Annie [1982)

Woof!

Yesterday was a rough day for me.

Yeah, nicotine withdrawal.

Ugh…

Maybe the roughest 24 hours of my life.

They say nicotine is more addictive than heroin.

I can neither confirm nor deny that.

But after a day like yesterday, I was ready for tomorrow.

And, to quote Stereolab, “tomorrow is already here”.

So when I saw this little gem on Netflix, I thought, “This is the perfect kinda movie I need tonight.  Something light.  Not too spicy.”

But as the classics of naïveté always do, this one reduced me to a sobbing snot factory.

[sorry for the vividness]

Back in the day (you know, the day), it didn’t matter to me who directed a movie.

[Auteur?

Is that like a really smart person?

Oh, no…that’s savant.]

But then I got into all this movie business.

And it started to matter.

Because certain directors consistently turned out magic…even when they were all-but-thwarted by external sources.

[and sometimes internal sources]

So it bears repeating that Annie was directed by THE John Huston.

[kinda like THE Ohio State University]

Apparently, Sony Pictures’ subsidiary Colombia Pictures thought in 2014 that Annie would be a good film to remake.

You know?

Because it’s just a musical, right?

And there had only been one other adaption of it (the one under review)…and that had been directed by some guy…Houston, or something…

So, yeah…let’s get Will Gluck (WHO?!?) and it’ll all be groovy, baby…yeah.

Well, I’m not here to pass judgment on a film I’ve never seen (Annie from 2014).

I’m just here to say, when you start fooling with perfection (like Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory [1971]), then you’re probably in trouble.

Tim Burton got a pass (just barely) with his Charlie…

But I pity the Will Gluck,

ok…let’s discuss–

Why Remaking Annie Would Be A Wholly Unenviable Task.

Because John Huston started his directing career in 1941 with The Maltese Falcon (!)…

Key Largo…The African Queen…

Yeah, those were his.

You know, Huston is not high in my list of favorite directors.

[maybe because I’m a moron]

But this film, Annie, which he made five years before he died, is really remarkable.

But who the hell am I, right?

I’m just a no-name in San Antonio, Texas.

AH!

San Antone…

Never felt so good!

Yes, the villain of our film, Carol Burnett, hails from my hometown.

It’s not often we can say that.

Lucille LeSueur (sorry, erm…Joan Crawford).

Pola Negri later in life (Apolonia Chalupec).

Yeah, that’s about it.

And Wings.

That’s San Antonio.

[as far as cinema goes]

But I’m here to tell you, John Huston’s Annie is really special!

Even Jay-Z digs these tunes (apparently).

[couldn’t care less]

Which is to say, sampling?  Cool.

Covering?  An entire film???

Again, I pity the fool…

Because Annie is an ass-kicker.

Yeah.

You’re gonna abuse animals?

Watch out.

Annie’s got some punches–some moves!

[and that’s before her karate lesson with Roger Minami]

{not to be confused with Mini Me}

Yeah…The Asp!

And Punjab!

[who was also in Live and Let Die (1973)]

Yeah, nothing Punjabi about Geoffrey Holder.

But that’s alright 🙂

These were the Reagan years.

And Annie is a not-so-gentle nudge for Republicans to embrace their warmer sides.

[Albert Finney rolling his eyes at the George Washington painting is priceless!]

So yeah…Annie is basically a good kid.

The best!

An animal lover.

A big heart.

Courage.

An encourager.

[As Punjab says, “Buddha (?!?) says, ‘A child without courage is like a night without stars.'”]

Yeah, and Ann Reinking sees that joy in Annie.

I mean, this film has it all!

Bolsheviks!  Rockettes!  Greta Garbo!

Yes, there’s a film within a film.

And I think Edgar Poe would approve…with his glass half-full of brandy (and the other half absinthe).

Judging by Garbo, the year is 1936.

Tough year to be out of work.

And a good year to have some juniper berry syrup.

And a bathtub.

Yeah, Albert Finney knew the art of the deal.

Hardball.

[not the tripe on MSNBC]

The concept.

Aileen Quinn is really fantastic in this film.

Following Daddy Warbucks around.

Like on a Monopoly board.

Hands behind the back.

And Daddy’s gotta sell some fighter-bombers…and BUY, BUY copper!

Albert Finney is driving the economy.

Pushing the leading indicators.

And Annie is honest.

And a little honesty goes a long way.

And in sets fakery.

Looking for some dupes.

Yeah, you can only fool a Warbucks so long.

Nose upturned.

From Liverpool, mind you!

Bootstraps!  Horatio Alger crap!!!

And it ain’t crap.

Positive thinking.

Tomorrow.

I guess you gotta be willing to give it up.

The ultimate test of faith.

Where is your heart?

In steps FDR.

Infamy.

Who can know?

Why we fight?

So it’s up to us orphans to run down 5th Avenue.

If we have something to say.

Jailbreak!

These little G-Men (G-Women, in this case) are citizen journalists.

Town criers!

Extra!  Extra!  Read about the fakery!!!

Because time is of the essence.

