Sunday, June 26, 2011

Unstoppable 2010

Another movie on runaway train but this time inspired by true story…

(Poster source:

It starts with 2 bungling railway staff (ya, what else?) who manages to get a fully loaded train (to make things more interesting, with 8 highly toxic cars attached) to run away without brakes (they could not find a couple of seconds to spare to attach the loose brakes) and without any driver at the cabin. And then add that with the runaway train running through several highly populated towns, leaving the town people praying for a miracle (which comes in forms of 2 “at the right time, right place” heroes).

How this could have happened in the first place you may ask? It is simple of course, the 2 bungling railway staff was given a simple tasks but due to a small dose of recklessness and plenty dose of stupidity, simple tasks becomes too complicated for these 2 bungling railway staff. One plus one ends up as three.

Then there is sub story of the corporate side of the railway company trying to minimize the damages that the company will suffer in terms for compensation and stock losses (especially when the highly toxic cars threaten to wipe out a whole town). Of course, there must be some kind of management who will make the stupid decisions that will fail at the end and that will be up to the heroes who go against the “company rules” to save the day.

And where an action movie would be without a senior, experienced, almost retiring, happily married with a couple of kids, hero (often played by a well known actor) who will save the day of course and to make this senior, experienced hero to be pissed off at the beginning of the movie would be some rookie - handsome, marriage in trouble, “sub-hero” (often put in the movie just in case the senior gets killed in the process of rescue).

Seriously, “Unstoppable” is really not a bad movie – we have Denzel Washington in the lead as the senior, experienced, almost retiring, happily married with a couple of kids, hero. So acting is first class indeed but that is not why you need to watch this movie. “Unstoppable” has one of the best scenes that involve trains and that itself is enough to attract enough interest to watch this movie.

The best scene in the movie is when they place a manned train in front of the runaway train and the plan goes awry. After trying to slow down the train from the front, the strategy does not work out and the front train derails, killing the engineer. The next plan comes where the 2 hero tries to stop the train by catching the runaway train from the back (don’t mind if the runaway train is actually traveling faster than the heroes’ train but somehow they managed to catch up). They hit the train from the back and somehow manage to stop the runaway train.

Final Say

Pros: Great train scenes

Cons: All too familiar plots - you may even ask “what is new?” and illogical at certain places.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Buried 2010

(Image source: Wikipedia)

It is simply claustrophobic!

I watched 2 movies about men getting trapped in small confined areas – one was Danny Boyle’s biographical adventure titled 127 Hours and the other, the excellent Buried by Rodrigo Cortés.

For a few seconds into the movie Buried, all we can see is dark screen and then a couple flickers from the lighter and we see eyes of a man in sweaty, confined situation. It is brilliantly executed and set the premise for the rest of the movie.

The premise of Buried is rather simple - Ryan Reynolds who plays the character of Paul Conray is a truck driver who is working for a private contactor in Iraq. His convoy was attacked and he was captured by insurgents who bury him in a box into the ground, supplies him with a couple of things which includes a mobile phone. Conray who wakes up with hands tied trying to make sense of things and panics at first and then starts to call for help. He then gets a call from his captors who demand for USD5 million to be paid before 9 at night. Conray then calls home, FBI, the State Department and then the Hostage Working Group in Iraq for help. This forms the crux of the story.

(Paul Conray in a dark, confined box armed with just a lighter and a mobile phone)

Paul Conray is buried deep down in ground, so the camera focuses on him and him alone. We are shown the interior of the box and at times, we are in the dark with Conray as his lights goes off leaving him in the darkness. We could hardly breathe too. The box is hardly big enough to fit him and he had to move around to get some items at the end of the box and it is not easy. The camera angle is brilliant – we see from all angle of the box and yet we are inside with Conray trapped in the box, feeling claustrophobic. Lighting is naturally done – when we see light in the box, we are sure that it comes from the lighter or the flashlight or the neo lights or the mobile phone and it is just nice and not too dark like we seen other poor light scenes in movies

(If there is one thing I love about the movie, it is camera angle and it always focuses on Conray and him alone)

Rodrigo Cortés adds moments of suspense into the already claustrophobic moments like a snake sneaking into the box and into Conray’s pants and the power running out on his only lifeline – the mobile phone left by his captors for him to get the ransom money. Can you imagine if you are in a box where you can hardly move and a snake slithers in? And as Conray is kept on hold on the phone by people who does not understand his situation, we can feel his frustrations as well, especially when a 911 operator asked if he climbed into the coffin himself.

