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A visual, and aural, feast for the viewer
I really enjoyed this movie. Two disparate people - one, an American art collector (Larry Pine), the other, an elderly but spry British woman (Peggy Ashcroft) who represents a British museum - arrive at a Maharaja's palace in Jodhpur, India and commence a sort of cat-and-mouse competition for the privilege to purchase a large, and apparently quite valuable, collection of old paintings which are in the Maharaja's possession -- a collection which, it seems, the Maharaja may not even be interested in selling.
Apparently it was made for TV, so it wasn't exactly what you would call "big budget," and yet I found it to be a rich feast of images of at least one part of India, both past and present. The scenery in and around the Maharaja's palace (filmed on location at Umaid Bhavan Palace in Jodhpur, India) was quite fascinating. In addition to authentic sets and scenery, there was lots of interesting Indian music, playing not only in the background but also in the "foreground," in the form of a few colorful dance sequences.
For a movie that's scarcely a little more than eighty minutes in length, I thought it held riches galore. The aforementioned scenery and music are only part of the rich tapestry found herein. The plot becomes a bit complex, but in a playful and gently comic manner, so you start to feel good as the story rolls along. The ending has a nice resolution to everything, and leaves you feeling good inside.
The actual paintings, what little we see of them, are quite wondrous, and are probably worth the proverbial price of admission.
Good performances all around, with a very literate script penned by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Of note is the teaming of Victor Banerjee, Peggy Ashcroft, and Saeed Jaffrey, all of whom would later appear together in 1984's "A Passage to India." Also look for a very compelling performance by Aparna Sen, who plays the Maharaja's intelligent, beautiful - and frustrated - sister, Bonnie.
Hitler's Bodyguard (2008)
Excellent miniseries: it's like a flash review of WW2 history
This is an enthralling, informative - and sometimes painful to watch - history of Hitler's precarious hold on power. The series makes clear that lots of people hated Hitler, and truly wanted to bump him off. Many people - both inside Germany as well as outside - put together various plots and schemes to do exactly that, but nearly every effort ended in abysmal failure. Only one or two of the plots really came even close. Some of the plots were downright inspired lunacy, like the proposal offered to New Zealand test pilot A.E. Clouston that he fly a British long-range plane all the way from England to Berlin, bomb Hitler as the fuhrer sat in a parade viewing stand, then high-tail it back to Britain - all on one tank of gas! Clouston thoughtfully and respectfully declined, but the series really makes you ponder the "what if?" aspects of such attempts on Hitler's life.
Anyway, this is a great series for people who want a refresher course on the dark days of Nazi power consolidation and other events leading up to WWII. In addition to footage from after WWII started, the series contains fantastic amounts of footage from the early to late 1930's; also many clips are shown in well-preserved color film. Plus, the series puts things in a global perspective, and also reveals things that make you scratch your head and say, "Wow, I never knew that before!"
I DVR'd the whole series off of the Military Channel. I believe you can go to their website and order the series on DVD. Highly recommended for war and history buffs.
Shanghai Surprise (1986)
25 years later: it's mellowed with age
The thought struck me recently that this movie was unfavorably received by critics and audiences alike at the time of its release (1986) because of the celebrity status of the two leading stars - Madonna and Sean Penn. But, if you watch the movie today, some twenty five years later, and if you are able to put the hype and the celebrity status of those two stars out of your mind, then, the movie doesn't seem so bad. In fact, it's actually a pretty good escapist adventure romp along the lines of an Indiana Jones movie.
I watched this movie for the first time just recently, as I was scared away from viewing it all those many years prior, simply because of all the negative hype surrounding it - the hype that said it was a real stinker. But I actually found it to be a pretty engrossing story, with a nicely done cinematography that oozed a colorful, exotic, sometimes even enchanting Oriental atmosphere that was hard to dismiss. Some of the shots, as filmed, were... beautiful! So don't let 1980's critics scare you away: this movie is worth a shot, and if you can mentally distill the two leads down to just being a guy and a girl from 1930's America thrust into an adventure escapade set in a faraway exotic locale, then you just might enjoy this movie for what it was meant to be: pure escapist entertainment.
Not perfect, but then again, NOT the stinker it has been made out to be.
