Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Richard III 1955 Olivier

In this drama, the scriptwriter-bard is clearly playing to the gallery, and the relative lack of complexity of plot and character notwithstanding, the flow and exuberance of language is dazzling. Olivier handles his task with ease and gusto, and it is easy to lap up the piling villainy as it unfolds.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Lincoln 2012 Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis

My second view of this fine film. Lincoln is not an idealist, but a pragmatic man of action, who, though clear about his inner moral compass, is committed to victory and the vow of securing justice, rather than any abstract principle. What drives him is no obsession with dying for some cause (though he did), but a humane commitment to victory against suffering, springing not only from slavery, but also war.The film is about how he resorts to subterfuge and manouver to pass the legislation to abolish slavery forever.  However he does state his ideology as based on the "axiom" of "equality". A spellbinder.
Old Review
A O Scott:"......this is, in other words, less a biopic than a political thriller, a civics lesson that is energetically staged and alive with moral energy.......“Lincoln” is a rough and noble democratic masterpiece — an omen, perhaps, that movies for the people shall not perish from the earth.......Go see this movie. Take your children, even though they may occasionally be confused or fidgety. Boredom and confusion are also part of democracy, after all. “Lincoln” is a rough and noble democratic masterpiece — an omen, perhaps, that movies for the people shall not perish from the earth."

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Museum Hours 2012 (Jem Cohen)

A guard at an Austrian museum befriends a visiting Canadian. The film is a reverie shifting between the exhibits, particularly the Breughal paintings, and the mundane sights of a modern city, drawing a connection between the two. The boisterous, merry, indifferent, cruel crowds of Breughal are the same in modern bottles, as are the dark birds hovering in the sky, searching for meat. The trams and metros circulate endlessly. Those thick lipped country bumpkins are the same as the Viennese urban bumpkins. Yet there is a difference: Breugal has a vision, and these brutish dancing  rustics are close to the elemental heart of things, the grimness of life and death, unlike our own cushioned, drained, bored, denatured times. In the Calvary painting, for example, Christ is a dimunitive, hardly distinguishable among the work a day festive surroundings. Rather than demeaning Christ, there is a feeling of exaltation and adoration for all that exists, even the broken egg shells that litter other pictures. The shell shown in the film is interesting: a careful star like opening on the crown, as though someone sucked a raw egg in a hurry. The quiet uplifting film concludes as the waves on the ECG display connected to the visitor's cousin, who has been in coma and is the reason for her visit, die down. The sublime is in the beholder's eye, or a camera lens. Will need to be seen again with better subtitles.

Musee des Beaux Arts
W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

The Mill and the Cross

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Young Mr Lincoln 1939

In this excellent fictionalized biopic, Lincoln is shown in action as a lawyer fighting a murder case. This is an engrossing film laced with humor and repartee, and the courtroom part is particularly good. The unspoiled countryside with brook and barn has been captured in glistening black and shade.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Fall of the Roman Empire 1964

A film in the traditional mold: battles fought with sword and lance, elocution senatorial style, armies of extras battling it out in snow strewn woods. Sophia Loren lends her decorative presence. Christopher Plummer in a role with a villainous streak gives an excellent performance. The drama sustains well for nearly three hours, giving history a human face. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Grapes of Wrath 1940

A family of share croppers is evicted from the land on which they have lived for several generations.This is a story about ordinary people when they fall victim to socio-economic changes they don't understand, in this case the economic recession of the thirties. Beyond time and place, this has been knitted into a elemental human tale of men pitted against calamity.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Hamlet 1948 Olivier

This is a (thankfully) much abbreviated version. Even one of the two gravediggers has been excised. His opportunist pair of school chums have met the scissor, as has the Norwegian army on the march. The play within the play has been retained in remnant form. Olivier as Hamlet and the role of Gertrude (Eileen Herlie) are the best enacted. Even though heavy with stagy atmospherics, the film has the youthful energy of a young Olivier, and without comparisons to the "real" thing, stands on its own feet as an excellent drama-film. Even in brevity, Olivier brings us closer to the heart of "Hamlet". In comparison, the contemporary costumery of Branagh and the RSC version, seem anachronisms. Their attempted completeness and fidelity is also hard on the viewer. The present movie, particularly in pristine black and white of Blue Ray, is the best.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Rommel the Desert Fox 1951

This soaped up biopic does not tell us much about the individual's personality or the reasons for his renown. It does however give a fairly accurate picture of the events and milestones surrounding his life, culminating in the execution by suicide.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Ike Countdown to Doomsday 2004 (TV)

WW2 will remain a source of eternal fascination because perhaps there will never be another. This one is about the planning and decision making process in the allied camp, involving prominent political and military personalities. Riveting at 88 minutes. The persona of Ike, self effacing and responsible, is brilliantly etched. There is a touching moment as Ike lights the cigarette for an ongoing soldier.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Patton (1970)

Till lately, soldiering was regarded as the most glorious of professions. As the genome is programmed, war brings out the best and worst. Scott's performance is so perfect, it seems not a performance at all. Perhaps the best description is from his defeated enemy, as he casts his picture into a fire:  "He, too, will be destroyed. The absence of war will kill him. The pure warrior...a magnificent anachronism..."

Friday, November 15, 2013

Platoon 1986 (Oliver Stone)

Roger Ebert:
It was Francois Truffaut who said that it's not possible to make an anti-war movie, because all war movies, with their energy and sense of adventure, end up making combat look like fun. If Truffaut had lived to see "Platoon," the best film of 1986, he might have wanted to modify his opinion. Here is a movie that regards combat from ground level, from the infantryman's point of view, and it does not make war look like fun.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Taxi Driver 1976

Scorcese: Taxi Driver, 1976
Travis is a taxi driver. He is peculiar, as normalcy goes. All is not well with the world so far as he is concerned. He moves in the urban jungle populated by pimps and criminals. He is not at peace with himself. His time moves slowly. He cannot sleep. The nameless tension in him mounts. He buys himself an assortment of revolvers and guns. He is something of a saint. In the dim twilight of his mind, he wants to matter, to make a difference, to purge his world. And willing to pay the price. Delusions? Alone-ness?  Life weary?  Everything explodes in a shootout. And this is followed by the alternative ending, as Travis would have liked it and as he sees himself. This is a highly rated film. What I remembered from my initial viewing nocturnal play of neon lights and the melancholy jazz. The gushing vapors from the netherworld materializing into a taxi is a shot indelibly written. It is brilliant as pure cinema.

Ebert puts his finger on the spot:
"...a character with a desperate need to make some kind of contact somehow--to share or mimic the effortless social interaction he sees all around him....a series of his failed attempts to connect, every one of them hopelessly wrong. He asks a girl out on a date,......he sucks up to a political candidate.....he tries to make small talk with a Secret Service agent.....this utter aloneness is at the center of "Taxi Driver"...."

Vincent Canby captures the mood and ambiance:
The steam billowing up around the manhole cover in the street is a dead giveaway. Manhattan is a thin cement lid over the entrance to hell, and the lid is full of cracks. Hookers, hustlers, pimps, pushers, frauds, and freaks—they're all at large. They form a busy, faceless, unrepentant society that knows a secret litany. On a hot summer night the cement  lid becomes a nonstop harangue written in neon: walk, stop, go, come, drink, eat, try, enjoy. Enjoy? That's the biggest laugh. Only the faceless ones—the human garbage—could enjoy it.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Bridge on the River Kwai 1958

It is good to revisit this film, among the two most celebrated by the director. Two things once again are of greatest impact: the portraiture of Colonel Nicholson, a military commander beloved of his men, inflexible in his commitment to principle, in the face of certain death; and the breath taking cinematography of the tropical jungles in SE Asia, the theater of the Anglo -Japanese war. The drama of the first half, culminating in the breaking of the Japanese commander Saito, in the tussle of wills, is far more interesting. The second part meanders somewhat into an involved essay on the contradictoriness of war. It is an intimate portrayal of the jungle,: towering bamboos, ancient trees of majestic girth and sprawling roots, waterfalls and rivers, a million birds noisily dispersing in the sky. Nicholson himself pushes the plunger to blow up the bridge he has so lovingly constructed. But that is no matter, since the bridge is an edifice of human spirit, more than a thing to be used. In fact, there is perfect poetic symmetry in the conclusion..

