My country’s lockdown will be entering another phase this Friday, but sadly the cinemas will still be off limits. I am sure the day I sit in a cinema hall and the movie (hopefully, Christopher Nolan’s Tenet) comes on, tears of joy will probably stream down.
As much as I am excited to go back to my job, I am going to miss the days I spent watching my treasure trove of movies collected over the years. To keep my arm-chair critic’s mind sharp, I served up badinages about almost everything I have seen on my social media. The movie selection was an eclectic mix with lots of classics and arthouse films interspersed with some mainstream fare. So, why not serve up a “greatest hits” of sorts? And that’s what these series of posts will be: a carefully curated quick musing of movies, old and new, of movies that had wowed, frustrated and moved me. So with the hip words of Blue’s Fly By… System up with the top down, got the city on lockdown, movies here I go…
Nashville is a 1975 American satirical musical ensemble comedy-drama film directed by Robert Altman. The film follows various people involved in the country and gospel music businesses in Nashville, Tennessee over a five-day period, leading up to a gala concert for a populist outsider running for President on the Replacement Party ticket.
Robert Altman’s movies are acquired taste and I usually have respect for people who get his movies. I can finally scratch Nashville off my list. What a movie! This one defies easy pigeon-holing and it totally went against the grain of Hollywood’s storytelling stylistics with a joyful bounce in its step. Nashville offers a panoramic view of America’s political and cultural landscape, weaving through 24 main characters. It is funny, poignant, tragic and despicable, sometimes in a space of a few minutes cycling through the different feels. It sounded crazily impossible on paper, but Altman made it work, creating a wild tapestry of quirky characters in crazy situations. The camera can focus on one character and in the next second focuses on another, and you will never be befuddled. Because it is so vivid, your eyes will concentrate on the random happenings. I came away from this getting a keen observation on American life and its eccentric byways. My favourite scene is Tom (Keith Carradine) launching into the Academy Award winning song I’m Easy while the camera glides and segues to three women sitting at different spots in a pub, all thinking the song is about them. One of the most brilliant scenes in cinema I have ever seen. This one has a life of its own and one can see it again and pick up new details.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a 1966 American black comedy-drama film directed by Mike Nichols in his directorial debut. The screenplay by Ernest Lehman is an adaptation of the play of the same name by Edward Albee. The film stars Elizabeth Taylor as Martha and Richard Burton as George, with George Segal as Nick and Sandy Dennis as Honey.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is one of two films which was nominated in all the major categories and most deservedly so. A landmark film of unflinching honesty and seething anger. It’s about a bitter, aging couple, with the help of alcohol, use their young houseguests to fuel anguish and emotional pain towards each other over the course of one distressing night. Wow! Incredible film, a true actors’ showcase. I felt like I was in a masterclass of amazing acting. All four actors dissolved into their roles. Emotionally charged with breathless vitriol, this is killing each other with words. All four character arcs are wonderfully realised and I sat in my seat completely enamoured with some of the finest acting ever. Elizabeth Taylor is stunning and fully deserved her award many times over. She can be a conniving bitch, vomiting hurtful words and yet can be vulnerable in the next moment. Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? Me, and you should be too. Emotionally, I was totally spent after the movie. This was a perfect film.
Three Identical Strangers (2018)
Three Identical Strangers is a 2018 documentary film directed by Tim Wardle and starring Edward Galland, David Kellman, and Robert Shafran. It examines a set of American identical triplets, born in 1961 and adopted as six-month-old infants by separate families, unaware that each child had brothers.
Wow! Just freaking WOW! This is a true rollercoaster of a movie and it’s all freaking true! The first 15 minutes is the ultimate feel-good arc and then I was thinking “wait a second. That’s the end of the story. It can’t be topped.” Topped, it does, so many times over. This one has so many twists and turns, but through it all it never loses its authenticity and emotional fidelity. I am being intentionally vague here because it is better to go into this one blind.
