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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Home Alone: A great any time watch movie

Home Alone was a tremendously successful movie. Released in 1990, it is still remembered today as an incredible comedy. Starring Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister, a 8 year old boy, and starring Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern as 2 bumbling bandits who are trying to steal Kevin's house when he is Home Alone. This movie made Macaulay as a world star, and earned a great deal. It was made on a budget of $15 million and earned more than $450 million worldwide, which makes it a tremendous money making machine.
Home Alone is the kind of movie that you can watch again and again for the humour contained in it. Even though the humour is essentially a series of misfortunes directed at the 2 bandits, the speed and sequence of the events ensure that you are laughing through most of them; it also helps that the events are orchestrated by a kid against 2 grown up robbers.
The movie is essentially about Kevin getting left behind home when the whole family goes on vacation. On the evening just before the vacation, Kevin has an argument and gets sent to an upstairs bedroom, and when the family wakes up late, they rush to get to get to the airport in time. In all the commotion, Kevin gets left behind and wakes up to an empty house. He enjoys the empty house to some extent, but starts missing his family soon.
Given all this is happening just around Christmas Eve, there is a fair amount of snow and Christmas Spirit, and Kevin meets a feared neighbour, Marley and discovers that Marley is just separated from his family, and is otherwise not to be feared at all. In the meantime, there is a group of bandits called the 'Wet Bandits' because they leave a running tap in house where they break into. They see a number of empty houses all ready to steal into while their owners are away for vacation.
The bandits plan to break into Kevin's house, and he discovers this. And this is where the real action begins. He prepares a battle plan and lays a series of traps, which includes putting grease on the house entrance, putting a fire torch to burn whoever enters, heating up the door opener to burn the hand, putting tacks near the window, and a number of other obstructions. In such a way, he prevents them from entering the house for a fair amount of time, and when they finally enter after much bruising, they face a number of other obstacles. For a list of all the traps that they faced, refer to this Wikipedia article.
They are getting more mad, and finally, after much beating at the hands of the various traps, they manage to capture Kevin. Unfortunately for the bandits, at that time, the neighbour Marley intervenes. Eventually, Kevin is re-united with his family. This movie can be enjoyed at any time, and kids really love it.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Great animation: Toy Story

Toy Story is an incredible movie, it is sometimes easy to forget that this was an animation movie, released in 1995. Made by Pixar, it was Pixar's first feature film and was released by Walt Disney Pictures and Buena Vista Distribution in the US, and was the first computer animated film to be released. The movie grossed over $350 million worldwide, which is an incredible amount, given that the budget was $30 million. It was a major advance in the history of animation in movies, and resulted in much better animation in movies after that. The voices of the different characters were done by stars, with Tom Hanks and Tim Allen playing the major roles. For this movie, John Lasseter received an Academy Special Achievement Award in 1996 "for the development and inspired application of techniques that have made possible the first feature-length computer-animated film."
In 2007, the film was ranked #99 on the American Film Institute's 10th Anniversary Edition of the 100 greatest American films of all time, the only computer animated film on the list, as a mark of its stature. After the immense advancements in this movie, animation became much more common-place. The movie also stuck a deep chord with kids, and is exceedingly popular with kids of all ages.

Toy Story

The story is about toys in the room of a 9 year old buy, Andy, who lives with his mother and sister, Molly. He has a set of toys, in which the cowboy toy, Woody is his favorite. Woody is apprehensive since it is Andy's birthday and he is wondering as to what Andy will get as a present. A new toy will create problems in terms of the new toy becoming Andy's favorite. And that is exactly what happens, with Andy's mom giving him a surprise in terms of Buzz Lightyear, a spaceman (inspired by the real life Buzz Ladrin). Woody gets jealous as Buzz becomes Andy's favorite toy. Buzz himself does not know that he is a toy, believing himself to be real, and on a mission.
The other toys gravitate towards Buzz because of his flashy style and attitude, making Woody even more jealous. This has its repercussions when Andy has to select one toy for a trip, and Woody tried to hide Buzz, instead knocking him out of the window. The other toys turn on Woody at that time, but Andy comes and takes Woody (since he is unable to find Buzz). In the car, though, Woody finds that Andy had hung onto the car, and they fight and are left behind. And then follows a series of adventures as they try to find their way, meeting Andy's next door kid (a kid who experiments with and destroys toys), Buzz realizes on watching an advertisement that he is only a toy and gets depressed, escape a dog bent on catching them, and then they eventually make friends with each other,

