Category Archives: Movies reviews

These reviews are written in a stream of consciousness manner and in my trademark quirky style.

Midnight Express – some musings on the picture.

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I saw the first half of this film at the tender age of 8. I saw the whole thing this week at a not so tender age. Tender were the feet of Billy Hayes after he got the bastinado. That film is a hatchet job on the reputation of Turkey. Mr Hayes has admitted that the film is very inaccurate. I should like to peruse his memoir of his time as a guest of the Turkish Republic to see how unfaithful the film is to the text. But if William Hayes disagreed so strongly with the content of the movie he would not have been so closely associated with promoting it.

A little background. Hayes was born in the United States in 1947. He took a degree in English. He was no impecunious kid from a broken home but had a comfortable middle class upbringing. He became a drug smuggler to get rich quick. He thrice successful took hashish from Turkey back to the United States. On his fourth run he was caught and given the Istanbul haircut. He spent five years in prison. 

Of course one should not have too much sympathy with someone who broke the law in a serious manner four times. The substance he was trafficking is not that dangerous. Certainly at the time especially among the young and the radcial the illegal substance that he was peddling was widely held to do little harm. It is now know that it is a major disbenefit to the health of any person to consume that substance. It impacts on a person’s mental health and it is highyl carcinogenic. It gives them the munchies – makes them eat too much, put on weight, laze around and makes them lose time perception. It is very perilous to drive an automobile or operate machinery whilst under the influence of cannabis.

Hayes has apologised to Turkey for the insults levelled at the Turkish nation for that sucrrilous but engaging film. It was the first of a genre – Western drifter in a foreign clink. It has inspired many books and films to recount much the same tale.

Hayes is a personable character. His chums in prison are Max an English heroin addict, Ehrich a Swede in for drug possession too and a lanky American white. Max has served 12 years behind bars. He is content so long as he can get his paws on narcotics. I thought he came to Turkey in 1958 – very unusual to come so early.

Hayes is by many accounts  gifted raconteur. I look forward to reading his account of his time in gaol.

There is a law in Turkey against insulting Turkishness. I would never commit such a crime. I hold Turkey in high esteem for many reasons that I shall not go into here. I wonder if that motion picture is still prohibited under Turkish law. Mr Hayes returned to Turkey in 2007 and publicly apologised. He became an affluent man from the royalties arising from his prison memoir and the film. It made his name. He became well known as a writer because of this. If he is truly repentant he should pay some of his monies to Turkey in token of his contrition. I have seen videos of him speaking and he is affable. It is a valubale lesson. Someone who speaks calmly and smiles is hard to dislike. 

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The Dead Poets’ Society – some uncollected musings.

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I just watched this film for the 5th time in my life. I gain more from this picture each time I peruse it. This movie is pensive without ever being pedestrian. It is though a trifle ‘sappy’ as Americans would say.

The acting is completely convincing. No actor is a weak link in the chain. Each emotion is portrayed skillfully. The characters are credible. I cannot remember the names so much.

Knox is new to the school half way through the school’s system if you will. He is deeply unsure of himself. He dislikes the sound of his own voice. His quavering is believable. I have known people like that.

I first saw this film shortly after it came out. I was about 10. The boys shown in the film were supposed to be about 16 so considerably older than I was when first I watched this movie. I am now well into adulthood. I have seen these adolescents from both sides. I have observed them as a pre-teenager myself and now as a mature adult who has taught a lot.

The dialogue is credible, pacey and witty. The artifice of the camera work is also engaging without being overdone. Light and shade; colour; panning shots and closeups are all used with virtuosity without being overly fancy.

