Monday, April 30, 2012

The Magnificent Ambersons

Orson Welles, 87m, 1942

Following close on the heels of the hallowed Citizen Kane, this is another miracle of compressed narration, flawless inter-cutting and explosive energy. Without losing a second or missing a beat, the history of the eminence and decline of an American family around 1900, is encapsulated in this gem of under an hour and a half. This is the era in which the automobile came into its own and with a wealth of period details a bygone time is resurrected. Powerful acting, a brilliant script--this is the prodigy in his heyday.

Friday, April 27, 2012


Orson Welles,1948, 103m 

This compressed and ethereal Macbeth serves well as a revision exercise which preserves the soul of the text without much directorial intervention. The magnificence of the drama lies in humanizing Macbeth, which may seem impossible for many contemporary tyrants. The complexity of characterization is missing and we do not participate in the thought processes of the couple before or after their project. The role is one after Orson Welles' own heart, since one can't imagine him stooping to enact a plain nice guy.The sets are minimal and seem to be sculpted from contorted masses of tar. It is a dark, steamy, rank underworld where light scarcely penetrates. He does a slick job of a forest on the move. Quite short of Welles' visually crystalline Othello. The film has a juvenile element, like a myth, missing the gravity and contemporaneous of the theme. But certainly not time wasted.

Thirteen among the best

Germany Year Zero; Bicycle Thief; Vertigo; Lawrence of Arabia; Otto e Mezzo; Wild Strawberries; Nobody Knows; Gandhi; The Exterminating Angel; Jalsaghar (The Music Room); The Mill and the Cross; Ikiru, The Stalker.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

True Grit

Coen brothers (dir), 2011, 111m

A teenage girl sets out to avenge her father's murder. In the hands of the expert directors, a genre stereotype becomes a beautifully shot and scripted treat. The larger than life characters, while retaining the mannerisms and style of the mythologized western, are real enough, and the shootouts are more than collapsing manikins.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Touch of Evil

Orson Welles, 1958, 105m
A couple is murdered on the US-Mexico border by means of a bomb planted in a car. The crime involves the police officials of the two countries (Welles and Charleston Heston) involved in a professional and ego war and we see a rapid fire convoluted plot which has one gripped and fascinated till the last gunshot, springing fresh surprises at each turn, not to mention the voluble, dazzling script. Welles as the American police officer elects to play a complex and larger than life persona as a committed, dissipated, overbearing and pathetic persona who is none too scrupulous about methods so long as he can put a noose around the person he intuits as guilty. The film concludes on a tragic note with the bewitching Marlene Dietrich, who is in a guest role, concluding with "He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about people?"

The whole point of the film is the dramatic/cinematic genius of Orson Welles, all too pervasive even in this, his period of creative and professional decline. Its somber black and whites depicts a seamy world of drugs, crime and enforcement. The script sparkles and dances saying something unexpected each time. Ultimately it is the the beauty which is uniquely celluloidal that lifts this film far above the ordinariness of its theme. This is cinema noire--whose hallmark is a kind of fatalistic melancholia--at its headiest.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

We need to talk about Kevin

Lynne Ramsay (dir), 112m, 2011
A teenager commits a macabre crime. The film traces the relationship between the mother Eva (masterfully evoked by the charismatic Tilda Swinton) and Kevin. Had he not been so convincingly presented, Kevin could have been dubbed a demon, a creature not of this earth. But he is neither psychotic nor satanic, but a mind obsessed. The single minded hatred by the boy starting from his diapers, grows in focus and intensity, coupled with intelligence to plan and execute the horrific project. Eva watches the boy's growth with bewilderment and disbelief, but even the series of shocks as they succeed each other over the years could not have prepared her for the nightmare that explodes one fine day. The focus of the movie is neither mother nor son but the nameless stream of emotion that exists between them. They are mutual centers of each others worlds--such is the mother/child bond. Love/hate are obverses of the same coin. There is a terrifying triumphant grandeur as Kevin releases his shafts in quick succession with  concentrated fury. And yet there is redemption--at the end, the mask slightly cracks, and we glimpse a  human being. The film is built from shards of memory skillfully interposed for economy and impact. It is too authentic a film to be subjected to needless interpretation--suffice it that the mind rooms creatures as infinite as myth can conceive. Of a class with Silence of the Lambs and Exorcist.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Tom Jones

