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Monday, January 21, 2008

The Usual Suspects (1995)

What an unusual name, you might wonder. After all, how easy is it for a movie to get named something like 'The usual suspects' ? Well, if you have seen Casablanca, then you should stop wondering. In the end, when the policeman wants to save the resistance fighter (Humphrey Bogart), he instead tells his men to round up 'the usual suspects' (actually the name of the movie is based on a column in Spy magazine called 'The Usual Suspects'). Besides the unusual name, the movie is also regarded as a neo-noir film. To add to the myth around this movie, it was shot on a $6 million budget and released in 1995 in a few theatres, but gained publicity through word of mouth and good reviews, and was then released in a much wider way. The movie also picked up 2 academy awards, further adding to the fame of the movie. As always while making of such iconic movies, the making of the movie went through many twists and turns in terms of getting the budget, getting the actors, and so on. But it did get made, and turned out to earn $24 million.

The Usual Suspects (1995)
The movie was nominated for 2 Oscars, and won both. The awards were:
* Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Kevin Spacey
* Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen - Christopher McQuarrie
It was nominated and won other awards such as BAFTA. Get the list here.
The movie had a good line up, with the following line-up:
* Kevin Pollak (played Todd Hockney)
* Kevin Spacey (Roger 'Verbal' Kint) - An award winning role
* Benicio Del Toro (Fred Fenster)
* Gabriel Byrne (Dean Keaton)
* Stephen Baldwin (Michael McManus)
These were the 5 members of the gang, seemingly being manipulated behind the scenes by a mega-criminal, a ruthless man. But is the truth what it seems like ? The movie works at different levels, with story being told in flashes; with so many twists and turns. You start with a story, being told cleverly, but are never very sure about what is true or not. Miss parts of the movie, and you may not be able to identify what is going on in the movie when you get back ! The Usual Suspects is a gripping story, very cleverly told (although you will find critics who are dismissive of a movie that seems too clever). There is a good chance that you will start reading every gesture, every glance, and the dialogues to figure out where the story is going. And then the ending. What a story !
The central theme of the movie is one of detection: Who is the criminal mastermind Kyser Söze ? This is the character who is the mover behind the scenes, who manipulates a group of criminals like puppets on a chain, and about whom nobody really knows as to who he is.
Imagine a squad of policemen who reach a boat on a pier, and find a mini-battle has happened, with 27 people dead and a massive amount of heroin found. The only 2 wounded survivors are a Hungarian who fears a mass-killing master criminal known as "Keyser Söze", who was in the boat killing people. And the other survivor is Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey), who agrees to cooperate with the police in return for immunity. And this is the guts of the movie !
Kint and 4 others were earlier arrested and taken to a police line-up (with 'the usual suspects' being arrested); incensed over this arrest, they decide to strike back and plan a major robbery that will also implicate the corrupt police officers in the NYPD. The reluctant members are convinced, and the robbery happens without a hitch, and they travel to California to peddle the goods to a fence called Redfoot.
There, they are persuaded to commit another robbery that goes wrong, and they are forced to kill Saul Berg, a purported jewel smuggler and his bodyguards. And what do they end up with ? Not the reported cash and jewelery, instead heroin. When they confront Redfoot, they realize that the orders came from a lawyer called Kobayashi (Postlethwaite), who is in turn working for "Keyser Söze", something that scares them because of his background and supposed ruthless nature.
The lawyer has proof of their activities, and blackmails them into doing another job for Keyser Söze, the destruction of cargo of a rival coming into the port. And then Kint starts to explain to the police who exactly Keyser Söze is (as explained to him by his fellow criminals); a superman of the criminal world, a man so ruthless that when his family is threatened, he first kills his family and then carries on a vicious vendetta against his rivals and all their known people; this done, he vanishes and now only works through henchmen. They try to fight back after one of their own is killed, but back down when facing the ruthless nature of the lawyer and his apparent boss.
The criminals attack the boat of Keyser's rivals, and a major battle starts; Kint is held back to be able to escape and report in case the others do not survive; but things start to go haywire. There is no cocaine on the boat, people are killed who the criminals have not yet attacked, and then the remaining gang members are seemingly killed by Keyser Söze. The police seem to believe that Keaton was actually Keyser Söze, and Kint supports this theory. He gets bail, leaves; leaving behind policemen who slowly start to discover that the story that they have been told is actually bull. The police sketch of Keyser Söze is very close to Kint, but it is too late. He has disappeared in front of their eyes.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Roman Holiday (1953)

Roman Holiday was a movie that brought a major star to American attention. Audrey Hepburn was an almost unknown to the American public at that time; she had appeared on American television in 1952 - a CBS Television Workshop production of Rainy Day in Paradise Junction. However, she was still an unknown, and then here comes this Oscar winning role introducing this great beauty in a role that gave her plenty of screen time. To a large extent, the role is written to allow an actress plenty of freedom, and Audrey Hepburn utilized this role to the maximum possible.
A lot of people know the concept of Cinderella, where a commoner can become like royalty for the night, but then has to get back to being a commoner after a few hours. There is also the reverse story, where royalty wants to get away from it all, and be able to enjoy life like a commoner. Popular imagination has it that being a royal means a life away from stress, but this movie presents a very rigid and structured life as royalty, enough to get people to revolt against this stiff life and want to break free.

