17 January 2007

Dance With A Bayonet - "Sands Of Iwo Jima" (1949)

They treat them like rigorous fathers. They will not let them get away with anything. They take it out on them. Why they do so? Because they are aware of what will meet those young lads if they are not prepared. Inexperienced fresh soldiers always cause a lot of trouble to those older by rank. Officer’s job is to make them realize what is war and what is possibly the way to survive through it. Definitely it is not a piece of cake. Methods of training are usually tough and undisputed. This is captured by “Sands Of Iwo Jima” - movie released just four years after actual events on Pacific theatre in 1945.
Iconic John Wayne, labeled as an American legend, portrays cold-blooded sergeant who is not used to show any compassion to his subordinates. He drills them hard and believes one day it will help them in battle.
Life of a soldier is pain. Only being on a pass brings some kind of relief. One will meet his girlfriend, other drink till he drops to erase unwanted memories. This film shows it well and make a viewer consider how much are those men influenced by realities of war.

Significant fact is that makers of this motion picture invited remaining members of the group of six that actually planted an American flag on Iwo Jima Island’s Mount Suribachi on 23rd of February 1945, which was documented by world famous photography of Joe Rosenthal.

But that is not the main topic of this film. Real story is a relation between a private that joined the force following fallen father’s will and cynical sergeant who used to be private’s parent’s comrade. Kid blames his father for underrating him. Now sergeant impersonates his old man and all disappointment and hate goes to him as a superior.

Movie questions a condition of people who participate in war. Can soldiers, who are taught to obey the orders at any cost, witness their best friend’s death be healthy and able to return to society of people who know war from television and newspapers? Are they doomed to a failure?
In “Sands Of Iwo Jima” spectator finds tears of sadness and happiness, because they are inseparable. Line between laugh and crying is thin.

According to such a short period after the end of the World War II and production of the movie, important thing to mention is a lack of view from enemy’s perspective. This picture is not about fighting the enemy. It is about a struggle that happens inside of every man on the front.

Kaohsiung (18-01-2007)

"Sands Of Iwo Jima" (1949), directed by Allan Dwan, starring: John Wayne and John Agar.

16 January 2007

A Catch Of Life - "The Old Man And The Sea" (1958)

Screen version of Ernest Hemingway’s novel "The Old Man And The Sea" (1952), directed by John Sturges is a great argument to support a thesis that no special effects and big budget productions can make a movie good, without quality actors and brilliant story behind it.

Hemingway, born in 1899 in United States, had been awarded Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1953 and Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. It’s simply difficult to think of a better piece of literature to adapt to a film. Hemingway wrote his most successful novel during his stay in Cuba. He had become friends with local fisherman Gregorio Fuentes who is commonly considered as a main influence for “the old man” character.
Santiago is an aged man who has gone 84 days without catching a fish. He’s an experienced fisherman and the one who had been respected in the past for his achievements so such a bad luck brings dishonor to him and doubts in his abilities. After almost 3 months without a catch he finally gets the fish. The problem is, the marlin is a giant. The biggest catch ever seen. Santiago, on his own, is too weak to hold the fish on his boat. At the end he looses the battle with the sharks that ate his priceless catch, the catch of his life. Santiago had ruined himself because didn’t want to give up on the marlin that lead him to the open sea for two days and two nights.
Great narrator’s performance makes a film extraordinary. Most of the time it’s just one man on the screen. It’s Spencer Tracy who was also well known from playing tough characters. In "The Old Man And The Sea" he shows his best skills that leave many other actors behind him. Tracy won the Academy Award winner for Best Actor two years in a row, for "Captains Courageous" (1937) and "Boys Town" (1938).

Kaohsiung (30-10-2006)

"The Old Man And The Sea" (1958), directed by John Sturges, starring: Spencer Tracy.