Other than Paul Conray and his female colleague who shown in a video message, get shot after demands for ransom went unanswered, we don’t see any other characters but we are left to imagine based on the voices alone – Conray’s wife and kids, his cold and vengeful captors, the people from the States and one from the HWG who keeps up Conray’s spirits and keep the lifeline open by saying that they are very close to get him out.

The captors asking for USD5 million ransom and then reducing it to USD1 million and then asking Conray to cut off one of his fingers may make us angry of the situation where innocent and non combatant individuals get stuck in sticky situation when all they wanted to do is to work to get enough money for their families. Conray explains this many times to his captors but we can feel that the captors have suffered enough under the US occupation as well. That is the reality of things in Iraq and Afghanistan now days.

Not many films out there are focuses on one man, in a confined space and other characters not allowed being in it other than just voices. The audience is left to imagine the background of which Conray is in – the on-going negotiations and the rescue efforts.

Pros: The gripping story, terrific location and good acting

Cons: The ending - I wished Paul Conray was actual saved instead left buried after all that effort

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Next Three Days 2010

(Poster source:

If you are looking out for a good movie to watch, remember this name – Paul Haggis

The twice Oscar award winning screenwriter & director has done it again with “The Next Three Days” (TNTD) and if you thought “Crash” was damn good, it gets even better in this movie.

The summarized synopsis is as follows:-

Lara Brennan (Elizabeth Banks) is convicted of murdering her boss after an altercation at work. Following the failure of her appeal, Lara's husband John Brennan (Russell Crowe), a professor at a community college, becomes obsessed with the idea of breaking her out of jail after attempts for appeal looked bleak, while their son Luke ceases to acknowledge her during their prison visits.

John consults Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson), a former convict who successfully escaped from prison seven times. Damon advises John to study the prison, saying "every prison has a key".

John contemplates several ideas that don't pan out and is defeated more than once, but latches onto a solid plan and the necessary paperwork after some painful efforts. John falsifies and plants blood work results indicating that his wife is in a state of hyperkalemia, and she is transferred to the hospital. He follows the ambulance and helps her to escape although she is doubtful and reluctant, motivated only by the idea of her son being without either parent.

With the police getting some lucky breaks, they are hot on John and Lara's trail through a series of chases. At the end of the film, the family is safe in Venezuela. It is also revealed that Lara is indeed innocent.


The movie itself is a remake of a 2008 French film titled “Pour Elle”. In essence, the movie is about a husband getting his innocent wife out from jail and keeping the family close – a welcome depart from the usual story of “former special forces” convicts making the break from some high security lock down.

Paul Haggis however narrates it in a rather interesting manner – it starts with the fact that Lara Brennan is having problems with her boss. Lara finds blood on her jacket and the next thing the family knows, the police barges in and arrests her for the charge of murder. At first, the family tries to go by the legal way by filing appeals to overturn the conviction but nothing worked to an extent, Lara tries to commit suicide. It is then, John Brennan (excellently played by Russell Crowe) knows that there is only one thing to do – he needs to break his wife from jail. And this is where the story really starts.

How John Brennan plans and finally executes his plan to get his wife from jail is brilliantly shown in this movie. Paul Haggis was careful, not to rush on things and tells the story on a rather proper pace – from John Brennan doing up his research and trying rather clumsily, failed in his earlier attempts to finally turning out to be professional and precision in his execution, down to the very last second of the plan.

Small things in story telling certainly make big impact and you need to keep an eye for these small things such as:-

1. John Brennan almost getting caught trying to open a door using tips he picked up from the internet but maintains his cool when the authorities question him and immediately as he comes out of the building, go to the side and start vomiting.

2. The prison chief questioning John Brennan and he knows that John Brennan is lying and he tells John Brennan that having both parents in prison is not going to help their son and waits for John Brennan’s reaction. The prison chief finally lets him go.

3. Within minutes to spare to get their son from the zoo, John Brennan decides to take the other route to avoid road blocks, whilst promising his wife that he will try to get their son somehow, not realizing that his wife had opened the door and decided to jump out from the moving car, causing near misses. After managing to stop by the road side, both John Brennan and his wife sit down to catch up on their breath before heading back to the zoo to get their son.

4. The way John Brennan throws the police off guard on whether they might to heading is brilliant – you have to see it to believe. At first, we too lead to think that the plan on the way is John Brennan’s main plan but in the end, that plan tells two different story.

