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…


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?!


Classics, English Movies

Cool hand Luke directed by Stuart Rosenberg

cool-hand-luke The thing about some classics is that sometimes when a modern viewer watches them for the first time, he wonders what the ballyhoo is all about. Mostly, in these cases, the environment and the people and the circumstances depicted has been refined and improved and given more depth in movies that have come later. So, a better way to review the movie would be to put it in the context of the time it was made.

The movie is about a man – Luke, who is imprisoned but simply refuses to allow anyone to dominate him or dictate any rules to him. He is firmly anti-establishment, a positioning that gives the movie much of its popularity and fame. It went down well at a time when people were openly defying authority at every level (late 1960s). Luke is shown to be an ordinary guy but with huge amount of attitude (the boxing match, where he keeps on getting up no matter how many times he is floored is emblematic of this).

His stubbornness in seeing the ‘practical’ side of things is what gives the character much of its flesh. Beat him, threaten him, torture him – he would do what he has to do.

Luke’s character and his relationship with other prisoners is the crux of the movie. He does not perform any ‘earth shaking’ (a term that is understood when one sees the movie) event but he does not intend to. He just wants to be independent in all ways. And that is something that the ‘establishment’ can neither understand nor tolerate. And he pay the price for this – the famous line ‘what we have here is a failure to communicate’ comes to pass. But even at the end, he defies defeat by giving his crooked signature smile.

This is a movie that for all its ‘simplicity’ (for the modern discerning viewer) still sends out a strong message – a message for the unconscious rebel in the society, a rebel who is looking for only personal revolution.

A movie that is to be enjoyed in the context of its time and a movie to be enjoyed for the pure joy of seeing Paul Newman in all his glory on the screen!


Book Review, Science fiction

Brave new World written by Aldous Huxley

brave-new-world This is one of the original books which looked at the future as a dystopia – a world which has become a nightmare (to the current reader).

This books raises the spectre of a future where everything is controlled by the way of conditioning from embryonic stage. There is no concept of a family (terms like mother and father have become smut impolite terms) and the world has been divided into a caste system where the top guys (Alphas) have been given the best of embryonic treatment and are thus the masters of the system whereas Epsilons are the lowest of the low. It is a world which would be a Nazi and other imperialists’ fantasy – people are conditioned by chemistry from birth to accept their place in society, which coupled with progress in science has led to a situation wherein problem of rebellion has also been eradicated. The people in various strata of society have been given the minimum level of brain-power (except Alphas) and have been taught that their position and situation is the best that there can be. It is a world where stability and non-individualism is the motto. It is also a world where all kinds of pleasures  are encouraged especially sexual which are aimed to numb the mind from doing any introspective thinking. History has been eradicated and you can only get books that conform to the dominant philosophy.

The book’s central point is the ‘Savage’, who is brought from a settlement (where people are living as they do today). His dilemma and his clash of ideology with the ‘civilized’ world is the central tenet of the book. It is as if through the savage, we are being put in that future world.

It is a good book but comparison to 1984 is inevitable and when you do that, the book suddenly does not seem as good. 1984 had a terrifying power in its vision and was complete in proclaiming the helplessness of any sort of rebellion – mass or individual. The characters in 1984 were complete in their wishes and their weaknesses. The world of 1984 wasbravenewworld-heads far far more nightmarish and terrifying than the world of this book. That said, it is clear that 1984 draws many of its themes from this book but improving upon them.

Overall, a good book to read but the talent of Huxley in this case was overshadowed by the genius of Orwell, in my opinion. But on its own, this book is complete in giving us a vision of a future where our own progress leads us to digging our own watertight grave…

Action, Classics, English Movies

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid directed by George Roy Hill

Butch-Cassidy One of cinema’s gems and or me, lives upto its name…well most of the times. This movie is a treat to watch mainly because of the pairing of Paul Newman and Robert Redford. They show have great chemistry and their quips to each other are a treat to watch.

The story is loosely based on the real life outlaws by the same names though certain things have been simplified for the sake of cinematic production. The story is of Butch and Sundance Kid as the main members of a gang of robbers who rob trains and in their free time charm the pants of people and of the people watching the movie. But good times don’t last long and they have to flee, eventually to Bolivia where they keep on doing more of the same. According to real life accounts they supposedly escaped and the movie’s climax can be looked at as indefinite for the same reason.

In between this simple story line is put the activities of the duo who alternate between heroism and comedy. They are shown as carefree who do what they do because that’s what they do best and can do no other. They make robbery seem like a romantic adventure with good doses of comic relief. They make you completely fall in love with themButchAndSundance and you wish them all the best in even their hold-ups.

For all the above reasons, watch the movie. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable caper.

But for me, scratching the surface, there was not much beneath. The characters did not hold much depth for me and their inner personality comes out only in flashes in very few scenes. The Newman-Redford hold the whole fabric together with their staccato conversations, their eccentricities and their antics and of course their good looks. Beyond that, there is nothing much left over.

But nevertheless, its one hell of an enjoyable movie.