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Navy drama: Crimson Tide

Crimson Tide is a gripping tale of conflict between the commander and executive officer on board an Ohio-class missile submarine of the US Navy, USS Alabama. Acting by Gene Hackman as the captain and by Denzel Washington as the executive officer was intense, and I do like this movie tremendously. The movie was released in 1995, and because the subject of the movie was controversial (a mutiny on board a submarine), the US navy refused to cooperate; and all filming had to be done in special sets.
So what is an Ohio class missile boat (submarine) ? It is the quietest boat that the US navy has, very very difficult to detect once it is in the water. It runs on energy from a nuclear reaction and hence does not have the problem of diesel boats that it has to come up for air. It is also a critical part of the US plan for retaliation (second-strike) in a nuclear scenario. A Ohio class submarine has 24 ballistic submarines, each with 8 warheads. The firepower that can be thrown up by an Ohio class submarine can decimate an entire nation.
There are many technical issues in the movie, most of them listed here. The chief one being whether the captain of a nuclear submarine has the ability to fire the missiles without receiving a direct approval from the commander-in-chief (the President). Having said that, it is a very entertaining movie.
The movie deals at a time of tension with Russia. A Russian renegade has taken control of a Russian missile base and has threatened both Russia and the US from taking any action. The USS Alabama is ordered to be on patrol, with the aim of being able to fire on the Russian base if there are any hostile actions taken by the Russian. Gene Hackman is the captain (Captain Frank Ramsey) and his executive officer is Denzel Washington (Lt Commander Ron Hunter). The boat does receive an order to fire on the Russian base, but then a second order starts to come through, is aborted however when the Alabama is attacked by a Russian Akula hunter submarine. The captain believes that he has a valid order, but Washington refuses to concur, wanting to review the second aborted order.
This sets off a confrontation. The XO (executive officer) orders the arrest of the captain (who is normally god of the submarine) for over-reaching his authority, and in a sudden fight with the Akula, suffers further damage while destroying the Russian sub. The damage is severe, with communications knocked out, people having dies, and water having flooded part of the sub. The captain's loyal officers get him releases, and he then orders the arrest of the XO and his loyal officers.
Ramsey is determined to launch the missiles, and is only prevented by the weapons officer who has been convinced by the XO to delay this operation. In this stand-off, they determine to wait for the second communication, and communications finally get restored. The second order was a reversal of the first order, ordering a cease and desist. The US navy came this close to launching nuclear missiles on a nuclear-capable nation.
In the post battle review, the admirals are astonished at the level of conflict on board the sub, and the net result is that the captain resigns and the XO takes over. Realistic, maybe not; gripping, sure; and very very interesting. Almost the entire action takes place inside a submarine.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Comedy: Baby's day out

Baby's Day Out was released in 1994, and was a hit, seemingly continuing in the line of Home Alone. While Home Alone dealt with a young boy planning and scheming on how to ward off thieves, Baby's Day out takes a toddler who through a series of incidents manages to outwit a trio of kidnappers. Given the age of the baby, it is impossible for these events to happen through deliberate action, but in fact the tale happens on the basis of a book called 'Baby's Day Out'. It of course helps that the kidnappers are bumbling kidnappers.
So what's the story like: Bink is the 9 month old baby of rich parents, Bennington Sr. and Lorraine. 3 kidnappers, Eddie, Veeko and Norby get the idea of kidnapping the baby for ransom. They arrive at the Bennington home taking the place of previously scheduled photographers, and manager to get the baby away by pretending to setup a good photographer. And then starts a series of adventures. They try to feed the baby and make a mess out of it, and when attention is diverted, the baby starts to climb to the roof and eventually climbs on a plank that leads to the next building. When the panicky kidnappers try to follow him, one of them falls down a big fall and into a garbage bin.
Now the baby is away from their clutches, and the rest of the movie is about trying to catch him. They chase him when he gets into a bus, from there into a department store, find him again when he suddenly shows up on TV, into another taxi, into a zoo (where the gorilla beats up the 3 kidnappers), into a rabbit hole. In a park when they catch the baby, he sets fire to one of them, moving onto a construction site where the baby crawls onto a girder and after a series of mis-steps that afflict the kidnappers, escapes. In the meantime, the family discovers that he is following the places in the book and head for the final destination, an Old Solder's Home, where he is finally reunited with his family.
This was an enjoyable movie, but if I was the kidnapper, after so many accidents, I would realize that fate was against me and given up.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

