An Average Movie-watcher's Point of View

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To write a review of a movie almost 2 decades after its release would surely appear the most idiotic thing to do. But since we live in an age when most things are idiotic, I guess it is just normal for me to write this review. Well, it takes some courage to review a movie like Shawshank Redemption, and for a fool like me, it takes time. I watched this movie for the first time about a couple of month ago, and I am fortunate that though late, I did. Shawshank Redemption is one of those movies that inspires writers and poets to write, singers to sing and musicians to play. It is almost a force of nature. When I watched it, I was bewildered in amazement by this classic masterpiece. This could well be the pinnacle of not only film-making, but of every form of representational art!

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The film starts with banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) being sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering his wife. He is sent to the Shawshank State Prison. He meets “Red” (Morgan Freeman) and the two develop friendship. “Years I got”, mutters Dufresne, an amateur geologist, when Red states that it will take years to make chessmen out of rocks. But something as simple as this is captured with such mastery that I cannot recall any scene in this movie can be termed “ordinary.” The dialogues are delivered so well that I feel it must be one of the reasons this movie is often praised for its realism. Nothing over the top or falling short, but spot-on for every situation. As the relationship between Dufresne and Red further develops, you are treated with the most exceptional acting Morgan Freeman has ever managed to pull off. Like a wizard, he casts a spell into every frame. Tim Robbins acted his heart out, too, but I was forced to believe that he lacked depth on certain occasions. May be it was intentional, because prison life definitely starts to show on his face.

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The story and screenplay is captivating, to say the least. Every single scene… and I mean it… Every single scene is a gem! The director and actors fill it with life, more so because you get to ‘feel’ each scene. It is one of the few films you will watch where you are treated with another excellent event, even before you can feel the effect of the previous one fade off. But you won’t complain.  I did not. No one would. The movie houses several themes, most notably patience, perseverance, freedom, and hope. As you might have noticed, all of these are positive emotions. The positivity of the movie makes you believe in your own life’s gifts. When you are done watching this chef-d’oeuvre, the feeling still lingers. You end up happier than you were when you started. And this is where the movie, its each character, each performance, each scene, and each emotion, really triumphs!

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I remember watching Titanic as a kid. I was barely interested, to the extent that I only watched the movie in parts. Really, it was my fault that I wanted to be different. ‘Fault’ I say because I could not witness the acting of one of the best actors ever to grace the screen, back then. I realized his true acting potential only after I watched Blood Diamond. I am not sure as I write this line whether I will find enough words to describe the talent of this wonderful man. Though I love each character Leonardo DiCaprio has portrayed, I will mention my favorite ones. Please note that there are movies that I haven’t watched (like Body of Lies, Basketball Diaries and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape), so I won’t talk about Leo’s roles in these.

1.The Aviator:

The Aviator

Take my word for it, this Martin Scorsese gem would not have been the same had some other actor been cast. Leonardo’s Howard Hughes commanded every single frame he was in! The Aviator showcased perfectly what the actor is known for – intense roles that require acting “through the eyes.” The character suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Leo pulled it off very neatly. Two of my favorite scenes are where Hughes gets panic attacks and utter the same phrase repeatedly. You really feel that the character has no control over what he is blabbering. Sorry Mr. DiCaprio, I couldn’t recognize you. All I saw was Howard Hughes!

2. The Departed:

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Great plot, great cast, and great screenplay, is what this movie is remembered for. That and a hell lot of expletives! Jack Nicholson played Frank Costello, and he was so bloody excellent that he gave ‘evil’ a whole new meaning. Matt Damon showed why he is counted among the best actors present. But Billy Costigan, the character Leo played, is the one the audience most connected to. Playing an undercover cop who has to be… well… undercover, he exhibits how stressful it gets to be one. “Valium!” he responds when his psychiatrist asks him what he wants, Billy displays emotions only a person with a mind as fatigued as his, can. You feel bad for him, but you know you can’t help him because he is secretly plotting against a character played by Jack Nicholson! Favorite scene? “Valium!”

3. Blood Diamond:

Blood Diamond

“… My name is Danny Archer. A-Awr-C-H-E-Awr…” Leo played a Zimbabwean smuggler in this movie and worked well with his Afrikaans accent. He helps Dgimon Honsou’s extremely well-enacted Solomon Vandy in finding his family in return for a huge diamond Vandy discovered while working as a slave for revolutionaries, at a time when civil war has gripped the region. Leo not only changed his look for the role, but also got into the skin of the character with finesse. We know Archer is a mean smuggler, but we still relate to this man. How? Well, you know who plays it.
My favorite scene: The interaction between Archer and Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), where he discloses his dreadful past.

