Movies: Citizen Kane

To many, ‘Citizen Kane’ would be the ‘Mother of all Movies’. It invariably features in every list of the greatest movies ever made. And most likely, at the very top in a significant number of them.

I first saw this movie many years ago, at a film festival at Hyderabad. My admiration for the movie keeps increasing with each passing day, and with each new movie that I watch.

The movie has a very simple storyline, but engrossing narration and screenplay make it entertaining. Upon reading about the death of a wealthy celebrity Kane, in his isolated mansion, a newspaper reporter sets out in search of a story. Kane’s dying words are reportedly something like ‘My beloved Rosebud…..’, and the reporter hopes to figure out its meaning and make a fortune for himself. In the process he takes the audience through the rags to riches story of Kane. Unfortunately for him, he does not accomplish his mission. The director however reveals the Rosebud to the audience. A startling revelation.

So, what makes this movie special? Lots and lots have been written about this movie by every expert and every expert group, by legends, by celebrities, by intellectuals, by critics, by common men. By almost everyone who is connected with the movie industry – even if he were only a movie goer like me. I have nothing to add except recording a few things about the movie that fascinate me personally.

To begin with, the movie’s screenplay appears timeless to me. One could make an interesting film even today by just adopting the screenplay of this movie. The magnitude of this achievement may not strike many people at the first, but spare a thought. It is truly remarkable that even after 7 decades, the screenplay appears fresh and contemporary, and can possibly compete with vast majority of movies released today.

The non-linear style of storytelling, intermittent flashbacks, juggling between the present and the past, a style that Christopher Nolan seems to perfect now – well, you can catch it in this movie in the way the reporter gathers information about the life and times of Kane.

Introducing a mystery very early in the movie, sustaining the suspense throughout the movie, and uncovering it in a stunning fashion, a style that has become synonymous with Manoj Shyamalan – the ‘Rosebud’ does exactly that for you. The revelation at the end would show Kane is such a different light that most people would be tempted to watch it again to see if there are any clues pointing to that human side of Kane – something similar to what Sixth Sense achieved.

Superior movie-making techniques alone rarely result in a classic. Classic movies have a soul of their own. An emotional impact that remains long after you have forgotten your admiration for the talents displayed. An experience that becomes a part of you. And you start to enjoy it without trying to figure it out. Citizen Kane would offer such an experience to most people.

A movie not to be missed.

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Movies: A Few Good Men

An unnatural death in a military base in Cuba. Two marines are accused. They claim to be innocent, having only carried out their orders. Good guys want to investigate. Bad guys resist. Court-room drama. Good guys win. Bad guys go to jail. The two accused get to go home – though that’s not what they wanted to do in the first place.

Ordinary story-line, but engrossing presentation. This movie won an Oscar nomination for, among others, the best picture. So what makes this movie special?

First and foremost, it is amazing to see so many powerful characters in a single movie. Movies could be made with almost any of the main characters (except probably that of Lt. Col. Markinson) as protagonist. Col. Jessep, Lt. Kendrick, deceased William Santiago, Capt. Jack Ross. Even Judge Randolph. Almost any one. The director brilliantly portrays the characters on the other side of the law as not evil, but as leaders with some limitations. And they end up with a few sympathies too.

Secondly, performances by the star-studded cast are so powerful that you start to connect more with the characters than the stars. And that does not happen in every movie. No discussion on the movie would be possible without a reference to Jack Nicholson and his performance. Very few performances in movie history would match Jack Nicholson’s powerful portrayal of Col Nathan Jessep. Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, a mellowed Kevin Pollok – all perform their part. And just for the record, Cuba Gooding Jr. too appears in a cameo.

Thirdly, while the movie did not fetch its director an Oscar nomination, it is hard to overlook his work. No detail is wasted. The movie is full of powerful sequences, woven together admirably. While the two sequences featuring Jack Nicholson, one at the beginning and the other towards the end of the movie, are often discussed a lot, they are by no means the only ones where the director stands out. Amongst the various surprises the director throws, none big or subtle than the introduction of Aunt Ginny. Almost everyone  would be as surprised as Kaffee is, when Aunt Ginny comes on-screen for the first time. And just when you thought that the director could relax now, having done a good job, her retort to Kaffee’s observation makes you take notice again.

While watching the movie repeatedly over the years, I have often wondered what else they could have tried to ensure an Academy Award for the best picture. Some random thoughts were try replacing Tom Cruise and Demi Moore with Tom Hanks and Susan Sarandon. That’s nothing to take anything away from Cruise and Moore. Tom Cruise overcomes his boyish looks and reputation to make an impression. But that doesn’t prevent me from wondering if the Academy would have perceived it differently, if it had been portrayed by Hanks.

All-in-all, a powerful entertainer and a must watch.

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Movies: The Prestige

In the opening scenes of the movie, Michael Caine explains in a court room the three stages in an act of magic – “Pledge, Turn and Prestige”. While the movie progresses much like a performance of a magician, it is debatable whether this movie contains the three mentioned elements, appearing in the same order.

