Friday, 31 December 2010

To Have and Have Not [1944]

In To Have and Have Not, Howard Hawks has mixed elements of the espionage, romantic comedy, film noir et al, to create a film that is a crackling viewing experience and that managed to capture a sizzling pair out of Hollywood heartthrobs Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. In fact this was the movie that introduced Bogart to newcomer Bacall, and they immediately hit it off, and this is evident in their interactions onscreen. Bogart plays the owner of a boat at a small politically-charged, French speaking island in the Caribbean. He gets to meet a pretty drifter played by Bacall, and to help her get home to America, he grudgingly agrees to help a group of underground political dissidents, much against the explicit wishes of the Captain of the island. Based on a book by Ernest Hemingway, and adapted for screen by William Faulker, Bogart did a memorable personification of the kind of characters that he made archetypal – sardonic, cynical, chain-smoking loner who sticks out his neck for nobody. The film has a reasonably capturing story, and made more so by the interactions onscreen, with the topping for the cake served by Bogart’s cynical one-liners. Okay, it does have a Casablanca hangover about it, but its entertaining nature, among others, ensured it’ll always be remembered as a great American film.

p.s. To Have and Have Not is part of Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection, a wonderful boxset release by Warner Bros.

Director: Howard Hawks
Genre: Romantic Drama/War
Language: English
Country: US

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Ran [1985]

Ran, Japanese maestro Akira Kurosawa’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s King Lear, nearly destroyed him as a filmmaker. But history has been kind to him, and Ran has consistently ranked as one of his greatest masterpieces, alongside the likes of Rashomon, Seven Samurai and Yojimbo. Ran is an epic with brutal power, a movie that overwhelms with its stunning visual beauty as it does with its display of such basic instincts as honour, betrayal, vengeance, and emotional anarchy. Though a samurai movie, its theme and story are both universal and relevant for all times. When an ageing samurai lord bequeaths his throne to his eldest son, his seemingly innocuous decision sparks a chain of events that spreads like a wildfire among his sons, and destroys everyone in the process – emotionally and physically. His eldest son’s daughter, a scheming and calculating lady, adds fuel to fire by planting seeds of distrust and lust for power. The film’s scope is therefore as much to do with one of sight and sound, as it is to do with portraying, in all its nuances, emotional turbulence. The films boasts of a towering central performance by Tatsuya Nakadai who, as the elderly warlord and a great warrior of his time, realizes only too late the damages caused by a decision that was heavily opposed by his straight-talking youngest son. The movie is drenched in pessimism and portrays a world that goes astray at the slightest opportunity, and this breathtaking spectacle has as company another stunning Shakespeare adaptation of Kurosawa, Throne of Blood.

Director: Akira Kurosawa
Genre: Drama/Epic/Family Drama/Action/Samurai Film
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The Night of the Hunter [1955]

Actor Charles Laughton’s sole directorial venture The Night of the Hunter is considered not just a great film noir but also one of the greatest American films ever made. Not that I disliked it, but I certainly wasn’t bowled over given the hype that is still surrounding this one-off film of Laughton. The movie has as its central character a diabolical, god-loving sociopath called Harry Powell – a character that gave Robert Mitchum one of his finest roles and he in turn gave a truly memorable performance – who, while serving time with a death-row inmate, learns of the ten thousand dollars that the man has secretly stashed away. Upon his release, he travels to his home, befriends and eventually marries his gullible widow, and endears himself to the neighbours. But he soon comes to know that the secret to that money is held by the young son and daughter of his former cellmate, and they form more than a match for this evil-hearted killer who goes by the name of “Preacher”. The movie relied too heavily on its moments of avoidable melodrama, making the film too unnecessarily corny at times. Though Mitchum did try saving the film with his creepy turn, and the stylized photography gave us a peek into a hellish Depression-era American rural countryside, the artificial set-pieces prevented the realism from being very effective. The movie, I felt, had a strong first half, but the overtly predictable second half somewhat diluted its impact for me.

Director: Charles Laughton
Genre: Thriller/Crime Thriller/Psychological Thriller
Language: English
Country: US

Moner Manush (Quest) [ 2010]

Bengali auteur Goutam Ghose took an extremely challenging task by deciding to portray the life and thoughts of iconic folk (Baul) singer Lalon Fakir in his latest film. This was the man who proved to be a huge inspiration for India’s greatest litterateur Rabindranath Tagore himself, and formed the basis for quite a few of Tagore’s compositions. Yet, despite his legendary standing in Bengal, a major portion of his life is shrouded in mystery and word-of-mouth, thus requiring Ghose to do enormous research to get the story as close to reality as possible. Two distinct strands have been chosen to chronicle Lalon’s story. The ‘present’ deals with a winding, music-filled discussion (‘adda’) between Jyotirindranath Tagore (Priyanshu Chatterjee), Tagore’s elder brother, and an aged Lalon, that took place a few months before the singer’s death. The ‘past’ is brought forward through elaborate flashback sequences covering how a poor, simple and music-loving young man, is taken under the wings of a respected Baul-singer, and his journey through mysticism and personal challenges that finally convince him that religious dogma and societal norms are ephemeral and ultimately meaningless. The movie’s slow pace, deeply philosophical tone and digressive plot might be off-putting to many, but there’s no denying its place in the pantheon of remarkable works of art. And Prosenjeet Chatterjee didn't just undergo a complete physical transformation for portraying the protagonist, he also gave a fascinating performance that must be seen to believe. Stunning cinematography, a slew of fascinating songs of Lalon, and lilting flow of the script, unfold complex conversations and ideologies that were as ground-breaking and universal then as they are now.

Director: Goutam Ghose
Genre: Drama/Musical/Rural Drama
Language: Bengali
Country: India

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Secret in Their Eyes [2009]

Like the powerful German film The Lives of Others has often been known as the film that defeated Pan’s Labyrinth at the Oscars, Argentine film The Secret in Their Eyes too is often known as the film that upset the applecart of Oscar frontrunner The White Ribbon, often considered Haneke’s masterpiece. A lugubrious, but never uneventful, film, this Argentine movie is at once a somber character drama and a captivating crime procedural with enough mystery thrown in to keel the audience guessing. A retired advocate is planning to write a novel of a 1974 rape/murder case at Buenos Aires that didn’t just change his life, but also of those surrounding him. As he takes his plans to the lady judge he’s always been secretly in love with, elaborate flashbacks are used to chronicle the long-drawn and murky chain of events, leading finally to a totally unexpected dénouement. While on one hand the movie pictures a deplorable state filled with government corruption, red tape, bureaucracy and the likes, on the other it paints the various characters, not just the protagonist, but also the judge he’s smitten with, his loyal but garrulous friend, and the husband of the dead girl pining for vengeance, and the slimy guy who committed the crime, in minute details along with their fascinating interactions. The movie boasts of incredible, layered and restrained performances from its principal actors – Ricardo Darin as the terse but unrelenting protagonist is especially brilliant. Though the movie seem long to many, rest assured, it would keep one, for most of its length, at the edge of his seat thanks to the excellent storytelling.

Director: Juan Jose Campanella
Genre: Crime Drama/Thriller/Mystery/Police Procedural
Language: Spanish
Country: Argentina