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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gunga Din (1939): A classic movie of war and bonding

Rudyard Kipling has a famous poem by the name of Gunga Din, and although this movie cannot be called to represent the poem, it does have elements of the poem along with parts from another of his novels called 'Soldiers Three'. The movie is cited as a classic, a tale of a man's quest to become a honorable soldier while he is currently just a helper to the army. It is also a tale of the comradeship between soldiers, their friendship and dedication to each other. The movie was directed by George Stevens, and was written principally by Fred Guiol and Joel Sayre with contributions from many others. The movie earned one Oscar nomination, with cinematographer Joseph H. August having been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White.

Gunga Din (1939) starring Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

The movie is set in 1880, near the Kyber Pass in Northwest India (currently the area where there is an extreme amount of tension due to the Taleban); this has been an area where historically, it has been hard to conquer and keep under control. The British had a lot of problem in controlling this area, and fought frequently to keep the rebels at bay. The movie starts with a outpost at Tandipur having been lost, and the Colonel in charge, Colonel Weed (Montagu Love), sends out a team for investigation headed by 3 sergeants MacChesney (Victor McLaglen), Cutter (Cary Grant), and Ballantine (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.). All 3 of them belong to the Royal Engineers, and are veterans of the campaign. They are not exactly the most disciplined officers, but in a situation of such uncertainty, they would have been the best people to send. They are accompanied by a local water-bearer, the character bearing the name of the movie, Gunga Din (played by Sam Jaffe). He aspiration is also to become a soldier of the British Indian Army, and serve the queen.
This detail reaches Tandipur, and finds it deserted - their immediate aim is to secure the place and repair the telegraph. However, they are actually in a trap, and are soon surrounded by attackers, through whom the detail has to fight its way out, and they are successful in that. Back at their base, one of the captured weapons is identified as belonging to the Thuggees (a cult that had been suppressed in the recent past, but apparently is again resurgent).
These 3 sergeants are the key to the movie, and one of the 3 is Ballantine who is doing the unthinkable, leaving the army to marry Emmy Stebbins (Joan Fontaine) and go into the tea business. The other 2 sergeants cannot fathom as to how he can do this. Combine this with the fact that Gunga Din reports about a temple made of gold to Cutter (getting Cutter terribly interested), something that gets Cutter put in the stockade to prevent him from running away. Cutter however does manage to run away, helped by Gunga Din, heading to the temple where he is caught by the Thugs; Gunga Din escapes to get the rescue team.
The detail now goes to the rescue of Cutter, entering into a fight with the Thugs; the fight eventually costs Gunga Din his life, but not before he has sounded the alarm and got the Army to come in and defeat the Thugs. In death, Gunga Din manages to be inducted as a soldier, something that he always wanted.
The movie is a classic, full of action, adventure, comedy, male bonding, and a movie that is bound to be seen as a throwback to the past in these politically correct times.

Bringing Up Baby (1938)

It has happened many times that a movie was a box-office disaster when it was released, panned by critics, and having a negative effect on the careers of people involved; and then, over a period of time, the movie was re-evaluated and got more fame over a period of time. One of the movies that is a prominent member of this category is called 'Bringing up Baby', released in 1938. The movie, set as a screwball comedy (at a time when not too many people knew this term) involving a scientist needing a final item to complete his dinosaur skeleton (and needing a donation of 1 million dollars from a wealthy lady) gets involved into a series of mis-steps involving a jaguar called 'Baby' being shepherded by the lovely heiress Katherine Hepburn (also the niece of the rich lady).

Bringing Up Baby (1938) starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn

The movie was based on a story by Hagar Wilde (and adopted into a screenplay by Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde), directed by Howard Hawks. At that time, the effect of the disaster was such that Hawks was fired from the next movie that he was supposed to direct; similarly Katherine Hepburn was also affected by this disaster. Now, of course, the movie is considered a classic, generating money, and earmarked among several of the top 100 movie lists.
The movie is about this paleontologist called David Huxley (Cary Grant). He is other mind-mannered with one passion, he has been trying to assemble the skeleton of a Brontosaurus, and is now just one bone short. He is also supposed to get married to another boring colleague; and most of all, he is expecting a donation of 1 million dollars for his museum from a rich lady called Mrs. Random. And then he meets Susan (played by Katherine Hepburn) one day before his wedding. Katherine is free, vivacious, spirited, who also happens to be the niece of the rich Mrs. Random (although David does not know this).
Katherine has been sent a pet jaguar called Baby by her brother for passing onto her aunt. Susan has the belief that David is actually a zoologist and can help her in the matter of Baby. When David is there with her, she starts loving him, and trying to get ways to keep him there in order to avoid him leaving to marry his colleague. In addition to this situation, there are more complications in the shape of a dog who steals the last bone and buries it, Mrs. Random arrives, Baby runs off (and they mistakenly release another jaguar from the nearby circus, who is certainly not tame). These 2 must now resolve all these issues, while ensuring that the million dollar donation is still on track, Baby is retrieved; a major complication is that the local bumbling policeman has put them in the local jail.
This is a must watch movie for the fast dialog delivery, the utter comedy, the situations that seem totally improbable, and the excellent timing.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Battleship Potemkin (1925)

The Battleship Potemkin is a classic Russian movie, released in 1925. It is a silent movie, also known by another name 'he Battleship Potyomkin' as well as by the Russian name of 'Bronyenosyets Potyomkin'. The movie was directed by Sergei Eisenstein, and was based on the real life story of the actual crew of the Russian naval ship of the same name during 1905, oppressed by the naval officers of the Tsarist regime that was ruling Russia around that time.
The movie has been so famous that the history of the ship is defined more by the movie rather than by history books. The movie was famous also for its graphic violence (not seen in movies of that time) as well as to be a propaganda movie to get sympathy for the crew of the ship. This attempt worked so well on viewers that the Nazi propaganda spinner, Joseph Goebbels, was very admiring of the movie for its attempt to sell a political story in a simple yet powerful way.

The Battleship Potemkin (1925)

The zeal of the movie director to sway audiences imparted a revolutionary approach that caused the movie to run afoul of sensors in many countries, with the movie either banned or scenes cut; it was only over a period of time that the movie was restored with cut sections to audiences all over. The movie had some classic scenes, but the most striking was the scene of the Czar's Cossack soldiers marching down steps (the Odessa steps) and firing into the crowd of civilians who had come to watch the ship arrive.
The movie takes the true story of the rebellion on board the Russian naval ship Battleship Potemkin in the year 2005. There was discontent against the oppressive officers of the Tzar, and there was a plan to have an uprising. However, the uprising was started earlier on the battle-ship when the sailors protested against having to eat maggot infested meat that the ship's officers and doctor had certified as being fit for human consumption. This was the first element of the movie, with the movie being essentially divided into 5 parts:
1. Men and maggots
2. Drama at the harbour: The sailors rise up and their leader, Vakulynchuk, is killed
3. A dead man calls for Justice: The civilians at Odessa mourn the dead
4. The massacre of civilians at Odessa where the Czar's soldiers kill the civilians on the steps
5. "The Rendez-Vous with a Squadron where the squadron joins the sailors instead of crushing them
After the mutiny, the sailors go different ways. The ones who returned or were induced to return were executed or jailed, and the others went to different countries such as Romania, Argentina and Ireland.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Night of the Hunter (1955): The psychotic horror

Horror is not only about things that creak in the night, or about other such stuff that is tried to scare you. The concept of a crazed human being, who otherwise looks perfectly normal, and who kills and terrorises others, can be very scary. Especially, when this is done by someone who takes their time over this, willing to wait for a certain period of time before carrying out their mission. No matter that it takes time, the mission is uppermost in the mind of this individual, and he or she does not care about the feelings of others, or that if necessary, other human beings can be killed.
The Night of the Hunter is a movie acknowledged to be a 'film noir' movie, although there are people who absolutely love the movie, and there are others who cannot understand why the movie is so liked; after all, the characters are not really daily life, the story may not be so plausible, and the acting is considered by some to be over-done.

