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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Goodfellas (1990)

Goodfellas is seen as an iconic movie, taking the role of a mafia man (without getting into the role of a mafia boss as in Gangster) through 30 years of his file, from a childhood yearning to be a man of power and money, to a final stage of obscurity in the Witness Protection Program, a man hidden by the Government to keep him safe from former companions (who have been betrayed). After all, in the mafia, the code of silence, 'omerta' is one of the most powerful weapons and breaking that is liable to lead to expulsion and enmity (and enmity with the mafia means death).
The number of Italian-Americans involved in the mafia is a very small fraction of the US, but the influence on the crime scene, and the level of intrigue in knowing more about their criminal activities has always had a very strong attraction for the US movie market and for audiences (and hence the large number of successful movies detailing various elements of the mafia). Goodfellas is probably one of the best in the league, and has been counted as among the top 100 movies ever made.

Goodfellas (1990)
The movie is based on a true story, about a small-time gangster of Irish-Sicilian origin (and hence not a true Sicilian, and hence never be able to be a 'made' member of the mafia. Unless you were a pure-blood Sicilian, you could never be a full member) called Henry Hill. Eventually Henry reached a situation where he squealed on his friends (or in legal parlance, he helped the police and FBI break up an organized crime gang) and had to be put in the Witness Protection Program for his own safety. This real life story was captured in Pileggi's 1985 non-fictional book Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family.
Goodfellas depended on the acting capabilities of a few prime actors:
Robert De Niro playing Jimmy Conway
Joe Pesci playing Tommy DeVito
Ray Liotta playing Henry Hill
Lorraine Bracco playing Karen Hill
Paul Sorvino playing Paul Cicero
And, luckily for the movie, and for us, these actors delivered. To portray a good mafia movie, there has be to a certain inherent level of violence shown both in actual physical violence as well as being able to display a force through acting and dialogues, and it all seems to have come together. Goodfellas garnered 6 Oscar nominations in all (Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay). It must not have clicked with the voters though, since it was able to get only one Oscar - Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Joe Pesci.
In a Italian-American neighborhood in the 1950's, mafia members had a certain attraction for boys growing up due to the easy money and power they projected, and Henry Hill was one of the boys so impressed. Eventually, he quits school and goes to work for the local mobster Paul Cicero and grows up in this company, learning the ropes of theft. He gets help from Jimmy Conway (Robert DeNiro) and associates with a violent sociopath Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci). They indulge in stealing cargo from the airport and make a pretty penny out of this racket. Henry also falls for a Jewish girl, Karen who initially is put off by him, but slowly gets intrigued by the mafia and the different life it entails for a member.
They (particularly Tommy) get more vicious, and eventually indulge in the ultimate sin, killing a 'made' mafia member without sanction, and hide the body so as to seemingly escape the responsibility and retribution. One of their activities in Florida (hanging a gambler over the lion cage in Florida zoo) gets them 4 years in the slammer, a period when Henry is left adrift by his friends and he has to start indulging in dealing drugs to stay afloat (and which also starts his downslide). When Henry gets out of jail, he continues to indulge in the profitable business of drugs despite Paul Cicero's express disapproval.
The downfall of these gangsters continue - primarily displayed in 2 separate situations. In the first one, after a major robbery, Jimmy starts killing off his associates because they start flashing their wealth, something that could draw attention. And then Tommy is killed due to his role in the earlier unsanctioned killing of the mafia member, Billy Batts.
The day which changes Henry's life occurs on Sunday, May 11th, 1980, when Henry is involved in many separate things. He has to coordinate a cocaine shipment, meet his mistress, get his brother from the hospital, cook a meal for his family, all the while when he is suffering from lack of sleep and an overdose of drugs; on top of everything, he is under federal surveillance. Eventually, he is arrested by the police; he is bailed out by his wife but the family becomes penniless as she had destroyed the entire cocaine shipment in the process.
Now Henry starts feeling abandoned, and not only abandoned, as being marked for elimination. He decides to turn approver, and break the code of silence. He and his family enter the federal Witness Protection Program, disappearing into anonymity to save their lives, but not before he testifies against Paulie and Jimmy in court.
The movie was a great review hit and earned around $47 million dollars, and also cemented Martin Scorsese's reputation as a great director. Scorsese wanted to depict the film's violence realistically, "cold, unfeeling and horrible, and that was the effect that the film's critics and viewers got to see.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Vertigo (1958)

