Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Others - Genuine thriller, no cheap scares...

The Others (2007)
Cast: Nicole Kidman, James Bently, Alakina Mann, Fionnula Flannagan.
Direction : Alejandro Amenábar 

I used to have confusion in identifying (not now) the Australian actresses Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman because of their strikingly similar appearance. Just like the giant ape starts to like Naomi in the film King Kong, I also started liking her from the moment I saw her in the same film. One day I saw a few scenes from the film The Others for the first time, and couldn’t beat the thought about its lead actress that, “is this the same girl whom Kong likes?” My friend clarified me they are different actors. King Kong’s actress is Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman is the lead actress here. I was amazed that they look almost exactly same. The same night I finished watching The Others. And it was really good. Yesterday night I saw it again and it is still good as the first time. 
Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman) is a single mother living in a lonely mansion in coastal England in the near end of World War II. She is badly waiting for the war to end soon so that she can be reunited with her husband who went to fight in the war. Her 2 children Anna (Alakina) and Nicholas (James) are about 6 to 8 years old and they have a strange and rare light sensitivity disease. They cannot be exposed to light brighter than a candle. Suddenly one day, 3 servants, an aging housekeeper Mrs. Bertha Mills, an old gardener Mr.  Edmund Tuttle and young maid Lydia who is a mute. They come and take the jobs voluntarily. Things turn after the arrival of the servants and their weird behavior which makes the rest of the film. 
The Others bears remarkably brilliant performances from Kidman and her on screen children. She captivates and scores by her clean and neat performance, as a fear-ridden, over caring mother who gives utmost care in keeping her children away from disease. Rest of the cast is also no different. They did what is required at their best, especially the young lad.

What makes The Others interesting is its very minimal cast, low lighting and a single location – the palatial mansion where they reside. Unlike most horror films having barrels of bloods and gory images, this is different from them that there are no cheap scares and not even a single drop of blood spilled. Spanish director Amenábar deserves a large applause for this. This is the most interesting part of the film. The fact that the children have a light sensitive disease itself gives a necessary dark and eerie setting to the film. His screenplay seems to be at a slightly slower pace for a thriller-horror. But the thrill and suspense never faded away from the beginning to the end of the film. For a film of horror – thriller genre, it is surely one of the best made, without leaving the viewers disappointed at the end.

My Rating: 9/10

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Maniratnam's Magic with Train and Rain

Every artist in his work reflects his or her personal characteristics, who he or she really is, or want to be. How they want to see things in their life is largely apparent in their works. If the artist is a filmmaker, you can see such fascinations repeatedly occurring in their films. One can find the same aspect in Maniratnam, one of the most talented filmmakers of Indian cinema. Maniratnam is well known for his distinctive direction style, handling controversial subjects, and visual splendor. However his fascination about rain and train are not widely known by many. His enchantment about rain and train is visible in all his movies, making them integral features in his films. His unique talent of be-charming the audiences by perfect placing of the train and rain is an aspect one cannot see in any other director. Well… let’s briefly explore his rainy world. 

Maniratnam - The magical man
Rain, nature’s most beautiful aspect, is often considered a romantic element in most of the regional movies. But it really matters how it is portrayed and director Maniratnam mastered that art years before. In almost all the movies he has directed, love blossoms between the hero and heroine in the midst of rain, drizzle, mist or foggy environment with a pleasant breeze and music. In the classic Mouna Ragam, Manohar (Karthik) chases Divya (Revathi) and at last wins her heart after a series of mishaps. Their romance is the most interesting part of the film which starts blossoming in a rainy night. In Dil Se, Shahrukh and Manisha meet for the first time in a rainy dawn at a railway station where he falls for her at first sight.

If not romance, then its violence and racy emotions heavily supported by rain, as in Thalapathy in which Rajini’s character thrashes goons in a rainy night, one of superstar’s most heroic intro scenes. The emotional encounters usually take place with a great support rain. The song Evano Oruvan Vaasikkiran in Alaipayuthe where Karthick (R. Madhavan) searches his lover Sakthi (Shalini) in the backdrop of drizzle and breeze and wailing winds has one of the finest emotions with soulful voice from the late singer Swarnalatha. Simply poetic..!! 
A love-sick maddy in Alaipayuthe
Mani’s last flick Raavanan has a gloomy and drizzling environment throughout as it is set in hilly region. Not only romance and emotional scenes, songs in his film are also usually set in rain, for example andhi mazhai megam from Nayagan, Kannaikatti kollathe from Iruvar, the former film considered as one of the greatest films. His fascination about rain doesn’t simply end here. When most tamil movie heroes have intro songs, he gives her heroines intro song, letting them dance in rain. Teenagers in 80s were crazy about the film Mouna Raagam where a dance number is done by Revathi in the song megam vandadho. Another lucky star to dance in rain is Aishwarya Rai in the film Guru in the song barso re.
Aishwarya Rai in Guru
Another fascination of the ace director is the portrayal of trains in his films. The vivacious song Chaiya Chaiya in Dil Se is performed by SRK on top of a train. raja rajathi rajan indha song from Agni natchathiram, one of the most performed songs in many college cultural events, was also set in train. Not only songs, some of the crucial scenes also take place in trains. The opening scene of Thalapathy is the most crucial scene in the film where a new born is abandoned in a goods carrier, a soulful and painful scene with whistling train adding more power to it. A very emotional climax in Mouna Ragam, a tension building climax in Raavanan where Dev questioning her wife Raagini’s (Aishwarya) infidelity, Velu (Kamal) sending away his children for their safety in Nayagan, and love proposal in Alaipayuthe were also some noteworthy shots set in train.