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

When the movie was released, it was not met with rapture by critics, but over a period of 4 decades, the movie has been shown on Television multiple times, and has acquired a cult following (to the extent that the movie is now believed to be a top 100 movie; it is also regularly listed among the most scary movies of all time). The movie was directed by a one-time director, Charles Laughton, who was much more famous as a Academy Award winning actor, and screen-writer. The movie stars Robert Mitchum in the main role as the demented killer.
Night of the Hunter was based on a book of the same name by author David Grubb, and both were based on the real life story of Harry Powers (executed in 1932 for being the main accused in the murder of 2 women and 3 children). The story was powerful, but the style of the movie - it combines religious overdone, a Brothers Grimm type fairy tale in the middle, and a stalker who is most ruthless.
The movie is about the self-styled preacher, Harry Powell (Mitchum) who is sharing a prison cell with a man Ben Harper (Peter Graves) who is sentenced to hang for his part in a robbery in which killings happened. He alone knows where the money is hidden, and only tells his children (John (Billy Chapin) and Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce)) where the money is located. He does not tell anyone else, not even his wife. Powell tries to get Harper to tell him where the money is located, but no dice; however he does get an elusive clue from Harper in the manner of a quote uttered in sleep "And a child shall lead them". This is enough to convince Powell that the children know where the money is located.
Once he is out, there is a single minded quest to get the money, and to be near the children, he manages to get Harper's widow Willa to marry him. However, even on questioning, the children do not trust him and do not tell him anything. Willa eventually finds out, and Powell then kills her. After Willa, Powell uses threat and manages to get them to tell him the location, but then escape with the money on a boat ride (a most fantastic ride) and find sanctuary with Rachel Cooper (Lilian Gish). Powell searches for them, and finds Rachel, but she manages to hold him off, and then the police arrive.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Star Is Born (1954): Starring Judy Garland and James Mason

A Star is Born was a movie that has been made many times, with the version having Judy Garland being the most popular. Other versions of the movie have been made in 1937 (starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March) and in 1976 (starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson). The 1954 version has a huge amount of history related to Judy Garland. In the years preceding the movie, she had been dumped from her contract with MGM in 1950 (and had not made a movie since), and as you can imagine, for a movie with her to be released 4 years later made promotion of the movie as a comeback movie. She made it to the Oscar nominations as a nominee for Best Actress (and since the show was going on when she was in hospital after having delivered her son, a television crew was sent by NBC since they were sure that she would win), but the Oscar went to Grace Kelly for the Country Girl.

Judy Garland in A Star Is Born (1954)

The movie talks about a story that does not seem so unfamiliar - a famous actor finds and promotes a young talent, they fall in love, she becomes successful and he starts falling down. This puts strain on their marriage, and leads to a tragic ending.
Norman Maine (played by James Mason) is a highly successful movie star, whose career has been good, but who is now moving slowly on the path downward. One day, he arrives drunk at an event, and refuses to listen to pleas not to go to on stage. A disaster is averted due to the quick action of the singer of the playing orchestra who makes it seem like his arrival on stage to greet fans was planned (this singer of the orchestra is Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland)).
He is impressed by her quick thinking, and later when watching her performance. He promises to help her get a break into movies the next day. However, the next day he has to leave early and is unable to get her a message; she has left her job already and feels like he was just flirting with her. She has to do odd jobs now to make ends meet. After the passage of some time, Norman hears her singing on TV, and finds her, convincing her that he will make good on his promise. He manages to get her into movies, and slowly, she starts becoming more successful. Her movie is successful, and she is now a major star. Their relations also progresses, and they get married.
However, things start reversing now. Her career (she is now called a new stage name, Vicki Lester) keeps on growing while Norman finds himself out of work and no longer as famous as he used to be. He is a drunkard, and only manages to get out of his alcohol addiction after an incident in which he strikes her. He manages to get out of alcohol, but reverts when an old associate accuses him of living off his wife's earnings. He reverts to alcoholism, and is arrested by the police. Vicki takes him home, and it is then Norman hears her saying that she will even give up her career to take care of him. This is not something that Norman can take, and he drowns himself in the ocean, leaving Vicki devastated.
She withdraws from her career, until an old friend manages to talk her into agreeing to one of her older commitment to appear at a show, and she reaches the auditorium where the event is being held. There she sees again an old heart that Norman had drawn on the wall when they had met for the first time, and almost loses it. In the end, she decides to announce herself as Mrs. Norman Maine.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bonnie and Clyde (1967) - movie about famous bandits

Bonnie and Clyde [Bonnie Parker (October 1, 1910 – May 23, 1934) and Clyde Barrow (March 24, 1909 – May 23, 1934)] were extremely famous outlaws, robbers, traveling through the United States from place to place in the Central United States, becoming notorious all over the country. During the time of the Great Depression, they were seen as having great appeal, and a legend has developed around them. Part of the controversy around them also rests in whether Bonnie was actually a full member of the gang, or had ever even fired a gun as part of the gang. She was with the gang ever since she fell in love with Clyde after meeting him in 1930, and died along with Clyde in a shootout with a posse of 6 officers from a combined force of Texas and Louisiana officers in a remote location, a desolate road near their Bienville Parish, Louisiana hideout. This was expected to happen ever since Clyde made a move against the Texas Department of Corrections in 1934 and engineered a breakout called the "Eastham Breakout" of 1934. Clyde managed to get the following to escape from the prison, Henry Methvin, Raymond Hamilton, and a few others. However, during this breakout, the killing of a prison officer by another escapee brought down the end of Clyde. He was marked as a hunted man, with the mission of the both the Texas and Federal Governments being to hunt down Clyde. In the next few days, Clyde was also involved in the deaths of 3 more police officers, ending the romantic feelings of the public towards him.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Bonnie and Clyde was a movie released in 1967, and a very famous movie at that, starring as the lead (and doomed pair), Warren Beatty and Faye Dunway. The film was directed by Arthur Penn, with screenplay by David Newman and Robert Benton. The movie also took a lead in enabling Hollywood to present more elements of sex and violence in movies. The movie also won 2 Oscar awards for "Best Supporting Actress" (Estelle Parsons) and "Best Cinematography" (Burnett Guffey). The movie is a greatly simplified version of the actual story of Bonny and Clyde, not detailing their full extent of the gang, the many crimes committed by the gang and so on. Even the person who betrayed them and led the police posse to them (and to their deaths) as depicted in the movie was a combination of multiple people. The movie deviated from the actual story to the extent that the family of the Texas Ranger who killed them, Frank Hamer, sued the movie makers (he was portrayed in the movie as having been caught by Bonnie and Clyde earlier and humiliated while he actually encountered them only in the final shoot out).
The producers of the movie, the studio Warner Bros - Seven Arts were not terribly impressed by the movie and did not have high hopes of success. As a result, they made producer Warren Beatty very wealthy (they offered him 40% of the gross instead of a fee, and the when the movie made $70 million, Beatty stood to benefit).
The movie is about the short life of Bonnie and Clyde, after they met and became the core of a crime gang. They recruited more relatives, including Clyde's brother and his slow wife, with a quick-to-start feud opening up between Bonnie and Clyde's sister-in-law Blanche. The gang starts increasing their operations to include robbing banks, and starts getting pursued by the police and other law enforcement agents. After the gang humiliate Frank Hamer, he retaliates by relentlessly pursuing the gang, turning them one by one against the gang, eventually reaching Bonnie and Clyde and killing them in a hail of bullets.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

The name of the movie and the associated novel seem a bit strange when you consider the content of the novel. In the novel on which the movie is based, there is nothing to do with a postman, and there is no ringing of the bell or something similar. The name is seemingly more to do with the attempt of the author to find a great name for the book (and was seemingly derived from the fact that the postman would ring the bell twice to ensure that there was no doubt that the bell had been rung and the person would come to do the door; this was seemingly also based on the fact that the author was a struggling author whose manuscript had been rejected by 13 publishers, and he would wait for the postman to get the results). In the film, the title is used as a philosophical note in the end, when, sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit, after having escaped any punishment for the murder that he did commit, the protagonist reflects that the second ringing of the bell by the postman was meant to signify that you will eventually get punishment, if not by the first ringing of the bell, then by the second. The movie was directed by Tay Garnett