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

2001 A Space Odyssey 1968

Returning after many years, I can figure out better what's going on. The mysterious monolith inspires awe, the rarity of it's appearance, the change that the world undergoes between the time man's ancestor invents his first tool, to it's logical evolution up to space travel. The bone triumphantly hurled at the sky flashes forward by millions or so years into a space ship. The film may be formatted like an extremely slow dance, but it is riveting to watch, specially after HAL, the most human of the characters, starts to express himself. There is tension, suspense and surprises. The film is a feat of the imagination and vision going far beyond the usual SF. It has more than a touch of the mystic, the transcendental. "There are more things in heaven.....". To paraphrase the words of Ebert, it is a film about man's position in universal space and time, and awe is what it inspires.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Lawrence of Arabia 1962

It's satisfying to learn that this film which left such an indelible mark on my then untutored psyche forty years ago continues to be coveted as an old fashioned masterpiece of world cinema (detractors, like Crowther, who panned it as a "camel opera" devoid of human depth, notwithstanding). In some way, it is the first and last of the films I have seen . The best of Lean has a sense of the grandeur and sweep of history. To view it now in the remastered version even on a small screen resonates the same chords. It's about a slice of history, about the desert and the stars, and about a man, whose deserts to occupy a grave in Westminster Abbey, where the British enshrine their great, are questioned, in the opening scenes. If greatness is to be measured not by accomplishment, but by the audacity of the attempt, he may qualify for consideration. In essence he inspires a motley army to attempt a seemingly impossible military task, and achieve it. He maintains such a yardstick of achievement for himself, but fails to consummate the miracle. Again, it is not clear to what extent the portrayal of the person, or the historical events,conform to the reality. The Arabs take Damascus but chaos prevails in the city since water supply, electricity, hospitals and telephone system cannot be run without British help. The dream of Arab independence fails, since the Arabs are not ready for it, and at the end of the day, Turks are displaced by Europeans as occupiers. Incidentally, the most sensitive performance, more than O'Toole or Guinness, is that of Omar Sharif. Peter O'Toole, in fact is a mixture of the pathetic and the grandiose with his trademark perpetually quivering jaw. It is likely that the persona revealed in the writings or in life was larger, more complex, and more interesting. A film that is sweeping, overdone, exhibitionist, brash, riveting and which cannot be ignored. After all, this is the film closest to Spielberg's heart which decided his choice of career.
Churchill on Lawrence
Conversation wih Spielberg

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

John Donne: Death, be not proud

Death be not proud, though some have callèd thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee;
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou’art slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie,’or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, Death thou shalt die.


2001, 98m, Mike Nichols
Vivian Bearing, a professor specializing in the poetry of John Donne, is diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. As she progresses through the course of large does of chemotherapy, she analyses her feelings with minuteness as she senses the approach of death. The sanitized, efficient, mechanical and indifferent environment of the hospital turns her into a thing, powerless as she sinks. The film, for the most part, is in the form of a monologue, as she speaks out her thoughts to us, the audience. As a person who has spent her life mastering language, this format is admirably appropriate in articulating her complex emotions. Time, scarce as it is, crawls and stretches in the isolation ward. She falls back on the poetry of her beloved poet as her solace. But Donne is not enough. As she says, "I thought I was extremely smart. But I seem to have been found out." Seeing a second time after many years, it does not make the same impression. But it gives a glimpse of human frailty when people face the end. Learning does not seem to count for much. "Learning, genius, power, wealth, reputation, science, technology --- all become nothing when one is confronted by death."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein

2009, 84m
Finkelstein is a former Jewish American professor, ousted from the academic world for his controversial pro Palestine views on the Israel-Arab question. He is the son of survivors of the Warsaw ghetto. He maintains that Israel's conduct towards the Palestinians resembles that of the Germans towards the Jews during the war. He calls Israelis Nazi Jews. He has been dubbed a Jew hating Jew. This is an interesting film which provides insights into the the un-knottable knot that is the Middle East. Finkelstein has paid the price of his views by losing his job and achieving the status of a controversial figure.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Manchurian Candidate

Jonathan Demme, 129m, 2004
Curiosity arising from the infantile 1958 version of this espionage thriller having the same name induced me to risk this. Certainly this is state of art in comparison, and Meryl Streep in a villain's role is not the sole attraction. One of the charms is the likeness and unlikeness of the two films, which keeps the mind on two parallel tracks, more often diverging than converging.
Some of the fun of his retrofitted ''Candidate" comes from its playful acknowledgment of -- and frequent departure from -- the first version, which was released in 1962, just in time for the Cuban missile crisis. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Ipcress File

109m, 1965
This film is best enjoyed for the style, or ambiance. There is a scene where a uniformed band marches down a lane. A man stands leaning over the railing of a bridge. People saunter enjoying the evening. Speckled ducks floating on clear water. A picture of civilization and harmony. This of course is not the theme of this silly spy movie.
Bosley Crowther<
"And in one respect he has succeeded. He has built up the proper atmosphere in which a daredevil-challenging mystery might conceivably occur and a dauntless and daring detective might acceptably take wing.
His setting of London, in which this espionage thriller takes place, is full of rich and mellow colors and highly official goings-on behind dark-paneled doors in old, gray buildings and in cozy bachelor digs and gentlemen's clubs......Fast, fluid, candid shooting; startling close-ups of telephones, traffic lights, train wheels; eyes and faces seen through slits in doors make for sheer physical excitement and a feeling of things happening. The Ipcress File is as classy a spy film as you could ask to see."

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Sartre: from Republic of Sillence

"We were never more free than during the German occupation. We had lost all our rights, beginning with the right to talk. Every day we were insulted to our faces and had to take it in silence. Under one pretext or another, as workers, Jews, or political prisoners, we were deported EN MASSE. Everywhere, on billboards, in the newspapers, on the screen, we encountered the revolting and insipid picture of ourselves that our oppressors wanted us to accept. And, because of all this, we were free. Because the Nazi venom seeped even into our thoughts, every accurate thought was a conquest. Because an all-powerful police tried to force us to hold our tongues, every word took on the value of a declaration of principles. Because we were hunted down, every one of our gestures had the weight of a solemn commitment. The circumstances, atrocious as they often were, finally made it possible for us to live, without pretense or false shame, the hectic and impossible existence that is known as the lot of man. Exile, captivity, and especially death (which we usually shrink from facing at all in happier times) became for us the habitual objects of our concern. We learned that they were neither inevitable accidents, nor even constant and exterior dangers, but that they must be considered as our lot itself, our destiny, the profound source of our reality as men. At every instant we lived up to the full sense of this commonplace little phrase: “Man is mortal!” And the choice that each of us made of his life and of his being was an authentic choice because it was made face to face with death, because it could always have been expressed in these terms: “Rather death than…” And here I am not speaking of the elite among us who were real Resistants, but of all Frenchmen who, at every hour of the night and day throughout four years, answered NO. But the very cruelty of the enemy drove us to the extremities of this condition by forcing us to ask ourselves questions that one never considers in time of peace. All those among us – and what Frenchman was not at one time or another in this situation who knew any details concerning the Resistance asked themselves anxiously, “If they torture me, shall I be able to keep silent?” Thus the basic question of liberty itself was posed, and we were brought to the verge of the deepest knowledge that man can have of himself. For the secret of a man is not his Oedipus complex or his inferiority complex: it is the limit of his own liberty, his capacity for resisting torture and death.

