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