And you gotta keep climbing even though you can see the steps run out.

God bless the parents of this world.

Those who want to give their kids a warm bed.

And sweet dreams.

Penny on the dollar for your fireworks!

You can even ride the elephant 🙂

-PD

空手バカ一代 [1977)

[KARATE FOR LIFE (1977)]

Shin’ichi Chiba.  Another world.

The floating world.

Sonny Chiba.

We struggle with what can be expressed.  Our only means meanwhile our only limitation.

Language.  To the edge of verisimilitude.

Perhaps the greatest of all karate movies.  And yet no plot summary waiting to remind us.

This appears to be the final film directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi.

From the first iconic Toei breakers upon the rocks to the karate Karajan of the final plea for peace revenge.

Breathing into the ocean a righteous fire anger.

It is not the kung fu of China.  Not solely the karate of Japan.

It is the story of Mas Oyama.  Korean.

That said, it is Chinese martial arts…at the time of Japanese occupation…of South Korea.

Manchuria.

It is also the story (very tenuously) of Kanji Ishiwara. A Japanese general unpopular for his opposition to Japan’s invasion of neighboring countries (like Korea).

All it takes is one good egg.  Isn’t that what they tell us???

What is karate?  1963.

Strange in a stranger land.  A land more strange.

Chojun Miyagi.  Wax.

Wane on, wane off.

Okinawa.

You want an anti-imperialist film?  You want a political film?

Hear it is.

Her lips flaming with booze…ready to slice her wrists and end her pathetic life as a prostitute for U.S. airmen.

What would you do if you lived in Iraq?

Chiba Prefecture.

Doubt.  Retreat.

All we have needed is a little encouragement.

The geometric equation of detractors.

We admire the beards of the Marxists and the Muslims.

What if Thoreau had retreated to Walden in order to perfect his ass-kicking skills?

Ah, but all good things must come to an end.  T.B. sheets.  Van Morrison meets La bohème.

Perhaps they were trigger-happy with the inscrutable conventions of French title capitalization.

Maybe it is the e.e. cummings of opera composers.

We wait for Satie.  Erik.

Not to bore you, but judo and karate unite.

Enter The Dragon suffers.  The lady from Shanghai prefers Yamaguchi.

Raging bull fights ox luchador.

Bizarre.

Beautiful.

-PD

殺人拳2 [1974)

[RETURN OF THE STREET FIGHTER (1974)]

There is no plot.  Given.  No love.

A darkened corner of cinema.

Haiku in reverse.  Inversion of the form.

So we shall start in a roundabout way.  Roundhouse.  Pink Floyd.  Hair.  We owe Julian Cope immensely.  Japrock.  Like Krautrock.

It was a night when I wandered into a makeshift venue in Austin.  I had hoped to see one of my favorite bands of all time (The Homosexuals), but was denied entry.  Dejected, I drifted southwest.  Perhaps it was destiny.  Flower Travellin’ Band.  What a show they put on!  Really a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

I had read Cope’s book.  Made quite an impression on me.  Tracked down many gems:  Speed, Glue & Shinki.  No commas in tags.  Les Rallizes Denudes.  Feedback mayhem!  Far East Family Band, J.A. Caesar, Masahiko Sato (Satoh), Far Out, Takehisa Kosugi, People, Blues Creation, Karuna Khyal, Kuni Kawachi, Brast Burn, Stomu Yamashta, Taj Mahal Travellers, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Kawabata Makoto, Yonin Bayashi…

I’m sure I left quite a few out.  Lots of travelling…flower, Taj Mahal…

Why do I mention all of these Japanese hippie bands?  Well, first of all they made great music!  But it is pertinent because we get visual clues in this film which pull our minds to this little known Japanese subculture of the 1970s.

I am no expert on “Japrock”…  I will leave that to Sir Cope.  But I know to pay attention when a teardrop explodes.

When we first see Don Costello (Claude Gagnon), we are made to believe he is a mute hippie beggar…beaded and fringed (and most importantly, bearded like a Tenderloin tramp).  If you want to see a short English-language Wikipedia entry, check out Monsieur Gagnon’s.  It is so pithy that it begs for elaboration on this mysterious figure.

When I first saw Gagnon in this film, I immediately thought of that great Flower Travellin’ Band album cover for Anywhere (their debut album from 1970):  a bunch of naked Japanese guys on motorcycles.  What freedom that picture conveys!  Who doesn’t want to have a group of wild friends with whom to take to the highway?  Fuck everything!  We’re free, goddamnit!!!

I was very fortunate to see FTB before their singer Joe Yamanaka died in 2011.

Return of the Street Fighter has some of that revolutionary spirit in it…even beyond Gagnon’s beard.  Take for instance Yōko Ichiji.  Her big Laurel Canyon sunglasses and bizarre schoolgirl hair never take her far from an 8-track player.

In fact, so much of Shigehiro Ozawa’s direction here has a psychedelic tilt to it such that one really sees martial arts in a whole new way.  Ozawa’s Wikipedia entry in English is two sentences long.