Imagine not being able to stand on a tall step-ladder because of the fear of heights - called as acrophobia. This fear forms the basis for the movie, now known as one of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest movies, and part of any list of the top 10 movies of all times. The movie however did not always have that reputation. When it released in 1958, it did not create much of a stir, and got a total of 2 Academy nominations (nominations in technical categories - Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White or Color and Best Sound). It did not win a single Oscar, and was essentially not acclaimed for some time.
And then came the re-evaluation. In the 1960's, the movie started catching the attention of critics and reviewers, and got much more attention when it was re-released commercially in October 1983 and then on home video in October 1984. In the next few years, Vertigo was recognized as being among the best films ever made. Alfred Hitchcock rated it as his favorite movie.

Vertigo Alfred Hitchcock
The movie was an unusual movie in the sense that it combines the familiar Hitchcock trait, obsession, with some great sets, a story that is very gripping. Adding a touch of the paranormal to this story also enriches the whole movie; when coupled with a great double role by Kim Novak and the obsessed role played by Jimmy Stewart make this movie worth watching in a repeat mode. For those who have not seen the movie, it is worth watching.
The movie is shot in some great locations in San Francisco, and a great many of the fans of this movie make it a point to visit them. Some of the locations features in the film include such locations as Fort Point at the Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of the Legion of Honor, Muir Woods, Mission San Juan Bautista, Mission Dolores, Palace of Fine Arts, and a few others.
The movie is all about the obsessions of a former police detective John 'Scottie' Ferguson. He has always suffered from acrophobia (fear of heights) to some degree, but this develops into a full blown acute fear when he watches his police partner plummet to death during a chase on rooftops (Scottie himself is clutching onto dear life on his fingertips). It is now of the level that he cannot continue in the police force and resigns.
And this fear forms the backdrop of the movie. At such a time, he gets a case from an old wealthy friend, Gavin Elster, to have his wife Madeleine followed. Elster believes that Madeleine may be possessed by the spirit of a woman called Carlotta Valdes who killed herself a 100 years back. And Madeleine plays the part, visiting the grave and moving around in a trance. At one point, Scotties saves her when she throws herself into the San Francisco Bay. They are traveling together when she wants to visit the Mission San Juan Bautista, and then runs up the bell tower. Scottie is unable to follow because of his acrophobia, and can only watch in horror as she throws herself off the tower to her death.
Scottie suffers from depression over this whole incident, and starts to go back to the places that he visited along with Madeleine. And then he meets Judy Barton who looks a lot like Madeleine. She does not tell him the truth about being hired to act as Madeleine while Elster uses Scottie as a pawn to actually throw his real wife off the tower (she writes a letter to Scottie about this, but destroys it soon enough). However, Scottie's obsession with Madeleine starts to show, making Judy dress up like Madeleine (including even the hair style).
Eventually Scottie forces her to go up to the top of the bell tower, and she confesses the truth to him, making him rage at her. However, Scottie has made it to the top of the bell tower, and this emotional turmoil causes him to lose his fear of vertigo. They reconcile, and then Judy pays a terrible price for his escape from acrophobia. She gets scared of a shadow (a nun) and falls down; Scottie is able to look down at her, thus showing that he has lost his fear of heights, but at a massive price.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Green Mile (1999)

The Green Mile is an incredible movie, at one level set in the depths of human despair (where a person can be convicted for a crime to a large degree because he is of an oppressed race (an African-American) in the depths of the American South in 1935 (as racially discriminating a society as possible), and at another level, about the goodness in a person and the gifts that he imparts. The movie is based on a Stephen King novel (published in 1996), and touches on supernatural and paranormal settings in an American prison based on the arrival of Coffey, a convicted murderer waiting on death row.
The movie is set entirely in flashback, with the recounting of the whole tale done in flashback, with one exception, a stunning revelation in the present by the main speaker (currently in a nursing home). The movie was nominated for 4 Academy awards,
* Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role — Michael Clarke Duncan
* Best Picture — David Valdes, Frank Darabont
* Best Sound Mixing — Robert J. Litt, Elliot Tyson, Michael Herbick, Willie D. Burton
* Best Adapted Screenplay — Frank Darabont