5. John Brennan’s aged father discovering airplane tickets for 3 the night before John Brennan plans to break out his wife from the prison. He knows that he is going to see his son and his grandson for the last time but keeps the secret to himself, not letting his wife know about it. The next morning, John Brennan and his father look at each other – you can see it in their eyes that they know this is the end

6. John Brennan unable to raise enough money in time decides to rob a couple of drug dealers, almost getting killed in the process. The house get burned down and John Brennan managed pull out one of the younger drug dealer who been shot by his own friend and as he drives out with this dying man, all you hear is the cries of pain and then it becomes silent.

Deeply entrenched in this “husband breaks wife from prison and escapes” is a story of a husband still believing in his wife despite the odds and his wife’s lost of faith that things will get better. There is also a story of a father who wants to keep his family intact and as one. There is also a story of a mother losing her communication with her young son who had become distanced after she was arrested.

Similar in the movie “Crash”, Paul Haggis managed to inter-twine the sub-stories into one seamless movie. Russell Crowe who won best actor award in the Oscars for the movie Gladiator is at the very best here. He is just a simple school teacher who drives a hybrid car to work (which also caused some confusion when the police start investigation and wonders jokingly which hard-core criminal is environment conscious). He is not good with fights, often on edge of desperation and simply one of us.

A worthy movie for year 2010…

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

WW2 Movies

(The last major war around the world at the same time – World War 2. Image source:

World War 2 was the last major conflict that we have faced and we all dread the start of World War 3 (which could mean end of mankind or worse, the planet earth).

I like history and I have collection of books and magazines on the subject at home but nothing portrays the event better than seeing them on movies. Over the years, we have been “bombarded” with many types of war movies and mini-series ranging from ancient wars (like “300” and “Braveheart”), World Wars (both 1 & 2), Vietnam Wars (still remember “Platoon”, “Full Metal Jacket” or “Apocalypse Now”?) and all the way to galactic war in a galaxy, far, far away (my favorite – “Star Wars”)

If you are looking for World War 2 movies for your collection, I strongly recommend these (in no particular order):-

1. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

It is a must have in anyone’s collection for a simple reason – the first 10 minutes of slaughter on the Omaha Beach. Steven Spielberg managed to capture the reality of the slaughter of the Allied forces by the German defenses on the beach head with pin point accuracy.

(The start of the slaughter – even before the Marines steps on the beach – highly riveting and a pure adrenaline rush)

And if you watched the “The Making of Saving Private Ryan”, you will appreciate the movie makers’ painstaking effort to make a movie that is more documentary-alike than a normal colorful movie. The boots that the actors wore in the movie is made by the same company that made the boots for the US soldiers during World War 2.

This movie also spurred the 2 excellent HBO mini-series – “Band of Brothers” (the war against the Germans) and “The Pacific” (the war against the Japanese) – another must have in your collection.

Must watch scene: The landing on the Omaha Beach and if you have the right “hardware”, listen to the best sound recording ever made (bullets literally flies from right to the left). The movie won 2 Oscars for sound alone.

2. Flags of Our Fathers (2006)

If you feel that you have not enough of the slaughter of the Americans on the Omaha Beach in “Saving Private Ryan”, then this is the movie for you. Clint Eastwood directed this movie of the Americans landing on Japanese controlled Iwo Jima and the slaughter here is more dramatic than of “Saving Private Ryan”.

(The landscape coupled with the intense fighting & slaughter of the Americans makes this movie one notch up against Saving Private Ryan’s Omaha Beach battle scene )

The Americans are more exposed here and despite massive firepower from the supporting naval ships (impressively shown), the Japanese defenders had the upper hand.

Besides the story of the Americans fighting to take over Iwo Jima, there is another story in this movie – about the second flag planted on Iwo Jima (and went on to be more famous than the first flag) and the American soldiers who went on a freak roadshow once they reached America. They felt betrayed and humiliated.

Must watch scene: The movie has 2 parts in it – the soldier’s battle against the Japanese on Iwo Jima and another “battle” against the “many who did not understand” in America. The part on the actual battle on Iwo Jima is a must watch – it is so real and perfect.

Watch out for part early in the movie when the men on the ships start cheering for the passing fighter planes and one of them falls down into the water. The men on ship are then told that no ship will stop to pick that man up.