Roman Holiday (1953)
The movie was produced and directed by a famous director, William Wyler. Wyler is known for directing a number of movies such as Dodsworth (1936), Jezebel (1938), Wuthering Heights (1939), The Letter (1940), Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), The Heiress (1949), Friendly Persuasion (1956), Ben-Hur (1959) and Funny Girl (1968). Seeing this list, you can get an idea of the variety of movies directed by Wyler.
The combination of royalty, and a light-hearted romance that does not end in the usual marriage, but results in a bond that is not destined to progress beyond each other's heart managed to get a total of 10 Academy Award nominations, out of which it won 3 of these awards.
1. Best Actress Oscar (Audrey Hepburn)
2. Best Original Story (Ian McLellan Hunter, later in 1982 given to the earlier black-listed Dalton Trumbo)
3. Best B/W Costume Design (Edith Head)
Nominated but did not win:
4. Best Picture
5. Best Supporting Actor (Eddie Albert)
6. Best Director
7. Best Screenplay (Ian McClellan Hunter and John Dighton)
8. Best B/W Cinematography
9. Best B/W Art Direction/Set Decoration
10. Best Film Editing

The movie is essentially about 2 characters, with Audrey Hepburn playing the royal princess of an European country, and Gregory Peck plays a reporter out for a good story, and willing to do what it takes to get the story of the real person behind the process. They meet coincidentally, and slowly fall for each other.
Princess Ann is on a European tour, generating goodwill for her country, meeting people of different countries in Europe, attending different functions, and overall getting very bored with all this. She is hemmed in by officials and her chaperone, not able to do what she wants, being guided on the right things to do. She is chafing at these restrictions, and wants to escape to see what things are really like outside the life that she is forced to live.
She manages to escape her embassy in Rome, and sets out to see the city. However, since she seemed hysterical in the embassy, she is getting drowsy and soon goes off to sleep on a park bench. She is found by reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), who like most reporters will do anything for a story. When he sees a girl sleeping on a bench, he takes her to this apartment, where she promptly sleeps on his bed, leaving him the couch. The next day he discovers from his office that he she is a princess who he was supposed to be covering, and he can visualize a great story where the real interests and feelings of a princess can be uncovered. Towards that end, he arranges to have a cameraman follow them discreetly.
He takes her for a trip around Rome, in a way that she would never have seen. She gets a different haircut, see the fountain, drive on a Vespa and have a lot of fun, including some serious discussions on life. They slowly start falling for each other, even though he still has a cameraman recording her movements. After they are tracked by the agents of her Government and manage to escape, she realizes that her time on the loose is up and she will have to back to her responsibilities.
Joe, his love overcoming his inclination to get the story, resists his editors commands to make a story, and the next day, in her press conference, presents her all the photos on the sly. And then she leaves his life forever, leaving him to wonder at what could have been, but would never happen.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Great animation: Finding Nemo (2003)

It is in the last 1-2 decades that animation movies have come into their own. And Pixar has had a great deal to do with making them more life-like, more enjoyable, and able to appeal to an adult audience as well. Finding Nemo was made by Pixar and released by Walt Disney Pictures and Buena Vista Distribution in 2003; it was the fifth such combined effort by Pixar and Disney, and was incredibly successful. The movie, surprisingly for an animation movie, has been voted in many of the top 100 films, and been incredibly successful financially. Even though the movie cost in the range of around $95 million to make, it made over $860 worldwide, and is probably the most sold DVD, selling more than 40 million copies.