A movie with a lot of feel
While sloshing back copious amounts of alcohol with his buddies at a bar in Seoul, our hero, the quiet but amiable chump Hyuk-jin, gets duped into meeting up with his drinking buddies the following day at a resort town somewhere in rural Korea, in what appears to be the dead of winter. Hyuk-jin dutifully gets on a bus the following morning to make the appointed rendezvous, but alas, his friends - who were apparently full of both hot air and alcohol - fail to show up. This leaves Hyuk-jin to fend for himself and still try to have a good time at, well, at a resort town in rural Korea in the dead of winter.
As if this isn't dismal enough, well, trust me, things start to go from bad to worse for our luckless hero. But it's the way in which things start to deteriorate for him that makes this movie so compelling. The movie is almost entirely free of the loud, obvious gags and pratfalls that you'd expect to find in, say, a Hollywood movie. This movie is a masterpiece of subtlety and understatement. Events move at a slow but steady pace - maybe too slow for the patience of some viewers who are more accustomed to faster action. But for me, that was a big part of the charm of this movie: the way it just rolled along at a gradual pace, absolutely sucking me into Hyuk-jin's steadily deteriorating adventure.
As I said in the summary line, the movie has a lot of feel. The action takes place in winter, and you actually feel the icy cold. There's a poignant scene where Hyuk-jin gets robbed - oh, and the robbers also had the "courtesy" of stealing his pants - and he's dumped by the side of the highway. Dead of winter. Rural Korea. Far away from a police station. Nobody bothers to help him. No pants Believe me, YOUR legs will be shivering when you watch that scene! Our hero encounters a bevy of questionable and at times really unlikable people, and believe me, you too will actually feel a palpable dislike for them!
I really enjoyed this movie. It has lots of subtle attention to detail, and although it's a bit slow paced, it makes up for it by constantly making you really care about what happens to the main character. The ending is a bit abrupt and enigmatic, which is a little jarring, I guess because you actually want to see what else lies ahead for our hapless hero, Hyuk-jin. But I like to think that he's somewhere safely back in Seoul and, having learned a few of life's hard lessons, will never make this sort of "adventure" again.
Mister Buddwing (1966)
Fascinating New York Story with some strange twists
I only recently caught this on TCM cable the other day. After watching it twice (and yes, it really does merit multiple viewings) I asked myself, "where has this little gem been hiding?" This movie came out in 1966, and this is the first time I've ever seen it.
Jim Garner is cast somewhat against type as the not-so-granite character we've come to know and love: here, he plays a man suffering from a bad case of amnesia. He wakes up on a park bench in New York City and, armed with only a few scant clues found in his pockets - a scribbled phone number without a name, some pills, a train schedule - he starts on a scatter-shot quest through the edges and byways of New York City in an attempt to discover who he really is.
The movie has some interesting vibes going on: it's edgy, dark and suspenseful, also eerie and at times darkly comic. The plot is a bit convoluted, with odd flashback scenes juxtaposed with odd events and characters that occur in present time. If all of this makes the viewer a little disoriented, then the director has done his job well, because that is precisely how James Garner's character feels throughout the movie, right up until the very end.
Along the way he encounters a colorful batch of characters, each of whom directs (or misdirects as the case may be) our hero to his final destination and ultimate discovery of who he really is, and how he came to end up on a park bench in New York. The interplay between Garner and these assorted characters - who play like a sort of human sampler of New York City - is what makes the movie so worthwhile. There's lots of interesting dialog going on, enough to make it worth your while to watch the movie several times.
Nicely filmed in black and white, with an excellent supporting cast and excellent soundtrack, this is an engrossing and fast-moving story that never bogs down, and turns out to be one of the best offbeat movies I've seen in a long time. Highly recommended.
March or Die (1977)
Really a very good war movie, but could have been epic
This movie *could* have been as epic a movie as, say, "Apocalypse Now," "Lawrence of Arabia," or "Platoon." Instead we have a colorful, atmospheric period piece, set largely in the Moroccan desert, that plays like a wealthier version of "The Siege of Firebase Gloria." Not that that in itself serves to denigrate this movie. Not at all. Heck, "The Siege of Firebase Gloria" is a pretty decent war pic in its own right. It's just that I get this nagging feeling, that "March or Die," with a little extra input on production values, wider desert shots, more background flashbacks, etc., *could* have been a much more memorable, larger-than-life sort of picture.