Some scenes I did not want to watch but I forced myself. It hurt me to go through them because I empathised with the boys so much. Poor Charlie Dalton – he is one of the most amiable characters. I was like him – lovestruck with very little opportunity to meet girls. He tries his best. He goes after Chris – being a girl. Of course so a gorgeous girl has a boyfriend already. Chris is a blonde of uberous beauty. The tresses of her locks, the sheen of her eyes, the faint glow in her youthful cheek, her soulfulness, her purity of heart all make her the perfect object of grief-laden love. Once one claps eyes on Chris one cannot help but be a doomsayer about how Charlie’s infatuation with this stunner will end. Chris boyfriend is on the scene. He is a philistine jock. Looking back at it now Charlie was a little out of order to stroke her hair as she slept and kissing her forehead was not on. He was doing so innocently. There seems to be remarkably little lust in the film – that is unrealistic. There is no homosexual subtext to the film which there should be if it is to be at all believable. That is by the by. When Charlie touches that young lady her boyfriend comes over and punches him several times in the face. It struck me that this was not motivated by anger or even possessiveness but the need to make a stand – to impress his mates. Dalton should rue ever coming near her again. Chris is an early introduction into that iron law of life – the most nubile and personable girls invariably go for a detestable ignoramus who is utterly unworthy of them and forever gloating over his defilement of such a gem.

If I were Charlie I would have got out and never set eyes on Chris again. This would be partly due to fear of another beating but also because I would not wish to be humiliated. Of course he cannot take a warning. He goes to give Chris flowers and reads her a poem. He does so in her school in front of everyone. She buries her face in her hands. What he did was so ill-judged. If I were him I would have died of embarrassment. If I am rejected I accept it immediately and leave rather then deepen my humiliation. Astonishingly she comes to see him to warn him off. It is even more flabbergasting that she agrees to go to the theatre with him. She is a stunner and comes across as a genuinely good person – far too angelic for her thuggish boyfriend. I was wincing at his ineptitude. God bless him for his ardour. It is all an iota too high-minded. In reality he would be as horny as a sailor just landed in Bangkok.

My teenage years were different and much worse. There was a social divide between us and the local community. Many of us were crashing snobs including yours truly. The yokels were held to be inferior. That would not have stopped me penetrating a member of below stairs class if half a chance had presented itself.

Keating is in many ways a sympathetic character. He is certainly not banal. His comedic classroom manner is a breath of fresh air to those boys after the stale style of all the other teachers. Incidentally every one of the staff is male. Keating’s quips lead to serious points and individuality and creativity. He gets through to the boys and inspires them.

The gravamen of my case against this film is the unlikely proposition that adolescent boys would take to old-fashioned poetry with such alacrity. The poems they study are from the 17th and 18th centuries mainly. The subject matter is epicene. The language is of course recherche. Precious few lads of that age would warm to such verses. These poems are often about love. What they mainly crave is sex as I did. I would have been happy with love too but not instead of satisfying my animal urges.

These boys are smitten by this poetry and repair to a cave in the woods that stand hard by the school. The revive the Dead Poets’ Society that the anti-establishment Mr Keating ran when he was a schoolboy at that self-same school – Welton Academy.

One thing that was pointed out to me when we watched this film in English with Mr Peters is that the boys are all WASPS. Not only white but there is no hint of Judaica about the place. No one has an Italian name – not even a German one although they can be WASPS too. The locale is New England so the ethno-religious composition of the pupils is not too different from the surrounding people. They are not permitted to listen to the radio. The film is set in 1959. The Civil Rights Movement is on the march. America is on the brink of a decade of change. I suppose the film is set just before the 1960s because the United States was in upheaval in the 1960.

Neil Perry is perhaps the central boy character of the film. He is a sensitive soul. He is a thesp whereas his down to earth and conventional father has decided that the boy will become a doctor. The father is a kind of villain of the piece though he acts from good motives. The film is a loud lesson that it is wrong for parents to try to force their children down avenues that the children do not want. The father is at heart a kind man and acts from a desire to get the best for his son. I now have some sympathy for the father’s point of view which I did not have before. The father alludes to his son having opportunities that he, the father, never dreamed of. Neil’s bravura performance in ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is acclaimed by everyone but his unimaginative and practical father. Mr Perry is a disciplinarian and a distant father – typical of his era.

