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The War of the Worlds (1953)
Never ceases to amaze, fascinate, and terrify
Still frightening after all these years, the artistry of this film still holds up, the special effects and sound design continue to impress, and the execution is exemplary. You will want to know about every single aspect of the sound, the special effects, and the art design. It's utterly amazing what the producers of this film were able to accomplish in the early 1950s. This film also has a rare heart that's sadly missing in current American commercial cinema, despite the annoying religious overtones that otherwise bog down a pitch-perfect script. The over-stimulation of today's sci-fi blockbusters, which favor spectacle instead of content, still can't compare with the subtlety in the original American sci-fi blockbuster. Peace.
One of the great thinkers of the 20th Century
An Afrocentric perspective is necessary for a true understanding of the interconnectedness of all peoples of the world. By teaching from an Afrocentric perspective, a legitimate but misunderstood philosophical and academic discipline, we, as citizens of the world, gain additional insight to the contributions that African people have made to humanity. Clarke was one who recognized that African people were misrepresented by scholars in the post-imperialist era, when scholarship regarding people of African origin was suppressed and almost eliminated by colonialism.
When status-quo bearers are close-minded to new ideas, particularly the idea of the Ancient Egyptians (Kemetans) as dark-skinned, woolly haired Africans, you wonder if ignorance has played a role in the shaping of such ideas. Afrocentric scholarship, among other things, attempts to return the Kemetans to their rightful place as Africans; imperialism tried to separate north Africa from so-called sub-Saharan Africa because it was felt that Black African people were not technologically sophisticated enough to come up with "civilized" societies. In la Monde Francophone (the French-language-speaking world), Afrocentricity is recognized academically, and the scholars and thinkers, especially the work of the Senegalese Egyptologist and anthropologist Cheikh Anta Diop, are canonized.
The closing credits say, "The comments made by Dr. Clarke are not necessarily those of the filmmakers." You may not agree with everything, but even with the evidence presented, you cannot dismiss facts uncovered by Clarke and his contemporaries as fiction. An important documentary, one that will wake you up to the rich possibilities of different perspectives.
Kaala Patthar (1979)
Intriguing but problematic
An ambitious film that suffers, unfortunately, from what might be the worst cinematography in the history of film. Even an American special effects team could not save the film from somtimes sloppy editing and shoddy camera work. However, the film is worth seeing for the issues it brings up regarding worker/management relations. A good story and great acting soften the blow of the weak cinematography. Yash Chopra is a very good director, but this film makes him seem like a hack.
An Indian "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"--incredible!
2001, in spite of everything, might be remembered as the year Bollywood met Hollywood in the flesh. Years from now, film historians, critics, and fans will remember this film as a landmark, an unparalleled achievement. This incredible film really needs to be seen on the big screen to be appreciated fully.
Santosh Sivan, the gifted cinematographer best known in the USA for the art-house hit "The Terrorist," and in India for his work with director Mani Ratnam, switches gears completely. While "The Terrorist" was a tiny, contemplative drama, "Asoka" is bigger than big, a total opposite. In fact, I read that the war sequence was the largest of its kind ever filmed in the history of Indian cinema.
Asoka, a little-known figure in the West, was a bloodthirsty maniac who became a bastion for peace and tolerance through Buddhism in the 3rd century, ce. The film is a journey, a character study, of Asoka's progression to the time when he first embraced the Buddha. Some have complained that there is nothing in the film about his conversion to Buddhism, but that is really not the film's point. The events that led up to this transformation are what the film is really about.
Particular attention needs to be made to the cinematography and editing--it is nothing short of extraordinary. Done with an uncanny sensitivity, Sivan brings third century India to breathing, bustling life in a way that, perhaps, no one else could deliver with such vitality and beauty. However, portions of the editing are a little too MTV for my taste, with white flashes and jump-cuts interrupting establishing shots. It functions well, though, during the fight scenes. It is a strange dichotomy between art and commercial cinema. You'll never see swordplay in the same way again.
Pay attention to the acting, too--it is excellent. Kareena Kapoor proves that she's a much finer actress than her older sister, Karisma, and Shahrukh Khan, currently India's biggest star, gives the performance of his life. Both show incredible nuances. Also, Suraj Balaje, who plays the young prince Arya, shows a surprising maturity, and even comedian Johnny Lever, in a cameo role as a soldier, is excellent. If you are not familiar with commercial Indian cinema, the acting may seem like it is a bit over the top, but here, the entire cast, especially the leads, shows tremendous restraint. Know, however, that the over-the-top acting style, a staple of commercial Indian cinema, has a direct connection to traditions that are hundreds and hundreds years old, in the classical styles of the Sanskrit and Parsee theater.
The inevitable comparisons between "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Asoka" are warranted. This is the first commercial Indian film to receive nationwide distribution in the US, in this case through the independent First Look Pictures, and it is poised to bring an otherwise unknown filmmaking tradition in the American mainstream to a wide US audience. Both films are sumptuous recreations of history, although this film is based on an actual historical figure and CTHD is based on a novel. Both films have amazing fight choreography, "Asoka's" done without the aid of computers. Personally, I am biased toward commercial Indian cinema because it holds much more of a mystique. Sadly, because of the image that commercial Indian cinema holds in the USA, it may never see the wide audience that this film so deserves.
Whereas the Hong Kong action picture has heavy doses of martial arts, the commercial Indian film has songs, akin to musicals but, in this case, more like music videos. There are five songs in the film, and they may be a turn-off to those not familiar with mainstream Indian cinema. However, they are well-integrated into the story line, and they are among the best filmi (Indian film songs) I have ever heard, combining modern and ancient instruments with just a touch of electronica. The film really loses some of its impact if they are cut--they are that important. They are well-picturized (term for the filming of musical numbers in Indian cinema) and provide additional atmosphere. The influence of MTV is apparent in the editing style that takes over during the song sequences; this may interrupt the film's rhythm and impact, but they are part of the overall story. Unfortunately, I believe that the song sequences are being cut severely for international release, although I was lucky enough to see them in full DTS digital sound. Because of the need for Indian cinema to appeal to as wide an audience as possible (the all-India film), and because film-going in India is a family experience, films try to appeal to all members of the family. This means that violent scenes can turn into comedy, many genres are often combined, and there is neither sex nor nudity, not even kissing on the lips, because of a puritanical society. Overall, this may be seem cheesy to American audiences, but this is one of the pleasures of commercial Indian cinema. It is strange, though, with its lack of any nudity or sex, which are all suggested but never shown, that the film received an R rating. Yes, it is VERY violent, but the violence is quite stylized and often uses the power of suggestion rather than actual representation. I hope sincerely that, when First Look releases the DVD, the film is completely uncut and complete, with ALL the songs.
The film's last song, "Raat Ka Nasha," would be my Oscar pick for best song, an exemplar of superior filmi. The film itself definitely deserves an Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film. It is a big bonus to see a film of such high production values devoid of any references to Western civilization or without any Western aesthetics. Incredibly entertaining, something for everyone (music, drama, romance, violence), with unparalleled high-quality production values and a moving story, "Asoka" is a dynamite cinematic experience. It is that good. Peace.