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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All that talk about Star Wars last week put me in the mood to watch one, so I watched The Phantom Menace. I do not number myself among those who dumped on the prequels (for one thing, I think of them strictly as a reboot); George Lucas didn’t “ruin my childhood” or anything like that.

The prequels didn't ruin my childhood or anything, either. But I did find them boring. And what a disappointment to find out behind the mask of the feared Darth Vader was a whiny brat.

Watched Torchy Runs for Mayor to buttress my research for the book. (She's a spunky news gal who precedes Lois Lane.) The movie had some stirring things to say about journalism ethics, but interestingly, it also showed a number of publishers afraid to buck the corrupt system.

Glenda Farrell, who plays Torchy, is nobody I've seen before, but that wasn't the case with her police detective boyfriend, played by Barton MacLane. "Wait, I remember that guy!" I said, but couldn't remember where. It turns out that why I couldn't remember a specific role is that there were lots of them -- he's a perennial, apt to show up anywhere. He was in, for example, The Cocoanuts, I Dream of Jeanie (recurring role) and The Maltese Falcon. As soon as I saw those titles, I remembered what he did in them (cop, general, cop).

He was in a lot of '50s and '60s Westerns, not just on TV but also The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Has anybody seen Wandering Earth? Fantastic reviews, but the premise is so preposterous I have a feeling it would pop my suspension of disbelief.

TCM runs Torchy movies from time to time, and I keep meaning to watch one -- I'm a sucker for B-movie series -- but somehow I never have.

ATTACK OF THE CLONES: Watched this over the weekend and I think it lives up to the “wars” of the franchise title. Honestly, I think the problem most people who have with these prequels is that their expectations are too high. (That’s probably the same problem I have with the Marvel movies, to tell the truth.)

REVENGE OF THE SITH: My favorite of the prequels and my third favorite Star Wars overall (following Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back). I like Attack of the Clones more than The Phantom Menace, and I like Revenge of the Sith more than Attack of the Clones. In the past we have discussed the optimum order in which to view the six Star Wars moves. I think each of the three original movies has its own prequel, and tomorrow I will present my personal revised viewing order.

The Star Wars movies were not released in the order in which they occur, but they don’t “watch” well in that order (i.e., 4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3). We’ve discussed this before, but if one’s not going to watch them in either release order or chronological order, what is the optimum order. Common wisdom has it 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 3 (or some people simply skip The Phantom Menace and have it 1, 2, 5, 6, 3. For my own part, I have to think of the prequel movies as occurring in similar but different universes (as I think of the movies with different “James Bonds”). But I recently watched the three prequels and have an idea for a proposed viewing order that works for me, namely, pairing each of the three originals with its own prequel. Here’s how it would work.

STAR WARS: No matter in which order you intend to watch them, you should always start with this one. It’s the original and it introduces the main characters and the milieu. Besides, later installments contradict this one so much it would be quite impossible to slot this any later than the first position.

THE PHANTOM MENACE: Star Wars introduced Luke Skywalker and mentioned his father (“A young Jedi named Darth Vader betrayed and murdered your father”); the Phantom Menace introduces him.

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK: Now that we’re up to speed, this movie introduces the concept “I am your father, Luke!” (How can that be?)

ATTACK OF THE CLONES: We learn more about Anakin Skywalker, but still nothing about Darth Vader.

RETURN OF THE JEDI: Most people like to end on the high note of the Empire being defeated, but I lived with the mystery of Luke’s parentage for 25 years (from 1980 to 2005). That’s the point of the series. Return of the Jedi isn’t the end of the story, anyway, because the First Order arises from the ashes of the Empire. Hell, I thought the destruction of the Death Star signaled the defeat of the Empire. I had no reason to believe there would even be a sequel.

REVENGE OF THE SITH: This movie brings the saga of Ben Kenobi and Darth Vader full circle from the point of Obi-Wan’s death aboard the Death Star back to Ben’s crippling defeat of Anakin and the rise of Darth Vader. This was the first bit of Star Wars backstory I ever heard back in 1977, and despite all of the unplanned changes along the way, this came off exactly as intended from the very beginning.

So I would say either watch 1,2 3 and 4, 5, 6 separately, or watch 1, 4, 2, 5, 3, 6 together.