Neil is told he is being withdrawn from the school and will be sent to a military school. Back at home we see Mrs Perry. My Drama teacher said of this woman that she gives one of the best performances in the film. She is only on screen for about two minutes but one can tell the whole history of the marriage. She is smoking nervously – she is a repressed character and she frets by nature. Her husband is domineering but not cruel. She is deeply staid and subservient. I noticed little things on this viewing that I had not picked up on before. So much care is taken over the minutiae by a talented director. The clothes express the characters but also the way things are done. I noticed that by the bed Mr Perry has his shoes aligned – I would kick them off anywhere. His watch is laid just so on the bedside table. He is a control freak and anal retentive. Neil Perry commits suicide in the middle of the night.

In the end the school looks into what Keating has been doing. The pupils inform on him for fear of being booted out if they do not. Keating is duly dismissed.

Robin Williams is at his best when he plays the wise acre. His cracking jokes and doing accents, pulling faces and what not is his forte. When he acts sincere is somehow comes across as schmaltzy – as overacted. I like Keating in a way. On the other hand his encouragement of rebelliousness goes a little too far. A school needs discipline. Any teacher who told the pupils to stand on desks would be hauled over the coals for it. Poetry can be enjoyed and studied with a rigorous academic approach – the two need not be mutually exclusive.

Overall this film was a little too sentimental. I have taught teenage boys a lot. I liked Romantic poetry but few did. Maybe Britishers are much more cynical than Americans. It might also have been the era. The film was released in 1987. I watched it i the 1990s. Maybe this was a much more sardonic era than the 1950s or even the 1980s. So much had changed between when the film is supposed to take place in the 1950s and when the film was shot 28 years later.

I do identify with Keating to some degree. He is the quirky teacher who makes them laugh. But when in trouble the pupils use this against him. Another lacuna to this film. Amongst the boys there is not one bad kid. Even their rebellion is kind and harmless enough. Only one of them is a little bit apathetic about Keating’s methods and writes a poem that runs, ”the cat sat on the mat.”

Times have changed. The smoking scenes might well be cut now. The teachers smoke pipes and this is seen as not even a vice or an eccentricity. The drinking would be more disapproved of. Keating touches the boys in a totally innocent manner – a hand on the shoulder or around them. There would not be allowed no. No physical contact is to take place – even a handshake may be inappropriate. Things were different back in the 1980s and radically different a way back in the 1950s.

The film examines the timeless debate between idealism and realism. This question can be asked of all sorts of quandaries about ethics and in this case about whether to pursue one’s one dreams or to be a careerist and a conformist. The film appears to contradict itself in that the conformists win. The staid authoritarians win. Those who experiment with individualism and chasing their own ambitions end up killing themselves, being sacked or else surrendering to the authorities and dobbing in Keating. Is the message of the film that following one’s own quest is quixotic? Such a noble objective leads but to calamity. I have to say I have some fellow-feeling for the more straight down the line teachers on this one. These tweed clad reactionaries are doing their best too. One of the most significant exchanges is when McAllister is told by Keating, ”I never had you down as a cynic.”/ McAllister pauses to consider his words. ”Not a cynic – I am a realist”, replied McAllister. There is of course no fine line between the two as there is no sharp dividing line between idealist and fantasist. Those who have a shot at their dreams usually end up bitterly disappointed. On the other hand it would be a pity not to try. It would be a shame to squander one’s talent and do a job that one dislikes. 

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On balance this is a worthy film. I certainly recommend it.

”Around the world in 80 days”

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I read this Jules Vernes novel back in September. It is fast moving and that always appeals to me. It is richly descriptive if a little turgid by modern standards. Vernes obviously knew a lot about British life judging from the depth of his narrative. It was almost science fiction when it was written. All this technology was so modern.