To those who were engaged in underground activities, the conditions of their struggle afforded a new kind of experience. They did not fight openly like soldiers. In all circumstances they were alone. They were hunted down in solitude, arrested in solitude. It was completely forlorn and unbefriended that they held out against torture, alone and naked in the presence of torturers, clean-shaven, well-fed, and well-clothed, who laughed at their cringing flesh, and to whom an untroubled conscience and a boundless sense of social strength gave every appearance of being in the right. Alone. Without a friendly hand or a word of encouragement. Yet, in the depth of their solitude, it was the others that they were protecting, all the others, all their comrades in the Resistance. Total responsibility in total solitude – is this not the very definition of our liberty? This being stripped of all, this solitude, this tremendous danger, were the same for all. For the leaders and for their men, for those who conveyed messages without knowing what their content was, as for those who directed the entire Resistance, the punishment was the same – imprisonment, deportation, death. There is no army in the world where there is such equality of risk for the private and for the commander-in-chief. And this is why the Resistance was a true democracy: for the soldier as for the commander, the same danger, the same forsakenness, the same total responsibility, the same absolute liberty within discipline. Thus, in darkness and in blood, a Republic was established, the strongest of Republics. Each of its citizens knew that he owed himself to all and that he could count only on himself alone. Each of them, in complete isolation, fulfilled his responsibility and his role in history. Each of them, standing against the oppressors, undertook to be himself, freely and irrevocably. And by choosing for himself in liberty, he chose the liberty of all. This Republic without institutions, without an army, without police, was something that at each instant every Frenchman had to win and to affirm against Nazism. No one failed in this duty, and now we are on the threshold of another Republic. May this Republic to be set up in broad daylight preserve the austere virtue of that other Republic of Silence and of Night."

Friday, October 4, 2013

Hannah Arendt

2012, Margarethe von Trotta, Barbara Sukowa, 113m
Yet another page in the annals of the holocaust. The film does a good job of bringing to life the famous philosopher. Interesting as her own life is as a Jew who escaped and made it good in the US (which she understandably describes as "paradise"), the real point of interest is the conclusions she arrived at as a political philosopher, and the workings of a razor sharp intellect. Her essence is not tumultuous events, which she undoubtedly faced, but the workings of a mind. Of this we get only a glimpse. However, this dramatic biopic is excellent as far as it goes. Given the subject matter, there was scope for a more powerful script. After all, her work must have gone much beyond coining "the banality of evil".

“Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it, and by the same token save it from that ruin which except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and the young, would be inevitable. And education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.”
The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Make Way for Tomorrow

1937, Leo McCarey, 92m
A film about dependency brought about by old age. An elderly couple lose their house and none of their children are in a position to lodge them together. This enforces separation, the thing they dread the most. The film inspired Tokyo Story. It is a well told human story, giving insight into the challenges of aging as well as the problems of caring for the elderly. Among Ebert's list of Great Films.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Tokyo Story

Ozu, 1953, 135m
It is a long and slow movie, but never tiring. Although a drama of domestic life, it has many suspenseful moments. In one such, the father, having no lodgings, lands up at his daughter's house drunk, and is chided like an infant. They are people who do not fit into their children's busy lives in the big city. Boats floating past, rippling sea, smoking chimneys, railway stations, a mound of marble grave stones, a moth beats against a lighted bulb as an old lady breathes her last. The film was the director's top choice in the Sight and Sound poll 2012--it's always more difficult to see something as it stands on it's own, when it is so highly lauded. It's also a picture of life in Japan at the time, hypnotic in cinematography, steeped in the rhythms of time and place. We see the strange mixture of westernization and tradition.This is a gentle, powerful, beautiful film. 

Friday, September 27, 2013


1958, 124m, Hitchcock
Vertigo is the latest No 1 movie in the Sight and Sound poll, replacing Kane. I'm visiting it after a decade. It seems to have lost the magic it had. As a movie in which suspense is an important ingredient, the second view is different from the first. It has great cinematic beauty and haunting music--I had not forgotten the picturesque car drives along the sea side around San Francisco. It ventures into the inner recesses of the mind, in the Freudian manner. It is about fear, death and desire. The hero, Scottie, is obsessed to a point of sickness by a woman, or of a mental picture of one. It is a picture of dark, brooding, obsessive sexuality. Like most Hitchcock characters he is driven by forces over which he has little control. Death and desire, birth and cessation--are they not complementary? The movie delves into the eternal mystery, hazards into the region beyond the grave, conceding the possibility of existence beyond. Of course, it's devilish cleverness lies precisely in discarding all these conjectures and winding up as an ingenious matter of fact crime thriller. Whatever else one may say, this is not a film that can be forgotten. Every frame has remained imprinted for a decade. Hitchcock was never modest of his ability to mesmerize his audience. In a sense, watching it seemed superfluous, since it was already embedded in the mind. The plot is absurdly improbable. It must be full of loopholes. But that doesn't count. It is a dark and troubled portrayal of human nature, but I am left asking whether it is great cinema, whatever greatness means, or a disturbing piece of gimmickry? Among Hitchcock's films, it is among  the most memorable--one that has to be seen.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

1961, 115m, Maggie Smith
This is an extraordinary drama, set in a girl's boarding school in Edinburgh. It has an entirely British flavor. Maggie Smith as a charismatic teacher, Jean Brodie, gives the performance of a lifetime. Set during the Spanish civil war, she "inspires" one of her students to run away to join this war and to lose her life. She is perhaps intended to be an epitome of charismatic leaders, capable of leading their unthinking flocks down the lane of dubious causes. Indeed, as could have been common in her time, she admires Mussolini and Franco. Her fault would be to promote their own persona rather than empowerment and independence of her students. The film is a textured and a bitter parody of totalitarian leaders whom Brodie admires--in her awkwardly angular grandiose gestures as well as the brilliant unstoppable flow of words, she is a fascist of the classroom. I am reminded of Chaplin's film on the theme. This is a great film which Ebert missed out in his compilation.
The Great Dictator: NYT Review


2012, 198m
Gives a picture of war devastated Japan just after the occupation. MacArthur and his aides have to decide about the guilt for the war, and particularly the fate of the Emperor. Though stereotyped in approach, sinking at times to insipid romance and sentiment, it does deliver a measure of historical content, in an entertaining fashion. As a bonus, we share the surreal tranquility of some Japanese gardens and homes. Not a film worthy of its theme, but something is better than nothing.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Corporation

2003, 144m
This is a disturbing film. It describes the the power of corporations in the modern world. In legal terms a corporation is a "person". If so, it is a greedy person with no conscience. Being responsible only to the investors, corporations are driven by the single motive of earning profits, irrespective of the social and ecological damage they might cause. Specific examples like gene technology, privatization of natural resources as basic as water, pernicious effect of advertising are put forth in series of episodes, punctuated with the opinions of corporate representatives as well as critics of the system. The film is quite enlightening about these monsterss in whose vice we are obviously gripped.

To quote what Chomsky says in the documentary:

"It's a fair assumption that every human being...real human beings flesh and blood ones not corporations but every flesh and blood human being....is a moral person. You know we've got the same genes the same but our nature the nature of humans allows all kinds of  behavior. I mean everyone of us under some circumstances could be a gas chamber attendant and a saint. But it is the consequence of modern capitalism.....When you look at a corporation just like when you look at a slave owner you want to distinguish between the institution and the individual. So slavery for example or other forms of tyranny are inherently monstrous but the individuals participating in them may be the nicest guys you could imagine: benevolent, friendly, nice to their children, even nice to their slaves..... I mean as individuals they may be anything. They're monsters because the institution is monstrous. 

Then the same is true of corporations. The goal for the corporation is to maximize profit and market share. And they also have a goal for their target namely the population. They have to be turned into completely mindless consumers of goods that they do not want. You have to develop what are called created wants. So you have to create wants. You have to impose on people what's called a philosophy of futility...the insignificant things of life like fashionable consumption. I’m just basically quoting business literature. And it makes perfect sense. The ideal is to have individuals who are totally disassociated from one another. Who’s conception of themselves the sense of value is just how many created wants can I satisfy? These people are customers because they are willing to trade money for widgets. And all the customers take the widgets home to all parts of the country. Look at all the money the widget builder has taken in from the sale of his widgets......public relations industry, monstrous industry advertising, and so on which are designed from infancy to try to mould people into this desired pattern."