3. The Pianist (2002)

If you are Jew, earmarked for extermination by the German in Warsaw, Poland, you need to watch this Oscar winning, based on true story movie on how the famous Polish Jewish pianist, Władysław Szpilman (Adrien Brody won an Oscar for this role) who went from a famous musician to an on-the-run Jew and made it alive till the end of the war.

(One of the best scenes in the movie, a cold and hungry Władysław Szpilman facing a German officer in an abandoned building)

The movie, directed by Roman Polanski (who won an Oscar for Best Director) revolves on Jews in Poland, how they were forced to move to German controlled Jewish settlement away from the rest of the citizens and then systematically executed.

There is one scene where Szpilman together with fellow Jewish workers get ready to go to work when they are stopped by a German officer. The officer picks several men randomly, asks them to lie down on the road and proceed to shoot them on the head. He runs of bullet when he reached the last man – he stops, takes his time to reload and shoots the last man on the head.

Must watch scene: Władysław Szpilman cold and hungry, decides to take his chances and go out to look for food and find a can of food in an abandoned building. And when he was about pry it open, the can falls down, rolls down the floor and stops at the feet of a German officer who surprisingly instead of shooting Szpilman on the spot, asked Szpilman to play the piano. After listening to Szpilman playing, the officer leaves and Szpilman immediately breaks down and cry.

4. Schindler’s List (1993)

The movie that was not shown in the cinemas in Malaysia after our local censorship board decided that there were too much nudity and wanted to cut down the scenes – something Steven Spielberg did not agree. How sad – the movie is a master piece – it went on to win 7 Oscars including Best Picture.

(The children in the Jewish camp being taken away by the truckloads with their parents crying by the side helplessly)

This movie looked at the darker side of the World War 2 where Nazi Germany executed the Jews without a care for the fellow human being and how a German businessman who first desired by money and greed, changes his mind and decides to help to save thousands of them into safety.

The movie was shot entirely in black and white and that creates a unique “aura” watching this movie.

Must watch scene: The Jews in the concentration camp is stripped naked and is rounded up for the final extermination as trucks carried away the children in the camp – the agony of the parents who being held on the other end of the camp is unspeakable.

Watch out for the ending when the real survivors of Oskar Schindler are shown side by side with the actors who portrayed them in the movie (with John Williams’ background music).

5. Patton (1970)

The opening scene of the movie when General George S Patton (acted superbly by George C Scott) gives one of the best motivating speech is a must watch.

(This image is now iconic and the monologue delivered is one of the classics)

The movie portrays the famed Third Army US General who went head to head with British’s Field Marshall Montgomery on who made the most advance in the war torn Europe. Francis Ford Coppola co-wrote the screenplay for this movie.

The movie is about the man, not the war so it does gives an interesting perceptive on one of the finest tank commander in the US Army during World War 2. He was the soldier’s soldier and who gave no heed on politicians and soft diplomacy. That is where he got into trouble and often taken out from the limelight of war by his commanders.

The movie won 7 Oscars which included Best Actor award for George C Scott (which he refused – first actor to do so).

Must watch scene: Other than the opening scene, memorable scenes includes the part where General Patton visits a medical camp and confronts a soldier who been admitted because he was scared. Patton (who earlier overwhelmed by seriously injured soldier) gets so furious with this “yellow bastard” that he pulls his revolver to shoot him but was stopped by the doctors in time.

Other memorable mention includes “The Great Escape”, “The Bridge on River Kwai”, “The Longest Day”, “Das Boots” and “Life is Beautiful”.

Any other suggestions?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Toy Story 3 2010

We’ve done our duty. Andy’s grown up (Andy’s soldier toys before parachuting out from the Andy’s room window)

(Can you identify the new toys in this latest sequel? There are evil ones in the bunch. Poster source: Wikipedia)

When Toy Story 3 was first mentioned on TV, one of the very first people to take note of it was my son. He asked me to mark the release date down and since then he has been shopping for Toy Story related colouring books, stickers and “Where is Wally?” kind of books.

He reminds me to buy tickets for the movie on almost daily basis. And I knew that whenever a much anticipated movie is released in Malaysia, one can rest assure that the tickets would be fully booked at least for the first week. But with my son checking on the calendar on the release date, I was not that keen to “postpone” the viewing to a later date (when there will be less people and we can get good seats). We did not want to disappoint the big boss. I asked my wife whether she can take him to watch on weekdays when most of the parents are at work. She was free but something came up and we had to cancel the plan to take the “big boss” to watch Toy Story 3 on weekdays.