Great animation: Finding Nemo (2003)
Finding Nemo was nominated for 4 awards, and won 1.
* Best Animated Film - Won
* Best Original Score - Thomas Newman (Nominated)
* Best Sound Editing (Nominated)
* Best Screenplay - Original - Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson & David Reynolds (Nominated)
The movie was rated as not just a children's movie, but a movie that appealed to teens as well as adults. For a start, Finding Nemo has some great animation. It has been pretty hard to make an animation that shows water naturally, and imagine a movie that was all about water; yet the effects were well applauded and the water, whether it be in the water of the Australian Great Barrier Reef or the smallness of a aquarium, always seemed realistic.
The movie also impresses in terms of its story. The elements of an over-protective father, a rebellious son, and the tensions surrounding such a relationship all are a basic part of life, and the movie presented this in a very warm, appealing way. The movie is also very funny, and you can be pretty sure to be laughing at many points of the movie. Also, for parents who watch Finding Nemo, the concept of losing a child, and the desperate effort to find the lost child is something that all parents can identify with.
What makes the movie even more special are the characters, all of whom have their own character, with many of them fighting their own personal battles. Some of the actors who have lent their voices and made the characters so more lovable are Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett, Allison Janney, Austin Pendleton, Stephen Root and Geoffrey Rush.
The movie, about the clownfish, Marlin, is about him losing his wife and children (save one) to a barracuda. Marlin promises that the one safe child will always be safe. And hence, as Nemo starts to grow up, Marlin tries to live upto that promise and becomes an over-protective father, to the extent that Nemo is embarrassed by Marlin. When Marlin warns Nemo against the dangers of the open ocean, Nemo in defiance, goes to the ocean to demonstrate that there are no dangers against him; and thus starts the adventure. Nemo is captured by a scuba-diving dentist. Marlin soon loses the boat of the dentist, but picks up a blue tang named Dory who offers to help him search for his son (and is also a hindrance many times). They soon are able to figure out that Nemo has been taken to Sydney.
Nemo is now in a fish tank, waiting to be given as a birthday present to a young girl named Darla. The other fish in the fish tank are all enthusiastic about trying to escape, and a fish named Gil suggests jamming the filter (so that the dentist will take the fish out while cleaning the tank).
Marlin and Dory meet a number of creatures on the way, such as the shark who wants to love fish and not be seen as a fish-eating machine, a very old sea turtle totally young at heart, and then a pelican named Nigel who offers some incredible help by taking them to the dentist's office. Nemo in the meantime pretends to be dead, and is sent down the toilet to reach the ocean. In between Nemo meets up with Marlin and Dory, and then Dory is caught in a net. In order to save Dory, Marlin has to allow Nemo to go back on his own while Marlin saves Dory.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Based on a famous book by John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath was an incredible movie. The novel was published in 1939, and was made into the movie in 1940 by the famous director John Ford (who was the only Director to win 4 best Director Oscars, including one for The Grapes of Wrath). John Ford also made a number of westerns, many of them starring John Wayne, but is also very famous for movie such as The Grapes of Wrath and How Green is my Valley). Interestingly, the USA is a land very much against Communist ideologies, so The Grapes of Wrath could have faced trouble due to its leftist ideology; it however did not because of the power of the story.
The movie is now counted as a classic, seen as among the 25 best films ever made. The images portrayed by the ex-preacher and by Connie bring out the desperation of the times. The acting of Henry Fonda, portraying the lead role of Tom Joad is seen as embodying the resilience of the human spirit, the way that he keeps on going inspite of the problems and struggles that he has to go through. Further, the movie provides a strong canvas on which the struggles of people in the dust bowl is painted with broad strokes. These people were poor and not owning the land on which they till, and facing increasing mechanization; with the dual effect forcing them off their land.

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
The Grapes of Wrath was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, and won 2 of them.
Academy Awards nominations (1941)
* Best Actor in a Leading Role, Henry Fonda
* Best Film Editing, Robert L. Simpson.
* Best Picture, Darryl F. Zanuck and Nunnally Johnson.
* Best Sound Recording, Edmund H. Hansen.
* Best Writing Adapted Screenplay, Nunnally Johnson.
Academy Awards wins (1941)
* Best Supporting Actress, Jane Darwell.
* Academy Award for Directing, John Ford.

The movie, set in the Depression era, takes the plight of farmers in the Dust Bowl who are forcibly dispossessed from their land and left destitute. They did not own the land, and when crops failed, banks took over the land and started bringing in the age of mechanization by bringing in huge machines to work the land. These farmers, then, left with no option, get attracted by the promise of a much better life in California, working in farms and fruit orchards, with good pay. However, the trip there is painful across the desert, and when they eventually reach, they find that they have been brought to California on a dream which is false. Farmers are out to exploit them and pay them rock-bottom wages, betting on so many families arriving there that people are desperate for work.
This is captured in the story of one family, the Joad family. Tom Joad (Henry Fonda), released early (4 years out of a 7 year sentence) makes it to his family farm to find it empty (in between meeting an old and crusty ex-preacher Casy). He soon learns that his family farm had been repossessed by the bank, and after a bit of discussion with a neighbor Muley Graves (who is deranged after his own farm has been foreclosed), he learns that his family is now at this Uncle John's farm (which will also be foreclosed the next day). The family decides to make a move to California with the promise of getting into better times.
After making the difficult decision of deciding what to take and what to leave, the family sets off, packing the family jalopy full. Along the way, the trip starts taking its toll, with both Grampa an Grandma dying. The family also struggles past suspicious state troops across each state border that they cross. During the course of the journey, they struggle to maintain their pride, and yet they are getting into worse things. Then starts the struggle with the migrant camps (taking up half of the movie).
In the camps, they get into more trouble. Tom is on parole, so he has to avoid trouble, and yet he is not one to take bad behaviour from others lightly, fighting back when he can. Once Casy takes the rap for one such fight and gets run out of town. They finally find work at a ranch, but soon Tom realizes (after a discussion with Casy) that there is a strike ongoing against bad conditions and low pay, and once the strike is broken, the wages will get much lower, and that is eventually what happens. In another fight, Casy is killed, and Tom fights back, killing the attacker (but gets wounded in the face).
This mark on the face is enough to identify him as the person who fought back, and Tom realizes that he will have to leave his family. They manage to leave the camp and for the first time, move into a decent camp run by the Department of Agriculture; which is in much better condition and not subject to intimidation by Sheriff's deputies. However, Tom soon realizes that even this place is not safe for him and he has to move on, and he finally leaves, after a great scene between him and Ma. Tom wants to continue doing what Casy was doing, but is not clear as to what that will mean; he then makes his final departure, leaving Ma. And Ma makes her own statements, show-casing the power of the human will, no matter what the struggles that they go through, she will not be afraid, and will continue to hold the family together. The movie ends on an optimistic note, as opposed to the book that ended on a far more negative note.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Back to the Future (1985)