Noir In Its Best Colours - "The Maltese Falcon" (1941)

"Film-noir" had its most successful period in 40’s and 50’s. Why is it still important and respected? Because of the specific atmosphere, tangled dialogs and complex criminal plots. Films such as "Sin City" (200), based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel, prove that the genre is not used up yet.
Many movie stars appeared and built this genre. For example unforgettable personas like William Holden ("Sunset Blvd."), Orson Welles ("The Third Man"), Billy Wilder ("Double Indemnity") and Robert Mitchum ("Out of the Past"). Humphrey Bogart with his "Casablanca", "The Big Sleep", "Dark Passage" and finally "The Maltese Falcon" established himself as a number one in noir genre. He is also considered as an icon of American cinema. Playing smart, crafty, cynical characters always accompanied by a cigarette. Clever man with strong inner moral code who fights his way and goals against crooks, criminals, mobsters, police and suspected figure of any kind.
"The Maltese Falcon" is a typical crime, thriller, and detective story in one. High-tempo, rapid and nervous dialogs that blow away from the screen every minute, long raincoats, big hats, cigarette smoke, rooms covered with shadows and beautiful but treacherous women. This is the world of detective Sam Spade who feels in it like a fish in water. He can take a punch in a face and insults spat by thugs but at the end he will trick them all and bring his intentions to life.
John Huston’s picture is a masterpiece. Bogart’s character survived the test of time and is called cult now. Recognizable, popular, desirable and admired. Great films are not made by great budgets. It’s about actor’s faces and their voices, even if they remain silent.

Kaohsiung (13-11-2006)

"The Maltese Falcon" (1941), directed by John Huston, starring: Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet.

Once A Lifetime - "The Magnificent Seven" (1960)

With no doubt, "The Magnificent Seven" is one of those titles that can be labeled as cult and classic in a history of cinematography. It is a fine remake of "The Seven Samurai" (1954), originally directed by Japanese legend Akira Kurosawa.
Significant difference between two movies is a reality described. John Sturges decided to put medieval Japan story into American-Mexican border, making one of the most recognizable and popular western genre film from it. Decision to do it required courage to challenge such a masterpiece as Kurosawa’s picture.

On the other hand, having a cast including stars as Wallach, Brynner, McQueen, Coburn or Bronson, success should be guaranteed. With ridiculous salaries in the film industry of 21st century, it is almost impossible to gather such an outstanding pack of actors these days. But it happened nearly half of century ago.
"The Magnificent Seven" represents typical western plot, where good characters called by their conscience, are coming out in support of defenseless individuals, oppressed by aggressive outlaws, who follow no rules and are insensitive to people’s misery. It is a simple story and what makes the film interesting is a great co-operation between cinema maestros assembled in it.

Collaboration of Steve McQueen, later becoming first action movie star of Hollywood, famously known from "Bullitt" (1968), "The Getaway" (1972) or "The Great Escape" (1963), Yul Brynner, charismatic Pharaoh Ramesses II in big-budget "The Ten Commandments" (1956), Charles Bronson, an iconic tough-guy, idolized by fans, creator of "Death Wish" (1974-94) series, James Coburn, who took part in radical Sam Peckinpah’s productions like "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" (1973) or "Cross of Iron" (1977), Eli Wallach, starring in "The Misfits" (1961) or "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" (1966), spaghetti western diamond, is a mesmerizing pleasure to participate in, shows the best acting skills and makes an all-time classic.
Behind the tale stands the message. No people who use violence can win anything. There is no bravery in shooting and killing the others, not even when it is done in the name of justice. Moral victory is in hands of humble individuals, taking responsibility for their families. The truth is it needs an acceptance of lot, sacrifice and conformist’s attitude.

Kaohsiung (16-10-2006)

"The Magnificent Seven" (1960), directed by John Sturges, starring: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Eli Wallach, James Coburn, Charles Bronson.

Saddle Up! - "The Horse Soldiers" (1959)

No discussion on western movies can happen without mentioning the name of John Ford. He is the man who made westerns big. He started directing at the age of 23, which is pretty unusual and outstanding. He had directed far more than a century of pictures and this is a hell of a record, to put it in anonymous gunfighter’s mouth. His films such as "Rio Grande" (1950), "The Searchers" (1956) or "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (1962) are all-time westerns classics.
Thinking of John Ford is pretty often thinking of John Wayne, because he was an actor who featured his most popular and successful movies. Wayne, an American legend, an icon of western genre, righteous man with strong character and easily recognizable silhouette.