4. Shutter Island:

Shutter Island

Another movie where Leo’s character is shown battling his inner demons, Shutter Island is a brain-twister. Backed by a good story and good acting (esp. by Ben Kingsley), DiCaprio’s Marshal Teddy Daniels is investigating the disappearance of a patient from a high security medical facility for the criminally insane, located on an island. But he and his partner, Marshal Chuck Aul (Mark Ruffalo), smell something fishy about the place and start digging further. What they get in the end is what no one, not even the audience, could ever expect! Leo’s oscillations between a shrewd, intelligent US Marshal and a broken lover, haunted by his memories, is a fine example of how many layers this guy can easily add to a single character. Favorite scene: Well… This:

5. Catch Me if You Can:

Catch Me If YOu Can

While Titanic announced the arrival of Mr. Charming Heart-throb DiCaprio, the guy took it to another level as Frank Abagnale Jr. in Catch Me If You Can. To see a 20-something pull off the role of a 16-something is pure treat. Sharing the screen with Tom Hanks, a seasoned veteran, Leo stole the show with his charm and endearing acting. Although now mostly know for his serious roles, he won hearts with his light-hearted role. My most favorite scene is where Frank evades arrest by the skin of teeth, fooling a distraught Carl Hanratty who can do nothing in the end, except being shocked.

Bonus!

The Huffington Post recently shared this Leo Supercut about one thing few people are as capable of pulling as Leonardo DiCaprio… Yelling! Watch and enjoy.

I walk amid the crowd of spectators all the way to my seat in front of the giant IMAX Screen. I am fortunate to get a seat right in the middle of the hall. I am greeted with a trailer of Hobbit 2, but I just cannot wait! The message “Please put on your IMAX 3D glasses” appears, but I have already put them on. I look stupid, I know, but this is Gravity, the movie I have been waiting for since I first heard about it!

The movie begins and I am treated with the most breath-taking view of planet Earth on a movie screen. A tiny white speck on the right side of the screen grows bigger after a few seconds and I realize that it is a space shuttle! What follows is visual poetry – a single 17 minute take that is so well executed that we already start believing that we are a part of the crew. Sandra Bullock’s Mission Specialist Ryan Stone, on her first mission is busy repairing the Hubble Space Telescope, while George Clooney’s Mission Commander Matt Kowalski is busy fooling around in his space-suit with not a care in the world (err… in Space, rather). All is going well, until the crew is asked to abort the mission as an exploding Russian spacecraft has caused a chain reaction, which has sent dangerous high velocity space debris hurtling towards them. But it is too late.

As opposed to the trailers, the movie has no sounds in scenes where the astronauts are in space. Instead, the director makes viewers feel how an astronaut would in those conditions. All I hear is vibrations coming through the space-suits, or voices over the radio. That’s right, the sound is minimal, and the soundtrack is carefully created to be minimal, producing the desired effect at the right time, like when things are exploding. I really cannot explain it, because the effect has to be felt to be believed!

The visual effects are top-notch. The grandness of space, as well as the fact how objects behave sans the gravity, as well as their physics, is shown true-to-life. You really feel the claustrophobia as Stone squeezes through small inlets/outlets inside spacecrafts. The grandness aside, I cannot recall any other movie where so much attention to detail has been given. I have read that the interiors and exteriors of the International Space Station and Soyuz are shown exactly like they are, with computers that have exactly the same data displayed on screens, as in real life. Hell, even the tools that astronauts are supposed to carry are shown perfectly correctly! All this experience, in addition to a captivating screenplay, made me feel that I was a part of the movie.
Most. Immersive. Experience. Ever.

Sandra Bullock made the best decision of her life by allowing herself to be cast in this movie. The amount of anxiety this lady can give just through her voice, breathing and expressions is commendable. All the while, I felt like reaching out to the screen, holding her hand and helping her out while she spun uncontrollably. Her performance is very believable, too. I do feel, though, that her back story (where she loses her daughter) is really irrelevant to the movie. Truly, I feel that it was included to make us worry for the character. But since we already ARE worried for her due to the situation she is in, it is not really required. George Clooney is at his charming best, providing the much-needed relief to the central character. I realized he is an old man only after he removed his EMU helmet and his grey hair became visible.

The director, Alfonso Cuaron (or probably the writers) took the liberty of playing with certain facts in the movie, and there were quite a few blatant inaccuracies. Robert Frost, Instructor and Engineer at NASA, has pointed out these inaccuracies in detail in this Quora answer. But apart from this, most of the movie content has been kept as realistic as possible.

In all, Gravity is a must watch, because it is the closest an average person like me could be to being in space. Literally and figuratively, this movie is an out-of-the-world experience!

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