Tag Archives: Film

#1 Alfred Hitchcock – Dial M For Murder

I just wrote about Secret Window where the leading character completely breaks down when he finds out that his wife is cheating on him. On the contrary, Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) is a calculated man. Wendice decides to take it slow. He takes his time, gathering evidence against his wife Margot (Grace Kelly) and her lover, an American writer, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). Very carefully he chooses the person best fit for the job and everything is absolutely well planned. But there is no such thing as a perfect murder. When things go wrong, he improvises an excellent plan B.


The film was shot in 3D. Yes. It was shot in 3D and it had a limited release in 3D. However Hitchcock wasn’t impressed with the look and ultimately it was released in flat. (2D)

It appears as if this was the most obvious Hitchcock cameo. Or at least one of it.


To be very frank, what separates the film from any other film by the master of suspense is that the film is more talky than any other. There is no mystery in terms of what is happening. We know who the murderer is. And yet there is more to discover. Yet there is a mystery. That may be the reason why it is ranked 9th on the American Film Institute’s list of the 10 greatest Mystery films in June 2008.

This fact brings me to the point of view character in the film. A point of view character may not be the protagonist of the film. Remember Citizen Kane? The reporter is the main point of view character discovering the story of Charles Foster Kane through many other sources. But he is not the protagonist. In Dial M For Murder, we stick with the protagonist right from the second scene in the film. And stay with him right till the end. There is just one scene where we know more than the character and that is the time when the mystery is revealed.

The film is adapted from a play. And there is not much that changed in terms of the treatment. Most of the film takes place at one place. That too in one room. It was pretty evident that even the outdoor shots were shot using a chroma. Maybe that is why the film could be finished in 36 days.

I feel the fact that the film takes place at just one location is the best part of the film. At no point, I felt bored of looking at the same frames again and again. And of course the performance by Ray Milland is exceptional. It is one of those films where you genuinely feel the bad guy should get away with all the money with an evil grin on his face. All thanks to this wonderful actor!

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#1 Master of Mystery – Secret Window

Just as the titles start rolling, we enter the life of writer Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) quite secretly through a window in his secluded house across a lake. Going through a rough divorce after he caught his wife cheating on him, Rainey’s daily life is nothing but moments of ennui. Apart from the view of a lake and what used to be a nice garden, there is nothing more left in the rusty life of the bestselling author.

But of course, life becomes much more interesting when John Shooter (John Turturro) knocks on his door accusing Rainey of “stealing his story”. Rainey takes a firm stand on his story being his original work and was published two years before Shooter wrote the story. Shooter accepts the possibility and asks for a copy of the magazine. He even agrees never to bother Rainey again if this is ture. But if Rainey fails to present any such proof, he has to publish the story with a different end the Shooter suggests and give him his due credit for it.

Things look fair and square in the start. But they never are. There are perks in this deal and all of them are paid in blood. By the time Rainey learns the truth behind Shooter and his story, his life is flipped inside out. And also the lives of the ones who got involved.

Trailer here.


Spoilers Ahead

There are very few films adapted from the work of Stephen King that I am not fond of. You sink deeper and deeper in the mystery as the story unfolds and by the time you reach the end you are a character in the film. You are not a third person but you are in the film. The climax in particular of such films is of utmost important. As Rainey says correctly, “The only thing that matters, is the ending. The most important part of the story is the ending. And THIS one, is perfect.”

At times I thought some things were too obvious. The mystery behind the story of John Shooter has its hints everywhere in the film. Some prefer to uncover things as the movie proceeds. Some believe it is better if it strikes you right in the end and makes you wonder, where did it come from? I belong to the second category. In such cases I like to watch the movie again and find out the subtle hidden details that signaled that something weird is coming. In this one, I could unravel the mystery in the second scene with Shooter itself with the mention of Cigarettes. Which brings me to an interesting note on editing. Show something for too long and people know what you are aiming at, keep something too short and people forget that it ever happened. A way to get away with this one is to emphasize your important lines, some shots from some other perspective right in the end as your point of view character uncovers the truth.

