Wednesday, January 30, 2013

THE BALLAD OF NARAYAMA (Japanese) (1983)

A few films manage to capture the grace of mortality like Shohei Imamura’s this timeless masterpiece. ‘Ballad of Narayama’ is an unusual film that chronicles the life and death of inhabitants of remote village in natural lap of mountain. Its strange mandatory ritual that at reaching age of 70, each villager must be carried over a rugged mountain path to reach the burial ground on summit and left there to die. The film captures the unforgettable journey of embracing the death in strange way.

The film’s first half shows us dark glimpse of life of a matriarch family run by an old lady. Imamura represents the hardships, natural calamity and basic human instincts of the characters that run parallel to the wildlife. The copulation of snakes, toads and other wild and imagery intermittently serve as filler to show us uncontrolled primal instinctual natural urges. The film has many sexually explicit scenes and Imamura showed it so unsparingly. The first half is full of such sadistic and surreal tones which on one hand showing the brutal hand to mouth existence and focus on a sexually frustrated young son who didn’t mind getting relief from a dog when unable to get a woman.

But it’s the last 30 minutes of the film which makes it an absolutely humane drama. It is visually and emotionally poetic high of the film where an oldest son carries his mother on Mount Narayama and witnesses the shocking sight on the top; too despicable to let his aged mother die. After emotional parting, he witnessed another man following the same ritual till half way and then lurks back to the corrupt human nature when nobody is there to watch you whether you did it sincere spirituality or not. After witnessing this tragedy, the son returns once again to his mother on top to let her know about snowfall, considered as blessing of God in the last moments of her life.

The film is beautifully portrayed and it has moments of timelessness; the reasons why it managed to win Palme d’Or in 1983. Need I rate this? 

Friday, January 25, 2013


For the generation of western filmmakers, the films made by Anthony Mann in 1950s are stepping stones for introducing the psychological tension and unseen touch of overt violence. Ford is surely the father of this purely American genre but it’s Mann who acquainted us the different taste of dark, noirish, intense and gritty western and added a wide gamut of sensibilities, contradictory characters and conflict. Mann’s films probe the human psyche’s obsessions and latent desires in startlingly adventurous and even disturbing ways. Scorsese has singled out Mann as a primary influence on his cinematic world view and stylistics. Among those brilliant five westerns he made in 50s starring James Stewart.  ‘Bend of the River’ is the second film of that sparkling combination shot in Technicolor.

It was an ambitious western of Mann where a stagecoach of farmers with grub stock headed by a stranger cowboy named Glyn. Mann shot the film on real and tough locations and the whole journey part was shot so brilliantly. But what’s more arduous for the journey part of the stagecoach is not crossing the river or that hilly region but human vices. The wagons full of stock get more money than the imagination and there lurks the danger. Scarcity of food gave birth to greed for money and scheming. Vices such as envy, treachery runs in abundance. The earlier part seems more like Ford’s ideal world; it’s the later half that’s surprising one. Its here the film settles a gritty tone of Mann’s forte where human vice keeps shifting sides in dual faces of characters. Decided settlement or gold camp, greed or need, winning the sincere trust or aim for the big bounty…throughout the film the ambivalent stands keep shifting sides of men here.

The screen camaraderie between Arthur Kennedy and Stewart is a thing to watch especially their rivalry to save each others lives a number of times in entire film. Mann kept the ambivalent stand about hidden identity of both of these men. From their very first encounter we feel it. A few director managed to capture both beauty and thrill of hills like Mann in his westerns. Lovely Julie Adams is surely an added attraction in this genre of male bastion. The gripping climax at the bend of the river shows Mann’s commitment to his cinema where load full of horses and wagons crossing river and shooting rifles. Mann surely made better westerns throughout the decade but this is special since it began that spark.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Quite surprisingly out of his usual fair combination with James Stewart, Anthony Mann made this B&W western starring brilliant Henry Fonda as Hickman, an old bounty hunter came to town as unwelcome stranger. He came to town just to collect his prize money from a sheriff’s office. The young and newly appointed amateur sheriff is played by Anthony Perkins. What we see is chemistry between young Perkins and towering Fonda where the disillusioned sheriff turned bounty hunter helping a naive young sheriff to build confidence to guns and guts.

