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Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street

( As part of the Wes Craven Blogathon my second piece is on his iconic horror movie, Nightmare on Elm Street. Spoilers ahead, some key scenes discussed in the review, so readers please note).
Wes  Craven’s   had  played  upon  the  subconscious  nightmares  of  average  Americans  in  his  first  two movies   The Last  House on The  Left  and   The  Hills  Have  Eyes.   Both  these  movies  were  a typical  motif  of  the  70′s  exploitation  grindhouse  flicks,   damned as  B cinema,   but  which  in  years  later  would   have  a cult  following  of  their  own.  They  had  certain  elements  common  to  70′s  Grindhouse flicks,   copious  amounts  of  gore,  sex,  nudity  and  violence.  But  most  importantly  they  seemed  to  play  upon  the  insecurity  of  the  average   American  to  the  60′s  free sex,  free  living,  flower  power  movement. In the  Last  House,  two  teen  girls,   out  for a  quick  fix  of  hash,  on  a  weekend,  get  into trouble,  as  they  are   kidnapped, gagged,  taken to the woods,  raped,  tortured  and  finally  kiled.  Craven  seems  to  set  the  line  between  the  good  folks  and  the  bad  folks,   the  bad folks,  were  guys  who got stoned,   were slutty,  and  horny. In  an  ironic  indictment  of   the  free  sex  mood,  a  particularly  graphic  scene,  shows  the  two  teen  girls,  forced  to have  sex  with  each other in front  of  their  tormentors.   Craven  draws  the  line  even  more  clearly  in  The Hills Have Eyes,  where  the  good  All American  family,  is  stranded  in  the  middle  of  nowhere,  and  they  have  to deal  with  the  bad  guys,  the  a   family  of  violent  thugs  with  a cannibalistic  tendency.
In  1984,  Craven  came  out  Nightmare on Elm Street,   a movie ,  that   actually  preys  on  a common  fear,  of  nightmares.  So  many  times  we  would  have  had  nightmares,   waking  up  in  sweat,  and  wondering  what  if   it  really  had  happened.   Interestingly  the  word  nightmare  originates  from an Old  English  word  referring  to  demons  called  incubi  which were  thought  to  sleep on the chests of people.  This  could  be  one  reason, why  the  nightmare  device  has  always  been  a  favorite  of   horror  fiction  writers.   Wes   Craven here  again  goes  for a  kind of  what  if   scenario.   Its  like  “Hey  i  got  a bad nightmare,   now  what  if   that   nightmare  becomes  real?  What  if  the  character  in the nightmare  actually  jumped  out  from it”.    Traditionally  horror  movies  have  worked  on  the  idea  of  something  unseen  somewhere,   comming  out  and  attacking  us.   Poltergeist   played  with  the  fear  of    ghosts  comming from  a  TV  set,  and  much  later  The Ring,   toyed  around  with the  idea  of  a  spirit  comming from an old  video  casette.   The  very  reason  why  Nightmare  is to date  regarded  as   one  of  the  best   in  the  horror  genre,  is   that  its  not  just   your  routine,  evil  spirit  comes  out  and  goes  slash, cut, slash  on  screaming   victims.   Nightmares   have  often  been  said  to be  the  outcome of  our  inner  fears,  so   Craven  here  by  suggesting  that  our  inner  fears  could  actually  end  up comming true,   puts  in  a pyschological, Freudian  sub  text.
In  fact   when  the  movie  begins  we  see  glimpses  of  the  killer  its  only in  brief  glimpses,  where   we  see  a  hand  putting  the  knives  to the  fingers  of  a glove,  and  a  kind  of  dimly  lit  boiler  room.   The  hand  strikes, a  dark  canvas  is  torn into shreds,   and  then we  see a  panoramic  shot  of   the  San  Fernando  suburb near  Los  Angeles,  where  the  action  takes  place.    As  the  title  credits  roll by  we  see  a  young  teen   female  of   around  15,  by  stalked  by  a  mysterious  stranger,  in  what  must be  one of  the  scariest  opening  scenes.  What i loved  here  is  the  way,   Craven,  shows  the  credits  in  every  frame,  the  girl  leaves behind,  and  we have the   blades ripping  through  the fabric.   For   a  while  everything  goes  silent,  and  then  we have  the  mysterious  stranger  attacking  the  girl, and  she  breaking free from him,  and   then  suddenly  we   see  her  walking  up  in bed  with  a scream.