The Green Mile (1999)
However, the movie did not win any of the awards that it was nominated for. It did win other awards, just not the Oscars. One thinks that was a miss. The Green Mile may feel slow to some, but like the director Frank Darabont's earlier Stephen King adaptation, The Shahshank Redemption, the movie is very well adapted from the book, and builds up the whole concept of life in the prison, and then introduces the pivotal character, the Black condemned prisoner on Death Row. Most people will not fail to be moved by this film, by the emotions, and by the state of affairs in which a person is condemned to die even when you know that he is innocent because that is the way things used to happen at that time.
The Green Mile refers to the last stretch of green linoleum that condemned prisoners on death row had to walk before they met their fate on 'Old Sparky', the electric chair used for executions. Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks), an elderly man in a nursing home, comes in contact with a sadistic employee, which eventually causes him to remember an equally horrible employee (in 1935) along with the great giant Coffey, executed despite being innocent.
Paul is the corrections officer incharge of Death Row inmates and it is his responsibility to take a prisoner on the 'Green Mile' - the last trip of the prisoners. His life takes a turn when a new prisoner arrives. John Coffey (a great role by Michael Clarke Duncan), a great black giant standing 7 foot tall has been convicted of raping and murdering 2 young white girls and is now in Death Role, awaiting his turn with Old Sparky. Soon, they discover something strange about this slow and gentle giant. He is able to display great healing powers by bringing a mouse (Mr. Jingles) back from the dead, cures the urinary infection of Paul, and for good measure, also saves the tumour struck wife of the warden, Hal Moores (James Cromwell). He cannot explain what he does, but he has some great powers.
Into this mixture arrives a sadistic guard, Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison). He is related to the governor, and is able to be sadistic and obnoxious due to this connection. Nobody can control his sadism and ill-treatment of prisoners due to his connections, but a chance comes when a new prisoner William Wharton (Sam Rockwell) arrives. Coffey comes into contact with him, and realizes that William was the actual killer of the 2 girls for which Coffey is on death row. He then displays his powers, getting Wetmore to shoot William, and then to lapse into a catatonic state from which he never recovers. When Paul asks Coffey about all this, he gets shown a vision by Coffey of what actually happened, something that Paul is not able to endure.
However, in spite of his innocence, Coffey is executed in the prison; but this is not the end. Paul, due to physical contact with Coffey, has gained mightily in terms of a life-span. The mouse Mr. Jingles, whom Coffey brought back, is still alive after 50 years, so Paul can only wonder what will happen to his life span. He is already 108 years as of now (as he explains), has outlived his friends and relatives, and feels that the burden of life (which will go on and on - his own Green Mile) is a punishment for having watched an innocent man executed.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Quentin Tarantino is extremely famous for his 1994 picture 'Pulp Fiction' starring John Travolta, but he had made a name for himself right from the first picture he did called 'Reservoir Dogs', released in 1992. It was an independent picture, but boasted of a pretty good cast and made a lot of name for itself, and continues to make a name for itself on the DVD circuit. It shook audiences all over with its pace, scenes incorporating flashbacks from the past, and the sheer poetry of the action (mostly in a warehouse).
The tagline for the movie was a good indicator of how the movie would be like: "Seven Total Strangers Team Up For The Perfect Crime. They Don't Know Each Other's Name. But They've Got Each Other's Color". The movie was a good indicator of how Tarantino's movies would turn out - lots of references to pop culture, violent crime, great dialogues, and a story that moves back and forth between the past and the present.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

The movie stars an impressive cast of people in the main roles of the perpetrators of a jewelery heist, but without disclosing their names (they are named after colors - Blue, White, Pink, Orange, Brown, Blonde). The cast of the movie is:

# Harvey Keitel as Mr. White / Larry Dimmick
# Tim Roth as Mr. Orange / Freddy Newandyke
# Michael Madsen as Mr. Blonde / Vic Vega
# Chris Penn as "Nice Guy" Eddie Cabot
# Steve Buscemi as Mr. Pink
# Quentin Tarantino as Mr. Brown
# Lawrence Tierney as Joe Cabot
# Edward Bunker as Mr. Blue
# Randy Brooks as Holdaway
# Kirk Baltz as Marvin Nash

