Thursday, October 30, 2014

717. A Passage to India (1984)

Running Time: 163 minutes
Directed By: David Lean
Written By: David Lean, from novel by E.M. Forster
Main Cast: Judy Davis, Peggy Ashcroft, Victor Banerjee, James Fox, Alec Guinness
Click here to view the trailer


Here I am, once again, having to be up in about six hours and swinging in first to write a review, ensuring that I'll only bank about five hours of sleep. Oh well - taking one for the team, I guess. Random thought of the night: What's with the name Banerjee in India? Is it like the name Smith in the states? on...

I started watching this on Wednesday night, while my wife was getting her weekly Survivor fix. When her show was over, however, I stopped to hang out with her, with plans to finish today - which I did. I have to say the first hour was doing nothing for me, while things definitely started to pick up when I continued today. The film stars Judy Davis as Adela Quested and Peggy Ashcroft as Mrs. Moore, two ladies who are traveling to India to visit the same man - Ronny Heaslop, a Brit who is the acting magistrate in the Indian town the girls are visiting; the latter's son and the former's fiance. Once there, it becomes apparent to the ladies that their fiance and son respectively has grown quite prejudiced toward the natives. Meanwhile, Mrs. Moore and Ms. Quested meet an Indian doctor named Aziz Ahmed (Banerjee), whom they take quite the shine to. There's also a school superintendent named Richard Fielding (Fox) who serves to introduce the two sides. The group gets along fine, but it's Heaslop who objects to (especially) his fiance's seeing of the Indian man. Later, the girls express an interest in wanting to see the Marabar Caves and a date is set for Ms. Quested, Mrs. Moore and Dr. Ahmed to have an outing to see the caves. While touring the caves, Mrs. Moore becomes claustrophobic while inside and decides to leave to sit down. From there, Aziz and Adela decide to climb the mountain and see the caves that are higher up. While away (alone), Aziz steps away for a cigarette and Adela gets lost inside one of the caves. A mixture of heat exhaustion and claustrophobia, not to mention the mind numbing echo from the mountains, sends Adela into a hallucination, sending her running down the mountain with accusations of rape toward Dr. Ahmed.


Kind of odd, this one was as it had every right to be as long as it was, except it was too long in some parts and not long enough in others. Like I said, the entire first hour left me almost completely unenthralled and ready to give this film quite the low rating. It seemed to drag on for that full first hour with really not a lot to offer. It wasn't until we get into the expedition to the caves and the accusations of rape that things really start to take a turn toward the interesting, but by then, we're in the home stretch, which just seemed way too rushed. I would have personally liked to have seen them take about twenty - thirty minutes from the first hour and inject it into the final forty five minutes, so that we could get a little more closure to everyone's situation. I don't often agree with the thoughts, ideas and theories written in THE BOOK, however, I think they nailed it on the head this time - and I quote, "It's not as forceful or thought provoking a conclusion as it could (or should) have been...". From that, I gather that the ending was unsatisfying for not just yours truly. I just didn't understand, first the motivations of the Ms. Quested character and later, the motivations of Dr. Aziz. First with Quested, why accuse someone (someone who you've befriended) of rape for absolutely no reason? Are we to believe that the heat and the tight space & echoes of the cave suddenly turned her into a falsely accusing, life wrecker? I just don't buy that. From there, we're meant to believe that the people around her have coached her into thinking a certain way, except she never showed the personality traits of being someone who was easily swayed prior to the incident. And then, all of a sudden, while being questioned in court, she withdrawals her statements! WHAT?! From there, Dr. Ahmed, the film's hero and main "good guy", suddenly turns into a big jerk and basically tells Fielding where to go - the man who just took committed societal suicide on behalf of his Indian friend! WTF?

Here, more than with any other film, I get the feeling that the book is better than the movie. I feel like certain things were left out, leaving us to ponder way more than we should be pondering. I actually liked the movie fairly well, but was let down by the rushed and improper ending and felt that more explanations to the characters actions, as well as some more general closure could've gone a long way in tying up some loose ends and left me a much happier movie goer. Add to that the chopped down first half and this film had serious potential to be a big favorite of mine. As it is, I can only say I liked it, at best and leave it at that. The acting was fine (of course, because a lot of the cast is English and they invented acting) and at times, the cinematography is jaw dropping (hence why I just had to include four stills from the movie within this review). You also have David Lean at the helm, proving that even at seventy something years old, he could still hammer out an epic, worthy of multiple award noms. The only cast choice I had a problem with was Guinness, who was basically wasted, being dressed up as an Indian and playing nothing more than a supporting character. I guess if I had to complain about any other cast member, it would be Judy Davis. The woman did a fine job, it's just that I never expect to see her in anything but Woody Allen movies and I'm sorry, but I take my Judy Davis with a potty mouth, thank you very much!

RATING: 6.5/10  This was a roller coaster, as it started out getting a low rating, then turned around to earn back a lot of points, only to ultimately lose them to the okay but less than desirable ending.


October 30, 2014  11:11pm

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

306. Written on the Wind (1956)

Running Time: 99 minutes
Directed By: Douglas Sirk
Written By: George Zuckerman, from novel by Robert Wilder
Main Cast: Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone, Robert Keith
Click here to view the trailer


I have to say I'm a little proud of myself. After a vicious slump of averaging about a movie a week, this has gotta' be like my fifth or sixth movie in the past seven days and it feels good to be banging them out at such a rapid pace. It's just too bad they're not all winners...

Kyle Hadley (Stack) is the son of an oil tycoon, a boozer and a wild man with an unpredictable nature. Mitch Wayne (Hudson) is sort of like his babysitter, his childhood friend whom Kyle's father, Jasper (Keith), has always wanted Kyle to emulate. After we get past the opening credits (and that fabulous title song by The Four Aces), we get into the real meat & potatoes and see Kyle & Mitch traveling from their home state of Texas all the way to New York, simply because Kyle wants a steak sandwich. While there, Mitch picks up an executive secretary named Lucy (Bacall) and brings her to meet Kyle at the restaurant - so that if anyone asks, he can skip the part about traveling cross country to get a sandwich and just play it off as a business meeting. Kyle is immediately taken by Lucy (as was Mitch) and tries to woo her with his money, setting them up in five star digs and filling her room with flowers, not to mention the incredible view. Lucy, disgusted by the man who throws his money around, takes off in the night, but is chased after by Kyle. He professes his love for her (after only knowing her for eighteen hours - puh-lease) and bing, bang, boom - the two are married. Mitch is left in the dust, as he also had/has feelings for Lucy. It turns out that marriage was just what the doctor ordered for Kyle, as he cleans up his act, quits the booze and becomes a brand new man. Meanwhile, Kyle's sister, Marylee (Malone) is carrying her own torch for Mitch, whom she's known since they were in grade school. Mitch only looks at Marylee as a sister-type and thus, wants nothing to do with her romantically. Things get heated when the newlyweds realize they can't have children, something Kyle has always wanted.


