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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

A Streetcar Named Desire is an iconic movie that was release in 1951, and has become very popular down the years. The movie was directed by Elia Kazan (who also later (1954) made the other Marlon Brando movie - On the Waterfront). A Streetcar Named Desire is based on a play of the same name (the Broadway play was directed by Tennessee Williams) and had a major influence on the movie given that all the stars except for Vivien Leigh (who starred in the London production of the play, not the Broadway one) had acted in the Broadway play. Leigh was the lone exception since she was already a star (Gone With the Wind) and was expected to lend star power to the cast.

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Due to the Hollywood Production code in force at that point of time, the movie had some changes carried out to the script (a glaringly adult script), and then further cuts carried out so as to avoid going outside the Production Code. However, in 1993, a version of the movie was released that had the earlier removed changes and the audience could finally see the movie as it was originally planned. The movie was a hit with the critics, with a total of 12 Oscar nominations (an incredible number) and finally got 4 (out of which 3 were acting Oscars):


Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Karl Malden)
Best Actress in a Leading Role (Vivien Leigh)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Kim Hunter)
Best Art Direction -- Set Decoration, Black-and-White (Richard Day and George James Hopkins)


* Tennessee Williams (Best Screenplay nomination)
* Marlon Brando (Best Actor)
* Elia Kazan (Best Director)
* Harry Stradling (Best B/W Cinematography)
* Alex North (Best Score nomination)
* Nathan Levinson (Best Sound Recording)
* Lucinda Ballard (Best B/W Costume Design)
* Best Picture

The movie is primarily about these 4 characters, Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando), his wife Stella (Kim Hunter), her sister Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh), and Stanley's friend Harold "Mitch" Mitchell (Karl Malden). The movie is a harsh movie about relations, about the interactions of humans, especially in adverse conditions. There is a lot of background story of the characters that slowly starts to get revealed; with the prime role being played by Marlon Brando. He plays a primal role, an aggressive male who does what he wants to, is devoid of most pleasantries and is almost Neanderthal-like.
Blanche recently arrives to New Orleans, wanting to stay in the small apartment of Stanley and Stella. She has never met Stanley before, and only knows that her genteel sister married a man of the city. And then she meets him, a man so different from their gentle and gracious manners, rude, crude, foul-mouthed, and the king of his place. She in turn is the lady of manners who is shocked at the choice of her sister in terms of husband (and can't understand how her sister can still adore him); and pretty soon both Stanley and Blanche literally hate each other. She repents the loss of their estate, and having to depend on her sister for a place to live in. She also starts getting closer to Stanley's poker-partner, Mitch, in terms of trying to figure a common future.
Stanley, is trying to figure out whether there is any money to be made from the lost estate that Blanche keeps on talking about, and soon starts to peel away the many layers that cover Blanche's past, showing a more sordid past and revealing her to be not really a lady in terms of the things that she has done. He toys with her for some time, and then reveals his knowledge to both his wife Stella, and to Mitch (causing Mitch to break up with Blanche), causing her to tip over the mental edge. In the end, he violates her in a brutal rape; and while Blanche is going off to a mental care institution, Stella (with her new born baby) finally leaves Stanley.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cool Runnings: A lot of ambition

When one thinks of the Winter Olympics, one would think of countries that have a lot of mountains, snow and ice; with a lot of winter games. So you would think of European countries, the United States, Canada, and so on. Thinking of tropical countries or countries that are essentially sun and beach destinations are not ones that typically come to mind when you think of sports such as skiing, sledding, or bob-sledding. This movie thus is a major surprise to those who see it for the first time - it takes a team from Jamaica (a major tropical paradise), and takes their entry into the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada in the bob-sledding competition. But just an entry into the bob-sledding competition is not worthy of a movie, it is their amazing ambition, their panache, their dogged persistence and their almost pulling off a major surprise.

Cool Runnings (1993)

