Sahara [1943] wallpaper

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1920 x 1080 wallpaper for Sahara [1943] starring Humphrey Bogart .

Considering this film was made while WWII was still underway, you would be forgiven for approaching Sahara as nothing more than a patriotic propaganda film, and for the most part you would be right. But while there is plenty of allied camaraderie, back-slapping and pulling together to beat the Hun, its message never really gets in the way of what is essentially a solid military movie. Anyway, watching Bogie is always worth your time, and he is his usual charismatic, dependable self here.

In summary, there is nothing mind-blowing here, but the film doesn’t really put a foot wrong either. An easy to watch film and a typically strong performance from Bogart.

Bogart gets ready for a take in Sahara

Oh, and the score is great.

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“Twenty-four eyes” wallpaper

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Click the above image for 1920×1080 desktop wallpaper.

What do the films Seven Samurai, Godzilla, and Sansho the Bailiff have in common? They were all beaten to the coveted Blue Ribbon award in 1954 by Keisuke Kinoshita‘s “Nijûshi no hitomi” a.k.a Twenty-four eyes. An achingly beautiful and tragic story spanning two decades, “Twenty-four eyes” is a study of the passing of time, the student-teacher relationship, and a moving commentary on how war is paid for by the lives of our children.

Along with the Blue Ribbon, this film is also the current holder of the (less coveted) “last film to make m00ch cry” award. Yeah go ahead, laugh it up. This is a heart-wrenching film and I defy anyone with a soul to not be moved by its tragedy and poetic story. The film is a reminder that we were all innocent children once upon a time, and will make you long for the naivety and blissful ignorance so intertwined with youth.

This is a solid 5-star film, and while it may sound pretentiously cliche, I can think of no better phrase to describe 24 eyes than a journey through life itself. Not to be missed.

Review : The Man who shot Liberty Valance [1962]

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John Ford‘s “The man who shot Liberty Valance” is at first glance a well produced, star-studded, entertaining Western. However it is when you start to strip away the name actors and get to the heart of the story, that the film’s complexities come to the fore.

Jimmy Stewart stars as attorney at law Ransom Stoddard, a man from the comfortable East of America, determined to bring the freedom of Democracy to the Western town of Shinbone. As he arrives he gets his first taste of the lawlessness of the West, a vicious encounter with the maniacal Liberty Valance (portrayed with fervour by Lee Marvin). He is rescued from near-death by the roguish charm of gunslinger Tom Doniphon (John Wayne), who takes him to be nursed by his love interest Hallie Stoddard (Vera Miles). Once recovered, Stoddard sets upon his task to bring law and order, and to rid the people of Liberty Valance. Not using the violent and fearful methods that the people of Shinbone are so accustomed to but through education and morality.

On the surface, the film as an entertaining Western is near perfect. Jimmy Stewart – who despite lacking range remains one of my favourite actors –  utilizes his usual affable tics and mannerisms to great effect. Wayne really shows some surprising depth here, bringing his usual machismo, but adding in some humour, charm and a certain vulnerability as the events unfold around him. Lee Marvin, despite being the titular villain, is not given an abundance of screen-time, but controls any scene he is in with a wild-eyed veracity. Disregarding the usual cinematic elements though, where “The Man Who..” really excels is how it intertwines rich allegory with what is already a strong film.

The film is set on the cusp of the transition from the old violent ways of Western America, to a new Republic governance, and it is the values and ideals of both sides of the era that is personified so perfectly in Wayne’s Doniphon and Stewart’s Stoddard. They are two sides to the same coin, with similar aims but very different methods. While they would both like to be rid of Valance, Doniphon settles disputes with steel and lead, Stoddard with democratic values. It is this allegory that gives this film so much depth.