I noticed how some words are antiquated such as ”vise”. I read it in English. I remember aged 7 watching the film at my auntie Stefania’s house. I could not understand how he thought he had lost the wager but turned out to have won it. Stefania’s husband Bryan tried to enlighten me.

It is a classic tale. Phileas Fogg is so fearless and decisive. He is not an archetypal hero – his coldness, anti-social nature and pedantry marked him out as an oddball. It is predictable that he wed the Parsee widow whom Passepourtout helped to rescue from suttee.

I wonder why Vernes made a Britisher and not a Frenchman accomplish this feat. Maybe the British were more into technology. Moreover, so much of the world was British territory.

The tone of the narrative is so authoritative – like a lecture. It is so knowing and almost condescending  – very factual. The inter-splicing of plots is intriguing. There is the subplot of the theft and the bet is said to be Fogg’s alibi for haring off around the globe. Highly recommended. This is so with most books I read as I do not open them unless I judge it probable that I will enjoy digesting them. If they are tedious I discard them.

”The Road to Guantanamo”. A review.

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I support George W Bush on most issues. I believed and continue to believe that armed action in Iraq and Afghanistan by the coalitions was the right thing to do. I further believe that it was right to send battlefield detainees to Guantanamo Bay and hold them outside most of the provisions of the Geneva Convention. Watching this film was scintillating though I cannot call it entertaining. It was also useful in forcing me to re-examine my opinions.

The detenus came across as humans. In an armed conflict one tends to de-humanise the enemy. It is easier to kill them that way. I am glad to say I have never been within a 100 miles of a battle and I never wish to experience war. To my surprise this film included interviews with the detainees themselves, news footage as well as dramatic reconstructions.

It focuses on 4 Britishers of Pakistani ancestry who went to Pakistan in October 2001. They then crossed over the porous border just as Afghanistan was becoming a war zone between the Taleban and the coalition. In fact Afghanistan had long been the scene of fighting between the Northern Alliance and the Taleban.

It seems a strange decision to cross the frontier into a war zone unless of course one intends to fight. Not a nice spot for a holiday at the time. These youths were all pious Muslims who say a preacher besought the congregation to go to Afghanistan and help. Help in what sense? Fight? If not there was a lot of humanitarian work to be done except these men do not seem to have recounted doing any. It was a bizarre choice to go to Afghanistan at the time and even suspicious but that does not in itself make them terrorists.

These men came across as nice guys but that does not mean they were not engaged in terrorism. One can come across as amiable and indeed be very amiable on a personal level and still hold loathsome views and commit the most horrendous crimes. They say they went to Taleban controlled areas. The town they were in came under attack by the coalition and they surrendered to the Northern Alliance. Every man – even if not a combatant – was treated as though he were one. They were held in poor conditions. There was some harsh treatment form the Northern Alliance. Their arms were tied to tight they say. They were held in a container with no ventilation – that was cruel, if it is true. The Northern Alliance shot through it to provide breathing holes. The prison they were kept in was very overcrowded. They were not fed enough and allowed no exercise. I am of course taking everything they said at face value. For most of the program they gave an impression of veracity. Occasionally I did see the blink rate race. This is a sign that they are probably being mendacious.

They then came to the attention of the US military. The US had heard that some prisoners spoke English. Why did these men identify themselves? They may have feared the consequences if they were discovered not revealing this fact. They may have thought it would get them better treatment. They were interrogated. They interrogators did not abuse them. Shouting and the use of foul language is not abuse in these circumstances. Holding a gun to someone’s head when he is not a significant threat I do consider to be wrong. These men were tied up and on their knees in front of two armed men. The US considered these men to be highly dangerous but I think they took it too far. I began sympathising with these British Pakistanis a lot.