Compared to his edgy, dark and tense filled Stewart combos, this one is quite mild in tone and plot, however the film is indeed a genuine attempt. There’s not much to ask about the film when there’s man like Fonda to watch in the film. It has fine camera work, quite a hallmark of Mann films. The natural landscapes and moving shots selections were getting better with every next movie he made. Once again here is an action on mount, a typical Mann western trait. Infact there’re many shots and scenes that reminds me ‘Butch Cassidy & Sundance Kid’.


Sunday, January 13, 2013


Another outstanding western made by Anthony Mann and I wonder why this man so brilliant in his forte of westerns started making epic films like ‘El Cid’ & ‘The Fall of Roman Empire’. Jimmy Stewart and Mann’s combination is something as sparkling on screen as Ford and John Wayne and Leone and Clint Eastwood. On one hand Stewart kept playing those self doubting Hitchcock heroes and on the other hand he kept playing those angst ridden cowboys in Mann films. Stewart is undoubtedly Hollywood actor to watch in that golden period.

The plot here is bit noirish, setting tone for 70s Michael Caine starrer ‘Get Carter’, as Stewart trailing the man responsible for his brother’s death and while setting his feet on the town, embroiled in King Lear like family struggle of a aging and turning blind cattle baron. His blood son is sadist weakling and the other reliable one turns out as rebel by resentment and involves in dirty deal of selling guns to Apaches. The film is again taut, bit tragic, bit sentimental and memorable for shining performances of the cast. Surely all of them were Mann’s gifted talent including filming of those real landscape and mounting location as ambivalent and dangerous as extreme psychological states of the characters.

Classic western.


Friday, January 11, 2013


Anthony Mann made some of the remarkable westerns starring James Stewart in 1950s and this one is truly classic masterpiece. An embittered bounty hunter with his hysterical and disturbing past hunting for a wanted man in territory. Along the trail he encountered two men and made them partners. He successfully caught his man with his dame. Troubles start lurking at every nook and corner with slightest miss and the journey is arduous with wilderness runs in men and nature.

What makes this an exceptional film is its taut script, superb pace and finely acted with brilliantly explored tension between all four male characters with vulnerable bait of a female. Stewart is once again a man to watch along with Robert Ryan as sardonic baddy Ben. Mann’s camera captured the fine mountain scenic beauty in color juxtaposing the nature with characters’ inner turmoil. Many parts of the film remind me another brilliant western of that era staring Bogart.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

CAGED (1950)

Amid the new entrants of Women’s State Prison, Marrie Allen is an odd new misfit entry. She’s just 19 years young, beautiful first offender sentenced for 15 years imprisonment for being accessory in armed robbery with her husband who’s dead now. She’s frightened and feels lonely amid regular bullies. During medical check up, it was found that she’s pregnant. Isolation in prison brought the terrible despair leading either to suicide or decay. The bossy, corrupt, heavy bodied Matron Harbor is the real pain in ass for inmates.

Though the film belong to noir genre that pulls some of the parts so well in the beginning and the end but the middle one is quite repetitive melodrama with tad slow pace. This is an absolute ladies noir without a single male character to watch in the entire film except that doctor who attended Marie’s child delivery in prison. Eleanor Parker performed well but it’s the character of Matron Harbor played by Hope Emerson that made us feel the tension, surely a lady villain to watch. Agnes Moorehead as an upright and sincere superintendent fighting against corrupt bureaucrats and crooked matron is worthy to mention.

Average watch.