So let’s talk about what we can:  Sonny Chiba.  To my eyes, he had improved his acting and fighting prowess considerably by 1974 (and he was already a bad-ass to start with).  Chiba again portrays a character which might be best considered as the reverse of the Bruce Lee coin.  Lee’s obverse presence is one of mischievous valor, while Chiba is just downright mean.  But Sonny has a heroic side in these films.  That’s the point.  He’s a bad motherfucker, but you definitely want him on your side.  You don’t want to have to face off against this guy!

In many ways, Ozawa makes this a more compelling film than the original installment.  Two particularly artful and effective segments are the battle near the ski-lift and the detailing of weapons in the school (nunchaku, Okinawan sai, etc.).

In all this excitement I failed to mention Magical Power Mako (perhaps my favorite).

Now I am empty-handed and ready for karate.

-PD

激突!殺人拳 [1974)

[THE STREET FIGHTER (1974)]

Cinema lets us enter a new world.  When we get off that ferry with Bruce Lee and his uncle in The Big Boss, we are entering the world of Hong Kong fighting.  There’s something about that green suitcase which Uncle Lu totes along the gangplank which makes the whole thing believable.  That cheap green suitcase.  It is sad somehow.  A day’s change of clothes, perhaps.  There is something so humble about the mise-en-scène to indicate that we are not in Kansas anymore.

Our eyebrows raise as the opening credits roll on this excellent Sonny Chiba flick.  Japan!  The wah-wah guitar beckons us into a world which no longer exists–a place in history.  But we are fortunate that Sonny Chiba lives!  He is 76 years old. What an impression he makes in The Street Fighter!

It is not completely clear early in this film what is going on.  In fact, there are several times when the storytelling becomes a bit convoluted.  Don’t misunderstand:  this isn’t a complex film.  But somehow, the storytelling is very…different.

We remember Christian Slater at the beginning of True Romance when he unsuccessfully tried to pick up a girl at a bar…

Girl:  You want to take me to a kung fu movie?!?

Slater:  Three…kung fu movies.

Yes.  I’ve taken a couple of jabs at Tarantino on my site.  Perhaps I’ve been too harsh.  I mean, maybe Quentin has it all figured out.  No doubt the masters like Godard were initially impelled and instructed by the likes of B-movies, gangster films, pulp…from Nicholas Ray to Samuel Fuller.  Silly me…I thought QT grew up in Knoxville, but that isn’t quite right.  That said, his upbringing sounds about as shitty as I imagined…just transposed to various urban sprawl appendages of Los Angeles.

And so, from “one inch punch” to “oxygen coma punch” we dovetail into Chiba’s oeuvre.

Nothing about the beginning of this film foreshadows the touching moment late in the film when Ratnose (Chiba’s sidekick) finally gets his friend’s attention.  This subplot between Terry Tsurugi and Ratnose is really remarkable…almost a Clouseau/Cato dynamic early on, which proceeds into a harrowing/endearing funnel of climax.

Yeah, Slater was right:  Chiba is a rough customer.  He’s hard to like.  You have to stick with it.  Slowly, his unique morality comes to the surface.  Tsurugi is a damaged character, but the hardships he has experienced make him one of the toughest people on the planet.

Interestingly, Tsurugi’s rampages are in the context of big oil.  Though it was 1974, we feel a palpable thrill as he deals with the dealers.  It is still relevant.  Consider this recent story, for instance:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/03/20/wall-street-journal-reporter-david-birds-body-found-in-a-n-j-river/

Likewise, Chiba plays the role of an anti-mafia loner.  In other words, this guy’s not afraid of anyone.  Pretty powerful stuff!

Although Tsurugi doesn’t really have a way with women, his “beast” mode wins over the beauty Sarai (Yutaka Nakajima).  Chiba is all action–very few words.

And if you think Bruce Lee makes strange sounds in his fights, Chiba takes the cake…perpetually clearing his sinuses while trying to self-induce a heart attack (or so it sounds).  It is mondo bizarre!

Shigehiro Ozawa manages to make this a particularly artful film at times…especially the fight between Chiba and Masafumi Suzuki.  The focus on fists bears a striking resemblance to the famous “gun” shot from Hitchcock’s Spellbound.

The Street Fighter diverges from Bruce Lee movies in that Chiba gets his ass kicked pretty severely throughout this movie.  I suppose there is a proto-Rocky element here:  Chiba is the guy who can roll with the punches.

Another couple of nods to Lee occur at the beginning and then much later in the film.  Milton Ishibashi is made fun of by the prison guards who say something like “he must think he’s Bruce Lee.”  More importantly, we later learn that Chiba’s character is half Japanese (hi Jad Fair). His father had tried to combine “Chinese boxing” and karate.  This reminds us of Way of the Dragon…where the restaurant employees mock Lee’s “Chinese boxing” in sneering tones (until they see what it can do).

I won’t give away the bizarre ending, but suffice it to say that Junjo (Ishibashi) will be singing “Kumbaya” like Ned Gerblansky from here on out (if at all).  Who’s ready for some pie?

-PD