A very young Johnny Depp

The  girl  here  is  Tina( Amanda Wyss),    staying  with  her  mom  and  her mom’s  boyfriend.   Tina  looks  down  to  see  that  her  nightgown  bears   the  same  cuts  as  those  inflicted  by  her  mysterious  attacker.   The  next  day  at  school,  Tina   listens  to  the  kids  singing  “One two Freddie’s  comming  for  you”    and   is   again   reminded  of   her  nightmare,   confiding  about  it  to  her  friend  Nancy Thompson(  Heather  Langenkamp),    who  coincidentally   has  the  same  kind  of  nightmare  Tina  has  had,  as  we  come  to know  later.   Both  Tina  and  Nancy  are  typical  American  suburbian   teens,  with  divorced  parents,   prom nights  and   yes  boy friends  looking  for  a romp.    Nancy’s   boyfriend  is   Glen  Lantz(  a  certain  Johnny  Depp  in  his  debut),    while  Tina’s   on  and  off  boy friend  Rod   is  a kind of  Richard  Gere wannabe ,   black  leather jacket, studs   and all.
With  Tina’s  mom  out  of  town,   Nancy  and  Glen,  offer  to   sleep  over  at  Tina’s  place  to  make  her  feel better.  Glen  as it  turns  out is  bit of  a Mama’s  boy,  who  has  to  make  up  a  story  to  his  Mom,   to  come  over.    Rod   gatecrashes  into  their  party,  and  though  Tina  has  this  “now  i  love  u, now  i  dont”   relationship  with  him,  he  takes  her  inside  ostensibly  to  talk.   The  unwritten  rule  of   any  horror flick in Hollywood    is  “With  great  sex,  comes  sudden  death”.    Or  in  other  words,  you  have a  couple  indulging in some hot  romping  around,   you can be   very   sure,   that  in  the  next  scene,  they are gonna  have  their  party  rudely  interrupted,  of  course  unless  you  happen  to be  the  lead  pair.  I  somehow   wonder   how  the  hero  and  heroine  have  great  sex,  and  nothing  happens  to them.    Sure  enough  we  hear  Tina and Rod,  having   a  great  romp, and  then both of  them  under   the  sheets,   and   as  in  Hollywood,  the romp  under  the  sheets,  seems  to  fix  the  problems   they  are  having  in  their  relationship  for  the time being.
Sure   enough  after  some  time  Tina  listens  to the  voices,  and  as  she  rushed around  to find  out, the  mysterious  stranger  attacks  her.   As  Tina  rushes  around  seeking  help,  she  runs  to her home,  and   in the  dim light,  finds  that  the  mysterious  stranger  attacking  her  is  the  same   guy  who  haunted   her  in the  nightmare.  And   on  hearing  her  cries,  Rod  wakes  up,  only  to find  Tina  thrashing around on bed, and  in front  of   his  shocked  eyes,   she  is  cut   across  her  chest,  and  then   her  bloodied  body  is  dragged  along the  ceiling before she falls dead.  Here   Craven,  actually  uses  two  POV’s   in  quick  succession,  Tina’s   and  Rod’s.   From  Tina’s  POV,   we  see  her  being  attacked  by  the  stranger   and  then  being  killed,  while   Rod  only  sees  Tina  being  killed  by  some  strange  invisible  forces.   The  way  Craven  keeps  shifting  between  the  two  POV’s   makes   the   scene   really   unsettling.
The  cops  arrest  Rod   for  the  murder,  because  he  happened  to be  there,    incidentally  the  local  police  lieutnant  Don Thompson( John  Saxon),   also  happens   to  Nancy’s   father.    The  scene  here  is  significant  in  one  way,   for  me  in  that  Craven,  seems  to be  exploring  the  issue  of   abstinence.   Nancy  refuses   to  have  sex  with  Glen,  making  him  remark  “Morality sucks”,   while  Tina  the  girl  who  has   a  romp  with  her  boyfriend,  is  bumped  off  in  a rather  gory  manner.  Something  like  you  cross  the line,  you  end  in trouble.  As  i said  earlier,  the  late 70′s  and  80′s   were  the  time,  when  there  was  some  sort  of   conservative  backlash  against  free  sex  and  teen  pregnancy,  and  Craven   seemed  to be  playing  on  that  implicitly.
Nancy  however  is  convinced  that  Rod  is  innocent,   as  when  she  is again stalked  and  attacked  in  the  nightmares  by  the  same mysterious  stranger.   And she   sees  that  whats  happened  to her in the  nightmare  is  occuring  to her in  real life.   She  meets up  with  Rod,  and   she discovers  that  he  also  had  the  same  nightmare.  Nancy  is  convinced   that  the  attacker  is  the  one  responsible  for Tina’s  death,  but  her  father   dismisses it  off  as a case  of  hysteria.   When  Rod is  next  found  dead,  strangled  by  bedsheets  in  the prison  cell,  the  cops  dismiss it as a case  of  suicide.  Nancy   however  knows   that  its  the   stranger,  responsible  for  the  deaths,  and   its  a matter  of   time  before  she  and Glen  become  victims.  Thats   when  her  mom,  reveals  the  story  of   Freddy  Kruger,  a  notorious  serial  killer  of  kids,  who  was  caught    and   burned  to  death  in  a boiler,   by  the  angry  parents,  which  explains  the  boiler  motif  appearing  in  most  of  the  scenes.  Nancy  is  now  convinced   that  its  Kruger  himself   involved  in  the  murders.
Basically  horror  or  slasher  flicks  work  in  two  ways,   you  have  the  who dun  it  kind,  where  we  have  the  masked  stranger  going on  a killing  spree,   and  then  his   motivations   are  explained  in  the  final  reels.   The  other   is  where  we  have  a knowledge  of   the  killer,  but  the   interest  centers  around  how  it  is  encountered.   Like  in  Alien,   we  know  that  the  culprit  is  a nasty  alien,  going  on killing  every one,  but   the  tension  is  how  the  lead  character   tackles  the  situation.  Here  once  Nancy’s   mother  explains  about  Freddy  Kruger,  we  know  the  character  and   his  motivations,  but  the   interest  here  is  in  how  Nancy  is  able  to tackle  him.
And  where  Craven,  really perks  up  the  viewer  interest  is   in  the  way  he    looks  at   the  barrier  between  the  dreams  and  real  world.   We  have a  real  chiller  of  a scene,  when  Nancy  is  having  her  bath  in  the  tub,  and  she  is  pulled  under  into  a  totally  dark  pool.   Here  every  scary  scene,  which  shows  Freddy  attacking   Nancy,   is  in  essence  a dream,  but   when  she  wakes  up  from  the  nightmares,  and  finds  that  whatever  injuries  she  sustained  in  her  dream,  appear  in  real,  we  find  it  hard  to  see  the  difference.    Craven  here  gets  the viewers  into  thinking   whether  dreams  could  be  real  or  vice  versa.   Is  that  at  times  our  inner most  hidden  fears    could  come true?   Also  the  way  he  gets  the  contrasting  POV’s   of   the  characters   in  the  death  scenes  of  Tina  and Rod,   looks  at  the  issue  of  perception.   The  same  thing  could  be   seen  in two  different   ways  by  the  characters  in  that  scene.    This  constant  interpolation  of  dreams  and  reality,  the  contrasting  POV”s  of  characters,   goes  right  down  into  the  ending,  which  again  is  totally  open  ended.   And  i guess  this is  what  elevates   Nightmare  from  a mere  horror  flick  into  some  thing   more  intellectual.  It  is  the  kind  of  horror  flick,  which  could  actually end  up  making  you  think.
One  more  reason  that  puts  Nightmare  up beyond  the  standard  horror/slasher  flick  is  the  strong  female  character.   Nancy  is  not  your  average  scream  queen,  damsel  in  distress   who  needs  her  knight  in  shining  armour,  to  come  and rescue  her from  the  dragon.   She is more   feisty,  more  resourceful,   and  yes   compared  to  the  standard,  low  IQ  heroines of   horror  flicks,  who  end  up  doing the  daftest  things,  she  is  much  more  smarter.   So  while  Freddy  Kruger  is  a suitably  nasty  villian,   Nancy  is  more  than  a match  for  him.  She  is  not  there  just  to  scream  around,  run  around,  be  dumb  and  have  her  hero  rescue  her  in  the  last  reel.  She  is  more  like  Ripley  in  the Alien series,  Clarence  Starling in  Silence of the Lambs   or    Rachel  in The  Ring.   Heather  Langenkamp  does  a  fairly  good  job,  though  she  is  not  a  Jodie  Foster  or  Sigourney  Weaver.    Johnny  Depp  in  his  debut  feature  is  fine,  however   nothing  too remarkable,  honestly  his  role   here  is more of  a supporting  act.  Robert  Englund,  who  plays  Freddy  Kruger,  gained  considerable  fame,  and  is  suitably  nasty  beneath  the   latex  face and all.
Craven   also  creates  the  necessary  creepy  mood  here,  with  good  light  and shadow  effect,  especially  in  the  surrealistic  dream sequences,  and   also  the  climax.   Though  shot  on  a very  low  budget,  the  movie  does  not  have a  tacky  feel  to it, and  the  special  effects  are well done.   The  80′s   feel  is  there  though,  especially  with  some of  the  blood  spilling  scenes.   Craven  however  did  not  take much  interest in the  sequels,  though  he  wrote  for  the  3rd  part,  with  the  result,  that  like  any  other franchise,  this  also  went  downhill,  as   the subsequent  versions  just  dumbed  down  the  intelligence  of  the  original   to  make them  more audience  friendly.  Nightmare on Elm Street  is  proof  that  a  horror  movie  can  be  made  without  asking  the  audiences  to  leave  their  brains  at  home,  and  which  can be  scary  too.  It is  one  of  the  few   movies  in  this   genre,   where  you  can  have  your  gore,  thrills  and at  same  time  use  your  grey  cells  a  bit  too.