Tell me, how was Dorothy Malone not a bigger star in her time? Men had to be going APE for her back in the day! In this scene she was down to just her underwear at one point - tell me men weren't losing it!

On one hand, the cinematography is great (just peep that picture of Dorothy Malone framed in fall foliage - outstanding stuff!) which gives you something nice to look at during the course of this overblown melodrama. Oh and how about that scene where Jasper takes a tumble down the stairs. Marylee, just arriving home from a night of boozing and probably casual sex, hits her room with a bottle and blasts the stereo. Intercut with this are scenes of Jasper Hadley climbing the stairs to give his daughter a piece of his mind. All of a sudden, Jasper stops, falls backwards down the big spiral staircase and lands hard on the floor below. Up in her room, Marylee is none the wiser, now stripped down to her nightgown and kicking her feet in the air, dancing to the music. FABULOUS SCENE! Speaking of the characters, the cast is excellent too. Believe it or not, all I ever knew of Robert Stack growing up, was that he was that guy who hosted Unsolved Mysteries (he aged really well, didn't he?) and barely knew he was in other stuff as a legitimate actor. I also usually really dig Rock Hudson. If I had to make one cast change, I'd have taken out Lauren Bacall, but that's just personal preference - I realize many loved her work. I don't mean to speak ill of the recently deceased, but I just never cared for Bacall and the fact that Dorothy Malone had to play second fiddle to her here was kind of outrageous. Malone was great - both as an actress and as a beauty. I had to go back to see if I'd reviewed anything else with her and was reminded that she was also Dean Martin's love interest in Artists and Models.

I'm not usually a "car guy", but weren't the cars in this movie pretty great? That yellow one that Stack was driving at the beginning and this red one that Dorothy Malone was making all the more beautiful were quite the standout vehicles.

On the other hand, I tend to agree with whomever coined these Sirk affairs as "women's weepies" back when they were released. This is the cinematic equivalent of watching The Young and the Restless and I'm left to wonder if Sirk was the pioneer for daytime soaps? I just can't settle into these overly dramatic movies, that just seem too fake to get lost in. Also, why did Kyle have to die? I didn't like that. And not only did he die, but then the ending sees his best friend and widow driving down the highway of love, all smiles! I mean, this guy didn't do anything wrong, did he? He meets this girl and marries her (hey, he didn't know Mitch liked her) and proceeds to straighten himself out - no more booze. Then he finds out he's sterile and he loses it - but hey, if the guy always wanted kids, you can't blame him for losing it a little bit. Sure, he jumped the gun a little bit, as the diagnosis wasn't final and more tests needed to be run, but he was upset for God's sake! Okay sure, the whole thing with the gun was a bit excessive, but he was drunk, he didn't know what he was doing! That's not an excuse, but HE WAS UPSET FOR GOD'S SAKE!! Seriously though, couldn't everyone end happily ever after without having to off Stack? I went back and re-read my review of All That Heaven Allows and I had about the same opinion as I do here. Just not into these films and why Sirk's work and these overblown melodramas got rediscovered in the 70s (at a time when films were getting edgier) is beyond me.

RATING: 6/10  When in doubt, slap a '6' on it! That's what I always say. Really though, it's a film that lingers in the mundane - but I still want to see more of Dorothy Malone!


October 29, 2014  8:54am

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

347. Apur Sansar/The World of Apu (1959)

Running Time: 107 minutes
Directed By: Satyajit Ray
Written By: Satyajit Ray, from the novel Aparajita by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay
Main Cast: Soumitra Chatterjee, Sharmila Tagore, Swapan Mukherjee, Alok Chakravarty, Sefalika Devi


It was my goal this week to try and bang out as many movies/reviews as I could and I think I've been doing a pretty decent job, probably on one of my strongest movie watching streaks all season - trying my best to get some of that fire back as we head into the home stretch and closer and closer to only having one hundred movie remaining.

The final piece of the Apu Trilogy is "The World of Apu" and we once again revisit with the child we were introduced to in Pather Panchali. This time around, Apu (Chatterjee) is now a full grown adult, living in shoddy digs, barely able to pay his rent (he's three months behind - that's twenty-one rupees!) and trying to breakout as a writer. He has aspirations of writing a great novel, which he begins to write. Bumping into his old friend Pulu (Mukherjee), the two reminisce before Pulu invites Apu to his sister's wedding. Apu really doesn't want to go, but finally gives in. Once there, the groom backs out of the ceremony (cold feet, I guess?) and fearing his sister's disgrace, Pulu asks Apu if he'll step in and marry her instead (I can't make this stuff up). Reluctantly Apu agrees and the two newlyweds live happily ever after....well, not quite, as that only puts us at about the thirty or so minute mark. The bride is named Aparna (Tagore) and Apu hesitantly brings her back to his shoddy household, which he's embarrassed to even let a woman see, let alone his new wife. She doesn't care, however and the two actually hit it off. THE BOOK points out that it's one of the best and happiest marriages to ever exist in fiction and I'd be hard pressed to disagree. Apparently Indian custom dictates that when a woman gives birth she must be in the presence of her parents or something, because when it's time for Aparna to have their child, she returns home to her mother and father. While away tragedy strikes, but it's the Apu trilogy, so you really should have been expecting some sort of tragedy, right?


