Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Hill

When I first started writing this blog, I made myself a promise that I will not write posts where I will just write reviews for a particular film basically because I have a habit of checking any film out before watching it. I never watch any movie unless I have a good reason to watch it. And generally after this, I find it hard to criticize it even though in many cases I really want to throw eggs at it. In most cases, I have kept my promise though some movies are so special that I had to bend this rule for myself. The Sweet Hereafter (1998) was one such movie. Today, after watching The Hill(1965), I am making an exception as well. Both these movies moved me so much that I couldn’t pass the opportunity to write something about them and both these films are so original, so different from any other movie I have seen, that if I write something about them, it can only be a review. But I am taking this opportunity since it is too much for me to pass it on. However, I shall warn anyone reading this that if you have not seen this, there will be spoilers because it is written so tightly that if I leave even a single smaller part, I doubt this will diminish the effectiveness of whole film by many folds. So, proceed at your own risk.

I recently stumbled upon “How Many of Woody Allen's Favorite Films Have You Seen?” written by Brad Brevet. The Hill(1965), making the list in his favorite American Films. I also had many of Sidney Lumet’s other films in my wish-list for quite some time now. So, I decided to watch this along with others as Serpico(1973) and Long Day’s Journey into the Night(1962). Lumet made this film during first of his two most successful artistic periods in his career (Second period being from 1973-1978, where his films including Network(1976) and Dog Day Afternoon(1975), accumulated staggering 31 Oscar nominations in 6 years, getting nominated every year and winning 6 of them).

Adapted from play by Ray Rigsby and R.S. Allen by Rigsby himself, The Hill is about five new prisoners in british disciplinary prison in North Africa and their fight to survive prison and their guards. Sean Connary is in the central character of Joe Roberts, demoted in the army for disobeying the direct order and sent to the prison for beating up his commanding officer. Staff Sergent Williams is Jailer of this prison who believes that his job is to make his prisoners MEN again to be sent back into army. Therefore, He relies on grueling, physical tasks, even though monotonous and pointless, to achieve this. Climbing up and down The 'Hill' made up of Sand and Dirt is most popular of those tasks.  Sergent Wilson is ferocious guard in-charge of these prisoners who enjoys  breaking men down. There is also Sergent Charlie Harris, more humane of the guards, who tries to limit Wilson's atrocities but always ends up failing because Staff Sergent Williams believes in Wilson's methods. There is also a medical officer, who always wants to do the right thing but almost every time has to bend down to Staff Sergent's authority.
However, all the hell breaks loose when Sgt. Wilson goes little too far is his sadistic treatment and one if the prisoners, George Stevens, dies. Staff Sergent Williams is not the one to disown his deputies and he tries to cover it up by pressurizing medical officer yet again to put it down as accidental death. However, Roberts doesn't shut down quietly. He thinks that Wilson killed Stevens and wants Wilson punished for his brutal behavior. Even Harris has had enough and stands behind prisoners to launch formal complaint and medical officer joins in as well when pushed hard enough by both sides. Other cellmates of Roberts, King and McCarthy stand firmly behind Roberts as well in the end.
This is not a typical good guys vs bad guys story. Roberts is not a typical hero and so is Wilson or Williams not a typical villain. Guards believe Roberts to be a Coward because of his disobedience which might have killed him and men under him. He believes that Man can not just follow any and every order given to him like machine but still believes that if there are no rules there will be no army. On the other hand, Williams is trying to break the spirit of all the prisoners because he believes that is the way they can become Men again. One of the prisoners, Jecko King, even though is constantly demeaned for being of different color, is the only one who stands behind Robert since start. However Williams favor-ism drives him crazy in the end. Another Cellmate McCarthy, keeps on fidgeting between for and against Roberts while Bartlett is the first one to jump the ship at the first notion of discomfort.