Finally watched Double Indemnity. Damn fine movie.

I suppose it was a Fred MacMurray vehicle, and he was fine. But I was really impressed with Barbara Stanwyck. Watching her face is mesmerizing. What IS she thinking? I never thought much of her before -- my opinion was formed by Christmas in Connecticut, which all the women in my family HAD TO WATCH EVERY YEAR. But wow, I can see why she has the rep she has.

I was surprised by the Edward G. Robinson character. Didn't even know he was in this movie! I guess all insurance companies have fraud investigators, but I was surprised that he was so high profile. I guess because it's a movie. That's why he was, of course, so theatrical as well. I can't believe anyone who works at an insurance company is allowed to be that over the top.

And I was surprised to see him chew out his boss. It was clearly a slam against people who inherit wealth over those who work for it. I didn't know that was a big sentiment back then. It isn't now, and it should be. But of course in the real world he would be fired -- that scene was there for the audience's benefit.

I was also surprised to see the movie so openly show an insurance company doing whatever it could to deny a legitimate claim. Yes, they really do that and I guess people back then knew it too -- but I thought people didn't pipe up against authority/the establishment back then. This movie was a real punch in the snoot to an industry that totally deserves it, then and now.

Surprised to see that it varied so much from its remake, Body Heat. William Hurt really was an idiot in that movie, but MacMurray was no dummy. He was just outmatched. And, of course, the endings of the two movies are vastly different.

MacMurray looked a little paunchy/puffy to me for a guy claiming to be 35. But I looked it up, and that's how old he was.

A great noir with great acting and great atmosphere.

I also watched The Front Page. No real surprises here -- I've read about the damn thing in journalism school often enough, plus I've seen My Girl Friday a few times. To tell you the truth, I prefer the Rosalind Russell version. The two men in the 1931 version really do act like a romantic couple, especially at the end, so it flows better when one is female and they really are a romantic couple.

The movie also suffers from staginess (it started as a Broadway play) and outmoded direction It isn't holding up well, in other words.

Interesting to see Edward Everett Horton here, already old, years before he narrated Fractured Fairy Tales.

I've never seen the Matthau/Lemmon remake, and don't intend to. If there are any others out there, I don't intend to see them, either. Two versions is enough.

Ran across Key Largo just as it started, and ended up watching it all the way through. I actually like it better than To Have and Have Not. I've never really seen what the big deal is with Bogey/Bacall movies, but here they had genuine characterization that gave me reason to root for them. And, of course, you've got the always welcome Edward G. Robinson again.

The scenes with the Seminoles are pretty cringe-worthy, especially with the pidgin English. But if you overlook that, this is one fine movie. Robinson steals every scene he's in.

They made a live-action Daphne & Velma movie last year, about their first adventure before they hooked up with the boys and the talking dog. Who knew?

The actors in the lead roles are capable (Sarah Gilman's Velma, especially), and it throws around positive messages like candy (Friendship matters! Girls are strong! Social media can be dangerous! The corporate infiltration of schools should be met with caution! Helicopter parents should ground themselves!) but the movie isn't very good, even for a film aimed at nine-year-old girls.

Of course, the intended audience might be more forgiving.

STAR WARS: A MUSICAL JOURNEY: This isn't a "movie" exactly, but after watching the three prequels I decided to move on to Star Wars: A Musical Journey, which is a musical summary of the first six movies presented on a DVD included with the Revenge of the Sith soundtrack. It is hosted (or not, your choice) by Ian McDiarmid. If one chooses to listen to the interstitial commentary, it’s an hour and ten minutes; otherwise, it’s an hour and one minute. It’s super useful if you want to watch Star Wars but don’t have the time to sit through six movies.

I didn't watch cowboy movies growing up, so as an adult I've caught as many famous ones as I can to fill in that cultural gap. So when Red River came on TMC, I watched it -- it's quite famous, with an all-star cast.

I have to say I wasn't very impressed.

The story is about the first cattle drive on the Chisholm Trail from Texas to Abilene, Kansas. I don't know how historically accurate any of this is -- I doubt very much of it is -- but the drive runs into all the usual troubles (except Injuns, who made an appearance earlier). Complicating matters is the John Wayne character, Dunson, who goes all Captain Queeg and drives the men to exhaustion and then tries to execute "deserters" who want to quit and go home. His adopted son Matt (Clift) leads a rebellion and take the train away from Dunson, whom they leave behind with enough supplies -- knowing full well he won't go home, but will ride after them vengefully. But, hey, they're the good guys so they do this dumb thing.