Back to the Future was another movie from the Steven Spielberg stable, this time not directed by him. The movie was directed by Robert Zemeckis, with Steve Spielberg being the producer. The movie had some struggle in getting made, because of 2 conflicting opinions. One studio felt that showing a possible relationship between a mother and son (even though the clash due to time travel could bring out such a situation) was undesirable, on the other hand, due to movies like Porky, other studios felt that this movie was not risque enough. Even the selection of Michael J Fox was not automatic, with some initial shooting happening with Eric Stolz, but after some time, with Michael J fox being able to devote time to the movie, he was made the main lead replacing Stolz.

Back to the Future (1985)
The Back to the Future version 1 was so popular and money-making that sequels had to be made, and hence within a few years, versions 2 and 3 came out (not doing as well as the first Back to the Future, but still making around a $100 million apiece). However, they could not match the money-power of the first version, with the movie making over $200 million dollars on release (and becoming the most money-making movie of 1985) on a budget of $ 19 million.
Back to the Future was very popular, and there are multiple reasons for why the movie became so popular. The movie takes the popular stereotype of the eccentric professor, and delivers a crazy scientist who exactly fills the description; there is the use of the popular paradox of time travel where you can go to the past and kill yourself (what would happen then?) - in this case, if you prevent your parents from meeting, how can you exist; the characters (besides the mad scientist) are people you can relate to such as the young man wanting to have a good life, struggling to make it big and settle down with his girlfriend; with the concept of people bullying you and the fight to show the bully his place; and then the feeling of getting stuck in a different place and wanting to get home to the comfort of your family. Together, they are spun into a great tale, one that was greatly appreciated.
The movie starred primarily Michael J Fox as Marty McFly (a 17 year old living in California), Christopher Lloyd as Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown (the eccentric scientist), Lea Thompson (Lorraine McFly) and Crispin Glover as George McFly. Marty is a 17 year old aspiring musician wanting to make it big from his middle-class life, and eventually settle down with his girlfriend Jennifer (Claudia Wells). He is also friendly with Doc, who asks him to come over in the night. The same evening, he sees his father getting bullied by his supervisor, and his mother also tells him the tale of how she and his father met (her father hit George with his car).
When Marty meets the Doc, he sees what the Doc was working on. A car, the De Lorean DMC-12, which has been converted into a time machine. The car, when it reached eighty-eight miles per hour, goes to a programmed day and time, using plutonium. As an example, the Doc sets the time to November 5, 1955 (based on the date when he first conceived of the engine, the flux capacitor). This was not to be the final destination, but just then, 2 Libyan terrorists from whom the Doc had stolen the plutonium arrive and start shooting, killing the Doc. Marty escapes by using the vehicle, and promptly moves into the past when the vehicle reaches eighty-eight miles per hour.
Marty is now in 1955, with the surroundings reflecting the then culture. He soon finds his dad George, and saves him from being hit by Lorraine's father's car; this breaks the time loop since Lorraine is now infatuated with Marty rather than George. Marty realizes that he needs help, and the Doc (from thirty years earlier) is the only hope. He manages to convince the Doc that he is from the future, and soon they realize that the only hope to get back is to get immense power, from the soon-to-happen lightning strike on the clock tower.
Marty has to get this parents to meet and fall in love, and he arranges a situation where George appears to save Lorraine from a bully. The situation happens in reality, and George does defend her for real, knocking down a bully. They do start to fall in love, thus ensuring that Marty will exist. And now Marty can head back, trying to reach at a time 10 minutes before the Doc gets killed (so that he can save the Doc). Marty also tries to warn the 1955 Doc with a letter, but the Doc does not want to read it so that he can avoid knowing the future.
Marty does manage to head back, but the car stalls on landing, and he is unable to be there in time to prevent the shooting. However, the Doc had read the letter, and is wearing a bullet-proof vest that saves him from the shooting, and he is now alive. There have been other changes, with his parents becoming closer, and his father more confident. Marty and Jennifer re-unite, and soon see a Doc from the future, 2015 appear. They climb onto his time machine and head off into the sky.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

