Forrest Gump

Forrest played by Tom Hanks, is a thoroughly decent man with an IQ of 75, who manages between the 1950s and the 1980s to become involved in every major event in American history. And he survives them all with only honesty and niceness as his shields.

And yet this is not a heartwarming story about a mentally retarded man. That category is much too small and limiting for Forrest Gump. The movie is more of a meditation on our times, as seen through the eyes of a man who lacks cynicism and takes things for exactly what they are. Watch him carefully and you will understand why some people are criticized for being “too clever by half.” Forrest is clever by just exactly enough.

Tom Hanks may be the only actor who could have played the role.

I can’t think of anyone else as Gump, after seeing how Hanks makes him into a person so dignified, so straight-ahead. The performance is a breathtaking balancing act between comedy and sadness, in a story rich in big laughs and quiet truths.

Forrest is born to an Alabama boardinghouse owner (Sally Field) who tries to correct his posture by making him wear braces, but who never criticizes his mind. When Forrest is called “stupid,” his mother tells him, “Stupid is as stupid does,” and Forrest turns out to be incapable of doing anything less than profound. Also, when the braces finally fall from his legs, it turns out he can run like the wind.

That’s how he gets a college football scholarship, in a life story that eventually becomes a running gag about his good luck. Gump the football hero becomes Gump the Medal of Honor winner in Vietnam, and then Gump the Ping-Pong champion, Gump the shrimp boat captain, Gump the millionaire stockholder (he gets shares in a new “fruit company” named Apple Computer), and Gump the man who runs across America and then retraces his steps.

It could be argued that with his IQ of 75 Forrest does not quite understand everything that happens to him. Not so. He understands everything he needs to know, and the rest, the movie suggests, is just surplus. He even understands everything that’s important about love, although Jenny, the girl he falls in love with in grade school and never falls out of love with, tells him, “Forrest, you don’t know what love is.” She is a stripper by that time.

The movie is ingenious in taking Forrest on his tour of recent American history. The director, Robert Zemeckis, is experienced with the magic that special effects can do ,he uses computerized visual effects to place Gump in historic situations with actual people.

Forrest stands next to the schoolhouse door with George Wallace, he teaches Elvis how to swivel his hips, he visits the White House three times, he’s on the Dick Cavett show with John Lennon, and in a sequence that will have you rubbing your eyes with its realism, he addresses a Vietnam-era peace rally on the Mall in Washington. Special effects are also used in creating the character of Forrest’s Vietnam friend Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise), a Ron Kovic type who quite convincingly loses his legs.

Using carefully selected TV clips and dubbed voices, Zemeckis is able to create some hilarious moments, as when LBJ examines the wound in what Forrest describes as “my butt-ox.” And the biggest laugh in the movie comes after Nixon inquires where Forrest is staying in Washington, and then recommends the Watergate. (That’s not the laugh, just the setup.) As Forrest’s life becomes a guided tour of straight-arrow America, Jenny (played by Robin Wright) goes on a parallel tour of the counterculture. She goes to California, of course, and drops out, tunes in, and turns on. She’s into psychedelics and flower power, antiwar rallies and love-ins, drugs and needles. Eventually it becomes clear that between them Forrest and Jenny have covered all of the landmarks of our recent cultural history, and the accommodation they arrive at in the end is like a dream of reconciliation for our society.

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Whiplash

In Damien Chazelle’s jazz drumming thriller Whiplash, The hero Andrew (Miles Teller), a jazz drummer at the Shaffer Conservatory of Music in New York City. He is hand-picked by Fletcher to join the conductor’s competing jazz band, a prestigious lot that thrives on the reputation of perfection that Fletcher has set as a standard. Soon into Andrew’s first practice, when Fletcher tosses a chair at him for not keeping perfect tempo, the rookie drummer experiences the conductor in his infamous, monstrous form.

As he struggles to sustain his place in the band, Andrew’s passion to be the next Buddy Rich is put through an unpredictable psychological gauntlet that is sponsored by Fletcher’s unforgiving attitude. With only the seed of ambition to keep him from quitting, Andrew endeavors deep into his craft.

Andrew and Fletcher are more clashing entities than typical movie characters, with Andrew in particular a product of the story’s lean design; this drummer is a raw being that breathes and bleeds for the life source of focused ambition. Teller’s performance is a demonstration of Whiplash’s enormous physicality, and the way in which the film is so charged with such slick construction.

