Saturday, 24 November 2012

Lawrence of Arabia - a truly splendid epic!

Just watched the magnificent epic Lawrence of Arabia at the BFI, the third time I have seen this classic film on the big screen. This version was presented in 4K and although I prefer the original 70 mm print, the film still looked amazing.

The last time I watched Lawrence of Arabia at the cinema was at the special 40th anniversary presentation at the BFI ten years ago which included an on-stage interview with the late John Box who was the production designer of the film. I remember there were special recorded tributes by Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif and Steven Spielberg. It was a memorable evening.

Lawrence of Arabia is still such a joy to watch and it looks better than ever.The film depicts T.E. Lawrence's experiences as a British Army lieutenant in Arabia during the First World War, especially his attacks on Aqaba and Damascus. Despite some historical inaccuracies as you would expect from a motion picture and the fact that the film loses a bit of its momentum at the latter stages, this is possibly the greatest British film ever made. With so much talent involved such as Britain's greatest director (David Lean), an intelligent screenplay (By Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson), glorious cinematography by Frederick A. Young, a majestic score by Maurice Jarre and a towering performance by Irish actor Peter O'Toole as Lawrence, the critically acclaimed Lawrence of Arabia is really what cinema was invented for.
RATING *****

Monday, 12 November 2012

'Jules et Jim' is simply a classic of French Cinema

It was great to watch the classic French New Wave film Jules et Jim (1962) again. Although released fifty years ago this year, its influence is still felt in cinema today. Directed by one of the architects of French New Wave cinema, Francois Trauffaut who also co-wrote the film with Jean Gruault, it is the film version of Henry Pierre Roche’s 1953 semi-autobiographical novel. Set just before and after the Great War, Jules et Jim tells the story of the love triangle between the free-spirited Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) and the two best friends, the shy writer Jules (Oskar Werner) and the more extroverted Jim (Henri Serre).

Jules et Jim stills looks very stylish today. Wonderfully edited, brilliantly directed in similar style as Jean-Luc Goddard’s amazing debut A Bout De Souffle (1959) and Truffaut’s previous film The 400 Blows, a new film style that the French film industry was teaching the world. Truffaut used Jean-Luc Goddard’s cinematographer Raoul Coutard to create a very fluid cinematic style employing the latest lightweight cameras.

The film incorporates newsreel footage, photographic stills, dolly shots freeze frames, wipes, masking and panning shots. This new style of filmmaking was to influence even Hollywood, from the highly influential Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid (1969) to Goodfellas (1990). I could even see the influences on Richard Lester’s A Hard Days Night (1964) for The Beatles and not forgetting all the countless music videos we have endured for the past three decades.

The performances are memorable, especially from the legendary Jeanne Moreau as Catherine and the renowned Austrian actor of stage and screen, Oskar Werner as Jules.

The catchy music score by Georges Delerue is one of the greatest soundtracks in film history and was named by Time magazine as one of the “top ten soundtracks”.   

I do not know if there has been any major fiftieth anniversary tribute for Jules et Jim this year. I suppose it would be difficult to have a gathering that does not include Truffaut or Werner but Jeanne Moreau is still very much with us. Called “the greatest actress in the world”, Jeanne Moreau starred in many features and is an icon of French cinema (and I am delighted that she has Irish heritage too). Oskar Werner starred in a number of great films including Ship of Fools (1965) and Fahrenheit 451 (1966), receiving an Academy award nomination for his memorable performance as Father David Telemond in The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968). However, Oskar Werner died in 1984 after a long struggle with alcoholism. Francois Trauffaut died in 1984 after a career of critically acclaimed films (and not forgetting his memorable cameo in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)). Henri Serre starred in several films including some movies for notable directors as Louis Malle and Costa Gravas.

Jules et Jim is highly recommended because it is a very important film. It is also a brilliant film which tells a good story and tells it well. Very influential and very enjoyable, it is certainly worth watching Jules et Jim simply to celebrate its fifty glorious years.
RATING *****

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Does 'Argo' really rise to the occasion?

Reading the reviews from the average film critic these days you would swear that we have entered a new golden age of cinema. I have not subscribed to that notion except that it has been a very long time since I have seen a brilliant film and so when the highly praised political drama Argo was released in the UK last week, it seemed certain that it was going to be another addition to the trend of over-rated movies on release today. 

The film tells the true story of how a CIA undercover operation pretending to be a science fiction filming unit on location helped the escape of American hostages from Iran in 1979. The hostages hide in the home of the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber). Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is the CIA specialist and advisor who thought of the idea while watching ‘Battle of the Planet of the Apes’ with his son.

Argo is an immensely enjoyable political thriller. The fact that the plot is based on a true story, it can be easy to predict the outcome but somehow the film is always exciting. Argos works on almost every level and there is never a boring moment.

With the exception of the likes of Sam Peckinpah, Clint Eastwood and John Cassavetes, there has not been much of a list of actors who made successful transitions into direction. So full credit to Ben Affleck who shows his talent as director here (his third feature), using a really decent script (Chris Terrio) and with the aid terrific performances especially from Alan Arkin (as film producer Lester Siegel) and John Goodman (as John Chambers). Although I would possibly question how the Iranian people are depicted at a time of great sensitivity within US-Iran relations, Argo is an intelligent and entertaining film. Very deserving of the praise.

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