Celebrating Great Films

Thursday, September 29, 2011


#98 at time of writing.

Caught this at the cinema today. The board said sold out, but I queued up anyway and got lucky with a single seat. And no wonder it's sold out, the hype for it seems to be huge.

The first half sets up the main character as a tight-lipped stunt slash getaway driver (Ryan Gosling) with a habit of replacing conversation with smouldering silences. He falls for his pretty neighbour and her son, but then Daddy comes back from prison and brings unwanted criminal attention with him. Our hero, inevitably, gets caught up in the ensuing mess.

The halfway point - a straightforward heist - is so tense that my heart was beating in my throat.

But then it almost turns into a different film. Gosling's character turns into a superhuman avenger, dishing out grisly death all over the place. It risks going a little over the top, compromising the subtlety of the story. Thankfully, in the end, the story holds together.

So, does it deserve the hype? Probably. But I reckon I've seen better.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Das Boot

#62 at time of writing.

This is a fantastically involving and claustrophobic film about a German U-boat crew during World War II. Their months at sea are represented as seemingly endless tedium and frustration while they wallow in their own filth, punctuated by moments of sheer panic. It comes across as an exhausting and demoralising existence. You end up rooting for the well-drawn characters - or at least deeply pitying them. Yes, they are Nazis (albeit not the most ardent of Nazis), but in this film they are lonely and suffering human beings first.

The camerawork is impressive, effectively conveying the close, sweaty conditions, and peppered with a mixture of technically challenging and occasionally beautiful shots.

Most of the filming was done over the course of a year, with scenes filmed in sequence to ensure natural growth of beards and hair, increasing skin pallor and signs of strain on the actors, who were forbidden to go out in sunlight for the duration of the long shoot.

One of the actors genuinely injured himself falling off the bridge - the moment is captured in the final film as an unscripted scene in which one of the actors shouts "Mann über Bord!"

Its high production cost (about $18.5 million) ranks it among the most expensive films in the history of German cinema. In 1981, when it was released, it was the second most expensive after Metropolis. It was worth every pfennig.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


#184 at time of writing.

My brother in law said that to appreciate the range and talent of Ben Kingsley, I had to watch Sexy Beast and Gandhi back to back.

I did, and they're both brilliant films, with Kingsley delivering truly exceptional performances. Gangster or guru, he makes the part his own.

In fact, Kingsley (born Krishna Bhanji) has Gujarati ancestry, and Gandhi himself came from Gujarat. Kingsley achieved such a good emulation that locals were said to have thought he was Gandhi's ghost.

Gandhi is a sweeping epic with a cast of thousands and a brisk pace that belies its three hour running time. Telling the story of the man who led India to independence and inspired the world through his philosophy of nonviolent resistance, the film captures the essence of the legend without ever straying too far from the truth for the sake of the story.

The film achieves a fine balance. The British Empire's administrators come across as arrogant and often misguided, but only with such a thoroughly civilised nation would nonviolent resistance ever have worked. In the end, the Empire's respect for the rules and sense of shame for its mistakes earn a measure of credit. There are plenty of oppressive regimes around the world against which Gandhi's enormous discipline would have been wasted.

This is pretty much the best film that could have been made about Gandhi's life, and a testament to Richard Attenborough's talent and commitment - particularly considering he had to find funding for the film himself.

And funding was no mean feat for such an ambitious film. 300,000 extras appeared in the funeral sequence. About 200,000 were volunteers and 94,560 were paid a small fee. The sequence was filmed on 31st Jan 1981, the 33rd anniversary of Gandhi's funeral. 11 crews shot over 20,000 feet of film, which was pared down to 125 seconds in the final release. That had to be an expensive sequence - easy to imagine a studio refusing to bankroll it.