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


1965, 158 minutes, Olivier, Frank Finlay (Iago)
The function of a Shakespeare film is to frame the script and this one does it very well. I've understood the play better than in the past. Frank Finlay's paints a fascinating Iago, immersing in the lines to give us a clear vision of the flow of his thoughts and the working of his mind. Olivier's Othello too rises to a fever pitch of histrionics, quite unabashedly overdoing it. We cannot accuse him of restraint, nor of not doing justice to the character. This is a painful drama to watch. Suspense builds up as Iago screws in his instruments of torture with consummate skill, deliberation and courage. The moor is driven to paroxysms of mental anguish, culminating in an epileptic seizure. The end is cathartic, as Othello stabs himself to join the wronged Desdemona. Rightfully, Iago is denied the relief of death, being distilled evil (he is dubbed "serpent") without any saving grace.And of course, he is the more interesting of the two leading characters. Mephistopheles he may be, it is hard to withhold admiration for his poise and clarity of mind, his capacity for bold improvisation and the courage as he plays with fire, staking his own life and safety, serving no material gain but his own inverted vindication. Determination, purpose and clarity of the path to follow are qualities one associates with snakes. Othello is but a pitiable blabbering poet, as Iago manipulates him like a monkey on a string. What a magnificent play!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Chomsky: On Death

Lunch with the FT
”Carol Chomsky, his wife and a fellow linguist, died in 2008. “Since then I’ve dived into work.” I ask whether this was a deliberate, escapist decision. After a rare pause, he says: “Well, John Milton pointed out that the mind is a strange place, so who knows?....

“It has to do with: ‘what is the fundamental core of human nature?’ ” Early Enlightenment thinkers wrote about how it is creative character that separates humans from the rest of the organic world. This character is manifested most clearly in language. Later intellectuals extended this idea to the social sphere. “So, if there is anything that restricts a person’s natural need to carry out creative work under their own direction, that is illegitimate.”.....

Chomsky: On Humanism and Morality, 2000 (Excerpt)

Q: One idea that I find extremely interesting and fascinating is the notion that just as our language capabilities are genetically determined, so is our capacity - as human beings - for moral judgement. What do you see as the implications of the idea that our moral capacity is innate?

Chomsky: Well, for one thing, I don't think it can really be much of a question. (That's not to say we understand anything about it.) But, the fact of the matter is that we're constantly making moral judgments in new situations, and over a substantial range we do it in a convergent fashion--we don't differ randomly and wildly from one another. Furthermore, young children do it, very quickly, and they also converge.

Of course, there are cultural and social and historical effects, but even for those to operate, they must be operating on something. If you look at this range of phenomena, there are only two possibilities: one is, it's a miracle, and the other is, it's rooted in our nature. It's rooted in our nature in the same sense in which language is, or for that matter, having arms and legs is. And it takes different forms depending on the circumstances, just as arms and legs depend on nutrition, and language depends on my not having heard Swedish when I was six months old and so on. But basically, it must be something that flows out of our nature, or otherwise we'd never use it in any systematic way, except just repeating what happened before. So, it's got to be there.

What are the implications? One implication is, we ought to be interested in finding out what it is. We'd learn something important about ourselves. You can't hope at this stage that we're beginning to learn anything from biology. Biology doesn't begin to reach that far. In principle it should, but right now it deals with much tinier problems. It has a hard time figuring out how bees function, let alone humans.

But I think we can learn things by history and experience. Take, say, the debate over big issues like slavery or women's rights and so on. It wasn't just people screaming at each other. There were arguments, in fact, interesting arguments on both sides. The pro-slavery side had very substantial arguments that are not easy to answer. But there was a kind of common moral ground in which a good bit of the debate took place, and as it resolved, which it essentially did, you see a consciousness emerging of what really is right, which must mean it reflects our built-in conception of what's right. And that's something that we learn more about over time, we get more insight into what's coming out of our nature. The implications are very substantial, to the extent that we can understand them. It's better to have a conscious understanding of what's guiding you, to the extent you can, than just to react intuitively, without understanding. That's true whether you're a carpenter reacting to how to form wood artifacts or a moral human being reacting to how to decide between behaviors toward others.

Full Text

Chomsky: On Atheism, Religion, and Science

7 minutes, approximate transcript
Q: Do you consider yourself a person of faith?
Chomsky: I try not to have faith. I go along with a principle very well enunciated by Bertrand Russel, which is that one should keep away from having irrational  beliefs. One should believe in things for which there is some evidence or rational support, apart from commitment to principles like freedom and justice and equality and so on. I guess faith is the things you are committed to....but when it comes to things like world, reality....things for which evidence would be appropriate, my feeling is as far as far as possible one should have substantiated beliefs...

Q: Would you then consider yourself paradoxically a person who has faith in scientific method...
Chomsky: I think it's the only method we have to get some approximate understanding of the world...I don't have faith that it will reach the truth or even whether it is leading us in the correct  direction.... as someone committed to the scientific method I am also committed to its consequences and among them that we are organic creatures with specific capacities and limitations and have no reason to think these capacities are such as can enable us to gain the truth about the world....but that's the best we can do...

Q: People will say you cannot have moral principles unless you adhere to a faith...
Chomsky: If I attribute these principles to a divine creature whom I define as ordering you to have those principles, those principles don't become any better established....so it's a useless step...it's true that moral principles are not grounded in unshakable evidence or argument....but nothing is going to make them any more firmly grounded...as for having a meaningful life it's irrelevant...people have meaningful lives with or without...

Q: Can Americanism be fairly characterized a a religion?
Chomsky: We call Americanism or Italianism or Russianism as totalitarian doctrines...inglorious history since Ahab... 


Chomsky Sessions 2: Science, Religion and Human Nature Part 1

This is the second of five interviews given by NC. I went through the script with the last portion missing. The video in any case is hard to decipher due to his low volume drone. The present interview says little about his views of religion. Chomsky freewheels over a range of topics, and various Presidents including Jefferson and some recent ones draw his ink jets of ridicule about how religious dogma has been used to justify wrongs like the decimation of American Indians. Even Whitman, Franklin and Emerson do not escape the ire of his rationality. About religion per se he says little except as a first fumbling step towards science, and of the human need for a framework. He says: " Whatever we understand about anything as complex as human affairs, the answers are trivial. And when not trivial, we don't understand anything."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Distorted Morality

Through tatter'd clothes small vices do appear;
Robes and furr'd gowns hide all.

This talk was delivered in 2002. Chomsky argues that the terrorism carried out by powerful nation states far outweighs acts perpetrated by individuals or smaller groups. The wholesale variety is carried out in broad daylight, with little attempt at concealment. He supports his thesis by marshaling an encyclopedic array of facts from recent history, painfully assembled from scattered sources around the globe. One has surely to concede that things are not what they are made out. Moreover, we passively swallow the biased, distorted or falsified information streaming in through the media. This makes us morally anesthetized and intellectually numb.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Manufacturing Consent: Naom Chomsky and the Media

1992, 167 minutes, Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick

"States are violent institutionsOne cannot and should not be proud of any government," says Naom Chomsky, This unnecessarily long film does no service to its title character. Chomsky in this documentary heavy with cinematic gimmicks is turned into one more brand name to be marketed--in fact it ends up bending backward trying to manufacturing a kind of consent about the very person who is so critical of the procedure. Chomsky's talks and interviews are a delight to listen, but this rag tag collage, punctuated with often irrelevant newsreel footage (presumably to make his thoughts accessible, though they are simple enough) makes for tiresome and painful viewing. On the plus side, there would be a modicum of fresh informational material which could keep admirers of the scholar-activist engaged till the finish line.


Interviewer: How far does the success of libertarian socialism or anarchism as a way of life really depend on a fundamental change in the nature of man, both in his motivation, his altruism,and also in his knowledge and sophistication?

Chomsky: I think it not only depends on it but, in fact, the whole purpose of libertarian socialism is that it will contribute to it.It will contribute to a spiritual transformation. Precisely that kind of great transformation in the way humans conceive of themselves and their ability to act, to decide,to create, to produce, to inquire.

Precisely that spiritual transformation is what social thinkers from the Marxist tradition, from Luxemburg, say, through anarcho-syndicalists, have emphasised. So, on the one hand,it requires that spiritual transformation. But also, its purpose is to create institutions which will contribute to that transformation.


In dealing with social and political issues,in my view, what is at all understood[br]is pretty straightforward.There may be deep and complicated things.[br]But, if so, they're not understood.The basic... To the extent that we understand[br]society at all, it's pretty straightforward. And I don't think those simple understandings[br]are likely to undergo much change.