What can you say about a movie that is deemed to be among the greatest movies ever made, and that is one of the few movies to win the top 5 Oscars (more on that later). It is also another of the movies where the original author, on whose novel the movie is based, finally has a dispute with the released movie. In this case, the movie was based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Ken Kesey. Ken was so incensed over a dispute over financial rights that he promised to never see the movie, and so it happened.
The final actors and actresses who played key roles in the movie were not the final choices either. Both Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher were not the first choices for their roles, with more leading stars being proposed, but eventually these two were the final choices, and both went onto win Oscars for their portrayals. The movie itself got great critical acclaim, with most reviewers at the time of release giving a fair amount of praise. And over a period of time, the movie got rated upwards, being deemed among the greatest movies of all times.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

The movie was the first movie after It Happened one Night (1934) to win the 5 leading Oscars, and the same feat was only managed after 16 years by Silence of the Lambs. The Oscars won:
* Best Actor for Jack Nicholson
* Best Actress for Louise Fletcher
* Best Direction for Miloš Forman
* Best Picture
* Best Adapted Screenplay for Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman
The movie was also very successful in terms of earning money, far more than expected out of a movie shot in a hospital (and starring the leading man as a person trying to over-turn the dictatorial head of a mental institution who eventually dies). Shot on a budget of approx $ 4 million, the movie earned more than $ 300 million worldwide.
The movie centers on the conflict between a patient at a mental hospital McMurphy (Jack Nocholson), and the element of authority, the supervisory nurse Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). McMurphy is the anti-authoritarian fighter, unwilling to accept authority and repression while the nurse represents the worst of state authority; ultimately the conflict is settled in the nurse's favor when McMurphy goes down fighting. The movie, by Czech Director Milos Forman, could also be seen as a representation of the ongoing conflict between Soviet repression and the urge of the people under their yoke to be free, or die fighting.
McMurphy is a 38 year person having seen frequent conflict with the law, and sentenced to a prison sentence for statutory rape. He is sent to a mental hospital for evaluation due to his frequent defiance of authority; he sees the mental hospital as a place that will be much lighter for serving the sentence, rather than in the labour work farm where he was imprisoned. In the prison, he comes against the rule and process oriented Nurse Mildred Ratched. She is bureaucratic and authoritarian, and various patients in the hospital all suffer under her repression. Some of the main other characters are:
* The silent, huge and towering Indian giant "Chief" Bromden, aka "Broom" (Creek Indian Will Sampson in his film debut) (who pretends to be dumb as his way of dealing with the repression of the nurse)
* The pathetic, incessantly stuttering, paranoid boychild, thirty-year old Billy Bibbit (Brad Dourif in his film debut)
* The short, smiling Martini (Danny De Vito in one of his earliest roles) with an immature personality
* An ineffectual, rationalizing intellectual Dale Harding (William Redfield) - suffering from his wife's betrayal
McMurphy starts trying to bring some change in to the lives of the inmates, starting them to play basketball, card games, and many mind games over trying to get permission to watch the opener of the 1963 World Series baseball game (including getting the patients to vote on a change of their schedule so that the game can be watched). He keeps on trying to enthuse the patients, to get them to rise against the repressive authority with which their lives are being run, and constantly tries to be one-up against the nurse.
He starts getting traction, with the patients starting to respond back, to question things more, and use their own independent will. In a breakout, they manage to commander the bus and go for a fishing trip after McMurphy manages to convince the charter boat manager that they are all doctors of the mental hospital, but when they get back, the police are waiting for them. Nurse Ratched is even more determined to keep McMurphy and break him.
She gets a chance when disobedience breaks out, and McMurphy and others assault a guard. They are shackled and then taken for electro-shock treatment, but soon comes back to his normal state and starts planning an escape; this is going to be final chapter of his story in the mental hospital. He plans a party in the hospital (against all rules), and gets his 2 girl-friends Candy and Rose to enter the hospital as part of a wild drinking party. After Billy expresses a desire, McMurphy gets Candy to sleep with Billy so that he can finally get rid of his virginity.
The next morning, all hell breaks lose. In the wild drinking party, McMurphy could have escaped, but choose not to. Nurse Ratched, desiring to re-establish authority, starts with Billy and gets him severely guilt-stricken over his conduct (after using his feelings regarding his authoritarian mother), enough that he starts stammering again, and then cuts his throat. McMurphy then loses control, and tries to throttle Nurse Ratched, at which point he is led away and then, it happens. In order to cut his anti-authority tendencies, he is lobotomized, and returns to the ward as a shell of his former self. His friend, the gentle giant, Bromden realizes what has happened, and liberates McMurphy by smothering him to death with his pillow. He finally realizes McMurphy's dream by escaping from the hospital, but not the other inmates.

Six Degrees of Separation (1993)

Six degrees of separation is based on one important concept: the idea that, if a person is one step away from each person he or she knows and two steps away from each person who is known by one of the people he or she knows, then everyone is no more than six "steps" away from each person on Earth. Think about it; you know somebody who knows somebody and so on to the 6th level, till a person knows George Bush or Cindy Crawford or Vladimir Putin. The movie is actually based on a 1990 play by John Guare, an American playwright, and it was the play that made the term 'six degrees of separation' a famous term.
One interesting usage of this concept was the game, 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon', whereby the aim was to connect any actor to Kevin Bacon within 6 steps. Wikipedia link.