Wes Craven Blogathon- The Nightmares of Wes Craven

( The Wes Craven Blogathon kicks off today, with a post on his 2 iconic movies The Last House on The Left and The Hills Have Eyes. Some of the pictures in the post are quite graphic, so do be warned).
Though  Wes  Craven  had  directed  many  other horror  flicks,  it is  through  the  Nightmare  on  Elm Street  Series,  that  he   is  best  known.  Aptly  so,  because  most  of   Wes  Craven’s   movies   have often  played  on  some  of  our  worst  nightmares.    Freddy  Kruger is  certainly  the  kind  of  character  who  could  haunt us in our dreams   every  where  we go.   Prior  to Nightmare  however   Craven’s  first  movie   The  Last  House  on The  Left,   in  1972,  was a movie  that  even  by  today’s   standards  is  shockingly  violent and  repulsive  at   places.
The Last House on The  Left ,  was   actually  more of   a  psychological thriller cum  exploitation film.   The  movie  has  totally  gratutious  shots  of   nudity,   sex   and   torture.   And  quite  a lot of  the  scenes  do   make  you  flinch  out here.   It  deals  with  two  teen  girls  Mari  and Phyllis,  looking  for  some  pot,  being kidnapped by  a  gang of  run away  convicts,   Krug,  his  son  Junior, Sadie  and   Weasel.   The  two  girls   undergo  a  series of  tortures  as  they  are beaten,  raped,  forced  to  have  sex  with  each other  and  forcibly made to urinate.    The  irony is  that  all  this  takes  place  in  the  woods  very  close to Mari’s  home.   Phyliss  attempts to escape,  but  is  captured  and disembowelled,  while   Maris  is   again raped,  has  Krugs  name carved into her   and   is  shot  dead.   The  movie  deals  with  how  Mari’s   parents   find  out  about  the  act,  and   take  revenge  on  the  killers.    The  movie  has  one of the  most  horrifying  acts  of  violence,  where  a  guy’s  organ is  literally bitten  off.
Craven   followed  this  up  with his another  horror classic,  The Hills  Have  Eyes  in 1977.    This  dealt with  a  family  of  5 members,  Bob & Ethel  Carter,  their kids,  Lynne, Bobby and Brenda,  along  with  Lynne’s  husband  Doug  who  are out  vacationing in the  countryside.    Their  car is  stranded  on  the  road,  and  Bob goes out  to look  for  help.    The  problem is  that  the  area  is  inhabited by  a notorious  cannibal  family,  led  by  Papa  Jupiter,  who had killed  all the  livestock  on  his  farm  as a kid  and then  his  own sister.   Disowned  by  his  father  Fred,  he  teamed up  with  a whore called Mama,   and   together  with their kids,  they  waylaid  and  terrorized  the   travelers.    Interestingly  Jupiter’s   kids  are named  as  Mars and Pluto.   The  movie is  about  how  the  Carter’s  family   is  attacked  by   Jupiter  and  their   attempts  to survive.
If  one  takes  a look  at   Wes  Craven’s  first  2 movies,   certain  common  threads   come  into  picture  here.  Both  movies  show  a contrast  between  the   civilized  world  and  the  savage  world.   In  The  Last  House,   Maris  family, is  educated well to do,  and  she is  terrorized  by  runaway  convicts.   The  movie  seems  to  reflect  the  fears  of  suburbia  residents  being  swamped  by  the  others.  During  the   70′s,   many  white  families  migrated into the  suburbs,  as the  inner  city  areas  began  to  deteriorate  owing  to  problems like  unemployment,  rising  crime rates,  run down housing.   Here  too the   convicts  are shown  to be  New  Yorkers,  in  a way  reflecting the  fears of  the  suburbia  residents  that  they   their  safety  could  be  engendered.
Also  In  The  Last  House  On The  Left,  the  trouble  for  the  girls  begins  when they  go  out to  get some marijuana.    Again  this  seemed  to be a kind  of  comment  against   the  flower  power  swinging 60′s  generation,   implying  that  drugs  could  be  leading  to  trouble.    Also   the   way  the  convicts   force  the  girls  to have sex  with  each  other,  parade  them  naked,   seemed  to be  a statement  against  the  excesses  of   the  free love  Beat  generation.  While  not   as  popular  as  the  other  70′s  slasher classic,  The  Texas Chainsaw  Massacre,  in  a way both  movies   bought  in  the  realistic violence  aspect  to  the horror genre.
In   The  Hills  Have  Eyes,    the  conflict is  clearly  more  out in  the open,  between  the  civilized  Carter  family  and  the  wild,  uncivilized  family  of  cannibals.   In  fact    Wes  Craven  sets  it  up in  the  opening  scene,  when  Fred  keeps  looking  around  as  he  tries  to  escape  from  the  place,  and  then  another  girl  Ruby   pleads with him  to  take her  away.   Here  also  the  family  has to fight  for itself   against  a  bunch of  crazed  killers.    In  both  The  Last  House  and   Hills  Have  Eyes,  we  see  that  the  main  characters  strike back  in  the  same  brutal  fashion  as  their  tormentors.   The brutal  manner in  which  Maris  parents    attack  their  daughters  killers,  and  also  the  way  Doug  and  Carter  family,  fend off   Papa Jupiters  families,  seems  to  show  the principle  of   might is right.  Or in  a  way   implying  that  civil  rights  are good in principle,  but  not  in real  life.
One  more stand out  feature  of   both  these  movies  is  the  rawness quotient.   Most  of   the  70′s   horror  and slasher  flicks,  had  that  raw,  edgy  feel,  with  in  your  face  violence.     The movies  are not  slick,  unlike  the   more  sophisticated  90′s  productions,  they  had  a raw  edgy,  and  a sort of  a  home camera  feel.   The  camera  work  keeps   going at  dizzy  angles,   bringing  a giddy  feeling.   In  fact  both  of  them  were  X  Rated,  when  first  shown,  and  Craven,  had to keep  making cuts  till it came  to R.   Even  then  they  were banned  for   quite  some  time,  due  to  the  high  amount  of  gore  and  sex.
For  those  who  have  seen  Wes  Craven’s   Nightmare On Elm Street  and  loved  it,   i  would  still  recommend  both  these movies.   Yes  they  are typical  B movie  exploitation  stuff,   pretty  raw,  pretty rough,   but  they  actually  would  help  you  understand  how Nightmare  On  Elm  Street  came  into  being.

Wes Craven Blogathon( Sept 15-Sept 30, 2015)

Wes Craven, the name often brings back, many memories on screen, not necessarily pleasant. It would be easy to dismiss as homes as mere gore and sex fests, but at a deeper look, he explores our own fears, our own insecurities. The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, played upon the eternal theme of civilization vs barbarism. Last House on The Left, was on what happens in you stray away, basically a kind of morality drama, where the 2 young girls who seek to have some fun on the side, have the most horrifying experience ever. Hills  Have Eyes, was on a common fear, what if we are stranded in the middle of nowhere and have to face the barbarians there.  One more common feature, when it comes to survival, the “civilized” are as barbaric as their enemy, be it the girl’s parents in Last House on The Left or the family in Hills have Eyes.  Craven’s horror works because it plays on the viewer’s insecurity, both Last House… and Hills Have Eyes are scary, because they could actually happen to you.  And this is what comes out in his iconic movie Nightmare on Elm Street, where he takes the phrase “worst nightmares come true” to a literal level. Freddy Krueger would be one of the most iconic horror movie characters in history.  And Scream, literally mocked Hollywood’s various horror movie cliches.


Wes Craven is no more, passed away on Aug 30, but has left behind a great legacy in the horror movie genre. In tribute to him, organizing a blogathon, starting from Sept 15 tentatively. Like most other blogathons that have been conducted here, any articles on Wes Craven, his movies, interviews will be accepted.

You can use these images for promoting at your blog.

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Just send the link to your article to my email address


John Frankenheimer Blogathon-The Manchurian Candidate

(This post is being published by me for the John Frankenheimer Blogathon, one of his best movies to date. One classic piece of movie making with a tight narration, some great writing and an outstanding performance by Angela Lansbury as the domineering mother).
Spoiler Alert:  Some crucial scenes in the movie are discussed, readers please note.

It is, I think, an indisputable fact that Americans are, as Americans, the most self-conscious people in the world, and the most addicted to the belief that the other nations of the earth are in a conspiracy to under value them.-Henry James

