Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My Man Godfrey(1936)

A small downside of being a cinephile (I have no idea when did I start calling myself that but I think it will do and I am really not complaining as well) is sometimes feeling that movies do not amuse me as much as they used to. Well, there was also the fact that I wasn't watching as many movies as I do now as well. So, it is always easy to win in a less competitive market. But, back then then it was easy to fall for a movie. Now, I have kind of raised bars for them myself. But, once in a while, a movie comes along and not only jumps over that bar but also clears it by fair margin. 12 Angry Men(1957) did that by sweeping me off my feet, Ian Holm and Sarah Polley did that by telling a very honest story of loss in The Sweet Hereafter(1997) and so did Waltz with Bashir(2006) by telling a story I never imagined can be told as an animation. So, even though it is little rare, it is good to come across a movie which gives you an experience you never had before or forgotten completely about it. My Man Godfrey(1936) did something similar for me. It made me laugh out loud so many times that I started thinking about when was the last time I laughed so much watching the movie for first time. Now, I know that I am talking about a movie that is more than 75 years old, but it is nice to see a movie with fresh and healthy sense of humour. They don't make them anymore like that, do they?

So, In My Man Godfrey(1936), a screwball comedy set during the depths of depression, Godfrey is a 'Forgotten Man' leaving in the city dump who helps Irene Bullocks win high society socialite scavenger hunt. A little while earlier, he not only has insulted her sister - Cornelia -  but also has pushed on the heap of ash, for asking him to do the exact same thing - appear in this scavenger hunt with her. Now, since Godfrey helped her beat her sister, Irene wants to do something to help him as well. He asks for a job and she hires him as a butler for Bullocks Household. Apparently, they have lost one. When Godfrey appears next day, transformed completely in crisp suit, clean shaven face and polished, sophisticated demeanor, reason why they lost previous butler or butlers becomes very evident - it is because every single character in Bullocks households is nuts. There is Irene, who has a childish temperament like riding a horse right into the house and parking it in Library. Her sister Cornelia is bitter and bitchy probably because she has always had her way in life, who doesn't mind breaking windows on her way home. Then there is their father Alexander who is secretly broke and tired of dealing with Cab drivers demanding their horse parked in his library and subpoena for breaking neighbors window glasses. Their mother Angelica pampers herself with luxury like you have ever seen and even has kept a protege, who can do two things well - eat and gorilla impressions. And their is also Molley, maid who is beyond all the craziness happening around her and warns Godfrey about it as well.

(If you still haven't still watched this movie after more than 75 years after its release, you might want to skip this paragraph. But before that, REALLY ?? You Haven't ? Now that I have seen it, I have all the right to say this to you. Go, Watch it First.) When they meet for the first time, it is rather evident that Irene is taking an uncharacteristic interest in Godfrey despite of him being a bum, primarily because she has never seen someone push her sister on pile of ash. But after she sees Godfrey next day in his best apparel and manner, she is swept off the floor by him. However, he takes pride in his proper behaviour and doesn't hesitate to show her the way out, politely off course. As he goes on going his regular duties, you start to suspect if there is more to him than what meets your eye as it is later confirmed when one of the guests for house tea-party recognizes him as Harvard classmate. Off course, none of the Bullocks realize that he is too good to be a butler since they are too busy in their own indulges. It appears that Godfrey is the prodigal son of Bostonian family just like Bullocks but has fallen out of their graces due to certain affiliation to a woman and now is looking for complete start-over. During his time in those city dumps, she has developed certain affection to 'forgotten men' he was with and wishes to somehow make their lives happier. Now with a well to do college friend by his side, might just be the right time for him to make that happen.

