North by Northwest

Alfred Hitchcock is a master of film-making. And every aspiring film-maker and even a film-lover, learns something, even if it’s very minute, yet something important, about film-making while watching a film by a master. The one thing, that you learn while watching the piece of brilliance, North by Northwest, is that however, cheesy or hilarious (for a serious thriller) or even tacky, to some extent, that the basic plot of the film may seem; once there’s some witty, intelligent dialogue coated around it and it has been topped with brilliant direction, it hardly matters.

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So the beginning of North by Northwest and essentially the pillar upon which the whole film has been set, is so ridiculously audacious and sheer chutzpah, it is simply based upon co-incidences and matters of chance, that had the film not been as good, it would be impossible to overlook. In fact, even one of the characters remarks

So horribly sad. how is it I feel like laughing?

This dialogue only cements the deep understanding of the story that Ernest Lehmann had of the story. The quick pacing and dramatic tension of the film is interspersed with lines that are beautifully witty. So simply put, Ernest Lehmann is a genius.

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This film is possibly most famous remembered, even by a lot of people who haven’t seen it, for two of its action sequences. One involving the plane, and the other with the original Mad Man ( Don Draper anyone?), Cary Grant, hanging from Mount Rushmore. Which isn’t surprising considering Hitchcock was among the most entertaining film-makers ever. His classical wit, the thrilling chase scenes, even the suspense (which he had an infamous reputation for ruining before the end of the movie) and brilliantly created action sequences. Of course, North by Northwest has it all.

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Cary Grant plays the leading man, Roger O. Thorhill, with the O standing for “nothing”, in what is perhaps the best performance of his career. It is the villains of the film, however who steal the show with their brilliance. James Mason playing the classic old rich bad guy, but the best actor in the film is Martin Landau who plays henchman to James Mason’s leading villain. Everything, from the way he delivers his dialogues to his expressions is perfect for a henchman.

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North by Northwest is a gem, a true classic by Alfred Hitchcock which must be experience and its wonderful, witty dialogue and those thrilling action sequences and that masterful score by Bernard Herrmann, must be enjoyed.

Bridge of Spies

Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg collaborating for the fourth time, with each of their three previous works being something special. The Coen Brothers, Ethan and Joel writing the screenplay, along with Matt Charman. An Original Musical Score by Thomas Newman. “What could go wrong with this one?“; was that thought that I had before entering the theater. Though I was a tad bit disappointed, I’m not necessarily complaining.

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Bridge of Spies, I felt towards the end, like every Spielberg movie, tried to glorify America and the American way of life a bit too much. In fact the one thought I had in my head, coming out of the theater, was how it was strikingly similar to a previous, and perhaps the most successful and acclaimed, Hanks-Spielberg collaboration; Saving Private Ryan, in the “never leave a man behind” ideology that drove most of the drama and story in both of the films.

The impact of stage was evident on screen, as Bridge of Spies seemed to have a heavy influence from theater. Although this was expected considering Matt Charman, a famous and acclaimed playwright, co-wrote the screenplay alongside the Coen Brothers. Even in the acting, Amy Ryan, who has received two Tony nominations and Matt Rylance another well known face from the world of theater brought the magic of their performances on stage to the screen.

Tom Hanks, was wonderful as usual. It’s almost impossible for Hanks’ acting to be bad just like the characters he has played. The main argument, which Hanks’ critics, however insignificant their number may be, would use is how his filmography seems non-diverse with almost all of his roles coming playing a “true American”, patriotic, loyal, brave and his character impeccable with purely good intention. Though this is true and Hanks seems to have been typecast, but the sheer brilliance with which he performs leave no room to complain.

Matt Rylance, who had earlier dropped a chance to work with Spielberg on one of his many famous historical dramas, “Empire of the Sun” too puts in a great performance as the Russian Spy who is being defended by Tom Hanks. Being famous for his performances in Shakespeare plays, it’s no surprise the Rylance’s character believes that brevity is the soul of wit. His nature is silent, brooding, calculative, yet within a second he can change the mood of the whole scene, making you chuckle.

Amy Ryan too puts in a great performance, in a perhaps slightly under-written role as Hanks’ caring wife, it would’ve been interesting to see some more family drama in the first half of the film which was extremely slow and perhaps the main negative aspect in an otherwise well crafted film.