Quite often  it  is  said  that  if  even the  average  American had no  enemy, he  would have  invented one.  In  a way same holds true for   the  Russians too,  considering  they  rarely get  along with any of their  East European  neighbors and vice versa.   The  Cold  War,  was essentially a battle between two  paranoia,  the  Americans  feeding on the fear of the “Soviets” who  would  take over America or it’s  satellite  nations, and turn them into one  vast  military camp, replete  with gulags, psychiatric wards,  KGB  agents.  Not to be outdone, the  Soviets and  it’s   satellite  nations, played upon  the  fear of  “the  Decadent  Western world” corrupting  the  “pristine, ideology of  the  Revolution”.   It  was the  Cold  War,  that  gave  rise  to  an  industry  of  it’s  own,  the  conspiracy  theory  industry,  that  found  it’s  way  into  novels and  movies.   The  Cold  War was  a fertile ground for  the  conspiracy  theory  writers,   and  events like  the Korean War,  JFK’s  assassination,  Bay of  Pigs,  Fidel Castro,  Kim Philby, the  spy ring in Britian,  the arms and space  race provided a ready fodder  for  the  feverish  imaginations  of  novelists,  script  writers and movie  makers.  It  was  the time  of  novelists  like  John Le Carre,  Frederick Forsyth, Robert  Ludlum,  Graham Greene, who  churned  out  some  great  thriller  fiction,  mostly  built  around  conspiracy  theories.   The  end  of  the  Cold  War,  not only  saw the  demise of  the  Great Soviet  Empire,   but  to writers  who  reveled in building  conspiracy  theories,  the  major  enemy  was  not  there any  longer.   Bereft  of  the  great enemy,  writers, movie makers   did  not  really  know where to  point it.   Where  Moscow  was the focal  point, and all  conspiracy theories  seemed to emerge from there, now  the enemy  became more  ambiguous.  It  ranged  from  Colombian  drug cartels to  Arab terrorists  to    East  European rebels  wanting  to establish  a  Russian empire once  more ,  basically  which  ever nation  was  not in the good books of  Uncle  Sam,  became the enemy by default. For  a major  part of the 90′s,  you  could  guess who  was in Uncle Jee’s  bad  books,  just  by taking a look at  the  latest  Hollywood  blockbuster.   In  Stallone’s  John Rambo, the  baddies  are  not  the  evil  Ruskies,  it is the Burmese  military junta,  and  apna  Stallone  Paaji aids the  Karen tribes people  in their  fight  against  the  junta.  Of  course  i  bet  that it  would be  some  time since Hollywood  makes  a movie, showing   Stallone  Paaji helping the  Balochistan  tribes  fighting  against  the  Pakistan  Govt. Of  late though in  order  to  present  a more  friendly  face  to the  world,  Hollywood  has  found a  new  enemy,  it is  within,  or  the  enemy  inside.  So  the  introspection  has  resulted in  movies like Syriana,  where  the  enemy  is  not  some  nasty  Arabs,  but  more  specifically the oil and  energy  companies, that seek to prop  up  dodgy  regimes in the Middle  East.
The  major  difference  between  the  2004  and  the  1962  versions   of  The  Manchurian Candidate , Richard Condon’s Cold  war  conspiracy thriller  novel.  Where  the ’62  version  was  about a  Korean war  hero,  who  was  actually  captured and  brainwashed  by the  Communists( the  Russians and N.Koreans here) to act  as a  sleeper  mole,  the 2004  version  has  a  Gulf  War  hero ,  and  the  evil  agency  here  Manchurian Global,  an international  arms  manufacturer,   that   brainwashes  and  programs  the  protagonist.  I  feel  this  is  where  the  1962  version  has a  definite  edge  over  the  2004  version.  The  ’62  version  has  more  believable  villains  and  is  more  rooted  in  reality,  the   bad guys  being  the  Russian-N.Korean  agents,  and  also  with  the  Bay of  Pigs & JFK’s assassination   taking  place  around  the  same  time  frame,  it  looks  much  more  sinister.    The  Soviets  trying to  take over the  White  House using  the    sleeper mole  looks  much  more believable,  while  the  entire  thing of   a  global  Arms  cartel,  trying to  control  the  White House, looks  pretty much like  one of  those  Robert  Ludlum  novels.  Sure the  notorious  Arms  Lobby  in  US,  does  influence  Capitol Hill,  but  i  really  doubt  how  willing  they would be to  do a  take over of  the  White House.
Director  John  Frankenheimer,  had  earlier  helmed  the  biopic,  Birdman of  Alcatraz, about a  real life prisoner at  Alcatraz  who  makes  friends with the  birds  to get  over  his  loneliness.   The  Manchurian Candidate  was  his  first  shot  at  the  dark  and  murky  world  of   espionage  and  conspiracy,  and  later on he  would  also  direct  Seven Days in May,  that  starred  his  favorite  actor  Burt  Lancaster,  as  a disgruntled  US  General, who  tries to lead a coup  against the  President, with  Kirk  Douglas,  playing  a US  Marine, who  tries to foil  the  entire  conspiracy,  and  later on  Black  Sunday about  a  Palestinian  terrorist  attempt  to  explode  a bomb in a crowded US  stadium.   The  opening  scene,  starts  off  with  American  troops   stationed  in  Korea,  grumbling  about  the  fact  that  they  are  not  allowed  to  enjoy  at  a local  brothel  bar in  Korea,  thanks  to  Sgt.  Raymond  Shaw(  Laurence  Harvey),  who  curtails their  activities,  the  other  person  in  the  platoon  is   Cpt.  Bennet  Marco( Frank  Sinatra).    Shaw’s  gruff , surly  attitude,  makes  him  unpopular  among  the  platoon  members,  and  later  on  during  a night time  operation,  the  platoon  is  ambushed,  and  taken  away  as  captives  to  Manchuria.
As  the  credits  play  over  a  button  having  images  of  the  Star  and  Stripes  with  Queen of  Diamonds,  the  camera  now  slowly  shifts  to  the  image  of  a  military  band, beating a  drum,  having  the  image of  the  American eagle on it.    I  feel  the  recurring  image of  the  Queen  of  Diamonds could  be due to the  legend  about  it being  inspired  by  Agnes  Sorel,  the  mistress  of  Charles VII of  France, who  exercised  unlimited power  at  his  court.  Shaw  who  has now  come  back  as a  war  hero,  is  dominated  by  his  mother  Mrs.Elanor  Iselin( Angela  Lansbury),  who is  power drunk  and  has  high  political  ambitions.     Shaw  hates  his  domineering  mother(  shades of  Pyscho  here),  as  well  as  his  step  father,  Sen. John  Iselin( James  Gregory),  who is  an  onscreen version of   Senator  McCarthy, right  wing  in outlook,  idiotic  and  paranoid,  also  standing  for  Vice  President.  If  we  take  the  particular   shot  introducing  these  2  key players  in  the  drama,  the  camera  first  pans to the  Stars &  Stripes,  and  then to the  couple, pretty much  an  ironic  metaphor,  or  as  some  one had  stated,  “Patriotism is  the  last  refuge of  a scoundrel”. The  juxtaposition  of  the  American  flag, the  eagle  symbol  with  that  of  the  power hungry  couple, their  son,  is  a  symbol  that  patriotism  here  has  become  the  last  refuge  of  many a  scoundrel.  And  as  stated  earlier,  the  Queen of   Diamonds,  here  shows  how  both  the  father  and  son,  are  being  manipulated  by  Lady  Iselin.   Shaw  is  disgusted  when  he  comes to  know  that  the entire  victory  parade  was  organized by his mother.

Disgusting three-ring circus…Johnny’s up for re-election in November. You’ve got it all figured it out, haven’t you? Johnny Iselin’s Boy, Medal of Honor winner. That should get you one of the fifty thousand votes.

Pretty  much  sums  up  the  way  military  operations  have  been  used  for  politicians  for  their  own  benefits.   Raymond  further  manages  to  infuriate  his  mother and dad,  when  he  announces  he  will be going to New  York to work  for  a  publisher,  Holborn  Gaines,  who  has a  liberal  outloook,  something  that  is  anathema  to his  mother.  Predictably  she  denounces  Gaines  as a  communist,  standard  term  during  that  time,  for  any  person  whose thoughts  were  on the  more  liberal  side.   Watch  out  for  Angela  Lansbury’s expression  here,  forceful,  at  the same time  subduing  her  rage, quite  chilling.
Marco  is  now  serving in the  Army  intelligence,  and  a  voracious  reader.    However  his  rather  peaceful  life,  is  being  interrupted  a  recurring  nightmare.  For  a movie  that  was  shot  in the 60′s  and  in  B&W,  the  way  director  Frankenheimer,  depicts  the  surrealistic  symbolism  is  brilliant.   The  camera  does   a  360  degree shot,  showing  ladies  present  at  some  garden  party  in  New Jersey,  covering  one of them  speaking, and the  rest  taking  in her lecture.  As  we wonder  why  the  shot  of  the  ladies  party,  the  camera  now  cuts to the stage,  and  the  lady  speaking is  now  replaced  with  a  communist  doctor-spy  Yen Lo,    and  the  camera  again  pans  to the  audience.  It  has  a smattering of   Koreans,  Soviets, Chinese,  and  most  important, the  platoon  that  was  ambushed  and  captured  in  the opening  scene.  What  we  see  here  is  the  juxtaposition  of  the  reality  with  the  imaginary,  using  hypnosis.  The  Communist  regimes  were  pretty  much  notorious  for  using  psychological   techniques  to brainwash  people  or  get  the  information  out  from  dissidents.    What we  see here is  the  real  and  imaginary  overlapping, the  lady speaking  and  the  other  ladies  listening  is  what  the  captured  soldiers  imagine,  the  reality  is  Yen Lo, is  the  lady  in  question,  and  the   ladies  listening to her are  in  fact,  the  captured  soldiers.

Allow me to introduce our American visitors. I must ask you to forgive their somewhat lackadaisical manners, but I have conditioned them – or brain-washed them, which I understand is the new American word. They believe that they are waiting out a storm in the lobby of a small hotel in New Jersey where a meeting of the ladies’ garden club is in progress.