All time great movie: Casablanca

Casablanca is a movie that was released in the middle of the second world war (in December 1942), and was set in the Vichy controlled city of Casablanca in Morocco. For those unaware, the Vichy regime was the one that took over France after the Germans defeated the French army in WWII and collaborated with the Nazis. They also took over French controlled regions in North Africa.
The movie made a good amount of money when it was released, but was not seen as an incredible movie at the time of release. However, as time passed, the movie made more money, and was incredibly acclaimed as one of the all-time greats. Nowadays, it would almost always make it in the top 10 movies of all times. It won 3 oscars at the time it was released, but none for its star cast.
The movie starts the principal characters of Humphrey Bogart (Rick Blaine) and Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa Lund). Rick runs a popular cafe called 'Rick's Cafe Americain' in Casablance, and has a mix of Nazi officials, refugees and thieves as patrons. These are times of war, and hence there is a fair amount of tension in the air. Rick is a cynic, but professes disliking for the Nazis.
Rick is a bitter man, and the reason for his bitterness is Ilsa. He and Ilsa were in love, when Ilsa believed her husband had died in German captivity, but when she found he was alive, she left Rick abruptly, causing him to become bitter.
Rick has obtained 2 letters that very important because they allow their bearers to travel freely around German territory, and also to Portugal which is neutral territory, and from there the bearer could escape to the US. There is another cynical character in the story, Captain Louis Renault, who is a Vichy official and provides support for the Nazis. At this time, Ilsa re-enters his life, arriving with her husband Victor Laszlo. Victor is a resistance leader, being searched by the Nazis and must escape to the US. Those papers are of vital importance to Ilsa and Laszlo as they would allow him to escape.
Ilsa and Laszlo suspect that Rick has these papers and are going to speak to him about these papers, when there is a confrontation in the cafe. German officers start singing the German patriotic song, 'Die Wacht am Rhein', and the others in the case, start retaliating by singing the international socialist song, 'La Marseillaise'. Rick encourages the cafe band to also sing countering the Germans, and when the German voices are drowned out, the Germans are angry, and the German major orders Renault to close the cafe.
In the night, Ilsa threatens Rick with a gun unless he gives her the papers, but he refuses. She is unable to shoot him as she still loves him. Rick changes his mind and decides to help Laszlo. In the meantime, the German major Strasser arranges to arrest Laszlo, but Rick tricks Renault to release him, and then threatens him with a gun to let Laszlo escape. Rick also pushes Ilsa to leave with Laszlo (actually, there was no other alternative since the Hollywood code of conduct prevents a wife from going with anybody other than her husband).
In the finale, Rick shoots Strasser, and Renault saves his life. They both decide to leave Casablanca, and you get the idea that these 2 cynics are now part of the resistance. The film has spawned 3 of the most famous lines, 'Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship', 'Here's looking at you, kid', and 'Play it again, Sam' (never actually spoken in the movie).

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bruce Lee: Enter the Dragon

This was an excellent martial arts movie, displaying a lot of kung fu style, packaged in some wonderfully executed action movies. The movie, released in October 1973, was overshadowed to some extent by Bruce Lee's death the previous month at the young age of 1973, so it was also his swan song, and what a departure. It was also the first kung fu movie made by a Hollywood studio.
The movie was made for a modest sum of $850,000, but managed to recover its money and much more, earning an estimated $100 million worldwide, thus making it an incredibly profitable movie. It was also acclaimed culturally, and in 2004, was deemed culturally significant and added to the National Film Registry.
Bruce Lee was already famous before this movie, but this movie created a legend around him, further accentuated by his tragic death. His speed of movement is like poetry, the fight scenes around him have a certain beauty.
The plotline of the movie is relatively simple: There is an island run by a crimelord (Han) without any supervision by authorities, and they task Bruce Lee with the mission of getting into this island and revealing its secrets. There is a fighting competition on the island, with no holds-barred fights. Bruce fights in the tournament by day, and explores the island by the night, fighting all those who stand in his path. He eventually discovers that the island competition is a front for recruiting criminals and for running a drug racket. The movie has an excellent ending fight where Bruce fights Han in a mirror-filled room, with Han using a claw as his left hand.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Excellent mafia movie: Godfather