Modern industrial civilization has developed within a certain system of convenient myths.The driving force of modern industrial civilization has been individual material gain,which is accepted as legitimate, even praiseworthy,on the grounds that private vices yield public benefits in the classic formulation.Now, it's long been understood very well that a society that is based on this principle will destroy itself in time. It can only persist with whatever suffering and injustice it entails,as long as it's possible to pretend that the destructive forces that humans create are limited,that the world is an infinite resource and that the world is an infinite garbage can.At this stage of history,either one of two things is possible.Either the general population will take control of its own destiny and will concern itself with community interests,guided by values of solidarity and sympathy[br]and concern for others. Or, alternatively, there will be no destiny for anyone to control. As long as some specialised class is in a position of authority, it is going to set policy in the special interests that it serves. But the conditions of survival, let alone justice,require rational social planning in the interests of the community as a whole.By now, that means the global community. The question, in brief,is whether democracy and freedom are values to be preserved or threats to be avoided.In this possibly terminal phase of human existence,democracy and freedom\are more than values to be treasured.They may well be essential to survival.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Chomsky--Foucault: On Human Nature

70m, around 1970
A very young Chomsky takes on the eldering (and balded) Foucault. The Vietnam war was going on when the depicted dialog took place. Chomsky's thinking, arrived at from the route of his epochal linguistic studies, resonates with the likes of Jung, in recognizing a mysterious (at least unknown) underlying sea of possibilities. Starting from every child's ability to arrive in a short time to a grammatically integrated linguistic ability to the achievements of the likes of Newton, Chomsky envisions, through the telescope of his own mind, a startling vastness that is each individuals endowment. There is a universal human nature, he says, alongside the undeniable individualization. From here he takes a giant leap (virtually abandoning the tool of science, finding it too blunt for the matters of greatest urgency) which lands him into his chosen field of social and political activism, exposing himself to considerable personal danger. Before anything, he is a humanist. Deeply ingrained in Chomsky's intellect is a concept of justice, which he has made his life's work. It is indeed a rare pleasure to hear the young Chomsky discourse so effortlessly and the sparks flying in all directions.
Full Video

Friday, September 6, 2013

Noam Chomsky: Rebel without a Pause

2004, 57m
Chomsky is said to stand side by side with Marx, Shakespeare, Freud, Lenin, Aristotle, Hegel, Cicero, Plato, Chomsky and the Bible among the ten most cited sources ever. This documentary gives a cross sectional picture of Chomsky's views on political matters, as distinct from his scientific research. What emerges is a formidable intellect with an amazing repertoire of facts, and the ability to marshal them into a picture of the world significantly at variance with the one projected by establishments of various shades. He has mentioned that to make an informed judgement of human affairs, no specialized knowledge or training is needed, beyond the willingness to shed prejudice and assumptions ingrained by social brainwashing, things within the reach of laypeople. He says his path breaking scientific achievements in linguistics do not impinge on his political views and are a separate matter. He has a formidable command of history with a tapestry of microscopic detail stretching over centuries. He justifiably prides himself in his non charismatic persona and lack of oratory, but the passion for justice and concern for the trodden, comes through in no uncertain terms as he speaks. In fact his charisma is composed of the solid stuff of his brilliance, clarity, boldness, and unassuming respect for others, not to mention the respectfully attentive ear he lends to even the youngest of his audience. He is a nice person, and a consensual candidate for the title "great man". As he mentions in this video, it takes courage to speak out against the society of which one is a part, and courage is a quality more often than not conspicuously absent in intellectual circles.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

At any Price

Ramin Bahrani, 104m, 2012

A story set in the vast American cornfields.  Agro-business is big business and as subject to racketeering (here genetically modified seeds) as any other. Bahrani is an immigrant and his previous films have been about immigrants. This film starts slowly but the mega-farmer who it is about is sucked into a vortex of wrong doing. The endless rolling fields laden with grain, the machinery slashing through the laden shafts, and the windmills in silent rotation, provide a breath taking backdrop. These perhaps were the real inspiration for this visually (and aurally) inclined film maker. The sun drenched yellows naturally bring Van Gogh to mind. Comparisons are irrelevant and this is another fine film from a talented director.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

King Lear

2008, RSC, Ian McKellan, Old Review
The delusions he fondly nourished are dispersed by a series of shocks. There is no going back from Lear's enlightenment. Cordelia returns but cannot last, not this side of the grave. Her reappearance can be only a patch of green in the relentless obliteration by time of good and ill ("you do me wrong to take me out of the grave"). The incomprehensible joy of reunion is soon displaced by the devastating pain of her sudden cruel death. The treachery of the sisters dwindles in the face of this act of nature. The "nevers" express an abyss of pain, born of a passionate philosophical conclusion as regards the finality of death. Strange that Lear could have forgotten that time must separate him from his daughter: later, if not too soon, as it turned out! His awakening is partial, after all. "Like two birds in a cage" is a naive fantasy: as if nothing happened, the blinding, the masks unpeeled. This is all about coming down in life: Kent, Edgar, Gloucester, Cordelia and of course Lear. Gloucester indeed falls lowest, because he actually "commits" the sin of "suicide", but is "miraculously" resurrected to work out his destiny to a logical conclusion. Each sees the globe dissolve, the dream evaporate. As Lear ventures into the storm, he is already a transformed man: the illusions whereby he lived have been swiftly dispersed and he has a more encompassing vision of life, which, in fact, he finds so refreshing that he will not be tempted by the offer of food and fire. He is a different man, and there is no return to the old self. The film gives us a masterly presentation, down to minute details of acting, like a lump in Kent's throat. It brings us closer to the heart of the matter.

Why must Cordelia die, as indeed she must? Lear, Gloucester? The answer must be in the scale of values we apply, and indeed to die is not the worst that can happen. We have to ask what is the purpose of life. For Lear to settle down cozily with his daughter after all that he has seen through, would hardly match the tenor of the play, even the transient reward of a kingdom being peanuts measured on the vastness of life's canvas, with the reality of death looming behind the cloud of our fecklessness. In fact in the plays conclusion, Lear takes yet another step in the awakening that started with the storm scene. Gloucester dies happy in his reunion, since life would have nothing more to offer. Even Edmund's eyes open to the shallowness of the life he lived. Oswald partakes of the illuminations of the drama in his sudden dispatch. To live happily ever after is a stasis incongruous to the scale of events depicted. Stasis is death, and progression life, even if it involves the stepping stone of dying. The four tragedies encompass an amplitude of life which can conclude with nothing short of the proverbial pile of corpses. The open spaces which are the stage of Lear symbolize the immensity of our inner space.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

5 Broken Cameras

94m, documentary, 2011, Arabic/Hebrew
A painfully slow watch. Part of the difficulty lies in the complexity of the Palestine conflict. The inhabitants of a small village valiantly resist the encroachment by Israeli builders over several years. The non violent agitation is brutally suppressed by tear gas, bullets and beatings and many are killed or injured. But the picture created is nuanced with the Israeli not quite unqualified devils. "The film should be taken for what it is, and the piece of reality that this film is showing should not be confused with the whole reality, such as part of the truth does not equal the whole truth."The story is filmed by a farmer turned documenteer of a reality surrounding him and engulfing his own family. In the process he loses a number of cameras to the violent suppression. This is a moving account of a community trapped in unending political strife and standing up with modest heroism to a powerful military force. The story is all the more poignant as we see growing children and women caught in the this ugly fray.
A O Scott:
"...a visual essay in autobiography and, as such, a modest, rigorous and moving work of art..."

Monday, August 19, 2013

Annie Hall

93m, 1977, Woody Allen
"I have a pessimistic view of life. I feel that life is divided up into the horrible and the miserable. Those are the two categories. The horrible would be like terminal cases, blind people, cripples. I don't know how they get through life. It's amazing to me. And the miserable is everyone else. So when you go through life be thankful that you're miserable. You're very lucky to be miserable."...Annie Hall

This is a satire on people with intellectual pre-occupations. The conclusion is that they are human too. Sparkling with wit and gentle satire, taking on even smut in a civilized manner, and the ability to crack jokes at one's own expense, make this film, so like it's director, an enjoyable experience.