That  comes  to  fore , when  in  one of  the  best  moments ,  Raymond  is  slowly  brainwashed,  by  what  he  imagines to be  the  elderly  lady Mrs. Whittaker,  when  in  reality  it is  Yen  Lo  doing  the  job.  The  camera  inter cuts  between the  3  characters,  Raymond, Ms. Whiitaker and  Yen Lo.    And  now  Shaw  fully  brain washed,  into a  killing  machine,  strangles  one of  the  soldiers, Ed  Mavole, on the  instructions  of  his  Communist  masters.   This  surrealist  dream sequence  itself  is  one  reason,  why  the  ’62  version  scores  over  it’s  2004  one.  This  entire  dream sequence  sets  up  the  plot, the  entire  raison d  etre.  The  ends  in  the  plot  are  tied  when  it  was  revealed, that  out  of  the  entire  platoon,  that  was  supposedly  “rescued” by  the  heroic  Raymond  Shaw, only  2  died,  one of  the  was  Ed Mavole.  While  Marco,  sees  Raymond,  strangling  Mavole  to  death in  the  dream, he is  not  convinced  of  his.  The  fact is he too has  been  brainwashed  into believing   Shaw  indeed  is  the “hero”  he  has  been made out to be.
Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life. 
The  use  of  symbolism  becomes  more  apparent  later on,  when  Sen.  Iselin,  harangues  the  Secretary  of  Defense,  claiming  that  the  State  Dept  is  teeming  with  communists, after  he  announces  cuts  in  defense  spending.   Frankenheimer  uses  different  perspectives of  the  same  event,  on  one  hand,  you  have the  Senator  taking  on  the   Defense  Secretary,  at  the  same  time,  Ms. Iselin,  is  looking ecstatically  at  the  event on TV,  rocking  back  and forth,   leaving  no  doubt  in  the  minds of  the  viewer, where  the  real  power  lies.
The  plot  now  gets  thicker,  when  another  member of the  platoon,  Corporal  Al  Melvin( James  Edwards) begins to have  the  same  nightmare.  Another  shocking  scene,  in the dream like sequence,  when  Raymond Shaw,  shoots  one of  the  most  popular and  the  youngest  member of  the  platoon, Bobby  Tembeck, straight in the head.  The  blood  spilling  on to  a large  portrait of Stalin  in the  backdrop.   Strangely  Melvin too believes  that  Shaw indeed is a hero,  and  he  parrots  out  the same  line  which  Marco had done.   But  the  main  reference to the  Queen of  Diamonds  follows,  when  playing a  game of  Solitaire,   Raymond  Shaw, gets  a phone  call right at  the  point  when he  gets the  Queen of  Diamonds,  and  hears  a mysterious  voice  asking  him to come to a sanatorium.  The  fact  is  that earlier on in the  dream  sequence,  Raymond  Shaw  was  actually  motivated to turn into  a killing machine,  when the  lady( who in  reality  is  Yen Lo)   brainwashes  him  using  a game of  Solitaire.
In  another  chilling  scene,  Raymond  Shaw  is  now  met  at  the  sanatorium  by  a group of  Communists, that  includes   Yen  Lo  and  a communist  inflitrator  Zilkov.  The  brainwashing  further  proceeds,  as  Yen Lo  impresses upon   Shaw,  his  mission,  his  difference  from the  average  American.

Do you realize, Comrade, the implications of the weapon that has been placed at your disposal?…A normally-conditioned American, who has been trained to kill and then to have no memory of having killed. Without memory of his deed, he cannot possibly feel guilt. Nobody, of course, has any reason to fear being caught. Having been relieved of those uniquely American symptoms, guilt and fear, he cannot possibly give himself away. Ah, now Raymond will remain an outwardly-normal, productive, sober, and respected member of the community. And I should say, if properly used, entirely police-proof.

Marco  inspite of  all  the  brainwashing  is  not  convinced  that  Raymond is worthy  of  the  Military Honor. The death of   the  publisher  Gaines(  actually  assasinated  by  Shaw)  as also  Melvin,  begins to  convince him  that  something  fishy is  afoot.  But  the  biggest  motivation for  him  to  suspect  that  Raymond  Shaw,  was  not  really  the hero, who would  save  his  own  unit,  is   Shaw’s  own character.  He  was the  most  hated  men  in his  unit.
It isn’t as if Raymond’s hard to like. He’s IMPOSSIBLE to like. In fact, he’s probably one of the most repulsive human beings I’ve ever known in my whole – all of my life.
Marco,  now  on  a leave, begins  on  his  mission to get  the  whole truth  about  Raymond  Shaw.  A  mission  that  sees him  meet  with  a mysterious  female  Rosie  Chaney( Janet  Leigh),  on the  train.  They  have  a  pretty much  random conversation  about  some of  the  states,  a  football  team  and her real name  and nickname.  On  face  of it, looks  quite  random,  but  considering  that  nothing  is  what  it seems  here,  was the  entire  conversation  some kind of  cryptic  message.  Also  consider  this  Rosie  is  the more  dominating person here,   putting  across  the  conversation,  while Marco  is  the  passive  person.  Is  Marco  also  being  manipulated  by  Rosie here?
While  by now  we  are  pretty  much  sure  about  Raymond,  who  is  manipulated   by  the  Russians-N.Koreans,  we  are still  not  sure  of   the  relation between  Marco  and Rosie.  The plot  gets  thicker and thicker,  when  an “Asian”  gentleman  Chun Jin,  is  taken  in  as  Shaw’s  translator, something  which  Shaw  can  never  make  sense of.    The  Manchurian  Candidate  is  the  kind  of  pyschological  conspiracy  thriller  that  works  on multiple  levels.  At  one  level,   Raymond  Shaw,  is  the  Manchurian  candidate, the  helpless  pawn in the  entire  chessboard,  who  is  moved  by  his  masters  in  the  Communist  establishment.  But  Shaw’s  plight  is  even worse,  not  just  being  manipulated by the  Russians,  he  also  is  manipulated  at  the other  end  by  his  own domineering mother.  While  his  mother  and  the  Communists  are  at  the  opposite  ends of  the spectrum,  there  is  not  much difference in  the  way both  use  him, for  their  own  purposes.  The  threat  to  the  nation,  comes  not  just  from  the  enemy outside, it  is  as much  as  the  enemy  inside, power  hungry  maniacs  like  Eleanor  Iselin.    In  one  way  using  the  Queen of  Diamonds  card  to brainwash   Raymond  into  killing, is  symbolic  of  how  he has often  been  manipulated by  his own mother from childhood,  he  hates  it  but is helpless.
The  Manchurian  Candidate  is  a movie  that  needs to be watched,  for  it’s  rich  symbolism,  its  metaphorical  allegories,  as  also  the  deeply  multi layered  plot, that  reveals  a new  angle  every  time  another level  is  uncovered.  There  is  not  much  of  action,  except  for  one  karate  fight scene(  i  believe  the  first of it’s  kind in American cinema)  between  Frank  Sinatra  and  the  Asian  valet.  This  is a movie  that  works  entirely  on  its  plotting  and characters. Of  the  greyish  tones  it’s  characters  acquire,  and a  sinister  world  where  nothing is  what  it  seems.  And  add to it some  great  performances.   Frank  Sinatra is  excellent  as  Marco,  the  protagonist  who  strives  to dig deep into  what  seems  a  convoluted  mystery.   But  the  best  performances  would  go  to  Laurence  Harvey as  Raymond  Shaw, brilliantly  capturing the  guilt,  the  agony, the  ruthlessness of  a person,  who  ultimately becomes  a pawn  in a deadly game,  and  above  all  Angela  Lansbury,  in   a performance  that  is  just  awesome  as  the  ruthless, domineering Ms.Iselin, cold, chilly, ruthless,  she  manages  to terrify the  audiences, just  with  her  expressions.

John Frankenheimer Blogathon( Feb 19-March 1, 2015)

John Frankenheimer, remains one of those directors, who often remains an enigma. At one time, touted as the next Orson Welles, the later part of his career, stumbled from disaster to disaster, before he redeemed himself somewhat with the 90’s thriller Ronin.  Yet this man made some of the best ever Cold War thrillers,  The Manchurian Candidate, about an American citizen, brainwashed by Chinese to assasinate the President, and 7 Days in May, about an extreme right wing plot to overthrow the US President. In fact some of his best output came during the Cold War era, with a series of gritty, tightly scripted thrillers. He also proved he was equally adept at the War genre, with his WWII drama, the Train,  and the gritty crime drama, French Connection II. Beyond thrillers and crime,  he proved he was equally good at human drama, with his tale of redemption, Birdman of Alcatraz. Technically he was  a genius, check out the tracking shots and amazing camera work in the Train, or the breathless car chase scenes in Ronin.

