A Homage To Spielberg’s Magic: Krishna Bala Shenoi’s Tribute to One of Hollywood’s Grandmasters

Krishna Bala Shenoi (Credit: The Hindu)

It cannot be denied that Steven Spielberg’s body of work is extraordinary. The last film I saw was Lincoln, which sadly stayed just for one week in a Vadodara multiplex. I recommended it to my college friends, praising the film lavishly for its performances, script and direction,  and they surprised me by actually watching the movie. I didn’t expect them to see such a movie.

As I was telling them about Lincoln, I assumed they’d be thinking something like ‘Well, he wants us to see a three hour lecture on Lincoln. Okay, let’s pretend for now that we are super keen to see this film so he’d shut up quickly!’. They saw the film and loved it too. Then, during my internship at a multiplex in Chennai, I recommended it to a family who’d just come to see Monster’s University. They too probably got tired of me. But I think they’d have watched the film too. So Spielberg, if you are listening, I brought people to your film!!

The first Spielberg film I saw as a kid was probably Jurassic Park. As a kid, all that interested me was that the film was about dinosaurs. I remember I would badger my parents to bring me books on dinosaurs. I loved to read about the types, sizes and behaviours of these gargantuan lizards, and about how these creatures were eventually wiped off by a meteorite. I still do hold some fascination for the weird and the unknown, although I’d really not want to meet them in case they are alive, especially the Jba Fofi cryptid spider! Spielberg revives these ancient beings of terror and wonderment in his epic action-drama film. I have seen this films in parts a couple of times in the past few years, and have always wondered this: How did Spielberg and his team create those damn dinosaurs more convincingly than most monsters we see in films these days? Its truly a wonder.

English: Steven Spielberg at the 2011 San Dieg...

Over the years, I have watched The Lost World: Jurassic Park (hard to recollect now, but I think its set on an island), E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (frankly found it overrated the second time I watched it, but I’m keen on watching it again with the perspective of a 20 year old movie lover), the Indiana Jones quadrilogy: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (my personal favourite) and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (didn’t like it the first time only but its grown on me during subsequent viewings), The Color Purple (memorable for the performances by Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey),  The Adventures of TIntin (one of the best use of 3D in film) and Jaws.

I saw a bite of Jaws again today, up to the part where the shark lurks in the pond area where the protagonist’s kid is swimming. I haven’t seen much of Spielberg, I admit. I haven’t seen his famous war films, Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, nor have I seen the futuristic A.I. Artificial Intelligence or The Munich. And still, I can say Spielberg’s got balls of steel for extending his vision across different genres, different worlds. I loved dinosaurs as a kid but I don’t care much about them now. He may or may not have been a fan of these monsters during his childhood, yet he makes a film only to protract his radius of imagination. He has captured nearly every territory: dinosaurs, sharks, aliens, stallions, robots, pirates, adventure heroes and most importantly, people.

His film has real people with real ambitions, strengths and weaknesses and they speak dialogues that don’t sound corny (James Cameron’s Titanic, a commendable technical achievement and an emotional journey no doubt, nevertheless has dialogues that feel increasingly embarrassing with repeated viewings. Some in fact sound like they’re part of Teenybopper Disney films that are replete with clunkers like ‘I want to break free’ ‘I wish I could be like you’). Lincoln could keep me hooked for three hours in spite of all its lengthy monologues (which are brilliantly written. Credit goes to Tony Kushner, also the writer of Angels in America). Spielberg allows his camera to follow Lincoln in a way that we behold him as a leader; its amazing how different shades of his character are subtly brought out through effective direction and cinematography. Read my review of Lincoln here: https://sashankkini.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/reviewing-steven-spielbergs-lincoln-starring-triple-oscar-winner-daniel-day-lewis-along-with-veteran-actors-sally-field-and-tommy-lee-jones/

SOME OF SPIELBERG’S MOST FAMOUS MOVIES

Cover of "Saving Private Ryan (Special Li...

Cover of "E.T. - The Extra-Terrestrial (W...

                     Cover of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crus...

After watching 19 year old blogger, short film director-writer and illustrator Krishna Bala Shenoi’s one minute animated tribute to Steven Spielberg, I am eager to get my hands on every movie Spielberg has made. This short film has lovely animation made using Rotoscope, which is a technique where live action footage is taken and traced over frame by frame to give the resulting drawings a seamless effect.