"The Horse Soldiers" brings, next to Wayne, another legend in person of William Holden. Well known from film-noir genre, Holden made himself immortal by performing in Sam Peckinpah’s masterpiece "The Wild Bunch" (1969), ballet of violence, hated by critics but loved by an audience.
To put them both in one picture was an effort. Wayne, naturally born leading actor, never gives away the set. But nobody is disappointed about that. That’s what he is supposed to do. Holden, little bit in a background but visible all the time.
It’s the American Civil War. Country is divided to north and south. Unionists and Confederates all out war. Viewer travels with blue soldiers who are supposed to play a role in General Grant’s winning plan. Some from the opposite sides know each other and realize that there is no difference between people fighting and the conflict itself is just bringing pain and destruction. That’s a sad fate of horse soldiers.

Kaohsiung (20-11-2006)

"The Horse Soldiers" (1959), directed by John Ford, starring: John Wayne, William Holden, Constance Towers.

Invisible Enemy - "The Enemy Below" (1957)

This exciting movie presents a thrilling picture of a duel between two individuals in persons of wonderful actors Robert Mitchum and Curd Jurgens. Both impersonate warship captains in times of World War II at The Atlantic.

On one side there is a crew of an American destroyer ship. Those fresh soldiers have not seen much battle so are eager to fight and at early stages consider their commander as a "feather merchant" which suppose to mean he was not a professional officer before the conflict burst.
On the other side, below the Americans to be precise, there is a metal coffin, u-boot, a Nazi German submarine. Those experienced and fatigued folks had seen more then the others. Their captain is sick of war and despises Hitler for what he had done to people of Germany. At the same time captain is a man of honour and value.
Film shows the battle between two intelligent and talented strategists who are aware of each other’s skills and abilities. Without an eye contact, after exhausting and destructive pursuit, they somehow manage to understand each other and, at the crucial moment of their challenge, to act like a real leaders do. With respect for an enemy who stands his goals till the end.

"The Enemy Below" offers an impressive shots of a sea battle with exploding torpedoes and mines. Open space of the water and sky as a destroyer cuts the face of the ocean and shocking view of squeezed men placed in a ship under the surface. Wind, sun and air above. Sweat, crush and pressure below. Pain, fear and commitment are common.

Kaohsiung (11-12-2006)

"The Enemy Below" (1957), directed by Dick Powell, starring: Robert Mitchum, Curd Jurgens, David Hedison, Theodore Bikel.

Life In A Trench - "Paths Of Glory" (1957)

Name of Stanley Kubrick is with no doubt on the list of the most important and influential moviemakers in history. Pictures such as "Dr. Strangelove", "Full Metal Jacket", "Clockwork Orange" or "Space Odyssey 2001" are certainly masterpieces. Its authentic and mesmerizing atmosphere is also present in Kubrick’s early work – "Paths of Glory".
It’s a story of man who participated in First World War. Some of them were distinguished and high-ranked officers. On the other side there are regular privates. Picture shows the clash between officer’s aims and private’s fate. For posh gentleman war is about promotions, splendors and distinctions. For soldiers about survival and senseless trench battle that sees no ending. Somewhere in the middle there is Colonel Dax who truly cares about his man.
To justify his mistakes General orders to pick three men from his army to being bring before court martial. An attack on enemy’s position’s failure brought a loss of honor and respect to General. Soldiers didn’t follow the orders because it was a suicide mission. Now they are accused of cowardice.

Kirk Douglas as Colonel Dax gives a superb performance of acting skills. As defender during the trial, he is on his men’s side. Shows disloyalty to General because he does not believe in the same values as him. They are the only real soldiers and heroes in his eyes.
"Paths of Glory" offers a number of great combat shots that give an impression of being in the middle of gunfire. Cold, industrial, muddy and wasteland scenarios are increasing the film’s perception and make it meaningful.

Kaohsiung (23-10-2006)

"Paths of Glory" (1957), directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou and George Macready.

Distant Dream - "Moby Dick" (1956)

The ocean is wide as the world is and dangerous and unpredictable as God’s will but there is a man who is not afraid of its power. His name is captain Ahab. No storm, no wind, no waves, no death is to frighten him. He is blinded with only one aim and he will ruin himself in his endless pursuit. His nightmare’s name is Moby Dick. Great, white and vicious whale that lives in the depths of the cold and merciless sea.
Herman Melville died in 1891 and never seen his most famous novel’s (published in 1851) 3.000 copies first print sold out. At the time it was considered a failure but one century later is labeled as one of the most important American books.