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

The book that the movie was based was called the same name 'The postman always rings twice' (published in 1934), written by James M Cain, and the fast paced and racy action (including the depiction of violence inspired by sexuality and adultery) was such that the book was banned in some locations. The book, however, is seen as a great crime novel of the 20th century, leading to this movie (with additional movies on the same theme down the years). The 1946 movie, starring Lana Turner, John Garfield, and Cecil Kellaway, is now seen as a film noir.
The movie is based on a story of a triangle of love, lust, deceit, ambition, and violence (the typical strong human emotions that cause all the problems in life). A drifter, Frank Chambers (John Garfield), stops at a local food diner, and then decides to work over there. The diner is being run by a couple, with the husband Nick (Cecil Kellaway) much older than the wife Cora Smith (Lana Turner). Cora is not in love with her husband, and soon she and Frank are having a sexual relationship, an adulterous relationship. She convinces Frank that she is being mistreated by Nick, and soon they decide to murder Nick in such a way that there is no suspicion on them, as well as Cora gets to own the diner.
Their first attempt fails, when they try to show that Nick drowned in his bathtub, but they are unsuccessful, and are only saved when Nick does not remember what happened. Their second attempt to simulate a car crash is more successful, and Nick does indeed die, seemingly a drunk driving accident where Frank and Cora are injured. Not enough evidence lies to tie them to the murder, and even though the prosecutor tries to play them one against the other (by only trying Cora and getting her to try and confess), they are let off with Cora getting a suspended sentence.
Freed from any possible legal punishment, Cora and Frank get together and plan a life with each other, when the irony of the movie exhibits its full face. Cora dies in a car accident, and it is made to seem that Frank is behind this action; he is prosecuted and sentenced to death for this crime. He is incredulous, he is totally innocent; however, as his execution approaches, he is convinced that it is his punishment for his earlier murder (and Cora dying in the car accident was her punishment).

Friday, October 10, 2008

Singing in the Rain (1952)

The musicals had a great season in American celluloid in a period of the 40's and 50's; and one of the greatest musicals of all time was 'Singing In the Rain' (released in 1952). The movie is also acknowledged to be Gene Kelly's greatest work (with An American in Paris released in 1951 being another great movie). This was a movie that Gene Kelly had thrown his heart and soul into, with not only delivering a great acting role, but also co-directing, and being the choreographer. The movie had some great dances, with the dance on the title song where Gene Kelly danced with an umbrella, with water pouring, dancing in puddles, and generally having a good rain soaked dance being one of the greatest. It is even more admirable due to the fact that the dance happened when Gene Kelly had 103 fever.
The movie also picturised the transition that the American film industry had from the age of silent movies, to the age of movies with sound. This was a major change, and impacted not only the art of film-making, but also had an impact on the film stars of the silent era. Singing in the Rain captures the transition of some of the stars, while others failed to make the transition, and also heralded the appearance of new stars who were more suited for the sound era.

Singing in the Rain (1952) (starring Gene Kelly)

The movie is about a popular star of the silent era, Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly). He has risen through the industry while doing all sort of jobs, and is now the leading star. His leading lady is Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen); Don cannot stand Lina, while she feels that they have an ongoing romance (something created by the studio for more publicity). Once, Don gets to suddenly meet a lady Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) (he jumped into her car to escape from some fans); and after some initial back-and-forth, they start falling into love.
However, there is a major disturbance - a new talking film called 'The Jazz Singer' has been released by a rival studio and becomes a success. This forces a change of plans, with the studio boss R.F. Simpson (Millard Mitchell) deciding to convert the upcoming Don - Lina film into a talkie. However, it wasn't so easy, and they eventually decide to get Kathy to dub for Lina, and to make the movie into a musical. Lina does not like Kathy and her romance with Don, and makes sure that Kathy cannot get screen credit for her voice-over; however, in the premiere, after some delay, the inevitable happens. It is revealed that Kathy is the voice, and also the upcoming star.

Raging Bull (1980) - a great Robert De Niro movie

The movie stars Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Cathy Moriarty. The movie was based on a biographical novel written by Jake LaMotta (published in 1970), with the biography based on his life - primarily about his life from being a young teenager, reform, his life as a boxer (and his fights with the mafia about trying to get the main title), his jealousy over his wife Vickie; it is also about his attitude, and also about the strong relationship with his brother Jeoy. The story was adapted by Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin for the movie, that was eventually directed by Martin Scorsese and released in 1980.
The movie is a great black and white portrayal of the life of the boxer, Jake LaMotta. The movie was so popular with critics (after an initial mixed reception) due to its brutal portrayal of Jake's tormented life, going off into violent temper tantrum, suspecting his young wife Vicki, even with his own brother. His temper and attitude also moves his away from his own family. Robert De Niro is able to portray this incredibly, including showing the puzzlement he faces when he is not able to control his own temper tantrums, nor understand why they occur; the impact of these tantrums are very destructive for him.

Raging Bull starring Robert De Niro and released in 1980

The movie got such critical acclaim that it was nominated for 8 Oscars, and won 2 Academy Awards. The event was overshadowed by the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagen by John Hinckley Jnr, attempting to do a 'Taxi Driver' stunt of trying to impress Jodie Foster. Over a period of time, the movie got much more support from critics, being rated among the top movies of all time; definitely the best movie of 1980, and among Martin Scorcese's best movies. The Oscars for which the movie was nominated were Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Sound and Editing; the movie finally picked up the Oscar for Best Actor (DeNiro) and Best Editing (Schoonmaker).
The movie starts in flashback, where a much heftier Jake LaMotta (Robert DeNiro put on 50 kilos for this part of the role, after training to bring himself to a boxer's peak physical condition for the early part of the role) is practicing his comedian's act in 1964. And then the movie moves onto the meatier part of the role, to 1941 where Jake is into his boxing career, aided by his brother Joey who is a sparring partner as well as the organizer of his fights. The movies takes us through the fights he has, the fights that his brother has on his behalf, the wooing of his wife as a young adult upto the point where he becomes paranoid and accuses her of cheating on him. You really need to see the movie to feel the power of the movie.

Sense and sensibility (1995)

Jane Austen's novel, 'Sense and Sensibility', published in 1811, has been a fairly popular and acclaimed work of fiction; it is also used in English literature studies. The novel was the first work by Jane Austen to be published, and describes the lives of a English family, used to riches, and suddenly deprived of their riches. They need to fend for themselves, while retaining their pride and honor, and as was expected in those times, to make a good marriage for themselves. The sense and sensibility is in terms of doing the right thing, listening to both the heart and mind, and eventually making a good life.
The movie was written by Emma Thomson, who was initially hesitant to play the lead role, that of the eldest daughter Elinor, and who finally agreed after the age of the character was changed to 27 (from the 19 in the book). The movie (directed by Ang Lee) was both a commercial and critical success; it cost around $16 million to make, and earned a total of more than $130 million worldwide. In addition, the movie was nominated for 7 Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Actress), and won one of them.

Sense and Sensibility (film)

The story is about the family of Mrs. Dashwood and her 3 daughter, Elinor (Emma Thomson), Marianne (Kate Winslet), and Margaret (Emilie Francois). Mrs. Dashwood was the second wife of Mr. Dashwood, and the family is horrified to find out that the estate of Noland Park left to John Dashwood, the son from the first marriage. John and his wife Fanny (portrayed as greedy, and snobby) move in, and the family soon realize that they need to find quarters elsewhere. They are left with an inheritance of only 500 pounds per year. Pretty soon, Elinor starts feeling an attraction towards Fanny's brother Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant), not something encouraged or liked by Fanny or by Edwards' mother.
The Dashwoods eventually find residence in Barton Cottage, a small house in Barton Park in Devonshire, owned by a cousin of Mrs. Dashwood, Sir John Middleton. There, an older Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman, playing a character 35 years old) also meets them and falls for Marianne, but Marianne ignores these feelings. She feels more for the young and dashing John Willoughby, who seems to reciprocate her feelings, but at the same time has made the ward of Colonel Brandon, Eliza Williams, pregnant. He is removed from his inheritance and moves to London, leaving an emptiness in Marianne.
The movie is all about the situation that the sisters and their related characters face, and how circumstances eventually lead them to loving relationships. They are not so wealthy as before, but both Elinor and Marianne make happy marriages and lead a good life.