Martin Rome is tough criminal who killed a cop and now on a hospital bed struggling for life. Cops awaiting his recovery to put him on trial and an attorney need him for confession to save his client in a murder and jewel robbery case. Marty managed to escape from imprisoned hospital bed to check the things out and save his girl in jeopardy but adds another murder on his account. All the guys who helped him were nabbed by the law except him. The nemesis was awaiting him in most unusual way.

Robert Siodmak made some of the finest noir films in 40s and this is one of his gripping and intensifying noir with tough and strong characters with plot that balances both sentiments and cynicism. The highlight of the film is stellar performances by its both lead men. Victor Mature’s Cop act as Candella manages to win our sympathy as upright lawman who is also family friend of Marty, played by Richard Conte with tough and arrogant Italian mannerism in his act. Don’t know whether it’s only me or others but I found quite close similarity of Conte’s look, facial expressions, body language and dialogue delivery with one of my favorite Indian actor Mr. Balraj Sahni. The conflict between Marty and Candella brought many intense and emotional scenes including the climax at church. The film turns out perhaps the first American film that portrayed the Italian family & crime connection in Hollywood cinema with many memorable scenes that later typifies the genre.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Starring Alan Ladd as professional killer Raven in his career launching major role, it’s an engaging early noir adapted from Graham Greene’s novel with his typical trait of cop and criminal hunt. The film opens with killer’s job done for some chemical formula. In return he was paid by double cross and fraud money that puts him into direct jeopardy. A cop is sniffing him and the lady encounters him by chance who happens to be the cop’s girlfriend. The film is engaging but predictable one; though director Frank Tuttle used many ingredients to pull it as interesting as possible- an assassin with abnormal wrist bone, a chemical conglomerate, secret chemical formula, cat and mouse chase that tours us to a gas factory, sewage canal, and railway platform bridge and finally a chamber of villain that reminds me Bond films. He is a corporate tycoon on his state of art wheel chair and keeps a pen that turns out as secret gun selling the chemical gas formula to the Japanese enemy.

Ladd is fine and he seems quite boyish and too handsome to play an assassin compared to those hard boiled noir heroes but then that's what made a shift to Hollywood's gangster noir cinema where a young dashing, handsome and cool hitman switches the gear from that ugly old face gangsters, paving a way to French Cinema's Alain Delon to name instantly. Veronica Lake is not your typical femme fatale but surely a lady to watch that shuffles between the cop, the criminal and a night club owner. The film has worth mentioning B&W camera work and a strong reason to catch without fail.

Recommended for noir lovers.


Saturday, January 5, 2013


One of quite lesser known Ferrara compared to ‘Bad Lieutenants’ and ‘King of New York’, his two quite popular films. The film is modern retelling of ‘West Side Story’ mixes with ‘Mean Streets’. It’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ of 80’s portraying romance amid ethnic gang war between young Chinese tong and Italian Mafia living in neighborhood streets But the film is terribly lacking Ferrara shock or touch except the last twenty minutes. There isn't edgy feel to it. It’s lame in execution and poor in more than one respect. There’s neither charm nor fire in romance and nor gritty intensity to gang violence too. Moreover the film is all too predictable and throughout gave seen it all feeling.  

Disappointing Ferrara :(


Friday, January 4, 2013

BUFFALO ‘66 (1998)

An unusually funny and entertaining comic drama to watch without fail. The man in multitasking here is Vincent Gallo in his brilliant directorial debut who has not only written, directed and acted but also scored the original music by himself; quite an arrogant statement just like his character of Billy in the film or rather an achievement on independent spirit of filmmaking. Billy, a sleazy hot headed ex-con kidnaps a feisty dumb young girl as soon as gets out of prison and gets her to pretend as his loving wife for the visit of his parents’ home. Parents are wacked out too, unaware about Billy’s been away in jail.