We decided to watch it on Sunday (don’t ask how we got to Sunday) where we definitely need to tussle with other parents for the available tickets.

We reached the cinema quite early (about 11 in the morning) and were shocked to see a long queue. “What the….” statement ran in our minds when we saw the queue. At this juncture, you might wanted to ask me about online reservation but you see, I don’t trust GSC’s level of security for their online ticket reservation – for why, read here and here

We then noticed that most of the people queuing up were Indians and then we realised that Mani Ratnam’s Raavanan was also being released on the same week. Things were looking more promising – perhaps there was enough distraction to keep those people away from Toy Story 3 tickets but we were wrong. We queued up but when we reached the counter, we realised that the 11.45 am and 2.45 pm show was almost sold out. We did not want to sit too near to the screen so I decided to buy tickets for the 5.00 pm show. Although we could not get seats at the back for the 5.00 pm show (most of it was on reserve), we managed to get good seats at the front (not too near to the screen).

The show was at 5.00 pm but for now, it was still morning – so we decided to head back to the house. My son was not happy about it – he was worried that the movie may start any time and he was worried that we may not be around for it. He gave his usual sad, cute face but we did not fall in to his demands. There was no way we were going to loiter around the cinema lobby for 5 hours! Besides, the boss need to take a haircut before the start of school and we suddenly had plenty of time for it.

After haircut and a good lunch, we came back at about 4.30 pm and at 5.00 pm, were allowed to enter. The show started late (at almost 5.15 pm) and those fuckers who reserved large number of seats at the back, in the end, did not turn up. We decided not to move up to those empty seats to watch the show as our current seats was enough to provide comfortable viewing.

So, you may ask – how was Toy Story 3?

Basically it was a well made sequel – another “escape from somewhere back to Andy” storyline but with a better CGIs and funnier punch lines (special effects just getting better and better). There are new toys as well in the movie – new toys mean new villains (just like Stinky Pete in Toy Story 2). In the end, as Andy has grown up and it is unlikely he will be playing with the kiddie’s toys any more, Andy’s toys ends up as Bonnie’s toys (probably opening whole new variation for future sequels).

Oh, p.s. – there is an opening animation titled “Day & Night” before the main story starts – it was good.

Final say

The plus points: Brilliantly made sequel

The negative points: Nothing major (boring re-use the same “toys need to go back to Andy” plot, maybe)

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Hurt Locker 2008

The Hurt LockerImage via Wikipedia

(One great movie in recent times – Poster source: Wikipedia)

The Time Magazine calls this movie “A Near-Perfect War Film”

The fact of the matter is that the truth is not far from this. The Hurt Locker is indeed a near perfect war film. It could have been the perfect movie if not for some holes in the plot and loose execution of certain scenes. So, let’s talk about the plot holes first.

Holes in the Plot

In Wikipedia, it was reported:-

Author Brandon Friedman, also a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan criticized the accuracy of the film’s representation of combat, saying “in real life, EOD techs don’t conduct dangerous missions as autonomous three-man teams without communications gear.

Another thing you’ll rarely hear in combat is an EOD E-7 suggesting to two or three of his guys that they leave the scene of an explosion in an Iraqi city by saying: “C’mon, let’s split up. We can cover more ground that way.

In IMDB, the following plot holes were also mentioned:-

The EOD team usually went out of the wire by themselves. Usually when EOD goes out of the gate they are escorted by a quick reaction force (QRF) of 3 or more Humvees.

In the stand off scene in the desert the shelter the insurgents are being protected by would not have been strong enough to stop the bullets from a Barrett M107 anti-material rifle, which is designed to punch through thick armour plating

But the one bigger plot holes that I got irritated rather early into the movie was when Sergeant First Class William James had his first assignment with the Bravo Company and a taxi storms in, passing the secured perimeter setup by the heavily armed US Army personals and only stops when William James pulls out a gun and points at the driver.

(One lonely man against a potential suicide bomber – it does not make sense when the locals know that it is not safe to barge in a heavily armed perimeter manned by nervous US soldiers. In real life, the taxi driver would have been dead)

William James asks the driver to back away. This scene did not make any sense all – what if the driver has been a suicide bomber, with a load of explosions in his taxi? The initial reaction of the US Army in these tense situation especially have someone driving against the perimeter was to shoot at the driver. But no, here, the driver was allowed to ponder on his next “action” despite a barrage of weapons and trigger nervous US soldiers focussing on the driver and William James coolly asking whether the driver wants to back off.

