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The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
"Be happy in your work"
In 1957, a movie was premiered that was the most awe-inspiring of its time. It was a massive project, involving a collaboration of several countries and the building of a bridge. It was the film that put director David Lean on the map and brought home Best Picture and six other Oscars at the Academy Awards. Although Lean and producer Sam Spiegel later topped themselves with `Lawrence of Arabia' and their first film's flaws have since become apparent, `The Bridge on the River Kwai is still a landmark of motion pictures and still awes (Major spoilers up ahead).
`Madness! Madness!' The last words said in the film by Colonel Clipton can be used to sum up the film. Most of the major characters were mad in a way, but some more so than the others. Let's take Alec Guinness as Colonel Nicholson, one of his most renowned performances. Nicholson is a stiff upper lip officer, who believes that by building a proper' bridge, he is helping the future and providing the prisoners with better work and self-esteem. He doesn't seem to take into account that this bridge will be used by the Japanese in Burma against the allies and that men are dying on the River Kwai. There are three other main characters in the story. Shears, played by William Holden, Colonel Saito, played by Sessue Hayakawa and Major Warden, played by Jack Hawkins. Shears, from what we can tell, doesn't want anything to do with the war or the P.O.W camp. He bribes officers and, when he escapes, tries to weasel his way out of going back. As an actor, Holden has always been, yet this movie will have us asking why. Hayakawa was 68 years old when he was cast as Saito, yet he doesn't look or act like it. Unlike Nicholson, he only builds the bridge because he has to. Like Shears, he does his duty because of what would happen if he did otherwise. The third character, Warden, is different on the other hand. He sees the war as a game, playing with his plastic explosives as if he's a kid with firecrackers. He also believes only in the mission, carrying around suicide pills should anyone have to be killed.
Speaking of the River Kwai, the actual story was worse than it is here and this is one of only two problems I have with the story. Hundreds, if not thousands, of prisoners of war died along this railway from causes such as malnutrition, dysentery, malaria, gangrene, beatings, exhaustion and torture. And some just wanted to die. This sugarcoating of the actual story is one of the most controversial parts of the movie, but what did you expect? This is a Hollywood Epic. This is where the film's only other problem comes in: It seems to have no major focus. We leave the Nicholson-Saito story just when we are to decide whether to cheer or boo Guinness so other events can be fitted in.
The Colonel Bogey March has become one of the most renowned scenes in film history. Originally, however, the song was almost not excepted because it had some rude lyrics. However, the scenes were the march is first used foreshadow other events to follow. The P.O.Ws march past `the graveyard' and the hospital were the sick are kept. They are like new recruits marching past battle hardened veterans as they go to war. Shears remarks to Corporal Weaver, `We're going to be a busy pair of gravediggers'. The second time the march is used is near the end, as the gang marches across the bridge just before the commandos strike. The march, as happy as it may seem, is an omen of what is to happen next.
`There's always the unexpected'. John Milius once said that the commando mission in this movie is the best he has ever seen on film. Why? Because everything that could go wrong does. The team parachutes off course, one member is killed, they have to take an alternate route and Warden gets injured in the foot. However, they continue on and on. They finally reach the bridge, marveling at the quality of the structure and the apparent comradeship of the prisoners with the Japanese. They think that, from there, it's easy sailing. However, nature has a way of toying with them and are they really prepared to fight and kill others if the need arises?
Ironically, the person who destroys the bridge is the same man who advocated its construction. Nicholson's actions, however, still spark debate to this day. Many believe that he would never do such a thing and that he must have been knocked unconscious we he did what he did. However, what about his last line `What have I done?' In my view, though he loved the bridge like it was his own child, he realizes the enormity of what he has been doing and that he must kill his child.
In the end, the bridge is destroyed, but for what cost? Everyone involved is either dead or doomed to die. Their fates have been sealed. On the other hand, life has survived. The first shot we see in the movie is of a bird floating around in the sky. This represents nature's tranquillity, before it is disrupted by the machines of war. The last shot we see is of the same bird and once again is tranquillity. Only this time, it is a return to peace. Men may have kicked aside life in their quest to build and destroy a bridge, but they are only temporary visitors. Nature is a permanent resident.
