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Lean, spare & beautiful
25 March 2000
I didn't think I'd write this comment till I saw the 2 previous ones criticizing 'BE'. I don't know how much this movie would appeal to camp-followers of an in-your-face go-getting culture. Some of the frequent adjectives describing this movie is 'civilised', 'restrained', 'noble'. To those who call this movie dated, I'll say that these are indeed qualities which are hardly followed & upheld today, especially in movies. However movies do reflect contemporary social mores, & maybe the story of two illicit lovers sacrificing their love for something as obvious as home & family does not find to many buyers today.

For those who think a movie can convey some of the most intimate emotions, conflicts & visions known to us, those who believe 2 art forms (Rachmaninoff's 2nd, Lean's 4th) can coexist brilliantly, & finally for those who believed David Lean got body-snatched in mid-career to make over-blown nonsense like 'Dr. Zhivago' this is one of the best ways to spend 86 minutes!
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Yet Another Brilliant British War Movie
21 March 2000
In the long line of distinguished & inspiring war movies made in England in the 40's & '50s (Went The Day Well, Dam Busters, Cockleshell Heroes, One of Our Aircrafts is Missing, We Dive At Dawn) about British military personnel resisting German aggression in the second War, comes this little gem. This movie tells the story of Stalag Luft III where British airmen Leo Genn & David Tomlinson (both more famous for their roles in Quo Vadis & Mary Poppins respectively) are imprisoned. In a daring attempt the duo with one more accomplice break out of the heavily guarded camp by digging a tunnel from under their exercise title instrument. The second half of the movie concerns their attempts to reach Sweden, a neutral territory from where they can reach England.

Leo Genn performs convincingly as the pipe-smoking elder Flight Lt. who goads & coaxes the younger David Tomlinson on, first through the tunnel & then through enemy territory. Both had war time experiences & borrow heavily from that. Peter Finch has one of his first roles as a Australian soldier who helps in the escape plan. Two of the funniest parts of the movie are the 'venture capitalists' in the form of the escape committee headed by senior officers approving of the plan & later financing it, & the retort of one of the injured soldiers in the hospital to a German comment that Beethoven is a good German.

So ignore some of the incongruencies and enjoy this suspensor. It is no 'Stalag 17', but still a good entertainer all the way.
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Murder! (1930)
6 March 2000
Now don't get me wrong. I adore Hitchcock, I think he gave respectability & sheen to the thriller genre, he is intelligent, has a wicked sense of humour, & finally, made some movies which are a delight to watch. Unfortunately 'Murder' isn't one of them.

'Murder' is a filmed play with all the theatrical gestures & conventions intact. The plot is rudimentary (pretty girl on a murder charge) & there are enough holes to fill up Albert Hall (the trial doesn't fill you with much respect for the British judicial system). In its defence I can say that making the movie overly theatrical is supposed to reflect its mileu - a theatre company. The movie also has a pretty strong gay subtext & for many of the major characters we don't know where they stand, & whether that has anything to do with the motives.

The best touch of the movie is its ending where the murderer is uncovered. A brilliant touch which, alas, can't redeem the previous 90 minutes.
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The Man from New York
5 March 2000
How much did Welles dislike his wife, Rita Hayworth, who plays the title role in this classic? She is a scheming, double-dealing, sweet-tongued femme-fatale who, as Welles' Michael O'Hara character puts it 'plays games'. There marriage was breaking down at the time this movie was made, & in this black valentine he seems (I say seems, because I really don't know how their relationship ended) to have got his own back.

Another thing I noticed about this movie was its similarity to Polanski's 'Bitter Moon'. Both are set in the sea, both have crippled husbands of beautiful young ladies playing mind games with innocent men, & in both the director's wives play important roles.