The US military had these men in a pen for days or weeks. They lack of exercise and the fact that they were not allowed to talk seems very unfair. The American troops moved these guys around by dragging them very fast. I suppose this was to make escape or fighting very difficult.

The men allege that they were chained in uncomfortable positions and forced to listen to very loud music. I found myself thinking of this as torture. Maybe that word is too strong. Abuse would be better. The men do not allege beatings -electric shocks and so on.

Ifound myself losing respect for the US military. Are you so feeble that you have to keep the men hooded and chained when they are in your custody – when you are trained soldiers –  when you have guns and they have none –  when they are thousands of miles from home and successful escape is a virtual impossibility?

The interrogation sessions did not include mistreatment. It seems to me that the US invented things to try and scare the detainees into implicating themselves. ”So and so said you did this…” The strategy is to convince the prisoner that he has already lost and the only thing he can do to help himself is to confess.

I think it probable that these men were involved in terrorism in a minor way. I believe that some of them have subsequently admitted that.

I feel it was wrong to deny them lawyers, contact with him and consular services for so long. The US authorities seemed to be so convinced that these men were guilty that they were not willing to consider that they might be innocent.

I re-state that in the extraodinary circumstances after 9/11 it was right to use extraordinary measures. In that most dangerous time peoples’ rights had to be curtailed temporarily. The thing is this must be temporary. It must have a sunset clause. Of course in wars compromises have to be made and innocent people suffer. The encroachment on individual rights must be a short term thing. It cannot go on for ever.

The British Army banned hooding after it was used in Northern Ireland in 1972. The US very unfairly criticised the UK excessively. Yet the US military used this method over 30 years after the British military scrapped it as an abuse.

The US seemed to think the prisoners were super fighters. They had to be chained and hooded. I will say this for the US policy I do not think that any American guards were seriously harmed by the prisoners or anyone escaped. The US authorities always said these men were too dangerous to be allowed better treatment.

Obama promised to close Guantanamo by January 2010. Over a year has gone by since that expired. Why is the media not holding him to account? He is getting too easy a ride.

The men in the documentary claim that a mentally disturbed prisoner was badly beaten because he kept calling out at a female soldier. If that is true then that was an abuse.

The scene where a guard stamps on and kills a scorpion to save a prisoner was revealing. Suddenly a guard seemed to care for a prisoner. The prisoner thanked him profusely. It was a rare moment of warmth in the film between the two sides.

Of course that the US did is nothing compared to what her enemies did. Yes, the US should set the standard for good behaviour. I must remind myself though that this film is totally one-sided. It allows assertions by one side to go unchallenged. It shows the US personnel as being arrogant, bigoted, ignorant, cruel, fascistic and brutal at all times. They Americans only once come across as decent in that scorpion incident. To be fair this depiction of the Americans has some truth in it especially when seen from the perspective of those held by them in such conditions. It was almost funny when the American woman asked the prisoners to work for the US. What – after all this you think we like you guy? In my mind I was cheering the prisoners on when they swore at the guards and won little victories.

What can I say in favour of the US treatment of these men? The prisoners were well-fed; they had clean clothes; they were washed; they had medical care; they slept in clean warm and dry places; they were provided with the Koran.

Much though I disagree with Islam and indeed all religions I do not oppose it. If people wish to be strict Muslims and pray five times daily and so forth I would do nothing to obstruct them. Of course such people can be totally good people.

”The Long Firm”

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I watched this lately. It was gripping. There were no weak performances. Harry is a gay Jewish gangster. He does not come across as gay at all. It glamourised 1960s gangsterism when they only hurt bad people or so the myth goes. Again it made me long for those times that I never lived through. There was police corruption then. I am not aware of any now in the UK.

The sets were also evocative. The clothes and hairstyles summoned up the era for me. Those were the days!

In the end Harry spends ages in prison and a prick of a radical lecturer idolises him as an anti-capitalist resister. In fact Harry is a capitalist with knobs on.

