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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Cape Fear (1991)

Cape Fear was a movie released in 1991, based on an earlier movie made in 1962 (with some differences). The 1991 movie was made by famed director Martin Scorsese (a tidbit of continuity between the 1962 and the 1991 movie is that some of the main characters of the 1962 movie, Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, and Martin Balsam also starred in the 1961 movie, but in a different role. Another tidbit is that the 1991 movie was Gregory Peck's final movie, well almost, he relinquished his retirement temporarily in the 1998 remake of his Moby Dick).

Cape Fear (1991)

The film received critical acclaim, and also did well at the box office. The movie was a dark depiction of the theme of revenge that makes a ex-convict stalk, threaten and violently attack the person whom he believes is responsible for the time he spends in prison, and also threaten his family.
It is also true that the depiction of people in movies made recently show them as having different shades of character, not only black or white. So, in the 1962 movie, the central character of Sam Bowden was much less complex than the character shown in the 1991 film; here he is shown to have several flaws in his character. Additionally, the ex-convict Max Cady is shown to be justified in getting angry at what had been done to him by his own defense lawyer; his lawyer had hidden a document that could have turned the case and caused Cady to be convicted and sent to jail for 14 years for rape.
The movie is all about the desire for revenge, culminating in a final horrific scene of confrontation in an isolated house in stormy conditions. Max Cady (Robert De Niro in an Oscar nominated role) was being tried for the rape and battery of a 16 year old, and in the trial he was defended by the public defender Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte). Cady is illiterate and does not realize that his lawyer had hidden a document that stated that the vitim was promiscuous, something that might have lessened the charge due to doubts about whether the intercourse was consensual or forced.
Now, 14 years later, Max Cady has learnt a lot about the law, and also learnt that his lawyer had not defended him well. He wants revenge on Bowden (and his family) who live in a quiet small town in North Carolina. It is this stalking of Bowden and the sheer venom that De Niro projects that makes this movie great.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

For fans watching current action movies, Computer Generated Graphics seem very smooth, barely visible as being different from the flow of the movie. However, there was a time when such CG were rough, easily discernible and unable to handle complicated effects. And then came this movie, Terminator 2: Judgment Day in 1991. The Computer Graphics used in this movie were plain revolutionary, done by a firm called Industrial Light and Magic. This was the turning point in the world of cinema, where the effects used were incredible, causing awe in the minds of fans who would have seen such effects for the first time.
The movie was an incredible success for many reasons. It generated very positive critical acclaim, earned a lot of money worldwide - more than $500 million (even though the movie was the most expensive movie ever made at that point of time, costing approx $100 million), and earned very high reputations for its director James Cameron (who became known for his Midas touch, making the Titanic later, which earned over a $1 billion), as well as for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

The movie also earned 4 Academy Awards (truth to say, these were all technical awards - the Academy would never have given any of the picture or acting awards to such an out and out commercial movie). These awards were:
Best Sound,
Best Make Up,
Best Visual Effects, and
Best Sound Editing
The movie takes off from the first Terminator picture. It has now been 10 years since the incidents of the first terminator movie, and the machines decide to play their hand again. They send an advanced model to kill the young John Connor (Edward Furlong), so that the insurrection happening much later can be stopped. This time, the humans do not send a human to protect him, but instead send a modified Terminator series cyborg (similar to the killer of the first machine). The terminator sent by the machines is an advanced machine, capable of changing itself into different forms and shapes (using a technology called liquid metal) - although it cannot convert itself into more complex machinery such a gun. It is still as ruthless as ever, single-minded in its quest to kill John Connor.
John Connor lives with foster parents since his real mother Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) has been committed to a psychiatric institution given that she would forever keep on warning about a future man vs. machine war - something that John is very cynical about. There is a climatic sequence very early in the movie when the terminator and the protector cyborg both locate John, and Arnold is able to save him. This was actually the first time that the audience learned that the feared terminator from the first movie is actually a savior.
John learns very early that he is in the cross-hairs of a powerful terminator. He also learns that his mother would be the next target, and manages to order / persuade the savior terminator (Arnold) to save his mother. They reach there, and as soon as Sarah sees the terminator, she is terrified, but is convinced by John that he is there to help. They manage to outrun the advanced model (T-1000). Arnold tells her more about how Skynet was set up, as well as the creator of the network. They soon reach their weapons arsenal, with John trying to understand more about the terminator.
Sarah is over-wrought and soon sets out to kill Miles Bennett Dyson (Joe Morton), the creator of Skynet, and almost succeeds, but John and the Terminator reach there in time. They team up with Miles to destroy whatever he has done; however, in the effort Miles gets killed and blows up the complex. And then follows a thrilling chase where the T1000 chases Sarah, John, and the Terminator. This involves a helicopter, a big liquid nitrogen truck (and the viewers get to see one of the incredible special effects of the movie - the T1000 assembling itself from a pool of solid -> melting to form liquid metal). There are some fight scenes, but in the end, it is a battle to the end. How do John and Sarah survive the fearsome might of the T1000 ?