In tribute to a director, who has really not got his due, will be hosting a blogathon from February 19- March 1. You could contribute with either reviews of his movies, or other aspects too like his collaboration with Burt Lancaster or any other aspects of his movies.  And yes please do promote with one of the promo pics below.







We have also hosted blogathons earlier on Mike Nichols, Oliver Stone, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Michael Mann, Sydney Pollack, Howard Hawks, Roman Polanski and Steven Soderbergh, which you can check out.

Mike Nichols Blogathon- Closer


It’s easy to take off your clothes and have sex. People do it all the time. But opening up your soul to someone, letting them into your spirit, thoughts, fears, future, hopes, dreams… that is being naked.- Rob Bell.

Spoiler Alert: Some key scenes are discussed in the post, readers please note.

In 1790, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote a two act opera in Italian called Cossi Fan Tute( Thus do they All), which was performed at Vienna. The plot of Mozart’s opera, centres around two couples where the guys accept a bet to prove that their respective fiancées are eternally faithful. In order to carry out, the guys will pretend to be in disguise  and try seducing each other’s lover. And that sets off a series of betrayals, indiscretions, that throw the lives of the 4 characters into complete chaos and a free fall.  There have been latter attempts too at exploring the intricacies in relationships between two couples, Noel Coward’s Private Lives, Harold Pinter’s Betrayal  and  Pierre De Laclos Les Liaisons dangereuses( Dangerous Liasions).  The basic thread is the same, of two couples, where the partners are trying to cheat on each other, with or without their knowledge and the consequences that follow. Mike Nichols 2004 movie Closer, was based on Patrick Marber’s play of the same name, and while it had the same theme, of 2 couples and their partners cheating on each other, the treatment was much more contemporary and much more raw.  The language is more profane, and the story in a way mocks the Internet relationships, which is pretty much a 21st century phenomenon. Mike Nichols had earlier explored the theme of 2 couples on a cross collision course, in his 1966 debut movie, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, where a young couple gets drawn into the stormy married life of a middle aged couple, and finds that their own marital life is under threat now. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, was itself considered too bold, and shocking for it’s times, with the profane dialogue and the sexual implications present at every stage in the story. Closer is about two couples here- an aspiring novelist Dan Woolf( Jude Law) and a young American stripper Alice Ayres( Natalie Portman),  a photographer Anna Cameron( Julia Roberts) and a dermatologist Larry Gray( Clive Owen).

Natalie Portman and Jude Law

In an opening scene, that mocks at most of the staple romantic comedy clichés, Dan meets with Alice, on a busy London street, when the latter has an accident.  Both the actors walking in slow motion, and Damien Rice’s The Blower’s Daughter playing in the background.  It seems a scene straight out of any standard rom com, with Jude Law, looking wistfully at Natalie Portman, in a red wig, looking utterly waifish.  And soon, Portman,looking all dreamy eyed, hit by a bus, falls on the road, Law rushes in to help her up.Portman looks back with a mix of innocence and coquetteishness , and in that sweet tone of hers calls out “Hello Stranger”. One of the best opening scenes ever. The following scene in the hospital, sets up the two characters well, Dan is an aspiring writer, but now consigned to writing obituaries in news papers, what he calls the “Siberia of Journalism”. And Alice tells that she is a stripper, but proves to be quite an alluring character, sweet and innocent, but curious,  with a hint of mischief, under that sweet face.  The opening scenes, hint at a picture of a perfect romance between Dan and Alice, as they walk around London, taking in the sights, cuddle together on bed and kiss. It just seems all so perfect, but it’s sure, there is some trouble lurking around the corner. And it arrives in the form of Anna, an American photographer,  who comes to take a picture of Dan, who now is planning to launch his book, based on Alice’s life. By now Dan is in a full fledged relationship with Alice, but still does not prevent him from flirting with Anna, and they have a passionate kiss together, another well shot scene.  Dan seems to want to have his cake and eat it too, he is attracted towards Anna, but at the same time, does not want to let go of Alice, whom he claims is completely lovable and unleavable.

Extraordinary thing, the internet. Possibility of genuine global communication, the first great democratic medium. -Anna

The Internet, if there was one term to define the 21st century, it would be the “Age of the Net”. Yes the first great democratic medium, that bought knowledge to the common people, and turned relationships upside down. On the Internet, you could be yourself, and you could still not be yourself. The Net was a medium, where you could be what you wanted to be, instead of what you are. You could get into an anonymous chat room, and be a stud, carrying on with 5-6 females at a time, never mind if in real life, you were nowhere close to it. Or like Dan, transform yourself into the opposite gender, and indulge in hot cybersex with the others. Which is what he does with Larry,  a dermatologist, whose instincts and approach towards the opposite sex are pretty much caveman level.  Larry actually believes that  Dan, whom he meets in an anonymous cybersex chat room is actually a female, and when the latter asks him to meet in real, he accepts it. Nor is there any finesse in his approach with Anna, who also comes to the same place,it’s crude, he does not even bother to check with her, if she is the same person with whom he had cybersexed.

It’s a lie. It’s a bunch of sad strangers photographed beautifully, and all the glittering assholes who appreciate art say it’s beautiful ’cause that’s what they want to see. But the people in the photos are sad, and alone, but the pictures make the world seem beautiful. So the exhibition’s reassuring, which makes it a lie, and everyone loves a big fat lie.- Alice

One of Closer’s best scenes, is when the 2 couples are together, at a photo exhibition organized by Anna, on Alice. We have Alice talking to Larry, Anna taking with Dan,  and the camera keeps switching back and forth, capturing the interactions between the two characters.  Dan once again is pursuing Anna, he can’t get it how she has fallen for a dermatologist, as he says “can you get more boring than that”. Larry on the other hand, is quite content in his relationship with Anna, he takes pride in the fact that she is even amused by his nasty habits. Or maybe the fact that it’s the flush of the first 4 months when everything seems hunky dory.  He is deeply in love with Anna, as he puts it “You are a woman”, while Alice is just a girl.  It is this that makes Alice remind him “You seem more like the cat that got the cream. Stop licking yourself.”.

Oh, as if you had no choice? There’s a moment, there’s always a moment, “I can do this, I can give in to this, or I can resist it.” And I don’t know when your moment was, but I bet you there was one. I’m gone.- Alice.

Closer is Mike Nichols most dark movie,  next to Who is Afraid of Viriginia Woolf?  I would say. It is brutally honest, cold and cynical, sparing no punches in it’s take on modern day relationships. In a sense it is the anti date movie, that mocks at all those romantic cliches of  eternal love you have been fed with.  Dan is in a relationship with Alice, yet he has no qualms cheating on her, with Anna, who herself is married to Larry.  Yet he can’t seem to give up on Alice, he really does not have a convincing explanation about what made him fall for Anna, when he does not seem to have any issues with her. He wants Anna, at the same he is jealous if Alice finds some one else. He loves Alice, does not want to hurt her, but at the same time he himself claims he is selfish, he feels he would be happier with Anna.  At that very moment, the word “love” seems to be shallow, it just seems a matter of convenience to be used as and when needed. All that talk of eternal love, being there for another just goes straight out of the window, as we see Dan seeing love in an opportunist sense.

Don’t say it. Don’t you fucking say “You’re too good for me.” I am, but don’t say it. You’re making the mistake of your life. You’re leaving me because you believe that you don’t deserve happiness, but you do, Anna.- Larry

For a movie that  explores the issue of partners cheating on their significant others,  Closer does not really have any explicit scenes of nudity or sex.  The sexual tension here though is more from the dialogue and the characters motivations. Take the scene, where Larry confronts Anna, over her cheating on him with Dan.  It is completely dialogue oriented, yet you feel the rawness, the sexual tension, just from the words and the actions. As Larry demands Anna, to let her know what happened between her and Dan, you feel that sense of unease, the tension somewhere in the air.  Larry is the other end of what Dan is, more brusque, more rough and yes quite possesive of Anna too. The very thought of Anna sleeping around with Dan, gets Larry all heated up, yet he still wants to know the graphic details of the sex they had. As he puts it to Anna “I am a fucking caveman”.