Citizen Kane (1941)
The Greatest, for a reason
In June 1998, on a much-publicized list, the American Film Institute named `Citizen Kane' America's Greatest Movie, sparking a controversy that rages to this day. Since then, when people watch `Citizen Kane', they've been analyzing it and dissecting to see why it made the list. They completely have forgotten what made it so great (Minor spoilers).
I, for one, am one of those who think any greatest movie list is ridiculous. I believe a person should have several favorite movies and if they are asked what is their favorite, they can name one of those. But they need to know why. `Citizen Kane' is one of these I would name because it's so creative. Every scene is a delight to watch in terms of cinematography, lighting, sound, writing, music or acting. Almost everyone was in their film debuts: Orson Welles, Joe Cotton, Everett Sloane, Agnes Moorehead, Dorothy Comingore, Ruth Warrick, Ray Collins, Erskine Sanford, William Alland, Paul Stewart and George Coulouris are all excellent in their debuts and most would have long careers. It's difficult to name who is the best, but I think that Cotton, Sloane and Moorehead were the best in all their scenes. Welles and Coulouris would be the runners up.
There are other elements that make the film work: The script of Welles and Herman Mankiewicz (Strangely, the film's only Oscar winner), the music score of Bernard Herrmann, the photography of Gregg Toland (The only major team member with previous film experience), the film editing of Robert Wise (Who would have a great career as a director), and the sound created by Bailey Fesler and James G. Stewart. Blend all these elements together, allow to bake and you got a great movie.
Film Critic Pauline Kael once called Rosebud a gimmick. Indeed, this is correct. At first, it seems to explain everything, but it also explains nothing. The movie has such a great story because it gives us the inside on the life of a rich and famous celebrity, the kind we are always interested in. Rosebud is the key of newsreel reporter Jerry Thompson (William Alland), as well as ours, to unlocking the life of Charles Kane. We really never sympathize with Kane since he is a jerk. He uses people to his own advantage and he kicks anyone around who gets in his way. Nevertheless, the life is fascinating. The screenplay was also one of the first to take liberties in the plot. It doesn't have a linear narrative, but rather jumps from interview to interview, from event to event. Event after 60+ years of age, the movie is still as fresh and entertaining as though it were made yesterday, just as it will be 60 years from now.
If you decide to watch the movie for the first time, do not expect it to be the greatest movie you have ever seen. Rather, don't expect anything. Expect just another movie and you will get your money's worth. On the cinema mountain range, there are few on the same height as `Citizen Kane' (Dr. Strangelove is the only movie I would place on Kane's level, for its brilliance, its acting and its creativity). Unfortunately, many of today's future directors aren't getting raised on films like this. In fact, when I told someone about it recently, they said `Citizen Kane? Is that a movie?' That's a shame, for the filmmakers of tomorrow need better inspiration than the disposable movies of today.
The Apartment (1960)
"Be a mensch!"
On March 27, 2002, as the world has sadly learned, filmmaker Billy Wilder passed away. No doubt, over the passing days, weeks, months and years, there will be some discussion about him and of his work. There will also be biographies, documentaries and other tributes to him. I believe, however, that he should be left to rest in peace and that the only true monument to him is in the great movies he left to us. One of these is 1960's `The Apartment'. Some might disagree with this film's Best Picture win (Considering that it was the same year as `Psycho', `Elmer Gantry' and `Spartacus'), but it's a great movie nonetheless.
Jack Lemmon, In a memorable role, portrays C.C Baxter, an insurance man for Consolidated Insurance in New York. Baxter has a secret: He has been lending the key to his apartment to various executives so they could have extra-martial affairs. In exchange, Baxter's career advances so far that by the movie's end, he is the boss's executive. Shirley MacLaine is elevator girl Fran Kubelik, who has had a romance with Baxter's boss. Even though the boss is a real weasel (More on him and the actor in the next paragraph), Kubelik thinks she still loves him at the end. However, she doesn't realize that she actually has fallen for Baxter.