Vincent Canby:
"....the only American filmmaker who is able to work seriously in the comic mode without being the least bit ponderous....self-deprecating, funny, and sorrowful search for the truth about his on-again, off-again affair...."

Old Review

Friday, August 16, 2013


2007, 83m
Although it does manage to get some bursts of low grade laughter, the film is more designed to make one squirm by its vulgarity.
Ebert, to my discomfiture, thought otherwise. To each his own :
"Very nice. I like "Borat" very much. I think it is, as everybody has been saying, the funniest movie in years. And not because it is dumb (although it's very dumb), but because it is smart (and it is very smart). The full title is "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan." Every single word in that title (including "for" and both "of's") is, in its context, really funny. If you have to ask why, then you probably won't understand why "Borat" is funny, either. But that doesn't seem likely."
Manohla Dargis is more nuanced:
".....the jackass has landed...gets better or worse, sometimes at the same time......a gun clerk’s suggestion of what kind of gun to use to hunt Jews will freeze your blood....the brilliance of “Borat” is that its comedy is as pitiless as its social satire, and as brainy..... comic energy and timing informs every scene.....they also clear room for two hairy men to wrestle nude in a gaspingly raw interlude of physical slapstick that nearly blasts a hole in the film....clenched in unspeakably crude formation, those hairy bodies inspire enormous laughs......with loads of smut and acres of body hair, relieving you of the burden of having to juggle your laughter with your increasingly abused conscience.....just when you’re ready to cry, you howl."

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Streetcar Named Desire

Kazan, Leigh, Brando, 117m, 1953, Tennessee Williams
This drama of explosive emotions provides an ideal canvas to showcase the precocious acting gifts of the lead stars. Vivien Leigh's portrays the tormented and foredoomed Blanche as her life begins its journey of decline. Brando oozes masculine animality, yet tempered with a feline grace which makes him unforgettable. It is a movie about loss, the frustration of possibilities, about people who come down in life. With leashed power the story portrays the tragic aspect which is the reality of human existence. The themes are universal, transcending time and place.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Man for all Seasons

120m, 1966, Robert Bolt, Paul Scofield
A riveting drama about moral choice based on the life of Thomas More, who was executed for antagonizing Henry VIII by not acquiescing to the dissolution of his one marriage and blessing of the next. The movie more than any other feature stands out for the density and richness of the script, full of reason, thought and philosophy. Robert Bolt also wrote the scripts for two of David Lean's best known films.
Bosley Crowther:
"...the solid substance of "A Man for All Seasons"... presents us with an awesome view of a sturdy conscience and a steadfast heart...within such magnificent settings as only England itself could provide to convey the resplendence and color of the play's 16th-century mise en scène... crystallized the essence of this drama in such pictorial terms as to render even its abstractions vibrant...the play is essentially a showing of just one prolonged conflict of wills, one extended exposition of a man's refusal to swerve from his spiritual and intellectual convictions..."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Importance of being Ernest

97m, 2002
This is a brilliant and enjoyable introduction to Oscar Wilde's frothing and witty comedy set in high Victorian society. The camera gives us beautiful and intimate view of their sumptuous and leisurely ways. We see where the fat of the Empire went. It is another side of the Gunga Din saga. This of course is incidental to the deadpan brand of British humor to which Wilde made his unique contribution.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

On the Waterfront

1954, 103m, Elia Kazan(dir), Marlon Brando
Revisiting after many years this riveting drama of moral heroism, I observed the amazing fluidity of Brando's expressions and masterly projection of the persona of a dim witted ex boxer who resurrects as a human being when a storm of life breaks out. His face is a rippling canvas on which the drama is written. The eyes and brows contort crookedly in anguish or soften in gentleness, compassion, hurt. One wonders how it comes about. It is not acting, but immersion. The look in his eyes as he pushes away the gun his brother points at him is an unforgettable moment. To quote the director: “ ... what was extraordinary about his performance, I feel, is the contrast of the tough-guy front and the extreme delicacy and gentle cast of his behavior. What other actor, when his brother draws a pistol to force him to do something shameful, would put his hand on the gun and push it away with the gentleness of a caress? Who else could read `Oh, Charley!' in a tone of reproach that is so loving and so melancholy and suggests the terrific depth of pain?”

Monday, August 5, 2013

Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m.

Claude Lanzmann, 100m, 2001
The eponymous date marks the largely successful uprising at the Sobibor concentration camp. Claude Lanzmann has carved a unique place in the annals of cinema through his documentaries on the most hellish chapter in history. These films, more than any monument, chronicle the events through first person video narratives. The present film, apart from the narrative of Yehuda Lerner, mainly comprises images of trains moving in the environs where these things happened, as they appear in 2001. Trains are eminent symbols of the transportation of human cargo which occurred in the silence of night, shrouded in secrecy, even the hapless sheep unaware of the slaughter which waited. The indirectness and restraint of Lanzmann's films accounts for their power and truthfulness. However, for those not from the effected community, this austere documentary populated by trains, trams and a single speaking torso could be tedious.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bharat Ek Khoj Episode 39

58m. Shyam Benegal
I viewed a major chunk of this 53 episode series long ago. This particular episode relates to the period around 1757, the Battle of Plassey. Britain consolidates its foothold by wily and unscrupulous machinations, as nations are wont to do. Amrish Puri as the Nawab with his sonorous and fluid Urdu elocution, retaining poise in the face of decline is impressive, as is the portrayal of Robert Clive by an Indian actor, and no less Raja Nand Lal. Benegal's directorial vision pervades this masterly take on the panorama of Indian history . I am sure this series will remain on the shelves of good cinema for a long time. It is the most accessible and enjoyable entry into Indian history for the layman.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Gunga Din

1939, 112m, Tony Curtis
Borrowing the title from Kipling's notorious immortal poem, and material from  an assortment of his short stories, the movie spins a Hollywood yarn about the thuggee cult. This is a nineteenth century battle movie in which the cult has been transplanted in the NW mountains of the subcontinent (actually it thrived in the plains). We see a regiment of mixed races, comprising infantry, cavalry (elephants included of course), and artillery, advancing on a serpentine route through the Himalayan gorges (actually filmed in California), to the tune of Scottish bagpipes. This is the pageant of history. As someone observes, "The army is not about fighting alone". Soldiering has always been a culture and a cult, if not a faith. It is surrounded by pomp, ceremony, brotherhood and celebration (to mask its essence, killing as a sacred duty). For the most this is a comic strip portrayal of the life in the British army, much in the style of  Beetle Bailey. It portrays army life as  horse play and pranks, and war as a camping adventure, if not a picnic. In fact, the present Indian Army inherits the culture and ethos of its British ancestor. Tony Curtis' here budding comic genius was to blossom fully some twenty years later in Some Like it Hot. It is hard to feel offended by this film in which both races compete in the absurdity of portrayals, with flashes of inspired, or perhaps fortuitous, historical reality. The racial tinges are too remote and anachronistic for indignation.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Europa Europa

1990, 113m
WW2 will retain it's hypnotic fascination for all times, or till worse happens. This film capitalizes the real life story of Solomon Perel, a Jew who survived the holocaust by pretending to be a German. Through his eyes we have glimpses of life in Nazi Germany. Sentimental, historical, harrowing--it is a well handled tale which sails you smoothly through its duration.

