Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

The Untouchables (1987)

Posted: February 17, 2012 in 1987, American, Crime, Drama

Set in 1930’s Prohibition-era Chicago The Untouchables is the semi-biographical story of Bureau of Prohibition Agent Eliot Ness as he tries to take down notorious gangster Al Capone.

Naive agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) is tasked with bringing Chicago’s lawlessness under control by catching and convicting gangster Al Capone (Robert DeNiro) who controls most of the city.  Conducting his first raid on Capone’s alcohol smuggling operation with a large force from the Chicago Police Department leaves Ness a laughing-stock as the gang are expecting him thanks to the corrupt cops within the department.  Realising that he can’t trust anyone in the department, and after a chance meeting with veteran Irish-American beat cop Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery), Ness recruits his own team of  incorruptible officers starting with Malone.  Rounding out ‘The Untouchables’, as they would later be dubbed, are trainee police officer and sharpshooter George Stone (Andy Garcia) and Forensic Accountant Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith) assigned to Ness by Washington.  Led by Ness and Malone, who takes it upon himself to show Ness what it really means to be a police man on the corrupt Chicago streets, the team wage war on Capone’s organisation raiding illegal liquor shipments and warehouses.  Wallace reveals to Ness that Capone hasn’t filed a tax return for four years meaning that if they can prove he has received an income from his criminal activities they can try him for tax evasion.

The film is beautifully realised, 30’s Chicago jumps off the screen as totally believable, and from the outset the score (written by legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone) creates a tense atmosphere that keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat.  Graphically violent (the scene of Capone with the baseball bat being a standout moment) the film subtly deals with aspects of morality, relationships, and redemption whilst keeping the story moving at a comfortable pace.

They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way! And that’s how you get Capone.

Despite Costner being the star the film is stolen by both Connery and DeNiro; the former delivering a powerhouse performance and always seeming to have the best lines and the latter packing on 30 pounds to method act Capone as an enigmatic ‘rock-star’ who basks in the attention of the media and, despite his propensity for violence and criminal activities, is adored by the public.

Taught and well written The Untouchables is a modern classic in every way.

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Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Posted: February 9, 2012 in 2008, British, Drama, Indian, Romance

Danny Boyle’s Oscar laden drama, adapted from the novel ‘Q and A’ by Vikas Swarup, is both disturbing and endearing as it tells the story of a young Chaiwalla (an Indian tea boy) from a call centre in Mumbai as he appears on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

Jamil Malik is one question away from winning 20 million rupees on the show when he is arrested and accused of cheating, as he is tortured and questioned by the police he is forced to reveal how he knew the answers to the questions and in doing so he tells his life story.  Orphaned at a young age when his mother was killed in the Bombay Riots Jamil, his older brother Salim, and a young girl called Latika band together as they grow up on the streets of Mumbai.  The trio are taken in by Maman, a gangster who fronts an orphanage which he uses to send the children out on to the streets as beggars.  Salim discovers that Maman is blinding healthy sighted children in order to make them more profitable and saves Jamil from having this fate; the pair flee from the orphanage, Latika tries to run with them but is left behind when Salim doesn’t help her onto the train that they use to escape.  Travelling around India by train the boys hustle tourists as fake tour guides at the Taj Mahal, steal and sell shoes, and strip cars to earn enough money to survive before returning to Mumbai where Jamil seeks out Latika who he is in love with.  Jamil uncovers her whereabouts and both he and Salim go to rescue her and Salim ends up killing Maman.  Latika becomes a bone of contention between the brothers driving a wedge between them, Salim stakes a claim on her forcing Jamil to leave at gunpoint.

Jamil ends up on his own and some years later gets a job working at a call centre in Mumbai where he uses the computer system to find his lost brothers telephone number.  Meeting up on a building site he discovers that Salim has made a life for himself as a henchman for Javed, a local gangster, and is told that Latika is no longer with him.  Not believing what he’s been told Jamil follows Salim and discovers that Latika is living with Javed and is unable to leave, Jamil tells her to meet him at the train station and when she turns up she is abducted by Salim before the pair can be reunited.  Returning to the Javed’s house Jamil discovers it empty and thus decides to go on Who Wants to be a Millionaire as it is Latika’s favourite show.