Academy nominations:
- Academy Award for Best Picture (nominated)
- Academy Award for Best Actress (Emma Thompson, nominated)
- Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (Kate Winslet, nominated)
- Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (Won)
- Academy Award for Best Cinematography (nominated)
- Academy Award for Best Costume Design (nominated)
- Academy Award for Best Original Score (nominated)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The African Queen (1951)

During the early half of the 20th century, in the tension between Germany on the one side, and England on the other side, Africa was an important battle ground. Along with France and Portugal, all of them had empires in the region, and wars ensured that there was intense competition to attack at the territories controlled by the other. This political scenario sits at the background, and catches up with the finale of the movie and the novel on which the movie was based on. The movie was based on a novel of the same name, written by .S. Forester, and published in 1935. The 1935 period was a time when Britain was seemingly in decline, unable to catch up with an economically and politically resurgent Germany under Hitler. The novel, set in 1914 (at the start of the First World War) is also construed as an attempt to show citizens of Britain that the English were on the winning side of the First World War, able to capture the Empire earlier controlled by Germany.

The African Queen (1951 film)

The African Queen was directed by John Huston, and produced by Sam Spiegel (billed as "S.P. Eagle") and John Woolf. The movie was shot in both Central Africa (at some amount of hardship to the Queen), but since health concerns prevented the lead stars from getting into African river water, the water scenes were shot back in England. The movie revolved around the lead pair of Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Katharine and her brother Samuel Sayer (played by Robert Morley) are British missionaries in a village in German East Africa (now known as Tanzania), who get supplies through a boat (The African Queen) run by the rough Canadian Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart). He warns them that German troops will soon arrive, but they refuse to leave. The Germans dutifully appear, and start forcing the local villagers to serve as soldiers in the war. When Samuel tries to oppose, he is beaten, and dies soon after. Cliff arrives soon after, and helps Rose in burying her brother, and she leaves with him. She wants to go via the lake downriver, and he tells her that the Germans are blocking the entry to the lake with a gunboat, and they will also be in danger.
Cliff is hesitant, but Rose is firm on moving toward the lake, even though it will be a tough journey and there will be 3 rapids on the way, along with all the other dangers about more troops, and wild animals. They have a tough journey with many adventures, but manage to overcome the challenges that they keep on facing. As they approach the lake, Rose proposes to convert the boat into a torpedo boat and sink the gunboat by colliding with it and using explosives to blow up the gunboat. As they attempt this, the African Queen seems to sink, effectively sinking their plan as well. They are caught, and before being executed as spies, Bogart, as a last wish, asks for them to be married. As they are married, in a miracle, the gunboat collided with the sunken African Queen and caused the explosives to blast, sinking the gunboat.

- Best Actor in a Leading Role - Humphrey Bogart (his only Oscar for Best Actor)
- Nominated: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Katharine Hepburn)
- Nominated: Best Adapted Screenplay (James Agee & John Huston)
- Nominated: Best Director (John Huston)

High Noon (1952 Film)

High Noon is a classic Western movie, counted as among the top 100 movies of all time. The movie was released in 1952, and one of the classic devices used in the film was that it almost seemed real time, with the action depicted in the movie happening from a time period of around 10:40 AM to 12 noon (high noon) over the 84 minute time period of the movie. The movie was made in a time of the vicious (and mostly uncontested) anticommunist witch-hunt carried out by Senator Joesph McCarthy, and there is a lot of speculation about whether the scenario of the movie, the hero being abandoned by everybody else in the town under the threat of the killer coming to town was a play on the fact that the Senator's witch-hunt was not opposed (and in fact, many people actively collaborated on the same theme) by most people. It is only when several careers had been damaged, people had their reputations damaged, that questions and opposition started emerging.

High Noon (1952 Film)

High Noon is a classic tale of the contest between duty vs. love, the question that puts most men, including honorable men in a tizzy. When you have promised something to your love, and yet your duty is pushing you to take a step in the other direction, how does a good and just person decide what to do. You make the choices that duty forces you to make, knowing that you may be losing out on something that you love the most.
The movie is about this Marshall of the town of Hadleyville, Kansas called Will Kane (Gary Cooper); he has managed to clean the town and keeps it clean. However, his new wife Amy (Grace Kelly) is a Quaker, with pacifist tendencies, and he has promised her that he will become the same way, and give up this life of violence, death and law-enforcement. Accordingly, he is all set to give up his badge and become normal citizen, a storekeeper. And then he learns the news that will cause him to go into a moral dilemma. A convict he had captured, Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), was freed on a technicality; and he has vowed to revenge himself on Will. The good way is for Will to go away from town, this will save the town from violence, and keep the promise he has made to Amy.
At the same time, Will is a honest law-enforcer and knows that Frank will not rest till he has hunted Will down, so he decides to remain and fight. Unfortunately, he finds that he has no support; his new wife is aghast that he has broken his promise and wants to leave on the train, with or without Will; the townspeople want to avoid a confrontation, and in a highly controversial stance, refuse to support Will (this was controversial, that American citizens would refuse to get involved in supporting their Marshall due to cowardice, a stance for which the movie was criticized). In the end, you have the classic scene of Will walking on the empty street, dressed in typical Western Gear, waiting for the train carrying Frank Miller to arrive.
In the fight, Will is against 4 enemies, and in a final situation, his wife helps him by shooting one of the gangsters in the back, and then fighting with Frank when he has held her hostage, till Will manages to kill Frank. In the final epic scene, Will leaves town with his wife, throwing his Marshall's star in the dirt in sheer contempt of the cowardly attitude of his townspeople.

Oscars won:

- Best Actor in a Leading Role (Gary Cooper)
- Best Film Editing (Elmo Williams and Harry W. Gerstad)
- Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Dimitri Tiomkin)
- Best Music, Song (Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington for "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin", sung by Tex Ritter).

Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Writing, Screenplay.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

By the 1920's, violence in Mexico had largely subsided (after the Mexican Revolution). However, Mexico has to contend with a large number of bandits around the countryside, and in a manner of using a blunt weapon, the Mexican authorities relied on the Federal Police, also known as the 'Federales' to bring peace to remote areas. Both the bandits and the Federales relied on extreme violence. While getting caught by bandits meant death for travelers, bandits caught by the Federal Police faced a similar fate, often having to dig their own grave before being shot. This is the scenario of the remote areas of Mexico where the book and the movie are set.
With most of the shooting being outside the United States (most of it in Mexico), and some of it in sets in Hollywood, the scenes of the movie totally complement the situation, with some harsh yet beautiful locations.
The movie (directed by John Huston) is based on the 1927 book of the same name by German-English bilingual author B. Traven. It stars the famous Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, and Tim Holt in the title roles of the 3 main treasure-hunters; who set out together, find the treasure, and are then beset by greed and wanting to claim the treasure for themeselves, in the end, losing it all.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

The movie is about these 3 Americans who get together (with the younger ones being Fred C. Hobbs (played by Bogart), and Bob Curtin (played by Tim Holt) being the younger ones; the 3rd parter is an old grizzled prospector Howard (played by Walter Huston, the director's father)). When Dobbs decides that his current wage-working job is not likely to lead anywhere, he decides to stake all he has on prospecting for gold. He is joined by his 2 partners, and they set out to the remote Sierra Madre mountains.
They meet trouble enroute, running into bandits, but surviving. Eventually, due to the experience of the older Howard, they strike gold, and managed to extract a fair amount. And this is when the movie turns into a fine study of the extent to which greed can turn a human character, with Dobbs getting increasingly paranoid, and desiring to possess the entire gold for himself. They meet more bandits (pretending to be Federales, with the famous line, "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!"). They manage to beat the bandits off, but soon internal struggles turn more problematic. When Howard has to go away to help some others, Dobbs and Curtin have a confrontation, and Dobbs wins and goes away with the gold. However, he soon is killed in another fight with more bandits, who mistake the gold for sand (a bit hard to accept), and who spread it over the desert.