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At the end of the day however, it’s the production and costume design of the film which helps it achieve brilliance. The stark difference in colors which can be noticed between the scenes in the United States and those in Germany and even the difference in palette between East and West Germany, this was of course expected, yet it manages to enhance the feel of the film, it does indeed feel too “American” all the time, but then again, it’s Spielberg and Hanks we’re talking about. This production design and the costumes and of course that brilliant screenplay help prevent Bridge of Spies become just another “historical drama” with modern people, talking like modern people waltz around on screen with clothes that are just trying too hard to seem that they’re in the right era.

I think the two most powerful scenes from this film were both set in the courtroom. Two courtrooms in 2 geographically and ideologically opposite countries, though the hero of one was Tom Hanks, and after that particular speech he delivered I’d totally want him to represent me in court if I ever ran into trouble. The second was the trial of the American U2 Pilot that the Russians (read Soviets), a small portion of this particular scene even featured in the trailer for the film. The sheer energy that this particular scene radiated was incomparable to any other part or aspect of the film, for me.

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Thomas Newman has delivered yet another astounding score, though it wasn’t used much, Spielberg and his directorial genius let the actors do the talking. And like many other things about Bridge of Spies…..
I’m not complaining.

Taking Shakespearean Adaptations To Another Level… : Haider

The auteur Vishal Bhardwaj has taken the classic The Tragedy of Hamlet, The Prince of Denmark ; and has infused a new life into it with his gripping drama, Haider. Probably the best way to express how brilliant this adaptation is, at doing justice to its source material yet leaving its own mark, is the poetic way in which probably the most famous and most quoted dialogue of Shakespeare’s work, “to be, or not to be….”, has been used.

Dil ki agar sunu toh tu hai…
Dimaag ki sunu toh tu hai nahi…
Jaan lu ki jaan du…
Mein rahu ki mein nahi

Which would translate to

If I listen to my heart, it is you…
If I follow my brain, it isn’t…
Should I take a life, or give mine…
To be or not to be.

Now this translation,  might just ruin the feel, but the poignancy with which this particular scene has been written and further more the way in which Shahid Kapoor (playing the film’s protagonist, Haider) delivers it was simply mesmerizing.

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Not just that, but the film has an underlying political commentary that has been presented in a “not-so-subtle” manner, which was the cause for massive outrage. Set in the beautiful Kashmir, this film is probably the first one to present a realistic scenario of the hard life that the people lead and beneath the snow-covered mountains and scenic valleys there exists great tension. The cinematographer, Pankaj Kumar, however has used even the madness to his advantage capturing aforementioned snow-clad peaks and beautiful valleys of Kashmir with great beauty. However one can sense the coldness, the harshness lying underneath.

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Vishal Bhardwaj, who interestingly started his journey in the entertainment industry as a playback singer and a music composer (and yes, I was initially shocked when I came to know that), but coming back to the point, Vishal Bhardwaj has used modern music elements particularly “electro-rock” and has fused it with beautiful, traditional, classical Kashmiri music to give a powerful score to a powerful film.

There are 2 scenes that are completely outstanding in the film, the first one would be Haider’s crazy antics in the town square, which stay with the viewer long after the film is over. The second one is the song sequence, for Bismil, which is probably the best used song that I have seen in a Bollywood film in a long, long time. The lyrics of the song, which if you decipher tell a story themselves, although with the dance going on along with the song you don’t have to be a genius to know what it’s all about.

Shahid Kapoor playing the film’s protagonist, Haider who’s character is based upon Prince Hamlet does an absolutely fantastic job, swinging between the madness and the calm, his acting is something to be savored. Kay Kay Menon who played the role of Khurram Meer, whose character has been modeled upon Claudius, is the chief antagonist. The sadistic joy of seeing his performance is reminiscent of Hans Landa played by Christoph Waltz in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Tabu, playing the role of Ghazala Meer whose been modeled upon Gertrude too puts in a wonderful performance.

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Tabu as Ghazala (Gertrude) and Kay Kay Menon as Khurram (Claudius)

The dialogue of the film, however, is something on a whole different level, honestly I cannot even begin to describe or put into words such a beautiful use of words themself. The beauty and the poetry in language has been brought out by Bhardway and his co-writer Basharat Peer. The dialogue of Haider is something that’ll make you want to find out what it means and honestly, it isn’t something that I’d like to see ruined by translation, the true meaning of the dialogue of Haider comes from simply realizing what it could mean without risking the chance of having the beauty of the moment be ruined by a literal, lifeless translation.