Robert Towne

Movies By Request

We decided a few weeks ago to do some movies outside the collection for those who occasionally suggest films to us.  While this blog is mainly for the movies that we own, what they mean to us and how they have influenced our lives, we watch movies all the time.  I think it’s rather obvious but I have come to really enjoy writing about these films so we are going to start writing about some new ones on occasion.  These films will be put in their own category “Movies By Request” much like the “Movies Not To Watch” that we occasionally post.   The movies in this section will be ones suggested to us through friends, Facebook, and comments on the blog. For the first “Movies By Request” we have seen a film someone suggested to us on Facebook.

The Yakuza

Year: 1975
Directed By: Sydney Pollack
Written By: Paul Schrader and Robert Towne

RYAN’S REVIEW

When Amber told me someone had suggested this film on Facebook I had never heard of it but was immediately interested because of the title alone.  I am very interested in criminal organizations of all kinds and the Japanese Yakuza is an organization I don’t know enough about.  I find Japanese culture really fascinating though and really enjoy films that do a good job contrasting our two very different ways of life. I am also already interested in this film because it was directed by Sydney Pollack.  We don’t own any of his films and when he died a few years ago I remember wondering why we hadn’t seen more of his films.    

This is the kind of movie that I can see will get better each time I watch it.  It has a deep and significant story that you can pick up more with each viewing. I am a huge fan of movies about something real and this movie definitely qualifies there.  It has a story that focuses on the nearly forgotten problems that preceded Japan’s economic boom in the 1970s and the changes that came after. The screenplay was written by long-established and well-known Hollywood screenwriters Paul Schrader and Robert Towne.  Robert Mitchum did a great job playing the Bronson-esque retired detective Kilmer.  The co-staring role was exceptional because Ken Takakaru was cast.  Not often were Asian actors given significant roles in American films at the time.  I like to think that Bruce Lee and his success the year before with Enter The Dragon paved the way for Takakura in this role.  He did a great job and was specifically good in the climactic ending when he and Kilmer clean house at the Yakuza gambling den.

This movie reminds me a lot of the Roger Moore James Bond films because many of them were made in the same era.  There are no similarities as far as theme or plot go but in the style of the movies.  The cinematography of the decade is where the similarities are. As viewers today we typically demand more action, more blood, and more death from our action films.  I tend to prefer the honest action films of our fathers though, the movies like this where the hero could be an aged man enjoying his retirement. The movie can indulge the story more because viewers had more patience back then.  It makes for a better movie all around and that is the case in this film.

This film was brought to our attention by Lionell on Facebook who said that it was his favorite film.  I am happy he took the time to respond to the question because I enjoyed the movie and hope I have encouraged others to see it. If you have a movie you would like reviewed feel free to let us know and we will work it in.

Chinatown

Year: 1974
Directed By: Roman Polanski
Written By: Robert Towne

RYAN’S REVIEW

Most of the movies we own are dear to us in one way or another.  However sometimes I see a movie I find so impressive I feel compelled to own it.  Chinatown is a movie in the latter category.  It was in my college film class that I first saw this movie and it surprised me.  I bought it shortly after seeing it and don’t think I watched again since. It has just quietly sat on the shelf for about six years now and I had nearly forgotten what it was about all together.  Watching it now I am suddenly reminded what it was that compelled me to add it to the collection in the first place.  I am again finding myself surprised how good this movie actually is, and enjoying the mystery.

All I could remember about this film was that it had something to do with water.  That sounds so boring but like I said, this movie is surprising.  It takes place in 1937 Los Angeles, where control over water in the desert climate can get tricky.  This is a fascinating mystery that keeps you guessing all along.  It was nominated for everything back in 74 but only Robert Towne went home with the gold, for writing.  This film is very well-regarded, and it has even been suggested as the greatest movie ever made.  It is considered historically significant because it brought attention to a little known problem out west being the disputes over land and water rights in California.  It also solidified the careers of two rising stars in Roman Polanski and Jack Nicholson.

I will be honest and admit that I do not know enough about Roman Polanski to have a fair opinion of him.  I know that he was involved with a sexual situation involving a minor that he fled the country to avoid charges over, but I know few specifics in regard to what happened. I know that he has lived through quite a bit of diversity in his life and has overcome it all to be very successful despite it.  Polanski survived the Holocaust as a child.  That alone should be enough horror for ten lifetimes of ordinary people but in 1969 chance would work against him again.  His pregnant wife, the movie star Sharon Tate, along with her friends were savagely murdered by the Manson Family for no discernible reason.  It’s not really fair for anybody to have to live through that.  That does not justify his crimes, I’m just noting the unfortunate circumstances he has had to live through.  With this film  Polanski really enjoyed a lot of success, he just barely lost the Oscar to Coppola though, who won for The Godfather II.  Polanski even has a small cameo in the film as the gangster who slashes Nicholson’s nose. It’s a bold move too to slice the nose of your lead star, but I think it had the desired effect.  Nicholson did very well with this role, even with a bandage over his face for most of the film.  I am no Jack Nicholson fan, but I’ll give him the respect he deserves when he is due, and he is definitely due in the role of J.J. Gittes.  It’s one of the marque roles in a long and successful career full of big time roles.

Give this movie a chance and Chinatown will speak for itself.  I am always partial to the film noir genre so this movie is real easy for me to like.  I love movies that keep me guessing and really make me think.  Chinatown sports what is apparently considered one of the greatest screenplays ever and the movie is the focal point of many lectures and classes in film schools.  That alone makes it worth your time to see it.

AMBER’S REVIEW

I’ll be honest, I have never seen this movie.  I had never even heard of it and actually had no idea that we owned it.  When we started watching it the other night it was really late and I fell asleep early on.  I am going to watch it eventually because what I did see was very interesting.  I will come back at a later date and fill this entry in with a real review after I have seen it.

NEXT MOVIE: The Chinese Connection (1972)