It is not what happens but How it happens is what makes The Hill a great film to watch. Once the prisoners start fighting against the authorities, it becomes so fast paced that it not give you time to breathe, but at no point it looses its grip. It keeps you compelled till the last moment, which in my opinion is a very realistic ending. All the characters are so well defined that even though some of them have short parts, they play very significant role in developing the story. Film does not have any background score and only place we see in the whole movie is prison in that desert. There are no special effects used in the background to help the story. All the importance is on the characters and story and dialogues. Especially in the last hour, there are lot of dialogues but that does not make film boring or heavy, they rather direct the story beautifully. Also cinematography helps a great deal to set up the feel of movie.

Rating(out of 5):

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Profile of a Director

Martin Scorsese: The Phenomenon

                    If Steven Spielberg, with his box office success and Academy Awards, is the popular representative of their generation, Scorsese is clearly the generation’s critical darling - Says Marc Raymond. Acknowledged my many as the greatest American Filmmaker of his generation, It is almost impossible to find someone who watches movies that does not know Martin Scorsese. Even a late bloomer like me (First time I heard his name was when The Aviator(2004) released) has been in his awe since, much like Jack Nicholson (I saw him first in The Departed(2006)). As Raymond says since he has always been revered by filmmakers and critics, even despite his limited success at box office, Scorsese has been considered as Powerhouse. Off course, besides filmmaking, his other work like his effort for Film Preservation(I even saw La Strada(1954) Recently, restored by special contribution from Martin Scorsese) and editing of film books has been Instrumental to put him where he is right now. There is so much to write about him that I am not quite sure how am I going to manage this but I am going to ask you to be patient while reading this.

After making few movies earlier, first notable movie Scorsese made was Mean Streets(1973). I saw it very recently because of much praise from Richard Hourula, one of the blogs that I follow religiously. Like Riku, many others consider this as the best film he ever made. Though not personal favorite, I definitely understand the legendary status this movie has attained. Lot of things that are Scorsese trademark now; unflinchingly graphic and realistic violence, great use of background Music and Rebert De Niro; you will see that they all started here. Then there was Taxi Driver(1976)This is more like Stanley Kubrick type of movie but more confusing is for some reason, this movie was a box office success. I hated Travis Bickle when I saw this movie first. I still do but I still have seen it many times. Maybe He wanted us to hate Travis and he gets full marks for it because it is not easy to make you hate protagonist. It further enhanced its iconoclastic reputation when John Hinkley Jr., credited Travis Bickley's attempt to save a 12-year old prostitute in the end as his inspiration for his attack on then president Ronald Reagan.

Then He made the film which he didn’t want to, Raging Bull(1980), because he didn’t know anything about Boxing. Now, it is Best film of the Decade by American Film, one of the 360 great films by British Film Institute and 2nd in voting as Great Film of All Time by Sight and Sound. Too much for something he didn’t want to do. He made many notable films like The Color of Money(1986), After Hours(1985), The King of Comedy(1982) and controversial The Last Temptation of Christ(1988) before going on to my favorite film, Goodfellas(1990). This film is in its own class. Like Mean Streets even Goodfellas exhibits typical Scorsese elements and it has Joe Pesci. To me, he is the most important link to set it apart from many other similar movies. He followed it by couple of well-respected remakes The Age of Innocence(1993) and Cape Fear(1991)

I consider the movies he made after the turn of millennium as Modern Day Scorsese Movies as all these films have different, fresh feel of Technology. The Gangs of New York(2002), the movie he wanted to make for almost 30 years before actually making it, also marks his first association with Leonardo Di Caprio. He has appeared in almost every movie Scorsese made since then. The Aviator(2004), as I have stated previously is the starting point of all this for me. The Departed(2006), remake of an original Honk Kong Film Infernal Affairs(2002) with an added twist of his own in the end is a modern day miracle. I have rarely seen such a powerful cast of male actors complementing each other with such perfection. It finally gave him an Oscar for Best Director that eluded him till then. And I won’t even talk about Shutter Island(2010) except saying that I just loved it – especially the ending, just read this.

