Singin’ In The Rain (1952)
I really didn’t know how much I would enjoy this one: I’m not generally a fan of musicals, except for Disney ones. I anticipated something unbearably saccharine – but instead Singin’ In The Rain proved to be a very funny and clever film. Set in 1920s Hollywood, it opens with some comedic drama involving veteran actor Don Lockwood and aspiring actress Kathy Selden, before turning to the transition from silent films to ‘talkies’ and the difficulties that this places on Lockwood’s latest project. Curiously, the songs themselves were really the only thing that I wasn’t taken with when I watched this; the “Moses Supposes” song was particularly wearisome, and there’s a Broadway sketch in the second half that feels rather random. There’s some really great choreography to go with the songs themselves though, as well as some excellent humour, both straight-up comedy and some satirising of Hollywood itself.
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
It’s another long war film, this one set in Burma in 1943, where British prisoners of war are forced to build a railway bridge for their Japanese captors. Initially clashing with commandant Colonel Saito over his treatment of officers, senior officer Colonel Nicholson decides that his men might as well build the best damn bridge they can – while elsewhere, other Allied forces are getting ready to destroy it. This is a really fascinating film: of all the opposing sides, none are really portrayed as villainous. Even the Japanese commander is in a reasonable position and his view on officers performing manual labour, in defiance of the Geneva Conventions, is understandable given his own culture: as he sees it, the officers have forced their men into dishonourable imprisonment by surrendering. At the start, Colonel Nicholson’s behaviour seems like a case of ‘honour before reason’, but you come to admire his resolve and even understand his viewpoint on building a good bridge, even though he is technically aiding the enemy. And then there’s the American soldier Shears, who just wants to survive, honour be damned. The final scene is extremely tense, and the final line – “Madness…madness…” – feels very appropriate: as in the book Catch-22, logic goes out of the window in war.
Mulholland Drive (2002)
This is one of those films where, by the end, you’re not quite sure what you just watched. The main plot involves a woman who calls herself Rita, who narrowly escapes being murdered when she is involved in a car accident and develops amnesia. Stumbling away, she is given shelter by an aspiring actress named Betty, who agrees to help her re-discover her identity. In the meantime, however, a lot of other random things happen that seem to have little to do with Betty and Rita, from a conversation in a diner to a director getting threatened by the mob – and most of it is rather weird and disturbing.
Out of director David Lynch’s other work, I’ve only seen The Elephant Man; and while that film has a more cohesive story than Mulholland Drive, they do have some stylistic elements in common. For example, there’s the opening, with images of people dancing; this manages to be bewildering on its own, but becomes unsettling with the addition of distorted, overwhelming music. In fact, the music is one of the highlights throughout: I really liked the main theme, plus the singer in Club Silencio – then in other scenes, the music goes back to scaring the audience, often becoming distorted like the volume is too high. Naomi Watts gives a really great performance as Betty: I especially liked her audition scene – earlier, we see her reading through her script in a very cheesy and cliche fashion, so at the audition, it’s surprising to see her suddenly become very sensual and actually make the dialogue work.
At first, I was dissatisfied with how disconnected much of the content was, but I still ended up getting lost in the power of the style. Then, towards the end, the story takes an abrupt turn, apparently into a different world altogether. It’s a twist that’s tricky to figure out, but not impossible, and it really makes you think hard about the rest of the film – like how we are told that everything in Club Silencio “is an illusion“. Mulholland Drive was recently voted the best film of the 21st century so far by BBC Culture; I’m certainly very glad I watched it, and I’ll definitely need to watch it again.
In 1941, Casablanca in North Africa is a hub for people escaping the fighting in Europe – among its residents is American nightclub owner Rick Blaine. Shortly after Rick comes into possession of some very valuable letters of transit, his old flame Ilsa and her resistance leader husband turn up in Casablanca, seeking an escape to Lisbon: facing pressure from the German and Vichy French officials, and still bitter over his past with Ilsa, Rick has to figure out what to do.
I did try to watch Casablanca once before, several years ago, but I gave up as I found it boring. This time around, my mind did occasionally wander, but I still enjoyed it overall. Really, I was more interested in the characters than the actual plot – especially Humphrey Bogart’s Rick. Given how he initially comes across as stoic and in control, it’s deeply affecting to see his exterior crack when Ilsa comes back into his life; then there’s the flashback to their happier times together, where Bogart really conveys what a different person Rick was back then. Ingrid Bergman is refined and compelling as Ilsa, and I also like Claude Rains as Captain Louis Renault, whose performance reminded me a bit of Mark Gatiss in Sherlock. Overall, it’s an interesting love story with an especially good ending.