This movie has a few plots all rolled into one movie. We've all seen movies where strangers are somehow forced into marriage and have to make it work (usually comedies) and we've seen movies where a mother dies during childbirth only to have the father and child have to somehow bond without that vital missing piece (usually dramas), yet The World of Apu somehow and seamlessly stitches together both plots into one movie and the result....well, the result wasn't that great for yours truly. There's just something about these movies that alienates me and doesn't let me in. It's like looking into someone else's window in Christmas Eve. You see the whole family in there: mom, dad, grandma and even crazy uncle Joe. They all look like they're having a blast, they're happy, they're smiling, they're tearing open gifts and it's as if there's not a bad memory in sight. However, as good as it all looks, you still know you don't belong and that you have your own family waiting back home - your own crazy uncle Joe. This sums up my relationship to the Apu trilogy pretty well, I think. There's nothing wrong with these movies, but they're just not for me. I have my own movies that are custom fitted to my own personal tastes waiting for me and even though these movies aren't bad, they somehow still manage to leave me out in the cold.

I will say that this one is just a hair better than the other two, but not by a lot. I liked the way everything started out - no more kid actors and an aspiring novelist living in less than ample quarters, hoping to one day be heralded. He plays the flute to put himself to sleep at night and somehow sweet talks the landlord into letting him stay one more day, despite being three months behind on rent. Then he goes to this wedding and is somehow coerced into marrying this girl and miraculously, they make it work. It all goes downhill when she dies and Apu goes on this mission to find himself. Oy vey. THE BOOK notes that The World of Apu also revolves around two deaths: the death of Aparna and the death of Apu...spiritually. Give me a break! I could go on and on about how mediocre these films came off to me, but what's the point - I think you get the idea. I didn't mind them as much as I thought I would, but am honestly really glad to have them behind me so that I can get onto (hopefully) better things.

RATING: 5.5/10  I needed my rating to convey that this one was a little better, hence the '5.5', but ultimately none of them will be going on to any of my favorites lists.


October 28, 2014  9:20pm

664. The Elephant Man (1980)

Running Time: 123 minutes
Directed By: David Lynch
Written By: Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren, David Lynch, from books, The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences by Sir Frederick Treves and The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity by Ashley Montagu
Main Cast: John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Freddie Jones
Click here to view the trailer


I needed a short break from the "world of Apu" and so, my wife joined me as I turned to Netflix to stream David Lynch's second feature, The Elephant Man - based on the life of John Merrick, a severely deformed HUMAN BEING who was branded with the cruel nickname of the film's title.

We first meet Frederick Treves (Hopkins), a renowned London surgeon and anatomy professor, as he walks down back alleys and side streets, looking for a freak show act that he's heard about through the grapevine. He eventually finds a Mr. Bytes (Jones), the handler of The Elephant Man and offers him a handsome payday if he'll offer him a private showing. Bytes, fueled by greed, agrees and Treves lays eyes on Merrick (Hurt), a severely deformed man with tumors covering 90% of his body and skull deformities the likes of which he'd never seen. He hatches a deal with Bytes to bring Merrick into his university to be studied. Upon returning from his day out with Treves, Merrick is severely beaten by Bytes, being questioned about where he's been so late. Bytes actually beats him so badly that he is forced to call upon Treves once more, to treat his elephant man. Treves arrives and informs Bytes that Merrick must be admitted into the hospital, no question. Treves takes Merrick back to The London Hospital, where he himself practices and gives him a room in the isolation wing. Becoming more and more fascinated with Merrick by the day, Treves decides not to return him to Bytes, even after Bytes pays a visit wanting back his "property". Instead, Bytes is threatened with legal action by hospital administrator Mr. Carr-Gomm (Gielgud). After a while, Treves realizes that Merrick is actually not the imbecile that he originally though and finds out that Merrick can actually read, write and articulate intelligent thoughts, reciting the 23rd Psalm from memory and citing that he used to read the Bible regularly. After a longer while, Treves begins to think that he is perhaps no better than Bytes, while not beating him, he is perhaps exploiting him.


John Merrick: There's something I've been meaning to ask you for some time now

Frederick Treves: What's that?

John Merrick: Can you cure me?

Frederick Treves: No. We can care for you, but we can't cure you.

John Merrick: No. I thought not.

That particular exchange is a rough one to hear. Man, it really transcends actors, costumes, makeup, scores and all the like that is a movie. It gets very real for a moment and not just there, but in several other spots during the incredibly emotional film. I really needed this one. I had seen The Elephant Man before, probably not long after I saw Mulholland Drive for the first time and was on a mission to see anything and everything directed by David Lynch. As I grew up, I realized David Lynch wasn't the be all, end all of directors and began to realize that a lot of his films weren't what they were cracked up to be or what I'd originally thought of them. In fact, the last time I watched The Elephant Man, I SOMEHOW gave it a '5/10' on IMDB. I must've been in a sour mood or something, because a '5' doesn't begin to do this movie justice.

I could go on and on about John Hurt and how he played Merrick to a tee, how he not only pounded on the makeup, walked with a gimp and talked through drooling speech, but also was able to bring human qualities to a very human man. I could even go on about Hopkins and how he was able to bring the goods right alongside Hurt, even though he had to know the majority of audiences and critics were going to go more gaga for Hurt, no matter how good he was. I could go on about the great scenes, the one I mentioned above or the hideous scene where Sonny Jim - the night porter - breaks into Merrick's room, alongside a bunch of his drunken cohorts and Mr. Bytes, and proceeds to torture Merrick. Or what about that ending? Man, one that had tears welling up in my eyes, as you watch the Merrick character take the pillows from his bed and glance up at a picture of a sleeping child. You already know what he's going to do before he does it. Moments prior he had gushed about his theater experience with his friend Frederick Treves and Treves promised to take him back again - perhaps meaning it, perhaps not. Andre Previn's Adagio for Strings plays on and Merrick lies down, wanting nothing more than to be like other people.

It's fascinating, if you look up the real story of John Merrick, they actually got a lot of it right on. The sack that he wore over his head, coupled with a black cap, the replica of the cathedral that he built while confined to his room and particularly interesting to me, his emotional outburst when being confronted by women. There is one particular story that I find very sad, that tells of Merrick meeting a woman who was arranged by Treves and the meeting being very short, as Merrick was overcome with emotion. Imagine being segregated from women to the point that if one smiles at you, you just start to cry. In fact, the only thing I couldn't find real proof of was a night porter sneaking into his room after hours to show him off to his friends, so perhaps that tidbit was added for dramatic effect, but hey, that's okay. They pretty much nailed everything else right on the head, so making up a few pieces is forgivable.