There has to be a special mention to the DoP of the film, Fred Murphy. The film never goes into a low key look. Yet it manages to scare you shitless in broad daylight. There are simple shots which convey the depths of the story very eloquently visually.

Johnny Depp is so freakishly convincing that I was pretty much on his side from start to end. I think that is the absolute purpose of a movie of such gravity. Overall, the movie has not received a warm response from everyone. Knowing that it is a Stephen King novel based film, there is a big shadow of expectations that follows. I haven’t read the book. But the adaptation, as a separate entity has given me a lot to learn and a lot to enjoy.

#5 Philomena

“The natural state of motherhood is unselfishness. When you become a mother you are no longer the centre of your own universe. You relinquish that position to your children.”

~ Jessica Lange

The film is based on the life of Philomena Lee. She was forced to give up her child for adoption as a teenager as it was considered as a sin to have a child out of wedlock. The real story and her interview is available over here. (And on many other pages)

Watch the trailer here.

I consider myself pretty close to my mother. And she considers me as her friend. So as a friend of her I can understand that how she has orbited her life around me and my younger brother. Same goes with any good mother for that matter. Although Philomena is an accidental mother, she is a mother nevertheless. And that itself makes the story so intense.

When we dig deeper, although the way the nuns behaved initially by taking away Philomena’s child from her was cruelly portrayed but maybe that was the right decision for the child. The child grew up to be someone important which may not have been possible had he been with Philomena. Maybe the end result for him, as a person was better than alright. But the mother lost her child and the child lost his right to have a mother. That’s what the story is all about.

One of the most interesting points over here is the writer Steve Coogan plays the point of view character in the film. In a way making a comment on the true incident. I always prefer involving my lead actors in the story. I like it if they provide their inputs. Even if I don’t incorporate them, I know what is more convincing to the actors. Once the actor is fully convinced with each line, with each reaction we have a smooth journey ahead. In this case, we know the reason behind such a great performance.


Some trivia (because the story behind the film is always equally interesting.)

The movie incorporates some home video while tracing Philomena’s son. Some of the shots are from actual footage of her real son.


 

Frankly speaking there are very few “English” (movies of England) movies that I don’t like. I am a fan of Richard Curtis and his gift of turning simple stories into cinematic brilliance. We need not say anything about Sir Alfred Hitchcock and Christopher Nolan. Colin Firth, Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ian McKellen and of course Dame Judi Dench; British talent knows no bounds. I think it is the overall approach to film making that makes the difference. When I am watching an English film, I know I will not be disappointed in the end because of a predictable plot.

The film was nominated for 4 Academy Awards including Best Film, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Original Score. The film won none of them. The writers Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope received their due recognition for their work at British Academy Film Awards.

#2 Christopher Nolan – The Prestige

Obsession is the single most wasteful human activity, because with an obsession you keep coming back and back and back to the same question and never get an answer.

~ Norman Mailer
Although not the original poster, it captures the essence of the film perfectly.
The movie is ranked 52nd in the IMDb top 250 list.
This is how I was introduced to Christopher Nolan. The Dark Knight –> Inception –> Memento –> Batman Begins –> The Prestige –> Insomnia –> The Dark Knight Rises and I am yet to watch “Following”
The film is an adaptation of Christopher Priest‘s 1995 World Fantasy Award-winning novel of the same name. For a film based on two (?) young magicians, it accommodates more than enough mystery. Right from the cold start of the film there are attempts made to distract you, mislead you and eventually surprise you. Just like a magic trick.
In our worlds we had Tesla and Edison. (Read more about Tesla.) Both men in their own ways managed to “shock” the world. The rivalry of Robert Angier and Alfred Borden does not fail to make us think whether the characters are based on the lives of these two inventors. Of course the plot is completely different but the fight of ideologies is somewhat more than similar.
It is all about obsession. We are often taught that we need to devote our lives to a purpose. But sometimes, a purpose so strong can simply take over the soul of living. One must find the right balance. And here lies the dilemma. Give it too little and it slips away from you. Give it too much and it makes you its servant. There is nothing wrong in either of the ideologies actually. It is all a matter of perspective.
I have written about this earlier that how the bad guys of the film can make you hoot for them. All the characters in the film have something that one can hate them for. Honestly speaking when I started watching the movie I was on Robert Angier’s side. Maybe towards the middle I was forced to switch sides. That is the power of grey characters. The white knights are boring. Grey characters don’t have to be morally right every time. Because right and wrong is the matter of perspective.
The secret impresses no one. The trick you use it for is everything. Isn’t this the bottom line of every art form? Let’s talk of film making. We see the end result in theaters. No matter what, every film is at least a little different from what the makers thought it would be. There are so many factors involved in film making that even the flutter of a butterfly can cause a tornado. When we see a film we see the result of many decisions taken at the end moment. Many mistakes turned out as blessings on the edit table. And the secret behind it simply kills the magic. That’s why you don’t really want to work it out. You want to be fooled.

