1985 – Witness

1985 - Witness - 01 1985 - Witness - 02 1985 - Witness - 03 1985 - Witness - 04 1985 - Witness - 05 1985 - Witness - 06 1985 - Witness - 07 1985 - Witness - 08 1985 - Witness - 09











Witness – 1985

This was a very good movie that was a crime drama, a romance, and a thoughtfully handled look inside a culture about which most people know very little.  It starred Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis in the leads and they both did a great job.

At the time this movie was made, Ford was a very popular actor, riding high on his parts in the Star Wars franchise and the Indiana Jones Franchise.  But here he showed a bit of a softer side in the character of John Book.  He is a homicide officer in Philadelphia who is assigned to work on a case in which a police officer has been murdered.  But this was no run-of-the-mill case.  The murder had been committed by crooked cops, and had been witnessed by a young boy named Samuel Lapp, played by Lukas Haas, who happened to be Amish.

His mother, Rachel, played by Kelly McGillis, does her best to protect her son from the outside world, but after the boy identifies the murderer as a police officer who works for a narcotics division, Detective Book forces them to abandon their plans and stay with his sister Elaine, played by Patti LuPone.  The killers attack and shoot John, forcing them to flee into Amish country.

The Amish nurse John back to health, but here is where the real beauty of the script is revealed.  The way the Amish are portrayed is insightful, respectful, and honest.  They are shown to be a peaceful people who are strong in their beliefs and their faith.  Because they keep to themselves, many of us have a number of misconceptions about the Amish which cause us to look down on them as quaint, or backwater, or even primitive.  I have to admit that I was just as guilty of such thinking.

The Wikipedia article about Amish religious beliefs is brief and sums up what the film did such a great job of portraying, and it is worth paraphrasing here:  “Two key concepts for understanding Amish practices are their rejection of pride, arrogance, and haughtiness, and the high value they place on humility, calmness, and composure.  This is better understood to be a reluctance to be forward, to be self-promoting, or to assert oneself.  This anti-individual orientation is the motive for rejecting labor-saving technologies that might make one less dependent on community.  Modern innovations like electricity might spark a competition for status goods, or photographs might cultivate personal vanity.”  The film did a great job of getting this philosophy across.

They also spent some time showing how the Amish view the world around them.  For example, at one point, Rachel says the she is aware that the rest of the world considers them to be quaint.  They come and stare and take pictures, and she comments that it is rude and she doesn’t like it.  And she is right.  It is rude.

John Book is thrust into this world that is completely unlike anything he has ever experienced.  He learns to appreciate the simple lifestyle that the Amish people lead.  To fit in and hide, he begins to dress like them and work with them.  And of course, he falls in love with Rachel.  But then, the film almost seems to forget about Samuel, the witness, concentrating on the love story.  As the viewers, we want them to end up together.  And we begin to wonder which one of them will leave their life behind to be with the other?  And the answer, in the end, was the right one.  Neither.  The star-crossed lovers are bound to part, and once the threat to the witness has been dealt with, they do.  The end was sad, but believable.

I also have to mention the excellent performances by Jan Rubes, playing Rachel’s father, Eli, Danny Glover, playing McFee, the murderer, and Alexander Godunov, playing Daniel, a young Amish man who is jealous of Rachel’s affections for John.  The cast all did a fine job.  I enjoyed the movie, but not so much for the crime drama, but for the honest, and somewhat educational way in which the Amish people were depicted.

The film’s director, Peter Weir, obviously had a lot of respect for them and their way of life.  And through the film, I found that I respect them as well.  I enjoy my modern conveniences, but I do not think any less of them for choosing to live without them.  The film makes it easy to see how happiness can be found in such a life.