Anyway, like almost everyone else who commented here, I too found this movie long on style but short on story (tho' I don't know if Harry Cohn is to blame for that!). If you follow Orson Welles & think him to be God's gift to cinema (tho'not necessarily to Hollywood) this the best way to spend 87 valuable minutes in your life.
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Toon Noir
21 February 2000
Somewhere in Hollywood, sometime in the 40's, Jessica Rabbit bumped into Eddie Valiant. At this cultural crossroad of Howard Hawks, Bogart, Chandler, gangster movies, Warner's cartoons & Ayn Rand, Robert Zemeckis sets up his masterpiece 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit'. Elsewhere commentators have waxed about the technical brilliance of this movie, so I shall instead rave about the attention to details (the shadow of the Maltese Falcon in Valiant's office, the dead partner as in Spade & Archer of MF, the weasel's gangster movie patter) & the wonderful period feel (the tram cars, the bar, the studio lots). The plot itself is no great shakes - big business as the villain has been tackled successfully in many novels/ movies like Fountainhead & Big Sleep. But the sheer audacity of setting an alternate cartoon world with its own rules & morals deserves a round of applause. And the fact that he pulls it off so well is what makes this movie a classic. Add to that wonderful performances by Bob Hoskins & Christopher Lloyd, & you have a movie to watch & watch again.

I saw this movie again on TV after it was first released when I was a kid, & the intervening years have given me much more to take out of this movie. See it as an adult's movie (because of Jessica Rabbit, if nothing else!) & enjoy it to the full!
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Jubal (1956)
Intense psychoplay
14 February 2000
'Intense psychoplays' are the lot of today's genre revisionists, but in 1956 'Jubal' must have been a welcome change. This sexually charged film has a brilliant performance from Borgnine as the powerful child man who does not quite understand his woman. It is amazing the way with one masterful twitch of those bushy eyebrows & Borgnine transforms himself into the the other extreme - the powerful evil man - in so many movies. Steiger is in his elements too as the sulking horny cowardly cowhand. The other two points of the quadrangle – Valerie French as Borgnine's wife & Glenn Ford in the title role, as well as the climax fail to raise our expectations to the next level. Leonard Maltin calls this a Western Othello, but I will hold my comments on that. There is a naive husband & poison tongued assistant, & a scene with Borgnine towering over his sleeping wife trying to find evidence of her infidelity, but everything else is so different one cannot really hope to find the bard in Borgnine's ranch. Daves had made the brilliant 'Dark Passage' with Bogie & Bacall earlier & this almost holds up to it.
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The Blue Lamp (1950)
British neorealism?
30 January 2000
One of the few British efforts to make the kind of 'gritty city' movies that the Americans did so well (Ritt, Cassavates, Kazan). Tibby Clarke wrote this before his (imho) finest work - 'The Lavender Hill Mob' & the climactic chase sequence of TLHM has its more sober counterpart here. This particular chase sequence would definitely rate as one of the best for the '50s. The social commentary in the beginning about old crime vs new crime (old money/ new money) jars the more politically correct '00 ears, but it definitely adds to the charm.

The most interesting performance is definitely the hugely talented Dirk Bogarde's. As the psychotic thief/ killer he sends a shiver down your spine even today. The pathetic slouch with the cold, cruel eyes stands as far apart as possible from the staid & begonia-sprouting policemen of the New Scotland Yard. And the sound of passing trains that overlaps his fits of rage? Brings back (unwelcome) memories of Jean Gabin in 'La Bete Humaine' - hv I spelt that right?
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Torn Curtain (1966)
Mourn Curtain
28 January 2000
One of the products of Hitch's declining years. He directs this overlong thriller from memory. The movie's other weaknesses are uninspiring performances from the lead pair of Newman & Andrews, a script too full of German language, rapidly disappearing cast-members, & fatally, too many boring stretches. The few interesting moments in between which sustain the movie are the justly famous killing scene, the blackboard sequence (the mcguffin explained?), the few chases in the end & the opening credits.Better movies exist on the cold war. So don't waste u'r time unless you are a Hitch historian(-:)
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Stalag 17 (1953)
An entertainer with serious questions
15 November 1999
'Stalag 17' is one of the best movies I have seen. It is uproariously funny, it is immensely suspenseful & it has characters you will root for (though not necessarily William Holden - the designated hero!). At times the camarederie between the concentration camp inmates is like boys in a college hostel. One of them is the teacher's pet & feeds him with confidential information. Some lust after the girls in the hostel across the road. Another one runs illegal gambling & bootlegging operations. The story is that of the coming of age of the last named, William Holden.