And that is the main cast of characters. There is no female speaking role in the movie, truly making this a man's movie - guns, violence, action, shootouts, and so on. Surprisingly, for a movie that is seen as such as a landmark and the first film of an accomplished film-maker, the origin of the movie was on a very small scale. Tarantino (working as a store clerk) was going to shoot it on the overall budget of $30,000 with a very limited cast. However, Harvey Keitel got to see the script, and wanted to get involved, including putting in 1.2 million dollars of his own money for financing, and appearing as one of the pivotal characters.
The movie does not have a complex story, primarily focusing on the aftermath of a jewelery heist that goes bad (police get involved and hostages get shot). There is no footage of the actual heist, the story is more focused on the going-ons when the robbers reach their pre-arranged meeting point (a warehouse). There is an incredible amount of suspicion that the whole plan had been leaked to the police, growing to the point that there is a firm belief that one of them is an undercover policeman.
Joe Cabot along with his son, 'Nice Guy' Eddie hires 6 people for a heist (the 6 don't know each other) - revealed in a flashback (the hiring is done separately for Mr. Blonde, with the others being made the offer in a group session).
The heist is a disaster, with 2 of them (Mr. Brown and Mr. Blue) getting killed while making their getaway, and Mr. Orange getting shot in the abdomen. The robbers reach the warehouse in different groups (with Mr. Blonde having also brought along a captured police officer Marvin Nash). There is an increasing amount of suspicion about one of them being involved in the cops, and (in an iconic scene), Mr. Blonde tortures the police officer with a knife, finally cutting his ear off. However, as he is about to burn the police officer, he gets shot (by the undercover police officer).
This is when the identity of the undercover police officer is revealed to the audience, but the others do not know. As more of them reach the warehouse, there is an immense amount of suspicion and tension, culminating in a Mexican stand-off where they all point their guns at each other, and then.., shoot each other. At the end, the undercover police officer (Mr. Color !) is left, but he reveals his identity (to the person who led the mission and who refused to believe in his guilt) and finally gets shot.
The movie is worth watching, just for the scenes at the warehouse interspersed with scenes of flashback; it makes for a taut storyline, and you can really see the suspicion and tension in everyone's face. If you have not seen the movie, see it and figure out why Tarantino has the reputation that he has gained.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Rebecca (1940) - A masterful tale

The producer David O. Selznick had just had a great movie the previous year (Gone with the Wind - 1939), and signed on Alfred Hitchcock for the first Hollywood movie by Hitchcock (his earlier movies were all British). What is less known is that in the entire fabulous career of Alfred Hitchcock, Rebecca was the only movie that won him a Best Picture award. And that too in the year 1940, when competition was fierce with the movie, 'Grapes of Wrath', 'The Great Dictator', and 'The Philadelphia Story'.
Rebecca was conceived on a grand scale, and was fairly expensive to make. Based on the novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier (published in 1938), it cost a bit more than a million dollars to make. Rebecca also starred the leading star, Laurence Olivier in the lead role of Maxim de Winter, Joan Fontaine as the second Mrs. de Winter (her first name is never revealed in the movie), George Sanders as Jack Favell, and Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers.

Rebecca (1940) - A masterful tale

The movie follows the book accurately, except where the Hollywood Production Code of that time intervened (the murderer of a spouse had to be shown as being punished), and hence in the book, while the husband murders the first wife; in the movie, the death is an accident.
The movie is renowed for its Gothic look, and for the sheer suspense ! There are very few actual characters in the movie, and all of them had to play pretty good roles if the movie had to have an impact. The overall movie is very impressive. The movie dwelt on the phrase used in the book 'Last night I dreamed that I went to Menderley again' by advertising its posters with the following line: 'What was the secret of Manderley?'
The movie was a great success, both critically and financially. It got a total of 11 nominations and won 2 awards:

# Best Actor in a Leading Role - Laurence Olivier.
# Best Actress in a Leading Role - Joan Fontaine.
# Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Judith Anderson.
# Best Director - Alfred Hitchcock.
# Art Direction, Black and White - Lyle R. Wheeler.
# Special Effects - Jack Cosgrove, Arthur Johns.
# Best Film Editing - Hal C. Kern.
# Best Music, Original Score - Franz Waxman.
# Best Writing, Screenplay - Robert E. Sherwood, Joan Harrison

The movie won these 2 awards
# Best Picture - Selznick International Pictures - David O. Selznick.
# Best Cinematography, Black and White - George Barnes