The movie is not fully accurate, there are some differences between what actually happened and the depiction on the screen; however, the movie is somewhat of a good representation of the events. The movie starred the late John Candy in the major role of Irving ("Irv") Blitzer, a former American bobsled double gold medallist at the 1968 Winter Olympics who was disgraced after being disqualified in 1972, and who retired to Jamaica. The movie was distributed by Walt Disney Pictures, and went onto be a major commercial success; it cost around $14 million to make and went onto earn more than $150 million worldwide.
The movie seems to start at incredulity, when a Jamaican 100m sprinter Derice Bannock (Leon Robinson) failed to make it for the team for the Summer Olympics (due to a mistake by another contestant Junior Bevil (Rawle D. Lewis)), and approaches Irv for coaching to setup a Jamaican bobsledding team for the Winter Olympics. The first half of the movie is about this coaching regime for the first 3 months, including their initial failures and disappointment; however, they soon start to bond together as a team.
The second half of the movie is about the team in the Olympics; they face scorn and ridicule for their attempt. This is reinforced when they appear last in the first day trials in the actual Olympics. However, they appear fired up on the second day, and start surprising people with a much improved performance, ending up in eighth place. On the final day, they are like world champions, almost ending up with a record performance, however their borrowed sled falls apart a few meters from the finish. Unfazed, and with their spirits high, they carry their sled and walk across the finishing lines to the cheers of spectators.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

My Fair Lady (1964)

There have been many movies that have been adapted from successful plays or musicals, less so in recent time; but much more in earlier times. One of the best adaptations of a stage musical was the creation of the movie, 'My Fair Lady', released in 1964. The movie was a great success, both commercially and critically. The movie and the stage musical are both based on the famous play, Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw. The movie also starred some famous names, such as Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn, and part of the success of the movie can be attributed to the presence of these 2 stars.
The movie was nominated for 12 Academy Awards, and won 8 of them, a pretty large number. In addition, it won the BAFTA Best Film. The movie picked up the 2 Oscar awards that defined the movies: Best Picture, and Best Direction. The awards that the movie got nominated for and won were:

My Fair Lady (1964)


* Best Picture - Jack L. Warner
* Best Director - George Cukor
* Best Actor - Rex Harrison
* Best Cinematography - Harry Stradling
* Best Sound - George R. Groves, Warner Brothers Studio
* Best Music Score - Andre Previn
* Best Art Direction - Gene Allen, Cecil Beaton and George James Hopkins
* Best Costume Design - Cecil Beaton


* Best Adapted Screenplay - Alan Jay Lerner
* Best Film Editing - William Ziegler
* Best Supporting Actor - Stanley Holloway
* Best Supporting Actress - Gladys Cooper

The movie is seen as an all time great, one of the 100 best movies. The concept of the movie is interesting, about a person so confident of his linguistic abilities that he is willing to bet that he can turn any woman (of any upbringing) from the street into a proper refined lady who can deceive anybody.
And so, the arrogant Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) boasts that he can turn the young flower seller girl, Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) on the street, the one with a strong accent that can be as un-aristocratic as you can believe; in fact, he is positive that he is willing to pay for the expenses of this transformation and has a bet with a new friend, Colonel Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White). And so starts the whole project. In fact, in the beginning, this whole effort seems to be headed for failure - the desired transformation is difficult, and Henry is a strict teacher. However, just when they all seem to be giving up, Henry lightens up and gives her a good explanation of the history of the English language, along with its beauty. This speech seems to have done the trick, and Eliza now seems to be able to speak with an upper class accent.
Eliza is now able to start acting the part, and she is able to make a good impression in the races at Ascot with a new sophisticated way, except for when she lapses back into a cockney accent. And then comes the decision time, Eliza appears at an embassy ball as a mysterious lady, of an obvious noble rank, and passes the bet even with the evaluation of an expert. However, now that the bet has been won, Higgins starts getting distanced from Eliza, being seemingly callous to her future prospects. She is not happy and walks out. He soon starts missing her, and tries to get her back; but his ego again comes in the way and she refuses. He reaches back home, seemingly initially unconcerned about her not coming back, but misses her and plays her phonograph records. And then, she comes back and things are now right.

Being a musical, the movie had some great music. Here are all the songs from the movie.

Act One

* Overture (conducted by Previn)
* Why Can't The English? (Harrison)
* Wouldn't It Be Loverly (Nixon)
* An Ordinary Man (Harrison)
* With A Little Bit of Luck (Holloway)
* Just You Wait (Hepburn/Nixon)
* Servants Chorus
* The Rain in Spain (Hepburn/Nixon and Harrison)
* I Could Have Danced All Night (Hepburn/Nixon)
* Ascot Gavotte
* Ascot Gavotte [reprise]
* On the Street Where You Live (Shirley)
* Intermission

Act Two

* Transylvanian March
* Embassy Waltz
* You Did It (Hyde-White and Harrison)
* Just You Wait [reprise] (Hepburn)
* On The Street Where You Live (Shirley)
* Show Me (Shirley and Nixon)
* Get Me to The Church on Time (Holloway)
* A Hymn to Him (Harrison and Hyde-White)
* Without You (Hepburn/Nixon)
* I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face (Harrison)
* Finale
* Exit Music