Lord Jim (1965)

Lord Jim

What storm can fully reveal the heart of a man? Midshipman Jim Burke (Peter O’Toole) becomes second in command of a British merchant navy ship in Asia but is stripped of his responsibilities when he abandons ship with three other crew who disappear, leaving the passengers to drown.However the Patma was salvaged by a French vessel. Disheartened and filled with self-loathing, Jim confesses in public, leading to his Captain Marlow’s (Jack Hawkins) suicide and he seeks to redeem his sins by going upriver and assisting natives in their uprising against the General (Eli Wallach)… The weapon is truth. Adapted from Joseph Conrad’s 1900 novel by writer/director Richard Brooks, this perhaps contains flaws related to the project’s conscientious fidelity to its problematic source. Overlong and both burdened and made fascinating by its pithy philosophical dialogue, O’Toole is another cypher (like T.E. Lawrence) burning up the screen with his charisma but surrendering most of the best moments to a terrific ensemble cast. The psychology of his character remains rather impenetrable. There are exchanges dealing with cowardice, shame, bravery, heroism, the meaning of life itself and the reasons why people do what they do – and the consequences for others. There is guilt and there is sacrifice, the stuff of tragedy, in a film bursting with inner struggle, misunderstandings, romantic complications and the taint of violence. Shot by Freddie Young, who does for the jungle what he did for the deserts of the aforementioned Lawrence of Arabia. When ships changed to steam perhaps men changed too

Paper Tiger (1975)


Paper Tiger 1975 poster.jpg

There’s always a sense of satisfaction when you finally see a film of which you’ve been somewhat – if tangentially – aware for the longest time. And for reasons I could never have explained I associated this with Candleshoe, the mid-70s Disney film also starring David Niven, and weirdly there’s ample reason for this bizarre linkage here. He plays a Walter Mitty-type who is employed by the Japanese ambassador (Toshiro Mifune) in a fictional Asian country to tutor his young son (Kazuhito Ando, a wonderful kid) prior to their moving to England. He fills up the kid with stories of his WW2 derring-do which are quickly unravelled by sceptical Mifune and German journalist Hardy Kruger. But when he is kidnapped with the kid by political terrorists the kid’s faith in him – and the kid’s own ingenuity – help them make their escape and the ‘Major’ is obliged to step up to save them both from certain murder.  There are plenty of reasons why Jack Davies’ script shouldn’t work but the sheer antic chaos of Asia, Niven’s excited performance versus Mifune’s unwilling stoicism in the face of local political indifference, the welcome appearance of Ronald Fraser and good staging of decidedly un-Disney action sequences (interesting in terms of director Ken Annakin’s associations with the studio) make this a worthwhile trip down false memory lane (mine as well as Niven’s character’s). And there’s a notable easy listening score by the venerable Roy Budd.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark poster.jpg

On a flight out of LAX more than a decade ago I found myself looking at John Rhys Davies, Sallah from this film.  I was beside myself.  This was the film that really did it for me – made me want to excavate cinema the same way that Indy looks for artefacts. It originated on a Hawaii beach, he’s named after George Lucas’ dog, and Steven Spielberg got to do the kind of action movie he’d wanted to make since falling in love with James Bond. And it has an amazing story, rooted in fact – the escapades of German archaeologist Otto Rahn and his shenanigans with the Nazi Party. Fizzing with fun, danger, crackling wit and a brilliant heroine in the shape of Karen Allen, the dreamgirl of fratboys everywhere. This was the first film I went to over and over again, wherever it was playing. I didn’t bother Davies on that flight. I found myself seated beside the neighbours of the babysitter to Natalie Wood’s family when she died in strange circumstances (around about the time of this film’s release). That is another story.

Blackhat (2015)

Blackhat poster


Michael Mann is a serious and admirable director whose work has always been distinguished by a commitment to visual expression.  This probably seemed like a good idea – an exploration of computer hacking after a near-disaster at a Chinese nuclear reactor. However the shooting style is as murky as the story with its bizarre tracking shots through tunnels, tedious interracial romance to appease an Asian audience and a frankly uninteresting hero (Chris or is it Liam? Hemsworth) taken out of prison to effect the wishes of the plutocracy. This barely stands up to a single viewing. What was Mann thinking???