Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lawrence of Arabia

Moving on to a much more dramatic setting, and a much longer film ! It took me a whole day to watch Lawrence of Arabia, released in 1962. 3 hours and 37 minutes split equally in three different parts. Ranked Number 5 Greatest Movies of All Times by the American Film Institute, the film stars Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif (Dr Zhivago), personal favourite Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan in Star Wars, Dr Zhivago), Anthony Quinn, and a multitude of other actors whom I did not know before but include Jack Hawkins, Arthur Kennedy and Claude Rains. Director is David Lean (Dr Zhivago) who got an Oscar for Best Director, producer is Sam Spiegel. Of note, the exceptional music by Maurice Jarre.
All in all, the film got 7 Academy Awards: Sam Spiegel for Best Picture, David Lean for Best Director, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Maurice Jarre for Best Substantially Original Score, Best Film Editing and Best Sound.
Story is based on the life of T.E. Lawrence and his experiences in Arabia during WW I, and is loosely based on Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom. He is sent to Arabia to help the Arab revolt against the Turks. Highly centered around the man himself, the film is about his hatred yet attraction the the violent inherent in war, finding his own identity, and reconciling his allegiance between native Britain and newfound Arab desert tribes.
First things firt, the music can be recognized after three tones, it is sweeping and grand. Like some other movies around that time it starts with about 7 minutes of music and, something I love, there is an intermission – kind of makes sense, almost 4 hours is a long way to go.
I love these kind of movies, I do. I liked Omar Sharif a lot, much more than in Dr Zhivago, his role as a tough warrior suited him much better, I thought. And I’ll admit, he was deeply attractive as Sherif Ali. His character evolves a lot as the movie progresses, much more than any other characters.
Of course, always happy to see Alec Guinness, decidedly not Arabic but playing the part well, giving the character of Prince Feisai power and wisdom.
I had more issues with Peter O’Toole and the evolution of his character. I cannot judge on whether this is historically accurate, but I am having difficulties comprehending it. First, I found him way too pretty and effeminate – not sure about the real TE Lawrence, but this was disturbing to me to see a 1960s Brad Pitt play a master of war strategy. Too blond, too pretty. Even more disturbing was the evolution of his character – admittedly the movie is about one ordinary man becoming extraordinary, but at some points it gets completely over the top, reminders of the Bible and Jesus, with talks of walking on water, leading the people. Some scenes, some shots, such as Lawrence going back to the desert to save Gasim, are filmed, designed to give this impression of miracles, of something exceptionnal. That where things evolves and Ali becomes deferent to Lawrence, after being patronizing at first :
Sherif Ali: Truly, for some men nothing is written unless THEY write it

But then to me it is just too much :

T.E. Lawrence: I'm not hurt at all. Didn't you know? They can only kill me with a golden bullet.
T.E. Lawrence: The best of them won't come for money; they'll come for me.

I much preferred the first part of the movie, with the crossing of the desert that left me hooked, the second part was more political and again, as I said before, I found it too much : Lawrence is portrayed as a charismatic leader, almost prophet, to the point of megalomania. He also gives an impression of someone lost, with no regards for his own safety, taking risks as if to punish himself for something. All in all, I found his character puzzling, but not very likeable.
Club Secretary: I say, Lawrence. You are a clown!
T.E. Lawrence: Ah, well, we can't all be lion tamers.

Sherif Ali: There is the railway. And that is the desert. From here until we reach the other side, no water but what we carry with us. For the camels, no water at all. If the camels die, we die. And in twenty days they will start to die.
T.E. Lawrence: There's no time to waste, then, is there?

William Potter: Ooh! It damn well 'urts!
T.E. Lawrence: Certainly it hurts.
Officer: What's the trick then?
T.E. Lawrence: The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.

That said, beautiful sceneries and great filming, this remains a must, but I am not as enthusiastic about it as most people.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Some Like it Hot

UNBELIEVABLE. When I started this movie project, Some Like it Hot was on my list. For some reason I waited, waited, and waited, until finally I decided last weekend it was high time to watch it. This has now become my new reference as a « feel-good movie ». Directed by Billy Wilder and released in 1959, the film stars Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon, supported by more secondary characters such as Joe E. Brown or George Raft.

Set at the time of Prohibition in Chicago, the movie is about Joe (Curtis) and Jerry (Lemmon), two musicians who witness a brutal murder by the Mob. As they know what the Mob does to potential witnesses they escape by enrolling into an all-girls band as Josephine and Daphne, and embarks on a trip to Florida. In the band they meet singer Sugar (Monroe). Misunderstandings ensue, as the two men fight for Sugar’s affection while trying to preserve their identity, and an old millionaire falls for Daphne / Jerry.
The story line is very good. The viewer is hooked from the beginning and is on edge until the very end. 
Jerry: Joe, this time I am not going to let you talk me into....
Newspaper Boy: Extra! Extra! Seven slaughter in north-side garage, feared bloody aftermath....
Jerry: You talked me into it. Let's go, Josephine!
Joe: Attagirl, Geraldine.
The film has gangsters, but is not a gansgter film ; it has music, yet is not a musical – it is about sex, about hidden identity. One gag follows the other, and the timing of the actors is just perfect. It is a movie that is about sex yet never pronounces the actual word. It must have been quite shocking to people at the time i twas released : it is about sex, about transvestites, it is very gay ! The innuendos  are priceless. 