The movie depicts the emotions of the novel pretty well, taking us through the tale of a young girl who suffers through emotional turmoil as she feels inadequate when constantly compared to the first Mrs. de Winter (Rebecca), who was very sophisticated, and apparently very suitable to the role of being an aristocratic lady; and Maxim was apparently very much in love with her; if all this emotional burden was not enough, there is the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers who was very much fond of Rebecca and spares no opportunity to remind the second wife of the supremacy of the first wife, going as far as to tempt her to end her life. This was a superb role of the housekeeper, and was a critical element of the movie.
The second Mrs. de Winter was an assistant to an elder haughty American lady vacationing in Monte Carlo, when she mets Maxim, elder to her. Soon enough they hit it off and Maxim proposes to her. She comes with Maxim to the estate and to Manderley, the mansion. The young bride is somewhat overcome with being the mistress of this large aristocratic and having a team of servants to run the mansion. And then she meets Mrs. Danver who continually reminds her of the greatness of Rebecca, to the point where the second wife starts feeling that she does not know why Maxim married her. At one point, she is almost about to give it all up when there is a massive surprise; the boat in which Rebecca died has been found.
And this is the element of total surprise; the oh-so-perfect Rebecca was in fact a promiscuous lady whom Maxim hated within a few days of marrying her. She had affairs a plenty, and taunted Maxim that he could not divorce her because of the status and name of his family. But she had pushed Maxim to a stage when he was on the verge of killing her, and he almost did (she had an accident during the confrontation and dies; as opposed to the book where Maxim killed her). He then puts her body in a boat and scuttles the boat; but now her boat and the body has been found and Maxim is now in threat of being held responsible.
He finally gets free from suspicion, but the more important emotional upheaval for the second Mrs. de Winters is that she knows now that Maxim hated Rebecca; such an immense boost it gives to the emotions of the almost scarred new wife; she is now ready to assume her responsibilities as the true mistress of the mansion and the strength of the marriage. Everything happy ? Not quite. The by now deranged Mrs. Danvers cannot accept that the second wife will be the happy and successful wife, and sets fire to the mansion causing it to get destroyed. And that is how it ends, they move away from there, and Manderley is now in ruins.

The Hitchcock collection:

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Graduate (1967) - the angst of youth

The Graduate was a very successful movie; it seemed to epitomize an entire generation which did not know what to do with life. There was a gap between them and their parents, and the movie displayed this gap pretty incredible and very realistically, although with a comical touch. This was pretty much demonstrable in the sequence when the protagonist appeared in a scuba suit in a party (as desired by his parents) to show off the newest acquisition.
There were many other touches in the movie that are worth remembering, such as the romance with the elder lady (of a different generation - his father's friend's wife), the nonconformity with what he is doing (or not doing) doing in his life and a mismatch with what his parents are expecting, the utterly blissful Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack. Now imagine all this being displayed to America of 1967; The Graduate was an incredible hit. The movie cost $3 million to make, and earned $104 million.

The Graduate (1967) - the angst of youth

The movie earned a total of 7 Academy Award nominations, with 3 of them being acting nominations, for Dustin Hoffman, Bancroft and Ross. The additional nominations were for Best Cinematography, Direction, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture. The movie eventually won one award for Best Direction for Mike Nichols.
Why did the movie strike a chord so instantly with people of that generation ? There are many reasons, and quite a few of them are applicable to people even now (in fact, would be applicable no matter whether you are in 5 AD or 2015 AD). Some of the phrases used in the movie became incredibly famous, and would be readily apparent to anyone who has watched the movie such as:
1. "Are you trying to seduce me Mrs. Robinson?" (when the newly graduate Hoffman is being seduced by his father's friend's wife, but is not sure as to how to proceed, or whether what he thinks is actually happening; eventually he does start an affair (clumsily) with her after a few days)
2. "Plastics!" (Just a single word phrase, but with a whole lot of meaning; used by a supposedly wise father's friend as to what to do in life - become more corporate and shallow; decidedly not advice to work in the area of the plastic industry)
3. The movie advertised itself through the following phrase used in the posters "This is Benjamin. He's a little worried about his future." (This phrase summarizes the movie from start to finish).
The movie itself is fairly simple. There is this young graduate from an East Coast College, back home after completion of his college course (and where he did fairly well in most streams); he feels totally adrift and alienated in the existing social and sexual mores, and feels totally out of place in his parent's house and their social circle (and hence escapes to his room often enough when a party is going on).
His parents try to encourage him to lead a normal life, meeting young girls and figuring out a life for himself. Instead, he is seduced (with him behaving very clumsily) by the bored Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). They eventually set up a hotel room for their liasions (not much emotional involvement, just the pure physical involvement). His parents, unknowing, push him to move to go on dates with Miss Robinson (the daughter of the lady that he is having an affair with).
He does meet the girl (Elaine), and tries to push her off, but is then intrigued. However, Mrs. Robinson is absolutely against this effort, and discourages Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman). Eventually, Benjamin tells Elaine everything, and she is shocked, enough that she moves away from him. Eventually, she agrees to talk to him, but then she moves away to marry another guy.
And thus the final sequence of the movie. he chases Elaine, first driving to Los Angeles from the Bay Area, then driving back, and finally driving to Santa Barbara (doing more than a thousand miles of driving in search of Elaine). He reaches the church where the wedding is going to take place, and manages to interrupt the marriage. She is extremely impressed by this action-oriented, urgent style of Benjamin, and even though she has already gone through the whole wedding ceremony, she runs out on the wedding and runs away with Benjamin to a future about which they do not know much. They really don't even know whether they love each other. And this is how the movie ends, with being able to see them sitting in the bus as it moves away.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Saving Private Ryan: The real blood and gore of a war