The Godfather is a movie in 3 parts, with the first 2 movies being the most acclaimed, and the 3rd one being not quite considered in the class of the other 2. The Godfather was the first movie to take an indepth look at the world of the mafia from the perspective of the desires / ambitions of individual mafia members. In that sense, it was a revolutionary movie. The Godfather was an incredibly successful movie, being the all time grosser soon after release. The movie was made in 1972, based on the novel of the same by Mario Puzo, and was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It starred a host of names who became very successful - Marlon Brando (Vito Corleone - the founder of the family), Al Pacino (Michael Corleone - the true inheritor), James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, and a host of others. It won 3 oscars as well.
The Godfather captures the life of Vito Corleone, and the passing on of the baton to his younger son Michael, the quiet one of the family, and the most ruthless in his own way. Movie starts with the marriage of his daughter, and the Don is receiving requests from people (including one person whose daughter was exploited. When the father went to the court, he lost, and came to the Don for justice). The Don's whole family is there on this day, including his younger son Michael who is a war hero and is not part of the family business.
Another close friend is the singer Johnny Fontane who has been rebuffed in his attempts to get a key role, and the Don dispatches his consigliere to help him (a brutal sequence where the movie moghul gets a message with the head of his horse placed in his bed). The bad time for the family starts when the Don refuses an offer by heroin dealer Virgil Sollozzo (The Turk) for a share in the business in return for political protection and financing. This leads to an assassination attempt on the Don, his counseller kidnapped and the family executioner killed. There is now the prospect of an all-out war with the other families.
In a event that turns Michael's life, he visits his father in hospital, but realizes that a crooked police captain has removed all the security. Michael manages to save his father, but gets his jaw broken. Michael, in a massive change, now offers to kill The Turk and his police captain for purely business reasons. After some discussion, this is agreed to, and logistical planning happens. Michael manages to carry out the deed and escape the country. In the time that he is out, his elder brother is set up his sister's husband and killed by machine gun. Michael, in exile in Sicily, meets a beautiful girl, Apollonia, marries her, but she gets killed in an attempt on Michael's life.
The Don has to bring his son back from Sicily, so he makes peace with the other families, and gets Michael back. Michael is now in charge, and marries his old girlfriend, Kay.
It is now that the ruthless planner starts to emerge. The Don has slowly transferred all his contacts to Michael, who is now the true Don. When Vito dies, Michael is approached for a truce by one of his commanders, Tessio, thus marking his as a traitor. And then Michael schedules his counter-attack. On one day, during the baptism of his nephew, Michael arranges for the murder of all his enemies, including his sister's husband. When Kay confronts him with this, he denies any responsibility. But when she sees him being honored as the new don, she realizes that he is indeed responsible.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Ben-Hur: An epic movie

This is another epic movie in the line of Ten Commandments. It is another movie starring Charlton Heston in the lead role, and he did a wonderful job of it. This is a bibical tale, set primarily in Jerusalem. The movie was a big hit when released in 1959, and won 11 Oscars (not beaten by another movie since); this includes the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Actor. It was a gamble for MGM (almost in bankruptcy), but it invested $15 million, and made $75 million, a vast sum at its time. The movie is a long movie, running almost 3-and-a-half hours.
The story is essentially a clash between 2 friends turned enemies, Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) and Roman Messala (Stephen Boyd). They are childhood friends in Jerusalem, but as they grew into adults, those were times of rebellion. Jerusalem was chafing under the rule of the Romans, and the Romans wanted to crush the rebellion. Messala returns as the commanding officer of the Roman legions, second only to the tribune. They meet as friends, but they have different agendas.
Judah Ben-Hur is all for independence of the Jews, while Messala believes in the power of Rome, and is responsible for crushing the rebellion. He wants Judah to identify the ring-leaders of the rebellion, and be his informer, something that Judah refuses to do, instead advising him to remove the Roman legions. They part no longer friends.
The next incident is the one which forms the basis of the movie. As the tribune is marching through Jerusalem, a tile accidentally falls from Judah's house, and almost kills the tribune. Calling this an assassination attempt, Messala sends Judah to the galleys as a slave (even though he knows that this was an accident); trying to send a strong message to the natives of Jerusalem. As Judah arrives at Nazareth, he is being denied water, and is given water by the messiah (Jesus).
In a series of incidents on the water which could have killed a weaker man, Judah survives and saves the life of the Roman admiral Qunitus Arrius (Jack Hawkins). Quintus adopts Judah as his son and brings him to Rome as a rich and respected person. However, Judah wants to return to Judea (Jerusalem). He confronts Messala about his family; however, his mother and sister had contracted leprosy in the times they were in the dungeon and are moved to the lepers colony. They do not want Judea to know about their plight.
Then the 11 minute scene that is the highlight of the movie. The chariot race, with a challenge between Judea and Messala begins, and is a brutal race. There are no rules in this race, and one can see people getting thrown from their chariot and getting crushed under chariots. In a climatic moment, Messala is dragged from his chariot, and then pulled under other chariots and seriously injured. On his deathbed, he calls for Judea and to claim his final victory, informs Judea that his mother and sister are not dead, but lepers, living their life in the lepers colony.
Judea confronts his childhood love Esther, who admits that she has been giving them food, but she does not allow him to meet them. Judea still has hate in his mind, although he is being told about the new messiah who promises love. In this hate, he rejects the offer of Roman citizenship, and is proclaimed as an enemy by Pontius Pilate, the new Roman Governor.
In the final episode of the movie, after Jesus is condemned to death by crucification, and is marching his painful march carrying the crucifix, he is offered water by Judea who recognizes Jesus as the person who offered him water when he was being lead to the slave gallery. As Jesus is being crucified, Judea leads his dying sister and mother to near the site where Jesus is being crucified. As the heavens open up over the crucification, the blessed rain and seeping blood cure the leprosy and free them of all their diseases. The motto is that Jesus took all the evils of the world on his shoulder.