I can't really think of anything else to say, so I guess I'll wrap it up. The Elephant Man is currently streaming on Netflix and I 100% agree that it is a must see. Not only is it sure to give you a new appreciation for black & white cinema (the cinematography is spot on!), but also an appreciation for life, for kindness and for your fellow man. And if it gets to that ending and tears aren't at least making their presence in your eyes, then perhaps you are made of stone....

RATING: 8.5/10  If I had to nitpick, there is a portion about 30 - 40 minutes from the ending where the film does drag for a bit, which can account for this movie not being a full blown '10'. Still....this is as good as it's been for a while.


October 28, 2014  11:56am

Monday, October 27, 2014

322. Aparajito/The Unvanquished (1957)

Running Time: 113 minutes
Directed By: Satyajit Ray
Written By: Satyajit Ray, from novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay
Main Cast: Smaran Ghosal, Karuna Banerjee, Pinaki Sen Gupta, Kanu Banerjee, Ramani Ranjan Sen


Of course when I said on Saturday to "check back tomorrow" for the review of Aparajito, I clearly meant to check back Monday and you just heard it wrong :) Nonetheless, here we are and if everything goes as planned this won't be the last review you read this week - by a long shot.

The second film in Ray's "Apu Trilogy" picks up pretty much where the first one left off. Apu is still a child, mother is still the pillar of the household - slightly depressed maybe, but letting everything fall on her shoulders - and dad is now a priest, with the entire family now living in a more populated area. I wouldn't consider it a spoiler alert to tell you that the father, Harihar (Kanu Banerjee) dies within the first twenty minutes of the movie and that basically sets us up for this movie, a further examination of the relationship between Apu and his mom, Sarbajaya (Karuna Banerjee). Here's hoping you've seen Pather Panchali before you read that, or else it kind of would be a spoiler alert, if you're trying to watch the trilogy as one big movie. Anyway, at a young age, Apu shows interest in wanting to attend school and his mother finally gives in. He begins school and actually does really well, earning high marks and extra attention from his professors. A montage of Apu expanding his knowledge and sharing his new found wisdom with his mother takes from his childhood into his adolescence, now ready for college and needing permission from mom to accept a scholarship to go and study in Calcutta. At first, mom says no, but it's only her impending loneliness speaking for her and after a brief altercation between mother and son, she gives in and even gives him some of her savings to get him started in the city. While away at college, however, Sarbajaya falls ill, perhaps somewhat driven by her loneliness and depression.


I really expected to like this one more than Pather Panchali, but after some thought, I think I liked the first in Ray's "Apu Trilogy" better. I will say this one SHOULD HAVE been better though, as there wasn't a period of introducing us to the characters to get through and really it was just a solid two hours of telling us more of the story we'd already started in the original. Otherwise, my thoughts on this are very similar, expect I would say that the characters develop deeper feelings in this one. I was shocked to see the father get rubbed out so quickly into the second film and even more shocked to see the mother die as well. I actually really liked her and am left wondering if she's been in anything else. She brought a deepness to her character, in an otherwise basic movie complete with a fairly basic plot and otherwise basic characters. I loved how they referred back to the train and how in the original film it was a symbol of the children's hopes & dreams and how in Aparajito, it was a symbol of the mother's loneliness and yearning to have her family back, particularly Apu in her final hour of need. It really came full circle and I'm left wondering (again) if they'll reincorporate the train into the third installment somehow - if it was Hollywood they would and then there'd be some sappy score and a tear stained face belonging to Apu. I'll be interested to see how they roll in India.

Despite not being taken by this one, I'm STILL looking forward to The World of Apu, in hopes that they really bring everything back full circle and tie everything up in a nice bow. I'm curious to see where the Apu character goes from here and how many more characters Ray kills off - seriously does this guy write for Game of Thrones (never seen the show, but I hear characters die off like wildfire). I think my biggest problems with these movies is just the culture clash and how I'm just SO accustomed to Hollywood movie making. Even after sifting through THE BOOK for years now, in some ways I'm still in a certain mode and still like a certain thing. In a lot of ways my tastes have changed drastically, yet there's parts of me that likes what I like and likes what I've always liked and these movies just don't fall completely into that category. Watching them on a laptop probably doesn't help matters either, but there's really not much I can do about that. However, on the other hand, I watched Greed on my computer (so many years ago) and I loved that freaking movie. Anyway, I'm ready for the third in the trilogy and am hoping (yet skeptical) that it'll blow these two out of the water.

RATING: 5/10  Same rating and like I said, I think Panchali is a bit better, although this one got certain things better, so it's a tough call. I loved the mother's performance in this one and the scene with her watching the train was definitely powerful.


October 27, 2014  4:45pm

Saturday, October 25, 2014

286. Pather Panchali (1955)

Running Time: 115 minutes
Directed By: Satyajit Ray
Written By: Satyajit Ray, from novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay
Main Cast: Subir Banerjee, Runki Banerjee, Karuna Banerjee, Kanu Banerjee, Chunibala Devi


So here we go with these finally, a trio of movies I've been putting off for far too long. I don't know why I dreaded these films so much (perhaps a passing comment by Ray in the comments section, probably years ago now?), but I have. After watching the first one last night, I can already realize that they were nothing to fret about.

The film is pretty cut & paste type stuff, telling the tale of a very poor family and centering around a young Bengali boy named Apu. In fact, when the film starts Apu is not yet born, as we meet mother Sarbajaya (Karuna Banerjee) & father Harihar (Kanu Banerjee) and their young daughter Durga (Runki Banerjee), probably between nine and eleven years old. We find out soon that mother is very strict, while father is sort of a lovable loser type. When Sarbajaya (as much of a main character as Apu) finds out that Durga has stolen fruit from the trees in their neighbors garden, she is scolded and made to return it and do chores as penance. The family's elderly aunt (known only as "Auntie" and played by Chunibala Devi) encourages Durga to be a child and doesn't mind when the girl steals fruit. Not once, but twice in the course of the movie, Sarbajaya kicks Auntie out of the home (she lives with them) for being to lenient with the children and general disagreements. Later, Apu is born and Durga now has a new running mate. The two are very childlike, playing in the rain, chasing after the sweets seller and running to get a glimpse at a passing train (the film's most famous scene, supposedly). Toward the middle of the film, Harihar leaves his family to try and get work in another village. While he is away, Durga catches cold and develops pneumonia and her illness takes a turn for the worse one stormy night.


