Friday, July 13, 2018

Media Notes: Roundup for June 2018

 These are the movies and series on DVD and/or online I watched during June 2018.

Movies and films (links to for basic information unless noted otherwise). Some of these I watched via The DVDs come from the public library (unless noted otherwise):

  • Samurai Cop (1991. Action. Police. Martial Arts). Joe Marshall is the Samurai Cop, trained in martial arts in Japan. He is brought over to Los Angeles from San Diego to help bring down Fujiyama and his Katana gang that are dealing drugs in the city. Frank Washington is his cop detective buddy and partner in Los Angeles. The dialogue is seriously painful, stiff at times, and there is a good amount of swearing that seems gratuitous. The overall acting is not that much better. Joe is the tough guy who ogles any cute woman he sees (never mind he has a female cop as an apparent girlfriend, who by the way gives sexual banter as much as he does when working). Washington is the black cop who can smooth talk but also is a man of action. Their captain is a cranky commander. All very formulaic. The movie is also not always politically correct. Alfonso, the Costa Rican waiter who is gay is played very flamboyant, more for comic relief than anything else. Today, the stereotype would seem quaint to put it mildly, but back then it was mainly for giggles. And some Joe's moves with the ladies could be borderline sexual harassment today. By the way, the martial arts sequences are pretty minimal and not that good neither. The movie was made in the 90s, but at times feels more like a 70s flick without the disco. Plot does not always seem to make sense, as in there is a scene or two, such as an ambush in some small movie studio (looks like an old time porn studio) that happens just out of nowhere. All leading to the obligatory showdown between Joe and the bad guy. Stiff and a bit ridiculous at times. Via TubiTv.

Television and other series (basic show information links via Wikipedia unless noted otherwise). Some of these come in DVD from the public library. Others may be via YouTube, which I keep finding all sorts of other old shows in it, often full episodes. 