Oscar Awards:

John Huston won the Academy Award for Directing
John Huston won the Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay
Walter Huston, John Huston's father, also won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in this film, the first father-son win.
Nominated: Best Picture award, but lost to Laurence Olivier's film adaptation of Hamlet.

Dead Man Walking (1995)

The death penalty has always been controversial, the debate over whether society and laws have the moral and ethical right to take another person's life. There are a large number of countries where the death penalty no longer exists, with the major nations where the death penalty still holds being Russia, China, India, United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia (and other Islamic countries), Singapore, etc. In the United States, the debate has been a long one, with many people being strong proponents of the death penalty, and others arguing against it (this is getting more heated now that DNA testing is revealing wrongful convictions, link to Innocence Project).
Dead Man Walking is based on a book of the same name by Sister Helen Prejean, a Roman Catholic nun, a passionate advocate of abolition of the death penalty in the US. The title of the book and the movie comes from the traditional saying by guards walking the condemned man to his execution, "Dead man walking, dead man walking here".

Dead Man Walking (1995 Film)

The movie (directed by Tim Robbins) won great critical acclaim, and was nominated for a number of Academy Awards. It deals with the story of Matthew Poncele (played by Sean Penn - and based on 2 different characters whom Sister Helen Prejean counselled, both of whom were on death row. In the movie, Matthew has been in prison for 6 years now, awaiting his execution for the crime of having killed a teenage couple (after having raped the girl); his accomplice Vitello was sentenced to a lighter prison sentence due to a better lawyer.
Matthew appeals to the Sister to help him in his final appeal; and he is not the image of a repentant person - instead he comes across as both arrogant and sexist, and with not the slightest tinge of remorse. Instead he claims to be innocent. While visiting him over a period of time, she gets to know his mother, as well as the family members of his victims (who cannot understand her motives for trying to save a convicted murderer). Poncele does not get remission, his appeal for denial of execution is denied, and his date for death is set. Sister Prejean will finally hope to save his soul, for him to confess his deeds. In the end, Matthew does indeed do so, confessing his crimes and pleading for forgiveness from the family members of his victims (just before his execution).

Susan Sarandon won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role.
Sean Penn was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Tim Robbins was nominated for Best Director
Main track, "Dead Man Walkin" by Bruce Springsteen nominated for Best Song

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Duck Soup movie starring Marx Brothers (1933)

The Marx Brothers were very famous for their films during the earlier part of the 20th century, and 'Duck Soup' was the last movie with Paramount where the Marx Brothers starred (there were a total of 5 such movies with Paramount). During the making of Duck Soup, contract disputes became paramount in the relationship, and both the Marx Brothers and Paramount decided to part ways after the making of the movie. In addition, this was the last movie where Zeppo had starred, and hence can be considered worth seeing just for that particular reason.
The movie did not do so well at the box office, almost being considered a failure, yet, as always happens, the movie was re-evaluated over a period of time, and was seen as a classic, a great comedy and designated for preservation in the National Film Registry (wikipedia) of the United States.

Duck Soup movie starring Marx Brothers (1933)

The Marx Brothers specialized in comedy, and this movie was no different, with several comic scenes that would have you enjoying the movie. One of the iconic scenes from this movie is the mirror scene - where Harpo Marx copies the action of Groucho Marx to the last detail to avoid detection and to make the character of Groucho Marx believe that he is seeing himself in a mirror. Although this was not the first time that this type of scene has been depicted, the sequence in 'Duck Soup' is probably the best known instance of this scene in a movie.
The movie is a comedy depicting activies on a national level, where a country, Freedonia, wants assistance from a wealthy lady Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont). She in turn insists that Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) be made the leader of the country. At the same time, since Freedonia is in such a bad state, the neighboring country Sylvania wants to take advantage and take over Freedonia. To that purpose, Sylvania's ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern) stirs up trouble, trying to create a revolution in Freedonia; he also woos Mrs. Teasdale, and sends in Chicolini (Chico Marx) and Pinky (Harpo Marx) to spy on Firefly.
Firefly spots Chicolini as a vendor on the street and appoints him Secretary of the War, and tries to insult Trentino so that Trentino can attack Firefly and thus be forced to leave the country. However, the plan reverses and Firefly instead slaps Trentino and this brings the 2 countries to the brink of war. There are further comic scenes, and eventually the 2 countries go to war, with lots of song and dance involved. In the final battle scenes, in order to provide another great comic effect, Firefly keeps on changing his costume almost in every scene, wearing uniforms belonging to different armies, and even the Boy Scout Scoutmaster uniform.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Mr. Smith goes to Washington by Frank Capra

This is another great movie by Frank Capra; one that is not so famous right now, but very famous and controversial in its time. Because it was about corruption in Washington, in the seat of Government and in the legislature, the Washington Press and Congress members labeled the movie as a movie pandering to Communist interests and against American interest. This was not only a US politician reaction, with the other dictatorships (Nazi Germany, Stalin's Soviet Union, Fascist Italy and Spain under Franco) all banning the movie as well. Other countries took liberties in the dubbing of the movie to alter the tone of the script and the dialog.
The movie was well-received (it got 11 Academy nominations after all - not a small number by any standard, although it did not win any of the major ones, and in fact won only one Academy award, for Best Screenplay).

Frank Capra presents Mr. Smith goes to Washington

The movie was released in 1939, and starred James Stewart in the lead role (the movie also had the effect of giving a major filip to his career); it had some well know stars of that era such as Claude Rains, Edward Arnold, Guy Kibbee, Charles Lane, and Thomas Mitchell. The movie was based on a novel called 'The Gentleman from Montana' (by author Lewis R. Foster), with the script of the movie written by Sidney Buchman.
The movie is about a guy called Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), who is the head of the Boy Rangers and seen as a non-corrupt guy. When a senator for a US state (the state is not specified in the movie) dies, the Governor, Hubert "Happy" Hopper (Guy Kibbee), has to balance between the public demand for a honest person to be the next Senator vs. the demand from the political chain to have another corrupt and connected politician. Eventually, the Governor decides to select Smith to be the next Senator; soon, he is condemned by the Washington Press as not being like a Senator, more of a bumpkin.
Goaded into making a name for himself, Smith decides to float legislation for getting Government money to buy land for a boy's camp, with the money coming in from donations by kids all over America. Unknown to him, politics and corruption is already involved in this bill. Soon, things are manipulated such that Smith is soon shown to be owning the land, and Smith decides to run away. However, he is beseeched by his formerly cynical aide / secretary to try and do a legislative tactic called a 'filibuster' (wikipedia) to stall the vote to expel him. He tries to stay the course, and starts drawing support while he is talking non-stop (and the political opposition clamps down on the media to prevent his statements from being displayed). His tactic is to continue speaking, and he does so to the point of exhaustion; when he faints, the Senator who had manipulated him, Senator Paine, has remorse and confesses all.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Patton (1970): A movie about the famous General

There have been a number of movies made on the Vietnam War, with some of them such as 'Deer Hunter', Apocalypse Now', 'Platoon', and recently 'Forrest Gump' having attained iconic status. A lot of these movies have now focused on the severe trauma of battle, with the physical and mental affect on the people involved. Many of them have been very brutal in their depiction of the actual war scenes, and were far from the jingoistic patriotic depiction of war (and this could be because of the Vietnam War being a very controversial war, with opinion being divided on whether this war was even necessary). Movies made on the second world war have not faced this moral dilemma, and hence have not focused so much on the trauma (with even the ultra-realistic movie such as 'Saving Private Ryan' and the 'Thin Red Line' showing the horror of war, but staying away from a mental deterioration of the soldiers involved).