Fred MacMurray will probably be most remembered for his role on `My Three Sons'. His early film career also involved largely comedic roles. Ironically, his most memorable film roles, like `Double Indemnity' and `The Caine Mutiny', had him adapt to villainous roles, which he did real well. Here, he portrays J.D Sheldrake, the personal manger at the Insurance company. He is a real liar, using people to get to the top (Where he is at) and having flings with others at the building. With his looks and smile, however, you would think that he could have easily played a good guy. Shows just how good of an actor he was (Or was the part just a good fit?). Unfortunately, he joined the ranks of actors who never won Oscars.
Wilder's films had a common theme of people willing to do anything for happiness, even if it means breaking the law. Here, the story is about someone willing to give up his bachelor flat for a higher position at his job. In expense, he loses the trust of those around him. The main character here, like Walter Neff in `Double Indemnity' also have a similar flaw: They don't know what to do until it's too late and they never take a stand on something. Wilder's films also had great endings, often with dialogue. The final line in this film (`Shut up and deal!') has become nearly as famous as Nobody's Perfect'. Now that's movie making!
References to previous Wilder films made in this one:
Mr. Dobisch (Ray Walston), one of the executives, remarks that he picked up a girl that looked like Marilyn Monroe, who was in `The Seven Year Itch' and `Some Like It Hot'. During thr filming of those movies, Wilder had grown to despise Monroe's demands for star treatment and her poor work ethic. Thus, he also included the party-girl Monroe-esque character in this film.
Another of the executives, Mr. Kirkeby (David Lewis), saw Baxter with Kubelik at his apartment and remarks that they had a `Lost Weekend', a possible reference to the 1945 film that won Wilder Best Director and Best Picture academy awards.
The character name Sheldrake was also used in Sunset Blvd. (1950).
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
It will make you stand up and cheer!
Although he will always be well known for his gangster roles, James Cagney's only Academy Award for Best Actor came for his role as George M. Cohan, the hoofer, singer, dancer, actor and playwright portrayed in `Yankee Doodle Dandy'. One might suspect that Cagney only won the Oscar because the Academy would never have given it to one of his gangster roles. Or maybe, it was because this film was just what the country needed in the early days of World War II. Or maybe, the academy actually was recognizing Cagney's abilities as an actor. Whatever the reason, Jimmy deserved the award. Who ever knew he could do that kind of footwork and even sing!
Now, let's get to George Cohan, who's `A good friend of my Uncle Sam' and was `Born on the Fourth of July'. Because of this, Cohan was immensely patriotic and wrote many flag waving tunes. Many of you are still stumped about his name, but you would probably know his songs if you heard them: `Mary', `Give My Regards to Broadway', `Harrigan', `45 Minutes from Broadway', `Over There' and, of course, `Yankee Doodle Dandy'.
The music numbers, since they are stage productions, lack the Hollywoodized touch that's in `Singin' in the Rain'. Nevertheless, they are still exciting enough. A great supporting cast assists Cagney, including Walter Huston, Joan Leslie, Richard Whorf, Irene Manning, George Tobias, Rosemary De Camp, Eddie Foy Jr. and Jeanne Cagney (His own sister!). The film's direction was helmed by Michael Curtiz, responsible for such classics as `Casablanca', `The Adventures of Robin Hood' and Cagney in `Angels With Dirty Faces'. Curtiz puts into the movie his traditional blend of thrills and fast pace. The screenplay is full of memorable scenes and dialogue, particularly `My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you and I thank you'. About the only problems with it are moments of melodrama and how it might trivialize some of the events in Cohan's life. I also did not like how the script skips in telling us how Cohan's mother and sister died. But, with all the virtues of the movie, these problems are minor. It also shows to never learn your history from movies.