The Terminator (1984): An incredible action movie

Movies that are based on science are sometimes successful (take Spielberg's movies - Close Encounters.., ET, Back to the Future, etc), but many more are unsuccessful. All of these movies portray science as not very hostile, and then came in the hard science fiction movies, with Aliens and The Terminator being movies that were more action oriented, less warm and fuzzy, and very successful. For example, The Terminator cost around $6.5 million to make, and earned around $78 million worldwide. It was a critical success as well, and set the stage for sequels to be made. The movie also played a big part in making Arnold Schwarzenegger that super-star that he became.

The Terminator (1984)

The irony around this is that Schwarzenegger was not the first choice for the role, the role of the terminator was initially envisaged to be a small person, not particularly unremarkable. Schwarzenegger was first offered the role of the human from the future, but there was a realization that Schwarzenegger was better suited for the role of the terminator, and that automatically made the role of the terminator to be a big muscular man.
The movie is based on the concept of a future where the machines rule and the humans are fighting back, led by a brave and great hero, John Connor. The machines are able to plan a great deal, including creating robots with living tissue over a metal skeleton (cyborg) in order to better infiltrate the rebel humans, but are unable to score a clear victory. And then the machine leader, the intelligent network Skynet, thinks of a diabolical plan (although would be apparent to anybody in the age of time travel). A cyborg is sent back to 1984 to kill the mother of the rebel leader, Sarah Connor (based in Los Angeles). The humans are able to also send back a rebel soldier, Kyle Reese, to try and protect her.
And thus start the action. The cyborg is a robot, it cannot be reasoned with, it cannot be destroyed with small arms fire, and is ruthless. The robot starts with the phone book, where 3 Sarah Connors are listed. It kills the first 2, and is hunting for the third. When he is trying to kill the third, she is protected by Kyle, who explains his mission and who the cyborg actually is. He can only use current machinery since time travel did not allow him to get back superior weapons, a handicap against the cyborg, aka the Terminator.
When the terminator attacks again, there is a chase, where they are arrested. Typically, the police see a number of weirdos every day, and if you start to spin a story about a robot from the future trying to kill, then it is unlikely that you will be believed, especially if being examined by a shrink. And so their story is not believed. The terminator arrives at the police station and asks for Sarah and Kyle, but is thwarted. Then comes an epic one liner, "I'll be back !", and so he does, attaching the police station with a powerful vehicle.
A full scale attack on a police station ? The police fight back, but against a terminator incapable of being killed by their weapons, useless. The terminator kills 17 policeman, but Reese manages to escape with Sarah. They try to hide at a motel where Reese shows Sarah how to make pipe bombs. The scene turns a bit romantic, no doubt furthered by the close escape from the terminator, and they make love (ending up conceiving the future leader, John).
The Terminator manages to track them down, and the situation is now near the end-game. Reese is wounded in the attack, but are able to attack the terminator with a bomb, causing extensive damage to its metal skeleton. However, even the remaining shell of the skeleton is after them, and they escape into a factory. Reese manages to destroy the legs of the Terminator, but at the cost of his own life. It is Sarah who finally destroys the upper part of the skeleton in a machine press, where finally the terminator is killed / terminated / made inactive.
The movie ends with scenes showing Sarah preparing for the future, pregnant with Reese's son (who will become John), traveling in Mexico, staring into an uncertain future.
The movie has a big cycle around time that could confuse you if you started thinking around it. The man who will save the rebel humans is John Connor, son of Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese. Reese in turn is a man from the future, who only came into Sarah's life because he was sent back by John. This is a cycle, with no start and end.