1985 – Prizzi’s Honor

1985 - Prizzi's Honor - 01 1985 - Prizzi's Honor - 02 1985 - Prizzi's Honor - 03 1985 - Prizzi's Honor - 04 1985 - Prizzi's Honor - 05 1985 - Prizzi's Honor - 06 1985 - Prizzi's Honor - 07 1985 - Prizzi's Honor - 08 1985 - Prizzi's Honor - 09











Prizzi’s Honor – 1985

My first thought about Prizzi’s Honor was that Jack Nicholson rarely does comedy.  My second thought was that it reminded me, a little, of the 1988 movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.  It had a similar feel.  I have been thinking about the film and trying to decide what genre it falls into.  I’m thinking it is a modern black screwball romantic comedy.  The comedy is definitely there, but it is almost hard to find.  The romance was also present, but it was never allowed to really breathe.  The actors all played their parts seriously, for what it was worth, but the feel, the aesthetics, the pacing, and definitely, the score, all pointed to a light-hearted, though devious, romp.

I liked the complicated plot with its many twists and turns, the characters’ motivations, which drove them to go in directions I never quite expected, and the big-name stars.  But my problem with the film was the direction.  The movie was directed by John Huston, a man known for directing some pretty popular movies like 1941’s The Maltese Falcon , and 1951’s The African Queen.  But I’m just not sure if I liked what he did with this one.

It was how he wanted his actors to play caricatures instead of characters.  For example, the film was based on a mob family headed by Don Corrado Prizzi, played by William Hickey.  He was a walking stereotype with no real personality.  He looked almost cartoonish, again really playing into the mob boss stereotype.  And he wasn’t the only one.  It seemed that every character was created with the stereotype in mind.

The dialogue was sometimes ridiculously hokey with forced phrases like “Yous Guys.”  I kept expecting to hear someone say, “Hey! What’s-a-madda you? I break-a-you face!”  But the trick is that I think it was all deliberate.  Someone had to have told Nicholson to use that over-the-top Brooklyn accent and to keep his upper lip pushed down over his teeth.  Someone had to tell Angelica Houston to pronounce the word “long” like “loo-wong.”   But the fact that it was intentional just made it worse for me.  It was too much and it didn’t work.

True, some of the jokes were mildly amusing in a dark and morbid way, though they were rarely funny.  Most of the comedy was stale and forced.  The romance between Nicholson, playing mafia hit-man Charley Partanna, and Kathleen Turner, who played the part of Irene Walker, an independent hit-woman, was barely recognizable as actual romance.

Charley sees Irene at a wedding and it is love at first site.  Then, when he is told to kill a man who turns out to be Irene’s estranged husband, he ends up wooing her.  After a few hours, Irene falls in love with Charlie and the two of them agree to marry.  A few more days of flying back and forth between New York and LA, the two drive down to Mexico for a shotgun wedding.  The film then follows the two through their rock relationship as they team up for a crime heist.

Matters are complicated even further by Maerose Prizzi, played by Angelica Houston, Charlie’s childhood friend who had always carried a serious torch for him.  But in the end, Charlie and Irene are each hired to kill each other. And the film’s final pay-off is when one of them succeeds.  I’ll say one thing for this movie.  The one aspect of the film that was not a cliché was the plot.  It was devious and intricate, and in itself, was enough to keep my interest.

A few other notable actors who rounded out the cast were John Randolph as Angelo Partanna, Charley’s father, Robert Loggia as Eduardo Prizzi, Don Corrado’s son and right hand man, and Lee Richardson as Dominic Prizzi, the Don’s other son, Maerose’s father.  The movie was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, including a Best Actor nomination for Nicholson, A Best Supporting Actor nomination for Hickey, and a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Houston, which she won.

I just don’t get it.  I’m not saying it was a bad movie, but I just felt like it wasn’t as good as it could have been.  And the trouble is that I don’t exactly know what I would have done to make it better.  Maybe take out the dry comedy and just make it a dark, or even tragic, romance.  Maybe smarten up the dialogue.  Maybe give the characters realistic personalities and not just stereotypical ones.  Maybe it was clever and innovative for its time, but if that’s the case, it hasn’t aged well.