Six Degrees of Separation (1993)
The movie had some excellent performances by the lead trio, Donald Sutherland (playing the stuck-up art dealer, Flan Kittredge, who makes millions), Stockard Channing (playing Ouisa Kittredge to perfection, a role of a person wanting to discover more and eventually does change a fair amount) and best of all Will Smith (playing Paul, one of his earlier roles and trying to make an impression after the success of his TV series, the 'Fresh Prince of Bel Air').
The movie starts with a dinner in a posh Manhattan apartment, where the rich art-dealer couple of Flan Kittredge and Ouisa Kittredge are giving dinner to a business associate. And who lands up ? Paul, claiming to be mugged, and a friend of the Kittredge children (with whom the parents rarely speak) and also the son of the famous black actor, Sidney Poitier's.
Paul is a fascinating person, every inch a con man, capable of taking in people with his stories. He entertains the hosts with some fascinating stories and exotic tales, and, tantalizingly, informs them that his father is casting for creating a film version of Cats, and that the hosts can play a role of extras in the films. The film moves in different ways, with a mix of some quirky dialogues, a plot that moves suddenly, and the overall effect is of the unpredictable. The movie also gives the contrast between the have's and the have-nots, between people at different classes of society. Overall, a fairly watchable movie.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Gone with the Wind (1939)

Gone with the Wind is probably one of the most successful movies of all time, both in terms of the number of Academy awards it won (the movie won 10 Oscars, a record that was beaten by Ben-Hur 20 years later, but is a very high number even then), and in terms of the money that it made (when you adjust the earnings to account for inflation). It still holds the record for most number of tickets sold.
The movie is based upon the best-selling novel of the same name by Margaret Mitchell (published in 1936). Soon, Producer David O. Selznick, head of Selznick International Pictures, bought the movie rights for $50,000, a very large figure for that time (thus opening himself upto ridicule). The movie itself was made after a number of leading ladies were auditioned, with little-known Vivien Leigh finally being selected (after many leading ladies tried out for the part). The movie also had multiple directors, with Victor Fleming (45%) - who received screen credit; Sam Wood (15%), William Cameron Menzies (15%), 'woman's director' George Cukor (5%) and the first director, B. Reeves ("Breezy") Eason (2%), and the remaining 18% directed by other directors. Victor Fleming received the screen credits for the movie.

Gone with the Wind (1939)


* Best Picture - Selznick International Pictures (David O. Selznick, producer)
* Best Actress in a Leading Role - Vivien Leigh
* Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Hattie McDaniel
* Best Cinematography, Color - Ernest Haller and Ray Rennahan
* Best Director - Victor Fleming
* Best Film Editing - Hal C. Kern, and James E. Newcom
* Best Writing, Screenplay - Sidney Howard
* Best Art Direction - Lyle Wheeler
* Special Award - William Cameron Menzies - "For outstanding achievement in the use of color for the enhancement of dramatic mood in the production of Gone with the Wind." (plaque)
* Technical Achievement Award - Don Musgrave and Selznick International Pictures - "For pioneering in the use of coordinated equipment in the production Gone with the Wind." (certificate)

Five additional nominations:

* Best Actor in a Leading Role - Clark Gable
* Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Olivia de Havilland
* Best Effects, Special Effects - Fred Albin (sound), Jack Cosgrove (photographic), and Arthur Johns (sound)
* Best Music, Original Score - Max Steiner
* Best Sound, Recording - Thomas T. Moulton (Samuel Goldwyn SSD)