A lot of movies nowadays start in flashback, and so does this movie. It takes a World War 2 veteran, visiting the 'American Cemetary and Memorial' in Normandy; he collapses due to extreme emotion in front of a grave, and that is where the story begins. 'Saving Private Ryan', in addition to being an unusual quest for a soldier in the middle of a raging and fierce war, was also very famous for its portrayal of the battle scenes of the landing of the Omaha beach in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord, the all-out allied effort to re-enter the European battle zone in order to defeat Germany. The battles were bloody, with a great loss of life. Most movies that depict these landings shy away from depicting the horrors of war; something that Saving Private Ryan depicts with a great amount of clarity.

Saving Private Ryan: The real blood and gore of a war

Saving Private Ryan is a film with 2 mega-stars; starring Tom Hanks as the soldier in charge of the mission of finding Private Ryan, and Steve Spielberg as the Director. The movie garnered immense positive publicity and acclaim, ignited a burst of interest in the Second World War, and earned a large amount of money. The movie won a total of $480 million worldwide on a budget of $70 million.
Saving Private Ryan got nominated for a total of 11 Oscars, and won the following: Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Sound Editing, Best Editing and Best Director. However, Saving Private Ryan did not win the Best Picture award (and there are not too many movies that have won the Best Direction award and not won the Best Picture Award).
The movie is supposed to be loosely based on the story of the Niland Brothers in World War 2, where it was believed that only one out of the 4 brothers survived, and the surviving brother was sent back to the United States. The concept is very simple; a senior American General realized that for the Ryan family where all 4 brothers were serving in the allied army, 3 of them had died withing a few days of each other, and the one brother not confirmed dead was missing. And their mother would get the 3 notices of death on the same day. General George C Mashall orders that the remaining brother be found and sent back to the United States to the grieving mother.
The task of finding the Private Ryan (Matt Damon) falls on Captain John T Miller (Tom Hanks) who has managed to survive the landing at Normandy. He receives the order to find Private Ryan and assembles a 8 member team (comprising of the following: Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, Jeremy Davies, and Adam Goldberg) for this mission. Nobody really knows where Private Ryan is, so they move from place to place, city to city trying to find out. They eventually manage to find a friend of Ryan who tells them about his current location: trying to save a strategic bridge over the Merderet River in the town of Ramelle.
By the team they arrive at this location, they have lost 2 members of the team already; they take part in a small battle and defeat a German advance force. They als end up meeting Private Ryan and inform him about his brothers deaths and that they have come to take him back to the US. He refuses to leave his unit, and intends to stay to defend the bridge against a German counter-attack. Captain Miller eventually agrees, and tells his men to join the battle.
The Germans arrive in force and push the Americans back slowly using more men and firepower; just in the nick of time, American reinforcements come and defeat the Germans, but at the cost of Captain Miller. And then the scene shifts back to the present where the man in front of the grave is Private Ryan and the grave is of Captain Miller.
The movie won immense praise for the scenes of the Normandy invasion, showing the losses and horror of the fierce battles. These battle scenes have been portrayed as very accurate, and among the best battle scenes in war movies. The violence depicted is pretty detailed, and this has come in for some criticism. But overall, the movie, showing a post-Normandy mission, has some great scenes and pretty good acting. Easily worth watching.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The fighter - Gladiator (2000)