What makes this comedy work is characters and dialogues written perfectly to exploit the slapstick nature of it, but most importantly actors doing their job exactly the way they are supposed to. I really don't know any of the actors, so I can only judge them based on their performance in this movie but they all did a wonderful job. William Powell playing a titular character of Godfrey looks like right out of Butler Academy, if there is one. Every single thing about him is reflection of the position he finds himself in throughout the movie. However, real highlight of the movie for me was Carole Lombard as smitten kitten Irene. Perfection is the only word to describe her in it. Let it be her - apparently heart broken, in her own tea-party or elated her, wiping dishes with Godfrey. You might say she was little over the top but in my opinion that is the perfect way to play this character. Otherwise, how do you say something as ridiculous as "Do You Buttle? " with utmost sincerity. Their mother, played by Alice Brady provided quite a few moments that had me in splits. I simply can not imagine someone can say something like "If you are going to be rude to my daughter, you might at least take your hat off" or "He is the first thing she has shown any affection to since her Pomeranian died last summer" but when she did say that, I was literally on the floor, rolling. Believe me, I haven't laughed so hard in a long time. I should also mention Eugene Pallette playing their father, Gail Patrick playing Cornelia and Jean Dixon playing Molly, who do a fine job as well.

If you want to pick them, I can pick few flaws in it as well. There are more of a plot points, but you can say that Godfrey's plan of city dump a little too simplistic or some pretty slick stock market plan which almost literally saves Bullock family to come on to the road, little implausible. Even though I do agree with this, I am ready to discount this given the slapstick nature of film. And besides, I didn't really mind it as I was little busy wiping my eyes off with tears of laughter. So, don't bother too much, give it a go for laugh or two. They say, it makes your life longer !!

Rating(out of 5):

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

10 Best Actors of All Time - Relay Race

This actor's relay ace, originated at My Film Reviews by Nostra has been doing round of the blogosphere for quite some time now. I have already seen it on at least dozen blogs that I follow and now finally due to our very own Nikhat@Being Norma Jeane, I have got an opportunity to add my two bits to it as well. Basic Idea in Nostra's own words is -

"I've created a list of what I think are the best actors. At the end I, just like in a real relay race, hand over the baton to another blogger who will write his own post. The blogger will have to remove one actor (that is an obligation) and add his own choice and describe why he/she did this. At the end the blogger chooses another blogger to do the same. We will end up with a list (not ranked in order) which represents a common agreement of the best actors."

Just look at how far this race has traveled, so far -

The Actors

Humphrey Bogart

Robert De Niro

Marlon Brando

Daniel Day Lewis

Jack Nicholson

Paul Newman

James Stewart

Gary Oldman

Johnny Depp
Who I Replaced ?
Ralph Fiennes
He is been in and out few times already. Sorry Stevee! There is nothing wrong with this dude. He was phenomenal in Schindler's List(1993) and In Bruges(1997).  His Voldemort was one of the very few things I liked about the whole Harry Potter movies and even though I remember these for their actresses, he does quite a good job in The Constant Gardener(2005) and The English Patient(1994) as well. I haven't seen likes of Quiz Show(1994) but as the word goes, he is good in it too. So, not a bad filmography for an actor at all. But I have to remove someone and almost everyone else on this list is a legend. I just can not bring myself to remove anyone else. So, it has to be Ralph Fiennes.

My Addition: Tom Hanks
Growing up, I always considered Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts to be my favorite Actor and Actress mostly because Indian channels used to show their movies a lot. Over the years as I have watched more and more films and got acquainted to more actors, I stopped doing it. I probably will not make a case for Julia Roberts, but even today I think Tom Hanks is still one of the great actors in the Industry as long as you don't judge his career based on Larry Crown(2011) and The Da Vinci Code(2006). Starting with family friendly comedy movies like Big(1988) to much more serious and dramatic roles like Catch Me if You Can(2004) and Cast Away(2002), Tom Hanks has come a long way in his career over more than three decades. From playing a love interest in movies like You've Got Mail(1997) to a war hero in Saving Private Ryan(1997) and bringing life to Woody in Toy Story Franchise, he has taken versatility in his stride. If I was asked to give my take earlier in the series, I would have added Jimmy Stewart - someone I really admire for playing very believable, normal characters - which Ruth did couple of hops back. Naturally, my next choice as well is someone known for playing an ordinary guy extremely well. An Actor and Star in equal major, this two time Oscar Winner for brilliant portrayals of Forrest Gump in Forrest Gump(1994) and Andrew Backett in Philadelphia(1993), is also a great person - both his acceptance speeches bear testimony to that and also is one of the industry's most well known and loved persons. I will also mention his name for producing Band of Brothers(2001) and The Pacific(2010) for doing some of most elaborate and visually stunning work on TV.