Friday, July 26, 2013

25th Hour

It has almost never happened that a film one did not appreciate first time improved on the second visit. This macho sob tale remains platitudinous and sentimental with hardly an opportunity to soar. The colors are garish and the script verbose. Little to add to what is below. Great A O Scott thinks otherwise--perhaps it is too culture specific for me.
A O Scott
"A turgid, bombastic and outrageously self-satisfied movie"...The Guardian

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Gatekeepers

2012, 95m, Drom Moreh
Shin Bet is a secretive Israeli organisation responsible for countering terrorism. As the film says, one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. The film comprises a series of interviews with six former heads of the organisation. The film definitely leaves one with the feeling of an additional brush stroke to ones picture of the world. These elderly interviewees who headed an organisation in which eliminating people was an important duty come out as grandfatherly types with post retirement enlightenment to the futility of military means as a solution to conflict. A gripping movie rich in insightful dialog. In a telling remark someone says, "Our victory is to make you suffer." Even at the cost of one's own life, so deep runs the vein of mutual hatred.
From the script
"....Professor Leibowitz, a critic of the Occupation, wrote a year after the Six Day War, in 1968. "A state ruling over a hostile population of one million foreigners will necessarily become a fascist state, with all that this implies for education, freedom of speech and thought....the corruption found in every colonial regime will affix itself to Israel....the administration will have to suppress an Arab uprising on one hand and acquire Arab Quislings." ....the future is bleak..... it's a brutal occupation force....we've become cruel, using the excuse of a war against terror...... the tragedy of Israel's public security debate we face a situation in which we win every battle, but lose the war..."
A O Scott
"....consists of interviews with six men, all of them retired, most of them bald, one of them a grandfatherly type, well into his 80s, in suspenders and a plaid shirt......what is most astonishing about the interviews Mr. Moreh has recorded is how candid and critical these six spymasters are, inflecting their stories with devastating assessments successive governments.....they are hardly doves or bleeding hearts.....and their shared professional ethos of ruthless, unsentimental pragmatism is precisely what gives such force to their worries about the current situation..........if you need reassurance or grounds for optimism, you will not find it here...what you will find is unbearable clarity.."
Roger Ebert
"......these officers speak as some of the key men in the Israeli state apparatus....they are soldiers with clear assignments....having stepped down from their positions, they now believe  that the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will end only with the annihilation of one or the other, is dead wrong. .....the strategy of vengeance and overkill is ineffective and leads to horrific behavior.....this film is the most pro-Israeli film I have seen..."

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

1935, 108m, Spencer Tracy
We have here a look at the British Indian army on the NW Frontier (filmed in California), through Hollywood eyes (and American accents). It represents the colonialist viewpoint, the colonized painted in less than glowing terms. It is a boyish adventure yarn with historical overtones, a tale of chivalry, honor, comradeship and allegiance (to the Union Jack, of course). It's plus side is as a historical brush stroke and a view of the military organisation and dedication that made the sad reality of colonization of a vast subcontinent possible, which, from their perspective, reads the glory of empire. Perhaps its the the not so rare phenomenon of what a small group of committed individuals can achieve, for good or for bad.
"German dictator Adolf Hitler told British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax in 1937 that "one of his favorite films was Lives of a Bengal Lancer, which he saw three times. He liked this film because it depicted a handful of Britons holding a continent in thrall. That was how a superior race must behave and the film was a compulsory viewing for the S.S."
NY Times:
"With an adventurous delight which is tempered by a grim respect for the fighting qualities of the Afridi, it plunges into the dashing stuff of border patrols, guerilla warfare, Afghan torture methods and the honor of the regiment. "

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Man who would be King

John Huston, 1975, 145m
A lesser film than one would expect from Huston. It is set in India and based on Kipling. Only the rope trick is missing. The Indians are treated with scant respect, and made the butt of ridicule and scorn. Being filmed in Morocco and made by an American, the Indians resemble no segment past or present and often speak no recognizable dialect. The grandeur of locales is strictly monotonous. There is much plain stupidity, perhaps because Kipling's time was one in which the world was yet unexplored with room for mystery, magic and absurdity. If Huston is true to Kipling, it is clear Kipling had little interest in the country of his birth, if not domicile, except as a colorful literary background to the lives of the white man. Saeed Jaffrey provides a breeze of familiarity in this ill baked portrayal of India. However, the directorial command and narrative power is in evidence and this would come off as good escapist fare for a non-subcontinental viewer. As an American, it is unfair to fault Huston with colonialist malice of the nineteenth century European kind, and his caricature of India can be excused as an innocent historical hangover. Huston's forte is Hemingway style masculinity, including a mature posture towards death. Michael Caine and Sean Connery have given a memorable performance as the lead pair, and no less has Plummer as Kipling himself.
Vincent Canby:
".....It's a tall tale, a legend, of steadfastness, courage, camaraderie, gallantry and greed....and has just enough romantic nonsense in it to enchant the child in each of us."

Friday, July 5, 2013

Little Caesar

1931, 78m, Mervyn LeRoy (director)
This vintage mobster film seems stereotyped at times, specially in the dialog and delivery style, which is probably a result of antiquity. It is a short, powerful drama, with a reserve of power and authenticity. The simple plot goes beyond being a genre piece (in fact, it is the first talking gangster film). It is a gripping, poignant and compassionate story about ambition, courage, ego and loyalty. Rico, rising from the gutter only to return, finally lies stricken, a template for many a film to follow, like Asphalt Jungle and Breathless. After all, crime, punishment and conflict are the essence of tragedy. One may also add that the criminals are innocuous by contemporary standards.
Empire Magazine:
"It's a fully-realized performance and still imitated: Robinson's bullfrog features and strutting bantam walk, with the snarled catchphrases ("The bigger they I come, the harder they fall") ...remain an archetype of the gangster.....The last act is surprisingly moving. In the first great gangster death scene, the fatally wounded and disbelieving antihero breathes "Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Rico?""

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Asphalt Jungle

John Huston, 1950, 112m
"Oh, there's nothing so different about them. After all, crime is only... a left-handed form of human endeavor," observes one of the crooks in this film The planned robbery almost comes off. Apart from the masterly build up of suspense, Huston reveals himself for the great director that he is by making each of the characters, even the worst, human and fallible. At the end, the least endearing of the team, staggers to a poignant death as he arrives at his long dreamt about childhood home. The artistic lode is robust and sure in Huston as he handles the raw stuff which constitutes life.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Treasure of Sierra Madre

John Huston, 1948, 120m
This one is about the power of gold. Three men, starting as friends, find themselves in a wilderness with a load of the stuff. Friendship turns to suspicion and greed, at least for the Bogart character, who we find at his masculine worst, all humanity jaundiced by gold. The farce becomes serious when two shots are fired in the night. This is an epic adventure, flawlessly directed. Humphrey Bogart, in the key negative portrayal, is unforgettable.
"There is a pitiless stark realism that brings the movie to honesty and truth. Leading up to them is a down-market Shakespearean soliloquy when Dobbs thinks he is a murderer and says, "Conscience. What a thing! If you believe you got a conscience, it'll pester you to death. But if you don't believe you got one, what could it do to ya?" He finds out."
NY Times:
"...this steel-springed outdoor drama transgresses convention...originality and maturity....Mr. Bogart as a prospector who succumbs to the gnawing of greed....physically, morally and mentally, this character goes to pot before our eyes, dissolving from a fairly decent hobo into a hideous wreck of humanity possessed ..."
Pauline Kael
"..when it's over you know you've seen something."

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Quest for Fire

1981, 100m
Set in Neolithic 100k years or so ago , this film gives a reasonably accurate picture of human life in that era. Fire can be controlled and tamed, but not created. It is the prized life preserving weapon against foes human and non human. We see the interaction of different human sub species and the film is even punctuated with a prehistoric romance. There is a moving sequence of communion between man and beast when a hairy mammoth accepts a clutch of grass from a man. Apart from fire, the discovery of laughter is depicted. Worth a visit if only to form a vague picture of where we come from. Actually, the most dramatic scene is where a flame is miraculously generated from stone and wood. Starting from a tiny swirl of smoke it is tenderly nursed till we behold a sublime bonfire! Tears roll down the face of the protagonist who has been braving the perils of mountain and valley in his quest.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Hearts of Darkness: a Film-maker's Apocalypse

93m, 1991
"It was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world when vegetation rioted on the Earth and the big trees were kings. Trees, millions of trees,massive, immense, running up high. And at their foot, hugging the bank against the stream, crept the little begrimed steamboat, like a sluggish beetle crawling on the floor of a lofty portico. Where I imagined it crawled to, I don't know. For me, it crawled toward Kurtz."..Coppola
 This is a documentary about the making of Coppola's film about the Vietnam war. Apart from giving an insight into the process of film making, it makes one feel bad about not liking enough something which took so many people so much time and effort to complete. The making of any movie, more so one like this, is a massive enterprise of corporate scale, under the dictatorial supervision of one man, the director. Ebert had once remarked that it is a miracle that a film gets made at all. The film was a very watchable addendum to the main film.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Apocalypse Now

