Saw a Takashi Miike picture called The Great Yokai War. "Yokai" is a Japanese term for monsters from folklore, as opposed to the more familiar kaiju. It's a kids' picture, about a young boy from Tokyo sent out to live in the countryside with his older sister and his intermittently senile grandfather. When a vengeful spirit appears, the boy gets caught up in a war between warring groups of yokai and must find his courage to become the "Kirin Rider", the hero who will set everything to rights. It's not a bad picture - nothing deep, but an amusing story. Some of the yokai are really trippy, Japanese folklore can get pretty "out there", apparently.

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"Haven't seen you for a long time, Michael."

"I keep telling you, KITT, the name's Nick now!"

My wife still considers going to the movies a date of sorts, so as long as she wants to go, we'll go. Also, I sorta need to see comics-related films for the column (although I don't go to all of them).

As to the Tom Hanks conversation, I'd just add that sometimes having a bankable star gives away the movie. If you see a big or middle-size name at the beginning of a murder movie or Law & Order, he or she is the killer. It almost never fails -- because why else would you pay the bucks for a big (or middle-sized) name if you're not going to use them for the confession scene? Using them for a throwaway character or red herring would be a waste of money.

The Vixen and I were watching something on TMC at her mother's house a few years ago during a holiday. It was some ancient B&W murder mystery from when Jimmy Stewart was still a very young man. And he was in it, in a minor role as the heroine's longtime platonic friend. The instant he showed up I said, "He's the killer." Because you don't hire Jimmy Stewart to stand in the background. And sure enough, he was. That's not a great example -- Stewart probably wasn't famous enough yet for audiences of the time to guess -- but I hope it illustrates my point.

Same as Dick Van Dyke appearing on Columbo. He even said he wouldn't have agreed to be on the show if he couldn't be the killer.

Captain Comics said:

The Vixen and I were watching something on TMC at her mother's house a few years ago during a holiday. It was some ancient B&W murder mystery from when Jimmy Stewart was still a very young man. And he was in it, in a minor role as the heroine's longtime platonic friend. The instant he showed up I said, "He's the killer." Because you don't hire Jimmy Stewart to stand in the background. And sure enough, he was.

After the Thin Man (MGM, 1936).  A superior film well worth the price of admission.  But then, William Powell and Myrna Loy always were.

I have definitely noticed that any well-known or highly-skilled actor guesting in a police procedural will either be the killer or a very high-profile scene chewing character. Often they pop up briefly in an early scene and I know we'll see a lot of them.

It looks strange when a famous person plays an unimportant character. Like Jerry Lewis in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, where his only purpose in the movie is to run over Spencer Tracy's hat with his car.

A couple of journalism-related flicks:

We eventually did see Spotlight (it was sold out the first time we tried), which tells the story of the Boston Globe investigative team that eventually exposed the Catholic Church for harboring priests who molested children, shuttling them from one diocese to another and paying ironclad non-disclosure settlements to the affected families. As a modern-day All the President's Men, it's riveting, but the two things I appreciated about it most was that it showed how the Globe was partially at fault for this mess.

One -- the story begins with a new editor-in-chief at the Globe, Martin "Marty" Baron. In the recent past, the New York Times Company has bought the Globe, and planted Baron there to get some seasoning for a couple of years before he moves on to his next stop on the corporate ladder. The Globe already had an investigative team, called Spotlight, that chose its own story subjects and worked autonomously from the newsroom. It is Baron who asks them -- not orders them, just asks them (although he's the big boss, can they really say no?) -- to drop what they were doing and look into the pedophile priests story.

Everyone's reaction to pursing the story was "What? You're going to take on the Catholic Church?" But Baron, being the new guy, being an outsider who didn't grow up in the Boston area, and not being Catholic (he's Jewish), was able to look at it like this: "This is a story, and we should see where it leads." Once they did, what they found was mind-blowing. But ... 

Two -- the movie points out (thankfully) that the Globe had the story 10 years prior of the Church making settlements to allegations of child-molesting priests -- and buried it with a pro-forma lawsuit-settlement article on page 49 in the metro section. One thing the movie does not point out was that the National Catholic Reporter and other smaller outfits were ringing the alarm about this for years. But it took the attention of a semi-major metropolitan newspaper* to make people pay attention.