Rivalry between two magicians sets the background for the plot of the movie. Of the two, one is a showman, a master of presentation. The other is a dedicated magician, driven more by the passion for the art and focusing less on presentation and commercial success. Both start of together as apprentices under the same magician before a tragic mishap on stage makes them bitter rivals.

The two rivals keep competing to outdo each other at every single opportunity. And just when you think that one has succeeded finally, the other strikes back. This see-saw journey continues up until the very last frame. And the unanticipated climax presents a perfect ending.

Like most Christopher Nolan movies, this one also has a non-linear presentation. The movie begins with one of them being accused for the murder of the other. A diary which often passes hands between the two magicians helps partially in keeping track of continuity.

Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale excel as the competing magicians. Wonderfully supported by Michael Caine, as an engineer who designs the tricks. Scarlett Johansson is another star featuring in this movie.

Tesla and the Transporter machine. Just think that the final act could have been something else other than the unrealistic Transporter machine act. But that doesn’t distract or take anything away from (but may in fact be adding to) the exhilarating narration.

A movie worth watching once.

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Movies: The Game

‘The Game’ can mostly be described as just another movie. Sure there is nothing fantastic about it. But personally, in my list of favorite movies, The Game will occupy a very top position. And it is hard to explain why.

When I was young, I could never understand the concept behind cinema (not that I understand better now!).  I failed to understand why one should spend 3 hours in a theatre watching something that one knew was not real. It was not like a cricket match or a music, dance or magic performance (or any other performance, for that matter), where the performances were real and the outcome was dependent upon the performer delivering each time and every time. Not so in movies.  They were only a recorded enactment, trying to pass on something as real that we knew did not exist. And to me, then, it served no purpose.

One of the earliest movies that introduced me to the magic of cinema is The Game. Again, it is really hard to define why this movie. I guess the only answer I may have is, that is how it was destined.

The plot revolves around a professionally and financially successful but personally not so satisfied character, played admirably by Michael Douglas. Approaching yet another birthday, he is gifted an opportunity by his brother (Sean Penn) to play ‘The Game’.  Neither Douglas nor the audience has any clue about what the game is, except that it will be a personalized experience. And the earlier part of the movie is invested in adding to the mystery behind the game.

Douglas decides to play the game and as part of a screening procedure he is made to undergo various physical and psychological tests. During that process he is also made to disclose all of his most intimate details and personal information, including his bank accounts, passwords, and other sensitive information.

And then begin the attacks on his life. Funds are fully withdrawn from his accounts. He becomes penniless, is drugged and finds himself in an alien country. He discovers that the Game is a big scam. He then sets out to reclaim his life. And what follows is an enjoyable journey, leading to an unexpected, near-perfect ending.

The movie is really exciting and worth watching once.

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Movies: Mr. Holland’s Opus

This movie narrates the story of a musician, Mr. Holland, who is shown expressing his passion and desire to compose music at the beginning of the movie. He takes up a teaching assignment hoping that it will help him meet his financial commitments and give him the free time that he thinks he needs to concentrate on his music.

But then life has its own plans for him. He gets stuck up in fulfilling his daily duties and responsibilities, which seem to be only increasing with every passing day. This passionate musician is subject to further frustration when his only son has hearing issues.

Whenever life throws a new challenge, he initially struggles and after the initial period of frustration, he fights it, overcomes it and emerges triumphant. Only to face the next challenge that life throws at him, the next period of uncertainty. And before he could realize, his entire life is practically over, and he fails to accomplish what he set out to accomplish.

Or so it seems.

Mr. Holland would feature in my list of most realistic characters that mainstream commercial cinema has presented. To me, the movie appears to be subtly suggesting that the best time to pursue your interests is now. The tomorrow, from when you have resolved to seriously pursue your interest or work on that new thing, may never come. Even worse, you would never realize it.

Talented Richard Dreyfuss effectively portrays every emotion that Mr. Holland undergoes – excitement, frustration, insecurity, pride, and almost all other emotions that an average human being experiences daily.

Reading the movie’s plot could give an impression that this is just another “feel-good” movie. Watching it, however, could be a different experience.

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Movies: The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas

This movie is based on a novel of the same name and narrates the story of a young German boy, son of an Officer, in Nazi Germany.

Strong opinions that most people have, in relation to the events of this period, generally ensures that such creations have their share of admirers and critics. This movie is no exception. It is criticized, among other things, as being inconsistent with facts in its depiction of Nazi Germany, about depiction of a son of a Nazi Officer not knowing who or what a Jew is.

Watching the movie as a creative piece of work, which is what it is, you would find that most of the film is predictable. It will not surprise you. Stereotyped characters and similar settings would add to your feeling that you have seen all of this before. And while one is waiting for the movie to continue and complete its predictable journey, the disturbing end comes as most unanticipated.

Generally, movies based on the holocaust attempt to make a statement through a character or an event in the movie. This movie, however, does not make any such attempt explicitly. There are no heroic characters, only ordinary human beings, leading what would be ordinary lives in Nazi Germany. The predictable screenplay and ordinary characters are more than made up for by the tragic twist to the story towards the end of the movie.

This movie will not feature in any list of great movies ever produced but it is worth watching once.

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