So, if you happen to see this available for rent or sale at your local video store, don't hesitate. Unlike many movies today, this is one you can watch problem free with the whole family.
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Reminiscent of Hollywood's golden, inoffensive era
Acclaimed by many as the definitive adaptation of the Robin Hood story, `The Adventures of Robin Hood' is a wonderful film that is likely not to age over the years, with fast paced and exciting direction by Michael Curtiz (Angels With Dirty Faces, Casablanca, Yankee Doodle Dandy) and a great cast to boot: The charismatic Errol Flynn as Sir Robin Hood who is impossible to dislike (He smiles in about every scene, for one thing), the beautiful Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian, Claude Rains as the despicable Prince John and Basil Rathbone's haughty Sir Guy of Gishbourne.
At the time in 1938, this film was produced for a then massive $2,000,000, making it the `Titanic' of its day. This permitted, in addition to the top notch cast, for first class production values. The sets are amazing and creative, enough in fact that they received an Oscar. Awards also went to the film editing and the exciting film score of Wolfgang Korngold. With all these virtues, I eagerly await a DVD release by Warner Bros.
Kingu Kongu no gyakushû (1967)
One word: Lame.
This film is an absolute rip-off of the original King Kong. The Kong suit is the worse ever made (Even worse than the one in King Kong vs. Godzilla). The dinosaurs on Mondo Island are rip-offs of the ones in the original. Gorosaurus, the dinosaur Kong battles, looks like, acts like and dies like the T-Rex in King Kong. Even the camera sequences are the same. Kong also briefly fights a sea serpent that is a far cry from the serpent in the original King Kong.
One of the actors in the movie referred to Robot Kong looking like a giant toy. They could not be closer to the truth. I'm surprised you did not have to wind it up! The film's only good part, and special effects, was when he was destroyed.
There is a moral to this story: Do not tamper with a Masterpiece. Long after this film and every other King Kong rip-off has burned in Cinema Hell, King Kong (The 1933 version, mind you) will still be the best monster film ever made.
Pearl Harbor (2001)
How hollywood shows history (Minor spoilers)
I have not seen the movie Pearl Harbor since it first came out in theaters back in May. But after a recent experience, I could not help myself from writing a review.
Recently, in my history class, we were discussing about how Hollywood changes events in history to make movies more entertaining and commercial. One person brought up Pearl Harbor, asking if Hollywood messed up the history or not. If I weren't so in control of myself, I would have gone off on that person! I asked him that why should an important and violent event such as the bombing be toned down for a PG-13 rating and why we pay to see a three-hour love story that should have been a war movie. Being in a classroom full of MTV Generation morons who wouldn't know good movie making if it smacked them in the face, I was told by several people to shut up. But whose has the last laugh.
Pearl Harbor, admittedly, is entertaining. But should this awful event in our history be turned into a duel by the visual effects artists for the explosions? Considering the time period this movie was made in and the filmmaking techniques available today, this could have been as realistic and brutal as Saving Private Ryan. Also, since it was unrealistic towards the attack, it defeated another purpose of the producers; to encourage young people to study more about the attack. If that student in my class had read a book on the attack, he might not have asked if the movie was unrealistic. He would have already known.
There are several other problems with the movie. One of the big ones is the reasons why Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. In the movie, the only reason given was that the U.S cut off fuel supplies and trade. Japan decided to show the U.S not to mess with them. If one were to study up on the attack, they would realize that Japan was invading islands and lands in the pacific. Thus, the fuel that the U.S was providing would have been used for the wrong purposes. The Japanese, who launched the air strike and thus brought the United States into war don't even have a big role in the movie. Even the title place of the movie doesn't have a big part, being only the mere backdrop for two young lovers.
One might call me a hypocrite, for I trash a movie like Pearl Harbor for lack of combat accuracy and praise something like The Longest Day, which has some inaccuracies in its view of the D-Day landings. But one also has to know that these movies were made in two different time periods: The Longest Day came out in 1962, a time when censors had more control over film content and thus wouldn't permit Longest Day's producers to show a bloody D-Day landing (This was also the era of the war epic). Pearl Harbor, however, has been released in a time of more leant censors and could have been the definitive movie of December 7, 1941. Instead, it was only made as the ultimate M.M.M (MoneyMaking Machine). When will Hollywood learn to stop cashing in on the dead?