Doniphone is bemused by what he sees as Stoddard’s naive, new-fangled way of handling himself, and is reluctant to adopt his way of thinking. He tells Stoddard he will fail, and urges him to toughen up and use violence to settle his dispute with Liberty Valance and clean up Shinbone. Stoddard continues on with his mission, but Valance gradually wears him down, until he feels there is no other way to deal with the situation but to use force. This is the crux of the film. In a tense, inevitable showdown between Stoddard and Valance, Valance is shot and killed. It appears Stoddard has beaten him, but Valance and what he represents, is still the victor. Violence succeeded where modern law failed, and progress stalls.

As Stoddard is lauded for ending the scourge of Liberty Valance, he runs for office, however his claim to the position of Governor is quickly knocked back by his opposition based on his apparent hypocrisy. How can a man stand to represent freedom and law and order with blood on his hands?It is then that Doniphon appears and we find that it was him that shot Valance from the shadows. Doniphon, the personification of old-west ideals, has bowed down to progress and accepted that the world has moved on without him. He essentially sacrifices any chance of his own place in the new world, to enable Democracy to guide the way. He gets blood on his hands, so that the new law doesn’t have to, and stuck as a product of his time, he dies alone many years later. The wild West begrudgingly, but honourably, gives in to allow a more civilized way of life to pass.

Ford is not condemning the old world – far from it in fact – Doniphon’s noble sacrifice is showing us that while progress was inevitable, it was only possible by standing on the shoulders of the men that fought and lived in the “wild” West. Once you are open to the idea that it is deeper than it appears initially, the film reveals its bounty without over-analysis.

The Man who shot Liberty Valance is a wonderful, dark film, that is as deep as it is visceral. A 5-star must see.

5 / 5

Classic Review : Laura [1944]

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Next stop on the iCheckMovies noir list is Otto Preminger’sLaura“, a sophisticated, classy detective drama, which unfortunately left me feeling a little disappointed.

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Classic Review : Kiss of Death [1947]

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Kiss of Death, directed by Henry Hathaway, is a fairly by-the-numbers noir crime drama. Nick Bianco (played by Victor Mature) is a thief who gets caught on a heist, stealing for Christmas presents because his previous criminal record prevents him from getting regular employment. While serving time he hears that his wife has commited suicide and his children have been put in an orphanage, and so he strikes a deal with the district attorney Louis D’Angelo (Brian Donlevy) to get released on parole if he provides evidence against his old underworld friends, including the vicious killer Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark). When the case falls flat and Udo is acquitted, Bianco has to defend himself.

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Classic Review : Ikiru (1952)

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Shimura as Kanji Watanabi

Akira Kurosawa, probably most widely known to Western audiences for action, crime, and high drama took a more sedate, introspective approach to this morally complex, beautiful film, “Ikiru” or “to live”.

Kanji Watanabe (played by Kurosawa favourite Takashi Shimura) is a character who is dead on his feet, a faceless bureaucrat in a local ministry, suffocating under the weight of tonnes of paperwork. While he may have a pulse, he is essentially a walking corpse, and is dubbed “the mummy” by one of his employees. He has nothing to show for his shell of a life other than a “25 years of service” certificate on his lonely bedroom wall. It is only when he discovers he has stomach cancer, and mere months left, that he begins to learn to live, and strives to leave something positive in his passing.

The film is one of two acts. Kurosawa plays the first half of the film fairly straight, in a standard linear storytelling fashion, but has left his tell-tale mark on directorial and writing choices throughout. Pre-diagnosis, in a seemingly insignificant scene, Watanabe checks his pocket watch as time ticks by to the end of another dull, empty day. Post-diagnosis however, setting his alarm clock sends him in to a panic, as he realises every second that passes is another closer to his inevitable end, and he cries himself to sleep filled with emotions he hasn’t felt in 30 years.