1963, 128m
This is based on Henry Fielding's 18th century novel and gives a bawdy picture of English life at some period. A rounded film which seemed to hold no particular interest.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Dangerous Method

David Cronenberg, 2011, 94m

This biopic is about Jung, Freud and Sabina Spielrein, who was in turns Jung's patient, student, mistress and professional collaborator. We get a glimpse of the lives of the two researchers as well as of their ideas. Freud thought of himself as a man of rigorous science, whereas Jung's methods spilled into the paranormal and mystical. The movie does not succeed in bringing to life these epochal thinkers and one is left with a triangular drama garbed in much fancy psychoanalytic idioms and jargon. It simply does not do justice to its material and seems to be an amateurish representation of the demonic side of a human being's inner universe. It serves a purpose as a documentation of some bare historical facts.

The Help

2011, 146m
This social comedy is set during the sixties civil rights movement in Southern US. The “helps”, black maidservants employed by wealthy whites, may not use the toilets of their employers and have separate utensils and cutlery, at least in some of the featured families. A central event of the tale is no doubt the consumption of a dish laced with the faeces of an aggrieved employee, and the subsequent publicity of the event through a book titled “The Help”--vendetta with a difference and which may make some here squirm. Careful what you say -they have the last weapon, your dinner. The film ends on a note of triumph for the persecuted class.  This is a well made engrossing film which adds little to our understanding of the world we live in, or the turbulent era in which it is set..

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Barry Lyndon

Stanley Kubrick, 1975, 184m

Based on Thackeray's novel, this is as close to literature that a movie can get.It is a panoramic view of a life and an age, portrayed with verisimilitude, plausibility and mild satire. The protagonist is an ordinary person, neither good nor bad, but enterprising and courageous who climbs the social staircase to climb down again. We have a detached portrait of the cultivated rogues responsible for the miracle of the empire over which the sun never set. Kubrick is in a different incarnation here, the satire being less bitter, but the touch of a master is visible throughout, as the painterly camera weaves a spell in its picture of Europe around 1800. A stunning film.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Harlan County

103m, 1976, documentary, Barbara Kopple (dir)

This Oscar winning film is the first of two documentaries made by this director about worker's struggle for better conditions in the US context. This one is about the coal mining industry. The coldness and exploitative greed of owners which extends to murder is graphically depicted. The simple lesson is that some people will do anything for money and the clash is almost Darwinian. The capacity of one group of people to treat another as things (in the Rwanda massacres one tribe was labelled as "cockroaches") seems inbuilt in human nature, alongside the better faculties. The film owes much of its power to the country music specifically related to coal miner's life. This film belongs to the era when socialism was alive enough to be kicked.


Sunday, April 1, 2012


2011, 103m, Israel

Both father and son are professors of Jewish studies and have devoted their lives to the same narrow chink of specialization. But whereas the son has become a celebrity, the father, more puritanical in his academic standards, and also a victim of bitter academic rivalries, remains obscure. His greatest achievement is being acknowledged in a footnote by a renowned scholar. His name has been proposed repeatedly for the coveted Israel prize, only to be vetoed each time by his arch academic ill wisher. But the day dawns when he is finally offered the prize, and the tragicomedy of errors takes off.

The film gives a delicately etched picture of the relationship between the aging father and his graying son. At the same time it gives us a glimpse of contemporary Israel, not to mention the pettiness and jealousies of the academic world. This gem of a film had me riveted till its ambiguous end. Does he accept the award? The movie concludes to the notes of what sounded like Chopin's Funeral March, which may be taken as a hint of sorts. A lovely film.

Review by A O Scott