Jamil’s appearance on Who Wants to be a Millionaire is not driven by the greed, as demonstrated by his indifference as to whether he wins or not, but instead by love.  Having spent most of his life trying to re-unite with Latika, the girl he loves, he’s at a dead end, he’s lost her once again and this is the only way he can think of to reach out to her.  The film is not just a rags-to-riches story but a romantic drama that deals with the themes of truth, love, and honesty whilst showing the harsh realities of growing up on the streets of Mumbai.  Slumdog demonstrates the two diverse paths that the Mumbai street urchins can take, having conned tourists to survive as a young child Jamil has managed to stay on the straight and narrow and has even got himself a legitimate job, regardless of how menial, whilst his brother has taken the alternative path and become a career criminal.   Part documentary, part fairy story, part crime drama, Slumdog Millionaire offers something for everyone and is ultimately deserving of the 8 Oscars it received.

Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

Posted: February 3, 2012 in 1939, American, Drama, Romance

Set in South America, Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur) is a showgirl traveling by boat to Panama to audition for a show.  En-route the ship docks overnight in the small port town of Barranca to take on supplies and Bonnie disembarks to explore the town.  Whilst ashore she meets a close knit group of American pilots who fly for Barranca Airways, a struggling freight business owned by ‘Dutchy’ Van Reiter (Sig Ruman) and managed by Geoff Carter (Carey Grant).  Despite his brusque manner Carter is respected by everyone and it soon becomes clear that he tries to hide his emotional damage behind his macho attitude.

When a fatal accident kills one of the pilots Bonnie is horrified at the way the other pilots deal with their grief, choosing to drink and pretending that the pilot never existed in the first place.  Howard Hawk’s Barranca is populated by ‘real’ men who drink hard liquor, chain smoke, and hide their emotions, unless that emotion is anger.  Intrigued by Geoff’s ambivalence towards her and the emotional wall he’s constructed around himself Bonnie chooses to stay on in Barranca eventually falling in love with Geoff.  Over the course of the film Geoff’s actions belie his hardened exterior and by performing small benevolent actions he redeems himself in the viewers eyes allowing them to understand the bond formed by the brotherhood of pilots and their fierce loyalty towards their charismatic leader.

Angels is the first film Grant did for Columbia after being released from his contract with Paramount and is widely regarded as one of director Howard Hawks best films – particularly for the flying sequences.  In 1983 Donald P. Bellisario created the TV show ‘Tales of the Gold Monkey’ which was inspired by Only Angels Have Wings and in turn went on to inspire the Disney cartoon ‘Talespin’.

L.A. Confidential (1997)

Posted: January 20, 2012 in 1997, American, Drama, Mystery, Neo-noir

Curtis Hanson’s stylish neo-noir adaptation of James Ellroy’s novel paints a dark picture of the LAPD in the mid 1950’s depicting an organisation steeped in corruption and brutality.

Trimming significant excess from the source the film follows three radically different L.A. detectives as they investigate a shooting at an all night diner.  Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is a slick narcotics detective and technical advisor for a popular TV drama whose ‘movie star’ veneer masks a man whose sold out.  Wendell “Bud” White (Russell Crowe) is a violent yet emotionally damaged homicide detective with his own moral code.  Finally, Edmund Exley (Guy Pearce) is an ambitious, driven, by-the-book career cop whose detective father was killed on the job.  Each detective investigates the shooting in their own way but soon their paths cross as they discover there’s more to this crime than they first thought and soon they become embroiled in a complicated plot of corruption, drugs, murder, and prostitution.

Ed Exley – All I ever wanted was to measure up to my father.

Bud White – Now’s your chance… he died in the line of duty, didn’t he?