It Happened One Night (1934)

It Happened One Night is a comedy released in 1934, from the stable of Director Frak Capra. The movie was based on a story by Samuel Hopkins Adams, called Night Bus. The movie was very popular, and was the first movie to win all 5 major Oscars
- Best Picture,
- Best Director: Frank Capra,
- Best Actor: Clark Gable
- Best Actress: Claudette Colbert
- Best Screenplay: Robert Riskin
An interesting tidbit is that Clark Gable's award statuette was auctioned in 1996, Steven Spielberg had the winning bid of $607,500. He got it, and then donated the award to the Academy. No such luck for Claudette's award; when it was offered for auction in the next year, nobody bid for it.

It Happened One Night (1934)

The movie had a different sort of love story - a mismatched couple; an indifferent out of work reporter out for a story, and a superior acting heiress running away from a protective father. The story of how they came together over a period of time (the title is a bit misleading, no climatic event happens on any one night), and realize that they are in love with each other was skilfully presented, making this an all time great movie. And this was after neither Gable nor Colbert were satisfied by the script, but after starting the movie, they accepted it. The end result was a movie that was reckoned to be smart, sexy, funny, and a great see. Imagine a movie in the 30's having a scene where the hero claims to be an expert at hitch-hiking, but is unable to stop a single passing vehicle. Then the heroine uses her unfair advantage by lifting her skirt and flashing a bit of thigh, presto, a vehicle stops.
The movie is about this rich heiress Ellie Andrews; spoilt rotten by her father. She falls for a rich money-seeking and handsome weasel, King Westley. Her dad stops her in the nick of time, but the call of love is over-powering and she jumps off from her prison aboard the family yacht and wants to make her way to New York to join her love. Boarding the bus, she meets Peter Warne (Clark Gable). Gable has just been fired from his newspaper. They have a brief skirmish over a seat; when that is settled, she misses her bus the next day (hilariously assuming that the bus will wait for her when she is having a great breakfast). Her purse has been stolen, she has no money, and the reporter has recognized her. He threatens to tell her dad about her location unless she gives him the story, and what a juicy story that will be.
They have to spend nights at motels on the way, and he uses a clothesline with a blanket to separate the single room in which they are staying (staying as a married couple in order to save money). All the time he taunts her for being a rich spoilt girl (when she suspects him of being funny by booking a room as a husband and wife, he turns it around by telling her that he is only interested in the story and not in her). Near the end, he leaves the motel for some work, and the couple owning the motel kick her out suspecting some funny business. Ellie is so disoriented that she calls her dad, who is so relived at getting her back that he agrees for her marriage. In a misunderstanding, she thinks that Peter has betrayed her, while Peter believes that she has double-crossed him.
Peter does contact her dad, but not to claim the large reward, but only the sum that he spent on her. Her father is so intrigued that he gets after the reporter until Peter tells the truth, he is in love with Ellie, although if he were rational, there was no reason that he should be in love with her. The climax, the marriage scene. Andrews tells his daughter that Peter did not betray her, he only came for the expenses, and if she really loves Peter and wants to make her dad happy, she should run away. There is a car waiting at the back, and she does. The happy dad negotiated with Westley to get the earlier marriage annulled, and everybody is happy.

The Saint (1997) - An adventure

Some years back, the quest to make limitless energy from the concept of cold fusion seemed like the answer to our energy ills; it was propounded as the next frontier in research - unfortunately, the entire research imploded in a drama of falsehood and accusations. The Saint, use the theme of cold fusion as the central scientific thread running through the movie. However, the movie is more than that. It gives the 2 main characters of Val Kilmer and Elizabeth Shue a good platform to display their acting abilities, and I liked Val Kilmer in this role.
The Saint is not a new concept, being based on the main characters of Simon Templar in the series of books (created in 1928) by Leslie Charteris; these books were published under the series 'The Saint'. These series finally ended in 1983, and also found their way into multiple movies, a radio series of the 1940's, a British television series starring Roger Moore, and others.