The other movie was Network. It's amazing how prescient that movie is. It correctly forecast:

  • a fourth broadcast television network.
  • the now-standard notion that the network news division is expected to be a profit center for the organization. In the old days, the networks lost money on the news but that was okay because news coverage brought prestige, and Emmy awards, and served the public. In the modern era, that's not enough.
  • reality TV, with the business of the network building a show around the antics of a terrorist group that provided its own footage.
  • the rise of once-neutral anchors switching to bloviating punditry. Howard Beale, meet Bill O'Reilly.
  • the sale of American businesses to foreign companies and investors. Today, even Budweiser beer isn't an American-owned company. 

All this in 1976! This movie was decades before its time!

* I have a long-time friend, a lawyer who deals in international business, who always held the Boston Globe in low regard. As wonderful a service as it did in exposing the church, the fact is, it dropped the ball and could have done it many years earlier. 

We just saw Love the Coopers. A very satisfying depiction of a family at Christmas, dealing with unresolved feelings. A lot of great performances by several fine actors.

Last night I watched Donovan's Brain (1953), the only film I own with the late Nancy (Davis) Reagan in it.

The film stars:

Lew Ayres - as Dr. Patrick Cory, a scientist who has managed to keep a monkey brain alive in a fish tank.

Nancy Davis - as Janice, his faithful wife.

Gene Evans - as Dr. Frank Schratt, the local coroner, who has severe alcoholism. but is a good friend of Cory's.  (At one point, he says, "I'm a doctor, not an electrician!", thus doing a Leonard McCoy impersonation a decade or so early.)

Steve Brodie - as Yocum, a nosy, cynical reporter.

In the film, Cory is called to the scene of a plane crash. there is only one survivor, W.H. Donovan, a ruthless businessman in the C. Montgomery Burns mode. Cory keeps Donovan's brain alive, and then begins falling under its malevolent influence.

It's a mildly amusing film, as long as you don't think about the plot too much. there's not a lot of brilliant actong going on here, although to be fair, the actors are not given too much to work with.

I've not seen that one, but here are some points of note:

(1) The film was based on a 1942 novel by Curt Siodmak, who worked on a number of well-known horror films of the 30s and 40s. The director Robert Siodmak was his brother.

(2) This was the second screen version. It was also adapted for the radio show Suspense in a two-part version starring Orson Welles (which I believe changed the ending). Welles did a parody version for his radio variety show. These can be heard here.

(3) Lew Ayres was the star of the 1930 version of All's Quiet On the Western Front. He also played Dr Kildare in MGM's film series featuring the character.

(4) Red Raven Comics #1, 1940, had a feature called “The Eternal Brain” about a brain in a jar, so the novel wasn’t the very first disembodied brain story. But I’m sure the Doctor Who team had some version of Siodmak's story in mind when they made The Brain of Morbius.

(5) “I’m a doctor, not…” lines had earlier appeared in The Kennel Murder Case (1933), a point I owe to this review.

I saw Donovan's Brain recently. I was surprised at how well it was done. As you say, the acting rises above the material.

A couple I've seen in past weeks:

We Have a Pope, an independent film from Italy that raises an unthinkable question: What if the newly elected pope won't take the job?

It begins with the funeral of the incumbent pope and quickly moves to the election held by the College of Cardinals, who, to a man, undertake this solemn duty with a fervent prayer: NOT ME. Please, Lord, not me. Anybody else but me.

There are three front-runners, but none can garner a majority through several rounds of voting. Then a consensus pick emerges, a humble cardinal who has a panic attack the moment he has to perform his first duty, greeting the faithful from the balcony at St. Peter's Square. A psychiatrist is called in, but his consultation proves fruitless. (It doesn't help that he has to do it in the same room and in full view of ALL of the cardinals.) Consultation with another psychiatrist, off site, goes even more badly. More than that, I will not say, except I didn't think the movie made the most of its concept. One critic said the story ended where it should have began.

The other was Help!, which I saw many, many moons ago -- so long ago I had pretty much forgotten all that transpires, save for the gag early on where John, Paul, George and Ringo come home from a day at the recording studios to their respective, neighboring homes -- which is really one big apartment.

The plot, such as it is, is that a mystic vaguely Eastern cult performs daily sacrifices to its god, but cannot perform this sacred duty because each day's victim is required to wear a special ring -- and today's victim, a Beatles fan, sent it to Ringo. Silliness ensues as the bumbling cultists try to retrieve it. More silliness ensues because it won't come off Ringo's hand. Even more silliness ensues when the four lads from Liverpool entreat a mad scientist in the effort to remove the bauble -- and said scientist, who fails, decides he wants it!

Watching this, I can now clearly see how the TV show The Monkees TOTALLY ripped off this movie.

It's fun. It's odd to see these guys so young -- but then this movie was made (*gulp*) 50 years ago.

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