1999 / 2003 – The Matrix Franchise

04 - The Matrix - 01 04 - The Matrix - 02 04 - The Matrix - 03 04 - The Matrix - 04 04 - The Matrix - 05 04 - The Matrix - 06 04 - The Matrix - 07 04 - The Matrix - 08 04 - The Matrix - 09 04 - The Matrix - 10 04 - The Matrix - 11 04 - The Matrix - 12

The Matrix – 1999

The Matrix Reloaded – 2003

The Matrix Revolutions – 2003


When it comes to modern science fiction, this franchise is one of the big ones.  It is a film that fires the imagination, makes you think, touches on philosophy and religion, is inventive and groundbreaking, and above all it super fun to watch.  It is a sci-fi, action-adventure, kung-fu fantasy.  These movies have it all.  And I have to talk about all three of the films as if they were one because the overall story arc is continuous and complete.

But the franchise, as a whole, is larger than even the three films.  The larger story was continued in anime, comic books, and video games, all of which were canonical.  It is widely recognized as one of the greatest sci-fi franchises of the 90s, if not of all time.  True, I hear a lot of film snobs say that the first movie was incredible, and the two sequels pretty much sucked.  But I beg to differ!  A lot!  The sequels were awesome!  Let me explain why, which I can do without even going into the plot.

The first film was new and interesting.  It was smart and engaging.  It was using filming techniques and special effects that had never been seen before.  It set up an awesome cast of characters that were heroic and beyond bad-assed!  But the movie’s main shtick was steampunk and action, mostly in the form of kung-fu fighting.  In the sequels they stuck with that shtick.  They just upped the stakes, and increased the fantasy elements.  But it was still, primarily, a kung-fu fighting movie at its heart.

Take it for what it was and enjoy it, I say.  People might claim that they had seen it all before, and on some level that might be true.  But I’d wager to say that they have never seen it done in such an exciting and unique way.  The special effects were stunning… well, most of them were, but I’ll address that in a bit.  The dramatically stylized visuals were fantastic.  The story, which drew from many different narrative tropes, has been told many times in many different movies and books.  But nobody had ever told it exactly like The Matrix.

Keanu Reeves, plays a cyber-hacker, codenamed Neo.  He is searching for meaning in a life he finds meaningless.  He is approached by Trinity, played by Carrie Anne Moss.  She says that she knows what he is looking for, and the answers to his questions can be found in a mysterious man known as Morpheus, played by Lawrence Fishburn.  But before he can meet Morpheus, Neo is captured by men who look like CIA operatives in black suits and sunglasses, led by a sinister man called Agent Smith.

There’s the set-up.  The story is too long and complex for me to give a concise synopsis.  If you want the story, read the basic plot on Wikipedia or better yet, watch the movies, if you have not already seen them.  What I plan to do in this review is mention some the things I liked and a few of the things I didn’t like.

For example, I loved the cyberpunk look of the whole thing.  The costumes, the hairstyles, the virtual environments.  The entire thing was eye candy from one end to the other.  And the special slow motion effects with people doing super-human acrobatic moves, defying the laws of physics, were so amazing.  When I think of the Matrix franchise, it is those “inside the Matrix” aesthetics that first come to mind.

The second is the look of the grubby post-apocalyptic “real” world.  The incredible CGI environments, the dirty, torn clothing, the rough, rusty insides of the hover-ships.  It was, in its own way, just as cool as the other reality.  However, I have to ask – did everyone have to wear sweaters with that same kind of vertical unraveling, or was that just the popular style?  I mean, I get it.  These people are run down and everything is supposed to look damaged.  But it looked like a costume designer found a single technique to make the sweaters look damaged and said. “Yes! Just do that to all of them.  What?  Yes, ALL of them!”