Definitely nothing worth dreading here, but as seems to be the trend this season, it's yet another one of those movies that fives me a very *meh* attitude. I'm also left to question, as I have so many times before, what the big hubbub was. Was it merely the story that Satyajit Ray took three years to make the film, as he too came from poor and raising funds to make a movie was harder than it seemed? Or is the film itself? I have a hard time believing it's the latter, as the movie itself just isn't THAT special. It isn't bad, nor is it very good. It very much lingers in that middle ground, somewhere between mediocre and forgettable. The train scene that I'd heard about even before watching the film, was simply a scene where the children run to catch a glimpse at a passing train. I realize that they're poor children, pretty much confined to a single village and that seeing a passing locomotive was a big deal. I guess it was an okay scene, but to get the herald that it does is a little ridiculous, isn't it?

The other thing that keeps me from going gaga about this movie is the fact - and I've said this before - that we have children in the two main leads. I'm very anti-kid if you haven't already noticed and I find it very difficult to be taken away by movies starring kids. That whole "world of imagination" and "age of wonderment" thing just doesn't work on me and I'd much rather watch anything where adults are featured - call me close minded, if you will.

However, the film isn't all bad and actually, it's a perfectly fine film. Everything it does, though basic, is very fine filmmaking, It's just that I wouldn't go so far as to call anything on display here "must see". I can say that once Apu starts to grow up, the movies definitely have a potential to get better and in fact, I'd even go so far as to say I look forward to "The World of Apu". I'm also very much not dreading the watching of "Aparajito", as this movie chugged along quite nicely and the fact that I put these off for so long is already proving to be a pointless task. Pather Panchali has already gotten me somewhat attached to this group of characters and I have to say the death of Durga was a huge shocker, that I DID NOT expect! I'm a little more than slightly intrigued to see where things go from here and I can only hope we get into slightly more edgier territory, although as these were made in 1950s India, I'm guessing "edgy" wasn't the buzzword of the times.

RATING: 5/10  Strike it right down the middle and I'll hope things get progressively better with the Apu Trilogy. Expect the "Aparajito" review tomorrow sometime.


October 25, 2014  6:59pm

Thursday, October 23, 2014

760. Babettes gaestebud/Babette's Feast (1987)

Running Time: 102 minutes
Directed By: Gabriel Axel
Written By: Gabriel Axel, from novel by Isak Dinesen
Main Cast: Stephane Audran, Bodil Kjer, Birgitte Federspiel, Jarl Kulle, Jean-Philippe Lafont
Click here to view the trailer

So I've FINALLY got myself caught up on Louie and WHAT A SHOW! I must own it now, because it's going to be one of those shows that I'm going to want to just pop in and revisit a lot, I can tell. I was literally sad to be done with it and honestly, I think subconsciously I was delaying finishing it, because I didn't want it to be over. I've never seen such a fluid mix of both comedy and drama in my life, where the comedy was just as funny as the drama was serious & effective. I could write a full scale review on the two part "In the Woods" episodes - I'm talking one of those reviews where I theorize and go on for paragraph after paragraph. Likewise for the triple part "Pamela" episodes. Pamela Adlon was AMAZING in this show and I'm left to wonder how close to her real self she's being. Anyway, yeah - it's a fantastic show that streams on Netflix and comes with my highest of recommendations.

In other news, more BOOK related news, I've been tinkering around with the final forty or so films and I have to say there's a lot of stuff that looks like it's going to be a chore to sit through. I'm aiming to be done with this 100 by the end of the year, which means I really need to kick it into a higher gear and just get these done. I've definitely lost SOME of my passion for this project in 2014, but am trying to chug along and just get into the home stretch, where I feel it will be easier once the finish line is more visible. I WILL NOT quit, I promise - I just ask that you bear with me if it takes me a while to get there. I've tried to replace some of the stuff that looks like it's going to be bad with some stuff that I think looks like it's going to be good, to try and balance things out and give me some movies that I can actually look forward to, as opposed to dreading which I've been doing a lot of lately. Enter "Babette's Feast"...


I watched this on Tuesday night, but just didn't feel like writing last night, so I put it off until tonight. I didn't think you'd mind. Anyway, speaking of chores this was one, however, I think I have myself to blame for not liking this one. Read on...

To be honest, I kind of dozed in and out of this one (I don't mean fell in and out of sleep, I just mean I my mind wandered heavily), so to relay the plot in full is going to be tough for me. I could peruse the Wikipedia plot summary and refresh my memory, but I'd rather be honest and just recount what I remember. Basically the film is set in this tiny village in Denmark, where these two sisters, Filippa (Kjer) and Martine (Federspiel) have lived all their life. The movie is set in the 19th century, with the first half introducing the characters and how they came to have a maid, despite being less than wealthy and the second half deals with a feast that their maid, named Babette (Audran), prepares for them, prior to what they think will be her departure. Upon arriving to serve them, she tells them of a lottery ticket that a friend of hers, in Paris, renews for her every year, If she were to ever hit it, she would be 10,000 francs richer. Well, you don't just get a piece of information like that, so of course she hits it and her final wish before taking off is to cook one large, meal for them - why? I couldn't tell you.

I'm not even going to try to stretch that into more sentences, because really, that's about all I can recall. Seriously, did I miss something? I must have! Upon perusal of that very same Wikipedia plot summary, it doesn't look like I've missed anything, really. There's the courting of the two sisters by a cavalry officer and an opera singer, but are those really key pieces of this plot? I mean, it all sort of revolves around the maid doesn't it? And her big feast, which I still don't get the significance of. Why did she insist on cooking for them? What were her intentions? Did the meal symbolize something? I feel like the guy watching a room full of laughing people and I didn't hear the joke.

