Friday, July 20, 2018

MOTHER INDIA (1957, INDIA)

Monumental familial struggles
in Mother India

Of all the movies on the 1001 list, Mother India is definitely the most Bollywood. The Bollywood (Hindi) film industry is huge, of course, and has many admirers well beyond the borders of India. I'll only list my (very limited) impression of what I think Bollywood is. These films have drama! These films have romance! These films have comedy! These films have tragedy! And these films have songs! Lots of songs!!... If my perception is incorrect, feel free to correct me.

Mother India (1957) is Mehboob Khan's epic story (and remake of his own 1940 film Aurat). The plot of the film involves a families decade long struggle to make ends meet and find some level of happiness. The film begins with the wedding of two young people (Radha and Shamu), whose elaborate ceremony is financed by a wicked moneylender (Sukilala) who cooks the books to make the interest rates so high on them (as well as the other villagers) that they will never be able to pay it off. The ongoing struggles of the family over the years (often involving the sons Ramu and Birju) make up most of the conflict in this three hour epic.

And epic it indeed is. We see epics floods, epic fires, immense tragedy and misery that is often hard to look at. At times, I felt like I was watching a Hindi Grapes of Wrath! But there are moments of levity as well, including an ongoing plot point where Birju breaks the water pitchers of the young women of the village. And among all this,of course, are the songs. Many of the musical numbers seem to be on the serious side because I guess it's really not that appropriate to sing a merry tune while you are plowing and sweating in the field.

Revered Indian actress Narigs plays Radha and is the center of the story. She successfully holds the film together and is the personification of "Mother India."

Other noteworthy cast members include: Sajid Khan as the high spirited young Birju, Sunil Dutt as Birju the adult, and Kanhaiyalal as the moneylender.  Kanhaiyalal played the same role in Aurat in 1940.

There's a lot to admire in Mother India, though I may look for something a little lighter during my next trip to Bollywood.

Radha and her sons
in Mother India

Sunday, July 15, 2018

THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED (1926, GERMANY)

Well defined characters
in The Adventures of Prince Achmed

The Adventures of Prince Achmed is listed in most sources as being the oldest surviving animated feature film. The entire sixty-five minute film is done with silhouetted cutouts from the major innovator of the technicque, Lotte Reiniger. The story itself is a variation of 1001 Arabian Nights, but since the only copy I could find of this was with German subtitles, it proved a bit difficult to keep up with some of the plot. No matter. It's really the technique that is the thing here as Reiniger labored over every frame and the overall making of the film took several years.

A good companion to Achmed is the hour long documentary Lotte Reiniger: Inventor of the Silhouette Film (1999). This allows you to see her creative process, her friendship with director Jean Renoir, her reliance on kindly benefactors and her lifelong creative and romantic relationship with her husband, filmmaker Carl Koch.

Sidenotes:

My mother always had silhouetted profiles of her children hung up on the wall. I'm glad this film brought back that memory.

Herman's Hermits had a hit with the song "Two Silhouettes on the Shade" in 1965--but that's neither here nor there.

That's two non-English language films in a row I've posted without a English translation...Maybe not a bad way to watch some things.

A frightening creature
in The Adventures of Prince Achmed

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

MEDITERRANEE (1963, FRANCE)

 Mediterranee...The Beginning...

This film begins with a long chord...

Then we see barbed wire...I'm pretty sure it's barbed wire.

An ancient statue...

The pyramids...

Coliseum...

These ancient stone structures seem empty and desolate. Maybe that's the point. Even things that are built to last have a shelf life.

We see some forging of hot metal...Seems to be showing something more modern. Rebuilding perhaps? Building something today that will eventually become obsolete?

There's an operating table.

We now repeat some of the same shots again. Included in this is a path that we will go down again.

There is a close-up of a sedated patient going to surgery I presume. One of her arms is strapped down.

Then we see the end of a bullfight. The bull is not getting the best of this one. I'm not fond of this scene.

More stone structures.

Crickets chirping. I"m sure I hear crickets chirping.

 We are slowly descending into the palace.

This director really loves things made of stone.

We see an accordion player! I think he's got some female admirers!

Old man rowing. I assume he's trying to earn a living.

I think we see a shot of Venice.