I hear a lot of people criticize the plot of the second film, and even more people criticize the plot of the third film.  In the first film, they spent most of their time establishing the conditions and back-story of the universe, and the characters.  The second movie develops those things and turns the action up a notch, giving Neo a chance to learn what he can do with the super powers he discovered at the end of the first film.  The third film increases the action yet again and gives us an epic conclusion with Neo evolving into the messianic figure he was supposed to be since the very beginning.  The overall story arc follows a logical progression to a climactic conclusion.

So I went on to the internet and tried to look up why people don’t like the sequels.  Some say that they didn’t have as much grip or intensity as the first movie.  Some say that they weren’t as philosophically deep or that they seemed to be dumbed down.  Some say they were too philosophical and required too much thinking.  Others say that they focused too much on the war to save Zion from the machines instead of on focusing freeing more people from the Matrix.  What it really comes down to is that after the spectacular first film, everybody had their own expectations about what the sequels should be.  They all got their hopes up and very few people got exactly what they wanted or were expecting.

One of my favorite things about the movies are their action scenes.  The action sequences in the first film were exciting and introduced us to the new and innovative special effects.  The opening scene with Trinity running from Agents over the rooftops was just a thrilling way to start the whole thing off.  The kung-fu sequences, first between Noe and Morpheus were fun and were actually integral to the plot.  Then the part when Neo finally fought the agents and learned how to beat them was super exciting, because while his mind was in the Matrix, his body was in danger of being killed by sentinels.

The second movie had the great chase on the freeway and the fight with the Merovingian’s men in the great hall.  There was also the fight between Neo and the hundred Agent Smiths.  But though the scene was pretty cool, I have to say that this is the first time I noticed the franchise’s biggest failing.  It was a big budget movie that had the services of some of the industry’s best CGI programmers.  But there were times when the live footage of Keanu and Hugo were mixed with CGI images of them that were horribly obvious.  Sometimes they looked plastic, rubbery, one dimensional, and just terribly done. This is mostly evident in the 2nd and 3rd movies.  For such a big budget film, I expect better.

Then the third movie had the awesome battle for the docks at Zion and the final climactic battle between Neo and Agent Smith.  Sure, these sequences were mostly CGI, but that made them no less exciting to watch, especially the battle for the docks.  It was chaotic and fast paced, and with the added suspense of the Hammer’s high speed approach, it was just awesome filmmaking!

Now there are two characters that I’d like to mention.  The Oracle and the Architect.  The Oracle was a great and memorable character, played in the first two films by Gloria Foster, and in the 3rd film by Mary Alice.  And I liked that the change in the character’s appearance is addressed as part of the plot.  She is always calm and eerily insightful.  The Architect, played by Helmut Bakaitis, was also perfectly cast and wonderfully portrayed as a cold and insanely logical machine.

The character of the Merovingian, played by Lambert Wilson, may have been too long winded and full of himself, but that brings me to the point that I found it a wonderfully interesting concept that he, his beautiful wife Persephone, the Oracle, the Architect, and even Agent Smith were all programs, each having a unique personality, like real people.  But this was a sci-fi/fantasy film.  So why not?  It was just a fun joy-ride from beginning to end.  It made me think, it made me excited, it drew me in to its epic nature and its wonderfully imagined world.  I loved all three of the movies in the franchise and found that I can forgive the small lapses into bad CGI.

And I would be remiss if I did not mention several actors who gave life to some very memorable characters.  Joe Pantoliano as the treasonous Cypher, Jada Pinket Smith as Niobe, Captain of the Logos, Harold Perrineau as Link, Morpheus’ pilot of the Nebuchadnezzar, Randall Duk Kim as the Keymaker, Harry Lennix as Commander Lock, Neil and Adrian Rayment as the evil twins, and Collin Chow as the Oracles servant Seraph, all did a great job and helped to make The Matrix one of the greatest science fiction franchises of all time.