Dekalog (1989 – 1990)
Dekalog is a 1989 Polish drama series of films directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski for television and co-written by Kieślowski with Krzysztof Piesiewicz, with music by Zbigniew Preisner. It consists of ten one-hour films, inspired by the decalogue of the Ten Commandments. Each short film explores characters facing one or several moral or ethical dilemmas as they live in an austere housing project in 1980s Poland. This is not a TV series that one should binge-watch, each episode is thought provoking and invites many hours of debate. None of the episodes sprints out of the blocks from the get-go. They take their time to slowly unravel the character’s agendas and motivations. Each episode grapples deftly with complex moral and existential dilemmas concerning life, love, hate, truth, jealousy and death. At first, we were trying to study how it is related to a particular commandment, but after a while we realised Kieslowski doesn’t want us to conveniently pigeonhole any of them. In fact, some episodes delve into two or more of the commandments. As I am typing this, some of the stories are still lingering in my consciousness and I particularly love one, five, six, nine and ten. Episode five has the longest murder scene depicted on film and it is a masterpiece in its astute study of unlawful killing and justifiable killing. It isn’t easy to watch and not something you can check your social media and munch on popcorn while watching. The drama demands your undivided attention. Taken altogether, Dekalog is an intelligent exploration of the unknowable forces that shape all our lives. I am going to go through the wealth of special features one of these days.
Wings of Desire (1987)
After we binged Netflix’s Unorthodox, I was pondering over what to follow the excellent 4-episode series and I decided to use Berlin as the setting and watched Wings of Desire (1987), a romantic fantasy film directed by Wim Wenders. The film is about invisible, immortal angels who populate Berlin and listen to the thoughts of its human inhabitants, comforting the distressed. Even though the city is densely populated, many of the people are isolated or estranged from their loved ones. One of the angels, played by Bruno Ganz, falls in love with a beautiful, lonely trapeze artist, played by Solveig Dommartin. The angel chooses to become mortal so that he can experience human sensory pleasures, ranging from enjoying food to touching a loved one, and so that he can discover human love with the trapeze artist. Inspired by art depicting angels visible around West Berlin, at the time enclaved by the Berlin Wall, Wenders and author Peter Handke conceived of the story and continued to develop the screenplay throughout the French and German co-production. The film was shot by Henri Alekan in both colour and a sepia-toned black-and-white, the latter being used to represent the world as seen by the angels. The cast includes Otto Sander, Curt Bois and Peter Falk.
I was a big Wim Wenders fan years ago, but have yet to see Wings of Desire. I did see Angel, the Hollywood remake of it and adore the idea. Wings of Desire is nothing like the remake. There isn’t much of a plot. The part where the Angel gives up his immortality comes very late in the story. I find the movie alluring and it gently seduces you, and lulls you into a gentle lullaby. It resembles a symphony of a city made up of damaged and hurting souls. The world through the angels’ eyes is black and white; they linger and listen to the thoughts of human beings. Sometimes they will lay a hand on a hurting person to comfort him but they can’t influence him. I got a rude shock when an angel touch the shoulder of a young man about to commit suicide and “talks” to him and at last the man still jumps to his death. So the angels are the eyes of God, depicting His loneliness as mankind sway further and further from His ideals. The whole film feels like a tapestry of sounds and images, arresting and beguiling. Masterpiece. Visual poetry.
The Half of It (2020)
Netflix’s The Half Of It wears its heart on its sleeves, delivering “a different kind of love story”. Actually, I just wanted to put the movie tagline in a sentence and I wouldn’t say it’s something you haven’t seen before. The beauty of it is not the constituents because they all come from a familiar place, but the sum total of it all is the beauty. It’s a coming-of-age tale, a YA genre that even adults will understand because we have all been teenagers in love before and a classic romance story. The spine is definitely taken from Cyrano de Bergerac, but Alice Wu in only her second movie puts a refreshing spin on it. If you don’t know the classic story of Cyrano de Bergerac…
Soldier and poet Cyrano de Bergerac is in love with Roxane, but he’s too ashamed to admit it because of his big nose. When a cadet, Christian, falls for Roxane, he asks for Cyrano’s help in sharing his feelings. Cyrano writes love letters signed with Christian’s name, and Roxane doesn’t realize that it’s Cyrano’s words she falls for. She marries Christian, and Cyrano continues to keep the other man’s secret, even after tragedy strikes.
There’s a Hollywood remake called Roxanne which is also worth a watch, but I digress. Alice Wu delivers the classic story with some cool swerve and verve that makes it so relevant in today’s teenagers’ world. Thank goodness, I am out of it. It’s so messy out there on the football field of love. I particularly enjoyed catching all the pop, literary and cultural references like Casablanca, The Philadelphia Story, City Lights, The Remains of the Day and oh my goodness…. Wings of Desire which I only just saw last week. The breakout performances are great and the writing intelligent, and it’s so heartwarming. It isn’t something that is going to win the Oscars, but it will definitely occupy a warm corner of my heart.
If you are surfing Netflix and wondering what to see, The Half Of It earns an excellent and hearty recommendation from me. Snuggle up, break out the drinks and chips and get ready to feel young again.