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Monday, August 31, 2009

Fugitive: A tight story of being one step ahead of the law

A fast paced action movie, with a fair amount of drama, a wrong court decision, and the need to get revenge (and clear his name) were some of the parts that made The Fugitive a very famous and commercially successful movie. The movie was nominated for a clutch of Oscars, and also earned more than $500 million worldwide. It helped that it starred 2 famous actors in the person of Harrison Ford (very famous for Star Wars and Indiana Jones), and Tommy Lee Jones. The movie also got good reviews from critics, making it really successful (it is not always seen for a movie to be both commercially successful and earn praise from critics).
The movie was released in 1993, and was based on a television series that aired on ABC between 1963 and 1967. The series ran for 4 years (interestingly, the first 3 seasons were in black and white, and the fourth season was in color). The movie has the same premise, where a doctor is charged for the murder of his wife, and escapes in order to prove his innocence.

The movie has principally 2 characters - Harrison Ford as Dr. Richard Kimble, and Tommy Lee Jones as Deputy United States Marshal Samuel Gerard. Dr. Kimble has been charged for the murder of his wife, based on the fact that his wife made a call to 911 which apparently led to Dr. Kimble being blamed for the murder. In addition, there was no evidence to back the claim of Dr. Kimble that a man with an artificial hand was responsible for the murder (there were no signs of somebody breaking into the house, there were no other fingerprints on the gun). Dr. Kimble was charged for murder, and convicted by a jury, sentenced to die.
However, on the way to prison in a bus (along with other convicts), there is a disturbance inside the bus that causes the bus to fall onto the path of an oncoming train. In the disturbance. Dr. Kimble manages to run away and is now being pursued by the United States Marshal service, led by officer Samuel Gerard. Kimble manages to change out of his prison uniform, shave, and alter his appearance, but Gerard is soon on the chase, and manages to corner him inside a storm drain inside a dam. The only option for Kimble to survive is by jumping into the flow of water falling from the dam, and he does so in a fairly spectacular shot.
Now, Kimble is on a mission to find people who have received a prosthetic arm, while striving to be hidden from the police who is chasing him. In the middle of this, while hidden in a hospital, he even saves a boy by altering the diagnosis and sending him to emergency surgery. Kimble even heads to the jail to try to find the one-armed man, but is not able to find him. He eventually gets into the home of a former police office called Frederick Sykes (Katsulas). Sykes was there in Kimble's list since he had received a prosthetic arm. It is in Sykes's home that Kimble finds evidence of what could have caused the attacks at Kimble's home, as well as the involvement of somebody close to Kimble. Can Kimble save himself from the police, and expose the involvement of others ?

The Fugitive was nominated for 7 Oscars:
Won: Best Supporting Actor - Tommy Lee Jones
Best Picture (lost to Schindler's List)
Best Cinematography (lost to Schindler's List)
Best Sound Effects Editing (lost to Jurassic Park)
Best Film Editing (lost to Schindler's List)
Best Original Music Score (lost to Schindler's List)
Best Sound (lost to Jurassic Park)

The Fugitive (1993) Oscar award winning movie starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones

Friday, August 21, 2009

Maverick (1994) - a Western comedy starring Mel Gibson

The movie is based on a Television Series that ran between 1957 and 1962, starring James Garner in the lead role (and the 1994 film was not the first movie made on this TV series, just the latest). What does Maverick actually mean ? Maverick was termed after Samuel A. Maverick (1803–70), a Texas pioneer who left his calves unbranded (as opposed to most people who put a brand on their livestock). Maverick is also a term used for somebody who takes a stand very different from colleagues, and in the case of the movie, maverick is meant to depict a person who behaves most unpredictably.
The movie was meant to be a good combination of humour (sometimes dark) along with a fast moving plot with surprises at every corner, and was a decent box office hit. It was never meant to be pitching for the Oscars, and hence must have been surprised when it got nominated for Oscar for Best Costume Design.
The movie is set in the American Wild West, with a certain disregard for the law, and where a man makes his own fortune with a gun and his own instincts. In this case, Bret Maverick (Mel Gibson) is on his way to a major five-card poker competition. Since he is a gambler, winning such a competition is a way to prove that he is the best. He however needs to collect money owed to him, and he needs this amount since there is a $25,000 entry fee for the tournament, and he is $3,000 short.