In between the fun & sweat, some important issues crop up. To whom is a person ultimately responsible - himself or his country. Both are causes worth fighting for & Wilder makes convincing cases for each. Class conflict in a strictly disciplined body is also tackled, as is the gay subtext in a prison camp. The last theme has been an issue in many POW movies - Great Escape, Bridge on the River Kwai, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. In the interplay of the Shapiro & Animal characters in 'S17' with the latter's Betty Grable obsession, we see enough evidences of this. The film's most magical moment to me is when the inmates of Stalag 17 sing & dance to the old confed. song ‘Johnny Comes Marching Home Again'. It is sure to give you goosebumps!

This is a great movie, & should be seen over & over again.
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Peeping Tom (1960)
Fear is the key
20 October 1999
After a lifetime of lavish but eccentric movies, Michael Powell seemingly ventures into slasher territory with this 1960 movie. However once you finish seeing it, chances are you will dump it as one more of dad's generation's "Things were so much better in my time ..." legacy & tell him how much serial killing techniques has moved on since then. But again, you might be one of those who are interested in the slasher's psyche/ a film maker's 'existential dilemmas' / a director's journey into darkness & light. If you are one of those film historian types, you will lap up every one of the 80-odd minutes Powell finally succeeded in pitting on screen.

Carl Boehm, as normal as they come except for dark shadows in his eyes & a propensity to drive a stake thru the heart of beautiful women, is a focus puller. At night he emerges out of the anonymity of his studio life & films his own movie. As he explains to a sweet little girl next door, the type who don't know what's good for them but still manage to live in the end, he wants to know about fear. (This part reminds me of the 'Asterix & the Normans' comic book) All this is a result of some guinea pigging by Carl's father (the Director in a cameo - is there a message here?) when Carl was but a wee boy. Now why does Carl have to prey upon women for his 'experiments'? Is it because they scare easier, they are more used to looking at themselves, & usually do not fight back? A segment where Moira Shearer as a soon-to-be-butchered extra pirouetting in front of Carl will remind Powell fans of the same Shearer doing the same routine in front of a obsessed ballet director Anton Walbrook in 'The Red Shoes' two decades earlier. So what's the difference in the 2 sequences - Shearer ends up with blood all over her thanks to these demanding men in front of her!

Anyway, behind the blood & scares - which anyway are not too convincing for today's post-Se7en generation - Powell gives a very honest, & hence disturbing, view of the process of film making. Is it a voyeuristic examination of naked emotions behind the comfort of a camera? Is it a 'projection' more psychological (the auteur's inner self onto the protagonists on screen) than mechanical (the projector machine)? Watch Powell watch Boehm watch innocent women die & find out.
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A deep & entertaining study
14 October 1999
This is a multilayered, erudite, passionate exploration of England's national character. The route Powell and Pressburger take for this rather difficult task is to follow John Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress'. During the second war a group of disparate people are thrown together one night at a deserted railway platform in Kent. Using a plot device of a mysterious, though harmless, assailant who preys upon women, P & P examines English country life, the Englishman's love for nature, the idisyncracies, the distrust of foreigners, the 'pubbing', the resilience, the faith in institutions (the church, the gentry), etc.

The scope of the movie is amazing, and in 2 hours it covers enormous ground. The entire thing is so skillfully and assuredly done that in spite of the absence of any stars and (almost) of a story, and the fact that John Bull is never my companion of choice in any desert island, I was riveted to this movie. Besides the acting, this effect was achieved also by Alfred Junge's brilliant art direction (I couldn't believe the Canterbury church was just a set) and William Hillier's black and white photography. Two scenes stand out - a bird 'turning into' an airplane signifying time going on ahead by a few centuries, and an armoured car breaking through bushes and undergrowth (a very 'Predator'-ish shot).

This is a must see.
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Fraulein Mildred Pierce
13 October 1999
There is a strong resemblance of 'Maria Braun' to Curtiz' noirish 'Mildred Pierce'. While Mildred rebuilds her life after a personal tragedy, so does Maria, albeit in the backdrop of the post-war German economic disaster. Just as Mildred's loyalty was to her daughter, for Maria it was her husband Hermann (her man?). The two make sacrifices for each other hoping to build a better life for themselves. The major difference is that Maria's husband is a much more sympathetic character than Mildred's daughter, which robs the movie of some tension. Of course since Maria herself is not a very likeable person, one doesn't feel too much for her.