And now hoping that Tom Hanks will survive for some rounds in the list, I will say thanks to Nikhat for giving me this opportunity and welcome Lesya@Eternity of Dream back from her blogging hiatus and pass this on to her.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Profile of a Director

Master Story-teller: Billy Wilder

When I first watched Sabrina(1954) couple of years ago, I went for it just because of my undying love for Audrey Hepburn. I had no idea that Humphrey Bogart starred in it or Billy Wilder directed it. Now, over the years, even though I have seen many better movies in the careers of Hepburn, Bogart and Wilder, Sabrina will always hold a special place in my movie-watching experience just because it introduced me to two legends of cinema - Humphrey Bogart and Billy Wilder and Hepburn learning to break an egg is still one of my favorite moments. Born Samuel Wilder to a Jewish family in what is now Poland in 1906, Billy Wilder moved to Paris after the rise of Nazi Party in Germany and then relocated to Hollywood in 1933 despite not knowing any English. Nicknamed Billy apparently for his mother's fascination of Buffalo Bill, same name stuck to him as he used it as first name during his immigration formalities. By this time, his writing career has already started with few German and French movies and some of his movies like Midnight(1939) were well received as well. However, he came to limelight in Hollywood circles with an Oscar nomination for writing Ninotchka in 1939, a film directed by Ernst Lubitsch whom he considered an Idol. Billy Wilder, even though a skilled director with 8 Oscar nominations, second only to William Wyler and winning couple of them as well, was and always will be known for his writing skills, for which he had 12 nominations and won 3 Oscars. Admittedly, he only became a director to protect his scripts which he felt were misinterpreted by his directors.

After Ninotchka, even though he made commercially successful films as a writer like Ball of Fire(1941) and Hold Back The Dawn(1941) and also made his directorial debut in Hollywood in The Major and the Minor(1942), next movie that he made impact with was Double Indemnity(1944). Considered as first true film-noir which set the bar for many more to come also garnered him two more nominations for Direction and Screenplay. Personally, this movie introduced me to one of the original femme fatale - Barbara Stanwyck. He followed it up with The Lost Weekend(1945) which is also considered to be the first film to handle theme of Alcoholism which led to his first Oscar win as a Director and Screenplay which he shared with Charles Brackett, his co-writer since early days of screwball comedies. It also has two more Oscars for Best Picture and Best Actor for Ray Milland in its repertoire. Even though I haven't seen the next movie he made A Foreign Affair(1948), I surely have seen one of his most dark, cynic and acclaimed movies Sunset Blvd(1950) for which he brought silent movie star Gloria Swanson back from retirement to play reclusive silent movie star who hopes to make a comeback into the talkies. For the third time, he got double nomination for direction and screenplay and his second screenplay Oscar. I should also mention WIlliam Holden in one of his many pairings with Wilder and it will be criminal not to mention beautiful and radiant Nancy Olson as well here. Next in line was equally dark and equally brilliant Ace in the Hole(1951). Kirk Douglas steals the show as a vile, cynic journalist trying to make money out of someone else's misery. It really is very unfortunate that it is the only Kirk Douglas movie I have seen but it sure is enough to make a case for him. Billy Wilder's writing prowess is in full display here with few of the most memorable one-liners.

Most of the movies he did in 50's were comedies which started with Sabrina(1954) but not before he gave William Holden his acting Oscar for Stalag 17(1953), playing an unlikable, almost villainous character in the story of American sergeants in German prison camp trying to escape. Most notable thing about Stalag 17 for me was amount of comedic touches he could incorporate without loosing the seriousness of the subject. I have already told you about Sabrina and the reason why it will be close to my heart. He followed it with The Seven Year Itch(1955) with Marilyn Monroe in probably her most memorable role as an actress. In my honest opinion, Marilyn Monroe was a massive star but if she was anywhere close to an actress, it was in her two collaborations with Wilder, second being Some Like It Hot(1959), one of the most famous comedies of all time. After The Seven Year Itch, he also directed second Audrey Hepburn vehicle, Love in the Afternoon(1956) with Gary Cooper playing a playboy. He also directed his only non-comedic movie in the form of adaptation of Agatha Christie story in Witness for the Prosecution(1957). Even though initial comedic nature was a bit of turn off for me, last 15 minutes of it make up for it perfectly. However, what came next is a personal favorite and can also be called a highlight of his career in a sense that it earned him 3 Oscars for Best Direction, Screenplay and Picture - The Apartment(1960). A satirical comedy about a simple clerk letting the executives in his office use his apartment for one-night stands and such, an absolute gem of a movie which can make you as happy as sad. It comes with wonderful performances from everyone but especially Jack Lemmon and even though I always knew Shirley MacLaine to be a great actress, she has never been prettier than this. However, unfortunately everything goes downhill from here. I have only seen a couple of movies he did after this, but consensus is he never found the spark after The Apartment, probably because it glowed the brightest then.