The movie is not only about the poker competition, but also about the journey that Maverick takes to reach there. He meets 3 co-passengers called Angel (Alfred Molina), a young con-artist calling herself Mrs Annabelle Bransford (Jodie Foster), and Marshal Zane Cooper, a legendary lawman of the west (this role is essayed by James Garner, who played Bret Maverick (played by Mel Gibson in the movie) in the original TV series). Maverick is going to have a running battle with Angel during the movie, as they are also rival gamblers.
They go through a series of adventures, including one in which the driver of the stage-coach dies when the coach is moving at full speed and the coach needs to be controlled, more adventures with Indians, manipulated by Maverick. In between Angel waylays Maverick, attempting to hang him from a tree. However, Maverick eventually escapes and manages to join the game. Eventually, after early rounds, the 4 finalists of the game are Bransford, Angel, Maverick, and Commodore Duvall (James Coburn), who is the organizer of the tournament, and the owner of the boat on which the tournament is being held. Cooper is responsible for security of the tournament.
Eventually, Maverick wins, and in the resultant shoot-out, Angel is killed by Cooper and Maverick. However, the movie has its twists in the end, and Cooper runs away with the money rather than give it to Maverick, and it further turns out that the Commodore was also in league with Cooper. What happens next ? Does Maverick get the money back ? What about Bransford ?

Maverick (released in 1994), starring Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, and James Garner

Sunday, August 2, 2009

300 (Released in 2007) - Historical battle and valour

The ancient world was replete with fights and wars. Armies travelled long distances to fight, and warfare was often with massive casualties. One of the most famous kings of the ancient times was Xerxes The Great (Xerxes 1 of Persia), and he was involved with one of the most famous battles of historic times. This was the Battle of Thermopylae (wikipedia), where a much smaller contingent of Greek troops led by the King Leonidas I of Sparta fought till the end to hold off a much larger contingent (in the millions) of Persian troops led by King Xerxes. This was a battle that is part of modern strategy because of the use of terrain planning to level the odds of superior armed forces. King Leonidas was also fighting a rear-guard battle with his Spartan council to get them to support him over this battle, and he wanted to shame them with his valiant sacrifice to take action. In the end, he was betrayed by a traitor (Ephialtes) from within the Greek citizenry who revealed a small path that allowed the Persians to outflank the small Greek army.

300 Historic Movie with battle between Persia and Greek, released in 2007

The movie is a copy of a graphic comic-book style novel by Frank Miller (with the novel having the same name), and is not a re-telling of the actual battle. It is a heavily dramatized telling of the story, and hence also became controversial. In Iran, the movie was heavily criticized because the movie did not portray the Persian army and its King in a very positive light. The movie was directed by Zack Snyder. The movie was also shot in a novel way, with the characters acting against the background of bluescreens in a Studio (shot in a digital backlot technique). This was seen as very innovative and got a lot of publicity. The score of the movie was also controversial because after release, it started becoming clear that the score seemed to be heavily inspired from other movies, and was eventually acknowledged by Warner Bros. Pictures in an official statement.
The movie is about the conflict between King Leonidas of Sparta and the Persian Emperor Xerxes. Xerxes wants the Greeks to acknowledge their submission to him, something the proud Spartan king refuses to accept. Leonidas now anticipates war, and wants the support of the Council of Sparta and the priesthood (Ephor), but the Ephors do not support him (they have been bought over by the Persians). Without this support, Leonidas sets out with a small force to fight at a superior terrain where we can fight and hold off the numerically many times superior Persians. And hence the battle starts at Thermopylae. where Leonidas refuses riches by Xerxes and promises to make him bleed. The Spartans used their tight formations to defeat the many thrusts by the Persians, but look set for defeat when they are betrayed and a secret path is shown to the Persians.
In Sparta, the Queen is trying to rally support, and eventually manages to get the Council united in battle against the Persians. Eventually, the Spartans are beaten by the sheer force of the Persians, but by this time, the Greeks send in a force that has a much higher number of warriors. With memories of losses against 300 Spartans, the Persian army is low on morale, and eventually lose the final battle, the Battle of Plataea (Wikipedia).