Nominated for 9 Academy Awards (it won two – Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Kim Basinger, and Best Screenplay – Adapted) L.A. Confidential was universally acclaimed for both it’s stars and it’s visual style.  Hanson and the films cinematographer, Dante Spinotti, studied many of the films of the era including The Bad and the Beautiful, In a Lonely Place, and The Tarnished Angels in order to achieve the right atmosphere however in order to avoid a feeling of nostalgia they shot like a contemporary film and used more naturalistic lighting than in a classic film noir.

Ultimately L.A. Confidential allows the hope of the period to shine through the gritty and rotten heart of it’s subject matter and draws the viewer in, engaging them, so that they become a part of the story.  Whilst you may hate the main characters initially for their thuggish, uptight, or slick ways I defy you not to start to care about them as their story develops and they begin to evolve before your eyes.

Citizen Kane (1941)

Posted: January 19, 2012 in 1941, American, Drama, Mystery

Hailed as “the greatest movie of all time” Citizen Kane was Orson Welles debut feature film which he not only starred in but also directed and co-wrote the screenplay for.  Having your debut film heaped with such praise should be taken as a major point of pride but considering that Welles was only 24 at the time it should be considered so much more.

Unfortunately with 70 years of praise and hype behind it new viewers should be forgiven for feeling a little disappointed by the film upon first watching it.  Subsequent viewings however will yield more enjoyment as the viewer becomes more impressed by it’s unique visual style (cinematographer Gregg Toland developed a technique for ensuring the the foreground, middle-ground, and background were all in focus simultaneously), simple yet engaging storyline, and outstanding acting.

Welles stars as the titular character of Charles Foster Kane, a reclusive millionaire media mogul, who dies virtually alone within the first 5 minutes leaving the contents of his mansion, his businesses, and his last word ‘Rosebud’ as his legacy.  It’s the latter of these that becomes the catalyst for the film as a group of newsreel men set out to interview Kane’s friends, family, and business associates in an effort to decipher the meaning behind this last word.  The interviews are told though a series of flashbacks to various periods in Kane’s life making use of non-linear storytelling to develop Kane’s character based on the interviewees perception of the man himself.  Masterfully controlled and edited the film avoids becoming confusing and serves to show a fully rounded individual and his progression from likeable, impetuous youth to grizzled, embittered old man over the (nearly) 2 hour run time.

During shooting newspaper magnate William Randal Hearst, with whom viewers can see an obvious comparison to Kane, attempted everything he could to prevent the film from being made even going so far as to accuse Orson Welles of being a Communist to prevent it’s release.  Although many consider the film to be based on Hearst’s life Welles claimed that the story was a composite on many individuals from that particular era, this can be seen to be true as there are also elements from the life of Samuel Insull (a Chicago utilities magnate from the time) represented in the film.

If I hadn’t been very rich I might have been a really great man

– Charles Foster Kane

Despite it’s success the film was originally a flop when it was first released and was universally booed at the 1941 Academy Awards every time one of it’s 9 nominations was announced.  The film was re-released for the public in the 1950’s after spending nearly a decade locked up in the RKO vaults.

Goodbye Lenin! (2003)

Posted: January 11, 2012 in 2003, Comedy, Drama, German

Billed as a comedy/drama I didn’t really find much to laugh about in this German film.  Whether this was down to the drama overshadowing any comedy or simply because the comedy referenced German events that I didn’t get I’m not sure.

The film is set in East Germany in 1989, shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and centers around single mother Christiane (Katrin Sass) and her two children Alex (Daniel Brühl) and Ariane (Maria Simon).  Raising the two children alone after her husband defects to West Germany Christiane is passionate Socialist who, after witnessing Alex being arrested for participating in a protest march, suffers a heart attack and falls into a coma for 8 months.  During this period East Germany undergoes radical changes with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the influx of western culture into the previously insular country.  After Christiane awakes from her coma the doctors inform Alex that any sort of shock may lead to another heart attack and, feeling that these changes may be detrimental to his mothers health, Alex resolves to keep this from her.