You don’t get that kind of soft treatment from the US Army on the field! These guys don’t take their chances especially in Iraq.

(One of the opening scenes in the movie – well executed and simply breathtaking! Guy Pearce gets wiped out and the hero acted by Jeremy Renner comes into the picture)

The Plot

Despite obvious holes in the plot, the rest of the movie of simply impressive. Although some reviews have mentioned that there is no real “mission” in the movie, I dare say that not many movies out there that grabs your full attention by the neck in the first 10 minutes. The first scene in the movie was so tense that I hardly blinked, worrying I may miss a small detail. It was superbly directed and taken and set the premise for the rest of the story to unfold.

Read the full plot here if you still have not heard of this movie.

Scripts are kept to the minimum and nothing much brilliant was heard throughout the movie. We don’t expect brilliant words like “go ahead, make my day” coming out from Sergeant First Class William James’ mouth as he sweats profusely as his steady hands make it’s way around the dusty wires looking for the detonator but thankfully the action alone was more than enough to compensate for this lack of “memorial words”.

Nearest one would be “there’s enough bang in there to blow us all to Jesus. If I’m gonna die, I want to die comfortable” when William James removed his blast resistance suit and tries to disarm a car load of bombs without any protection. That speaks the reckless nature of William James (which earns him a whack to the face from his team member, Sergeant Sanborn after the bomb has been disarmed)

(The hero “painting” the target for his team member with the anti material rifle. This picture could have been taken from the real battlefield in Iraq or Afghanistan but it is not)


Kathryn Bigelow did one fine job to get this movie as realistic as possible. The movie was shot in Jordan where there is great number of Iraqi refugees are staying. So imagine having foreigners in US Army battle fatigues, driving around in Humvees through the narrow streets of Jordan and getting the scenes done was unbelievable.

It was high risk taken by the movie maker – they could taken the same shots in less risky locations but without taking the shots in the right location would have made the movie rather artificial. At moments, you will forget and start to think that the movie was actually taken in Iraq and that Sergeant First Class William James is a real person.

Shots of innocent people on the rooftops and balcony looking down on (I guess on the movie making) and surprised look on their faces, adds to the realism of the shot.

The bomb disarming scenes was interesting and the movie makers took the pain to portray the different types of bombing detonations – by mobile phone, detonation wires, detonation switch and human suicide bomber.

(Anthony Mackie as the no nonsense, by the book, Sergeant J.T. Sanborn with the anti material rifle – he outshines Jeremy Renner in many areas and was a saving grace to the holes in the plot in sense that he objects to it)


The movie is so focussed on the 3 main characters who make the crack EOD team that you may miss the other big names in the movie – Guy Pearce (the EOD member who dies in the first part of the movie), David Morse (the Colonel who called the EOD to disarm the bomb at an UN building car park) and Ralph Fiennes (the private contractor who get stuck with a flat tire in the desert).

Jeremy Renner who acts the main character in the movie, the rather reckless and risk taker Sergeant First Class William James excels in the bomb disarm and battle scenes and that it is about it. Unfortunately and perhaps due to the nature of the movie and character, Jeremy hardly shines when it comes to scenes that call for the character to be highly emotional. Don’t get me wrong, Jeremy is doing one fine acting in the movie but there are rooms to improve.

Anthony Mackie who acts as Sergeant J. T. Sanborn (William James’s team member) on the other hand outshines Jeremy Renner in all acting departments. It was just too bad he was not nominated for Best Supporting Actor in the recent Oscars.

(The view from the Humvee before an IED goes off and kills a high ranking soldier – the effect is great and shows just how deadly the streets of Baghdad can be with the locals looking so innocent)


There is little wonder why cinematographer Barry Ackroyd won an Oscar for this movie. Watching this movie is almost like watching a documentary – shaky movement (not much and not as bad as Cloverfield) and a gloomy background – the neighbourhood street full of rubbish and dirty and the ordinary people look clueless and nervous and sounds of helicopters and jets flying overhead.

Capturing the tense moments from many angles makes the story telling more compelling and Barry does this well. Shots from afar and where the residents are looking from, from team member’s vantage point providing cover whilst William James disarming the bomb, from the inside of the blast resistant suit where his breathing is heavy and warm and from the angle of the resistance members – how vulnerable the US soldiers (in this case, the EOD team) are from sniper shots and all out attacks.