We see some of the earlier shots repeated yet again.

Is this girl ever going to make it to the operating room?

There's King Tut...and an orange grove.

Young girl brushing hair. Does she have a date she's preparing for?

The girl from the operation is going the other way now. I guess the operation is over.

The film shows some of the early images once again and ends.

Ah, life on the Mediterranean!

Those are my notes of Jean Daniel-Pollet's forty-five minute documentary, Mediterranee. I found a copy on YouTube, but it didn't have English subtitles, and though my French is pretty limited, I decided to give it a go. Surprisingly, I think I liked this more because I didn't have to worry about subtitles and was free to just concentrate on the images. Is there a method to this madness? I think there might be...

...Mediterranee...The End

Thursday, July 5, 2018

MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991), NIGHT ON EARTH (1991)

1991

River Phoneix is the hustler
and Keau Reeves is the prince
in My Own Private Idaho

You have to give Gus Van Sant some credit for getting a movie about a gay hustler with narcolepsy that breaks into monologues from Henry IV throughout even made. It is effective at times...though it might benefit from repeated viewings. I think Keanu Reeves as the Prince Hal character is surprisingly good as is William Richert as the stand-in for Falstaff.

William Richert as the funny, but tragic Falstaff equivalent
in My Own Private Idaho

My wife was not a fan of My Own Private Idaho and will probably not join me for subsequent viewings of this film. I did watch one of her 1991 favorites which is listed at the bottom of this page.

Next from 1991 is Jim Jarmusch's Night on Earth. It tells four stories of one night that are all set in cabs during one night in different parts of the world. Young Winona Ryder gives rich Gena Rowlands a lift in Los Angeles, an East German immigrant who can't drive gives Giancarlo Espisito a lift in New York, a driver from the Ivory Coast gives a ride to a blind woman in Paris, wacky Roberto Benigni gives a ride to a priest in Rome and we conclude with a driver from Helsinki who gives three drunk workers a ride home.

Night on Earth: Giancarlo Esposito teaches 
cabbie Armin Mueller-Stahl how to drive in New York

This doesn't seem to be as well liked as some other Jarmusch films...It isn't even listed in the 1001 book...but I liked it quite a bit. Every story is interesting and different than the next. My favorite is probably the Helsinki driver telling his passengers the saddest story they ever heard...though Robert Benigni driving around a dead priest is definitely the funniest.

Night on Earth: Winona Ryder lights up 
Gena Rowlands in Los Angeles

Here are some other films released in 1991 that I have seen at some point that didn't have the right stuff to make the 1001 movie list.

The Addams Family
I remember taking a date to see this when it came out. I chose this over Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country that night because I thought she'd like it more... but I digress. The Addams Family was a well know comic strip and a 1964-1966 television series (I still think The Munsters was a better show in that heated debate.) about a ghoulish family of eccentrics. The 1991 movie I remember as being an amusing update, with nice casting of Raul Julia as Gomez and Anjelica Huston as Morticia...I wonder whatever happened to that girl I took to see it....I digress again.
They're creepy and they're kooky...
The Addams Family 1991

Backdraft
I remember Ron Howard's action film starring Kurt Russell about heroic firefighters as being pretty entertaining.
Emergency!...I mean Backdraft
Barton Fink
I remember watching an episode of The Simpsons with my niece when she was a kid where Bart and his friends sneak into an R-rated movie chanting "Barton Fink!" Barton Fink!" I thought it was funny because this totally wacked out Coen Brothers film is not the kind of thing you think of when kids sneak into an R-Rated movie. 

A couple of years ago, my now grown niece told me that she just saw Barton Fink and now understood the joke on The Simpsons!...My work here is done.
The R-Rated
Barton Fink
Bugsy
I thought it was interesting that Warren Beatty took a more serious criminal turn after Dick Tracy playing gangster Bugsy Siegel. I actually like Bugsy much more that I liked Dick Tracy.
Annette Benning and Warren Beatty
in Bugsy 
Cape Fear
One major difference in Martin Scorsese's remake of Cape Fear (1962) is that released sociopathic criminal Max Cady (Robert De Niro) is not seeking revenge on the attorney that convicted him, but on his own attorney (Nick Nolte) who he feels did not do his duty in defending him full force. De Niro really transforms himself (emotionally and physically) for this one. One example where I prefer the remake to the original.
Max Cady interrupts a movie screening in
Cape Fear. I'm not saying anything to him!