The story in a nutshell is of almost war widow Maria Braun rebuilding her life in post war Germany & rising high on the corporate ladder till she realises that she has given too much of herself for the climb to enjoy the cause she was climbing for.

Standing by itself, I still think this movie will appeal either to European baby boomers or serious students of Fasbinder. The narrative is straight forward & the final TV audio track is a brilliant touch. Hanna Schygulla as Maria gives yet another great performance for Fasbinder.
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The Hot Rock (1972)
The Swinging Seventies
8 October 1999
There is always a risk with these 'period' pieces that it will become dated very easily with changing tastes & expectations. Fortunately, caper movies are still getting made ('Entrapment'), Redford is still a sex-symbol, & crime still pays. So 'Hot Rock' is as eminently watchable today as it was way back then, provided of course you don't start wondering too much about the plot. Ride Quincy Jones' music (Gerry Mulligan plays the sax) & Redford's easy charm & you are safe home.

The performances all round are very muted, except the wonderful Zero Mostel's over-the-top crooked lawyer. At times you feel everybody is just too reluctant to get on with it, but I guess that is the kind of 'cool seventies' effect that director Yates was trying to get (& I feel, succeeded). Anyway Yates was riding high at this time with some great movies like Bullitt & Murphy's War & his confidence shows.
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Portrait of the artist as a young boy?
24 September 1999
This is an utterly captivating film. Those who prefer Bergman more for the light & easy 'Smiles of a Summer Night' instead of the depressing reality of 'Cries & Whispers' will adore this one.

Fanny & Alexander Ekdahl are 2 young children of a sprawling well-to-do Swedish family. The late grandpapa ran a theatre company & grandmama was the leading lady. Their sons have moved out of the 'craft', except one. He is Fanny & Alexander's father & the matriarch grandmama's favourite. Alexander has inherited a love for moving pictures from him (he loves watching moving pictures thru a magic lantern in the nursery) & armed with a hyperactive imagination, he goes on to become Ingmar Bergman the film director.

Alexander's young days, as portrayed by the director, gives a good indication of 2 of his future obsessions - religion & woman. He is deeply attached to his mother who gets widowed early on in the movie. His Father dies while rehearsing as Hamlet's dead father for their forthcoming production. After that his sister Fanny & he move to a grim, forbidding & frugal quarter by the ocean to live with her & their new step father, who is a Bishop, at a grim, forbidding & frugal quarter by the ocean. Like the place, the Bishop is a cruel, stiff, heartless man. He wants the children to follow his strict regime & when they resist, tension builds up moving the narrative to its horrific climax. A scene with the Bishop terrorising the young Alexander to confess a guilt, under the guise of freeing himself from hell & damnation, is chilling. With the Bishop's spinster sister & harridan mother sitting on either side of him, one of them knitting away, the place could easily have been at Mme Defarge's next to the guillotine in France or Torqemada's court in Spain. I cannot remember a more frightening scene than that of using religion to serve petty personal gains.

The whole movie is filled up with such brilliant, stirring, epochal moments. Never do you look at your watch to check how much of the 3 hour long movie is still left. The scenes float, dance & shine. Being an adaptation from a TV miniseries (& that to about a 3 generation family), the film is somewhat episodic & some interesting characters like Uncle Carl & his German wife disappear after an early flourish. But each cameo holds up beautifully & seen through the eyes of a fantasy-filled boy, it is a wholesome entertainment. Some of Bergman's old ensemble - Harriet Anderson, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Erland Josephson appear in the movie, as does Lena Olin in a small role as the maid Rosa. Also brilliant, as always, is Sven Nykvist's photography.

The best thing about 'F & A' is that it doesn't matter whether you have heard of Bergman, or seen any of his earlier movies. You will just love this one if you have ever been a kid or lived in a large family. So that covers about everyone.
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Autumn Sonata (1978)
The heart of the mater
15 September 1999
This one is a beautifully realised little gem. Like the earlier 'Cries & Whispers', the lead female performances are brilliant, the relationship between the women are bruising & hurtful, there is no 'happy endings' to make you walk out feeling all is well with the world, & most importantly this movie too boasts exquisite photography by Sven Nykvist (it was red in C&W, here it is brown-tinted fall colours).

