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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We need to talk about Kevin
Drama, English Movies

We need to talk about Kevin directed by Lynne Ramsay

We-Need-to-Talk-About-Kevin "We need to talk about Kevin" is a film you wont forget in a hurry…the theme and the mood that the film creates will ensure this

This is one film that is truly difficult to review. It cannot be easily bracketed. What makes this even more difficult is that its in the form of a narrative where the narrator herself does not quite seem 'balanced'. The movie is adapted from the novel by the same name by Lionel Shriver

If I have to best describe it, "We need to talk about Kevin" is a horror film in the most terrifying sense. It turns what we consider our safe haven – the family, the home, the child and parents into an universe where horror can happen almost casually and naturally. And its not the horror of a ghost or a supernatural being or something not of this world but the horror which is completely human.

What if your child is destined to kill when he grows up and somehow, in some chilling way, you had an inkling of this ever since he was born?

Eva (Tilda Swinton ) is the mother of Kevin. The film opens with Eva living in a rundown house, with a host of neighbours who hate the sight of her. Her house and car is defaced with paint and graffiti. Eva seems neurotically nervous andwe_need_to_talk_about_kevin-large jumpy. And right from the start we know that something has gone terribly wrong with her life.

That is the life we are slowly shown – in carefully crafted flashbacks. From her wooing by Franklin (John C Reilly) to her wedding, it seems like a fairytale. Then Kevin is born and things slowly change, irrevocably. Right from the start Kevin seems to be at war with his mother – almost willfully playing mind games with her at an age when he had not even learned to walk on fours. And believe me, the child Kevin can be quite frightening. The father is always blind to Eva's pleas and explanations – dismissing them as something that exists inside her mind only. And Kevin, right until the end, acts absolutely 'normal' with the father, who until the very end continues to treat everything as normal. Eva, it would seem is the only one, to whom Kevin shows his true self.

The film switches between the present and the past, both of them slowly coming closer. You slowly get an inkling as to what may have happened. Of course nothing quite prepares you for what actually happens…

Eva seems to have become permanently imbalanced but continues to try and find a way to come to terms with 'normal' life. Once a successful travel writer, she takes work in a small travel agency and drives home alone to her ramshackle We-Need-to-Talk-About-Kev-007 house. She becomes so used to people hating her that small kindness or a friendly word seems to actually rattle her. One can literally feel the nightmarish world her life is. And yet she hangs on to life and whatever sanity she has left. And you wonder what she is hanging on for…

And as the film progresses we see that she visits Kevin, who is now in prison. And until the very final scene, they sit opposite each other without talking, without speaking one word, not even looking at each other properly.

What is so powerful about the film is that dialogues are sparse. The rest is filled with imagery and music and noise. The imagery used is probably one of the best ever created in cinema.The opening scene is of Eva soaked in red tomato juice in Tomatina festival followed by a white satin curtain blowing in the wind across a open garden door, the significance of which we get at the very end. The music is eerie and beautiful with a tinge of horror at the edges. The song – "Everyday" originally sung by Buddy Holly, one of my favourites, is played back in a slow moving, eerily shot Halloween backdrop, while Eva is driving home. It has altered the song for me forever. The noise and the silence used in this film is used like a sharp weapon – the scene of Eva drowning out baby Kevin's cries with the noise of a drilling site is a scene that will haunt.

Combine this with the haunting presence of Tilda Swinton and an atmosphere of impending disaster throughout. "We need to talk about Kevin" will keep coming at you long after its over…

In the end, a note regarding the imagery again. A lot of this movie is perception. Its about how you want to interpret it. Eva is seen scrubbing off the graffiti and the paint off her door and window throughout the movie, slowly, painfully butWeNeedtoTalkAboutKevinTomatina she keeps at it. And just before her final meeting with Kevin in the film she completes the process. Her door and window is clean again.

 

In the prison, at their final meeting, Eva asked Kevin the simple question – why?. What Kevin says is probably the most chilling yet pitiful part of the whole film. It leaves you unsure of how it goes forward for these two. Eva walks off into the bright white light, ending the film that had started with bright red. Was there redemption? For whom? Was it even possible…

 

You feel a strange pain in your heart as the movie draws to a close. There is a strange sense of closure yet non-closure at the end and it tugs at you.

This is one film that you will think of often and you would think of Kevin and of Eva too…

P.S – A note about Oscars. You see this and you see why Oscar is losing its relevance year after year. A movie like this is not even a contender for many major awards and wins nothing. Truly remarkable!!!

 

 

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The man from earth jerome bixby
English Movies, Science Fiction

The Man from Earth directed by Richard Schenkman

220px-The_Man_from_Earth "The Man from Earth", has become a cult classic, for primarily one single reason

In an age when films and television seek to hold our, supposedly ever shortening, attention-span with ever more doses of action and shocks and thrills, "The Man from Earth" succeeds in holding our completely rapt attention with something which is supposedly, utterly, out of fashion – conversation.