The movie makers may have their own reasons for having these holes in the plot (perhaps to synchronise with the script or budget, perhaps to focus more on the characters or perhaps simply to make things more entertaining) but despite getting the movie as realistic as possible (it was shot in Jordan, a stone throw away from Iraq), certainly having holes in the plot gives the movie a near perfect label.

It would have been great if it has been a perfect movie – for the movie was nominated for 9 Oscars and won 6 including for Best Picture and Best Director.

The Hurt Locker is a must watch war movie!

Final say

The plus points: The background, story and realism

The negative points: The glaring holes in plot

Read Also

How it works: The Hurt Locker’s Bomb Fighting Suit

LA Times: The Making of The Hurt Locker

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Lawrence of Arabia 1962

Cover of "Lawrence of Arabia (Single Disc...Cover via Amazon
“There may be honour among thieves, but there’s none in politicians” T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia

I have doing a lot of movie “collecting” in the last few months. I have watched a lot of movies since then but not all has been reviewed in this blog. One of the reasons for that is I don’t have much time to sit down and write down the review. Other times, some of the movies do not need special reviews – they are simply too good and too classic.

For example, in my collection, I have David Lean’s two greatest masterpieces namely “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Doctor Zhivago” and I am planning to add his other movies into my collection, “A Passage to India” and “The Bridge on the River Kwai” as soon as it is possible. The movie “Lawrence of Arabia” came before “Doctor Zhivago” and has been touted as:-

“…one of the greatest and most influential films in the history of cinema”

The movie “Lawrence of Arabia” was nominated for 10 Oscars and won 7 Oscars for the following categories:-

  • Academy Award for Best Picture
  • Academy Award for Best Director
  • Academy Award for Best Art Direction
  • Academy Award for Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award for Original Music Score
  • Academy Award for Film Editing
  • Academy Award for Sound

The movie is rumoured to be Steven Spielberg’s favourite all time and going through the movie, one sees why. I have been watching the 3 plus hour movie on a daily basis – sometimes watching the actual scenes and sometimes listening to the background theme.

(There is plenty of contrast between the characters and the landscape in this David Lean’s masterpiece)

The Plot

David Lean’s movie runs for almost 216 minutes that is divided into 2 Acts and includes the opening and ending musics and intermission. The fact was it took almost 2 years to complete the movie as reported here:-

What was supposed to be a 150-day shoot turned into two years and three months of production history, and over those years untold chaos could have derailed this project at any time.

Instead, Lawrence became one of the greatest movies of the 20th century, and one of the weirdest, most counter-intuitive epics ever committed to film.

Read the details of the plot in Wikipedia.

The movie is basically is about Colonel T.E. Lawrence who was a British Army office who was posted to the Middle East in the 1916s and how he played a crucial role is uniting the Arabs to fight against the Turks. There has been substantial commentary on the plot in the movie and the one that actually took place.

From Wikipedia:-

The historical accuracy of the film, and particularly its portrayal of Lawrence himself, has been called into question by numerous scholars. Most of the film’s characters are either real or based on real characters to varying degrees. The events depicted in the film are largely based on accepted historical fact and Lawrence’s own writing about events, though they have various degrees of romanticisation.

Some scenes — such as the attack on Aqaba — were heavily fictionalised, while those dealing with the Arab Council were inaccurate, inasmuch as the council remained more or less in power in Syria until France deposed Faisal in 1920.

Many more criticism was mounted on the projection of T.E. Lawrence in the movie and even to extent of comparing the physical differences between the real T.E. Lawrence and Peter O’Tootle.

(The opening scene of the desert adventure – the morning sunrise over the horizon is simply spectacular!)


It was said that in the movie “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, Sir David Lean specifically travelled 150 miles to capture it.

Once again, seeing the “Lawrence of Arabia”, we cannot ignore the genius of Sir David Lane in capturing the story of the Arabic Revolt against the Turks and how that transformed Lawrence into an almost mystical character. The opening scene in the desert starts with a sunrise in the horizon.

David Lean is able to match the 3 main elements of the movie (acting, music and cinematography) into one balanced display of art and craft. David Lean won his second Oscar for Best Director for this movie (he won the same for “The Bridge on the River Kwai”)

David Lean on the other hand was inspired by John Ford’s style of using the vast background against the character. John Ford was a 4 times Oscar winning director who was famous for directing most of the John Wayne’s western movies.

