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


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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.