Also, this film became a classic not with any production house backing but by the most democratic popularity of all – word of mouth. In fact, in an extraordinary move, its producers have publicly thanked P2P networks for making this film a success

If someone told you that a whole film can be confined to just one room, having a handful of characters sitting and talking for  the whole length of the movie, you might wonder who in their right sense would make a movie like this in this day and age, much less see it. "Who is afraid of Virginia Woolf?" was a fluke, you may say…

It is here that your intuition might fail you. Because this will be perhaps one of the best movies that you will ever see. Not only will you be held in a complete grip throughout but at the end, you might realize that the best thrills that we get are not from high speed chases or a jump from a skyscraper, but from stimulating ideas – ideas that completely challenge what you think. Ideas, when presented by a skilled scriptwriter, can completely bowl you away. For don't be fooled, "The Man from Earth" is a roller coaster ride, from the starting scene to the end

Conceived originally in early 1960s by Jerome Bixby, of the Star Trek (original) fame and one of the best science fiction writers of all times, "The Man from Earth" was completed on his deathbed in 1998, making this his final work. Fans of science fiction will instantly recognize the imprint of the golden era of science fiction – which depended more on mind expanding ideas rather than on exotic unrelatable visuals

John Oldman is a departing university professor, who is thrown a farewell party by a handful of his colleagues, at his house. The departure is sudden and Oldman's colleagues want to know why he is in such a hurry to leave. Oldman isman from earth group reluctant but under pressure, he begins to tell his extraordinary story. He begins by asking his colleagues to suppose a hypothetical situation, a possibility – what if a Cro-Magnon man survived to this day, thus living for 14000 years!!! That's the spark that sets this film alight.

Among Oldman's colleagues is an archaeologist, a biologist, an art historian and a devout Christian and a psychiatrist. When such a pantheon of minds is confronted with a fantastic idea as agelessness, the setting is perfect for a firefight – of words. And it does not disappoint. Each person has his own unique take on the situation and everyone fights a duel between believing this fantastic possibility and their own prejudices and beliefs. Its extraordinarily stimulating to hear  the ideas that come forth. Everything is challenged – from history and the way we look at it, religion and what we believe, our ideas about our minds, our deep seated cultural beliefs. And tightly packed into ninety odd minutes, this is one long conversation that you wish will never end!! It is like a concoction of a high caffeine mixed with mind expanding drugs…

Slowly the utter shock at the onset is replaced by credulity followed by a grudging wonderment of the possibility. And then of course there is the dynamite climax. A climax that is as shattering as any Dan Brown could have dreamt of. And 2409_5 the way that this happens keeps you on the tenterhooks throughout. The script and the pace never slackens and as you are slowly drawn into the absorbing setting inside Oldman's house, the mood changes subtly as revelations and possibilities become even more fantastic and real at the same time.

Daylight is slowly replaced by flickering fireplace as the people inside the room face a life-changing dilemma – to overturn everything that they had believed in – about history, religion, beliefs, culture or to try and find a way to believe the whole story to be untrue. The struggle between letting the mind expand and staying within the comfort zone of common wisdom becomes fierce as the film rushes to the end.

This is one film that will make you hold your breath till the end by just talking to you.

Watch this!! That's the only thing I can say – you wont be disappointed even if your favourite movie till yesterday has been American Pie!!

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Gladiators Arthur Koestler
Book Review, Historical, Recently Posted

Gladiators written by Arthur Koestler

gladiators

‘It is written: the wind comes and the wind goes, and does not leave a trace. Man comes, and man is gone, and knows nothing of the fate of his fathers and has no knowledge of the future of his seed. The rain falls into the river, and the river drowns in the sea, but the sea becomes no greater. All is vanity.’

 

Gladiators by Arthur Koestler is a retelling of the Spartacus story that will leave cringing those who lapped up Kirk Douglas in the role of the slave revolutionary and those who have read Howard Fast's "Spartacus".

This is a story not particularly of Spartacus as it is about his revolution. And the fate of any revolution as envisioned by Arthur Koestler

Spartacus is a completely historical figure who is shrouded in a mythical aura.

One of the most well known rebel in history, the word Spartacus has come to define defiance in the face of oppression and freedom in the face of tyranny. Little is known about him factually since his history was written by the ones who vanquished him, the Roman republic.

The legend of Spartacus has lived down to the present day and has continued to inspire revolutionaries. Any slave rebellion, before slavery went out of fashion, was compared to the Spartacus revolution. Toussaint L Overture, who found a slave republic in Haiti, was known as the "Black Spartacus". The long shadow of the insurrection by the gladiators 2000 years ago…

It is easy to romanticize Spartacus and the slave rebellion. It has all the ingredients of a modern day Hollywood hit – complete with a square jawed hero standing upto the might of the Roman empire. A slave, a gladiator, a trained killer who kills for the crowds pleasure turning on his master and attempts to change the course of history single-handedly.