I had to take a moment to look up Stephane Audran, as I knew I knew that name and sure enough she appeared in a few films that I actually took to - "Le Boucher" (a "Ten Worth Mentioning" selection) and "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" (one that I'd like to revisit someday). I remember her being fairly attractive in those movies and here...not so much. Did she not age well, or was she just made up to look older and less appealing? Hopefully the latter! The rest of the cast was fine, but like I said, unless I totally missed something, the plot lacks serious substance. Look, I'm not trying to send mix messages here - I'm sincerely blaming myself for this one. I tend to look forward to films that have a Criterion release, as Criterion has always shown a quality palate, so I have no reason to believe that this film was fine and it's me who was having an off night. I'll stop there, as I feel I'm starting to just repeat myself. Approach this one with caution, as I found it to be hideously boring and without substance, despite fine acting, camera work and real sense that there was something good buried in there somewhere.

RATING: 3/10  Can't go any higher, because I just didn't like it that much at all. I'll go a few notches for the few points I mentioned and because ultimately I feel I'm the culprit here.


October 23, 2014  10:46pm

Sunday, October 19, 2014

515. Ucho/The Ear (1970)

Running Time: 94 minutes
Directed By: Karel Kachyna
Written By: Karel Kachyna, Jan Prochazka, Ladislav Winkelhofer
Main Cast: Radoslav Brzobohaty, Jirina Bohdalova


I have to be up at five o'clock in the morning and it's now nearly eleven at night. However, I just couldn't delay this review any longer. I actually finished this movie on Wednesday night, but catching a fairly nasty cold and purchasing a new flat screen TV kind of got in the way of the review. The cold's still kicking my butt, but the TV (and new blu ray!) are set up and I'm ready to write.

Chances are if you've heard of this movie, then you've also heart it compared to "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" - another film about a couple who do more bickering than cuddling. The difference here is that we're set in the Czech Republic and this movie has to do with a couple who suspect their under surveillance by their government. When Ludvik (Brzobahaty) and Anna (Bohdalova) return home from a night out a communist, political party, they first find that their keys are missing. When Ludvik climbs the gate, so that he can get into his house and let Anna in, Anna realizes that the gate is already unlocked. To further the peculiarities of the evening, when the two enter their domicile, they find that their power is out, despite the fact that just across the way, they can see that their neighbors still have lights. Later, they learn that their phone lines are also dead, but still they chalk it all up to other coincidences and surely explainable occurrences. Meanwhile, Anna hollers at Ludvik and hints that he's forgetting that today is a very special day (their anniversary). However, Ludvik has no time to make last minute anniversary plans, as he's busy piecing together the fact that his home may very well be under surveillance from his own communist brethren. He gets to work burning papers that may make "the ear" (big brother) suspicious, meanwhile batting away his wife who questions his every movement. However, when things get serious and scary, Anna and Ludvik's true feelings for one another are exposed.


I dug this movie, although I will say, I think there was a culture clash and I also think a lot of the political importance of all this went over my head. I hated the constant cutaways to the party earlier in the evening and just wished we could've stayed inside the apartment, in the dark, with Ludvik and Anna. Of course, I'm sure those cutaways were of utmost importance in trying to tell us (and the characters) why Ludvik may be under surveillance, however, I wasn't getting it. Why was he suspicious? And lets say he is under surveillance, what's the threat? Is it jail time or will they simply murder him for being a suspected traitor? As far as I could tell, it's never made clear ENOUGH why Ludvik suspects and if his suspicions are warranted, what he's afraid will happen to him. The film starts out just fine - a woman and man return home from a party and the woman can't find her keys. The man notices a car creeping in the distance and takes notice, before climbing the fence to break his way into their own home. Once inside, the two find that they are without power and phone and later, they begin to worry that they're being watched, listened to. I think if everything would've been kept more vague, instead of them TRYING to tell us why Ludvik was being monitored, it would've been a much easier watch.

Everything else was just fine though, in my opinion. The thrill and almost horror of it all. Being in the dark and worried that maybe there are microphones listening to your every comment, that people are lurking in your garden, peeping up through your windows. A hysterical wife that is both scared & looking to you for answers and irritated with you all at the same time. I loved how when it got real, the couple were fine. When their lives and the life of their son was threatened, it put everything in perspective and they held each other, while she cried and wondered what they'd do without him. I loved how that feeling passed and then returned toward the end of the film, while the two shared some time together on the balcony, watching daybreak. I thought it an incredibly sweet moment when Anna thought Ludvik had locked himself in a room and was in the process of committing suicide, that she did everything in her power, including climbing a ledge and breaking in through his window, to make sure he was okay. The film was not only a political statement, the ultimate middle finger to an oppressive government, but also a fine love story, a bittersweet one. Of course, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" is the superior couple in peril film, but had they left the detailed reasoning of "the ear" out of this one, this one could've been one to rival it.

RATING: 6.5/10  Can't rate it high enough to get it to that upper echelon of ratings, but it was a fine film and one that I'd even thank THE BOOK for having me watch.


October 19, 2014  11:14pm

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

268. Beat the Devil (1953)

Running Time: 93 minutes
Directed By: John Huston
Written By: Truman Capote, John Huston, from novel by James Helvick
Main Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollbrigida, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre


Some may recall from my "The Man from Laramie" review that I'd tried to start this one last week to no avail. The appearance of Bogart probably didn't do me any favors either, as I just don't care for the man and would gladly be done with his movies once and for all if it wasn't for my obsession with lists. Anyway, lets get on with it, shall we...

Even THE BOOK can't seem to recall the plot as it states that the film "has something to do with uranium rights in Africa". If the people who adored the movie enough to include it as one the 1001 muse see movies can't be bothered to remember what it's about, why the hell should I care? However, I'm too much of a perfectionist to gloss over the details of the plot and I'll do my best to recall them here. I will say I had a hard time settling into this one and thus, I found my mind wandering easily. Once Bogey and the crew started going off about uranium and a boat to Africa, I couldn't have possibly cared less about the outcome. Billy Dannreuther (Bogart - when the last name is said onscreen, it sounds like Dan Rather - which I found amusing) leads a motley crew of thieves and con-men as they plot to take a boat to Africa where a land rich in uranium deposits is going to be put up for auction. With this privileged information, they'll buy the land cheap and reap the benefits. Before they can set sail, however, they're informed of a problem with the boat which threatens to keep them docked for no more than two weeks, no less than a day. While waiting, Billy and his wife, Maria (Lollbrigida) meet Harry Chelm and his wife, Gwendolyn (Jones). The two basically act as swingers, taking all of ten minutes of screen time to swap partners, with Billy and Gwen falling in love and Maria having eyes for Mr. Chelm, who is obsessed with the fact that he can't find his hot water bottle. Eventually the crew DO set sail for Africa, but chaos ensues. I hate to be sassy, but if you want better details, you'll have to suffer through it yourself.