Shenoi uses Adobe to create this film, and he tells, in his article on famed critic Roger Ebert’s blog where he contributes as a far-flung correspondent, how Speilberg himself hand-wrote a letter complementing him for his work. And this guy lives in Bangalore, not somewhere in Beverley hills. Isn’t that just magical?

Link To Krishna Bala Shenoi’s Blog: http://krishnabalashenoi.wordpress.com/

Link To Krishna Bala Shenoi’s Film on his blog: http://krishnabalashenoi.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/steven-spielber/

Link To Krishna Bala Shenoi’s Article on Ebert site: http://www.rogerebert.com/far-flung-correspondents/steven-spielberg-my-animated-tribute

My Choice for Best Director Oscar 2013 (Having Seen & Reviewed All 5 Films) : Michael Haneke For Amour

English: Michael Haneke Français : Michael Han...

Michael Haneke is My Choice For BEst Director (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nominees for Best Director, 53rd Oscars:

 

(Amour) Michael Haneke

 

 

(Beasts of the Southern Wild) Benh Zeitlin

 

(Life of Pi) Ang Lee (Winner)

 

(Lincoln) Steven Spielberg

 

(Silver Linings Playbook) David O Russell

 

 

My Choice for Best Director

 

1st Place: Michael Haneke (Amour)

 

2nd Place: Ang Lee (Life of Pi)

 

3rd Place: Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)

 

4th Place: Benh Zeitlin (Beats of the Southern Wild)

 

5th Place: David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

 

Last year, we had four exceptionally honored and highly talented men competing for the Best Director spot at the 53rd Academy Awards. Along with these four, there was another very talented newcomer who vied for the coveted spot. The five names include Spielberg, Lee, Russell, Haneke and Zeitlin; Spielberg’s a world-famous director so no problem recognizing him, Haneke is more popular among festival goers yet a highly familiar name because of the Oscars (his last picture ‘The White Ribbon’ was nominated for Best Foreign film), Russell is well known for his high-octane movies with quirky and high-octane characters and for his on-set arguments (read filthy fights), Lee holds a high prestige in the industry for his works of art which are also commercially successful, Zeitlin is the guy whom very few know because he’s an fresh face. All five directors deserve to be a contendor for this spot (I’m not considering other directors who also deserve to be here for e.g. Kathryn Bigelow), so here’s how they rank in my opinion:

 

English: David O. Russell attending the premie...

David O Russell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the fifth place is David O. Russell. He shouldn’t have cast Bradley Cooper as the lead in Silver Linings Playbook. Bradley acting with a different rhythm from that of his co-stars; he took his character too seriously and turned it less quirky. The other cast was quirky and likeable in a light-hearted way so we could laugh at the ludicrousness of their character’s situations. Cooper however made me pity his Pat a tad too much, and so I couldn’t take his situation jokingly. Whenever he turned up, the screwball comedy turned into a dark comedy. Hence, Russell is my last choice.

 

Benh Zeitlin (Wikipedia)

Benh Zeitlin (Wikipedia)

In the fourth place I would place Benh Zeitlin. This is not because his film has faults – in fact the decision to case actors with absolutely no acting experience helped the film achieve the almost documentary-like realism from its characters. You see this community he depicts in his film celebrating together and supporting each other in difficulties, and you are to look more at their unity than the moral question of whether what they did was right or not. Some critics argue unnecessarily that the character of the father was too abusive or that the characters shouldn’t have left the help offered to them, but they fail to notice that the film is from the viewpoint of the community and not outsiders. Benh Zeitlin uses handheld camera and 16mm film to capture their lifestyle as it is: dirty and uncouth for us but home for them. I need to see Benh’s future films before I can note how his directorial style is, but for a first film, I can say it’s pretty damn impressive; no wonder he came runners-up at the prestigious New York Film Critics’ Society for Best First film.