Patton the movie (1970)

Patton was a movie made on a heavily decorated (and highly controversial) soldier of the War, General George S Patton (Wikipedia) (played by George C. Scott). General Patton was a major architect in the victory for the US Army in the Second World War, with his passion for discipline, and his fast movement through Europe after the Normandy Landings. He also played a key role in the missions in Morocco expanding to other parts of North Africa, and then Sicily. Another of his great missions was in deceiving the Germans about the actual landing of the Allied forces in Europe, with the 'Operation Fortitude' being designed to convince the Germans that Patton was the head of an army that would attack through the French town of Calais. They were successful in this deception, with the Germans being unconvinced of the landing at Normandy.
Patton was a person who was not very well liked by his troops, with his emphasis on discipline, and a strong focus on the mission. He was not particularly fond of humour directed against him either. However, he was a General whom the Germans had feared because of his strong and pretty effective tactics; his focus on making the breakout in the push into France and then Germany in a fast and very mobile manner (they were only stopping because they ran out of fuel) prevented the Germans from being able to recoup.
The film starts off with a resounding speech by George Scott with an massive American Flag behind him; this opening speech and the entire shot has become iconic. The movie fairly accurately captures the nature of the General as we get to see the military life-story of the General in the War, with his successes in North Africa, and then in Sicily. After getting into trouble due to having slapped a soldier (and with Eisenhower forcing him to apologize for that incident), he comes back into action after the Normandy landing. The movie also captures the rapid downfall of this celebrated soldier after that, when his biases against the Russians (although his opinion of what would happen in East Europe after the Soviets took control came true), his tolerating of the ex-Nazis in German areas under his control, and his outbursts subsequently led to his losing his position.
The movie was a success, and also won 7 Oscars:
- Best Actor (George Scott refused to accept, considering the awards to be a meat parade of actors)
- Best Art Direction-Set Decoration,
- Best Director,
- Best Film Editing,
- Best Picture,
- Best Sound and
- Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Based on Factual Material or Material Not Previously Published or Produced
- Best Cinematography,
- Best Effects,
- Special Visual Effects and
- Best Music, Original Score

The movie was directed by . It stars George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Michael Bates, and Karl Michael Vogler. It was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, and was based on a script by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Big Sleep (1946)

Mighty strange name for a movie, and one would wonder about what the name means .. the name actually is meant to represent 'death', as in the final sleep. In 1939, Raymond Chandler wrote a book where he created the famous detective persona of Philip Marlowe, and set it against a mystery involving deception, revenge, many people betraying each other, and an overall complex story line. It was but natural for such a story to be made into a movie, and this piece of fiction was made into 2 movies, one made in 1945, and the other made in 1978. The movie, released in 1946, starred the famous stars, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall as the lead stars. It is tough to make such a complex case (so complex that even the author apparently left one murder in the story unsolved), and this effort was done by Director Howard Hawks, with screenplay by William Faulkner.

The Big Sleep (1946) starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall

One story about the filming that portrays the complication of the story was that when the Director was unable to figure out as to who killed the chauffeur Owen Taylor, he sent a note to the author Chandler, and Chandler could not figure out either. By the time of the movie release, the 'story' of Bogart and Bacall was in full flow, and Bacall's agent wanted to get more screen presence of Bacall in the movie, and new scenes were added for this purpose. And of course, this also meant that scenes of Martha Vickers (Carmen) were cut in order to give more significance to Bacall. Another interesting point was that the novel had to be censored to fit into the production mores that were in force in Hollywood at that time.
The movie is about the investigation by Private Detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) of a case given to him by General Sternwood (Charles Waldron). The General wants him to resolve some gambling debts owed by his younger daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers) to a bookseller called Arthur Geiger. In this visit, Carmen tries to flirt with Philip, but he remains indifferent to her. He also meets the General's recently divorced older daughter, Mrs. Vivian Rutlidge (Lauren Bacall). And Philip plunges headlong into a mystery involving nymphomania, pornography, murder, deceit. At the center of all this is Carmen, and involves the murder of Geiger. In the end, after some murders, a lot of violence, eventually he is able to learn the true facts of the case and figure out what to tell the police.

Jezebel (1938)

Jezebel is a very unusual name, standing in the scriptures for a cruel and immoral Queen of Israel, the wife of king Ahab of Israel. She persuaded her husband to start the worship of the Tyrian god Baal-Melkart into Israel, breaking the traditional worship of Yahweh. She was condemned by God, and consequently died a horrible death (and as a result, this name is almost never used as a name for children). The name, after this movie, also stands for a headstrong, arrogant lady who will do only as she pleases; and in the process loses all that she wanted, including the love of her life.
The movie starred Bette Davis, the leading female actress of her generation, at a time when she was struggling with the thought of not being considered for the role of the female lead in the great Civil War, 'Gone with the Wind'. In the midst of this came the movie, Jezebel, with a strong woman oriented role grounded in tragedy and eventually leading to despair, and which was also set in the Antebellum, the pre Civil War south. The movie was directed by the famous director, William Wyler.

Jezebel (1938) starring Bette David and Henry Fonda

Julie Marsden (Bette Davis) is a strong-willed lass in New Orleans, in love with, and engaged to the banker Preston 'Pres' Dillard (Henry Fonda). There is a ball, the most important party event of the year, where unmarried ladies are expected to wear white dresses. However, Julie is mad when Preston is unwilling to go with her for shopping for a dress, and in spite, orders a red dress (against the convention). She refuses to listen to anyone, and goes to the ball with Pres, where she faces shocked looks and disapproval. It is there that she realizes that she has committed a huge social blunder, but by then it is too late. Preston refuses to move away from there, and forces her to do a dance, till a time when they are the sole couple dancing.
Their engagement is broken, confirmed by the slap that Julie delivers to Pres. She refuses to go to him to ask for forgiveness, fully expecting that Pres will return to her. Instead, he goes off to the North, and Julie withdraws into a shell. A year later, Pres does return, but he is there with Dr. Livingstone to help in the preparation (by getting the authorities to take preparation) for avoiding a plague of yellow fever. This time, Julie pleads for forgiveness, but it is too late, Preston is already married, and introduces his Northern wife Amy (Margaret Lindsay).
Julie tries to get her admirer, Buck Cantrell (George Brent), to quarrel with Preston so that they would have to fight a duel, where Buck is an expert. However, things go wrong where Julie's brother Ted is the one who agrees to the duel, and in the duel, Ted unexpectedly wins, and Buck is shot. And then the final event. The yellow fever epidemic sweeps the town, and Preston is affected; he has to go to a quarantine center (located on an island). Julie convinces Amy that she will go to the island since she knows the local situation, including being able to handle the slaves (she wants to do this as repentance), and Amy agrees.

# Academy Award for Best Actress - Bette Davis
# Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress - Fay Bainter
# Academy Award for Best Picture - Hal B. Wallis and Henry Blanke (nominated)
# Academy Award for Best Cinematography - Ernest Haller (nominated)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Apollo 13: 'A successful failure'

Why the title of 'A successful failure' ? Well, because the third manned mission to the moon, part of the Project Apollo was a failure to make it to its target, but managed to be successful in a return journey back to Earth. There had been 2 successful moon landings so far, a major success for the US in its space program. The 3rd such mission did not have the same amount of public involvement, and yet turned out to be an extremely riveting adventure, because of the drama involved. An explosion in space, power failure, less air, and the consequent on-the-spot-engineering to make things work out and get the 3 astronauts back to Earth made for an excellent story waiting to be told. The incredible thing was that it took so long to be made into a movie, released at a time when the current generation would not know or remember about this incident.