A Spartacus that gives stirring speech – of the equality of man and right to freedom and then inspires his fellow slaves to start a rebellion that shook the Roman Empire to its core. The tragic end, the underdog going down fighting, crushed by treachery and bad luck but preserving his honour till the end.

The "I am Spartacus" at the end of the Kirk Douglas movie was stirring but probably untrue.

Almost seems formulaic and scripted.

Except that it really happened…

Not the melodrama.

But the rebellion was a unique aberration in the long history of empire building of the Romans. It did shake the empire and Spartacus did inspire awe and fear among his enemies. Hannibal and Spartacus were the favourite bogeymen of Roman mothers – Hannibal a decorated enemy prince and Spartacus a mere arena gladiator.

The memory of Spartacus in Roman society, completely dependent on submissive slave force, was immense and deep…

Although what he spoke and thought or even what he looked like has not been recorded. If he ever wrote a memoir, it has been lost to posterity. So Spartacus is an open field for interpretation. And since everyone likes a dashing hero, people have forged him in their own imagination

Gladiators Arthur Koestler Where Koestler's book "Gladiators" differs from tellings is that it looks at the Spartacus revolution as a whole and does not dwell on the man himself. Koestler's Spartacus is not a superman but an extraordinary man thrust into greatness in an environment not of his choosing. Koestler's Spartacus is not a man who has a great vision of history or of his rebellion but is willing to learn along the way. He is an able leader, a brilliant tactician and a man who is willing to lead his people. He is not without his doubts but is willing to find answers and experiment

"Gladiators" is more about is the rebellion itself with Spartacus just a character. Koestler's telling of the story is about how the rebellion, and by extension all the rebellions before and after, exists outside of the characters.

Spartacus is not above the rebellion. In fact it is the rebellion which controls him. Inexorably, history pulls Spartacus and Crixus and the other slaves into an iconic rebellion they themselves had not planned. It does not start with any stirring speech but with an act of defiance.

The nature of man takes care of the next part and history at its time completes the story. The yearning for freedom is the most innate feeling of man. Spartacus just follows it and then acts according to what is thrown at him.

“Gladiators” is about the inevitable failure of a mass revolutionary movement that is based on ideals alone. The utopia that exists in the dreams of man is doomed to failure, 2000 years ago or a century ago. One man’s search for utopia is different from other’s search for utopia. Inevitably, good actions for the greater good ends up doing the same damage that the revolution originally intended to abolish. Spartacus had to crucify his own men to uphold his dream, the same way that the Cheka (the early secret police of the Soviets) imprisoned their own people to uphold the common man’s utopia.

"Gladiators" is also about two men of the revolution – Spartacus and Crixus, two faces of the same rebellion. Spartacus is the idealized hero, looking to find cosmic answers to his endeavors. Crixus only knows one dictum – "Eat or be eaten". Spartacus realizes the truth of Crixus at the end and Crixus,in the end appreciates what Spartacus represented about the revolution.

Koestler throws open the question to the reader – who was the real hero? Spartacus who toiled for the ideal "Sun State" only to demolish it himself or dour faced Crixus, who knew that nothing is worth the effort and one should just live for themselves.

And that is the real thrust of the book – Can a revolution actually succeed without compromising on its lofty ideals? Can a revolution against oppression survive without oppressing its own children? Can a revolution exist outside of human nature? Can valour and sacrifice justify the dictum of – for the greater good? Can a revolution succeed when promising a paradise tomorrow and giving hell today?

This being the first of Koestler's trilogy, next being "Darkness at Noon" and ………, you can see Koestler developing hisArthur koestler- theory of revolutions which he sharpens with his "Darkness at Noon", the most famous of his work. But even if "Darkness at Noon" was about the Russian Revolution and "Gladiators" is set in ancient Rome, the same theme recurs.

Koestler is saying that nothing changes, even after 2000 years.

It is not a book that would be easily recommended to someone who is about to start Koestler, but I would suggest reading this before reading his other work. Not only can you see the progression of Koestler's ideas but Gladiators is a brilliant book in its own right.