1985 – Kiss of the Spider Woman

1985 - Kiss of the Spider Woman - 01 1985 - Kiss of the Spider Woman - 02 1985 - Kiss of the Spider Woman - 03 1985 - Kiss of the Spider Woman - 04 1985 - Kiss of the Spider Woman - 05 1985 - Kiss of the Spider Woman - 06 1985 - Kiss of the Spider Woman - 07 1985 - Kiss of the Spider Woman - 08 1985 - Kiss of the Spider Woman - 09











Kiss of the Spider Woman – 1985

I am pretty familiar with the musical, Kiss of the Spider Woman.  It has the same basic plot of the movie, but most of the details are different.  The ending was different.  About half the character motivations were different, and the narrative structure was different.  Both the movie and the musical were good in their own ways, but I must say, I prefer the musical.  But this is not a review of the musical.  This is about the movie and its merits.

The plot is pretty basic, and it is a good story which is original and engaging.  It takes place in Brazil during the Brazilian Military Government.  Molina, played by William Hurt, is an effeminate homosexual who is in prison for molesting a minor.  He is paired with a cell-mate who is a member of a leftist revolutionary group.  He is named Valentin, and is played by Raul Julia.  The military police want to use Valentin to root out his fellow revolutionists.

The police promise Molina his parole if he gets Valentin to talk and reveal his contacts.  Molina treats him with kindness, helping him through his recovery from being tortured, and tries to gain his confidence.  But Valentin will not talk.  In a final effort to get the information, Molina tells Valentin that he is getting his parole.  He also reveals that he has fallen in love with him.  In response to Molina’s constant kindnesses, Valentin responds by making love to him, but only with the hope that Molina will deliver a message to the revolutionists when he gets out.  The film ends with Molina attempting to deliver the message, though he is being watched by the police.  A gunfight ensues in which Molina is shot and killed.  Valentin’s torture resumes.  The end.

But then, where does the film’s title come in?  Well, while in prison, the two men pass the time and grow closer as, over time, Molina tells Valentin of a romantic Nazi propaganda film that he loved.  The star of the film is a beautiful woman, named Leni Lamaison, played by Sonia Braga, who happened to be the same actress playing Valentin’s love interest, Marta.  During a time when Valentine is suffering from the effects of a terrible poison, Molina spins the tale of a beautiful woman, also played by Braga, who is trapped in her own spider webs on a tropical Island.  A man is shipwrecked on her island and she nurses him back to health.  The musical did a great job of explaining the Spider Woman, but not the movie.  I felt that in the film, she was a bit of a non-sequitur.  She seemed to show up without a good reason, and once her brief scene was over, she was never seen again.

But Hurt and Julia did a great job.  The two rolls required the actors to delve deeply into their emotional pools and really connect with their characters.  William Hurt got in touch with his feminine side and turned in a performance that was believable and not a gay caricature.  He was perfect for the part, and won the Best Actor award for his efforts.  But Raul Julia was completely able to keep up with the flamboyance of his co-star.  He was tough and strong, masculine, and passionate about his involvement with the revolution.  But he also showed a completely different side when he seduced Molina to get him involved in his cause.

And I think that a part of his character actually did fall in love with Molina, at least a little bit.  No, he didn’t turn gay.   His intimacy with the man had a very specific agenda.  And in the film’s final scene, after he is tortured and given morphine, he sleeps and dreams of being led out of the jail by Marta.  She takes him to the tropical island from Molina’s strange tale.  But instead of encountering the Spider Woman, the two of them get in a row-boat and float away into the sunset.

The director, Hector Babenco, was able to tell two stories at the same time, the story of Molina and Valentin, and the story of the Nazi film with Leni Lamaison.  The narrative cut back and forth between them with ease.  Not only did the two plots take place in different eras, but the propaganda film used a kind of sepia tone filter to further differentiate it from the events of the main plot.  The movie was good enough, but if you like it, I suggest you find a way to see the musical.  For one thing, several of the beautiful actress’s movies are used, the Spider Woman being the only one of her film characters who frightens Molina. And the different ending was a hundred times more powerful, in which the police try to use Valentin’s feelings for Molina to get him to talk, and they assassinate Molina in front of him.

1985 – The Color Purple

1985 - Color Purple, The - 01 1985 - Color Purple, The - 02 1985 - Color Purple, The - 03 1985 - Color Purple, The - 04 1985 - Color Purple, The - 05 1985 - Color Purple, The - 06 1985 - Color Purple, The - 07 1985 - Color Purple, The - 08 1985 - Color Purple, The - 09











The Color Purple – 1985

I’ve seen this incredible movie before and after watching it for a second time, I am really reminded how absolutely touching and moving the story was.  Director, Steven Spielberg, might be mostly known for his Science Fiction and action/Adventure films like E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, or the Indiana Jones Franchise, or Jaws, or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or Jurassic Park.  I, myself, am often guilty of forgetting that he was behind such other fantastic dramas like Schindler’s List, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan, and War Horse.  The Color Purple may not have had as big a budget as some of these other films, but it was just as dramatic and just as powerful.

The film deals with the plight of a poor, uneducated, unattractive, African American girl named Celie Harris.  As the story begins, 14 year old Celie, beautifully played by Desreta Jackson, and her younger, more attractive sister, Nettie, live in fear of their evil, pedophile father who has a habit of raping Celie, and has actually gotten her pregnant twice.  Then, when she delivered each of her children, he took them away from her and she never saw them again.

Eventually, Celie is given to a man named Albert Johnson, played by Danny Glover, as his wife, though he wants Nettie.  Celie calls him Mister and becomes his slave, keeping his house and raising his children.  Meanwhile, Nettie, fearful of being raped by her father, comes to live with Celie and Albert.  After a while Albert tries to rape Nettie.  When she eludes him by kicking him in the crotch, he throws her out, separating her from her beloved sister, Celie.  Years go by and the adult Celie is played by Whoopi Goldberg.

Mister regularly rapes her, beats her bloody, puts her down, calls her ugly, and yet expects her to be as obedient as a dog.  And all the while, he is in love with a jazz singer named Shug Avery, played by Margaret Avery.  One day he brings a very sick Shug home to take care of her.  He is incapable of doing so, but Celie isn’t.  She nurses Shug back to health and the two women become close friends, close enough that their relationship eventually becomes physically intimate.

I have to take some time to say how phenomenally impressed I was with Goldberg’s performance.  She was truly incredible.  We all know Whoopi for her career as a comedienne, but there was nothing even slightly amusing about her dramatic character.  She was a woman who was almost cripplingly shy, a woman who had been victimized for so long that she hardly knew how be anything but a victim.  She is completely subservient to the men who mistreat her.  Goldberg was so remarkably convincing in her performance.

There were some scenes in the film which stood out to me as being perfectly executed.  The combination of intense acting, a dramatic score, great cinematography, and an emotionally charged script really made me become invested in the story.  For example, when Mister forcibly separates Nettie and Celie and runs Nettie off his property, I was nearly in tears.  Then there was the scene in which, after many years of physical and emotional abuse, Celie fights back against Mister and leaves him, running away with Shug and her new husband.  And then, the tearful climax of the film when Celie is not only reunited with her sister, but with her two lost children, is just spiritually uplifting.

Now I would be remiss if I didn’t mention three other actors who each played their parts perfectly.  Albert’s oldest son, Harpo was played by Willard Pugh.  He eventually finds love with a plump woman with a temper like a hurricane, Sophia, played by Oprah Winfrey.  As a matter of fact, Sophia’s little sub-plot in which she fights back from being beaten by a white man and is thrown in jail for 8 years was heart-wrenching, largely due to Oprah’s great performance.  And finally, Adolph Caesar did a great job as Mister’s sorry excuse for a father.

The entire cast did a great job, making The Color Purple a good movie.  But it was the great direction of Spielberg that elevated the film from good to great.  It is a movie that shows us that no matter how difficult life becomes, hope can always steer us toward happiness.  All it takes from us is patience and endurance.  It is a beautiful message that is beautifully conveyed.

