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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

Metropolis (1927)

The Metropolis was a movie that was seemingly way ahead of its time. It's a movie about the conflict between the rulers (the technologically advanced class) and the the workers who toiled to provide for it all (and who were seen as the subjugated sections of the population). Metropolis depicted this scenario, set in the year 2026, with hugely futuristic settings. The movie was not something that is easily viewable in its original creation - it was deemed too long (at 210 minutes), ruthlessly chopped and modified for multiple reasons (whether to it into the 90 minutes allowed by theatre owners, or because parts of the subject were deemed too controversial in the United States, or because the sound era started soon after and the movie was adjusted in terms of frames per second to fit into the sound compatible format). In addition, parts of the original movie were found in Argentina, and parts of the original movie were never recovered.

Metropolis (1927)

The movie was made in Germany, as probably one of the earliest great science fiction movies, made by Austrian-German director Fritz Lang and one of the most expensive movies of that era, costing around 7 million Reichsmarks at that time (approx $200 million as of now). The movie was written by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou (in a twist, the movie was praised by the Nazis, and Thea soon became an ardent Nazis; she and Lang finally divorced in 1934).
The society of 2026 was divided into 2 rigid groups with the planners living in luxury, and the workers toiling underground in pretty bad conditions. The skyline has plenty of Gothic style skyscrapers (probably inspiring the Tyrell towers in the classy Bladerunner made much later). The city is run by Johann 'Joh' Fredersen (Alfred Abel), who looks for ways to ensure that the workers remain in their conditions. However, there is a charismatic and beautiful lady, Maria (Brigitte Helm), who advises the workers against trying for a revolt, and instead wait for the arrival of a figure known as the 'Mediator'. It is the Mediator who will bring together these 2 separate sections of society and improve the conditions of the workers. She has an admirer, Frederson's own son, Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), who is disgusted at the conditions in which the workers toil and live, and joins Maria's cause.
And then starts the true future. The scientist and old rival of Fredersen, Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), builds a robot in the shape of Maria. He uses this robot to first preach discord in the young rich men of Metropolis and then descends to the underground sections where the robot inspires rebellion in the workers. In this rebellion, they destroy the important 'Heart Machine' and then realize that the destruction in turn causes the flooding of their own quarters. They chase Maria, and burn her, and then realize that she is a robot. The real Maria is chased by Rotwang, and followed by Freder, and in the climatic end, Rotwang falls to his death; and Freder carries out his destiny of being the Mediator by uniting Frederson with the workers.

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

The movie was made after Samuel Goldwyn's wife Frances read a Time article (7 August 1944) about how military servicemen were having a hard time settling back into civilian life after their military life, and after the hard experiences of the Second World War. The movie was based on a story written by a former war correspondent, MacKinlay Kantor (being published as a book named 'Glory for Me'); this was then converted into a screenplay by Robert Sherwood; the movie was directed by William Wyler.
The cast included Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo and Hoagy Carmichael, and Harold Russell (a disabled US Army instructor). Harold had lost both his hands in a training accident. The movie got a lot of praise from critics, with its portrayal of the human emotions of people struggling to settle back into their lives and adjust to the new conditions. It tries to depict the pain, the problems, and the sheer struggle of trying to adjust to a normal life where you have to get a job, deal with family and beloved after many years; none of this is simple. This can be seen even now, when there are numerous stories of veterans from the the First Gulf war, and from the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan having to struggle to fit back into normal life.

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

The movie takes these 3 former soldiers - Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), Homer Parrish (Harold Russell), and Al Stephenson (Frederic March); they meet while coming back in a bomber and become friends. Fred was in the Air Force, Homer was in the Navy and had lost both his arms in a sinking, and Al was in the Army. Now back, they have to get back right back to where they started, with varying living conditions. Al fits back into the bank and becomes a Vice President since the bank looks upto Al to service the loan needs of returning servicemen. Homer was a football quarterback, with a girlfriend. However, now that he is disabled, his pride does not let him return to his girlfriend Wilma since he does not want to burden her with a crippled husband (even though she seems to have adjusted). Fred used to work as a drugstore soda operator, and coming back to this job does not excite his wife Marie (who he had met when in training and who is dismayed that her husband will work as a soda fountain jerk). They move apart, and Al's daughter Peggy falls for Fred. Al does not really appreciate this, and this causes the friendship between Fred and Al to falter.
Eventually, things start to settle. Homer marries Wilma, and Fred and Marie have a divorce after Fred catches Marie with another man (and Fred can now get married to Peggy).
Academy Awards

The film received seven Academy Awards. Harold Russell was ex-military and not a professional actor and considered unlikely to win an Oscar; hence he was given an honorary award "for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance". However, he was named Best Supporting Actor to a tumultuous reception, making him the only actor to receive two Academy Awards for the same performance.