The film is too set-bound like all valedictory films of great actors ('Whales of August' with Lilian Gish) but Ingmar Bergman uses it cleverly to create an unrelenting tension that builds into a horrific crescendo. I was reminded again & again of the interrogation scene of Polanski's 'Death & The Maiden' such was the intensity of Ullman & Bergman's playing. The rage & fear of the mother & daughter are offset by the daughter's husband's (Halvar Bjork) circumspectness. He stands as a pillar, not fully knowing what is happening but aware that a storm is brewing & ready to provide support when it hits.

Ingrid Bergman has always been such a beautiful woman one forgets that she is also such a great actress. In AS subtle references are made to her one time status as a international beauty, but the message is one day you have to come back home & reap the wild oats of your neglect. Liv Ullman continues to astonish me with her versatility. Just when she utterly convinced me as the flirty, dangerous & the too-delicate-for-this-world sister in C&W, she plays the mousy, scared & hurt daughter perfectly in AS. Other Bergman regulars like Gunnar Bjornstrand & Erland Josephson have small roles.

I would also like to mention one of Chopin's preludes 'played' by the Ingrid Bergman character. It was deeply moving & cleverly indicated the mother-daughter relationship at the heart of the movie. Definitely one of the best uses of classical music I have seen in movie.
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Small is beautiful
15 September 1999
What hits you first about LHM is its smallness. It is a small film (78 min) made with a small budget about some small people. But their smallness doesn't stop them from dreaming the impossibly big - rob the Bank of England! In fact it is this very smallness & unobtrusiveness that gives Alec Guinness & Stanley Holloway - bank clerk & artist respectively - their chance.

The film, told in an intelligent flashback, is divided into 3 segments. First is the plotting. A mild mannered bank clerk meets a minor artist. Both want to get out of their seedy Lavender Hill boarding house & nondescript existance. Both look past their glory days. Yet together they have the opportunity to pull off a brilliant crime.

Then comes the heist. A surprisingly simple operation perfectly (almost!) executed. Finally the escape - getting the gold outside the country into the 'continental blackmarket'. Alas, the movie being made in the good old days when crime didn't pay, our heroes must suffer. But by then they have given us enough joy & adventure for us to forgive their one tragic slip.

This is definitely one of the best comedies Ealing studios made in the '50s (my other favourite is the vastly underrated 'Hue & Cry' where Alistair Sim gives a typical quirky performance & the tipsy 'Whiskey Galore'). Holloway & Guinness acted in many of them. They usually played very stiff upper British lip polite, eccentric, but excitable characters. In this movie they decide they are familiar enough to ask each other their first names only after they have robbed a bank together! When Holloway realises they can pull it off, his face is hidden in the shadows as he slowly tells Guinness, 'Thank God Holland, we are both honest men' - a line which I think summarises the entire movie.

The reason this movie is so amusing even today is that it is very tightly scripted (Tibby Clark won an Oscar for his effort) & brilliantly realised by the ensemble cast. As far as caper films go this has half the gadgetry of 'Entrapment' but twice the fun.

This is the 3rd time I am seeing this movie & I enjoyed it as much as I did the first time. Please see this one!
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Billy Liar (1963)
Stairway to heaven
1 September 1999
Warning: Spoilers
This is a really bittersweet movie about dreams, success, ambition & drive. I had read the book years ago when I was a kid. Then Billy's ultimate backtracking had shocked me. When I saw the movie again last week (now that I am well-established & 27) things made much more sense. I dreamt Billy's dreams when I was 17. I too found normal boring, I too thought all authority figures are Nazi clones, & I too thought I was Booker material. But while the rest of us grew out of this fantasy, Billy wallowed in it. And when finally one real chance came, he blew it.

The movie has superb performances especially from Tom Courtenay, & Mona Washbourne & Wilfred Pickles as his harried parents. Julie Christie as the free spirited girl Billy is a bit awkward (but she IS beautiful). The script, the 'dream' sequences, the opening shot are brilliant. Unfortunately, it suddenly takes a turn for the serious towards the end, perhaps showing that at some point in life you can't play Walter Mitty & wish away reality anymore.