The Day After Tomorrow (2004) - Global Warming scenario accelerated

This was a movie released in 2004, at a time when the Bush Administration was steadfast in claiming that there was no global warming (or rather, that the science proving it was not confirmed), and there were sections of the scientific community and in society that were unhappy over this attitude of the administration. The fact that the admnistration was much closer to the business community which would be affected if measures needed to be taken to fight global warming compounded the response of this section of society. So keep in mind this fact while watching the movie, given that it touts that global warming can cause huge damages to our community, and that the political leadership is too blinkered to be able to take effective measures.
Global warming is a fact, and nations all over the world are talking (mostly talking) about how to address this problem, and are debating who needs to take what steps. It is a game for rich nations to worry about the effect on the economy, a huge debate between rich and poor nations about responsibility and steps to be taken, but it is coming and will keep on affecting us. This movie took the scare due to global warming to a much higher level, and keep in mind that there are almost no scientists who share the vision of a much accelerated change that is shown in the movie.

The Day After Tomorrow (2004) - apocalyptic science-fiction, Vision of Disaster

The movie was hugely successful (earning more than 650 million dollars), and brings to its viewers a vision of the full power of Mother Nature. The movie however did not earn much critical acclaim for its scientific background, and was criticized by a number of scientists working in the Global warming area; the feeling being that the movie, by showcasing a sudden onset of disaster and moving away from the decades based impact of global warming and makes the whole science seem freakish and unconvincing. One area where the movie won a lot of praise was in the area of its special effects, especially the disaster scenes.
The movie starts with scientific research on the ice shelf, Larsen Ice Shelf. Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) is drilling for ice cores in the Antartic for NOAA. Suddenly, the ice shelf separates, and Jack almost dies. Jack travels to a conference on Global Warming in New Delhi where diplomats from all over the world have gathered in order to present his theory, but of course, politicians (including the Vice-President of the United States (resembling Dick Cheney)) refuse to believe him. However, the weather has other ideas. Another scientist (Professor Terry Rapson (Ian Holm) of the Hedland Climate Research Centre in Scotland) looks at Jack's theory and does not dismiss it. When he returns to Scotland, data from 2 water buoys in the North Atlantic show sudden drops in the temperature of the water. Unknown to humanity, the deep chill caused by global warming has begun.
Professor Rapson and Jack talk about Jack's theory, but Jack's theory was over a long period of time, not supposed to happen suddenly. Jack starts to build a computer model based on his theory, and on data, and the model is horrific in terms of what will happen. And the weather systems all over go haywire. Tokyo is hurt by a huge hailstorm, Los Angeles is decimated by tornadoes, planes get caught in the weather turbulence. Eventually, air traffic is stopped. British RAF helicopters are suddenly frozen as they pass through the eye of a superstorm. The human element to the movie is the father-son relationship between Jack and his son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) who have travelled to New York City for a competition, when the weather system turns haywire. Jack heads to New York to get them back to safety.
The predictions of storms, of an ice wave are so strong that it is recommended to evacuate the Northern Unites Stated and move to the South and to Mexico. In the meantime, Sam along with friends have taken refuge in the New York Public Library. Eventually, Jack manages to make it to the Library and get help for everybody over there, after the superstorm has passed.