  • Hannibal (television series. 2013-2015. Horror. Drama. Crime. Thriller. Season One, 2013). The series based on the characters created by Thomas Harris in his novels. Will Graham is a special FBI investigator, on the autistic spectrum it is revealed, with a gift of seeing what happens in crime scenes and feel it. He is paired up with a brilliant forensic psychiatrist to aid in his work. The doctor is Hannibal Lecter. This is the early days, so to speak, of Will Graham working for the FBI. I love how they characters were made different from the books or the films yet remain familiar. I also like the casting of Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford. The series begins right away in the middle of a crime, and just draws you right in. Very suspenseful, atmospheric, and yes, it can be horrifying at times. Series is continuous, i.e. episodes follow one after the other, and while some elements are standalone, overall, it is a serial. DVD via the Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library. 
    • Season 1, Episode 4, "Oeuf" was never shown on American TV. It was shown overseas. It deals with manipulated children killing their families. At the time it was to air, one of the usual school shootings had happened (Sandy Hook that time), so you know, Americans being "sensitive" and all (because school shootings are fine, killer children on television, "disturbing"), episode not shown. However, it is a very well made episode that does raise some questions about the nature of family as well as move the main plot at all. Glad it was included in the DVD.  
  • Hannibal (Season Two, 2014).  A new season starts as Will Graham is imprisoned accused of murder. Dr. Lecter moves in to be Crawford's new consultant. The suspense, atmosphere, and horror continue to be done well. The series overall also has some surreal moments that make it more interesting. This second season also introduces the Vergers, who are also present in Harris' novel Hannibal. Some of the episodes do not seem as strong, in part because they are packing a lot into the story.There is less emphasis on cases, and much more on the psychological mind games everyone is playing against each other. Result is this season feels a lot slower. The ending is shocking, but the impact is reduced by the narrative technique in the first episode I mention below.
    • Season 2 Episode 1, "Kaiseki" starts in a way I tend to dislike in narratives: it showed us an ending, then did the "X amount of time before" device. In this case, it showed us a reckoning of Crawford and Lecter, and then did "twelve weeks earlier." While if you are familiar with the overall story of Hannibal Lecter and can anticipate where things go, I would have much preferred not been told beforehand where things are going. It is a technique I tend to dislike in fiction overall. That aside, the episode does draw the viewer in right away with a new case even as we wonder Will Graham's fate. 
  • Hannibal (Season 3, 2015). As season starts, Hannibal is on the run in Europe. They are weaving elements from the novel Hannibal as well as Red Dragon. The FBI, Graham, Verger, they are all looking for Hannibal. The story in the first four episodes is fairly slow as they spend a lot of time in flashbacks, and at times you find out someone who seemed alive was not, that it was a delusion or dream. Overall, the story initially does more slow. However, it the show is very atmospheric and it keeps the suspense as well as surreal elements pretty well. After the first four episodes or so, the pace does pick up, in part because they do the Red Dragon plotline, and bring the show to what seems a very certain end (I would have preferred something different, but it is what we got). In the end, as a whole, the series is excellent despite some minor flaws here or there. I may even go back and reread the books.
  • Supermarket Sweep (Game show. 1965-2003). Though this show started back in 1965, most people likely know the 1990s run hosted by David Ruprecht on Lifetime Channel, which is the run I have been watching on YouTube this month.  This was a show the Better Half and I enjoyed watching together when it was on the air back then, as it was an easy form of entertainment that required minimal concentration, and it was just silly good fun. You can find many of these 1990s episodes on YouTube. (Watched 3 this month)
  • Mobsters ( documentary. true crime. biography. 2007-2012). Found this via YouTube. It caught my interest initially because some of the first episodes I saw featured people from books and films I had read and seen. Series overall is presented in a very noir, dark style, but it is interesting. Most of the episodes have a narrator with a seriously raspy voice, the kind of voice you might get if you smoke half a carton of cigarettes a day. I have to admit it adds to the noir mood of the series. I watched these in no particular order. (Episodes list via
    • "Jimmy 'The Gent' Burke" (Season 4, Episode 8, 2012). The story of the assassin and mobster who was portrayed by Robert DeNiro in the film GoodFellas
    • Henry Hill (Season 1, Episode 15, 2007). The story of Henry Hill, the guy at the center of the story in the film GoodFellas. In the film, he is portrayed by Ray Liotta. Overall, of all the guys in the GoodFellas story, he managed to outlive them and tell the story.
    • "Mob Cops" (Season 3, Episode 1, 2010). Story of Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, two NYPD detectives who were hired guns for the mob.  I had previously read their story in the book Friends of the Family (link to my review). 
    • "Anthony 'Gaspipe' Casso" (Season 3, Episode 5, 2011). The mobster who had the mob cops on his payroll. However, in addition to that, Casso was a Lucchese family underboss.
    • "Tony Spilotro" (Season 1, Episode 26, 2008). The enforcer for the mob in Las Vegas. He was one of the inspirations for the film Casino. In the film, he was portrayed by Joe Pesci. Physically, Spilotro was very different than Pesci; Spilotro was a big, tall, strong guy (at about 6'2" tall) in contrast to Pesci, but Pesci still got the portrayal very well. 
    • "Paul Castellano" (Season 1, Episode 20, 2008). Boss of the Gambino Crime Family until John Gotti had him killed.  
    • "Greatest Hits" (Season 2, Episode 7, 2009). A compilation of great murders and hits from the 1920s starting with Masseria and Maranzanno to Paul Castellano.  
    • "The Iceman: Richard Kuklinski" (Season 4, Episode 5, 2012). Now this was a seriously scary and monstrous killer. Amazing how he managed to keep a double life from the home to his "workplace" as a killer for hire. 
    • "Genovese: Portrait of a Crime Family" (Season 1, Episode 7, 2007). The rise and fall of the crime family Charles "Lucky Luciano started along with Frank Costello and Vito Genovese. From the rise of the crime family to its decay with its last major don Vincent "The Chin" Gigante. The family still exists, but like the other major New York City mob families, it is now a shadow of what it was, and the fall started with Vito Genovese's excessively violent ways.
    • "James 'Whitey' Bulger (Season 1, Episode 17, 2008). In the 1970s to the 1980s, Bulger ran the Irish mafia in South Boston. A big reason he could do that was his deal with an FBI agent, a scandal that rocked the agency to this day. Bulger's life is the basis of the book and film Black Mass (link to my book review, where I also comment a bit on the film).
  • Mafia's Greatest Hits (documentary. true crime. biography. 2012-).  Another series I found online in YouTube by serendipity. Unlike Mobsters above, this one relies more on recreations with actors, and it also uses dramatic music to greater effect. In fact the music can range from seriously dramatic instrumental music to some music of the time (say '70s music) to just a bit ridiculous in some instances (like more heroic when the cops do something good for instance). The use of music has its amusing moments in this series.
    • "Tony Spilotro: The Las Vegas Enforcer." (Season One, Episode 5). Another look at Spilotro, with the touch of this series. As I mentioned, the series relies more on recreations, so you get an actor portraying Spilotro at times. Many of the experts that give commentary have appeared in other documentaries. Still interesting. 
  • Iron Chef  (Japan, 1993-1999, plus some specials up to 2012). I continued watching this via YouTube here and there during June. (See May's round up for additional comments on this show).
    • Umeboshi battle. Iron Chef Michiba had been ill and out of the show for two months at the time. This battle was his comeback battle. 
    • Udon Battle 2. Iron Chef Japanese Michiba has retired, and the search is on for the second Iron Chef Japanese to replace him. Hattori, the show's color commentator and head of the Hattori Nutrition College, recommends his right hand man, chief instructor at the college Kenji Motai to go battle in hopes of replacing Michiba. That part of the plan did not quite work out for Hattori as Komei Nakamura had been appointed to be the second Iron Chef Japanese, but the battle went on and was still good. 
    • Tuna Battle. A sommelier challenges the Iron Chef Italia Kobe. 
    • Turkey Battle. The manager of the Swallows Baseball Team, a noted finicky eater, brings in his favorite chef to challenge. It is the holiday (Christmas) season, so turkey is the theme. The challenger is a Cajun cuisine specialist. Naturally the show will use every baseball pun and phrase they can during the commentary.
    • Turkey Battle 2. As the show states,  this was the last battle for 1998. It is still holiday season, so naturally turkey is the theme. The challenger, Jiro Ogue, is considered one of the successors of the great French chef Alain Chapel. Iron Chef Japanese Masaharu Morimoto is appointed to answer the challenge, in part because 1998 is also the year he debuted in the show. 
    • Turnip Battle. The challenger is a "college dropout." He did take the entrance exam to Tokyo University (notoriously difficult), passed it on his first try as a science major (a rare achievement. I guess people often have to retake it or else), then decided to pursue his culinary career dream. Trained by Honorary (retired) Iron Chef French Ishinabe, then studied in France, and now a strong chef.  Needless to say, college puns and references will abound like this battle being the guy's "final exam." 
    • Udon Battle. 

No comments: