Classics, English Movies, Recently Posted

Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? directed by Mike Nicols

Martha: Truth or illusion, George; you don't know the difference.

George: No, but we must carry on as though we did.

Martha: Amen 

 

Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?Be warned: Watching Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton giving probably the performance of their lives will probably leave you emotionally drained, exhausted and breathless!

Adapted from the play with the same name, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” has the tagline “You are cordially invited to George and Martha's for an evening of fun and games.”

Within the first five minutes, the tagline starts to feel ominous. George (Burton) and Martha (Taylor) bring an atmosphere that can be best described as chilling with a creeping sense of dread. An atmosphere in which nameless things are present but just out of sight.

The masterful thing about the movie is that this atmosphere keeps growing throughout, slowly, almost playfully in the beginning, reaching a deafening crescendo near the end and ending with an exhausted quiet – like a perfect symphony

George, a middle aged college professor and Martha, his wife, come back from a gathering and its already two in the morning. George realizes that Martha has called a young couple from the gathering over to the house for a few more drinks. Nick, the athletic good looking instructor, recently joined and Honey, his mousey wife. George voices his displeasure at which Martha launches into an angry tirade, giving us the first glimpse that everything is not quite right with the couple

From the minute that Nick and Honey enter the house, they and the viewer realize that they are mere pawns in a verbal and emotional duel between George and Martha. A duel that we realize is very old and has a devastating deep buried history.

And what an epic duel it is. If there was ever a movie that exemplifies masterful verbal dueling of the most violent kind, this has to be the one. Laced generously with expletives that seem somewhat tame by today’s comparison but which was scandalous for the time, the sparring between Martha and George is like watching an Ali-Frazer to the death. Martha is the termagant who lashes out with her tongue and body, George is menacing and pure acid. And oh the words! Who needs computer generated action when mere words can have the same effect? The dialogue can be so searing and the delivery can be so devastating that at times you have to fight the urge to close your eyes! If nothing else, a still image of Martha and George having a go at each other, mouth spewing venom, eyes wild and faces distorted will remain with you for a long time…

When two people have been married for a long time, they know enough about each other to know what will cause a deep emotional gash in the other. Martha and George know exactly what will hurt each other. And the level to which they are willing to hurt each other keeps going up. They are at each other’s throat throughout and quite suddenly you realize that they are doing it out of pure habit, as if its something that they have done many time before and they know their way around the fight ring. The decibel level just went up because of the presence of the young couple caught in the middle

And that’s where it gets interesting. Nick and Honey are not the straight arrow couple that we have been led to believe in the beginning. As the evening gets more and more ‘interesting’, dark secrets start tumbling out, a dribble at first, then a torrent. And by the time the end comes, when everything is one roaring pit of hell, it all comes to a full brim. But the end is well, theWho's afraid of Virginia Woolf? end. More on that later…

So the stage is set for a heady cocktail. Four people, each with their own demons and hidden mysteries. Each with quite distinct personalities. And none of whom are willing to let go. Its like watching a spiral unfolding in front of your eyes. A spiral of destruction that just keeps getting deeper and just when you thought it cant go on much further, the four people caught in the middle springs a surprise! Just four people in the whole film and what destruction they can cause…

Taylor and Burton as Martha and George are truly a force of nature. Watching them is like watching two masters at work. Its increadible how both had changed their appearances for getting into the skin of the role. Burton with his middle aged paunch and the hangdog expression and Taylor who put on thirty pounds for the role. Anybody who watches the pair in ‘Cleopatra’ before watching this will be in for a shock of their life.

A special mention for the contribution of Nick (George Segal) and Honey (Sandy Dennis). Without their understated but layered acting, the environment would have been punctured. The bewildered and unwilling pair, who, as the movie progresses become almost willing accomplices in the unfolding drama are a critical, though often overlooked, part of the whole structure. Starting off as plaything of Martha and George, the toys bring their own game into the drama.

 Last scene - Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? And it all comes together at the end. When everything has fallen apart, when Nick and Honey go back to pick pieces of their shattered life, when George has delivered the final blow to Martha, everything makes sense in retrospect. Lot of things are left unsaid, lot of things are left unexplained. Which is the best way to end. Watching the end is like seeing the world after a violent blinding storm.

Saying anything more or anything specific will be a spoiler. This is a film that is best experienced, preferably alone! Leaving you with the very last line in which Martha answers the title question with

“I am, George, I am”

 

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Gold rush charlie chaplin
Classics, Comedy, English Movies, Popular

The Gold Rush directed by Charlie Chaplin

Gold rush charlie chaplin So, this was the movie that Chaplin wanted to be remembered for the most
 
Your own jury can be out on that one but one thing is for sure, along with his other great classics like “The Kid” or “City Lights”, “Gold Rush” would rank as one of the all time classics – a feast that can be enjoyed not matter what your age or what your mood for that matter.
 
Its a measure of Chaplin’s genius that he could sustain his audience through a full length silent feature movie, a length which many modern movies struggle to fill with any meaning, with all the tech wizardy in hand.
 
Much like “The Kid”, which came earlier, Chaplin is able to combine comedy, pathos, a keen sense of human nature and a social  non-judgmental commentary and a sense of irreverent frivolity.
 
Many people today mistaken Chaplin with slapstick or physical comedy, which is a tragedy of ignorance. Almost none of his works are of the kind that would make you laugh without making you think, however subtly. And that is where the power of something like “Gold Rush” comes into focus.
 


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The Tramp is now in the middle of the infamous Gold rush in Alaska of the late 19th century. And as ever, he is bumbling along alone, with his trademark top hat, ill fitting coat and stick, all in the wilderness of Alaska. He is the lone prospector trying his luck in the advertised El Dorado, with only a map drawn with just north south arrows.
 
On the way to struggle to fame, he meets quite a few characters along the way – the thug, the prospector who finds the mountain of Gold and then loses it, the ladies man Jack, and the woman who he falls in love with – Georgia, a dancing girl in one of the prospecting towns.
 
With his inimitable charm and bumbling confidence, the Tramp does what he does best – makes you laugh and cry, sometimes at the same  dance-halltime.
 
Between fighting a bear, almost getting eaten after being mistaken as a chicken and escaping from a see-sawing house on an cliff edge, the Tramp is the dreamer who falls madly in love with Georgia, who only finds him a useful foolishness.
 
Some of the most indelible imagery of “Gold Rush” is of the Tramp being a misfit even among misfits. The image of him facing the dance hall, back towards us, with people dancing gaily around him, while he just watches with us seeing his face is one of the most enduring image.
 
And of course who can forget the simply hilarious dance of the rolls – charliegeorgiazwone of the most famous scenes of all times. A scene that combines a comic timing, comic expressions, a virtuoso skill at the pantomime of dance using rolls, all happening at the backdrop of it taking place in a dream where the tramp is imagining a happy place with a reality quite different. If one scene can define the whole movie, it would have to be this one
 
What finally happens is something that you have to find for yourself as telling the ending is spoiling the fun. But unlike many of his earlier movies, I found the ending to be a bit equivocal.
 
The beauty of “Gold Rush” and probably why Chaplin wanted to be remembered for this is that this movie works so well on different levels. It depends on what how the viewer wants to take it. On the surface is a classic Tramp caper with his inimitable style.
 
Dig a bit deeper and you  catch glimpses of social satire – on human greed, on human frailty, on vanity, on capriciousness, of pride and of love based on material and physical aspects. And the ending with the kiss, with the Tramp acting the imperious millionaire, is an ending you can take in more ways than one.
 
Easy to see why the Tramp is such a loved character, even after almost a 100 years after he came on the screen and also easy to see why “Gold Rush” would remain one of the most well-loved of Chaplin’s movie.
 
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The roll dance

 

 

 

 

Roll Dance Gold rush

 

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Russians are coming russians are coming
Classics, Comedy, English Movies, Satire

‘The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming’ directed by Norman Jewison

russians-are-coming-dvdcover This is a movie that you will not hear of easily and after watching it, you would wonder why…

This is about as good a political comic satire as you would get. True, the acting is woody and over the top at times but the storyline is funny and the over the top action seems appropriate for the mood of the movie.

A Russian sub runs aground off the coast of America, on a small New England island town, when the commander of the sub tries to get a closer look of his ‘enemy land’. Not wanting to create an international incident, a nine man contingent is sent to the island in order to secure a motorboat to help draw out the sub.

And that is when the fun starts…in spite of the best efforts (may I say comical) of the Russians to make themselves blend in, suddenly the island is in the throes of an irrepressible rumour – The Russians haverussiansposter invaded!!!

The movie panders to stereotypes, both of Russian and American, in order to bring out the humour but it works quite well. As is quite obvious, the story is about how rumour feeds off itself and how panic spreads by the mere repetition of the rumour. The sight of the hapless and bewildered Russians trying to make sense of it all in face of them being branded as the steamrolling invading force is incredibly funny. The American gung-ho style of meeting the invader head on becomes funny when they actually start to search all over the island for the enemy who were supposedly all over the place…

russians4 There is obviously a message in the movie, if you care to look for it – as to how stereotyping and propaganda creates caricatures of people whom who we consider as enemy. But the message is so obvious that you sit back and enjoy the comical satire and you wonder how the poor Russian are ever going to get out of this one!!!

Alan Arkin is the best character in the movie – the over-confident second in command who feels his English is top notch (the scene where he teaches emergency words to his colleagues is simply hilarious). He is the translator and the coolest brain in the sub.

I think that the thing to be considered is that when the movie was top10warcomedies_10 released, in 1966, the cold war was at its absolute peak, the time when Dylan was singing “Let me die in my footsteps” (about the government generated scare of Russian annihilation). This movie is about how senseless all the propaganda is and that, to me, is a brave statement to make. And the best way to make a statement like that is by humour.

That, this movie does brilliantly…

 

 

 

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Charlie-Chaplin-in-Modern-Times
Classics, Comedy, English Movies, Popular

Modern Times directed by Charlie Chaplin

mo There are some movies that you can enjoy immensely as a child and then realize how much more there is to enjoy in the same movie, years down the line…

Perhaps that is why movies of Chaplin are ageless. You laugh and cry with him as a child and as a ‘grown up’, but as the latter, you realize the true genius of the man.

Art without commentary on things around it is worse than useless, a mere trinket, soon forgotten. This movie proves that the medium can provide entertainment and make a profound political statement as well, while never becoming preachy or descending into propaganda.

And the best way to make a statement, especially a political one, is to make it through a satire. And this is what this movie does brilliantly…

The very first scene gives a clear indication of what is to follow – a herd of sheep morphs into people coming out of a factory while the  voice over narrates the joy of pursuit of happiness via modern capitalism.

Chaplin is a worker in a factory, a place where literally everything ischaplin modern_times_2 controlled and the worker is no better than another cog. The boss is a like Big Brother, appearing on TV screens (even in the bathroom) and commanding the work to be speeded up (all the while himself doing nothing except work on jigsaw puzzles). There are many memorable scenes in the factory sequences – that of Chaplin trying to keep up with his work of screwing nuts, being force-fed by a feeding machine which is supposed to increase productivity (by cutting down on lunchtimes) and of course of Chaplin having a nervous breakdown.

This was made at the time of the Great Depression and Chaplin proves his genius by weaving into the story all the tensions, the helplessness, the dehumanisations that the common man went through in trying to chaplin_moderntimes_01 maintain his dignity. Right from trade-unions to robbers trying not to starve, to street-smart yet vulnerable gamins trying to get by, Chaplin brings in every aspect of society at that time – all the while, never losing his comic touch. He pairs up with an doughty orphaned  gamine girl (Paulette Goddard) – making a team of two, a team that is determined to survive at all costs.

Amidst all the gloom of the times, the two are refreshing in their innocence and their unwillingness to let go of their small dreams. The scene where the two dream of a home together is hilarious as it is touching.

The film ends with them walking towards the horizon, not giving in to failure. The last lines of the movie pretty much sums it all up –

Gamine: What's the use of trying?
Chaplin: Buck up – never say die. We'll get along.

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As simple as that…

When it ends, you realize that you have laughed with abandon at the all of the crazy scenes (the waiter scene, Chaplin’s nonsense song, the roller skating scene among many many others) and have also been touched profoundly.

It is a movie that makes as much sense today as it did seventy years ago. Except the superficial looks, nothing much has changed really…

A movie not to be missed. Chaplin and film-making at its absolute best…

 

 

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Action, Classics, English Movies, Popular, Thriller

Heat directed by Michael Mann

heat The definitive robber-cop/crime thriller movie. I had heard a lot about it but only managed to watch it yesterday. And boy did it blow me away!!!

The first thing that you drool over is right in the first few seconds when the casting comes up – Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Ashley Judd, Tom Sizemore and more. That itself was a warning signal that I better wake up to what follows…

Then of course you realize that Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are squared off against each other, the former being a career cop who hunts down career criminals like Niro. Then sets the thermometer even higher and if the name of the movie had to have a second meaning, it would have been the epic battle between two of the most stylish and talented actors in Hollywood.

The thing about this movie is that it never once goes down the road of cliched scenes or dialogues that other gangster movie go down so easily. There are no stereotypes. You understand and reach out to both sides – the cop whose life is unravelling and the robber who goes against his instincts to fall in love. The dialogues are taut and one piece of conversation between Pacino and Niro in the restaurant would surely rate as one of the most intensive conversations in the movies – it was so poetic and full of imagery. This conversation, more thanheat1 anything epitomised the movie.