Even though there are two distinct phases in his career, one earlier in his directorial career with dark and serious movies with lot of dramatic tones like Sunset Blvd, Ace in the Hole and another little later with his comedies like Some Like It Hot and The Seven Year Itch, he is one of the very few writers to have done memorable films in multiple genres like Double Indemnity in Film-noir, Drama in The Lost Weekend, War in Stalag 17, Romance in Sabrina and comedy in The Apartment. Being Writer first and foremost, his movies always concentrated more on story and dialogue rather than any other aspects of it. However, he made them memorable with his focus on characters and tight plot lines. Even though he used somewhat conventional approach to direct his movies, he never shied away from making movies based on unconventional themes, topics that were frowned upon like alcoholism or adultery or sexual comedy. He had his way with actors as well, like directing them to 14 Oscar nominations under him or bringing veterans like Gloria Swanson and Erich von Stroheim out of retirement.  He also never hesitated from casting an actor in a role out of their screen persona or comfort zone like Bogart doing a romantic role in Sabrina or Fred McMurry playing sort of immoral character in Double Indemnity and The Apartment. He was also skilled to bring out the best in his actors. Marilyn Monroe, as I have previously stated, is probably the best example of this.

His impressive resume and position as one of the greatest has garnered him whole bunch of awards. He also got AFI Life achievement award in 1986, Irvine G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1988 and National Medal of Honor and star on Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1993. Widely regarded as one of the most influential directors Billy Wilder has inspired a generations of directors after him. During his acceptance speech, Michael Hazanavicius also mentioned him in this year's Oscars. I will end this profile with my favorite 5 films of Billy Wilder.
Previous Profiles:
Christopher Nolan

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Representing Humanity: A Blogathon

Sam Fragoso at Duke & The Movies recently proposed an excellent idea for a Blogathon to take place. Basic idea is very simple to understand yet very difficult to execute. In his own words, what we have to do is: Extraterrestrial to forces land on Earth. Unknowing of our planet and society, you can pick five films from the history of cinema that represent humanity. What titles would you choose and why? I am couple of days late, but hopefully he won't mind it. Here is my take on it.

Since they are our guests and hopefully we will want to impress them, I will try and represent as many humane attributes as possible without crossing over to the dark side. After all, we do not involve our guests in family feuds immediately, do we ?

1. In the Mood for Love(2000) Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Love, Lust, Sex - whatever you want to call it, has ruled over centuries and has played it's part in almost every major event since our existence. I probably should not assume that Aliens will know what Love is, but if they have any emotions, they will not be impervious to the beauty and charm of this Love.

2. Amelie(2001) Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
I have seen this on couple of more lists and call me a copy-cat but I can not argue with a fact that Amelie's desire to go out of her own way to help others is simply one of the best attributes of Humanity that everyone should know about, even though there are not many people like her.

3. Black(2005) Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Because I am a homer like that. Our society, our culture has come a long way since its inception and we would not be where we are right now without the two human qualities that define this film. It may not be the most original film out there, but it is an extraordinary story of Human triumph and Will power to fight against all odds.

4. Sound of Music(1965) Director: Robert Wise
I know that I am not the only one who thinks that Music has been instrumental inspiring us, in defining us. There might be a difference of opinion as to what kind of music does that to whom but Music as an art has left deep imprint on our evolution as Human being and Sound of Music is Music in it's purest form.