Closer is not a movie you would go out on a date with, it’s too honest a look at what we call love and relationships. It is like watching your own relationship in a mirror, with all that facade of true love, stripped away.  What you get to see from Mike Nichols is a brutally honest, no holds barred portrait, and that is not a pretty picture to look at. There were many who hated Closer, as they felt it was just too cold and cynical. But that was what the movie was intended to be, to shock and awe,albeit in a more subtle manner. You see both the relationships, hurtling down a path of no return, and that makes you examine your own.  When you say “I love you”, do you really mean it, or is it just an opportunist turn of phrase you are using to satisfy your lust. You hate Closer, because you know like Dan or Anna, you have used love for your own opportunistic ends. You hate Closer, because you know like Larry under all that educated, refined exterior, you are still a caveman. You hate Closer, because you find that some one like Anna, for all her waif like exterior, is actually the most sensible and level headed of the lot. Closer puts the mirror straight in your face, makes you have a re look at your own relationships, insecurities, and how shallow the concept of love is.

The movie is also helped by some splendid performances.  Jude Law is first rate as usual, as Dan, who uses love for his own selfish ends. Not too big a fan of  Julia Roberts, but she was pretty good as the cold and calculating Anna. Clive Owen, exudes the natural caveman like appeal and raw passion of Larry quite well, especially in the scene where he confronts Ms.Roberts. And Natalie Portman, packs in the right mix of innocence, coquettishness, impishness, with a lingering sexuality, in the right measure as Alice.

Mike Nichols Blogathon-Charlie Wilson’s War

The real life Charlie Wilson

Charles Nesbitt “Charlie” Wilson (June 1, 1933 – February 10, 2010) was a United States naval officer and former 12-term Democratic United States Representative from Texas’s 2nd congressional district.  Wilson is best known for leading Congress into supporting Operation Cyclone, the largest-ever Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) covert operation which, under the Carter and Reagan administration, supplied military equipment including anti-aircraft weapons such as Stinger antiaircraft missiles and paramilitary officers from their Special Activities Division to the Afghan Mujahideen during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. – From Wikipedia.

(Spoiler Alert: Some key scenes are discussed in this post, readers please note).

In the 80’s, George Crile III, the CBS journalist, began to uncover details of Operation Cyclone,  while researching and reporting on the war in Afghanistan.  The astounding details on Operation Cyclone, began to come out and in 2003,Crile  published his findings in a book, Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History.   This book would be the basis for  the 2007 movie, Charlie Wilson’s War, written by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Tom Hanks as the titular Charlie Wilson.

The movie starts off showing Senator Charlie Wilson( Tom Hanks), frolicking around in the bath tub, with a bunch of other females, one of them an aspiring starlet Crystal Lee( Judy Taylor), her agent, where the talk is about her role for a TV show. In the opening scene itself it is clear that Charlie is hardly interested in legislating or governance.  Coming from Lufkin, Texas, a town where people, just wanted to have their guns, and be left alone, Charlie has plenty of time on his hands to frolic around, with nubile young females, partying, sniffing coke.  He has staffed his office with pretty young women, and his reason “You can teach them to type,but you can’t teach them to grow tits”.  That is what Charlie was an easy going Senator, enjoying the good life, the women, the parties. I believe that the real Charlie Wilson was even more wilder, when it came to drugs and sex.  It was quite interesting watching Hollywood’s Mr.Nice Guy  Tom Hanks, play the role of a sleazepot, and he does it quite well. One interesting part, is when Charlie is frolicking with Crystal and a couple of other strippers in the bath tub, at a hotel in Las Vegas, the camera keeps cutting to a TV show, where Dan Rather, is speaking about the crisis in Afghanistan, and how if the US does not act, it could end up being another communist state. In a way a rather nice setup to Charlie’s character later on in the movie.

Charlie for the most part is having a good time, enjoying with the female staff in his office, who seem to love him for all his sexist attitudes( or maybe it is the bad boy persona).  I did hear that  Charlie Wilson’s female staff were fanatically devoted to him in real, often nicknamed Charlie’s Angels.  And yes, listening to one of his constituent’s appeal for setting up a Nativity crche, at a fire station in Texas, his life is pretty easy. Until he runs into Joanna Herring( Julia Roberts, doing the icy blonde act), a rich born again Christian  Texan socialite,  and is the Honorary Consul to Pakistan.  Herring sleeps around with Charlie when needed, disdainfully calls his female employees as sluts, and she is the one who impresses him on the need to supply asssistance to Afghanistan.

I’ve been with the company for 24 years. I was posted in Greece for 15. Papandreou wins that election if I don’t help the junta take him prisoner. I’ve advised and armed the Hellenic army.I’ve neutralized champions of Communism.I’ve spent the past three years learning Finnish! Which should come in handy here in Virginia! And I’m never, ever, sick at sea.So I want to know why I’m not gonna be your Helsinki station chief– Gust Avrakotos

And this is where the most vital character in the movie comes into the picture, Gust Avrakotos( Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his best performances ever).  Gust is a maverick CIA agent,  passionately dedicated to his job, some one who lives and breathes it 24/7. He has no patience for the file pushers, is outspoken to a fault and cares for no one. Aaron Sorkin’s strength is in the way he introduces his characters, sets up their motivations, and the interpersonal exchanges between them. Recall Jack Nicholson’s introduction scene in A Few Good Men, where he makes it clear to Tom Cruise who the boss is. And that is the main strength of Charlie Wilson’s War, the character set up, and the exchanges between Charlie and Gust. This is one of the best introduction scenes ever, where Gust has a showdown with his superior, goes around and smashes the glass window, in one of the movie’s best scenes ever. Gust in a way sums up the typical, on the ground CIA agent, who has been hands on, and has no patience for the sanctimonious file pushers.

So give an interesting premise, characters and set up, does Charlie Wilson’s War live up to the expectations?  Yes and No.

Mike Nichol’s strength is the way he develops his characters, and the interpersonal relationships between them. He is not much of a visual stylist like David Fincher, Ridley Scott or Mann, his forte is characters in a suburbia or an urban world, and their interactions. Nichols works best on that level, be it Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  or Graduate or Postcards From the Edge. And that is the major strength of  Charlie Wilson’s  War, the interactions between Charlie and Joanna, Charlie and Gust, as they begin their mission to arm the radicals or what they call the “ultra-right”  in Afghanistan, who are fighting a losing war with the Soviets. The scenes where Joanna convince,  Charlie of the need for US intervention in Afghanistan are well played out. She for sure is an interesting character, rich Texan socialite, ex TV show hostess, ex beauty queen, who is now the Honorary Consul to Pakistan. In her own words other than boycotting the Olympics, which was a fairly impotent response,  the US Govt was hardly doing anything to prevent Afghanistan from going under the Soviet Radar.

If this were a real war,State would issue a white paperoutlining the Communist threatthe way they did in El Salvador.
If this were a real war,there’d be a National Bipartisan Commission on Afghanistan, headed by Henry Kissinger
the way they did in Central America.
If this were a real war, Congress would authorize $24 million for covert operations the way you did in Nicaragua.

The feeling is that the US was not really considering Afghanistan a threat, the way it did with some other countries during the Cold War. And that is where Joanne impresses upon Charlie the need for arming the rebels, saving Afghanistan, defeating the Russians and even ending the Cold War perhaps. Interestingly that did turn out to be prophetic, the Soviet defeat there, was one of the factors in hastening the end of the empire. Only that reality hits Charlie in the face, when he visits Gen Zia in Pakistan( Om Puri in a neat little cameo), who complains about the inadequate funds, the equipment and the fact that he does not really trust them.  As he says “You sell us planes, but not the radar,You offer Afghans rifles from WWI against Soviet helicopters”. In a rather moving scene, Charlie visits the refugee camps, and the plight of the people there moves him. Again this scene is shot quite poignantly, showcasing Charlie’s transformation, who is now fully convinced that the US needs to act fast in Afghanistan to prevent it from slipping permanently into Soviet hands.