#5 Robert Zemeckis – Cast Away

“I’m not sure this is a world I belong in anymore. I’m not sure that I want to wake up.”

~ Gayle Forman, If I Stay

 

I’ve always wanted to write about this one. A major reason being that I admire being alone on an island, literally and figuratively as well. I am the one who enjoys company of a few. I find it difficult to share my private space with others. To be very frank, just like the protagonist in the film, Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) I am a workaholic, self indulgent man of many follies. I confess. Rather than explaining more about the plot of the film, I would like to make this blog post about what I take back from the film. And of course some interesting trivia!

1. Life really finds a way of surprising you: We wish that we had known all the twists and turns life has to offer. But would it be as exciting as it is? We lose things we hold so close and sometimes we are receive the rewards we never asked for. Whatever it may be, life is the only thing we have.

2. If you truly want to know a man, push him to his limits and push him some more: We do not know our capabilities. It is wrong to presume our limits based on others experiences. All of us are unique and in that all of us are the same. Same goes with one’s personality. It is easy to be good when in abundance. It is simple to follow a moral code when one lies in the cocoon of law and order.

3. All of us are a little myopic: If some things are too nearby, if they are easily available; we hardly value their presence. The smallest of conveniences bring the greatest of joys. Now these things maybe anything, even a person.

4. There are no misfortunes; there are only opportunities: Every opportunity cloaks itself as a misfortune. She has to do that in order to preserve herself from the undeserving ones. Only the few willing to take a step towards uncovering what lies beneath may find the treasure.

5. Hope is a really good thing, maybe the best of the things. And no good thing ever dies: This one comes from The Shawshank Redemption.

6. A tinge of tragedy is the reality of living: No good thing ever comes out of a story without obstacles. They have a very important role to play.


 

Did you know?

For the character of Wilson (played by a volleyball) actual lines were written. Like any volleyball, Wilson did not utter them. They were simply for Tom Hank’s reference. We see wonderful performances on screen. The hardwork that it requires comes from a lot of sources that often go uncredited.

Several crew members were abandoned on the same island for some days. Later on they were questioned on what they did with their quality time. Some of the activities were: having trouble lighting a fire, opening a coconut, talking to a volleyball, collecting packages washed up on the beach, and catching fish. All of which are essential scenes in the film.

The name Chuck Noland is kind of a pun. If you write it this way C Noland it sounds like “see no land”

When the director of the film was asked about the mysterious package that Chuck finds on the island and refuses to open; he said that there was a waterproof, solar-powered satellite phone. I think this has to be a joke. But I’d love to think what if Chuck had decided to open it while on the island.

Apart from that, I just stumbled upon this wonderful article by Drake Bennett which uses some references from the film to explain a very interesting fact.

#3 Frank Darabont – The Mist

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” – H.P. Lovecraft

If you ask me, this the not the director’s well-known comfort zone. But boy I was hooked to my TV screen as I was experiencing this horror. I am a firm believer that one must only watch such films in theaters. So I am hoping that some or the other film festival comes to the town with this movie on the schedule. I wouldn’t dare to miss it.

