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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Patton (1970): A movie about the famous General

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

Patton the movie (1970)

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

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

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Big Sleep (1946)

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

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

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

Jezebel (1938)

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

Jezebel (1938) starring Bette David and Henry Fonda

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

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

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Apollo 13: 'A successful failure'

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

Apollo 13 - The Tom Hanks movie

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

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

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

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

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

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

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Some Like It Hot (1959)

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

Some Like It Hot (1959)

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

Fargo (1996)

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

Fargo (1996)

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