The Scalphunters (1968)
`Somebody ought to just naturally bust some sense into my hard-boned head?'
How has a good movie like The Scalphunters become largely unknown over the years while everyone knows what The Matrix is? With a fine cast lead by the legendary Burt Lancaster, Ossie Davis, Telly Savalis and Shelly Winters and with a lot of memorable dialogue and scenes, this is a great comedy western (Minor spoilers).
Joe Bass (Lancaster) is a fur trapper who has spent the whole winter collecting furs. When a pack of Indians lead by Two Crows take Joe's furs and leave him with Joseph Lee (Davis), an educated slave, Bass pursues the Indians to get his furs back. The two have a series of misadventures that also involves a party of Scalphunters lead by Jim Howie (Savalis), who take the furs from the Indians and also take Joseph Lee. Bass now has to get both his furs and his slave back.
The film works on many levels beside comedy. Some also might consider it a commentary on racial politics. The end of the movie, when Lancaster and Davis become covered in mud and are indistinguishable has some symbolism; the white and black man, while of a different color, are the same people.
Modern Times (1936)
I can only give praise. Chaplin was a genius!
While it is only the first Charlie Chaplin movie I have seen, I am already prepared to say that this is one of his best works. In this memorable, hilarious and touching movie, Chaplin takes on the modern era along with his newfound girl friend (Paulette Goddard) in a quest for happiness.
Chaplin is a factory worker at a rather boring factory controlled by a boss who talks to his employees through screens (If that's not television, then I don't know what it is). With the same lame, repetitive work each day, Chaplin suffers a breakdown and is sent to the hospital. He recovers and is released, only to be arrested for accidentally being the leader of a communist parade. Goddard is a homeless girl who struggles everyday to live. Chaplin and Goddard eventually meet and the two vow to get a new home, `Even if I have to work for it!'
There are countless memorable sight gags in Modern Times. My favorite is when Chaplin, employed as a mechanic's assistant, gets his boss stuck in a machine. Another equally memorable gag is when Chaplin, in prison, gets hyperactive after sprinkling Nose Powder' on his food and inadvertently adverts a prison break.
There is much symbolism in this movie. For most of the film, the only things that have sound are mechanical objects such as machines, cars and radios. But for most of the film (As he was through the beginning of the silent era) Chaplin refuses to talk. His memorable song at the end, however, seems to show that he had given up and was ready to enter the modern times of cinema.But he did not change his slapstick humor. If only all comedians these days could be as funny or creative as Chaplin was without using sex jokes or molesting animals.
I guess that's the `Modern Times' for you.
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)
It has aged. But is still worth watching.
When it was made it 1967, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was relevant to the time, reflecting upon the changing times in America. African-Americans were protected by the law, but still were not respected by everyone, as Stanley Kramer showed in this movie about a debate between two families over an inter-racial marriage.
While an overall good movie, some of its ideas have dated. First off, Sidney Poitier's character, in order to be worthy of the white girl (Katharine Houghton) has to be wealthy and a doctor who happens to work in Hawaii. Second, the subject of interracial marriage, while still not accepted by some, has become somewhat common in our society. The movie seems to stand better as a time capsule to the changing ideas of the late 60's.
The performances in the movie are good, though no actor stood out among the rest in my opinion. Katharine Hepburn did win an for her role as Houghton's mother. But, in my opinion, she didn't deserve it. She never gets to have a dramatic scene to herself. Through most of the movie she just stands and says words. The Oscar might also have been out of sympathy for long time lover Spencer Tracy's death, which occurred two weeks after the movie was completed.
The film otherwise does have some good parts and I do recommend it. But it should be seen, as I said, as a reminder of how beliefs and ideals have changed since it was first released.