This is a movie every young person about to start in life should see. There is, after all, a little bit of Billy in all of us!
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The Moving Film
31 August 1999
Here is a really deep & touching movie. Dil sings (& moves her hands about like a classical Indian dancer rather distractingly) "I know all about the crying game" we know that she knows. It drips out of her voice, it rolls down her cheek, it stares out of her eyes. She knows she has lost her best chance in life - the only man to love her was killed in Ireland. Yet when she meets Stephen Rea the man who, unknown to her, was responsible for her lover's (Forest Whitaker) death in Ireland, hope again rises in her. She will hold on to Rea for her life for in him she sees a 'gentleman' very like Whitaker. But Rea is not the only one with a secret. Dil has one too & that gives the movie the tension, irony & ultimately the tragedy which sets it apart from any IRA/ star-crossed lovers/ hostage drama that I have seen. When Dil tells Rea that she knows he is lying but all the same she likes to hear him say that he loves her it moves everyone in the audience.

The performances (Adrian Dunbar as the ruthless leader, Miranda Richardson as the cold, teasing assassin & Jim Broadbent as the bartender, not to mention Rea, Dil & Whitaker) are brilliant, the atmosphere is electric & the score is haunting. The only points that rankle are Whitaker's dream-sequence appearances looking like a model in a detergent ad & Dil's suddenly-acquired shooting skills which brings the movie to its horrific climax.

A brilliant movie with layers & layers of depth, & comparable to Jordan's earlier 'Mona Lisa'. That is saying a lot because Mona Lisa walks into my Top 50 movies without even knocking!
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Spellbound (1945)
Spell broken
30 August 1999
Pretty disappointed with this one, tho' its much better than other Freudian hokum Hollywood keeps throwing at us (pun intended!).

I saw this movie after 10 years & the vivid scary scenes (the dream, the 180 degree rotating gun, the skiing accident that almost was) are still vivid & scary. Unfortunately the story in between these scenes doesn't stand the strain of scrutiny. Peck & Bergman's romance is most unconvincing. Its amazing that a house full of mind doctors couldn't make out that their new chief has some missing links in his memory. So Peck is either staring silent & bug-eyed (watch out Jeff Goldblum!) at cutlery, fabric & Bergman in that order or giving 'I-have-lost-my-mind-to-you' vibes to poor Ingrid who by this time is so utterly confused that she takes off her specs, looks attractive again & decides she loves Greg the Peck.

Perhaps if someone other than Angus Macphail had done the scripting (Eric Ambler? He has written some good amnesiac-on-the-run novels) this would have been a more gripping movie. Macphail's 'Whiskey Galore' was very very funny but this one just ain't it.

Music, cinematography etc. are top of the line as always (like when Bergman climbs up the stairs to confront Leo G Carroll) in a Hitchcock movie. Definitely worth a look, but there are better works by Alfred the Great out there.
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Kings Row (1942)
The Unbearable Complexity of Being
28 July 1999
I have never been to America, but this movie seems so familiar. It reminds me so much of the apartment building I grew up in Calcutta. Maybe because people everywhere are essentially the same, or maybe because every character in this movie is a carefully thought out archetype. The Good Grandson who is the apostle of virtue, the Sacrificing Best Friend, the Spunky Girl, the men who live on the wrong side of the tracks but are still nobler than the rich old townspeople, the Old Man with Something to Hide, the Evil Man with an Honorable Facade, etc. In fact just the crowd u'd meet anywhere u live. That's what, I feel, gives this movie its timelessness. Add to it James Wong Howe's lustrous b&w photography like an old family photo polished everyday by the doting old maid, the assured editing that pieces together scenes straddling across time [Parris, the good little boy to Parris the good young man] & space [Americana to Vienna, like the new year msg in Parris' letter from Vienna dissolving into another msg scratched out on the snow in King's Row], Sam Wood's confident direction [he had done 'Our Town' too] & brilliant all round acting. Reagan blew my mind & so did Anne Sheridan. Wish Robert Cummings was less wimpy, but you can't take it all, can you?