As per usual, lets start with what I liked about the movie and segue into what I didn't. I liked Edward Underdown and Robert then....the bad...

Everything else. The end...

Just kidding...

I DID indeed enjoy the efforts of both Robert Morley (who played one of Bogart's heathens) and Edward Underdown (who may have given me a new favorite word with his use of the term roustabout). They were both fine and honestly, too good for this huge pile of tripe. THE BOOK makes it sound like it was the collaboration of many great minds that earned this movie it's spot. Truman Capote on as the writer, Steven Sondheim as the "clap boy", Huston in the director's chair and Bogart starring and bankrolling seem to be the only reason this movie is recognized and therefore forced upon yours truly. I just don't find Bogart to be a good actor, does that make me a bad person? Trust me, I've tired my darndest! I wanted to like him in The Big Sleep and hell, I even went into my original viewing of Casablanca (so many years ago) wanting to come out of it a certified movie snob. However, it's just not in the cards for me and Bogey. I find him to be playing the exact same character each and every time he's onscreen. He's a tough guy, a rebel, no family, lots of friends. He always knows who to call in a favor to, he always gets the girl and dammit, he always makes me roll my eyes. I just don't like the guy. If my calculations are correct, I have one and only one movie left starring old Humph and it's "The African Queen" - which means, one last shot for Bogey to impress.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand - Beat the Devil. Like I said, I just couldn't settle in and in the end, this has to be considered one of the worst movies I've seen in a long time. I just couldn't wait for the end to come, so that I could shut it off and get back to watching The Simpsons. The plot was senseless and honestly, not enough meat & potatoes to even make for a worthy film. You know, you'd expect more from the collaboration of John Huston and Truman Capote. The supporting cast is the best thing about this movie, but the bad news is they're forced to play second fiddle to the Bogey. The women do fine jobs too, but seem to be in place more for eye candy than for their talents. I simply don't know what else to say, other than this was a complete loss for me and I'm glad to be done with it, review and all.

RATING: 1/10  I know that seems harsh, but even saying '2' seems too much to me. That's how much I disliked it. I will do my best to remember Robert Morley and Edward Underdown though.


October 14, 2014  5:25pm

Friday, October 10, 2014

705. The Right Stuff (1983)

Running Time: 193 minutes
Directed By: Philip Kaufman
Written By: Philip Kaufman, from book by Tom Wolfe
Main Cast: Sam Shepard, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Scott Glenn, Fred Ward
Click here to view the trailer


SOMEHOW I managed to tackle the first two days of my work week AND find the time to knock out a three plus hour movie in the process. Don't ask me how, but hopefully it's a sign that I'll be getting the lead out and picking up the pace on this project. Anyway, I was kind of dreading this epic, but it turned out to be not half bad...

The film begins at an air field in California where a pilot named Chuck Yeager (Shepard) spends his days chasing his wife on horseback (a game they play), chewing Beemans gum and being a damn good flyboy. Yeager, a Captain in the air force is offered the chance to break the sound barrier when ace pilot "Slick" refuses to do so without a grand payday. Up in the air, Yeager manages to break the sound barrier, defeating the "demon in the sky", as the legend goes and etching his name in history books forever. Flash forward to 1957, to the the height of the Russian space program and the launching of Sputnik. To compete with Russia and be the first country to "get a man up there", Eisenhower institutes the beginning of the American space program. After considering who these men will be to go into space, Eisenhower insists on pilots and since he's the POTUS, he gets his way. A couple of NASA goons (played by Jeff Goldblum and Harry Shearer of Simpsons fame) go to the air field in California (from earlier) to try and recruit some astronauts. Yeager is disqualified immediately because he doesn't have a college degree. After vigorous testing and a battery of physical examinations, seven men are chosen, including John Glenn (Harris), Gordon Cooper (Quaid), Gus Grissom (Ward) and Alan Shepard (Glenn). Together they're known as the Mercury Seven and some among them will be the first Americans in space.

Man, I'm really surprised at how much I liked this one, but honestly it was just so damn interesting. I kept finding myself with my phone in hand, asking myself "I wonder if that really happened?" or "Hmm let me look that up and get the full scoop". This movie was the equivalent of walking into your history class one day and finding out that today's the day you're going to learn about a cool piece of history, one that actually excites you. Not only did this movie make me want to learn more about the Mercury Seven (did you know that John Glenn is still alive, at 93 years old and later in life became a U.S. Senator?) but I also found myself doing Wikipedia searches for the Challenger explosion and wondering where I could get my hands on a copy of Apollo 13. It was the type of movie that really sparks your interest and because of that, it's hard not to give it good marks. I mean, at three plus hours long, this one COULD HAVE went downhill and fast, but it managed to stay afloat for it's entire duration and stay interesting throughout. Could it have benefited from having about forty or so minutes shaved off? Sure. The other thing about the movie that I found REALLY irritating is the fact that the first forty minutes deals with a character (by some accounts, the main character of the whole shebang), whom after that becomes irrelevant. Of course, I'm talking about Yeager. Did we just trudge through forty minutes of movie simply to say, "Okay, here's this guy who broke the sound barrier, a sort of precursor to the whole spacecraft thing."? It's like there's two movies going on here: the circumstances revolving around the breaking of the sound barrier and the whole Mercury Seven story. I would've much preferred an abridged version of the Yeager stuff (say, cut it down to twenty minutes) and then get me right into the space stuff.