But what "March or Die" lacks in the sheer epic expanse of other big-name war movies, it more than makes up for with carefully measured performances by the principal characters, not the least of which is that turned in by Gene Hackman, who plays a certain Major Foster - a cynical but nonetheless highly disciplined former American officer, booted from the "vaunted" army of America, who has found his military niche in the austere, almost mysterious world of the French Foreign Legion.
How exactly a Yank ends up in command of a Foreign Legion battalion leaves a little to the imagination - or at least prompts the viewer to make the necessary allowances for artistic license. True, the FFL was, and is, open to recruits from just about any country, but most of the officer ranks are usually reserved for the French. Some of the officers do in fact work their way up from the bottom, so maybe this explains Major Foster's leadership position.
In any case, I felt it was one of the better performances of Hackman's career. Though his Major Foster is an officer clearly under a lot of personal stress, with a lot of "ghosts in his closet," Hackman carefully avoids the temptation to imbue this man with excessive amounts of passion that I seem to associate with a Gene Hackman performance. And it works well in this movie, because he is *supposed* to be a man of discipline. In fact one of his more memorable lines in the movie is when he reminds a group of unruly recruits, on their way to joining up with the Legion, that "the Legion is the most disciplined army in the world."
The movie itself is a fairly engrossing mixture of military action and political intrigue - namely, certain powers in France saw fit to use Major Foster's Legion battalion as a sort of "protection squad" to help protect a vital archaeological dig in the Moroccan desert, on lands traditionally inhabited by various Arab tribes. Neither the Arab tribesmen, nor Major Foster himself, are really too keen on the prospect of foreigners coming in to usurp other peoples' wealth. But Major Foster, ever the military man in spite of creeping cynicism, does what he is told, or, as he coldly explains to El Krim, the leader of one of the militant tribes (nicely played, oddly enough, by British actor Ian Holm): "A soldier goes where he is sent."
A very interesting host of characters comes into play throughout the movie, including Max Von Sydow as the archaeologist intent on digging up the treasure in the desert - not only for the glory and coffers of France, but, we can assume, for his own personal aggrandizement.
The Legionnaires themselves are an odd and, at times, colorful lot, much as you'd expect from a disparate group of desperate lads, all seeking anonymity, adventure, escape, redemption, or whatever else it is they expect to find in the Foreign Legion: there is Marco, a slippery jewel thief who seems to con his way in and out of everyone's life, but nevertheless has a heart of gold (though, at times, you wonder if he didn't steal that gold in a heist); there is a tragically inept soldier known only as Top Hat, a former musician whose background and reasons for being in the Legion are never really explained; there is a hard-as-nails battalion officer, a certain Lt. Fontaine, who gives no mercy to the troops, and expects none in return - only discipline. There are assorted other nationalities represented in this odd mix of Legion troops, including a young British lad who meets a particularly unpleasant fate at the hands of the Arabs; a handful of ex-German soldiers, joining up after Germany's defeat in the recently-ended Great War; and also an expatriate Russian, named Ivan, who seems to represent some of the human global spillage caused by the Russian Revolution, just then occurring in his homeland. The Legion seems to be not only the best, but perhaps the only, place for him, and the rest of them, to call home.
Last but not least is beautiful Catherine Deneuve, in a minor role, playing a war-weary French widow, thrown into this Moroccan mix due to circumstances beyond her control. I really liked her appearance in this movie. Though she didn't have a particularly heavy part, I would not call her the obligatory female "fluff" - she did in fact add some balance and nuance to the story that, for me anyway, was really quite meaningful.
The movie ends with an epic battle scene reminiscent of other siege-type movies, where the onslaught of seemingly endless streams of enemy soldiers against a thinly-defended garrison IS the battle royale, the raison d'etre of the entire movie. The battle scene is well-done and ultimately poignant. In fact, the entire movie was well-done and poignant. It just seemed to be lacking those few extra points that snatched it from the jaws of greatness. Be that as it may, it is a great war movie worth seeing by any die-hard war movie fan. And if it prompts you to study further about the history of the French Foreign Legion, as it did me, then, so much the better.