So just like the director coming out of his niche, let me do the same. Let’s make this post completely out of trivia. Anyway I would not want to spoil the film for you. Just one spoiler – there are actually some disturbing creatures in the film.


1. In the film’s opening scene, the picture David is painting is of Roland the Gunslinger from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series.

2. The books in the grocery store’s book rack are all Stephen King novels.

3. It was shot in mere 37 days

4. William Sadler played David Drayton in an audio version of the story.

5. Frank Darabont had originally been offered $30 million by a producer to make this film, but with one crippling caveat: Darabont would have to change his planned ending, a conclusion he’d personally envisioned and nursed for twenty years. In the end, he turned to producer Bob Weinstein and made the movie for half the amount, but only after forfeiting his directorial salary.

6. Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn, and Melissa McBride went on to appear in the Frank Darabont The Walking Dead (2010), another post-apocalyptic survival adventure.

7. The first film Frank Darabont has made that is set in “the present,” barring the “framing story” in The Green Mile (1999).

8. Director Frank Darabont wanted to cast Stephen King in a supporting role, but King turned his offer down. The role eventually went to Brian Libby.

9. Darabont had been interested in adapting The Mist for the big screen since the 1980s.

10. Director Darabont chose to film The Mist after filming the “straighter dramas” The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile because he “wanted to make a very direct, muscular kind of film.”


After watching the film I cannot fail to admire the title of the film and also the byline – Fear changes everything.

#2 Frank Darabont – The Green Mile

We each owe a death – there are no exceptions – but, oh God, sometimes the Green Mile seems so long. – Paul Edgecomb

The film is ranked 43rd in the IMDb top 250 list.

You can simply admire the similarities between The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption or you appreciate how contrasting the two films are. The choice is really yours. But these first two films sure did create a niche for writer-director Frank Darabont.

Just like The Shawshank Redemption, the film is an adaptation of a story by Stephen King. This time King was eager to work with Frank Darabont. So was Tom Hanks. Shawshank did open new possibilities for him. Yet again a prison based story with characters even more interesting than his previous film. Especially the sub plots. Every character, no matter how little screen time it has is exceptional. Frank gives full credit to the actors.

Speaking of performances, the film brought Michael Clarke Duncan in front of the world as a compelling actor. The journey for the big man wasn’t so easy. He worked as a bodyguard for celebrities like Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx, LL Cool J, and The Notorious B.I.G. Bruce Willis, after Armageddon suggested his name for the role. Michael had to train under acting coach Larry Moss. He was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.


 

In actuality, Michael Clarke Duncan is of a similar height as his co-star David Morse and is a couple of inches shorter than James Cromwell. Among other things, creative camera angles were used to create the illusion that Duncan as John Coffey towered over the prison staff, even Brutal Howell and Warden Moores.


 

The film explores all the subplots so well that even the three hour long film seems fast and interesting. There are limited characters but every character has an important role to play.

There is no clear antagonist in the film. Every character is peculiar. We don’t know what are the crimes committed by Eduard Delacroix or Arlen Bitterbuck. It is just that some of them are sorry for what they are.


Doug Hutchison (Percy) was given, according to the director, the squeakiest shoes he’d ever heard. He thought this was the greatest bit of fate, and a “perfectly wonderful, annoying character trait” that he kept it in the movie, and you can hear sometimes how loud his shoes are.


 

The execution of Eduard Delacroix in the film is described in a even more brutal way in the original work. I think it is the strongest scene in the film. The director describes it as ‘a necessary compromise to suit the audience’. If this was the compromise, the original work if I ever be brave enough to read it is going to haunt me for the rest of my life.

The film was nominated for 4 Academy Awards and received none. The accolades were in a different league altogether.

Roger Ebert gave the film 3 and a half stars out of four, writing “The film is a shade over three hours long. I appreciated the extra time, which allows us to feel the passage of prison months and years.” Forbes commentator Dawn Mendez referred to the character of John Coffey as a “‘magic Negro‘ figure.” Stephen King considers the film as the most faithful adaptation of his work. The worth of these achievements is greener anything else.