Fletcher is a dreamer’s nightmare provoked by the celebrated tough love of high school football coaches  who organize their team of budding amateurs . Simmons articulates this villain’s massive presence with a definitive accustomes nature, the versatility in his vivid intensity causing Fletcher to always command the moment, whether he is frightening his players, or in the third act, sharing a tale of abusive motivation that defines his mentality. The final stroke of brilliance from Simmons is in maintaining the depth to this character even through such conceits, allowing Chazelle’s own imperfection leeway for forgiveness.

With such a focused narrative form, Whiplash also makes the center experience of creating music pulsate; it has a consuming physicality. Cinematically-inclined musician Chazelle appropiately uses visuals to sophisticate its raw musician experience. Whiplash’s visual sense remains in awe of the music experience as well, with breathless passages like a rack focus onto Fletcher’s hands right before he conducts a piece of sheet music to life, or a shot that presents Andrew looking out into a black sea while standing on a spotlit stage, as if he and his drum set are about to enter a void.

The monument of Whiplash is its climax, a volcanic drum solo that celebrates the extraordinary experience of Chazelle’s drama, and the way in which it cinematically shares the intensity of instrumentation with ears both trained and untrained. With a growingc climax  for a story about jazz band that could fire up a football team, Whiplash has its own sense of zeal. Defying the expected cinematic representations of physicality and basing its narrative solely on the struggle of a drummer’s ambition, Chazelle’s bold film affirms that the only way to silence the voice of failure is to become fearless.

127 Hours

The film is based on the real-life adventure of Aron Ralston, as documented in the book Between A Rock And A Hard Place. The extreme biker and climber met with a freak accident in 2003 when his hand got trapped under a boulder during a climbing expedition in Utah. The mountaineer spent five torturous  days all by himself in this life-threatening situation before he could extricate himself and reach out for help.

Danny Boyle has evolved a film narrative that is individualistic, eclectic and hard to replicate. Like the other indie folks, Danny too takes up an ordinary story to re-tell it in an extraordinary fashion. So, if Slumdog Millionaire re-invents the Mumbai metaphor like never before, then 127 Hours transforms the adventure/disaster story into a hard-hitting steroid shot.

Technically, 127 Hours is a one-man, one-line story. Adventurist Aron Ralston gets trapped under a bolder in uninhabited canyon country and remains stuck for five days with a video camera, a bit of rope, a cheap knife and a fast depleting water flask. But the genius of Boyle transforms this simple, one-dimensional human survival story into a nerve-wracking drama that never lets you leave the edge of the chair from the very first shot. So what if the film opens with Aron having harmless fun, diving and swimming with two pretty young strangers in the deserted landscape. You know there’s danger lurking behind the next boulder. The major part of the film transpires in a static situation: Ralston stuck in a straight jacket with a bolder that refuses to move even an inch. But the experience is completely dynamic. There, in those expedient circumstances, our hero reminisces about his past, introspects on his relationships, fantasies about love, imagines what he would have done at the Scooby-Do do that he was invited for, plans out his future and even holds a radio talk that is essentially a self-flagellation session. But more than all this, he utters the most important lesson he’s learnt. Never buy a Chinese knife, even if it comes cheap, with a flashlight included. The knife’s no good, neither at chipping the boulder nor at cutting bone! Hilarious.

The film is a high-spirited salute to the indomitable human spirit and a grand testament to courage and true grit. Chilling, thrilling and horrifying too, 127 Hours is enthralling cinema.

Pursuit of Happyness

Pursuit of Happyness

Will Smith shines in The Pursuit of Happyness ,a rags-to-riches tale about love, family, and pursuing the American Dream.

Smith portrays Christopher Gardner, a salesman struggling to make ends meet for his wife and son. As the family’s financial problems mount, his wife caves under the pressure and abandons him and their son.

Gardner’s luck goes from bad to worse as he and his son are evicted from their home and must survive on the streets of San Francisco. The father and son are forced to move from place to place seeking shelter wherever they can find it, even spending one night in a subway bathroom.

Things start looking up for Gardner when he applies for an internship with a stock brokerage firm. Though the internship is unpaid, one of the 20 interns will be chosen to stay with the company full-time. The ambitious salesman battles insurmountable odds to make himself stand out from his competitors in the hopes of landing the position.

Smith and his real-life son Jaden bring an emotional depth to the characters they play.