A great movie, see it!
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Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (1980 TV Movie)
Definitely 'To be'!
10 March 1999
Havn't seen Branagh or Mel Gibson, & Olivier is a distant b&w teenage memory, but this is GOOD. The cast is awesome & lives upto its billing. Patrick Stewart is a great 'villain' (I havn't seen Conspiracy Theory, so I don't know how good a villain he is in movies), Claire Bloom is a sexy queen (she was one short of 50 when this was made, but very oomph). The sexual tension between she & Hamlet crackles. Stretches in between drag things down a bit (even Shakespeare was indecisive when he wrote it?) but the last hour is electrifying. As for Derek Jacobi, what do I say? Worth keeping the telly running for 4 hours.
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9 December 1998
Saw it again on TV tonight. Can't help commenting on Minneli's absolute mastery of this genre. Astaire is energetic, Charisse is classy, Levant is cynical & Fabrey is earnest. As stereotyped as the Grand Hotel/ Weekend At Waldorf crowd, & as much fun. Just imagine being able to watch one of the Broadway Melodies in 'glorious technicolour'! This movie has that look & feel with some brilliant reality checks - the pretentious director, the fading dancing man...

The highlight is the Chandler/Hammett-ish 'The Girl Hunt'. A mastery of synchronised movement & according to me the best dance ever danced on screen (sorry Zorba). What next, turn a Western into an existential dance drama?

Not to be missed for a lifetime.
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Fire (1996)
'Space Jam' meets 'The Children's Hour'
26 November 1998
Most disappointing, considering that I've been hearing about this movie for the past one year. The movie reminds me of 'Space Jam', 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' & their ilk, in that half the characters are flesh & blood, & the rest all cartoons.

The men (in whose category I belong, but that doesn't - really doesn't - influence my opinion) are all MCPs. The elder brother doesn't recognise &/or appreciate the physical needs & desires of his wife, Shabana Azmi & prefers the company of his guru, played by the NSD theatre director Ram Gopal Bajaj. The younger is into women, but alas not his wife. Within the first half hour Ms. Mehta points out, finger in our eye, who are the VILLAINS.

After that it is all about Newton's Third Law - each action has an equal & opposite reaction. In the absence of their husbands, the 2 wives find their libidos satisfied by each other. So the old question crops up again - "Why do we need men?". Secret passions & hidden desires have their own embarrassing way of leaving a skid mark, & very soon (& very obviously), someone comes to know of this cozy arrangement & blows the whistle, thus giving Ms. Mehta to call an end to the proceedings. This deux-es-machina happens to be the man-servant who wants revenge for his unrequited love for the elder wife & for being rudely jerked off his sexual reveries by her.

Some testing of the viewers' GK for Indian myth happens when the elder wife catches fire in the kitchen. She is called Sita in this movie, geddit? (alas, changed to Nita in India!). The movie thus gets its name.

The plus points? An opportunity to reflect on our Gandhian legacy of repressed desires & non-cooperation (Sita refuses to serve as a guinea-pig for her husband's experiments with celibacy); why lesbianism is not a 'love that dares not speak its name' but a viable alternative; to find out how much we have grown up emotionally. Ms. Mehta touches the tip of the iceberg (like Shabana Azmi touches Nandita Das' nipple), but just as Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Sita/ Shabana's husband, barges in and puts paid to further exploration, her treatment of the material numbs the brain effectively stopping any more mature discussion. I only wish critics in such mainstream papers like the Times of India, Delhi were more honest with their opinions.
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The local touch satisfies...
14 November 1998
Zafar Hai (& not Zafir, as has been printed) is an adman with HTA, the Indian subsidiary of JWT. I read the original novel by H R F Keating after I saw the movie, but I had read enough Ghotes to know the general ambience of his existence. Hai recreates Bombay very well, especially the climactic monsoon. The 'story' is irritatingly simple - the secretary called Perfect gets bumped in the head, so what happened? There is a whole galaxy of great Indian actors, led by Nasiruddin Shah as Ghote & Amjad Khan (one of India's best heavies) as the don - looking as big as Brando, tho' I guess that was a coincidence! I remember watching it in a theatre in Calcutta in my first year in college, & it was good fun. But then I always liked Ghote & detective stories, so. Other's beware.
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