The Bridge On The River Kwai (7/24/12) &(9/20/12)

Bridge on the River KwaiMovie One Hundred Seventy Four and Two Hundred Fifteen

A group of British POWs are held by the Japanese during World War II and forced to build The Bridge On The River Kwai.

During World War II, after Singapore’s surrender, a group of British troops are led to Thailand as Japanese prisoners and put to work on the railway to Burma and building a bridge over the River Kwai. Lt. Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guiness) is at odds with the Japanese Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) over officers having to do the same amount of work as the privates and Saito refuses to back down, putting Nicholson in “the oven” without food or water. Unwilling to compromise, upon his release from the oven, Nicholson decides to cooperate and build the bridge as a sign of British ingenuity and loyalty for years to come. Nicholson pushes his men hard to complete the bridge, unaware of the plot to blow up the very bridge he has committed himself to.

The Bridge On The River Kwai is a fantastic war epic from David Lean that is fictionalized but historically rooted. Never having seen the full movie in one straight shot, I was worried that the long run time (161 minutes) would bog things down or would create a plot that would be hard to follow. While the film is largely a slow boil, the last 30 minutes or so are incredibly tense and fly by. Amazing performances and direction really help with the pacing of The Bridge On The River Kwai, much like David Lean’s other famous epic, Lawrence of Arabia, which is even longer.

One thing I have to point out is how terrific the blu-ray of The Bridge On The River Kwai looks and sounds. Many consider blu-ray to be a format only for cutting-edge special effects films, but this is a shining example of a restored 55 year old film can bring to the format. The picture is, in a word, stunning. The package as a whole matches the picture. For a non-Criterion/Masters of Cinema release, the care taken here is obvious.

While certainly not for everyone, The Bridge On The River Kwai is a unique war movie with a great cast, interesting plot, superb direction. The runtime is certainly a hurdle, but I thought the time flew by after the first 45 minutes or so. The Bridge On The River Kwai certainly worth a shot and once viewed, it’s sure to be a favorite.

[Update]

I was lucky enough to see Bridge on the River Kwai again, this time on the big screen. While I quite enjoyed the film the first time around, seeing it again while it was still fresh in my mind made me realize how amazing the film really is. While I still thought the first 30-45 minutes felt long, I understood everything much better this time around. The motivations, the unsaid megalomania, the setting; it all made perfect sense and goes to show what an excellently crafted film Bridge on the River Kwai really is. The theatrical transfer was actually disappointing compared to the blu-ray for at least 20 minutes, it was very grainy but in-focus, and then it was almost like wiping the mirror after a hot shower. The film shone brightly and put the fantastic looking blu-ray to task.

Note that I will be upgrading my score from a 4 to a 5 after this second viewing.

I give it 4real bridges on the River Kwai out of 5.

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Doctor Zhivago (9/6/12)

Doctor ZhivagoMovie Two Hundred Seven

Doctor Zhivago is the life story of an orphan in Russia throughout World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the Russian Civil War.

Sometime during the Stalinist era of Russia, a KGB officer named Zhivago (Alec Guiness) is looking for the daughter of his half-brother. He finds Tonya, the young woman he believes to be his niece and tells her the life story of,Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif). Orphaned as a young boy, Yuri was taken in by a family with a young daughter, also named Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin). Yuri goes on to become a medical student and a poet. On the other side of Moscow, Lara (Julie Christi), is in love with a young radical named Pasha (Tom Courtenay) but is seduced by an older man and friend of her mother’s, Komarovsky (Rod Steiger). After her mother learns of this, she attempts suicide and Yuri is called upon for his medical services, which is where he first meets Lara in a love story that spans many years as the two continue along their own paths before finding each other again.

I’m not sure if I have said this before, but David Lean is synonymous with epic movies and Doctor Zhivago is one of his finest. It is a film that a single paragraph can not possibly summarize adequately, but the basis of the film is quite simple. While the story is largely timeless, the historical portions, names, and places are all fairly confusing unless strict attention is paid. During the first 30-45 minutes I thought that Yuri’s adopted father and Komarovsky were the same person, which was terribly confusing. Luckily, I have taken a fair share of world history courses and knew enough of the history of Russia so the constant political turmoil in the film was at least partially understood.

Running close to 200 minutes, Doctor Zhivago is truly an epic film. While the film does feel long (though it does include an intermission) there was very little I found that felt superfluous. In fact, the pacing for the first half of the film is fairly brisk. If the film stopped and gave a history lesson and spent more time getting used to the characters, it would have easily topped the four hour mark. Even at such a length, however, I was entranced by Doctor Zhivago. Julie Christie is simply stunning to watch and when the soundtrack swelled I found myself falling in love with her as Lara too.

Seeing Doctor Zhivago on the big screen was an absolute treat, for the soundtrack especially, but I would have liked the comfort of my own home where I could pause and take bathroom breaks as needed. I can’t stand having to get up in the theater and miss anything but at home I’m no stranger to the Pause button when nature calls. David Lean’s most famous epic, Lawrence of Arabia is coming soon and while I would absolutely love to see that in theatrical glory, I’m afraid the even longer runtime will likely dissuade even me. That’s the problem with epics, they have epic runtimes.

Having never seen Doctor Zhivago, but having some knowledge of it beforehand (you may recognize Lara’s Theme), I am ashamed that it took me so long to finally watch the full film. David Lean is a director that doesn’t seem to get nearly enough love, but I have yet to be let down by a film of his. Don’t let the length discourage you, Doctor Zhivago is one of the best epic dramas of all time.

I give it 5 Lara’s Themes out of 5.

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Brief Encounter (6/8/12)

Brief EncounterMovie One Hundred Thirty Nine

Brief Encounter is the story of two complete strangers that briefly meet at a train station but develop a strong relationship for one another despite their own lives back home.

The film begins inside the train station cafe, where a couple is seen talking in the background while a station officer talks with the owner. Eventually the camera makes its way over to the couple as a chatty woman recognizes the woman and butts into their obviously important conversation. Soon the man’s train arrives and he has to go, obviously distraught. The two women continue talking, but the first woman’s mind is obviously still lingering on the conversation she was having with the man. The story then becomes narrated by the woman, Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson), in a letter to her husband and tells her tale of a sordid love connection with Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) after the two met by chance in the same station.

Brief Encounter is a movie I was expecting to enjoy since it comes from director David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai) but I was not expecting to be so completely absorbed by the film from the opening sequence.  We know that Laura and Alec’s relationship ends as he gets on a train but we know nothing else until the film guides us. In my head I was almost expecting a Casablanca-like plot and the two films share some similarities but Brief Encounter is much more straightforward, strictly focusing on the relationship between two people that are living comfortable but unsatisfying lives at home.

The films two stars both shine bright in their roles here and the direction and camera-work are all incredibly well done. For being from the 40s and taking place in the 30s, Brief Encounter is not quite as rigid as I was anticipating though the dialogue can be a bit too proper at times.

Criterion has once again given new life to a film that likely hasn’t had nearly enough publicity since it’s opening. The film comes from the David Lean Directs Noel Coward box set and the Blu-Ray is exactly what we have come to expect from Criterion. While this was the first film of four I have watched, I am greatly looking forward to the rest if they are treated with the same care, which I’m sure they have been.

Brief Encounter is one of the best films about a romance I have seen and I would almost shy away from calling it a romance film. While obviously surrounding a relationship, Brief Encounter is really about the people in the relationship rather than the relationship itself, which I think is a fair distinction. I would recommend this film to everyone that doesn’t mind the possibility of an unhappy ending.

I give it 5 Flames of Passions out of 5.

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