What a cast, huh? And not like a blatantly obvious great cast, but rather like the pretty girl in school who wears glasses, but is smokin' hot when she takes them off. Who doesn't love Fred Ward? And I could as the same question about Jeff Goldblum and Lance Henriksen, two guys who have minor roles. Harry Shearer's in there too and while he did a fine job as NASA goon #1, I can't help but thing "The Simpsons" when I hear his voice. You also have a beautiful Barbara Hershey, a young and good looking Dennis Quiad (who somehow went on to a very forgettable career, despite showing up here full of piss & vinegar) and Scott Glenn, whom you may remember as Agent Crawford from The Silence of the Lambs. And, heck, that's not even mentioning Ed Harris or Sam Shepard who also turned in fine performances. It's kind of amazing to think that at one point in time, there was such admiration for these guys and how somewhere along the way we lost that. Do kids today still have that respect for certain occupations? I remember seeing videos/movies where kids would get autographs from pilots or astronauts, simply because that was their job and they were respected for it. Today, people could care less if you're a pilot or burger flipper.

Anyway, it's a fine film. Pace yourself going in and maybe don't expect TOO MUCH and I think you'll do fine with it. I had to break it up into three sittings, but mostly because of work and other priorities that came first. I could've easily gone cover to cover with this one and still been smiling at the end. It has SOME flaws and sure, I would've trimmed the fat in a few spots, but all in all, I think it's one that a lot of people will get a nice education out of and I think most, like me, will just find the whole thing fascinating. Of course, you have to remember I'm a lummox when it comes to history so, while I'd heard the name John Glenn before, I really didn't know any of this story. I'm even ashamed to admit that I didn't even know who Alan Shepard was (first American in space)!

RATING: 7/10  Good enough to edge it into '7' territory which makes it ripe for a TEN WORTH MENTIONING spot or possibly more if I sweeten on it between now and TOP 20 time.


October 10, 2014  10:38pm

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

649. All That Jazz (1979)

Running Time: 123 minutes
Directed By: Bob Fosse
Written By: Robert Alan Aurthur, Bob Fosse
Main Cast: Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, Leland Palmer, Ann Reinking, Erzsebet Foldi
Click here to view the trailer


This whole "do whatever you want" Tuesday deal that me and my wife struck up is really helping me to be a little more productive when it comes to the blog and the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book. Once again, yesterday I managed to knock off two more movies and move two steps closer to the short term goal of having only 100 films remaining.

A FANTASTIC shot of Reinking and one that all movie lovers have probably seen, whether they've seen this movie or not. If I were her, I'd have a gigantic copy of this hanging in my home.

I was really excited to see this film, especially considering how much I took to Cabaret when I watched it a few years back for THE BOOK. I'd seen the iconic picture of the woman decked out in a black bowler hat, black sequined outfit and dark leggings and have always thought it a great shot. The film basically tells the tale of Fosse's life, as he chit chats with the Angel of Death (Lange) and is portrayed by a character named Joe Gideon (Scheider). At the film's core is Gideon's hair pulling efforts to produce the musical Chicago and one of the earlier scenes shows him casting for it. We also learn early on that Joe is a womanizer, a flirt, a cheater, a relationship failure, yet a good father, a perfectionist and a hard worker. We watch as he downs Dexedrine tablets to stave off exhaustion as well as pumping Vizine into his eyes and chugging Alka Seltzer, all to deal with the stress of show biz. He ignores chest pains, instead yelling at his dancers, telling them to "do it again!" and this time better! Joe's ex-wife, Audrey (Palmer) still collaborates with him as the two try to cooperate in raising their daughter Michelle (Foldi) together. His current girlfriend, Katie (Reinking) loves him despite his philandering heart. Meanwhile, the whole thing is intercut with scenes of a stand-up comedian, as Joe frantically tries to edit a film he made about the comic (mirroring Fosse's real life film, Lenny). According to THE BOOK the film is often compared to Fellini's 8 1/2, as it's a director basically telling his own story through film.


Boy, I really wanted to like this one and I DID!....except, not as much as I thought I would. Let's tackle the good stuff first and then we'll transition into the bad. First of all, who doesn't love Roy Scheider? Probably some of you, actually, but I really wouldn't know why! He's so good in everything I've seen him in and All That Jazz is no different. How hard must it have been to be portraying the man that is directing you! There had to be some pressure on Scheider there to get the performance just so, don't you think? Of course, when you're talking about Fosse, you're talking about choreography and this film is chock full of great dance sequences. My personal favorite had to be the big presentation in the middle where Gideon has his dancers show the producers of Chicago what they've come up with so far. The whole thing ends up turning into some orgiastic opera, but it's all done so classy! I actually think I was hypnotized by the numbers at one point, as I could actually see myself just gaping in awe of the choreography on display. Just a fantastic scene! I gushed about Scheider but really the entire cast was fine and I even found myself not totally hating the kid that played Gideon's daughter (I normally hate kid actors, but she wasn't awful).

Of course, the whole thing IS structured a lot like 8 1/2 and while I gave that film a decent review when I watched it for the blog, I've since gone back and tried to rewatch it to lesser success. That was an early review where I still may have been trying to kid myself into liking things that I really didn't have a taste for. My point is, is that I could've done without all the Angel of Death stuff and the big fantasy sequence at the end where Gideon basically dies in grand fashion, as only Bob Fosse could possibly imagine his own death. You see, I'm even willing to admit that it was all very Fosse, yet at the same time very much not for me. There were certain scenes where the film flew by, yet other times (like the last thirty minutes) where I'd had my fill and was just ready for the movie to end already. I will say that the whole thing was like one, overly long eulogy to his own self and that was unique enough to earn the movie a few brownie points and probably a permanent place in my cinematic memory bank - it's definitely not a movie that will wash off easy. I guess what I'm trying to say is that if you're looking for the definitive Fosse then this is probably the one for you. However, if you want the one that's more accessible and easier to get into, then Cabaret is the movie for you, as I found it a whole lot more enjoyable than this, despite having less stunning dance numbers. The plot is more prevalent in Cabaret, while All That Jazz seems to be, at times, serving Fosse's own needs. Hey it's his death film, why not let the man have what he wants - I'm not complaining, just saying I had my issues with it.

RATING: 6.5/10  Can't go into '7' territory because that's a whole new ballgame, but it wasn't bad either. It's definitely the best thing I've seen in the past week, that's for sure.


October 8, 2014  8:28pm

Sins of Omission - Entry #94: ZODIAC (2007)

Running Time: 157 minutes Directed By: David Fincher  Written By: James Vanderbilt, based on the book by Robert Graysmith Main Cast : Jake...