 

#1 Frank Darabont – The Shawshank Redemption

“It is mine to screw up now” – Quentin Tarantino

I think I can build a post out of some beautiful lines from the film itself. And I think I should. It would be a crime if I don’t.

Andy Dufresne: If they ever try to trace any of those accounts, they’re gonna end up chasing a figment of my imagination.

Red: Well, I’ll be damned. Did I say you were good? Shit, you’re a Rembrandt!

Andy Dufresne: Yeah. The funny thing is – on the outside, I was an honest man, straight as an arrow. I had to come to prison to be a crook.


To begin with, this is Frank Darabont‘s first film. The film is an adaptation of a Stephen King story named Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. The film is written and directed by Frank himself. I feel these details are important to mention because I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be for a new director to get the rights of a renowned author.

Stephen King sold the film rights for his novella, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, for $5,000. He never cashed the check. Years after Shawshank came out, the author got the check framed and mailed it back to the director Frank Darabont with a note inscribed: “In case you ever need bail money. Love, Steve.”

It took Frank Darabont 5 years to complete the script. And the journey was not a smooth one at all. Just like the film itself, that’s all it takes, pressure and time.

Every man has his breaking point: The film, if you look at it closely, is full of narration. A person from the school of thought that preaches cinema being a visual medium would regard this film as a disgrace to the medium. And as we look it it right now, nearly 20 years from its release we can say that Morgan Freeman‘s narration is the factor that drives the film forward. It helps us connect with the characters to a deeper level. As my cinema teacher once said, in cinema, there are no absolutes. There is no right and wrong. It is all relative. The maker had his breaking point. He was skeptical about keeping the narration throughout. He had doubts if the audience would appreciate it or not. He explains in an interview that Martin Scorsese came to his rescue. Not in person but through cinema. Frank watched Goodfellas and realised that the film is all narration. If he could then it shouldn’t be all wrong.

I was in the path of the tornado: (well almost) The location where the film was shot “had a date with the wrecking ball,” as the director himself explains. He believes that there is no other place in the world where the film was possible otherwise.

Get busy living or get busy dying: A friend of mine said that the film is all about boredom. I respectfully (?) disagree. The film is not about boredom. Look from any character’s point of view. Although the treatment seems to suck every ounce of happiness out of your body, the film in all sense is about hope. How can anyone misinterpret the basic message of the film that Hope is a good thing. And no good thing ever dies.

Kevin Costner, Tom Hanks and Brad Pitt were all offered the role but turned it down due to scheduling conflicts with Waterworld, Forrest Gump and Interview with the vampire respectively. Kevin Costner would later regret that decision.


 

Honorary mentions to some of the smart lines in the film:

Morgan Freeman calls Tim Robbins‘ plan of having a hotel in Mexico “shitty pipe dreams.” Well he means it literally without realizing it. Foreshadowing!

The salvation lay within.  At least the tools of salvation did.

“I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free” – Red (Morgan Freeman) The music player scene was added by the director and it does not exist in the original story by King.


The film did not get a warm reception worldwide on its release. The feeling of being in a prison for the entire movie may not attract a lot of positive vibes. And it is not an action movie, not in the slightest possible way. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards in 1994. It didn’t win even a single one. But it brought it again in the spotlight. The film’s initial gross of $18 million didn’t even cover the cost of its production. It did another $10 million in the wake of its Oscar nominations but the film was still deemed to be a box office flop.

Yet, Warner Bros. shipped 320,000 rental video copies throughout the United States, and it became one of the top rented films of 1995 and currently it holds the 1st position in the IMDB top 250 list. Some redemption at last!

#3 Within 40 Hours (2012)

This was the first documentary I was involved in. And it was based on the students of Kamla High School in Mumbai.