Alex moves his mother back home and, with the help of his family, neighbours, and friends, they pretend that nothing has changed within the 4 walls of their flat whilst outside East Germany begins to welcome western ideals and businesses – Ariane gets a job working at Burger King and becomes involved with a West German whilst Alex gets a job installing satellite tv.  At home the family dress in typically East German clothing and, with the help of his friend Denis, Alex puts together false news stories and television shows in order to keep the illusion alive whilst hunting for East German goods that are proving increasingly difficult to find.

Ultimately the story is one of a boy who loves his mother and will do anything to protect her and is loosely based on the last few years of Lenin’s life where it was deemed that over-excitement might cause him health problems so he was kept in a controlled environment whilst Stalin had special newspapers printed for him editing any news about the political struggles of the time.  The film touches on the unification of Germany without going in to much detail of the experiences of the East German people which is a shame as some of the films most poignant scenes involve this especially when Alex goes grocery shopping only to discover that the shelves are bare, later to be replaced by western versions of the same foods forcing Alex to decant the contents into East German packaging in order to maintain the charade.  The film itself is beautifully shot, written, and acted and ultimately deserving of the many awards it won.

Fight Club (1999)

Posted: January 3, 2012 in 1999, American, Drama

This is one of my favourite films and seeing as Sarah bought me the 10th Anniversary Edition on Blu-Ray for Christmas I figured this challenge was the perfect opportunity to break it out of it’s plastic wrapping and give it a spin.

First off don’t let the name put you off, Fight Club isn’t your typical no brainer pugilistic movie it’s a film with a message, a message that it delivers like a right hook to the face.  A scathing indictment of consumerism and the live to work ethic that holds sway over so many lives nowadays Fight Club’s story centers on an unnamed character (billed simply as ‘The Narrator’) played by Edward Norton who works in a white collar job he hates.  Plagued by insomnia, when he’s not at work his life consists of catalog shopping from IKEA and, following his doctors suggestion, visiting support groups for the terminally ill to give himself the sense of family and belonging that is missing from his life to allow him to sleep.  It’s at one of these support groups that The Narrator first meets Marla Singer played by Helena Bonham-Carter.  Like The Narrator Marla is a ‘tourist’ at the support groups and whilst he seeks intimacy he avoids it with Marla seeing that they are too alike.  Splitting up the support groups to avoid having to see Marla she still becomes a seductive recurring figure in his life.

I would flip through a catalog and wonder, “What kind of dining set defines me as a person?”  We used to read pornography.  Now it was the Horchow Collection.

During one of his work trips The Narrator encounters Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a self-assured, nihilistic manufacturer of soap.  Whilst their initial meeting is brief The Narrator develops a dependent relationship with Tyler after he returns to his apartment to discover that it has been destroyed in a fire.  Having no friends or family due to living in his consumer/work driven cocoon for so long The Narrator calls Tyler and, after an awkward conversation in a bar, Tyler agrees to let The Narrator stay with him but only if he fights him first.  As the film progresses The Narrator, under the guidance of Tyler, gradually lets go of his old lifestyle instead embracing a life of impulsiveness and freedom.  The pair create Fight Club, an underground bare knuckle fighting club where anything goes, and begin to attract more disillusioned men looking to break out of their rut and to feel something real and valuable.

Who you were in Fight Club is not who you were in the rest of the world.

A phone call from Marla insinuates her back into The Narrators life and she becomes involved with Tyler leading to a rift between the two and becomes the catalyst for the finale of the film.  Fight Club soon evolves into an underground anarchist movement with an anti-corporate manifesto called ‘Project Mayhem’ led by Tyler.  The Narrator begins to find himself on the fringe of the group and when a member of Project Mayhem is killed by police during a sabotage operation he wants to shut down the group but finds that he suddenly has no control and that it’s taken on a life of it’s own.  As The Narrator struggles to put an end to Project Mayhem the films twist is revealed and the final scene, scored to The Pixies hit Where is My Mind, leaves the viewer thinking “I did not see that coming”.

The decision to leave the main character unnamed serves to show him as an everyman that viewers can identify with in some way.  With it’s gritty visual style, exceptional scoring, and excellent casting the film is a masterpiece of modern cinema which deserves to be in everyone’s top ten list.

Listen up, maggots. You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.