movies I've liked: LOVE & MERCY, EX MACHINA, THE GIFT, and ANT-MAN.
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« Reply #8 on: September 14, 2015, 08:54:44 AM »

Hi all,

Last night I watched This Is Where I Leave You on one of the HBO Channels.  It is very good. 
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« Reply #9 on: September 14, 2015, 09:16:25 AM »

Saw all of Twin Peaks (the series); recently watched the movie (Fire Walk With Me).

I don't know how I watch these things right before bed and sleep at night Grin
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« Reply #10 on: September 14, 2015, 09:57:12 PM »

I'm about to give a SPOILER below so beware at all costs!


The other great moment comes when Tony is taking part of a hit job against a guy who is about to make a UN speech denouncing the drug trade. Tony and his gang have placed a bomb under the guyís car and are getting ready to blow it up at the right location. The gang though watch as the guy is joined in his car by his wife and two daughters. Itís a moment of high tension as we are lured into Tonyís moral quandary (the first he has experienced in the whole film). Itís a great cinematic moment. The consequences of Tonyís decision are also quite intriguing and speak to, perhaps, some interesting things that DePalma and Stone might be saying about the nature of humanity. Unfortunately, to go into detail about that, would mean spoiling the film.


That's the great final act of the movie. After all the reprehensible things Tony has done, it's a rare moment of decency that brings about his downfall and seals his fate.
I recommend the other DePalma/Pacino film Carlito's Way.

Exactly, Mike's Beard! It is a remarkable choice that DePalma makes by having Tony's downfall come as a result of his only act of kindness when usually it's the other way around. Not only that by Tony is brought down by someone with an even more questionable set of ethics than Tony's. Ultimately then DePalma's vision of the world in this movie is pretty dark and pessimistic, no?


Makes The Untouchables look fairly optimistic.
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« Reply #11 on: September 15, 2015, 06:28:56 AM »

My fiance and I watched Broken Lizard's Beerfest this past weekend.  Its been about seven years since I'd seen it from start to finish. 

I love those guys and I'm looking forward to Super Troopers 2.
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« Reply #12 on: September 17, 2015, 06:26:32 PM »

"Drop Dead Gorgeous" was immediate unfavorite. What kind of beauty pageant has short, fat, ugly girls? Where is standard? I would say the winner was deserved. She's tall, slim, kind of like human Barbie doll. And while she failed her solo number, I thought the idea had merit & sent nice message. I can't really understand what Kirsten Dunst was doing there. She's so unpersonable to play part in such film, let alone be the 1st runner-up. What's the point of competition if smb. hands out their clothes because they "wouldn't win anyway"? If another contestant lost their costume - so frigging what? It's her problem. She should've been disqualified. It's a mean business, there shouldn't be friendship, nothing beyond polite nodding or greeting. There is only 1 winner. If I want to see unrealistic scenes, I'll turn to horror or fantasy. In any real contest, things are tense, nobody wants to lose - that's normal, it's spirit of competition. When I was competing in national olympic contest for Russian - I always got 5s on this subject - my friend asked for help. I knew the answer but didn't say it. Why would I? It really annoys me, this buddy-like attitude. "You're my friend so you must help me in everything by default". help yourself. I wanna win too, ya know. And I actually won. She didn't forgive but I don't care. many friendships end like this, for stupid reasons. Sad but true.
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« Reply #13 on: April 11, 2016, 04:45:34 AM »

2016 movies I've liked: THE WITCH, THE REVENANT, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.

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« Reply #14 on: April 11, 2016, 04:55:54 AM »

My favourite of 2016 so far is definitely Hail Caesar, which I place among the Coen Brothers best work which, for me, includes Barton Fink, Fargo, and O Brother Where Art Thou?
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« Reply #15 on: April 11, 2016, 05:17:11 AM »

Saw Batman V Superman about two weeks ago. 

Despite the poor critical reception, it was actually a fun movie.  IMO, much better than the Superman movie - Man of Steel. 
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« Reply #16 on: May 21, 2016, 08:27:19 AM »

  ELVIS & NIXON: Michael Shannon is one odd yet effective Elvis Presley. Recommended.
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« Reply #17 on: May 21, 2016, 12:59:22 PM »

Here's a few more. And I should say SPOILER ALERT for these two:

In the past month or so, Iíve watched two Kurosawa movies that I thought I would talk about here as well. The first is Ikiru and the other is Seven Samurai. In my younger days I had seen portions of both, but these were more concerted efforts at watching these movies more carefully.

They were both rewarding experiences. Kurosawa is typically associated with the samurai movie, but, in fact, several of my favourite Kurosawa movies are not directly samurai stories. Rashomon is probably the best example but another good one is the contemporary Stray Dog. Ikiru, like Stray Dog, is a contemporary story. This one is about an old man who discovers he only has a short time to live and what he decides to do with his time.

The story is wonderfully structured, the performances are excellent, and the photography is beautiful. It is probably my favourite Kurosawa movie after Throne of Blood and Rashomon. Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of this movie is in its presentation of bureaucracy. Itís not so much an indictment of the bureaucratic system so much as it is a comment on the way that society can constrain us Ė that the structures that we build in society, which are inevitable and quite often necessary, nevertheless prevent us from acting in a way thatís human.

