Film in Detail

A deeper look at the films that matter - and more fantastic movies you might enjoy too.

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My Name is Khan

My Name is Khan

Bollywood India's film industry has been producing great films full of music, energy emotion and drama for many years.

But until recently, a lot of people from outside the Indian community weren't aware of them, even those like you who love films of all kinds from all corners of the world. Now, however, that situation seems to be changing, thanks to movies that have "crossed over" to western audiences such as the brilliant Lagaan and the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire (both of which you can see with FILMCLUB).

And now there's another movie to join their ranks My Name is Khan, a well-made drama that tells the story of Rizwan Khan, an autistic Muslim man living in the US whose family is all but torn apart by the fearful and violent atmosphere that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. Starring Bollywood legend Shahrukh Khan in the role of the brave and dogged Rizwan, it's a powerful and moving film that manages to deal with issues about autism and racial prejudice while also providing a gripping story.

Which is one of the reasons the film became a huge international success when it was released in cinemas across the world. In America, the film became one of the most popular Bollywood films ever released there, making an estimated $4 million at the box office. In the UK, it also became broke records to become the most successful Bollywood film in history, and across the world similar stories unfolded with this memorable, thought-provoking film reaching huge and often entirely new audiences in countries as far apart geographically and culturally as New Zealand, Egypt and Poland. 

The Princess and the Frog

The Princess and the frog

The story of the animated fairytale The Princess and The Frog is timelessly simple. A traditional fairy tale set in New Orleans in the 1920s, it follows two friends growing up with different dreams. The beautiful African-American Tiana is working two jobs as a waitress and saving up to buy a restaraunt in honour of her late father. The southern belle Charlotte, born into a privileged family, wants to marry a prince. Along comes Prince Naveen of Maldonia, lazy, feckless and in search of a wealthy bride. A voodoo trickster turns first Naveen and then Tiana into frogs - in order to become human again and find true love, they must underake a journey through the bayou (a marshy wetland)...

Cynics might say the movie industry understands that every little girl, regardless of her colour, represents a new marketing opportunity. But The Princess and the Frog is in fact an historic milestone not only does it introduce the first African-American princess in a movie made by Disney, but it also marks the return of traditional hand-drawn animation, which gives the movie a truly lovely look. And, although legendary animation directors Ron Clements and John Musker start and end the film with pretty princesses in dresses, the middle of the film is bursting with comedy talking animals and a rather modern tale.

If Disney has been accused of patronising its heroines before, it makes amends here. Tiana is hard-headed and focussed - independent and business-savvy, she isn't hanging around waiting for a prince to look after her. And her relationship with her mother, Eudora feels real is enough to help flesh out these 2D characters. 

The Princess and the Frog has been analysed more than most children's cartoons but given its critical and commercial success it shouldn't be long until we see more animated movies involving black characters too. Perhaps Disney's "Princess Division" (which includes nine characters in total and which generates $4 billion a year) will even introduce another African-American princess to the fold - not as a marketing opportunity, but as a more honest representation of the world we live in.

A Boy Called Dad

A Boy Called Dad

Robbie's dad Joe walked out on his family when his son was four. When he is just 14, Robbie has a quick fumble with a girl at a bus stop and she ends up pregnant with his child. Abandoned by his own father and with no male role model of his own, Robbie rejects the baby. Then his father, Joe, turns up out of the blue. A decade of silence is not going to be easily healed and Joe doesn't quite know how to build bridges with his son. Robbie - played with conviction and assurance by newcomer Kyle Ward - is angry. He feels let down by life and looks set to become a troubled drifter.

Then something shifts inside Robbie and, sensing his son is in danger, Robbie snatches him and goes on the run. He has little idea how to look after the baby, trying to feed him straight out of a carton of milk rather than a bottle, retching when he changes nappies and despairing at the constant crying. Yet slowly and surely, he learns how to be a dad. Meanwhile, Joe (an excellent Ian Hart) is helping the police and the community in their frantic search for Robbie.

The dialogue at the start of A Boy Called Dad is gentle, funny and moving. You would need a heart of stone not to feel empathy for the confused, lonely Robbie. This low-budget film was written by Julie Rutterford and directed by Brian Percival - both Bafta winners for their 2001 short film About a Girl - in an attempt to tackle modern issues around masculinity and fatherhood head on.
Percival has said that he wanted his debut feature to avoid the gritty realism so often associated with British films, which is a tough ask considering the subject matter.

Ian Hart - a hugely prolific and respected actor who has offered the most convincing take on John Lennon to date in 1994's Backbeat but who also appeared as Professor Quirinus Quirrell in the first Harry Potter film - has talked about the challenges of sticking to a fixed script with a young actor. "When you're working with a kid, there's an element of unpredictability and you've got to be on your toes to accommodate that. It might mean throwing an extra line in, just to get us back on track, to move it where it needs to be. But there's no harm."