Apollo 13 - The Tom Hanks movie

The whole incident was turned into a 1995 movie starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise and Ed Harris; the movie was in turn based on a book called 'Lost Moon' by Jim Lovell (the actual commander of the 1970 Apollo 13 mission; the other members of the mission were Command Module pilot John L. "Jack" Swigert, and Lunar Module pilot Fred W. Haise) and Jeffrey Kluger. The movie was praised by critics for a good dramatization of an epic episode during the space race while being accurate to the actual events and the scientific facts. Some of the scenes involving weightlessness were filmed abroad the NASA flight that is actually used to mimic microgravity for a brief periods of time, the KC-135 aircraft called the 'Vomit Comet'.
The movie starts out with details of the build-up to the Apollo program, covers the first landing on the moon, and then moves onto the actual planning of the crew for the Apollo 13 mission, including the fact that the crew was not originally planned for this mission. The movie then covers the lift-off into space with a slight problem, and soon moves into the actual disaster, with the explosion, leaking of the oxygen tanks, cancellation of the lunar landing mission, and then the entire drama of the magnificent engineering feats involved in working out how to get the crew back from deep space (where there is no possibility of a rescue mission).
The movie was nominated for 9 Academy Awards and won 2 awards (but none of the acting and other high profile awards):
* Won - Best Film Editing — Mike Hill, Daniel Hanley
* Won - Best Sound Mixing — Rick Dior, Steve Pederson, Scott Millan, David MacMilan
* Nominated - Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role — Ed Harris
* Nominated - Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role — Kathleen Quinlan
* Nominated - Best Achievement in Art Direction — Michael Corenblith, Merideth Boswell
* Nominated - Best Original Score — James Horner
* Nominated - Best Picture — Brian Grazer
* Nominated - Best Visual Effects — Robert Legato, Michael Kanfer, Leslie Ekker, Matt Sweeney
* Nominated - Best Adapted Screenplay — William Broyles Jr., Al Reinert

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Leaving Las Vegas was a low budget movie - it was shot in the 16mm film (used mostly for art movies) instead of the standard 35mm films due to cost reasons. However, it was one of the movies that go onto win acclaim, being received very positively by critics, and being a moderate success at the box office, and a much bigger success on the movie rental scene. And the Best Acting Oscar going to Nicholas Cage for his portrayal of the heading-towards-death drunk added more glory to the movie (a movie getting 4 Oscar nominations including for the Best Director adds tremendously to the attraction of the movie on the box office and the post-release rentals). The film was based on a semi-autographical novel by John O-Brien, who would go onto commit suicide just 2 weeks after the movie had started production (the movie was briefly halted, but it was decided that to make the movie would be a sort of memorial to him, so the project continued).

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

The movie was released in 1995 to a small release, having a wider release in February 1996 (even then it did not get much promotion, and hence it was never as much of a hit at the box office; over time however, the sheer character of the movie, the great performances, all of these made the movie a much bigger hit on the post-release tape and DVD circuit). The movie can be seen as depressing, given that it is a movie about an alcoholic and a hooker (and their story, while beautiful, does not go towards a happy ending); however, their interaction, and their friendship helps make sure that this is a movie worth admiring.
The movie is about this ex-Hollywood agent called Ben Sanderson (Nicholas Cage). He is shown in the movie as an alcoholic who cannot stop drinking. He has lost his entire job, his family, and the only thing he has left is his drinking. He then gets a death wish - he gets rid of all his possessions (dumping some of them in a fire), and decides to head towards Las Vegas where his resolve is to die by drinking. When in Vegas, he meets this prostitute called Sera (Elisabeth Shue). She is run by a pimp, and is the usual worldly-wise, cynical person. However, when Ben books time with her, and does nothing but talk, she is surprised. Over time, a great friendship (akin to love) develops between them, but there is no sex. And they resolve not to try to change each other's life, with Sera not trying to prevent his alcohol abuse, and Ben not trying to prevent her from leading the life of a hooker.
However, things cannot last like this. Ben is going steadily downhill due to his drinking, and when Sera tries to reform him, he gets furious and brings another hooker to his home; at this Sera throws both of them out. They separate; soon after, she is raped and with her identity as a prostitute exposed, she is thrown out of her home. Then she gets a call that Ben is on his deathbed (having gone too far in his abuse of alcohol); this is the time that they have sex for the first time; he dies soon after.

Oscar Nominations:
Academy Award for Best Actor: (Nicolas Cage) (Won)
# Academy Award for Best Actress: (Elisabeth Shue)
# Academy Award for Directing: (Mike Figgis)
# Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay: (Mike Figgis)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Some Like It Hot, a movie released in 1959 and starring Marilyn Monroe, has been acknowledged to be one of the top 10 movie comedies of all time, with the American Film Institute calling the movie as the greatest American comedy film of all time. The movie stars Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon as 2 men on the run from gangsters (having witnessed a massacre), and using the guise of women to try and get away from the gangsters. In between, they meet Marilyn and fall for her, while a very rich man falls for one of them (in his disguise as a woman).
The movie was directed by Billy Wilder, and was adapted from a story written by Robert Thoeren and Michael Logan. The same story with some differences had already been used in a German movie called 'Fanfaren der Liebe' (made 8 years ago in 1951).

Some Like It Hot (1959)

The movie was condemned by religious groups (with the Catholic Legion of Decency criticizing the movie). For a number of decades, Hollywood had been under a Production Code (that covered the morals of movies). It was on its way out, and this movie was one of the movies that contributed to its passing, released after not having received an MPAA logo. The movie was received well, and nominated for 6 Oscars. It won one Award, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White (Orry-Kelly).
The movie is about these 2 struggling musicians, who are trying to escape Chicago after seeing a mob maasacre. However, it is difficult to find a job, and they find that the only out of town job they can get is 2 positions in a All Girls Band that is going to Florida. They join in, dressing as woman (and this is part of the reason why the movie was made as a Black and White movie, since the makeup to make them look like woman was not letting the movie look good in color); and calling themselves Josephine and Geraldine (later changed to Daphne). Soon, they also find themselves head-over-heels for the vocalist and ukulele player, "Sugar Kane" (Marilyn Monroe). It is a bit difficult to express your emotions openly when you are dressing as a woman, so that part is a struggle for them.
Joe becomes enterprising, taking on the role of a millionaire and romancing Sugar in that role; it is Jerry who gets into more trouble. An actual millionaire, Osgood Fielding III, falls for his female disguise, and Jerry plays along in the hope of making some money from this transaction. And then the finale, where the gangsters arrive at the hotel for a conference, and spot these 2. They run from the mobsters, finally reaching the yacht of the millionaire, where the drama continues to happen. Sugar reveals that she has fallen for Joe, and to Jerry's horror, Osgood keeps pursuing him, right to the end when Jerry reveals that he is a man, a very famous line is spoken by Osgood, "Well, nobody's perfect."

Fargo (1996)

Fargo was a very interesting movie to watch, a movie that conveys the darker side of humanity. Released in 1996, the movie was directed and produced by the Coen Brothers. The movie stars Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, and Harve Presnell in significant roles. Given the plot where a husband is willing to get his wife kidnapped for money, the movie showcases how such situations can quickly go out of control and lead to consequences that are harmful for all involved. Very quickly, you reach a situation where people are willing to murder for money (something that is weirdly seen as a normal happening), willing to murder because somebody annoys you; such situations give a chance to let the psychopaths live upto their dreams.
Why call a movie Fargo ? Well, there is an actual city called Fargo in North Dakota, and it appears in the movie for a very short time. But in reality as the Coen Brothers, admitted, Fargo as a name for a movie looks interesting (and the play on words of 'Far' 'Go' seem apt to a story where money plays a setting role in what people do).

