Hell Is For Heroes (1962 USA)

Steve McQueen was striving to make it big in Hollywood and used the force of his ego to position himself as the star here. This didn’t endear him to the picture’s original director Robert Pirosh, who also wrote the screenplay. McQueen’s insistence on rewriting scenes and placing himself in the center of the action spoiled Piroff’s vision of a fighting unit that worked together with no single individual standing out. McQueen got Pirosh fired, and Don Siegel was hired with McQueen’s approval to take over. Siegel knew how to stroke McQueen’s fragile psyche, and in some cases, simply agreed to some of McQueen’s suggestions then did his own thing. If you keep a close eye on Private Reese (McQueen), this sense of embittered self confidence pervades his character throughout the story. He’s right even when he’s wrong. [Read more…]

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“I was fourteen…”

Closely Watched Trains (Bohumil Hrabal)

Set in 1945 in a Czech town, the Germans are on the back foot, but they are still making their presence felt. These German–closely watched– trains still pass through the train station and are given priority in passage. We follow the exploits of the station staff. The central figure is the hapless Milos Hrma, an unassuming, insecure young man with an embarrassing family history. He works at the station along with larger than life characters, including the pigeon-covered station master Lansky, the randy, libidinous dispatcher Hubicka, the floozy telegraphist Virginia and the conductress Masha. Despite their foibles and absurdities, there is a touch of longing and vulnerability which makes them human and worthy of empathy. [Read more…]

The Train (1964 France/USA)

The concept of an ‘action’ film is the most curious, as many examples of the genre seem very static – even today where it seems that anything can be shown. A fight, car crash, explosion, etc is rehearsed, staged, simultaneously photographed and edited in a certain way that brings out and sometimes enhances the action. But, as the event is meticulously planned, rigorously controlled, sometimes or always re-shot, spontaneity cannot be part of the action, or plays a small part. The action may be impressive, but still seems unreal, too chaotic, the sense that the action is not integrated into the story and maybe even more importantly, the attitude and motivation of the characters. Most action films are far from achieving all this. [Read more…]

The Great Escape (1963 USA)

greatescape6-061315By 1963 audiences were becoming bored with re-living heroic World War Two exploits, Teenage filmgoers were too young to remember it and were tired of seeing their dads’ er…’doings’, (yuck! – sorry) which made their own lives feel smaller & duller. But “The Great Escape” depicted a failed breakout from an inglorious captivity. It managed to combine the expected set pieces of tension and ‘doings’ (yuck again!) with an incipient 60’s individualism. [Read more…]

The Island (Victoria Hislop)

the_island_v_hislop_novel_coverThe novel begins in present day London where Alexis is about to go on holiday and about to decide on major changes to her life. She’s going to Plaka in Crete, the place where her mother, Sofia, grew up. Her mother refuses to speak about her past but she gives Alexis a letter to give to an old friend, Fortina, who will tell her the story. Beautifully imagined, well-researched and evocatively told, this novel recreates a leper colony of the 1930s and follows its inmates and neighbours on the Island of Crete through the Second World War to the present day. [Read more…]

Casablanca (1942 USA)

casablanca01If any visitor to this blog doesn’t read this review, they’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of their lives.  I have to give credit to screen writer Julius Epstein for all his quotable lines. One of the greats is: “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.” Such throwaway chit chat has become the stuff of legend of course but I have to admit that it is Humphrey Bogart that is numero uno for me here. He had a timeless masculinity that is reassuring. His nasal whine was so confident that he seemed tall, although he was short by modern standards. He was attractively ugly. Whatever he had, the man was magic and probably the best Hollywood actor of them all. [Read more…]

The Man In The High Castle (Philip K Dick)

bookThe alternate universe in which the Axis has won World War II just doesn’t feel right to its inhabitants. Could it be the prevailing Nazi ettiquette, the new social classification, or is it something altogether deeper? If you enjoy novels about World War II where the writer imagines different scenarios to those that actually took place, or indeed if you like “What ifs” about any historic event, then The Man in the High Castle may not disappoint you. [Read more…]

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