Tôkyô no kôrasu (1931)
A charmer of a film - great commentary on life's ups and downs, and ups
Here we follow the tragi-comic story of one Shinji Okajima, a young Japanese man who seems more destined in life for clowning about than being a responsible, productive worker. We meet him early on, in his college years (which some people may mistake for a military training camp), acting pretty much the goof-off or "class clown," basically doing everything he can to diss his exasperated instructor while at the same time hamming it up for his beloved classmates.
Fast forward a few years, and we now find our hero married, with children, and working for an insurance company. One fine day - bonus day, at that - he takes it upon himself to stand up to the boss, who has just fired one of Shinji's older co-worker who seems adept at writing policies for people who promptly die or somehow meet a quick demise, forcing said insurance company to pay out big yen. The boss apparently doesn't have a yen for doing that on a regular basis. Our hero passionately (TOO passionately) sticks up for the older man, which in turn ends up costing him his job as well. The story continues from there, showcasing the travails of our not-so-happy-go-lucky hero and his young family as they soberly tread the muck and mire of Depression-era Tokyo, rife with unemployment, stodgy with traditional Japanese values and honor, treacherous with impending shame if you do the wrong thing in the eyes of your family and peers.
There's a poignant scene in which Shinji, erstwhile white-collar professional, is reduced to plying the streets of Tokyo, carrying an advertising banner and passing out leaflets for a small restaurant run by his former college teacher, whom we met earlier. When his kids and wife become aware of this "degradation," the shame of it all nearly devastates the family.
This movie is a fascinating portrait of a man, of a time, a place, a culture, that all seem so foreign yet so instantly recognizable. Like many silent movies from this era, this movie is NOT in good condition, heavily marred here and there with scratches and "salt and pepper." And yet you sometimes have to remind yourself that the movie was made some 80 years ago in pre-war Japan: in spite of conspicuous examples of an earlier Japan - people wearing kimonos or being transported via rickshaw - there are nevertheless ample scenes of modernization and Westernization. You'll almost do a double take when our hero is served a plate of rice and curried pork chops, and is then given not chopsticks, but a large spoon with which to eat it. In some of the scenes where the men are gathered and dressed in crisp Western-style business suits and ties, you almost expect any one of them could whip out a cell phone and call a client across town
The point is, the movie is nearly timeless in its keen observations of the human experience, and that's what makes it such a joy to watch. Not to mention that it ends on basically a hopeful and uplifting note. One sad note is that the actor, Tokihiko Okada, who plays our hero, died a mere three years after this film was made. He was only 30! I marvel at what wondrous films director Ozu could have made with him, had he lived on.
Anyway, with this film Ozu has crafted a wonderfully hopeful world, and in so doing gives the viewer a chance to glimpse inside that world and be a part of it for nearly 100 minutes. Those, in my opinion, are 100 very well-spent minutes of your life. See it if you get the chance.
Billy Two Hats (1974)
Underrated western... or maybe just not seen by enough people?
I think this movie is underrated as a western. Or maybe it's just under-seen, which is really a pity. With nice color photography, it's got some really great western visuals, a meaty storyline, a collection of disparate characters whose fates you really start to care about, and some memorable, quotable dialogue here and there. Jack Warden is excellent as a gruff frontier sheriff "just doing his job," as it were. He's a toned-down and more accessible version of Gene Hackman's over-the-top bastardly sheriff in "Unforgiven." Gregory Peck, playing a words-of-wisdom-spouting Scottish outlaw with a big heart, is really quite good with his Scottish accent (no, it's not perfect, but passable), and has some memorable lines. Desi Arnaz Jr. is quite the sympathetic character as a half-breed Kiowa Indian outlaw being brought to justice by the sheriff. The supporting cast is quite good, and oh.. that nasty little band of outlaw Apaches they run into is truly a scary lot. You can't help but wonder how many white settlers they raped, murdered and pillaged.
All in all, the movie is packed with memorable western images and meaningful lines of dialogue . See it if you get a chance. I'd love for this movie to get more air time.