From time to time, there comes a phase in Hollywood when a film of a certain genre becomes successful and we start to see more movies in that genre coming up. Gladiator is one such movie. Who would have thought that a movie about a Roman General as a gladiator, challenging the might of the emperor, would be successful, or even more surprising, win Oscars for performance, and for the Best Picture ? Gladiator did all that. Gladiator was nominated for 12 Oscars, and won 5 of them, including the coveted ones for Best Picture and Best Actor (Russell Crowe). The overall list of Oscar wins are:
* Best Picture
* Best Actor (Russell Crowe)
* Best Visual Effects
* Best Costume Design
* Best Sound

Gladiator Movie
The movie was fairly expensive to make, costing over $100 million to make. And yet, so powerful was the movie, so attracting was the overall story and the overall grandeur of the action movie that it fairly packed in the dollars, earning worldwide over $450 million dollars. It gave a tremendous boost to the image of director Ridley Scott (since the movie received overall positive reviews and besides was a super-duper success), and to the acting pull of the Australian temperamental actor Russell Crowe (who gained immensely from the success of this movie).
Don't look to the movie as being a history lesson. It is universally acknowledged that besides the characters of the late emperor Marcus Aureluis and his power-hungry son Commodus, there is not much accuracy in the names of the other characters, and even the depiction of these 2 characters does not match their real-life careers. At the same time, there is a much better degree of accuracy in the lives of the people of that time, the scenes, the war, and the overall depiction of the life and death of the system of gladiators.
The film was shot in various locations, with a broad division into 3 parts for shooting. The Germanic war scenes was shot in Surrey in England; the scenes of slavery, desert and gladiator training were shot in Morocco, and the scenes of Ancient Rome were shot in Malta (including building a replica of the Colosseum).
The film starred the following actors, Russell Crowe playing General Maximus Decimus Meridius; Joaquin Phoenix as the murderous emperor Commodus; Oliver Reed as Proximo (the head of a gladiator school); Richard Harris as the wise emperor Marcus Aurelius; and Connie Nielsen as Lucilla (the sister of the emperor).
The movie is essentially a story of betrayal and revenge. Maximus is the general who wins the Romans a powerful victory in Germany and is a hero. The wise but ailing emperor Marcus Aurelius wants to appoint Maximux as the temporary head so that a transition of power to the Senate can happen. The ambitious son of Marcus, Commodus cannot see power going away from him and kills his father. He offers Maximus a high position, but Maximus refuses. He is ordered to be killed along with his family; Maximus manages to escape, but his family is killed by the emperor. Maximus can only bury their bodies and swear revenge on the new emperor.
Maximus is taken away by slave traders, and eventually becomes a gladiator, to serve for the entertainment of Rome's citizens. After initial reluctance, he fights for self-defense and keeps on rising, finally showing himself to a horrified emperor. When the emperor tries to get him killed in the arena, Maximus manages to always win; there is a great moment when Maximus refuses the order of the emperor to kill a defeated opponent, earning the line 'Today a slave is more powerful than the emperor of Rome'.
Maximus is being supported by Lucilla, the sister of Commodus; when they plot to regain his army and overthrow the emperor, Commodus learns and sends his praetorian guard to attack the gladiator camp and defeat the plot. Maximus manages to escape; and then comes the final moment when the emperor decides that he must prove himself once and for all by defeating Maximus in the ring. He gains an initial advantage by weakening Maximus through a knife before the bout, but eventually is defeated. Maximus does not last much longer, as he can see his dead wife and daughter calling him, he manages to get power reverted to the Senate. And then he dies.
The fight scenes in the movie are tremendous, and there is not much hesitation in showing the blood and gore that results from such gladiatorial contests that were fought to the death. In the bigger fight scenes, the action is much faster and complex, but does not seem chaotic.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Forrest Gump (1994)