1984 – A Soldier’s Story

1984 - Soldier's Story, A - 01 1984 - Soldier's Story, A - 02 1984 - Soldier's Story, A - 03 1984 - Soldier's Story, A - 04 1984 - Soldier's Story, A - 05 1984 - Soldier's Story, A - 06 1984 - Soldier's Story, A - 07 1984 - Soldier's Story, A - 08 1984 - Soldier's Story, A - 09











A Soldier’s Story – 1984

I have to say, I loved the structure of this film.  It made sense and was incredibly well written.  And the format that it used was so simple, and yet so effective.  The movie is really a crime drama, and despite its 1940s setting, its emphasis on the difficult subject of racism, and its overtly ethnic nature, it was a detective story that smacked of film noir.

The movie starts out as Sergeant Waters, played by Adolph Caesar, drunk as a skunk and wobbling around the town in the dark, is beaten and eventually shot to death, murdered.  But this is Louisiana in 1944.  Nobody seems to care too much about the death of a black man, military or not.  But somehow, the Judge Advocate General gets wind of it and sends Captain Richard Davenport, played by Howard E. Rollins Jr., to investigate.  His presence is an inspiration to Sgt. Waters’ segregated platoon, and an offense to the white officers who command them.  You see, apparently a black officer was such a deliberate rarity that it was a pretty big deal.

But Cpt. Davenport is all business.  He is a smart and hard-working lawyer who is determined to get to the truth.  But upon his arrival, he is strongly discouraged from taking the investigation seriously because if a black man were to arrest a white man, unstoppable chaos would ensue.  But he is too much of a professional.  Before he even visits his billet, he starts interviewing witnesses.

And here is where the wonderful writing and great story structure come into play.  With each new soldier he interviews, we, the audience, get to see more of the back-story, what kind of a man Sgt. Waters was.  We learn about his motives and his actions, but only a little bit at a time.  And along with those revelations about his character, we learn about the black soldiers under his command, how they felt about him, and by the end, who really killed him, and why.

The film was put together like a gumshoe detective story.  As we got to know the characters, we find that none of them liked Sgt. Waters.  He was a strict and downright mean man, who was not above belittling his men to assert his rule over them.  He was cruel and careless, heartless and hateful, easily giving nearly all of his black soldiers reasons for wanting him dead.

So who did it?  Was it Pvt. Wilkie, played by Art Evans, a man who he treated like dirt and demoted without cause?  Was it Pvt. Cobb, played by David Allen Grier, whose best friend had been willfully driven to suicide by Sgt. Waters for being an uneducated Geechee?  Was it Pvt. Peterson, played by Denzel Washington, whom Waters had berated and goaded into a fist fight?  Or was it the two white officers, Capt. Wilcox and Lt. Byrd, who had been seen confronting Waters on the night of his murder?

The mystery alone was enough to keep my interest, but it was the well-painted portrait of racism and the terrible practice of segregation that was prevalent at the time that really made the movie memorable.  Not only did the film examine the way black and white soldiers interacted with each other, each keeping to their own groups whenever possible, but also the way the black men interacted with one another.  And it was those things that I found interesting.

The entire cast did a fine job, but as much as I hate to say it, the stand out actor was Adolph Caesar.  I say I hate to admit it because his character was such a mean jerk, especially in the way he treated Pvt. Cobb’s friend, C.J. Memphis, played by Larry Riley.  He was just a poor, uneducated young man who never meant any harm to anybody.  But Sgt. Waters despised him because he was too simple minded to fight against being a complacent tool of the white men.  When they called him names, he laughed it off.  When they belittled him for being black, he bore it without an ounce of anger in his heart.  And for that, Sgt. Waters framed him for murder, locked him in a cell, and demeaned him until he hung himself.  That’s what you call good writing, my friends.