Jack Lemmon  gives an amazing performance, Tony Curtis looks scarily convincing as a woman, and Marilyn is hypnotically beautiful and funny at the same time. Tony Curtis seems to feel uncomfortable in his dress, which makes his Josephine wonderfully stiff. Where Curtis is more controlled Lemmon goes completely over the top. He's hilarious as Daphne and his Tango scenes with Joe E. Brown are just incredible. 

Some scenes I watched several times just to enjoy the film a little bit longer. Many priceless scenes, subtle, amazing.
Jerry: Have I got things to tell you!
Joe: What happened?
Jerry: I'm engaged.
Joe: Congratulations. Who's the lucky girl?
Jerry: I am!

Sugar: Water polo? Isn't that terribly dangerous?
Junior: I'll say. I had two ponies drowned under me.

Sugar: Been waiting long?
Junior: [gallantly] It's not how long you wait, it's who you're waiting for!

Lemmon and Curtis  slip in and out of their roles before they even realize what they're doing, going from complacent to angry to scared witless without missing a beat. Joe E. Brown has a seondary role but is extremely likeable as Osgood Fielding III.
Osgood: I am Osgood Fielding the third.
Daphne: I'm Cinderella the second.

Some Like it Hot is a compressed batch of hilarity. It is black and white but apart from this insignificant detail the movie puts to shame all modern comedies.
Jerry: Osgood, I'm gonna level with you. We can't get married at all.
Osgood: Why not?
Jerry: Well, in the first place, I'm not a natural blonde.
Osgood: Doesn't matter.
Jerry: I smoke! I smoke all the time!
Osgood: I don't care.
Jerry: Well, I have a terrible past. For three years now, I've been living with a saxophone player.
Osgood: I forgive you.
Jerry:  I can never have children!
Osgood: We can adopt some.
Jerry: But you don't understand, Osgood!
[pulls off his wig]
Jerry: I'm a man!
Osgood: Nobody's perfect!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Eat Pray Love

This film would be yet another way to say to someone: have to courage to move forward. But I am digressing already. Eat Pray Love is a book I read years ago, written by Elizabeth Gilbert, and recounting her story, that I strongly recommend. So I was very happy when I learned it was going to be adapted as a movie, with Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem. Released in 2010, I only got around to watching it two days ago.

Liz Gilbert lives in New York and is married to Stephen. One day she just realizes she is stuck in a life she hates, and that she needs to find the right path. She embarks on a one-year long journey to find herself : 4 months in Italy to learn Italian and eat gorgeous food, four months in India to learn meditation, et four months in Bali to find inner peace, and discover that loving someone does not always mean having to make sacrifices.

Everyone can watch this movie but not just anyone will enjoy it.

I have seen comments saying Liz Gilbert is selfish and too focused on herself. Maybe but…. Who isn’t.
After all, how many people feel trapped in their current life, and actually do something about it?
If you are the person left behind, of course you are entitled to feeling betrayed, but all in all, I sincerely think one needs to be at peace with oneself, to better understand and connect with others.

Critics say the movie is far from the book. I agree. Yet these days I am prone to seeing or hearing about stories that are about new beginnings, and I found it inspiring. I think it would be inspiring to a lot of people.

Liz feels trapped, has no balance in her life, and it all comes down to this : it you do not love yourself, how can you love others ?

Felipe: Listen, balance, my darling, is not letting anybody love you less than you love yourself.

So she goes on this journey to learn how to love and how to forgive herself. Liz feels empty and at some point it is a question of survival – so she hurt people but I do not think there was a chioce. In the end she finds the right balance but gets scared of falling in love again because she is scared she will lose what it took months to find.

As Ketut put it :

Ketut: Sometimes to lose balance for love is part of living a balanced life.

Because here is the final lesson here : life is not perfect and the balance gets thrown off on occasions, you just need to be aware of it and just be resilient and adaptable.

Personally my idea has always been that things tend to work themselves out, but one needs to be willing to do it, and help it a little. As they say in French: “Aide-toi, le Ciel t’aidera

Of the people Liz met, the characters played by Richard Jenkins as Richard from Texas and Javier Bardem were the most interesting. I liked Ketut the healer from Bali a lot, he is the one I found most inspiring. Note an appearance by James Franco, as Liz’s “rebound” in New York – a brief, torrid affair before she goes on her journey.
Happy ending for everyone, and the wish for me to do the same! Finishing with Javier Bardem happily ever after a bonus, but unrealistic. Food for thought: the happy ending may just be picking up the pieces and starting over, a new beginning.

Liz: Maybe my life hasn't been so chaotic. It's just the world that is and the only real trap is getting attached to any of it. Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.