The movie is seen as a classic depiction of romance in times of war and despair, and of depicting a beautiful yet manipulative woman who did what she could to attain the love of her life; in the end, she finally realizes that this was all false, and by that time, her love has fallen out of love with her and rejects her (as embellished in the final famous line "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn").
Yet, the movie is also seen as an inherently racist movie as it depicts the great age of the south, with great estates, great men leading a good life with their families and their slaves. Slaves are treated in the movie (and in the book) through words and actions as being inherently inferior. This view is balanced by the opinion that the movie was depicting a time that is totally different from today's, where there was a Civil War ongoing between the North and the South with the South refusing to outlaw slavery, and the book and movie are set on characters in the South.
The movie is centered on the beautiful Scarlett O'Hara who is in love with Ashley, unfortunately, Ashley is committed to marry his cousin Melanie; Scarlett is admonished by her dad to not try and interfere. However, Scarlett is not going to give up so easily; over a period of time, she tries her best to get Ashley interested in her (trying jealousy, direct confession), but Ashley does not change his mind. In the meantime, a roguish young man, Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) meets her and is impressed by her (even though he knows about her fascination for Ashley). The impending war breaks around at that time, with able-bodied men getting pulled in for the fighting. Melanie's cousin, the shy Charles proposed to Scarlett, and surprisingly, they get married. However, Charles dies in an army camp within 2 months of pneumonia.
The widow is expected to behave as if in mourning, but Scarlett soon displays no sign of that. Sent to Atlanta, she accepts a dance in a party with Rhett, shocking the whole society. As the tide of the war turns against the South Confederate army, Rhett helps Scarlett, Melanie and their children to reach the road leading to their house (Tara) before going off to fight for the South. When Scarlett reaches the estate, she realizes that it is in a state of disrepair, she vows to make things better again.
Soon, she is in need of money and turns to Rhett for help, but he does not have the money and she marries her sister's fiancee, Frank Kennedy for his money. When Ashley is about to head North, she guilts him into running her sawmill (and with Melanie also persuading him). However, soon Scarlett is widowed again when in a revenge raid on a shantytown, Ashley is wounded and Frank is killed.
Rhett again proposes marriage, and this time she accepts. He promises that he will rebuild her estate, and she also builds another mansion. To Rhett's delight, a daughter Bonnie is born; at this time, Scarlett, still pining for Ashley, takes a decision that will haunt her marriage with Rhett. She decides that she wants no more children, and hence there is no need for any further physical relations with Rhett. He is extremely angry and makes his anger clear.
Things take a turn for the worse soon. One day, when Scarlett is consoling Ashley (in a morose mood), his sister spots her embracing Ashley and starts the word around. Melanie refuses to believe it, and invites her to Ashley's birthday party. Rhett, in a drunken mood, and jealous of her and Ashley, has sex with her, although he apologizes about it the next morning. When he returns from a visit to London along with Bonnie, Scarlett tells him that she is pregnant again. However, when Rhett taunts her about her wanting a miscarriage, she lunges at him, falls down the steps and indeed has a miscarriage. Compounding the tragedy, soon their child Bonnie has a similar horse tragedy as her grandfather, and dies.
In their bitterness over Bonnie's death, Melanie arrives to console them, but she is pregnant after being warned that this pregnancy could be dangerous for her. Soon, she collapses, and eventually dies, but not before asking Scarlett to look after Ashley, and be kind to Rhett. When Scarlett sees Ashley crying over Melanie's death, that is when it all breaks for her, realizing that she was loving someone who was never for her.
However, it is now too late, as when she reaches home, she sees Rhett packing. Inspite of her trying to stop Rhett with her claims of love (and genuine love by now), Rhett refuses, also taking the absence of Bonnie as another reason for the end of their relationship. And then come the famous lines:
As Rhett walks out the door, she begs him, "Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?" He answers, “Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.” In the end, she remembers that it her estate 'Tara' that gives her strength, and she goes back there, waiting for another day when things will get better.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Sound of Music (1965)

'The Sound of Music' is an award winning musical film released in 1965. The film was based on a successful Broadway musical by the same name, and the movie itself was one of the most successful music themed movies ever made. In fact, the movie, made at an approx budget of $ 8 million, made over $155 million at that time (and if this figure is inflated adjusted for the current, the movie made $ 1 billion at current prices, making this one of the most successful movies of all times). At the Oscars too, the movie was extremely successful, earning a total of 10 nominations, and willing 5 of them, including the treasured ones of Best Picture and Best Director.
The movie is very famous for the songs, and is actually known as a Rodgers and Hammerstein movie (so named due to the 2 song writers & musicians - Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II (who died before the movie version was started)). The movie, although a musical, is based in Austria in very serious times, at a time when the Nazis were becoming more and more powerful, and is about the eventual escape of a family from the clutches of the Nazis.

The Sound of Music (1965

The Academy awards for which 'The Sound of Music' was nominated were:


* Best Picture
* Best Director (Robert Wise)
* Sound
* Best Adapted Score
* Film Editing


* Best Actress (Julie Andrews)
* Best Supporting Actress (Peggy Wood)
* Best Cinematography
* Best Art Direction
* Best Costume Design

The movie was essentially based on the Von Trapp family, headed by a widower naval commander, Captain von Trapp (Christopher Plummer), and his seven cute children Liesl (16), Friedrich (14), Louisa (13), Kurt (11), Brigitta (10), Marta (7), and Gretl (5). In the midst of this comes Maria (Julie Andrews), studying to be a nun; she is sent to be the governess of these children. After some initial confrontation with the children and their father, she wins them over with the power and fun of her music and song (and these songs are the ones to watch).
The Captain warms to her when he sees the children getting closer to her, and Julie in turn finds herself falling for the Captain, but he is engaged to the wealthy baroness, Elba. Elba realizes the Captain is getting close to Julie, and sends her back to the convent. However, the Captain soon makes it clear that things will not work with the Baroness, and when Maria gets back to the house, they wed.
However, politically things are not turning out right. The Nazis take over power in Austria, and want Captain von Trapp to serve in the military. He however is not willing to serve, and buys time by taking part in a concert, from the entire family escape over the hills to Switzerland.