In the following days, he realises he has failed to live any kind of meaningful existence, and overdoses on excess – drink, women and music – not to try and enjoy himself, but to punish himself for wasting his life. It is in the first act he makes the first connections with others, something which he has long since ignored. He meets a writer (aptly naming himself “Mephisto”) who becomes his tour guide to all the joys and lustful sins life can offer. This culminates in one of the most moving scenes in the film. While in a rock and roll bar, he asks the piano player to play “Life is short, fall in love, dear maiden”, and while the piano plays, Watanabe sings, tears streaking down his face, and whole bar falls silent, listens to him and seem to reflect on the emptiness of their existence  – an incredibly powerful scene and the first of a few times Watanabe creates opportunities for others to think about their own lives and change their ways, something which Kurosawa seems to want us to do, as viewers of the film.

The second connection he makes is with a girl he worked with, someone who appears to have an abundance of happiness for the little joys of life. Watanabe becomes infatuated with her, not in a lustful way, but believing her to have a “key” to unlocking life’s potential. She quickly tires of his obsessive attention, and it appears Kurosawa is trying to tell us not to look to others for our own contentment, but to find the answer within ourselves. The girl’s involvement is not totally without jusification though, as she becomes the catalyst to his epiphany – to use his influence at the office to push through a scheme to create a playground for children, leaving a positive mark on the world. Kurosawa takes an unusual turn here, rather than follow Watanabe through to the end, we are now informed by a brief narration that “our hero dies 5 months later”.

The second act of the film is not as predictable and slushy as you may expect, and Kurosawa’s final message is a complex, paradoxical mix of pessimism and hope. Abandoning the totally linear methods of the first half of the film, this half is told by way of Rashomon-esque flashbacks, and Kurosawa focuses not on the individual, but on the memories and legacy left in the passing of his life, and the influence felt by those left behind. At his wake, Watanabe’s colleagues piece together their stories of the past 5 months, and alongside them we realise that Watanabe used every ounce of his strength to get the playpark built, finishing with Watanabe dying, singing happily in the snow, on a swing in the park. This is the image that people will take away from this film. and it is almost certainly one of the most the most powerful closing images ever seen in film. After much drinking, the wake visitors joyfully declare they will strive to be more like Watanabe in their actions, strive to help others and cut through the red-tape of their job. The film appears to be taking a rather sentimental tone.

The next day brings a dose of realism however, and when a situation arises which give Watanabe’s colleagues an opportunity to commit to the previous nights promises, they do nothing. This cynical touch of realism is really what pushes this film to masterpiece. While being a celebration of life, and that great things can be attained by an individual (a theme in itself  not often found in classic Asian cinema), the film also tells us that is almost impossible for a single man to change the “big picture”. A strong, realistic message that pulls the film back from the brink of slushiness and sentimentality and grounds it in reality. Watanabe accomplished his legacy, did not waste his life, but was ultimately not able to persuade others to follow suit. Just like Watanabe had to do earlier in the film, they will have to reach that magical moment of realisation on their own terms.

The film is seemingly a very personal film for Kurosawa who was concerned through much of his career about leaving a lasting legacy on the world. With the subject matter, and Kurosawa’s obvious personal attachment to the story, it would be very easy for the plot to fall into the realms of predictable and sentimental, and in lesser hands it probably would have. Kurosawa, aided by Shimura, traverses the pitfalls nimbly and expertly, and the film, while at times uplifting and inspiring, manages to reign it all in by maintaining a healthy realism not typical of this type and era of filmmaking.

The supporting cast are excellent, but this is Shimura’s show, and although the role demands a lot of him, using every facet of his range he handles it faultlessly, making it my personal favourite performance of his. The irony of the situation, walking dead through life, only to truly live when given notice of impending death, is personified perfectly in Shimura’s Watanabe, whose transformation from empty shell to a love-to-live character is subtle and realistic.

In making this film about a man determined to leave a legacy, Kurosawa succesfully avoids cliche and in turn further cements his own legacy with a deeply personal film bought to life by Takashi Shimura. This poignant, timeless film, with a powerful and heartfelt message, in my opinion, is one of Kurosawa’s career highlights, and one of those rare films which may make you look at life a little differently. A must-see.

5/5