The Long Firm is of course a means of defrauding suppliers and making a big profit into the bargain. Harry explains this. The trouble is Harry is shown to be totally likeable. The film is too sympathetic to these scum.

The Plan Man.

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I watched this film starring Robbie Coltrane. It was engaging but not superb. I have some admiration for daring criminals. But I must remember they are wicked people and are very cruel to ordinary folk. Bank robbery is certainly not without victims. These thugs are vicious and deserve long spells in gaol.

Anyhow Coltrane plays an advocate in Scotland. His wife was as plain as a pike but not a mass of fat like he is. His wife is a Labour politician. She puts her lippy on her trout pout. Before she appears at a press conference she says it is lipstick and tits that count. Soon she is boned by a senior English policeman whose marriage is breaking up. She is going to move in with this South Britisher but in the end decides not to.

Coltrane defends crims. He gets them off. He starts to plan bank raids. These are indeed carried out.

Some of the film is far-fetched with criminals taunting the police outside a station and provoking a chase.

He plans a bank raid and draws in gangs from all over the UK. The gangsters are just so hackneyed. Have they all studied the same ”how to swagger like a gangster” manual? When Coltrane is planning the raids he looks extra wooden. It is so unconvincing.

I must say this. Some of the characters are recognisable. The police and some of the chattering class friends of Coltrane are credible. The film is at least fast-moving.

The bank raid at the end with the criminals running to an airport is ridiculous. Do police chiefs really say ”knock, knock, knock” to all units? The most unbelievable part is the escape in helicopter. Then it lands somewhere else. Rather than make Coltrane come with them the criminals who already suspect let him stay aboard. Why let him escape in the chopper? They do not even shoot at it as it takes off.

Layer Cake – some thoughts of the film of this name.

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I saw this film about 3 years ago or rather I saw most of it then. I cannot quite think where. Last night I watched it again. It is enjoyable –  fast-moving and the characters are vivid though stylised. The gangsters are fairly hackneyed. What stock characters have they for gangsters? The old don who is knowing, wise, respected, self-assured etc – the young-going-on-middle aged succesful gangster who would like a shot at the big time – the prison-hardened muscle and so forth.  There was also the sexy young moll who is very worldly-wise. There are foreign hoods getting on the game of the established villains. One of the most convincing characters is someone who I think is nameless. He seemed to be an elective mute and was a man mountain. He had mousey brown hair, a thick moustache and tiny beady eyes. He concentrates fully on the scene and he shoots the two who stole the drugs – he plugs them without the least ceremony or compunction. For him it was as easy as stepping on a maggot. Was this the actor’s true character or is he a very gifted actor? It all came across without him uttering a syllable. He seemed totally devoid of human warmth or indeed any emotion. He is the sort that makes wars or could be a public executioner. He has no empathy, no compassion. He is somehow lobotomized. What is not quite human without him. It is that Delboy type in the white shell suit and cap he murders along with the skinny Sharon Tate lookalike who is flighty.

It is a typical organised crime film. There are no major surprises.

I liked seeing Sienna Miller dressing up sexy and going to seduce Daniel Craig – except he has been bagged by some hoodlums. Sienna did a very good Cockney accent.

The Serbian gangster is in fact a Romanian actor and the words he says are Romanian – the English translation of them is correct I am told.

The bloke who pretended to be the Earl of Oxford –  at first I thought that was a feeble imitation of the pukka accent. Then I realised that in the film they were chavs who were attempting to speaking in plummy tones. So it was an excellent impression of the Cockney attempt to sound like a toff.

The soundtrack was stirring and the cinematography was arresting. It is well put together. Surely this film deserves some slaps for glamourising crime. The criminals come across as rich, successful, witty and even physically attractive. Ok, a couple of the criminals get killed. However, the suffering of those who get hurt is not dwelt upon. It is treated humorously. We are invited to identify with the protagonists and not their victims.