Songs from the movie:

* "Prelude and The Sound of Music"
* "Overture" (Main Titles, consisting of "The Sound of Music", "Do-Re-Mi", "My Favorite Things", "Something Good" and "Climb Ev'ry Mountain") seguéin= into the Preludium
* "Preludium: Dixit Dominus", "Morning Hymn" (Rex admirabilis and Alleluia, based on traditional songs)
* "Maria"
* "I Have Confidence" (lyrics and music by Rodgers)
* "Sixteen Going On Seventeen"
* "My Favorite Things"
* "Salzburg Montage" (instrumental underscore based on "My Favorite Things"
* "Do-Re-Mi"
* "The Sound of Music" (reprise)
* "The Lonely Goatherd"
* "Edelweiss"
* "The Grand Waltz" (instrumental underscore, based on "My Favorite Things")
* "Ländler" (instrumental based on "The Lonely Goatherd")
* "So Long, Farewell"
* "Processional Waltz" (instrumental underscore)
* "Goodbye Maria/How Can Love Survive Waltz" (instrumental underscore, incorporating "Edelweiss" and the deleted song "How Can Love Survive?")
* "Edelweiss Waltz" (instrumental, Act 1 Finale, based on "Edelweiss")
* "Entr'acte" (instrumental, consisting of "I Have Confidence", "So Long, Farewell", "Do-Re-Mi", "Something Good" and "The Sound of Music")
* "Climb Ev'ry Mountain"
* "My Favorite Things" (reprise)
* "Something Good" (lyrics and music by Rodgers)
* "Processional" (instrumental) and "Maria"
* "Sixteen Going On Seventeen" (reprise)
* "Do-Re-Mi" (Salzburg Folk Festival reprise)
* "Edelweiss" (Salzburg Folk Festival reprise)
* "So Long, Farewell" (Salzburg Folk Festival reprise)
* "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" (reprise)
* "End Titles"

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

It is now 50 years since this multiple-award winning film was released. The movie depicts the treatment of prisoner of wars of British origin by the Japanese in Burma. The movie won a lot of praise and critical acclaim for the sheer richness of the theme and treatment, as well as setting a high standard for war movie. The movie takes the story forward in some detail, building the plot and keeping viewers hooked, although modern day viewers who watch action movies that have fast car chases, massive explosions, and other such fast action may find the pace of the movie a bit slow. However, 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' is regarded as one of the top 100 movies of all time; it is only when you watch it that you realize that the movie is gripping, building up the story till the final climax.
The Japanese army wants the captured British soldiers to build a strategic bridge, and the senior English officer wants to make it difficult for the Japanese to fulfill their mission. However, in a twist, his obsession with proving the capability of the British lead him to a mission that is actually supporting the enemy. It is only near the end that he comes out of this craziness and reverses himself. Historically, the Japanese army did not have a good record of treatment of Prisoners of War in the Second World War, not very concerned with following the rules of war with regard to treatment of Prisoners of Wars. For an example, refer to the account of the Bataan Death March.

The Bridge on the River Kwai
The movie was a multiple Academy award winning movie, winning 7 Oscars out of a total of 8 nominations. The awards won were:
Best Director - David Lean
Best Actor - Alec Guinness
Best Cinematography - Jack Hildyard
Best Picture - Sam Spiegel
Best Film Editing - Peter Taylor
Best Music - Malcolm Arnold
Best Adapted Screenplay - Carl Foreman & Michael Wilson (Honored posthumously in 1984) and Pierre Boulle

In addition, Sessue Hayakawa was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

At that time, director David Lean was not very well known in the United States, being known primarily in England. After 'The Bridge on the River Kwai', he made many acclaimed movies, such as Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, and A Passage to India, and became counted as one of the greatest directors. He had made a string of movies before this movie, but it was The Bridge over the River Kwai that gave him a lot of fame and built his reputation.
The movie is a very intense movie, and boasted of some great actors to play the different characters:
Alec Guinness as Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson
Sessue Hayakawa as Colonel Saito, the prison camp commander
James Donald as Major Clipton, the medical officer
Ann Sears as the nurse at the hospital in Ceylon where Shears recuperates
William Holden as US Navy Commander Shears
Jack Hawkins as Major Warden, a British commando officer

The movie is essentially about the senior British officer of the POW, Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness). The POW are in a camp deep in the Burmese jungle run by the Japanese Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa). He is under orders to build a vital railway bridge, and his honor is at stake. When he orders the POW's to build the bridge, Colonel Nicholson refuses to let his officers be part of the labour since they are exempt as per the Geneva conventions. Even after some severe treatment by the Japanese, Colonel Nicholson refuses, earning the respect of his men.
However, after forcing the Japanese officer to break, Colonel Nicholson agrees to help in getting the Bridge built, seeing it as a way to show the capability of the Bridge. He even improves upon the Japanese design, wanting to show that the British are very capable. The paradox is not evident to him in his current frame of mind, that he is helping the Japanese war effort by helping in build a vital bridge. He drives his men, and even his officers to get the work done.
In the meantime, one of the American man, Navy Commander Shears manages to escape, and is enlisted (reluctantly) to help a commando team that will go in to try and destroy the Bridge. And the stage is set for the final confrontation, as Colonel Nicholson almost manages to defeat the efforts of the commandos to destroy the bridge. It is only when the commando team is dying and dead that he comes to his sense, and destroys the bridge himself.