City Slickers
The line from this I have quoted to my wife (more that once) is the scene around the campfire when Helen Slater throws out something to the effect that you guys remember some really inconsequential stuff like who was the third baseman for the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates. The group around the campfire immediately all shout out Don Wert! Don Wert! I may not have that part quite right, but if the movie comes up in conversation, I probably will just instinctually shout out Don Wert!
Billy Crystal and Jack Palance
discussing the one thing that is
important in City Slickers

The Commitments
I didn't take a date to see this movie, but dated a girl that really liked it. I like this Irish band movie too and even bought her the soundtrack. Before I could give it to her, we decided that our dating would be something that would not continue and I returned the cassette to the Record store for a refund...I didn't know going in that going through 1991 movies would bring back romances that didn't work out!
Nice movie, fun soundtrack
in The Committments 

Dead Again
Offbeat mystery thriller from director Kenneth Branagh is one of the reasons I became a Branagh fan. 
Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson
and Robin Williams in Dead Again

Defending Your Life
Interesting teaming of neurotic Albert Brooks and the one and only Meryl Streep. I'm a Brooks fan and have seen most of his movies...I need to re-watch this one.
Streep! Brooks! Defending Your Life

Drop Dead Fred
Not another date story! Let's just say she thought this story of a girl who grows up but doesn't outgrow her weird imaginary friend Fred was pretty stupid. Maybe...though Rik Mayall was a pretty funny guy.
Never lose you innocence...I guess that's the 
lesson of Drop Dead Fred

Ernest Scared Stupid
"How about a bumper sandwich booger lips!" If you take nothing else away from Ernest scared stupid other than this quote...well, isn't that enough?
Jim Varney shows more bravery than
the title of the movie lets on
in Ernest Scared Stupid

Father of the Bride
The original Father of the Bride with Spencer Tracy spawned a sequel a couple of years after the original called Father's Little Dividend. The 1991 remake also had a sequel less creatively called Father of the Bride II. I'm pretty sure there was no equivalent of the Martin Short gay wedding planner in the either Spencer Tracy version.
Engaging couple Steve Martin and Diane Keaton
in Father of the Bride '91

Frankie and Johnny
Just released convict Al Pacino starts a romance with waitress Michele Pffiefer. The plot point I remember most was that it was pointed out that Pacino doesn't make any noise during sex because in the joint you learn to be quiet during those times of self pleasure if you know what's good for you. Not related to the Elvis/Donna Douglas movie of the 60's, though both allude to the popular 1904 song in the title.
Frankie and Johnny are sweethearts...

Fried Green Tomatoes
The Godfather II of chick flicks! Not exactly, but this story within a story and flashbacks and such based on Fannie Flagg's book is involving in its on right. I still think the scene where they're getting the honey out of the tree has a double meaning of some kind...
Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary-Louise Parket
in the flashback part of Fried Green Tomatoes

Grand Canyon
The title has to do with the racial divide and this story...I confess I can't remember much about the story here, though I know Danny Glover and Kevin Kline form an unlikely friendship. I don't even remember Steve Martin as being in this! I'll put this on the re-watch list...a list which is getting pretty heavy. 
Glover and Kline seek
common ground in Grand Canyon

Hook
One of Steven Spielberg's less positively reviewed films is still pretty popular with kids on VHS...I mean Laser Disc...I mean DVD...I mean Blu-Ray...I mean streaming...Kids still like it.
Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams and Bob Hoskins
in Hook

Hot Shots!
If you like the Zucker/Abrams Airplane! movies, you'll probably like this. I watched this just a few years ago with my niece (another niece reference) and it's funny, but a lot of references may have to be explained to younger viewers. "You see, Fluffy Bunny Feet is a reference to Dances With Wolves, that had just come out a year before and..."
Lloyd Bridges stealing pretty much every 
scene he's in in Hot Shots!