The characterization is complex, the characters are multi-faceted and you constantly see new sides to every person. That makes this movie highly engrossing and makes you a part of each moment.

And one thing you realize while watching this movie is that reason why we are fascinated by movies populated by these kind of characters. They, the cops and the robbers, live amongst us but all we can ever do is cower when the firefight rages on. We may look upon them with awe and fear but its so difficult to get a glimpse into their lives (other than the idea that it must be exotic and dangerous), difficult for us to see them as normal people with different temperaments (as Niro and Pacino remarked, they cant do any other thing). We watch, fascinated, because we could never really understand them, even if told and shown. This, I believe, is the movie’s main triumph. Without stereotyping, without cliches, it told, amidst everything, a very human story.

heat-large-tm And what would an action movie be without the action? This movie could boast of one of the best action sequences (the bank robbery), with machine guns slugging it out in the middle of a street and all you hear is the ferocious rat-a-tat and the screams and the guttural commands. Rivetting!!!

So, anyway you look at it, this movie is perfect…the actors, the acting, the script, the dialogue and the dialogue delivery, the action, the suspense, the complex characters, the story behind the men and women. This is a movie that you can watch many times and find something new everytime. Just became one of my all-time favourites…

 

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Classics, English Movies, Thriller

Strangers on a train directed by Alfred Hitchcock

28471-large Well, even if you didnt know that this film was directed by the master storyteller (I didnt), you would realize very soon that a genius is behind the camera. Even after so many years, after so much technical sophistications and so many scriptwriters trying their hand at the mystery-thriller genre, there is something so appealing about these stories that hooks you and keeps you literally at the edge of your seat.

The plot gets you into the rollercoaster right away. A plan for murder with an ingenious scheme, spoken in passing, becomes a horrifying reality soon and the other man is now expected to fulfil the ‘bargain’. A cat and mouse game ensues with some truly adrenalin pumping moments and twists and turns – especially near the end. Speaking more about the movie will only serve to spoil it for the viewer. Seeing this movie is the only way to enjoy it…

I can only say if you want to be thrilled and entertained and given a treat of truly great storytelling, this movie cannot be given a miss…

 

 
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1967_Dirty_Dozen
Action, Classics, English Movies

The Dirty Dozen directed by Robert Aldrich

dirty-dozen-titles1 Now, this is a movie that is usually first heard of before being seen, such is the iconic fame of this movie…

I approached this movie with some trepidation since with such famous movies, the expectations built up can spoil the experience of enjoying the small things in the story. Another problem with the classics is that many of the assumptions of the era (racial, ethnic etc) can be galling to the modern viewer.

My fears were unfounded however. Other than the fact that the Germans were cardboard in characterization (a common flaw in movies that is being corrected only now), the movie had the feel of a good action thriller with a quirky humour of its own. And it nothing galling about it, thankfully.

The story of  group of criminals given a chance of freedom in return for a mission has been repeated in its various avatars over the years. But the premise still retains its charm. A dozen of hard, gruff men (including an impossibly young Donald Sutherland) forced to get together by a maverick army captain; bonding together to form a band of brothers going out on a mission that was considered suicidal – this is a story that retains its freshness and excitement no matter how manyDirtyDozen2 times you portray it.

The story progresses quickly – right from the offer made to the condemned men, the training, the baptism by fire and the final mission. The bonding that happens between the wildly different men is shown naturally without any artificial constructs. The mission itself was pretty thrilling even though you argue on some of the obvious flaws in the assumptions in the execution of the final plan.

Another good thing about the movie was that there was no holier than thou attitude that western movies tended to take of the World War with respect to Germans. The movie never went preachy. Instead, it was obvious that for the condemned men, it was the US army that was the enemy. The Germans were remote and just a mission. This is refreshing especially from a movie from that era. There is a tacit understanding that every army is pretty much the same. It just depends which side you happen to be born in.

the_dirty_dozen However, for all that its worth, there is a problem with the depth of characterization. Many of the characters seemed only slightly better than two-dimensional with the result that you fail to connect with them properly. You don’t get to know them well enough to become a complete part of the proceedings. And this surely had nothing to do with the era. I got the feeling that more effort was made to manage the huge cast and to develop the storyline and the action than to develop the characters. The result is that movie is intensely enjoyable in most part but you just get the feeling that you got cheated on the emotional front. You just could not feel enough for the characters. Maybe that is a bit too much to ask for. But then for movies this famous, you do want it all, don’t you?!

 

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