Charlie-Were you listening at the door?
Gust- I wasn’t listening at the door.
Charlie- Were you standing – at the goddamn door listening to me?
Gust – No.
Charlie-How could you even… That’s a thick door!
You stood there and you listened to me?
Gust-I wasn’t standing at the door.
Don’t be an idiot.
Gust – I bugged the Scotch bottle.
Charlie- What?
Yeah, it’s got a little transmitter on it.

Another great scene is the first meeting between Charlie and Gust,  when the former calls him to his office.  Gust has an enclyopediac knowledge about the officials around, and as they discuss, Charlie asks him to leave the room for a moment, when his faithful aide Bonnie( Amy Adams, pretty much under utilized) drops in. Charlie comes to know that Paul Brown, the guy whom he had been hanging out in the bathtub in the first scene, is now wanted for a fraud. And he also comes to know that he is under investigation for alleged cocaine use, and hobnobbing with Paul Brown and the starlet Crystal. The best part is when Gust comes back into the room, and then reveals his indiscretions.  Charlie is shocked, and wonders if Gust was eavesdropping. And then Gust cooly reveals to Charlie, that his Scotch bottle is actually bugged, this was satire at it’s best. Tom Hanks and Paul Seymour Hoffman are both at their best in this scene.

The Soviets didn’t come into Afghanistan on a Eurail Pass. They came in T-55 tanks.The fighters need RPG-7 anti-tank grenade launchers, Katyusha 107mm rockets, wire mines, plastic mines, bicycle bombs, sniper rifles, ammunition for all the above and frequency-hopping radios and burst transmitters so these guys aren’t so fucking easy to find-Mike

Another interesting scene, is where Gust takes Charlie to a place where a bunch of  youngsters are playing chess. He calls one of the nerdy looking kids there. And then to Charlie’s  utter disbelief , it is revealed that he is actually the Weapon’s expert for CIA. Charlie feels is he being taken for a ride, here, I mean how could this nerdy looking chess player know anything about strategic ops and wars. And then the nerdy kid, Mike, explains the need for RPG-7 anti-tank grenade launchers. And here again, the need to make sure that these weapons come from Israel and Egypt, an American made weapon would have escalated into a full scale war.

Charlie Wilson’s  War works best in the entire lead to the mission, the planning, the strategies used, the discussions on the weapons. The way CIA makes use of seemingly normal people like Mike for undercover operations, is well shown, as are the ego clashes between various officials. Also to Nichols and Sorkin’s credit, they don’t  turn Charlie’s transformation from a rake, to a man who headed one of the largest covert ops in history, into something too sentimental. Yeah the scene at the refugee camp, is a bit Hollywoodish, but the transformation of Charlie’s character is shown gradually, from the first scene where he watches the TV news about Afghanistan, to his subsequent encounters with Joanna and Gust.

So what did not really work for me in this movie?

Operation Cyclone, was not just the largest covert ops in history, it also had an impact, right after the cold war.  The arms that were supplied by CIA to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, would be used by them later on the US itself, in a series of terror attacks during the 90’s which finally culminated in 9/11. The movie does quite well, in looking at how the operation was planned out, the strategies, and the scene where Gust and Charlie meet an Israeli arms dealer, is another great one. Especially the part where they suggest a co-ordinated effort between Israel and Pakistan, Egypt, their sworn enemies, which makes it clear that the Cold War was more a struggle for power, than anything else. And this now is the problem with the movie, after setting up the premise so well, looking at the way the operation was planned, carried out, it falls flat in exploring the aftermath and impact. Operation Cyclone, was problematic, in order to overthrow one enemy, the Soviets, it ended up creating a far worse enemy, much more vicious. And the movie just glosses over the whole aspect. The brilliant tongue in cheek satire, on US policies during the Cold War, and their “fight against communism”, loses out to a series of stock montages, showing the Afghans downing some Russian helicopters.  Mike Nichols works well when he is dealing with interpersonal relationships or character studies, however politics is not exactly his forte. The movie just glosses over the impact of Operation Cyclone, we just have a rather lame denoument by Charlie in the end, wondering if they had done a bigger mistake by handing Afghanistan over to the Mujahideen. Unlike Steven Spielberg’s searingly honest Munich, that explores the impact of Operation Wrath of God, on the pysche of the men handling the mission, this movie lacks the kind of introspection, that would have made it a classic. At the end of the day, it just becomes another Hollywood style, Americans get together, have fun saving the world from the bad guys, albeit written more smartly, and having a more intelligent screenplay. And that to me is where the movie falls short of being a genuine classic.

Mike Nichols Blogathon- Wolf

Jack Nicholson in Wolf


We start the Mike Nichols Blogathon, with a post on his horror classic Wolf,  written by Peter Roberts. As Peter puts it Wolf was a radical departure for a director, usually known for his human dramas like Graduate or comedies like Working Girl. It was dark, creepy and scary, also ended up polarizing audiences and critics alike. Peter is Editor in Chief of Deuce:Grindhouse Cinema,  and a rabid movie geek, who loves every kind of movie.  In his own words on Wolf here.

For me WOLF is an exceptional entry in the subgenre that doesn’t fall into the usual trappings that many of these kinds of movies do. It is certainly a werewolf film, but it’s played out with a combination of realism, sly humor and romance. I think what Mike Nichols did was create a solid character driven story first then add the werewolf elements to that which really worked for me. Using the backdrop of the book publishing business and the inner battles for seniority between Will and Stewart was very refreshing. I really enjoyed all the power play aspects mixed in with the supernatural elements. Of course any movie with Jack Nicholson in the lead is always worth watching and in this movie he delivered another entertaining performance infusing his trademark sense of humor and wit into the proceedings giving it a more grounded feel.

Mike Nichols(Nov 6, 1931- Nov 19,2014)- A Blogathon Tribute.

Mike Nichols, a director with whom I share my birthday- Nov 6.  Apart from the personal connect, he remains one of my favorite directors, and a blogathon was due on him from quite some time. I was sort of sad, when I heard the news of his passing away on Nov 19, his last movie Charlie Wilson’s War, was a brilliant satire on the Cold War, US involvement in Afghanistan, add to it fabulous performances by Tom Hanks( in a role much different from his Mr.Nice Guy image) and Philip Seymour Hoffman. In his long career, Nichols has directed movies ranging from the great( Graduate, Who’s Afraid of Virginian Woolf, Silkwood) to just about good( Postcards from the Edge)  to utter meh( Day of the Dolphin). Though Nichols often tried crowd pleasing stuff like Day of the Dolphin or horror like Wolf,, his forte was the personal movie. Of people and their relationships, he was at his best exploring human relationships in all their complexity.

In tribute to one of my favorite directors, I am doing this blogathon on my site here. I had earlier done  blogathons on Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Roman Polanski, Howard Hawks, Michael Mann,Steven Soderbergh that turned out quite well. So here is looking forward to contributions for the blogathon, in the form of movie reviews, articles, interviews, anything related to Nichols.  Also please request to use the given pictures on your blog for promoting it.

mnb1 mnb2 mnb3 mnb4 mnb5 mnb6

Any one interestd in contributing can please mail me at

Steven Soderbergh Blogathon-Behind the Candlebra.


The Soderbergh Blogathon finally ends with this lovely piece  by Critica Restro, on Behind the Candlebra. Critica Restro, is owned by Leticia, a 20 yr old Brazilian with a love for classic cinema, and a cinephile. She blogs in Portuguese, and we have got a link to a translated version.  Behind the Candlebra, is a sort of throwback to the earlier classic era of movies by Soderbergh, and takes a look at the relationship between the flamboyant pianist showman Liberace( Michael Douglas) and the poor boy Scott Thorson( Matt Damon). In her own words

Wait a moment: the blog is not about classic cinema? What a telefilm of 2013 doing here? “Behind the Candelabra” can be a modern production, but it has a whole retro feel, and even cites many movies and celebrities from classic movies, it is an important period in the life of the first and only pianist showman: the flamboyant Liberace.It’s 1977 and Liberace (Michael Douglas), has a consolidated creator of spectacles for the eyes and ears, is aged 58. He the young Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), relatively poor boy who dreams of becoming a veterinarian is presented. Then begins a relationship that will forever change both of their lives. Scott, who was just 18 when she met Liberace and was raised in foster homes, is introduced to a world of luxury, wealth, jewelry and vanity.


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