John Huston brings Melville’s novel to the screen with an extraordinary result. Darkness, mustiness and awe of the ocean. Scenes full of excitement and tension. Nervousness and fever is seen in character’s eyes. This movie lives its own life.
Thanks to wonderful Gregory Peck for creating captain Ahab’s figure. Mysterious and obsessed man, driven by vengeance, restless in his hunt for the whale that haunts his thoughts. Captain had turned his life into a never-ending chase which consequences are tragic. Inexpressible power and weight of the ocean is the thing to imagine after the show of "Moby Dick". It will move spectator’s mind and make him realize that no man can challenge the ocean. It’s beyond human’s limits and it’s a war he cannot win. Apart from that, there is always a person that must follow his goals and aims at any cost. One of them is Ahab. He is an epitome of an idealist, tyrant who conforms everything to his desires what finally makes him an extremely dangerous man. Man who fears the people. Man who chose his own way.

Kaohsiung (06-11-2006)

"Moby Dick" (1956), directed by John Huston, starring: Gregory Peck, Richard Basehart, Leo Genn.

Flying For Their Lives - "Memphis Belle" (1990)

"Memphis Belle" is an ideal movie of the World War II genre. Movie that shows cruelty and horror of the conflict but at the same time focuses on specific bonds that are to be born between the men of duty. Audience gets familiar with a crew of so-called "flying fortress", the biggest bomber airplane used by Allied Forces in that period. Ten of brave, immature and so much different to each other young people on their way to final 25th combat flight over Nazi-Germany in May 1943.
Viewer is introduced to the circle of individuals with their own habits for example carrying lucky items. Strong belief in symbols and luck is characteristic for the people who find themselves in extreme situations. Those unforgettable events make every crew-member a part of a brotherhood. They will tease each other and make jokes but in crucial moments they are ready for a sacrifice themselves in the name of their friendship.
What makes the movie even more exciting is the scene when one of the main characters reads his poetry to the other crew-members. In fact he doesn’t read his poem. It’s a quotation from William Butler Yeats. An Irish writer awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1923. In decisive seconds he shouts writer’s name to admit he didn’t actually write it. "Memphis Belle" is a story of the people who volunteered to fight the enemy but also must struggle against their own weaknesses. Their airplane which is supposed to be their home comes out as a metal trap held high over the clouds. Pointless fight between the men and machine is shown in a very suggestive way.

Kaohsiung (18-09-2006)

"Memphis Belle" (1990), directed by Michael Caton-Jones, starring: Matthew Modine, Billy Zane and Eric Stoltz.

Let The Heart Be Your Guide - "Marty" (1955)

Marty Piletti is thirty-four-years-old Italian American living in New York City. He was supposed to go to college but his father passed away prematurely and Marty had to go to work to help his mother handling the family issues. He has got good manners and is sensitive. People who are willing to hurt others with no reason he doesn’t understand. He is a man of a good heart.
Brothers and sisters of Marty are married. He is the oldest one but still remains single. He used to look for a woman but he is always receiving rejection so he doesn’t believe in his luck with women any more. Marty’s mother and her friends put pressure on him to get married as soon as possible what makes him frustrated and upset.
Ernest Borgnine who impersonates Marty gives an acting lesson to all with absolutely smashing performance. He acts delightful. His facial expression, his eyes, his mouth, his gesticulation and voice are top class and show off in the scene when Marty talks on the phone but audience sees and hears only him. With no doubt it is an effort that deserves an Academy Award winner.
"Marty" is a movie about normal problems of a normal people. It’s authentic and honest. It could be considered as a comedy but isn’t life a mix of comedy and drama? This movie is our life. Life can be disappointing if one isn’t able to see the bright side of it. Marty can and he knows what makes him happy. No matter what others think. He listens to his heart and intuition. That for sure is a good way to change his life for better.

Other meaningful titles with Borgnine are "The Dirty Dozen" (1967), "The Wild Bunch" (1969) and "Emperor of the North" (1973).

Kaohsiung (27-11-2006)

"Marty" (1955), directed by Delbert Mann, starring: Ernest Borgnine, Betsy Blair, Joe Mantell.