Mitsuko my favorite woman from Tokyo
I really love this film, for no better reason than to watch, eyes agape and heart throbbing, at the beautiful performance of Ayako Wakao as Mitsuko. Mitsuko is SO charming, seductive and sexy in this, that I almost pay no attention to the somewhat twisty plot of the movie. It has something to do with wily women working their wicked ways on each other and a couple of men in their lives. And it all ends up in a sort of crazy, tragic finale. But none of that really matters to me. What's important is to watch Mitsuko truly one of the most charmingly seductive flirts to ever grace the screen.
I marvel at every breathless syllable, every sly tilt of the head, every deceitful flicker of the eyes that this woman carries out. Perfection! Nice hair, too! She is so fluid and natural, that one never entertains the notion that this is an actress performing a role. I've had the opportunity to see Ms. Wakao in other films, where she can be much more cold and reserved, so this performance of hers in Manji was truly a pleasant surprise, and really, quite a gift to someone like me who appreciates a woman's charm and beauty in spite of the fact that, in this film anyway, it's all for the most manipulative of reasons.
I would add that there is excellent supporting work done by Kyoko Kishida (Sonoko) who plays opposite Mitsuko as the woman who falls irrevocably under her spell. Her final line at the end of the movie is so heart-wrenchingly memorable. (I couldn't help but think that it would have been great if they could have gotten Toshiro Mifune to play the part of her husband.)
The DVD from which I viewed this (2002 release, letterbox format) is a very nice transfer but for one small segment where, for some strange reason, the colors nearly vanished and the picture went to a near-sepia tone. The movie was beautifully filmed - thankfully in color - and features nice use of color in areas such as costumes and set design. And I'll just add one more gratuitous nod to the beauty of Mitsuko: the use of color ensures that she looks ravishing in her print dresses. One other area of note: the very effective background music. At times it has a rather somber, foreboding element, somewhat resembling the slow, deliberate piano intro of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2.
All in all a nicely done, memorable movie, but I'll always remember it for Mitsuko.
Nice "sampler" package of Hollywood treats from an important period in time
I really enjoyed this "sampler" of Hollywood's greatest hits of 1939 - a year which (as the title implies) many consider to be Hollywood's greatest. Somewhat thin and rushed in its overall feel, one nevertheless can't deny that this documentary makes a sincere effort to open the eyes of today's movie lovers to a bygone era of Hollywood greatness.
The deficiency of this documentary can best be explained very simply: Not enough time! That is to say, the subject matter is really too vast to be condensed neatly into a 75-minute documentary with any expectation that it will reveal enough facts, figures, anecdotes, history and lore of late-30's Hollywood to even begin to satisfy the more serious film buff. So in effect, the documentary comes across more as a compilation of trailers and previews of all those great films of 1939, rather than any sort of serious history lesson.
The viewer nevertheless does get a sense of the historical "place" of 1939 Hollywood: it is made apparent that the preceding 8 or 9 years of hard economic times, i.e. The Great Depression, culminated in an end-of-decade perfect storm of masterful film productions. Whether this is cause and effect or something else entirely, is left up to the viewer to decide. Also, one can see that 1939 was a transitional year on a global scale, what with war clouds looming on the horizon, which indubitably cast long shadows into the movie studios of the time. Further, there were some interesting comments about the manner by which major Hollywood studios controlled not only production of their films, but distribution as well (in the form of wholly-owned theater chains), leading to members of U.S. Congress leveling charges of monopoly tactics.
I wish there would have been a lot more to this documentary, but I also wonder, how much could they really do with 75 minutes? At what point did they decide to "draw the line," and leave much of the historical context on the cutting room floor, and simply concentrate more on showcasing the finished product - i.e. the films themselves? I think in that regard they did the right thing. As I noted above, the subject matter is too vast for a 75-minute documentary.
As a movie lover, and as someone who enjoys exploring movies from the bygone era of Hollywood, I commend this documentary for allowing me to see some of my favorites - Ninotchka, Gone With The Wind, Gunga Din, Stagecoach, etc. - in a new light. In addition, I thank this work for showing some snippets of movies that I have not yet seen, but really must check out: Midnight, Dodge City, The Women, Confessions of a Nazi Spy, etc. If nothing else, I would highly recommend this documentary to anyone interested in getting some "movie night" ideas. Hopefully there is a video store near you that carries many of these movie titles from 1939, "Hollywood's Greatest Year."