Wonderful quirky humor runs through out the film in this low budget independent film and Gallo has achieved it through bizarre romance between two unlikely characters performed so damn well by Gallo and Christina Ricci. Along with them there’re eccentric performances by Billy’s parents too. His sports obsessed mom and his pervert Dad who takes advantage of her son’s pretended wife played so brilliantly by Ben Gazzara. Gallo also covers the film with fine visual style and images too including those intermittent short flashbacks pop up on screen. There are number of scenes that made me laugh out loudly whether its dinner table scene, auto photo session, bowling alley or demand for hot chocolate at Restaurant. The film becomes quite a serious towards the end but Gallo surprises me with a real happy ending towards the end.

Ratings- 8/10 

Thursday, January 3, 2013


‘When every prospect pleases, and only man is vile.’

One of ruthless and absolutely hardcore noir that captures the sinister, corrupt and nihilist tone so brilliantly. Here is a noir where no character is less important or trivial, Robert Wise captures the characters full of dark instinctual, behavioral, weaknesses. Especially the two lead players of opposite gender involved in their hunt for money. Sam is kind of tough, hotheaded impulsive masculine who punches first and asks later, he can kill anybody just out of his whimsical insecurity that he conceive in his head in a moment of uncontrolled frenzy. Helen is a suave and smart divorcee who’s chasing another man and she’s brilliant and irresistible femme fatale to watch from beginning to the end. Part of her is rotten and still she wins our sympathy as she’s the case who follows her heart and instinct in totally opposite directions. It’s hard to guess her motive or intentions from the very beginning of the film when she discovered the neighborhood murder and deliberately didn’t bring anybody’s attention. Money and lust is the chief vile here.  There is an intense sexual tension and rivalry boiling on screen from the very moment of Helen and Sam’s encounter on gambling bet table.

There’s not a single trivial scene unrelated to plot progression. Though plot is finely crafted, it’s not the plot but characters that are intriguing highlight here and all the cast performed so damn well. Claire Trevor as Helen and Lawrence Tierney as notorious heady killer Sam is surely a noir pair to watch without fail. The interesting character of smart fat detective uttering fine quotations is wonderful too. Like to share one which I love so much- “As you grow older, you’ll discover that life is very much like coffee: the aroma is always better than the actuality. May that be your thought of the day.”

Highly recommended.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

THE THIEF (1952)

How about watching a tense filled noir without a single line of dialogue in its entire running time that unravels the plot of cold war spy thriller. Russel Rouse’ ‘The Thief’ is unique, unusual and unparalleled noir made without a single spoken dialogue. An award winning Nuclear Physics scientist- Dr. Allen Fields is a rat passing the top secret  documents of US Atomic Energy to Russians. The routine set up was disturbed and ruined by a chance accident that makes FBI sniffing after him.

It’s an extraordinary achievement. Without a dialogue, Rouse managed to keep the engaging action with limited players, repeated action, cat and mouse chase, psychological tension, claustrophobic set up and brilliant use of mise en scene. The background score and camera work is indeed things for eyes and ears. One has to watch Ray Milland here and he’s pitch perfect in a paranoiac role like this. Along with his award winning ‘Lost Weekend’, this is another film which stays in memory for long. Climax on the top of Enpire State Building is highlight of the film. 


Tuesday, January 1, 2013


A visiting uncle witnesses an unconvinced death of his hospitalized niece. Soon he digs out with his well wishing friends that it was poisoning and not a natural death just like the death of his brother and now its turn of his little nephew. The will of dead man is suggestive one and it points finger towards the stepmother as prime suspect. But it’s hard to get perfect proof and so left unconvicted by court. The man goes too personal to dig out the irreconcilable fact about deadly poison and its whereabouts. Andrew Stone’s this gripping and thrilling noir is indeed an intriguing howdonit rather than whodunit. Though it’s average noir and predictable, but its really interesting to notice how the director kept the ambivalent stand towards the suspect intact till climax. The film has fine performances from all supporting cast including its two lead players- American cinema’s one of gentleman actor Joseph Cotten with company of Jean Peters as conniving femme fatale.

Worth a witness for noir lovers and Cotten fans.