Chaiya chaiya (Dil Se)
Maddy's proposal to Shalini in Alaipayuthe

For those who haven’t seen his movies or only a few, you’d be surprised to know this fact if you give a close observation, like how I was surprised.  This close observation also reveals a fact about how he loves women or how he wants to see young women. In most of his films, the leading ladies have same attitude, energy, fun-loving, secretive and unconditionally good characterizations. Anyone who is an ardent fan of Maniratnam, or fond of romantic movies would’ve surely observed his magic with train and rain. Expecting his magic in his upcoming film Kadal…

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Academy Award Trivia

Before downloading a film, I used to check whether it has got any academy award nominations or wins with an expectation that it'd be a good movie. Sometimes back I downloaded only the films which have either best picture award or best screenplay award nominations (later I have changed this perception after watching a few films which are not worth the awards... that's a different story). However, it is kind of interesting to know about the facts and statistics of academy awards, like who has won maximum times, who hasn’t won even a single time, etc. While I was surfing about them, many such facts fascinated me. I have posted a few of them below.

Walt Disney is the only individual person to walk away with maximum number of Oscar wins and nominations, a total of 26 wins out of total 64 nominations.

The record for maximum number of Oscar awards has been shared by 3 movies - Ben Hur, Titanic and Lord of the Rings – Return of the King each holding the record number of 11 awards.

There is an informal term called Big Five awards i.e., the awards for best picture, best director, best actor, best actress and best screenplay. Only three movies have got the Big Five Awards till date. They are It happened one night, One flew over cuckoo’s nest and The silence of the Lambs.

The best picture winning film usually has awards or nominees in other major categories too, mainly acting category. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King is an exception, to be the first and only film which has more than 10 awards including best picture category but not a single nomination in acting category.

Winning an academy award is what every actor and actress wants to achieve in their lifetime at least once. How about winning it twice, successively!! Spencer Tracey and Tom Hanks are the only two actors to achieve it. Tracey won best actor awards for Captains Courageous in 1938 and Boys Town in 1939. Tom Hanks won for Philadelphia in 1993 and Forrest Gump in 1994.

In best actress category, Katherine Hepburn and German actress Luisa Rainer won 2 awards in consecutive years. Hepburn won the awards in 1968 and 1969 for Guess who’s coming for dinner and The Lion in winter, and Rainer in 1936 and 1937 for the films The great Ziegfeld and The good earth.

It happens sometimes for talented artists to not win an award despite their repeated nominations. Lawrence of Arabia actor Peter O’toole was nominated 8 times in acting category but he has never won an award.

The above said thing happened for one of the most talented filmmakers of all the time Alfred Hitchcock who has even created a genre by his name “Hitchcockian”. Unfortunately he had never won an award out of his 5 nominations.

Russel Crowe is the only actor to have nominated for Best Actor Oscar for three times in a row, for The Insider (1999), Gladiator (2000) and A Beautiful Mind (2001). Of these three, he won the award for Gladiator.

The facts that fascinated me the most are related to Australian actress Cate Blanchett and her oscar profile. She has some unique achievements in oscar history.  She got the best supporting actress award for playing the role of Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator, making her the first and only person till date to win an Oscar for playing the role of a previous Oscar winner, Hepburn. 

Left: Katherine Hepburn, Right: Cate as Hepburn
Cate is also the first and only actress to be nominated twice for the same role, as Queen Elizabeth in 2 different movies Elizabeth (1998) and then again in Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007).

Cate has an added credit to her award profile. She is the only actress to have appeared in 10+ films that were nominated for Best Picture.

Cate is also in the league of 11 actors to have nominations in both main and supporting acting categories, in the year 2007 - best actress for Elizabeth - the Golden age, and supporting actress nomination for I am not there. 

Like Cate, another beauty Kate Winslet also has a distinctive feature in her academy award credit. She is the only artist to twice share an oscar nomination with another for portraying the same character in same movie. In titanic, she shared her role of Rose with Gloria Stuart who played the older Rose. Kate and Gloria received best actress and best supporting actress nominations respectively. 

For the second time, Winslet played younger Iris Murdoch in the film Iris with bond mentor Judi Dench playing older Iris. Winslet got supporting actress nomination and Dench got best actress nomination. These are the only instances of the younger and older versions of a character in the same film both yielding Academy Award nominations.

The Hurt locker is the first (and only) Best Picture winner directed by a woman, Kathryn Bigelow who is also the only woman director to win an academy award.

There are many films made as trilogies, even more than 5 or 6 as a series like Harry potter. Of all of these trilogies made, only two trilogies have all the three films nominated for best picture award. They are The Godfather trilogy and Lord of the Rings trilogy.