He tackled the role with a determined precision . Though most scenes in the film have a very solemn feel, Smith’s cautious optimism and ambitious nature make us want to root for him to succeed. In a role that could have easily been played syrupy-sweet, Smith instead chooses to let his raw emotions shine through adding a layer of realism.

His son, Jaden, proves to be a natural as well. Portraying a child whose life and economic background is so completely opposite from his own doesn’t seem to be a challenge for the young actor. He seems to have a true understanding of the character’s emotional state and expresses it with ease.

While the story is a moving tale about a father’s love for his son and working hard to achieve dreams, it is more than that. Pursuit of Happyness is also a emotional portrayal of the problem of homelessness in our society. Perhaps what makes the film so powerful is that it is based on a true story. The problems that Gardner faces are problems faced by many in our society every day.

It is a touching fictional portrayal of a problem that is all too real. This is not a film that you will quickly forget.

Boyhood

boyhood-movie-poster The Movie which took 12 years in the making

Dir – Richard Linklater
Cast – Ellar Coltrane , Ethan Hawke , Patricia Arquette , Lorelei Linklater.
Year – 2014

Boyhood, the film from Richard Linklater, took 12 years to make. It may well take another 12 years to appreciate fully. Since 2002, just before he began work on School of Rock, the Texan director has been setting aside a few days every year to shoot what might be the biggest small movie ever made: a drama about a boy, Mason, growing up between the ages of six and 18.

The film has been talked about as a quirky side-project, but in its completed form it looks like the achievement of a lifetime. Linklater has shown, perhaps with more heart-piercing acuity than any other director, how a child grows into an adult, because that’s literally what his film depicts. The young actor who plays Mason, Ellar Coltrane, was cast in the project at the age of seven, and returned to the role for those few days every year until shortly after his 19th birthday in 2013.

Over the course of the film, his limbs stretch, his nose and jaw lengthen, and his vocal cords flutter before settling on their adult pitch. The core cast, too, are played by the same actors: Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are Mason’s divorced parents, and Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter, is his elder sister Samantha, who begins the film a precocious eight-year-old girl and ends it a smart, droll, 20-year-old woman.

To describe this as a “coming-of-age” story feels hopelessly inadequate. Linklater is interested not just in age’s coming, but its going too: the way the characters’ maturing faces flicker with the ghosts of their younger selves, while months can be snuffed out like birthday candles in the space of a cut.

Truffaut tried his hand at this with his Antoine Doinel films, which grew unexpectedly from 1959’s The 400 Blows to run for 20 years, as did Linklater himself in his Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy, in which we drop in on a couple, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, at nine-year intervals.

Michael Apted’s Up documentary series also checks back every seven years with the same group of subjects to see what’s changed. But there’s a subtle, crucial difference: while those films pick over time’s effects, Boyhood is about time itself; the way it slips and darts and evades our grasp.

The growing-up process is, effectively, Boyhood’s plot: Mason’s home life, around which the film ambles, is almost wilfully undramatic. Aside from an early thread in which one of his divorced mother’s suitors (Marco Perella) turns out to be a manipulative alcoholic, the emotional landscape is as low-lying and green as the Texan suburbs, woods and creeks in which the film plays out.

Mason watches his mother fall in and out of love while she studies for a psychology degree, idles away visiting days with his semi-absent father, and endures the full spectrum of creative teasing from his sister. There are baseball games, camping trips and midnight parties for the launch of the latest Harry Potter book.

The meanings of these scenes accrue slowly, like scuffs on shoes. By the film’s end, you realise that what you’ve experienced, more or less, is what each of us amounts to: a string of moments lived through in a perpetually vanishing present.

It’s an astonishing achievement. Linklater and his cast, who helped refine the director’s script, perfectly execute how long it takes us to become the lead characters in our own lives, and how fumblingly the role is first assumed. At first, Mason hangs back at the film’s edges, watching and absorbing, and it’s only when he reaches his teens that he starts to feel at ease in the spotlight.

In one quiet, perfect scene, Mason and a female schoolfriend stroll down a side-street, talking about nothing much, as many Linklater characters have done before them. Slowly, you realise the boy you were watching ten minutes ago would never have dared do this.

Towards the film’s end, as Mason packs for college, his mother suddenly bursts into tears, startled by how quickly life is whipping past. Yet there are ways of holding onto time after it passes: photography, her son’s chosen subject, is one of them. Film making of this extraordinary elegance, wit and beauty is another.