captain phillips
Drama, English Movies, Recently Posted

Captain Phillips – Subtle, gripping and surprisingly poignant

Captain Richard Phillips: There’s got to be something other than being a fisherman or kidnapping people

Muse: Maybe in America, Irish, maybe in America

Captain_Phillips_poster Initially, I admit, I was a bit reluctant to watch the movie. For a couple of reasons – post the complex and sensitive ‘Syriana’, it has been tough work   finding a portrayal that was is not either a self-pitying American version of white man’s burden or an out and out macho version of how American military goes about its business. Though thankfully, movies like Rambo have moved out of fashion. Secondly, the theme seemed like one where there will be quite a bit of action – though with Tom Hanks in there, I was sure it wont be of the Bruce Willis and Nakatomi Tower variety. More like the cat and mouse variety, I reckoned

Well, I can say that I feel lucky that I was persuaded to watch Captain Phillips. In its short running time, it was gripping and surprisingly subtle, with the best acting, probably, not coming from Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips but Barkhad Abdi playing Muse, the Somali pirate captain. At the end, it leaves with you with a feeling of having watched a well made, well balanced movie. It also leaves you with an ache you cant shake off. Continue reading

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

Do androids dream of electric sheep? written by Philip K Dick

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep What is that makes us human? This iconic novel by Philip K Dick (on which the movie “Blade Runner” is based) attempts to answer this by putting us in the future; a future where androids (or ‘andys’) have become a household ‘slave’; a future where earth has become a largely inhospitable terrain due to a radioactive war.

Andys, like any other slaves, rise up frequently against their masters (i.e. humans) and attempt to mesh in with the human populace. And since science progresses to improve everything, the andys have become almost indistinguishable from humans. The only way to hunt them down is through what is basically a empathy-meter. Since andys are not supposed to have this very crucial human feature, they can only simulate it and thus can be caught.

But this basic assumption is questioned at various points in the book, from both angles. Do all humans possess empathy and are all androids devoid of it? the moral high ground that humans take in hunting down androids is itself brought into question.

Rick Deckard, an ageing bounty hunter (who track down renegade androids), decides to take up on last case of tracking down five runaway androids, before retiring for good. As he progresses in this task, he comes face to face with the assumptions under which the murders are made palatable. His increasing doubts about the work that he is doing become apparent as the book progresses.

Finally as the book ends, the reader ask themselves the question – is there anything that makes us uniquely human?

One of the finest books of the golden age of science fiction writing…