5. Laputa: Castle in the Sky(1989) Director: Hayao Miyazaki
It is hard to find anyone who will not be touched by the innocence of child. Any Studio Ghibli movie usually does a great job of portraying that but especially Laputa for two great central characters. But, I have always said that they are much more than just charming - they always have an amazing message in them and very keen social awareness. Sounds exactly like something I need to win over our new guests to me. 

You can check the list of all other participants here on Sam's site and let me know what you think of these choices as well.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Grizzly Man's The Great Escape from The Trip on Rope aka Mini Reviews

Don't let the title throw you off track. It is little stupid but makes me feel creative(for no apparent reason), So I am sticking with it. Basically, these are mini-reviews of few films that I wanted to write about but could not think of enough material to warrant a full post, maybe because I did not care too much about that movie or because I am not educated or informed enough to write about them. Not that I am doing this for the first time, I did write similar post few months ago on Vertigo(1958), Sunset Blvd(1950), Fanny and Alexander(1982) and Almost Famous(2000)(here, if you are interested). Come to think of it now, I think I can write a whole lot more on any of these films(I like to think of this as the proof of I am getting better at this, evolving and such !!). But, this time I doubt if that would be a fate of any of the movies I will write about today. You will know why.

Grizzly Man(2005): My First encounter with Werner Herzog in any format. I went pretty much blind into it, just because subject looked interesting - Animal lover who devoted his life to protect Grizzly bears who dies being eaten by one and even though I hadn't seen anything, I had heard enough about him to warrant an interest. But, I wasn't impressed much and it wasn't Herzog's fault at all. If at all he did something wrong, that was making a documentary on Timothy Treadwell. Timothy Treadwell was an animal lover, grizzly bear activist who used to go to Alaskan jungles in the summer and stay there to observe them and study them and he recorded every single trip on camera. Something which probably started as a hobby, went on to become an obsession over the years. He studied them, he befriended them - or at least he thought he did, he even named most of them and then he started to think of himself as probably a messiah, sole hope of saving them from poachers and hunters. In one of the incidents, we see his sole encounters with these poachers. He talks a lot about how much he hates them because they are harming these animals and he is going to stop this etc etc. However, when he actually encounters them, interestingly he hides somewhere far away in the bushes, because he does not want to reveal his identity. It becomes kinda difficult to feel for you if your money isn't where your mouth is. From the numerous stunts he pulled on camera over the course of his recordings, it's very clear that Treadwell was messed up. As one of the interviewers says that he wanted to be a bear and you never do that, you do not invade their territory - Treadwell never realized it and he blamed everyone else for for messing up with animals and their life when actually he was doing same thing himself. In my opinion and it goes in hand with the same interviewer saying that he probably harmed them more than helped. As far as Herzog is concerned, it was well shot, well edited and even well paced documentary. Herzog was completely impartial, he did not try and glorify him by telling only one side of the story. He gives Treadwell credit when it is due and blames him squarely for his mistakes and shortcomings. So, problem never was Herzog, it was Treadwell who I thought to be impossible to have a favorable opinion of - to tell you the truth, I pitied him. In the very beginning on documentary, one of the pilots who went on clean-up after his death says on-camera that Treadwell got what he deserved and at that time it seemed to be kind of an extreme opinion. But, after watching whole film, I can't help but agree with him.

Rating(out of 5):

The Great Escape(1963): I recently realized that for some reason, I have seen more 50's movies than 60's in 1001 movies list. For some unexplained reason, that was surprising to me as I do not have anything against them. I always thought that I would have seen more movies as we go up chronologically just because you have more exposure to them. But of course, I was wrong ! So, off I go looking for more 60's stuff. It just happened that The Great Escape has been in my queue for a long time and for this reason at least, I got an opportunity to dig it up and watch it. To tell you the truth, I do not have much to say about it basically for it being a true story - the story of bunch of allied forces' POW's captured by German forces. They are brought into a special camp built specifically for them since this bunch has a notorious reputation of planning and attempting multiple escapes. What we see is an elaborate account of one such attempt. It is a perfectly fine movie with good cast and good story. Albeit little longish, account of all the preparations for their escape are certainly interesting. If I have a complaint against it, I would have liked it to be a little happier at the end but as they say all the aspects of the escape were exactly as they happened, so we do not get a say here. Though one thing I learned from this movie was why Steve McQueen was Steve McQueen ? It isn't his first movie I saw, I have seen The Thomas Crown Affair(1968) before, but he was something else here, something that will totally fit into his ultra-cool, hip image.