The Saint (1997)

In a slight deviation from the original, this movie does not have the hero claiming to be the character from the book, but the name is instead combined from 2 names, Simon from Simon Magus, and Templar from the Knights Templar, a medieval sect of warriors. The movie also had an interesting twist; in the original version, the female lead, Dr. Emma Russell is killed and Simon Templar goes back to do battle, to avenge her, leading to a final climatic battle with guns, tanks, exploding oil, and so on. However, test audiences did not like this ending, and the movie ending had to be changed drastically, ending in the current form.
The movie has a fair amount of adventure and action, with some amount of unbelievability. To be able to get into the Russian President's bedroom, bypassing his entire security, and that too without much external support seems somewhat difficult, but the Saint managed it without too much effort.
The movie is essentially about the scientific efforts of Dr. Emma Russell, who is developing the formula for cold fusion, and has achieved some success in it. On the other hand, there is Simon, who has been tormenting the British police with his various heists, committed under different names (each name being that of a different saint). He has one final heist left so that he can reach the $50 million mark. This comes to him in the form of a Russian oligarch, Ivan Tretiak, who wants to get the Presidency of the Russian Federation, and wants to hire The Saint to steal it. After some hesitation, when threatened with the death of Dr. Emma, Simon agrees to do it.
He woos Dr. Emma, steals it and then turns it overs to Ivan. It is however incomplete. In the meantime, Dr. Emma comes to Moscow after him; and Tretiak is now after both of them.
The action gets more heated up, and leads to the Russian President's bedroom where Simon bursts in, and then Tretiak and his son comes in to capture both of them. Tretiak plans to expose the President's wasteful expenditure in buying such a formula in a show trial. However, during this process, the missing part of the formula is released, and the experiment is shown to be a grand success. The President quickly resumes power. There is a final tease scene where The Saint shows himself to British police, and then meets Dr. Emma.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Shark Tale: An entertaining movie

Shark Tale is a great animation movie, a continuation of the animation movie series from Dreamworks SKG (earlier movies being Shrek, Antz, Chicken Run, etc). The movie is centered around the tale of a mellow young shark (who does not want to be the feared killer) and a loser fish Oscar. The movie's story of the shark family has a strong resemblance to the Godfather (with a Marlon Brando type father running the show), combined with the additional elements of a love triangle for Oscar and his debt problems / loan sharks. Given that the Godfather is an old movie and rated R, and the other elements of the story are also not exactly children related issues (unlike other animation movies such as Toy Story, Shrek (based on an interpretation of a fairy tale), Finding Nemo), there is a perception that Shark Tale is not exactly a movie for children.

Shark Tale (2004)

Putting these issues aside, Shark Tale is a delightful movie. The voices of the actors used in the movie seem to portray the characters much more realistically; the actors who lent their voices to the movie are: Will Smith, Jack Black, Renée Zellweger, Angelina Jolie, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. The movie was nominated for the Academy awards for Best Animated Picture. Shark Tales got a mixed review critically, and was a much bigger commercial success, picking up approx $357 million worldwide in the year of release.
The movie is about 2 water-dwellers, a fish named Oscar and a young shark called Lenny. Oscar is a perennial loser who works in a Whalewash, and owes money to his boss Mr. Sykes. When Oscar makes another mistake on the job, he is called by his boss and asked to pay up by the next day. His best friend Angie offers him the way to pay back his debt by pawning a pearl necklace, but he uses this money to play the races, loses, and is doomed.
In the meantimes, the shark family head Don Liro is bemoaning the fact that one of his sons Lenny is not exactly the picture of the fearsome killer shark, and decides that another son, far more the picture of a killer, Frankie, must teach him. The 2 separate stories merge when Frankie spots the 2 jellyfish (Ernie and Bernie, henchmen of Mr. Sykes) electrocuting Oscar and decides that this is a good place for Lenny to attack. However, Lenny does not do any of that, telling Oscar that he will not eat him; seeing this dawdling by his brother, Frankie gets impatient. However, in a stroke of the luck that changes fortunes, Frankie gets killed by an anchor, and since Oscar is the one closest to the incident, he gets all the credit and sees this as an opportunity to become a hero.
Things change for Oscar. For one, Lenny now tags along with him. He also gets very famous, and attracts the attention of a gold-digger Lola, and becomes more distant from Angie. And then the Don wants revenge, and plans an attack. Eventually Oscar manages to lure the sharks into a trap; he also turns a leaf and reveals the truth, marries Angie and makes peace with the sharks. Eventually the Don also makes his peace his son Lenny.