This is what Kanji, Ikiruís protagonist, finally confronts at the end of his life Ė thatís heís about to die and heís never been a real person. But itís not just his condition, Kurosawa tells us, itís everyoneís. Consider whether now you would put everything at risk to build a park for children, as Kanji does. Or, for that matter, anything meaningful? If you did, youíd run the risk of being told that you are not living in the real world. But Kurosawa asks us what are the costs of this world? The film ultimately offers the compelling point that, in fact, no one really lives in the real world.

This is why everyone who plays by the rules of the real world ultimately resents Kanji. When Kanjiís actions win the respect of the townspeople, the heads of the bureaucratic system immediately leap in to take credit Ė because, for them, it is impossible that anyone could actually be successful outside of this system of constraint, which Kurosawa shows us prevents anything from ever actually happening. But most people know different and Kanjiís legacy is fairly secured.

And thatís partly what this movie is about too. I was surprised when, in fact, Kurosawa has Kanji dying about a half hour before the movie actually ends. It was a bold and brilliant move, illustrating just how Kurosawa is a master of cinema who works to challenge audiences at every turn. In that case, the movie is not simply about confronting mortality Ė thatís too easy. Itís about what we do once weíve confronted our own inhumanity and what are the consequences of finding it, particularly in a world that denies it Ė where the very act of living is something to scorn. The question is whether Kanji will motivate others or will his actions be subsumed by the system that took away his individuality in the first place? We donít really know, but itís an important question.

Ikiru is a complex film that deals with these compelling questions but is has a wonderful emotional resonance Ė Kanji is someone we feel for but we donít just feel for him but also for others caught up in the system but are trying to escape, like, for example, the novelists that he runs into or the girl who briefly works in Kanjiís office. Like in most Kurosawa movies that Iíve seen, thereís a great deal of heart here, as we discover a man who begins to love life at a time when there is so little of it left.

Seven Samurai is probably considered to be Kurosawaís masterpiece Ė either that or Rashomon. I did indeed find Seven Samurai to be a wonderful movie, but I was less impressed by it than I have been by several of the other Kurosawaís that I have seen. Perhaps it is just because I do not particularly love action movies, and this is a great example of an action movie. However, as I observed upon watching the film again this time, how many action movies today would be so bold as to have its final shot be a bunch of grave sites.

With that in mind, then, this movie is very much about cost. A simple reading might say that itís about the cost of war, but really, itís about the cost of being in a interpersonal family dynamic. The seven samurai, who really only all meet just shortly before they go to war against a bunch of violent bandits, are truly a family with Kambei Shimada (played by the same actor who played Kanji in Ikiru) as the patriarchal head. Look beyond the samurai regalia and talk, and Kambei is every bit as fatherly as Ward Clever, but Ward never had to deal with bandits. Nor did he ever have a son as belligerent as the wonderful Kikuchiyo played by the great Toshiro Mifune.

Indeed, the relationship that Kikuchiyo has with the rest of the samurai is the critical highpoint of the film. Kikuchiyo is not a traditional or even an official samurai Ė heís wild, heís not properly trained. But at the end of the say, he is the most human of them all. At one point he goes off to steal a banditís gun after samurai Kyuzo does the same much to the awe of Katsushiro Okamoto, the youngest, child-like samurai. But whereas Kyuzo goes on a dangerous mission, Kikuchiyo leaves his post at a critical point, which leads to several bandits breaking through and a villager ending up dead. Terrible though this is, we sympathize with Kikuchiyo. He really just wants to be as accepted as everyone else and simply canít quite grasp how. He is the samurai, I think, that we are all meant to identify with.

Ultimately, this movie is about action, wonderfully shot and poetically paced out by Kurosawa. But more importantly it is about the samurai family Ė a family that is always destined to end tragically. There will be survivors, yes, but the survivors are the ones that have to bear the burden of surviving Ė they are the ones that do the burying, which is hardly a pleasant task. Beyond the historical period, Kurosawa shows us the joys of belonging to a large family but he also shows us the sadness of it. Being part of a big family can be fulfilling, enriching, and joyous but it could also mean losing your greatest friends over and over again.

Again, I cannot stress more that this movie is excellent. However, I think that there are story elements in Kurosawa that are better elsewhere (Throne of Blood and Ran, for instance, though, when your source material is Shakespeare, itís hard to go wrong) and his cinematic prowess is perhaps stronger in movies like Rashomon, Ikiru, and Ran. Again, while there are emotionally moving moments here, they do not quite fall as nicely as they do in Ikiru. Nevertheless, Seven Samurai is a wonderful movie and worth watching.

I would say that Ikiru definitely is part of my Top 120. Seven Samurai might but it could also be squeezed out by others.

I've never watched anything by Kurosawa, although I'd like to. George Lucas has said that The Hidden Fortress inspired the first Star Wars movie, and I'm a big SW guy, so that intrigues me.

I never got the love for Scarface. It's funny in some parts (because Tony Montana is so over the top), but for the most part, to me it kind of drags along. I don't think it comes close to Goodfellas or Godfather I and II, in terms of 'mob' like movies. Untouchables beats it by a mile, in my opinion.

Has anybody seen Foxcatcher? I want to see it now, as I've watched the Netflix documentary, Team Foxcatcher. Brilliant documentary, although it's sad how it all ends.
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