Well, it all turns out fine, and Matt and Dunson are reconciled and everybody makes money. That's one of the reasons I didn't enjoy it.

Matt's love interest Tess (Joanne Dru) scolds them both at the climactic fistfight that she was an idiot for being worried because "you both obviously love each other." She's right -- I never bought into the idea that Dunson would kill Matt, despite all the toxic masculinity and machismo that is this movie's fuel. Besides they had set up a climax earlier -- Matt vs. a gunslinger named Cherry Valance -- that never happened. That gun was left, mysteriously, on the mantelpiece. Instead, Cherry is just one of the many side victims to Dunson's bad behavior that is just brushed over because, hey, it's John Wayne. He's the hero, right? So what if he gets a few minor characters killed or maimed by throwing temper tantrums?  They're nobodies!

And how did John Wayne get his land? Well, first he "deserted" a wagon train when he saw some good land he liked (had he been running the wagon train he'd have executed himself), and stole the land from its Mexican owners, justifying it that they had probably stolen it from someone else. And, oh yeah, he stubbornly leaves his wife with the wagon train despite her pleading and begging to go with him -- and she gets killed when Natives attack the train. This is our hero?

The movie's in black and white, so whatever gorgeous Western scenery was shown, it was wasted. Another negative is a scene that is laughably bad, where Noah Berry Jr. (Jim Rockford's dad), Montgomery Clift and two other guys are supposed to be riding hard for some purpose I forget, and it's painfully obvious that they're sitting on stationary "horses" and moving their asses up and down to simulate riding a horse. The background is a gray screen.

But mainly I was bored with the endless scenes of driving cattle. Was that spectacle in 1948? I have to assume it was, because there was a lot of it, and the music would swell and I felt we were supposed to be thrilled. But, man, it's just a bunch of cows. I would check my phone when the cow scenes began.

I confess that I have no love for the Western, and haven't since I was a boy and saw the inherent unfairness and brutality with which the Indians -- as we called them then -- were treated and depicted. I understood even then that we (Americans) were invading their country, and they were fighting for the lives and homes. How can we laugh at their pidgin English when we weren't making any effort to learn their language? The inherent power imbalance bothered me.

And I never saw any romance in being a cowboy either, as common sense told me (and Red River shows) that it was a dusty, dangerous, ugly job with long hours (actually weeks or months) for poor pay. And finally, what I saw over and over again were common people being thrown at each other for the benefit of the wealthy -- railroad owners, big ranch owners and the like. It always seemed to me that whoever won the climactic gunfight in a Western, the big winner would be some fat guy back East who never got his fingernails dirty. Even this movie showed a wealth imbalance, with the cowhands making about $100 each, while Dunson made thousands, if not hundreds of thousands.

Yeah, I was a weird little kid.

But even with that as a caveat, I might have enjoyed the movie more if the script didn't strain so hard for false drama. And if John Ford had directed it -- the man had a knack for breathtaking vistas. (Red RIver was directed by Howard Hawks.)

As it is, the one ray of light for me was Dru. Not only is she a really attractive woman, but she ended up giving that speech at the end which basically encompassed my feelings. "Whoever would have thought you two would have killed each other?" she says angrily, and I was saying "Amen." She chastised herself for getting worked up over nothing, and I felt exactly the same.

Oh, one other thing. Walter Brennan was a supporting character playing, as he always did, Grandpa McCoy. Here's the thing: His name was Groot! It's a crying shame that he never got to say "I am Groot," because then it would be a Guardians of the Galaxy prequel!

My absolute favorite western is High Noon, which I first saw in a big screen revival. Every scene has a clock in it and we are subtly introduced to signs of the brutality of the outlaw gang and particularly of their leader, Frank Miller. He is built up to be such a fiend that I was expecting to see an obvious monster. Instead he is articulate, better looking than the hero and wears a white hat. The hero wears a black hat. This movie broke all the conventions up until then. Cap, I think you would love it!

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