* Won: Best Picture - Samuel Goldwyn Productions (Samuel Goldwyn, producer)
* Won: Best Leading Actor - Fredric March
* Won: Best Supporting Actor - Harold Russell
* Won: Best Director - William Wyler
* Won: Best Editing - Daniel Mandell
* Won: Best Original Music Score - Hugo Friedhofer
* Won: Best Adapted Screenplay - Robert E. Sherwood
* Won: Academy Honorary Award - Harold Russell
* Nomination: Best Sound Mixing - Gordon Sawyer

It's a Wonderful Life (1947)

'It's a wonderful life' is a movie that is a staple of Christmas runs, and regarded as a classic. Produced and directed by Frank Capra, it was released in 1947, and was initially regarded as a failure since it did not make the amount of money that was expected from a movie by Frank Capra. This led movie bosses to assume that the magic of Frank Capra's story-telling was over, and he was no longer capable of spinning the crowd puller magic.
The movie was also nominated for 5 Oscars, but did not win any (further reducing its chances of being hailed as a success). It was only repeated telecasts in the 1970's and 1980's that led to it being a favorite, especially for the holiday season. The movie is now seen as one of the greatest American movies made, and normally forms part of the top 100 lists of movies. The movie has also a role to play in copyright drama, with the movie having gone out of copyright protection in 1974 due to a clerical error; but was deemed to be still protected as the story of the film was deemed protected due to it being based on the published story "The Greatest Gift," and the copyright of this work was properly renewed by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1971. So television studios were still required to pay royalty.

It's a Wonderful Life (1947)

The various Oscars for which the movie was nominated were:
* Best Actor for James Stewart
* Best Editing for William Hornbeck
* Best Director for Frank Capra
* Best Sound Recording for John Aalberg
* Best Picture for Frank Capra

An incredible number of television viewers must have seen the movie, given the number of times the movie has been shown on television (although the newer enforcing of copyright by Paramount has reduced the number of television reruns); the movie takes the life of James Stewart (George Bailey), a resident of Bedford Falls. He feels that he is a failure, and is about to commit suicide when his guardian angel Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers) is sent to rescue him. Clarence takes him through his life, where James has done many good deeds; he saved the life of his brother Harry, he saved another young boy from poisoning, he sacrificed his ambition to meed the needs of his family, he worked to provide needed home loans and protection to weaker members of his community, and shows him what would have happened had he not been there. And you can see the difference that James made with his actions and deeds. Seeing all this is enough to convince James that he has made a positive contribution to his life. When he gets back home, he realizes that his good life and reputation has solved things for him.

How green was my valley (1941)

'How Green Was My Valley' was a movie directed by John Ford and released in 1941. The movie was based on a novel of the same name (written by Richard Llewellyn), and was written by Philip Dunne (the movie was produced by Darryl F. Zanuck). The movie is a moving portrayal of the disintegration of a close knit family when faced with the pressures of a changing socio-economic way of life, the changes these bring upon both the family unit and on the youngest boy of the family, all the while as he is maturing into adulthood. The movie was released in the same year that Citizen Kane was released, and 'How Green Was my Valley' managed to get a number of the higher profile Academy Awards. The movie was set in the location of South Wales coalfield at the heart of the South Wales Valleys, but due to the Second World War ongoing at the time, the movie had to be shot in the United States rather than in Wales as the Director had desired.

How green was my valley (1941)

The movie starred Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O'Hara, Anna Lee, Donald Crisp, and Roddy McDowall in the main roles. The movie takes the story of the Morgans, a family of miners in the late nineteenth century; they are based in the South Wales coalfield. The movie is told from the perspective of the youngest of the clan, Huw Morgan, when he is reminiscing about the story of his life (he is now 60 years old, the movie is is a flashback). Tension the family begins to increase dramatically when his father refuses to join the miners strike, and his elder brothers disagree; in this rift, 3 of his elder brothers move out of the house.
The family has to ensure hardship, alongside, their entire town and the culture of the whole place is now in slow decline; the movie is also a depiction of how earlier movies would take the impact of technology on human life, especially as modern technology replaces human labor. The movie also focuses on the struggle of human life, and the never give up spirit of humans even in the face of struggles and adversity (especially in how the movie shows the strength of a family).

The movie was nominated for 10 Oscars, and managed to win 5 Oscars out of them:

Academy Award wins

* Best Picture - Darryl F. Zanuck.
* Best Director - John Ford
* Best Supporting Actor - Donald Crisp
* Best Black-and-White Cinematography - Arthur C. Miller
* Best Black-and-White Art Direction-Interior Decoration - Richard Day, Nathan H. Juran and Thomas Little

Academy Award nominations

* Best Adapted Screenplay - Philip Dunne
* Best Supporting Actress - Sara Allgood
* Best Film Editing - James B. Clark
* Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture - Alfred Newman
* Best Recording Sound - Edmund H. Hansen