1984 – A Passage to India

1984 - Passage to India, A - 01 1984 - Passage to India, A - 02 1984 - Passage to India, A - 03 1984 - Passage to India, A - 04 1984 - Passage to India, A - 05 1984 - Passage to India, A - 06 1984 - Passage to India, A - 07 1984 - Passage to India, A - 08 1984 - Passage to India, A - 09











A Passage to India – 1984

This was a small movie that had a very grand feel.  What I mean by that is that the story itself was small and intimate, allowing me to really feel close to it.  It delved into the minds of the characters, all of whom were real, believable, and well-written.  Their motivations were understandable, though complex.  The plot was simple and easy to follow.  The plot took place over the course of a very short period of time.

But despite the small, personal nature of the plot, the movie had the feel of an epic.  It took place in the far and exotic location of India.  It took a little time to explore the Indian culture and even gave you a taste of its mysterious, mystical history.  The main conflict of the film was, on the surface, between Adela Quested, played by Judy Davis, and Dr. Aziz Ahmed, played by Victor Banerjee, the former accusing the later of rape.  But beneath that upper veneer, the conflict was really between the natives of India, and their British oppressors.  Throw in the odd choice of casting Sir Alec Guiness in the roll of a native Indian philosopher, Professor Godbole, and English scholar and friend of Dr. Aziz, Richard Fielding, played by James Fox, and you have yourself a movie.

So, here’s the story, as quickly as I can tell it.  Adela and her presumptive mother-in-law, Mrs. Moore, played by Peggy Ashcroft, journey to the small provincial town of Chandrapore where Adela is to marry the local magistrate, Ronny Heaslop, played by Nigel Havers.  The two women are appalled by the way their British compatriots treat the Indian natives as nothing more than ignorant servants who are practically beneath notice.

They befriend an Indian man, Dr. Aziz, who admires the British for their refined ways and fancy finery.  They go on an outing to the Marabar Caves where Adele has some kind of nervous breakdown, which I’ll examine a little more closely in a bit, and accuses Dr. Aziz of attempted rape, though it is made clear to the viewer that he did no such thing.  There is a highly publicized trial.  The British are scandalized by the audacity of the Indian savage who would dare to assault a proper young British woman.  The Indians rally behind the innocent Dr. Aziz.

Fairly early on in the trial, Adele is put on the stand, and after some questioning, she admits that Dr. Aziz is not guilty of the alleged rape.  After enduring imprisonment and a ruined reputation, Dr. Aziz is set free, whereupon he is shown to have learned to hate the British and their occupation of his country.  He moves away to start a new life in Kashmir, but after several years, and at the encouragement of his old friend, Fielding, he eventually forgives Adele.

The pacing was a little slow for my tastes, and the running time of the movie was 2 hours and 44 minutes.  I would have like them to cut about 30 minutes out of the movie, but as I think about it, I don’t know what I would want removed.  Everything seemed pretty deliberate and meticulously planned, much like the performances, which were good.  They were never over the top and nothing was gratuitous.  As a matter of fact, Judy Davis and Peggy Ashcroft both won Oscars for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress for their performances.

But despite the slow pace, the characters of Adele and Dr. Aziz gave the movie an interesting complexity.  It was Adele’s questionable mental stability that kept me engaged.  The movie never fully explained why she made up the lie about Dr. Aziz.  What happened to her inside the cave that caused her to lose her sanity?  Because clearly, after her experience in the caves, she seemed to be on the edge of a kind of madness.  I got my biggest clue as to why in an earlier scene, in which Adele is exploring the countryside alone.  She discovers the ruins of an ancient Indian temple.  Carved into its stone walls are explicit images of men and women copulating in various positions.  The images both frightened her and aroused her before she was chased away by a pack of ferocious wild monkeys.  She was a woman who was unable to handle her own sexuality.  So bad was her claustrophobic breakdown in the cave, her fragile psyche gave her a hallucination which latched onto the kindly Dr. Aziz.  Fortunately, her questioning in the trial allowed her to recall the truth.  It made her character very interesting, and Davis really did a good job in the roll.