(Peter O’Tootle as the maverick Colonel T.E. Lawrence)


There are several main characters in the movie and all has been executed with surgical precision.

T.E. Lawrence acted by Peter O’ Tootle. Peter was not the first choice to play Lawrence in this movie but he nonetheless excelled to portraying Lawrence of Arabia. The way that Peter looks at Omar Sharif after he had saved a strayed man from the desert looks real. Peter does an excellent job of portraying someone who is very tired but did not show it in front of Omar Sharif.

Sheriff Ali acted by Omar Sharif. The way David Lean ‘introduces’ Omar Sharif in this movie is now a well known classic. The chemistry between Omar Sharif who dislike the British selective meddling in what he perceives to be an Arab Revolt and Peter O’Tootle who found some strange admiration for the desert going Arabs is so natural and convincing.

(Anthony Quinn or the real Auda Abu Tayi?)

Auda Abu Tayi acted by Anthony Quinn. It was said that Anthony Quinn got very much into his role – he spent hours applying his own make-up and used a photograph of the real Auda to make himself look as much like him as he could. Anthony was to act as Bedouin leader again in the movie “Lion of the Desert”.

Prince Faisal acted by Alec Guinness (the orginal Obi Wan Kenobi). Alec Guiness was said to have clashed with David Lean many times but this is the interesting part. Despite the often clash with the director, Alec Guinness has been wiling to act for David Lean’s other movies namely “A Passage to India”, “Doctor Zhivago” and “The Bridge on the River Kwai”

(The iconic scene where Omar Sharif is ‘formally’ introduced. David Lean had people to paint part of the desert with black paint so that the focus will be solely on Omar Sharif)


No one has captured the beauty of the unforgiving dessert like Freddie Young often takes long and near shots of the desert. Once again, utilising a lot of different angles to tell the story, Freddie Young was brilliant.

It also mentioned that:-

To film Omar Sharif’s entrance through a mirage, Freddie Young used a special 482mm lens from Panavision. Panavision still has this lens, and it is known among cinematographers as the “David Lean lens”. It was created specifically for this shot and has not been used since.

(Maurice Jarre’s theme blends well with the cinematic shots of the desert)


David Lean has special place for Maurice Jarre in his movies as one would realised that in both “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Doctor Zhivago”, the opening of the movie is especially dedicated for Maurice Jarre’s theme music. Maurice Jarre won 3 Oscars for Best Music and all 3 was won for David Lean’s movies.

It was reported:-

Musically, Maurice Jarre was hired to write the dramatic score, Aram Khachaturyan was handling the eastern themes and Benjamin Britten was to provide the British imperial music. Neither Khatchaturian nor Britten was able to properly get involved so Sam Spiegel hired Richard Rodgers to fill in the musical gaps.

When Spiegel and Lean heard Rodgers’ compositions, they were hugely disappointed, so they turned to Jarre to see what he had done. The minute Lean heard Jarre’s now-classic theme, he knew they had the right composer. Jarre was given the job of scoring the whole film – in a mere six weeks.

(Lawrence after rescuing Gasim – he looks at Sheriff Ali and says “nothing is written”)

DVD Copy

The copy that I have here is the restored versions which have restored almost the same as the original version. From what I read it was not easy for the restoration. The original ran for 222 minutes, and then it was cut to 202 minutes and then further to 187 minutes. Thankfully the DVD version was restored to 217 minutes although some of the scenes from the original was indeed could not be restored.

Restorer Robert Harris and editor Anne V. Coates went through 450 rusted old film cans for the 1989 restoration.

(For a movie that was made in 1962 – the restoration did justice and brought back the rich colour of the scenes)

User Comments

This user’s comment at IMDB seems to say it all:-

Ignore David Lean’s painterly technique, the way he fills the screen like a canvas. Ignore Freddie Young’s stunning cinematography in fulfilment of Lean’s vision. Ignore the fabulous score by Maurice Jarre. Ignore the stupendous cast. Ignore the top notch script.

What we have, beyond all this, is an absolutely gripping and psychologically perplexing character study of a uniquely enigmatic individual that keeps us on the edge of our seats for the full length of the movie. “Lawrence”, at over 200 minutes, goes by faster than many a movie of half its length, due to Lean’s brilliant pacing and direction, and superb acting all around. To make a comparison in the world of music, this movie, like Mahler’s 8th symphony, is a universe contained within itself.

Final say

The plus points: Almost everything

The negative points: The movie is not long enough