Tag Archives: films

#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.

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#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.

 

#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!

#3 Always a bridesmaid never a bride

Leonardo DiCaprio has been all over social media for NOT winning an Oscar, probably more that Matthew McConaughey. I am surprised how people think that Leo is the only mainstream actor who has yet to receive an Academy Award. So here we go with a few of my favourites who have not received an Oscar in the Best Actor category.

1. Gary Oldman

Known for his versatility, Gary Oldman is described as “a very strong candidate for the world’s best living actor” by Academy Award winner Colin Firth. Oldman was nominated for his performance in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) and lost to Jean Dujardin for The Artist. And this is his only Oscar nomination in his career. You can check out this list which puts it in detail why Oldman deserves an Oscar.

2. Jim Carrey

Speaking of being nominated, Carrey has never even got that far. After being praised for going beyond his comfort zone for The Truman Show and overshadowing his co-star in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mindit is extremely disappointing not to get noticed by the Academy.

3. Johnny Depp

Depp has been in the limelight for accepting challenging roles and pulling them off with ease. With the kind of performances under his belt, Johnny Depp has been nominated thrice in the Best Actor category, always leading to disappointment. However, an Oscar isn’t the only recognition one seeks is it? Depp, in 2003 and 2009. He has been listed in the 2012 Guinness World Records as the highest paid actor, with $75 million.

4. Sir Ian McKellen

He is Gandalf, he is Magneto but all those powers are not good enough to pull an Academy award towards him. Nevertheless he has received six Laurence Olivier Awards, a Tony Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a BIF Award, two Saturn Awards, four Drama Desk Awards and two Critics’ Choice Awards.

5. Orson Welles

At the age of 23, he shook the world with the radio adaptation of H. G. Wells‘ novel The War of the Worlds. When he was 25, he made the film, which is considered as one of the best films ever made. He wrote it and acted in it. He shared an Oscar for the Best Original Screenplay with Herman J. Mankiewicz. Orson Welles gained national and international fame and recognition in mostly every possible media of that era. In 1970, Welles was given an Academy Honorary Award for “superlative and distinguished service in the making of motion pictures.”Rather than attending the ceremony he exclaimed: “I didn’t go because I feel like a damn fool at those things. I feel foolish, really foolish. … I made piece of film and said that I was in Spain, and thanked them.”

 

An Oscar is probably the most coveted method of acknowledging one’s contribution to Cinema. And in these 86 years we cannot even imagine how many legends have been deprived of it. But the most important part is, regardless of this recognition, they’ve measured success in different terms. Success and failure depends on our choice. There isn’t only one definition of success. It is highly subjective. And this is what I take back from it.

#1 Martin Scorsese – Hugo

“People like to see the lives of artists that are legends. They always go through the dark periods and I think just as humans we like to see that and them coming out of it. I love those kinds of movies.”

~ Kristen Wiig

A mentor, who happens to be a very dear friend of mine describes Martin Scorsese‘s film Hugo as “Martin Scorsese’s love letter to the art of Cinema!” And I don’t think I can find better words to describe the film.

Scorsese has developed the novel by Brian Selznick, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” on celluloid and just as the novel, recreated history! Making it much more palatable and happy.

I do not know how many cinema-goers know who invented cinema. It has been more than a century and the global debate is still unresolved. Let’s go over the short version. The Lumière Brothers were one of the earliest to achieve moving images. Georges Méliès was initially an illusionist, a magician. He discovered the great possibilities in the art of cinema and built his own camera from the leftover parts from his automata. The Lumière Brothers themselves thought that people will not like to watch trains entering a station or an old woman sneezing for a great while and cinema will soon be an old trick. It was Méliès who thought otherwise.

Méliès, by the virtue of his expertise in illusions and his curiosity in films, was able to invent numerous in-camera effects. His films were a subject of awe for many years until his deal with Pathé Frères which led to his decline. Méliès was forced to stop making films because of his financial conditions and had to sell all his films, which were destroyed to reacquire raw materials they were made up from. I feel terrible as I write this – the fact is, the person whose contribution to cinema is so invaluable ended up as a broke toy salesman in Paris.

The Novel was a blend of images and words having 284 pictures between the book’s 533 pages and so is the film. When the film begun, I wondered for the first 5 minutes if the film was a silent film.

The tagline on the poster says, “One of the most legendary directors of our time takes you on an extraordinary adventure”. I love it how beautifully crafted the line is! I wonder if it refers to Scorsese or Méliès. Or both for that instance…

The film is all about fixing a few wrongs, making the wheels turn again and about changing times more than anything else. Every element in the film is a metaphor. Méliès inspired film makers and gave the concept of film making a whole new dimension, unraveling new realms. And that is how the film ends. It ends with hope as Hugo takes his first steps towards illusions.

When we think of Méliès and how tragic a phase of his life was, we, as filmmakers or new comers in any industry for that sorts get a whole new perspective. We compare the minor speedbumps in our journey to those of the greats of that time. Everything seems so different! I feel inspired.

I do not know how many cinema-goers know who invented cinema. Neither do I. It is an evolutionary process, modified, perfected and rectified by many heroes; looking through that small hole, breaking a few rules and doing what would someday go in textbooks. Méliès was one of them. And whatever we are, whatever we know about cinema as an expression, we owe a part of it to Méliès!

Here is one of his films – A Trip to The Moon (Le Voyage dans la lune – 1902)