Forrest Gump was an incredibly successful movie. It earned a massive amount of money, more than $650 million on a budget of $55 million. Additionally, it pretty much cleaned up on the Oscars (and many other awards as well). The Oscars it won were some of the most prestigious ones, namely the Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor:
# Won - Best Actor (Tom Hanks)
# Won - Best Director (Robert Zemeckis)
# Won - Best Film Editing (Arthur Schmidt)
# Won - Best Picture (Wendy Finerman, Steve Starkey, Steve Tisch)
# Won - Best Visual Effects (Ken Ralston, George Murphy, Stephen Rosenbaum, Allen Hall)
# Won - Best Adapted Screenplay (Eric Roth)
It picked up a total of 13 nominations. Forrest Gump also won the important trio at the Golden Globe awards (Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor).
The Best Actor award did a lot of put Tom Hanks right at the top of the heap in terms of money-grossing abilities and excellent performances. Just the previous year, Tom Hanks had won the Best Oscar for Philadelphia and has also given a superb romantic role for the movie 'Sleepless in Seattle'. The two consecutive Oscars for Best Actor also made Tom Hanks the first Actor after Spencer Tracy in 1937-38 to win the Award for 2 consecutive years).

Forrest Gump (1994)

The name 'Forrest' itself has the potential to be very controversial. The name and the character are related to a famous General Nathan Bedford Forrest, very famous for being a great cavalry leader for the Confederate Side and also infamous for being reputed as the founder of the Ku Klux Klan, the white supremacist hate organization. And of course the movie itself during very tumultuous periods of American history, with the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War and its massive protests, the rise to fame of Elvis Presley as a legend, the Watergate scandal, and the emergence of AIDS as a modern killer disease.
The hero of the movie is unlike most heroes; he has a low IQ of 75, a level that can classify him as dim-witted, but at the same time, there is an inner strength that keeps him going through his life. It's this that keeps him going as he plays an unintended part in many huge events of American history. The movie also played an important part in the use of technology in movies; the scenes where Forrest Gump is inserted into many historical events were very well received and discussed, especially the meeting with Kennedy in the White House.
The movie starts from Alabama, where Forrest is shown sitting at a bus stop, telling his life's story to fellow passengers who are waiting for the bus. This is the way that the story of the movie is told, and the movie also ends at the bus stop as Forrest escorts his son to the school bus. The movie is essentially a flashback, the story of the country told through the character of Forrest Gump. From the beginning, he was very inspired by his mother, particularly 2 sayings that she used to have: "Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're gonna get" and "Stupid is as stupid does." (Incidentally, as the movie became successful, these sayings came into much more wider usage).
Given that he was slow-witted and also had leg braces, Forrest used to come in for a lot of jibbing from other boys, and at one point, to escape them, he discovers that he can run and run (in the scene where he first discovers this, you can see his ability freeing him from the leg braces as they drop off). This running ability is on display frequently through the film; from the time when he impresses the coach and eventually makes the All American, to rescuing his fellow soldier in Vietnam, to finally meeting his love Jenny (played by Robin Wright) and his son.
His experiences are varied, and given that the movie actually exults in these experiences, it is almost necessary to mention them. Gump is supposed to have inspired the dance gyrations of Elvis Presley after Elvis sees him trying to dance while wearing leg braces. Due to Forrest making the All American team, he meets President Kennedy in the White House, but having drunk so many bottle of Dr. Pepper, he can only mention wanting to go to the loo when he actually meets the President (I really like this scene). He later meets President Johnson after getting the Medal of Honor for saving his fellow soldiers, and later still, after playing some great ping pong with China as part of ping pong diplomacy, he meets President Nixon. Nixon gets him moved to the Watergate Hotel (a better hotel than the current hotel that he was saying at) and Forrest causes the arrest of the burglars that eventually brings down Nixon.
There are some poignant scenes in the movie. All his life, he has been in love with his childhood friend Jenny Curran, but Jenny always had a much wilder life. She refuses every time, once leading him to do a 3.5 years across the country where he becomes a celebrity although no one is able to figure out why exactly he is doing this running. It is only after decades of knowing each other that they finally get married, but she dies shortly after of a Virus (speculated to be AIDS). And the movie ends with him dropping his son off to the school bus.
It is hard to pinpoint why people really liked the movie; there are some great performances by Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, and Mykelti Williamson. But the main reason is that people liked the story of a simple but honest man, and the movie captures a period of history in the United States that was very emotional and controversial. It universally acknowledged that the period from the 50's, from the Civil Rights movement and the Supreme Court ordered desegregation, from Kennedy's election (the rise of Camelot) and his assassination, the Vietnam War and mass anti-war protests, Watergate and the eventual forcing out of a President, all these were times of great change.
Watch this movie if you have not, and I am sure that you will have a reaction; you may like or hate the movie, but you will most certainly have a reaction.