It is surprising that it is not more widely known. Maybe"Darkness at Noon" overshadows this or probably people are happy with the fairy tale telling of the other Spartacus…

End point – this thin book will probably change more than a few beliefs – about history, about idealism, about myths and about rebellions….A must have…

 

Some quotes Gladiators by Arthur Koestler –

 

‘Anyone can live—but dying is an art and takes some learning,’ he kept on admonishing his gladiators

 

‘Truly,’ he said to the slaves, ‘your chains must be dear to your hearts and of great bliss to your bodies. I for one cannot see anything else on this estate that you can call your own and could wish to defend with your lives. Or did they tell me lies, or do those fowls lay eggs for your breakfast, do those cows yearn for the bull to increase your herds,

 

the relatives of Death, such as Honour, Shame and Duty, exist for him only who has no ken of reality. For reality, mucous, unspeakably delicate, with its mesh of thin veins, is not made to be torn to bits by some pointed object. And now Praetor Clodius Glaber knows that dying is unutterably stupid—more stupid still than life itself

 

So there it was again, the Sign on which the gladiator’s fate depended. There was no escape from it. Jewelled, loosely wrinkled, that thumb pointed down, dishonoured life and degraded death to a spectacle, pierced even one’s dreams.

 

It is the same with prophecies as with clothes. There they hang in the tailor’s shop, many men pass them, many a man they would fit. One comes and takes the robe. And so it is made for him—for he has taken it unto him…. What really matters is, that it suits fashion and period. It must fit in with the taste of the time—the wishes of many—the need and longing desire of many…

 

He who aims to plant a garden must start out by weeding

 

He himself had once seen better days: and despite his earnest endeavours to do so he had never been able to imagine the mental make-up of a man who had never seen better days

 

Many a man has strutted the road of tyranny, at the outset solely with the purpose of serving his lofty ideals, and in the end the road alone made him carry on

 

It is the same as with war: everybody discusses it, some are for it, some against, but no one honestly believes that it will eventually materialise; and when it is really upon them, they are astounded that they were right. There is no surprise greater than that of the prophet whose prophecies come true. For there is a great laziness of habit in the thoughts of man, and a smiling voice deeply buried inside him, which whispers that Tomorrow will be just like Today and Yesterday. And, against his better judgment, he believes it. And that is really a mercy, for otherwise he could not live with the knowledge of his certain death

 

and also crosses grew in a corner by the North Gate, on which died those whose lives were forfeited in the interests of common welfare, those who had not been able to submit to the stern laws of freedom

 

In the evenings people told each other stories about the wicked time of slavery, it lay far behind them, and now only half of it was true

 

He means well, you say? Of course he means well, that’s the worst of it

 

For the damage done by the congenitally wicked tyrant is confined to the field of his personal interests and his personal cruelty; but the well-meaning tyrant who has a lofty reason for everything, can do unlimited damage

 

And I tell you, it is dangerous to combine so much power in the fist, and so many lofty reasons in the head, of one single person. In the beginning the head will always order the fist to strike from lofty reasons; later on the fist strikes of its own accord and the head supplies the lofty reasons afterwards

 

But past experience evaporates quickly from the memory of man, and the more tormenting the experience, the quicker it devours every trace of itself

 

But man is not allowed to shape his existence independently of the system, conditions and laws of his time

 

Who cast the die, decided a man’s life before he was born? He gave noses unto all of them, stuck eyeballs into them, guts and sex, without much difference. But he set them apart in their mothers’ wombs already, some were never to smile, nor be smiled at, the others were dragged into the light of day, and for them shone the sun

 

‘Can you hear them, brethren, do you hear them?’ shrieked Zozimos and waved his sleeves like banners. ‘Do you hang well, brethren? Does freedom cut nicely into your limbs? Do its splinters tear your flesh? It’s the Sun State, that stuff which flows red from your mouths. They’ve skewered you like worms, so that every one may see the time of Justice and Goodwill is come

 

As for your returning, I can see quite well why you did it,’ said Hegio. ‘I too have within me those two opposed energies: the desire to depart and the desire to remain. You might also call them the desire to destroy and the desire to preserve. There are only those two whether you search without or within you; and their strife is eternal. For each victory gained by one over the other is but a sham-conquest which cannot last; just as the change from life into death has its vicious circle and is only seemingly final. He who departs remains chained to his memories, and he who stays abandons himself to painful longings. And throughout the ages men and women have crouched on ruins, lamenting they said: the time is not ripe, it is either too young or too old

 

THIS IS THE LAST RESTING PLACE OF HERMIOS, A LUCANIAN SHEPHERD; HE LONGED TO EAT FIELDFARE WITH BACON JUST ONCE BUT WAS PREVENTED. YOU WHO PASS HERE, REMEMBER THAT NO ONE SHOULD EAT FIELDFARE WITH BACON AS LONG AS ONE MAN LIVES ON THIS EARTH WHO MAY NOT TASTE OF THEM

 

‘It is written: the wind comes and the wind goes, and does not leave a trace. Man comes, and man is gone, and knows nothing of the fate of his fathers and has no knowledge of the future of his seed. The rain falls into the river, and the river drowns in the sea, but the sea becomes no greater. All is vanity.’

 

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