Rating(out of 5):

The Trip(2011): Michael Winterbottom is turning out to be kinda interesting sort of director. I have heard a lot of extreme opinions, good and bad but definitely extreme, about his films. I have seen a couple before - 9 songs(2004) which I outright hated and A Mighty Heart(2007) which I thought had a great potential with a fine storyline but failed to impress me at all. And of course, he has had his fair share of controversies with The Killer Inside Me(2010), A Mighty Heart and such. 2 more movies he did, which I intend to see but sometimes wonder if they are any worth are Jude(1996) and Trishna(2011) mostly because from what I have heard about both is people either love them for being daring and tackling things that we usually don't see or they hate them for the exact same reason. My interest in Jude is purely based on Kate Winslet but that part with incestuous relationship has kept me away thus far. Similarly, Trishna has a setting(he certainly has some affiliation to India as well. Quite a few of his movies are either shot in or based on Indian grounds) that interests me but it is either in the lists of one of the best movies of last year or worst movie made ever. About film at hand, I perfectly enjoyed this light-hearted, comic road movie. Their back and forth exchanges, imitations, trying to look down to the other kept me entertained the whole time. I am sure you can sense a but coming here. BUT, it was enjoyable as long as you don't think about it which is like up to 5 minutes after movie ends. However, once you start, there are so many thing that come to mind that are never answered. Most important of which is What exactly was director trying to say or was he trying to say anything at all ? It kind of scratches a surface of lot of questions and just leaves it there, which to tell you the truth did not really bother me but left me unsatisfied in the end like Steve Coogan is an actor then why was he sent on Restaurant Tour ? Also, why did he ask Rob Brydon to come along ? I mean if I have 2 Free Passes to a movie, I will either ask very close friend or someone who is interested in watching that movie. Rob Brydon did not look like either of them. But hey, I told you that none of this bothered me much while watching it and I perfectly enjoyed it. So, if you don't think too much about it, it still is a pretty decent film to pass some of your time when you don't have much else to do.

Rating(out of 5):

Rope(1948): One movie out of this lot, which I can say I liked wholeheartedly without any qualms. It was great from every conceivable aspect and on top of that, it was just 74 minutes - extra points for being short and concise. I will try not to ruin it for you, but excuse me if I get a little too excited. Brandon and Philip, two longtime friends, share an apartment. They plan a perfect murder based on a story one of their teachers told them once. Victim of this murder is David Kentley, their schoolfriend and they choose him because they consider him to be an inferior human being to them. They execute their plan to perfection, they have achieved their target. But, Brandon is not the one to be contend with this. He wants someone to appreciate the fact that he has just pulled a perfect murder and in this excitement he goes a little over board and plans a party in their own house, where David's body is still kept hidden in a chest and moreover guests invited are David's own Parents and his Fiancee. Rupert, their schoolteacher who told them a story of this crime is also among invitees and as one thing leads to another, Rupert starts to smell something is fishy. There are couple of things I love about Rope. First of all, it's only 74 minutes long and it uses every single second of it perfectly. Very first scene you see is Murder happening and last scene of the movie is revelation and Hitchcock masterfully keeps it entertaining and suspenseful. And it is not just suspense of murder, but their conversations are fascinating too like their theory of 'A Crime for most, privilege for some'. Rope was suppose to be an experiment Hitchcock wanted to make to shoot in such a fashion that it will feel like a single long take. Though I wasn't fooled by this, I loved the fact that whole movie takes place in one single room, without leaving it for a single second. I usually love movies that take place in single room like 12 Angry Men(1957) and this one wasn't an exception. One more thing I love about Rope is Jimmy Stewart. Peculiar thing about Jimmy Stewart is, almost every movie I have seen him in, I don't only like Jimmy Stewart playing that character but I usually end up loving his characters as well. Rope may not be recognized as much as his other masterpieces like Vertigo(1958), Rebecca(1940) and Rear Window(1950) but in my books it is no less than any of them.

Rating(out of 5):

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