3D Cinema

3D films are currently the hottest things in cinema. From the comic book shenanigans of The Green Hornet and Thor to the gob-smacking prehistoric nature lesson, Flying Monsters 3D, 2011’s release schedule has been full of them, and there’s plenty more to come. But with us audiences - and consequently movie studios - being a fickle bunch, is the 3D format here to stay? Or is it just another fad?

Ever since cinema’s birth, moviemakers have gone all out to lure us to the big screen. Capitalizing on our constant hunger for something new, they’ve created and exploited a plethora of film trends. Some of these enticements have cashed in on technological advancements; such as the lush Technicolor visuals that amplified Marilyn Monroe’s sizzle in Gentleman Prefer Blondes (1953), or the split-screen craze of the ‘60s, as seen in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). Other cinema bait has been pure headline-grabbing hype, as epitomised by “King of Gimmicks” William Castle’s sensational stunts. These included issuing insurance policies covering “death by fright” for his 1958 chiller, Macabre, and putting vibrating devices under cinema seats to give viewers of horror-thriller The Tingler (1959) an additional shock!

Yet, of all these crowd-pulling techniques, 3D has been the most enduringly popular. In fact, since the first time a paying audience saw the first proper 3D feature in 1922, the format has continually come in and out of fashion – even the Nazis shot some of their 1930s propaganda films in 3D.

However, the so-called “Golden Era” was the early 1950s, when 3D was used to counteract the spread of TV. During the era’s short-lived boom, movies including groundbreaking, horror classic House of Wax (1953) had audiences flocking, encouraging such important directors as Alfred Hitchcock to try the format. Sadly, by the time he’d finished his resulting suspense flick, 1954’s Dial M For Murder, the public was already bored of 3D. Consequently, most fans had to wait until the fad returned fully in the 1980s before they could enjoy the film the way Hitchcock had intended.

This time it was the rise of home video that prompted a major revival. But with the production and screening of 3D movies so expensive, ‘80s releases were predominantly ‘50s reissues or in niche genres, particularly horror. The linking of 3D to often rubbish films (hello, 1983’s Jaws 3-D!) was a serious blow to the trend, and it was only really the growth of specialist IMAX cinemas that kept 3D features trickling out.

Happily though, today’s biggest movie studios have grown wiser: re-thinking their approach to the format, thanks to astonishingly immersive, 3D money-spinners, such as Pixar’s Up (2009), and, above all, 2009’s Avatar (the highest grossing movie ever), most recently traditionally ‘arthouse’ directors like Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog have also started using 3D in their documentaries Pina 3D and The Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

What these films demonstrate is that, unlike in the past, high-quality 3D has developed into an atmosphere-creating tool to tell stories better and make events more believable – something that has the potential to enhance any theme or genre, not just visually-led projects. It’s these exciting possibilities, along with the amount of money that’s being invested and made, that suggests 3D has transcended fad status to become an essential part of modern cinema.

The Academy Award for Best Actor

Placed your bets for Sunday? Siding with home talent Gary Oldman as a spy in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy over Mexican actor Demián Bichir in immigration drama A Better Life? Or predicting triumph for Meryl Streep’s latest character metamorphosis as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady? Taking home a gold Oscar statuette is the ultimate dream of many actors, and we won’t miss tuning in to see who Hollywood honours this year.

The nominees for Best Actor and Best Actress (five in each category) are selected by those members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who were once actors and actresses themselves. The overall winner is then voted on by the whole Academy, made up of more than 6,000 movie professionals, who can join only by invitation. As most of them have strong ties to the Hollywood movie industry, Oscar results tend to favour American actors.

Occasionally a performance in a foreign film will make waves – as when French actress Marion Cotillard won an Oscar for playing singer Edith Piaf in 2007’s La Vie En Rose. Can Jean Dujardin win another French acting nod this year for heavily-tipped movie The Artist? As a nostalgic look at Hollywood’s silent era, the film is certainly geared toward winning the Academy’s hearts.

The Academy has awarded some of the most iconic performances in cinema’s history – from Gary Cooper as Marshal Will Kane in 1952 western classic High Noon to Liza Minnelli as dancer Sally Bowles in 1972 musical Cabaret and Michael Douglas in his often-quoted role as ruthless corporate executive Gordon Gekko in 1987’s Wall Street.

The formidably talented Meryl Streep has been nominated 17 times – more than any other actor – winning Best Actress for her harrowing portrayal of Polish concentration camp survivor in Sophie’s Choice and Best Supporting Actress in 1979 divorce drama Kramer vs. Kramer.

But the most Best Actress wins goes to Katharine Hepburn, an icon who often played strong-willed, independent women, and was awarded four.
One of these was for 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Considered daring at the time, it sees a white middle-class woman bring her black fiancé home in the face of racial prejudice.

Jack Nicholson has also dominated, earning 12 nominations over the years (for roles including an LA private investigator in 1974’s acclaimed crime noir Chinatown) and three wins. Less lucky is Irish actor Peter O’Toole, who’s had eight nominations (including his title-role performance in 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia) without ever winning.

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