Scorsese is much known for his Italian mobster films like Goodfellas(1990), Mean Streets(1973) and Casino(1995). All these films have their special place in Scorsese’e career and even in Industry. But what is most important is even outside the most prolific genre he worked in, his work is simply phenomenal. Following quote about Scorsese sums it up quite nicely. ‘From the violent realism of MEAN STREETS, TAXI DRIVER, and RAGING BULL to the poignant romance of ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANY MORE, the black comedy of AFTER HOURS, and the burning controversy of THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, Martin Scorsese’s uniquely versatile vision has made him one of the cinema’s most acclaimed directors.’

Scorsese has been equally instrumental off the screen as he has been on. A tireless supporter of film preservation, Scorsese has worked to bridge the gap between cinema's history and future like no other director. Along with other directors, he founded a non-profit organization, The Film Foundation, to work on the restoration of lost and endangered films. By making couple of documentaries on national cinemas and appearing on many others as talking head authority, Scorsese has left his mark within Film Culture. Using his experience of various movements, primarily classic Hollywood, the French New Wave, and the New York underground movement of the early '60s, to an extraordinarily personal and singular vision, he has positioned himself at the fore front, always pushing the envelope of the film experience with an intensity and courage unmatched by any of his contemporaries. Perhaps it was only fitting that he received his Oscar from Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Cuppola and George Lucas, close friends and people with whom he started New Hollywood Movement during 70’s.

Previous Profiles:
Woody Allen

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Do You Follow Me?

On my Laptop table, below my mouse, I have a notebook on which at any time you will always find few lists. Right now, I have lists of Classics, Hitchcock and Ingmar Bergman movies. Have you ever followed someone? I don’t mean following someone physically. I meant following an actor or actress or director? In my case, this remains single most prolific source of adding films into my various queues and these lists on that notebook help me do just that
It all started with Julia Roberts after watching Pretty Woman(1990) and My Best Friend’s Wedding(1997) and she still remains to be one of my favorite actresses. Since then I have done this for many actresses like Amy Adams after Doubt(2008)(I have watched all of her last 10 films except Moonlight Serenade(2009)), Rachel McAdams after State of Play(2009), Audrey Hepburn after Roman Holiday(1953)(I am simply in awe of her beauty. Give me a film with Audrey Hepburn and I will watch it regardless of everything else) and I have been doing the same recently with Ingrid Bergman after Casablanca(1942) and Notorious(1946). Audrey Tautou has been on my radar since Amelie(2001) and Priceless(2006). It has been a slow progress about it since I find it little difficult to get hold of her films with subtitles. Netflix is turning out to be good source on this front lately.
Funny thing is sometimes you don’t follow someone intentionally but then one day you realize that is exactly what you were doing. It happened in case of Christopher Nolan, though having just 10 films (I am not sure JUST is a proper word here if you know these 10 films. So don’t take it too literally) under his resume helped a lot. But it struck me the most for Sidney Lumet. After his recent death, I read a lot about him and how great a director he was. Since I didn’t know much about him, I once checked him out on IMDb just out of curiosity. I was amazed that I have seen like 8 of his films and I didn’t even know it’s Him. I mean I don’t know how did I not know that he directed 12 Angry Men(1957), Dog Day Afternoon(1975), Network(1976) and The Verdict(1982) and many more? I was just naïve I guess.
However, if you want to really start following someone now, it really makes much more sense to follow a Director than performer. As many critics say and I agree that an actor or an actress is much more prone to do a bad movie than director. My experience with Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Billy Wilder suggests the same (I hope to add Alfred Hitchcock and Ingmar Bergman to this list pretty soon). Also, even without knowing it, you are also following an actor or actress as well. Like, if you are going after Scorsese, you are also watching a lot of De Niro films and DiCaprio recently or you are getting a lot of Jack Lemmon if you have seen Billy Wilder a lot.
You probably have noticed that I have never followed an actor. In my defense, I will again say that I did not do this intentionally. And as I said earlier, I was getting enough of Tom Hanks and Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio through their directors. However, I promise to undo this very soon by making my own list for Humphrey Bogart and Jimmy Stewart as soon as I have something in my pocket for Hitchcocks and Bergmans.
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