1979, 196m, Coppola
The war as a subject of film making has been milked dry. This spectacular marathon re-instructs us about the hardening and debasement of humanity wrought by the engine of war. My second encounter with this acclaimed movie was as laborious as the first. It is certainly not worthy of the creator of Godfather. What stays in the mind is the grandeur of the equatorial rain forests and rivers, with towering trees and human sized foliage. The formation of helicopters closing in to devastate a village as a loudspeaker blares Wagner is a sequence of bizarre beauty. Consigliere Duvall memorably reincarnates as a bloodthirsty cowboy joker in khaki. The film brings to mind Kwai and Aguirre in terms of camera work and locales but lacks depth and drama. I am sure the earlier shorter version would be preferable to this unwieldy redux.
Roger Ebert:
"In any event, seen again now at a distance of 20 years, "Apocalypse Now" is more clearly than ever one of the key films of the century. Most films are lucky to contain a single great sequence. "Apocalypse Now" strings together one after another, with the river journey as the connecting link. The best is the helicopter attack on a Vietnam village, led by Col. Kilgore (Robert Duvall), whose choppers use loudspeakers at top volume to play Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" as they swoop down on a yard full of schoolchildren. Duvall won an Oscar nomination for his performance and its unforgettable line, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning." His emptiness is frightening: A surfing fanatic, he agrees to the attack only to liberate a beach said to offer great waves ("Charlie don't surf")."
Vincent Canby:
"...the film means to deal with ...such heavy things as the human condition, good, evil, fate... subjects which in an earlier century, would demand to be capitalized..."
Time Magazine:
"...while much of the footage is breathtaking, Apocalypse Now is emotionally obtuse and intellectually empty..."

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Come September

1961, 112m
This light romance resurrected from an obliterated past proves to be a joyful, frolicsome, energetic, entertainment. The screen is sun drenched and sea washed. The script is dispersed with the  flow of uninterruptible Italian. The story never flags between a chain of uproarious situations building up tastefully towards the expected ending. The film dances and sings of an innocent joy in living which seems to be extinct.
Bosley Crowther:
"......calculated and smoothly machined comedy.....Lollobrigida is a superb comedienne, a model of dexterity and physical allure... "

Friday, June 14, 2013


1955, 118m, France
Melancholy,romantic, fatalistic,smoky: these are some of the ingredients of the dish vaguely termed noire. This is one of the best specimens of the species. Here is an accelerating crime drama beautifully framed by the avenues and weathered ambiance of the French capital. The hoods in this case are rather tender hearted and crooks almost as if by fate.The French crook has a restraint which his American counterpart would disdain. In the climax a man barely alive drives through the streets to deliver a kidnapped child. The film is about a jewel heist and itself has the sparkling clarity of a transparent jewel.

Monday, June 10, 2013


1974, 2 hours, Polanski
LA is a city hemmed between a desert and the sea. In this parched environment, the resident crooks in this noire drama seek to cash in on this thirst. Images of gushing water (sometimes with murderous suddenness and force) give this film its unique flavor. As the plot unravels, the truth gets murkier, concluding with a stunning revelation. This is another film which won't erase and John Huston in his limited role is particularly memorable.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Simple Plan

1998, 2 hours
In a snow covered forest, three friends stumble on an astronomical sum of money. Deciding to risk retaining the treasure, their simple plan of avoiding consequences veers out of control, punctuated with killings. Evil is not something which people inherently are. Everybody is subject to temptation and the demands of the environment, and greed is a part of nature. The hapless characters are caught in a downward spiral and plunge into doom. The sense of right and wrong is weakly, if at all, ingrained in us, and we are at the mercy of events over which we have little control.

Friday, June 7, 2013


1995,  Coen brothers
The film has the perfection of a natural object, like a snowflake. All the components meld together to create a feast for the eyes. It captures the geographical and cultural milieu in which it is set. A riveting story of a crime going haywire, it is as unpredictable as life. We see good and evil side by side. Perhaps most amazing is the ease with which the directors have handled their stuff, and it has the homeliness of a piece of contemporary folk lore. This is a film which is not forgotten. The opening scene of headlights materializing out of the white reminds me of David Lean's capture of the desert. The character of the amiable, tough and humane police lady Marge, which deserved and got the acting Oscar, is another I have stored since I first saw Fargo ten years ago.
To quote the Times:
""Fargo" has been hauntingly photographed with great, expressive use of white-outs that sometimes make the characters appear to be moving through a dream. Roads disappear, swallowed up in a snowy void, making "Fargo" look eerily remote. As the title suggests, there is a steady sense of distance and uncharted territory."

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Nun's Story

1959, 152m, Fred Zinneman (dir), Audrey Hepburn

This opulent film is about life in a Roman Catholic convent followed by the activities of Christian medical missionaries in the Belgian Congo in pre-WW2 years. The African landscape and people are captured in primeval glory. The religious order is severe and authoritarian, seeking to govern even the thoughts of the acolytes. On the other hand, the zeal and dedication of those who ventured forth as missionaries to propagate their faith can have few historical parallels.  This was Audrey Hepburn's own favorite role, and she gives a fine portrayal  of the idealistic and conflicted nun. Also it gives a rare, even if superficial, glimpse into monastic life.
Quoting Bosley Crowther;
"Mr. Zinnemann has made this off-beat drama describe a parabola of spiritual afflatus and deflation that ends in a strange sort of defeat. For the evident point of this experience is that a woman gains but also loses her soul, spends and exhausts her devotion to an ideal she finds she cannot hold."

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

All about Eve

1950, 135m
Winner of many awards, this acclaimed film shines on account of a scintillating script, Bette Davis' possibly best performance, and a dramatic story that never wavers. Eve is a woman unrelentingly driven by the desire for fame, ruthlessly employing all means on the way to stardom. The story has the ring of truth, at least in as much as it underlines the importance of drive and determination, even as it it may exaggerate the lack of scruple, as the prime ingredient.

Requiem for a Dream

Darren Aronofsky, 2000, 100m
A powerful and beautifully crafted film about the hell of hard drugs. We see four addicts, an aging woman and three youth, rapidly sliding down a roller coaster. The only mercy shown is that all of them are alive at the end: the woman uncured of hallucinations even with ECT, and, among the youngsters, one in jail, another with an amputation, the teenage girl driven to prostitution.
Ebert: "...a travelogue of hell..."
To quote the director: "Requiem for a Dream is not about heroin or about drugs… The Harry-Tyrone-Marion story is a very traditional heroin story. But putting it side by side with the Sara story, we suddenly say, 'Oh, my God, what is a drug?' The idea that the same inner monologue goes through a person's head when they're trying to quit drugs, as with cigarettes, as when they're trying to not eat food so they can lose 20 pounds, was really fascinating to me. I thought it was an idea that we hadn't seen on film and I wanted to bring it up on the screen."

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Lost Weekend

Billy Wilder, 1945, 96m
An excellent and informative film about alcoholism, winning the best film academy award. What emerges from the film is that the essential cure germinates from making up one's mind. For those lacking first hand experience, it paints the intensity of the hold that drugs can have. Perhaps the ending is on the tame side. The views of Ebert, himself a recovered case, on the film, should be interesting. Wilder is a great story teller.
External review


Clip   Clip

The Maltese Falcon

1941, 96m, John Huston
Among other attractions, is the sight of a man (Humphrey Bogart) heartily laughing with a cigarette tightly pressed between his lips. The cigarette is a key performer of noire and Bogart its leading exponent. A blend of humor, alluring b/w cinematography, action, improbable plot and consecutive witticisms--goes down smooth.                                                  
To quote from the Times:
"Bogart’s appeal was and remains completely adult — so adult that it’s hard to believe he was ever young. If men who take responsibility are hard to come by in films these days, it’s because they’re hard to come by, period, in an era when being a kid for life is the ultimate achievement..."

Sunday, June 2, 2013

In a Lonely Place

1950, 90m, Humphfrey Bogart
A well crafted noire/mystery/thriller/romance to keep you hooked. Takes more time to watch than to forget.