 

In the third place comes Spielberg’s Lincoln. Spielberg cast Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln, which is a major plus for him; then he cast Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones for the roles

Spielberg

Spielberg (Photo credit: xTrish)

of Lincoln’s wife Mary and Lincoln’s Conservative ally Thadeus respectively which are a double bonus for him. Spielberg’s only mistake was to include Josh Gordon Levitt, the only weak link in the film. Yes, his Lincoln’s beginning is a bit theatrical but everything gets fine once he finds the right foot: note how Spielberg captures Lincoln’s swooping authority every time: he circles the camera around Lincoln and his addresses till he pans the camera on Lincoln and slowly closes in and in till Lincoln finishes, and each time this technique works in capturing the spell that Lincoln’s monologues have over others. The camera is low lit but not even so low that you can’t see what’s happening (Clint Eastwood’s J Edgar had way less lighting), but as the Bill for Slavery abolishment gets passed and things turn positively for the film’s protagonists, you do see the scenes infused with more light. Plus, I was very pleased with how Spielberg filmed some scenes, such as the Voting segment where Lincoln was shown in his office playing with his youngest son as his party fought for him in the House; I also loved the way they treated the assassination sequence by not showing the actual assassination taking place but only the news being announced on stage and a close up shot of Lincoln’s youngest son screaming in terror is seen. So Spielberg is the second runner-up for me in the Best Director Category.

 

Ang Lee

Ang Lee (Photo credit: jiadoldol)

I was initially going to place Michael Haneke in the third position but then I thought I’d place him in the  second position. But now I’ve changed my mind again: it is Ang Lee who’s in my runners-up position for Best Director for his film Life of Pi. His film is truly wonderful with one of the best opening credits sequence you can get in film; there are beatific shots of different zoo animals and birds resting peacefully or gamboling playfully as the melodious score by Mychael Danna hums mellifluously till the opening credits end. Almost all the scenes are beautifully shot and Ang Lee is totally invested in making his film look as magically majestic as possible; you can’t believe just how realistic the animals in his film look (they’re all CGI!). Some of the scenes are so profound you find almost plunging into the depth of the film’s oceanic themes; take for instance the moment where Pi looks into the ocean and we are taken way below the depths of the waters, below the aquatic creatures till we see images of his past, images of people whom he has lost forever. Then the camera brings us back to the surface and pans straight into the tiger’s face looking at Pi. I can never forget the impact this shot had on me: it was way beyond wonderful. My only gripe with this film is that Suraj Sharma is no Quvenzale Wallis (she’s the lead in Beasts of the Southern Wild); he cannot say a line without concealing the hint of artificiality in his tone. He’s probably the only reason why I place Ang Lee in the second position; a director is to be held responsible for his casting choice, especially when they are big directors and get complete freedom in choosing their cast.

 

The winner, in my opinion is Michael Haneke for the film Amour. It’s a poignant film which has the director’s signature style all over it. You see the director’s touch especially when he decides to include shots of landscape paintings and empty rooms in two separate montage sequences to capture a sense of loneliness and dismalness. Haneke splendidly keeps us engrossed for over two hours, allowing us to watch the couple’s final journey without cutting unnecessarily or allowing any theatrically to seep in the film. The greatest part is how is modulates the pace of the film through the camera (while I know it’s the DOP who operates the camera, it’s mostly the director who chooses the right shots. In fact DOP Darius Khondji’s digital photography was rejected by Haneke, who worked more than a year to get the film done in his way): in the beginning, while a shot tracks the fireman as he looks around the couple’s empty home to only find the dead body of the woman, the next flashback shot of the couple leaving the theater, going home and having breakfast the next morning is all shown in middle-to-long shots, which only changes to close up shots when the husband realizes that his wife is acting unresponsive and strange. The best decision by Haneke was to restrain the music only to certain scenes to let it act as a motif in the film.

 

So there you have my choice for the Best Director of 2012 in film. Although it’s been long since the last Academy Awards, India has yet not been able to get a number of these films and hence my verdict comes a bit late.

 

 

Reviewing Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ Starring Triple Oscar Winner Daniel Day Lewis Along-with Veteran Actors Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones

Last night Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar as Be...

Daniel Day Lewis’ Oscar Winning Turn As Abraham Lincoln(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

Summary: Steven’s Lincoln is an Important Film Made and Played With Such Seriousness You Feel Proud To Be A Part Of The Experience

 

Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ is so dignified and composed in depicting the endeavor of the Sixteenth President of United States that you feel proud to witness the victory achieved by its characters. It is a movie which makes you want to get up on your feet at the end and stand in silence for two minutes as a mark of tribute to Mr. President. Steven Spielberg makes his film keeping in mind that it isn’t snazzy camera editing and unusual angles that will supply the strength that this film requires, but the careful and thorough understanding and execution of its central themes with the help of a perfect cast. Spielberg had an array of options to alter the cinematography of his film to make it more fast-paced and create tension using swifter camera movements, but he does not use innovative techniques because he knows that it wouldn’t work here. He wants us to listen closely to every spoken and unspoken word and feel the crucial significance of the subject matter.