1. Pre-production: It is important to invest a good amount of time in pre-production. But that does not mean we can spend 90% of the time on deciding what to do. In our case, the school that we worked for was supportive by all means. We could shoot wherever we want, we could go in a class in the middle of a lecture and interact with the students very easily. So we were sure at least there are no hindrances from the organisation. We could focus on the creative aspects. We chose the right organisation.

2. Best time to shoot: In photography it is known as the Golden Hour. Luckily enough for us, to match the timings of our college and the school, we had to shoot either early in the morning or just before sunset anyway. And in the month of February, the climate was just beautiful for a shoot. I’ve taken some of the prettiest shots out of sheer co-incidence just because the time was right.

3. Some people are camera conscious: Some kids are natural in front of a camera. Some are not. And that applies not only to kids but to everyone. As this was a documentary we could get away with the hesitation as it acted as a character trait to the person. Also, the subject was psychology so we actually used this to convey our point more convincingly.

4. You don’t need to get it right in the first take: We were interviewing ourselves. We were making a presentation where we were telling the audience about our experiences and what we learnt during these 40 hours of work we did at the NGO. So we had the liberty to note down the points so that two people don’t repeat the same ones. And we did so. That worked so well while editing the film. But on the other hand, it made everyone very conscious while they were talking. The best way to deal with this was to cut the shot a line before they fumbled and then ask them to start again just before the line they said incorrectly. I added a movement in the middle so that I could get a cutting point. And it did not appear as a mistake while everyone watched it.

5. The above only works when the subject is ready to coordinate: As we interviewed the professors, we were running short on time. We had to do it in one go. So we had to settle for a simple cross fade to cover up.

6. Double tap: We were using Lapel Mics for recording the interviews. It is important to check that there is no necklace or any element for that matter which is constantly banging on the condenser.

7. Shoot a lot of inserts/ cut-aways.

8. Cinemascope (2.35:1 ratio) adds a really professional look to your film.

9. Music can make or break your film

10. The film was awarded as the best project and it marked the end of our first year in BMM. It left me on a high and inspired my next Documentary, Pardes. More about it soon!

#1 Billy Wilder – Fedora (1978)

Glorify who you are today, do not condemn who you were yesterday.

 

I saw my very first Billy Wilder film today and I can’t wait to watch more of his work. In his career spanning five decades as a film maker, he has accomplished to make sixty film, many of them still considered as classics. I feel dreadful to say that I haven’t been fortunate enough to watch more of his films. I look forward to it.

 

(Spoilers ahead)

 

First things first, I feel the poster gives away the story completely. If you can join the dots, it should not be difficult for you to determine the great secret behind Fedora. As for myself, I knew it all along. I’ve known this story for a long time and it makes me wonder what kept me from watching it so long. And yet, I was hooked. I think there are very few films who possess you so deeply that even if you know what is there to unfold you just wait to appreciate how it unfolds.

 

And this is what the film is all about, unfolding a story. Fedora, to those who don’t know it yet is this. Essentially a hat which leaves a shadow on your face when you walk in the Sun; covering most of it. The brilliance of the story begins with the title. The title tells us the story in a word. And that’s it.

 

We have so many films which end with every character in the film getting what he/she wanted. A crescendo, a happy ending. Surprisingly enough, though this is not the only film that has done this but it must be among the very first to end a film with none of the characters getting what they wished for. I feel it is just another suggestion towards the real world of celebrities which is different from their profile they project in public. It is about the tragedy of those who seem to have it all, but in reality are more hurt, more lonely than anyone else.

 

If we speak about the pattern, we have seen this same one in Citizen Kane. Charles Foster Kane dies right in the start and we explore his story through some unreliable sources with prejudices and biases. Although this structure is much simpler. It consists of two distinct flash backs according to me. One right after our point of view character,  Barry “Dutch” Detweiler played by William Holden stares at the mortal remains of the Legend, Fedora. And the other after the secret is just revealed in the second half.

 

We know all along that the film is not going to end on a high. We have no moments in the film when we can rejoice for long. Just the haunting past which keeps pricking us right where it hurts and reminds us of the unfortunate future of everyone. And that’s what makes the film so special for me.