Jungle Fever
Spike Lee's story of interracial romance I remember as being one of his best films. Might make a future double feature rewatch with Grand Canyon?
Wesley Snipes and Annabella Sciorra 
in Jungle Fever
L. A. Story
How many movies was Steve Martin in in 1991? I tend to compare this one to The Player-Both are L. A. stories, both were released about the same time, both have Richard E. Grant...Unfortunately, that's not a battle L. A. Story is going to win. 
Steve Martin and Marilu Henner
tell an L. A. Story
My Girl
I defy you to watch this movie or even mention this movie without starting to sing The Temptations song of the same name to yourself...I got sunshine...on a cloudy day...
Talkin' bout' my girl...My Girl!

Naked Gun 2 ½
The David Zucker section of the Abrams/Zucker combo directed this sequel to Naked Gun which was an adaptation of Police Squad! to begin with. Zucker even gets to parody his brother Jerry Zucker's film Ghost in the potter's wheel gone awry scene!
Naked Gun 2 1/2...Cue The Righteous Brothers

Other People’s Money
The scenes between corporate raider Danny De Vito and old-fashioned company man Gregory Peck are pretty good. The romance subplot between De Vito and Penelope Ann Miller doesn't work so well.
Mergers and Acquisitions in
Other People's Money
Paris Trout
Dennis Hopper adds to his gallery of reprehensible characters in this adaptation of Pete Dexter's novel.
Uneasy Rider: Dennis Hopper is Paris Trout
Point Break
Bohdi and Johnny Utah...The Ex-President bank robbers...the longing to be a beach bum all your life...that airplane jump...the search for a perfect wave...There's a lot going on in this cult film and I like it quite a bit. I'd put this one on my 1001 list.
Keanu Reeves understands that Patrick Swayze 
has finally found the perfect wave in Point Break

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Not the best adaptation of the Robin Hood legend, though worth watching for Alan Rickman's Sheriff of Nottingham.
Morgan Freeman and Kevin Costner
have both had better days than in
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Shadows and Fog
One of the final Woody Allen/Mia Farrow collaborations and what happens in it is a bit of a shadow and fog to me...though I do remember that Woody adapted part of his character from a story in his book Side Effects. (Or was that Without Feathers?)
Woody and Mia and Shadows and Fog

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
The final voyage of the entire original crew was a pretty good one. I guess we're lucky VI was an even number.
Goodbye, Farewell and Amen
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Sleeping With the Enemy
Without Julia Roberts, this story about a woman that fakes her death to avoid her abusive husband would have probably ended up as a Lifetime movie. With her, it was one of the biggest movies of 1991.
Her hair of floating sky 
is shimmering, glimmering...
Julia Roberts in Sleeping with the Enemy

Soapdish
Behind the scene comedy of soap opera shenanigans with an all-star cast.
If I revisit a 1991 Kevin Kline movie, it'll be Grand Canyon.
Sally Field and Kevin Kline in Soapdish

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze
The green guys are back for more. I can't remember what the secret of the ooze was. Am I curious? Not really.
Happy Together: The Ninja Turtles return

What About Bob
I've been a Bill Murray fan since he first became a cast member of Saturday Night Live in the 70's. So it's pretty surprising that I've never seen one of his showcase roles in What About Bob? My wife couldn't believe it either. Well, now I've seen it and it is a great part for Bill as the neurotic/psychotic patient of psychiatrist Richard Dreyfus as Dr. Leo Marvin. Dr. Marvin is so unlikable, that you have no sympathy for him when the needy Bob comes to invade every aspect of his life, including when he's on vacation and about to do the interview of his life on 60 Minutes.

"Baby Steps..baby steps." A must for Murray fans even if you're twenty-seven years late to the party.
"Did someone call a Ghostbuster?
Because I think you're gonna need a bigger boat...'
Murray and Dreyfus in What About Bob?
Little Man Tate
I've seen parts of this one, but not the whole thing. It's another one of my wife's favorites, so I added this one to the list as well. Director and star Jody Foster has a kid that is too smart to fit in well in school, so the working class Foster signs the kid up with Psycholgist/Teacher played by Dianne Weist who runs a camp for smart kids. There isn't really a bad guy here, though Harry Conick Jr. needs to be a little more careful where he throws a globe around. A nice recommendation for the smart kid in your life.
Mother and son in Little Man Tate