 

There are heavy dialogues involving constitutional amendments, slavery, Euclid’s principle etc and we can choose to skip all this and concentrate on the popcorn in our hands or pay attention, and when we do the latter we rejoice along with the film’s characters when victory is attained. There was a ‘groupie’ of youngsters who left the hall when Mr. Lincoln was gravely pondering about some matter in the first half, and I was relieved those idiots left because they were obviously little interested in the subject and would certainly not have found a reason to celebrate later. I, on the other hand missed about fifteen minutes in the beginning and yet found myself extremely engrossed by every word of dialogue spoken by brilliant actors in Lincoln, and later got to share their joy and victory as if it was I who had attained emancipation.

English: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth Presid...

Ab Lincoln – A Man Of Great Importance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The groupie that left the hall had possibly bunked their college lecture or got to know that it was Spielberg’s film or had glanced at the online ratings for Lincoln. I do not think they truly what the subject matter was and just came in thinking that they were going to see Lincoln jumping off a building evading knife-wielding Democrats. Lincoln’s actual concern is the pursuit to find a solution to end the Civil war and pass the 13th amendment for abolishment of slavery in the Constitution. President Abraham Lincoln is the central instrument in bringing an end to both the crisis and the unjust legislation, but what we realize here is that it isn’t an aggressive, outspoken and impractical Lincoln who’s leading the party but an extremely sensible, persuasive, down-to-earth and astute (sometimes crafty too) Lincoln who’s responsible for orchestrating the historical events.

 

He is very much like the director of a play, staying behind-the-scenes to let his party do the battle for him in the parliament while formulating the most carefully planned strategy to achieve enough support for success. Not once do we see him personally countering the Democrats but hear his voice through the voices of his supporters, which includes radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens who brings in the blunt and fiery force that Lincoln outwardly lacks. The movie hardly takes us to the scene of the actual war (we only get to see the gory aftermath), instead choosing to concentrate on the political battlefield between Democrats and Republicans in finding a solution to the war. We also get glimpses from Lincoln’s personal life: his relationship with his strong-willed yet intensely caring wife Mary and some touching moments involving Lincoln and his youngest son Tad. And yes there is Lincoln’s elder son Robert but the character is very forgettable because of Josh Gordon Levitt’s underdeveloped interpretation of him.

 

In one of the scenes involving Lincoln and Robert, Lincoln remarks that he does not believe in people who prophesize too much; yet when the voting for the thirteenth amendment ends, we see Lincoln celebrating his victory embracing Tad in his office. This moment very subtly shows that Lincoln himself has predicted how his son’s future shall be (one with relatively less inequality). This is just one of the many beautiful moments that brilliantly justify the themes of equality, freedom, courage, perseverance, heroism and compassion. Nothing (at least to me who is more open-minded to optimistic resolutions) to me sounded preachy or maudlin partly because Tony Kushner pens the script so well, allowing us to have moments of great fun with Thaddeus’ irresistible zingers and the entire voting session with its twists and turns.

 

And more importantly it is the cast that makes us root for the movie’s characters. Just listening to Daniel Day Lewis’ calm yet extremely effective vocal delivery made me accept him as the President of the United States. Lewis is also supported by the camera work which circles around him and his audience (to whom he is directing something or just telling a story –a profound story) till it slowly pans and zooms into his face and we are all ears to him. The most astonishing part was how Lewis showed Lincoln’s gradual aging through a slight crackle in his voice and an avuncular sparkle in his eyes that many older people, especially grandfathers have. While Sally supports Lewis effortlessly in her scenes, it is Tommy Lee Jones who nails Thaddeus so well that we are just as emotionally involved with his character as we are with Lewis’.

Cropped image of Steven Spielberg

Joan Rivers Calls Spielberg’s Lincoln Boring… Perhaps He Should Make A Sequel Of E.T. Casting Rivers as You-Know-What (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Comedienne Joan Rivers said on her show she ‘found Lincoln so boring, although the movie had everything’; well, I think Rivers envied Thaddeus’ character because he gave her still competition in repartee. I believe an important subject or person should be treated with highest seriousness and regard, and Spielberg does exactly that. ‘If you want fluff, go watch a Katherine Heigl movie!’… I know I’ve begun sounding like Thaddeus Stevens now, but why I shouldn’t when I believe in Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’.

 

Grade: AA