Fargo (1996)

The movie was well received by critics, and went onto win 2 Oscars (Best original screenplay and Best Actress in a Leading Role for Frances McDormand). The movie also did well at other Film Festivals such as BAFTA, Cannes. The movie also got nominations for 5 other Oscars:
# Academy Award for Best Picture
# Academy Award for Directing (Joel Coen)
# Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (William H. Macy)
# Academy Award for Best Cinematography (Roger Deakins)
# Academy Award for Film Editing (Ethan Coen & Joel Coen)
The movie went further to increase the reputation of the Coen Brothers (whose other films include O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Raising Arizona, The Hudsucker Proxy, Miller's Crossing, Blood Simple, The Man Who Wasn't There, No Country For Old Men, The Big Lebowski, and Barton Fink). One interesting tidbit is that the lead female role in Fargo, Frances McDormand is married to Joel Coen since 1984.
Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is a salesman in an Oldsmobile dealership, with the dealership being owned by his father-in-law Wade. Wade is rich, but Jerry does not get to see the money, and is financial difficulties. The solution ? He contacts an ex-convict named Shep Proudfoot, and through him, Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) and Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi). In a bar in the city of Fargo, they concot a plan to kidnap Jerry's wife Jean for a total amount of $ 1 million that he will get from Wade. In the meantime, Jerry almost comes to an agreement with his father-in-law for financing for a business plan (and Jerry attempts to call off the kidnapping but fails). However, the business plan soon falls through with Wade deciding to do the financing independently, and not through Jerry.
The kidnapping proceeds, and Wade is duly informed by Jerry about this. However, by that night, the kidnapping is in serious trouble, with a license plate problem causing the intervention of a policeman. The kidnappers kill the trooper, and then kill 2 witnesses to the scene (in the neighboring state of Minnesota). These murders bring in the local police chief, 7 month pregnant Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand). She gives a look of being simple, but is very competent and versed in police procedures. She is soon on the trail, first finding the link to Shep Proudfoot, and then deciding to travel to Minneapolis to investigate further.
In the meantime, the case takes a more deadly turn with Shep going after Carl and humiliating him. And in the taking of money for ransom, Carl has a shootout with Wade who has come to deliver the money himself. Wade dies, and Carl is wounded. While returning to his place back, Carl hides most of the money; however, when he returns to his cabin, he finds that his partner has murdered the hostage Jean. They have a dispute, and Carl is killed with an axe. By this time, Marge is very close to resolving the case, and is finally able to nail Jerry, and then arrest Grimsrud.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Gold Rush (1925)

The Gold Rush is silent-era movie, a Charlie Chaplin movie, released in 1925. As with many Chaplin movies, the movie was written, and directed by him and starred him in the lead role. It was another of the 'Little Tramp' roles. As per Charlie Chaplin, The Gold Rush was a movie that he wanted to be remembered by. The movie also starred Mack Swain, Tom Murray, Henry Bergman, Malcolm Waite, and Georgia Hale. Georgia Hale got the role by chance, since Lita Grey was originally selected for the role, but Lita then got married to Charlie Chaplin :-) in 1924, and hence was no longer to be the lead lady for the role. However, during the making of the film, Charlie's marriage to Grey had collapsed, and Hale (who had idolized Chaplin from the beginning) was much more intimate with her leading man.
The movie was a huge commercial success, earning more than $ 4 million at that time. In 1942, Chaplin took the movie into the talkie space, re-releasing the movie with a musical score (that was nominated for an Academy Award), adding a personal narration in his own voice, and doing some more editing to reduce the length of the movie by a few minutes.

The Gold Rush (1925)

Chaplin's previous movie 'A women of Paris' had failed, and Chaplin was looking to see how he could recoup from that. He wanted to make a great movie, something that he would be remembered for. And then he came on the stories of some of the tragedies of the Great Alaskan Gold Rush; with tales of hardship, struggle and tragedy. The movies takes The Tramp in the Yukon, along with many others like him, heading over the Chilkoot Pass (some spectacular shooting in Hollywood sets). He gets stuck in a remote cabin with little supplies, along with another prospector and an escaped fugitive.
In this setting happens one of the most iconic scenes from the silent film era, the eating of a leather boot by a starving man. Another iconic shot from the movie is of the cabin tottering on the edge of a cliff while the inhabitants struggle to get out. You also have the betrayal of The Tramp and the other prospector by the fugitive (who in turn meets his end at the hands of an avalanche).
The Tramp becomes very rich after finding gold. Once he reaches the town, The Tramp thinks that he is falling for a dance-hall girl (Hale), but why would she notice him ? She initially snubs him, but they have a happy ending.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

Kramer vs. Kramer was an incredible movie. Based on an adaptation of a novel by Avery Corman, the movie was directed by Robert Benton and released in 1979. The movie became a major landmark in the depiction of the trauma of the divorce of a couple, and the effect that it has on everybody involved, most notably on the young children who are torn apart by the divorce. The depiction of the tensions in a marriage related to ambition, feelings of neglect, and the shift in the earlier traditional roles of a marriage made this movie one that seems relevant even today. The movie came at a time when there was a shift in the traditional dynamics of a marriage, with a greater number of women seeking to find themselves by building a career for themselves. Combine this with a great script, some careful (and non-biased handling), and excellent performances, and you get to see why Kramer vs. Kramer became successful then, and remains a wonderful movie.

The movie starts Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep as Ted and Joanna Kramer. Ted is a rising advertising executive, and needs to put in a large amount of time in his job. Something has got to give when such large amounts of time are spent on the job, and ted is unable to spend much time with his wife and child, eight-year old Billy (Justin Henry). He hardly knows what is going on at home, and greatly neglects his wife Joanna. And then it happens; Joanna feels a total sense of despair, of not doing anything, and informs Ted that she needs to leave in order to try and find herself.
This shocks Ted to an incredible degree. He struggles to understand as to why Joanna left him and also has to adjust to running the house, with a young son, and also keep to his demanding job. He slowly starts to adjust to the reason as to why Joanna left him, and starts to form a bond with his son. His job starts suffering, but he is more interested in being a good parent, and eventually he loses his job. And then, after an year and a half, Joanna comes back to claim Billy. Ted is not willing, and a custody battle happens which Ted loses and custody is granted to Joanna. However, in the end, Joanna tells Ted that she understands that Billy has a great relationship with Ted, and that Billy can continue to stay with Ted.

Oscar Wins

* Best Picture
* Best Director
* Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium
* Best Actor in a Leading Role - Dustin Hoffman
* Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Meryl Streep


* Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Jane Alexander
* Best Cinematography
* Best Film Editing
* Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Justin Henry. Henry was and is to date the youngest acting Academy Award nominee.

The Deer Hunter (1978)

There are 2 types of war movies; the ones that take a slightly more romantic view of war, and then there are the ones that seek to portray war more realistically. They depict war as something that dehumanizes human beings, with no nobility being there. People suffer huge emotional and physical trauma, including both the people who take part in it, and the collateral damage to civilians (people in the territories where the war is taking place and the relatives and friends of the war participants). There are a number of movies that came out during and after the Vietnam War that portray the horrors of the war, such as Apocalypse Now, Platoon, etc. The Deer Hunter is another movie of the same type, that takes 3 people who enter the war as soldiers, suffer the horrors of the war including capture and torture in a VietCong Prisoner of War camp, and then takes their experiences just after the war (not their life, but their experiences still related to Vietnam).

The Deer Hunter (1978)

The film was loosely based on a screenplay called "The Man Who Came To Play" (by Louis Garfinkle and Quinn K. Redeker) depicting people who come to Las Vegas to play Russian Roulette (the game is a dangerous game of taking a chance with a bullet in a gun, just not knowing which chamber the bullet is in); this screenplay idea was then combined with an idea about a group of steel workers who go to Vietnam for military service, with their life now revolving around the effects of the war and its aftermath. The movie showed several serious and challenging subjects such as suicide, mental illness, the effects of war, etc.
The movie centers around these 3 Rust belt workers, Michael (Robert De Niro), Steven (John Savage), and Nick (Christopher Walken). In their service in Vietnam, they are captured and help in a POW camp; the guards, to relieve their boredom, force the prisoners to play the game of Russian Roulette. Steven shoots the bullet above his head, and is punished by the guards for not following the rules of the game. Nick and Michael manage to overcome the guards, kill them, and escape along with Steve.
Escape in Vietnam means floating down the river, and that is what the 3 friends do. Only of them (Nick) manages to escape in a rescue helicopter, while Michael jumps in after Steve who has fallen into the river, since Steve's legs were damaged in the fall. Steve and Michael eventually manage to make it friendly lines, and lose contact with Nick, who eventually finds himself in a Saigon bar playing Russian Roulette all the time.
By the time much later that Steve and Michael reunite, Nick has become totally lost to everybody else, his only place being the Saigon bar. By the time Mike manages to locate him, Nick no longer can remember anything and refuses to go back to the US, and then it happens. He finally shoots himself in the head.
The Deer Hunter won
Best Picture,
Best Director (Michael Cimino),
Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Christopher Walken),
Best Film Editing, and
Best Sound.

Nominated for
Best Actor in a Leading Role (Robert De Niro),
Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Meryl Streep),
Best Cinematography (Vilmos Zsigmond) and
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen