Week 41

Movies: Non-English

The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium, 2013) [ IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 87%]

The Broken Circle Breakdown

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3a50DJkCxqw

Academy award nominee for ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ category this year, this film from Belgium is a devastating tearjerker. It is a heady mix of music, romance and tragedy with moments of sheer brilliance. The wedding scene and the climax are scenes that stand out. The movie follows the challenges faced by a young family and their desperate attempts to overcome them but at the core of the story is the conflicting religious beliefs of the husband and wife which appear beyond reconciliation. I believe that one of the reasons that the film has a nod at the Oscars is because of the way it tears into the George Bush presidency by using actual footage to support the arguments of one of the characters. The good thing is that even if the politics of the movie is disregarded as inconsequential, it is a movie worth your time. Two thumbs up.

The Third Half (Macedonia, 2012) [ IMDB: 8.2, Rotten Tomatoes: Not yet rated]

The Third Half

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJq03xHc6mE

Another film on Nazis, which I believe is a theme that has been done to death by Hollywood. Maybe the Macedonians did not figure that out. So they also came up with a mild version to suit their historical narrative. The end product is a movie which is not bad but does not introduce any new elements in a predictable story line. My curiosity stemmed from the fact that it tells the story of a football team trying to get its act together and at the same time bogged down by politics. If you can take another film on Nazis this film is highly recommended. Otherwise, highly forgettable.

Movies I Saw This Week

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) [IMDB:7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%]

Inside Llewyn Davis

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFphYRyH7wc

Oscar Isaac produces a scintillating performance as the title character of a movie which certainly falls into the drama genre but is neither a tragedy nor a triumph. Llewyn Davis is a folk singer who tries to piece together a living when he is not hopping from one couch to another in his quest to find a place to sleep. (Spoiler ahead) His life is so messed up that he gets to know through a third party that he has become a father and he still does not want to see the child. Llewyn Davis is a musician who is neither great nor ordinary. As a character, he is neither weak nor strong. It is this very quality of a man who cannot be faulted because he is not impractical but at the same time is not practical enough that makes this story a little complex. That also makes the film very engaging to watch as it opens up to unpredictable twists and turns. A special mention must be made of the cinematography of this movie which is a strong contender at the Oscars but may eventually lose out to ‘Gravity’. All in all, this is not a movie for everyone but for the discerning few.

All Is Lost (2013) [ IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%]

All Is Lost

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lk_R04LfUQU

Robert Redford’s best movie in years tells the story of a man marooned with his damaged boat in the ocean when it is hit by a stray container. It chronicles his desperate attempts to rescue himself from imminent and painful death. The movie is slow but I believe that the plot dictated the pace of the movie. A standout feature is the background score. At the Oscars this year this category will be a straight shootout between ‘All Is Lost’ and ‘Gravity’. I would love to see an Indian version of this movie because the Hollywood hunks like to appear calm and composed under trying circumstances but imagine Shahrukh Khan in such a role. He would have cried his heart out and appeared vulnerable, making him endearing. Some movies are better off with such men and Robert Redford is not such a man.

Dedh Ishqiya (India, 2014) [IMDB: 7.9, Rooten Tomatoes: 77%]

dedh

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_J3fkfUDkx8

A half decent story with a plausible twist makes this one of the early winners of 2014. All the actors are in fine form and the movie has a good pace to it. It is the story of two con men who think they have found their match in a mysterious duo. The good thing with the movie is the crisp writing which serves as a refresher course in chaste Hindi. Definitely worth a watch.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) [IMDB:7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 49%]

Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1Xk-yTuFEU

Ben Stiller should stick to comedies. His capabilities as a director are evidently limited and this movie is the best proof for it. He is neither funny nor engaging. The movie about a man with a fertile imagination and pretty much only that, is a damp squib. The story meanders along and is a big yawn. The producers could have donated the money to some charity. At least they wouldn’t have to explain to their children their poor decision making abilities.

Documentary Pick of the Week

20 Feet from Stardom (2013) [ IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 99%]

20 Feet from Stardom

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWyUJcA8Zfo

The story of the unsung chorus singers on stage. Nominated for the Oscar this year. Strong contender. Worth a watch.

Terrence Malick Retrospective

Days of Heaven (1978) [ IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%]

Days of Heaven

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlZDsMCW0U4

A story of passion, intrigue and treachery set in a farm. Competently acted. Beautifully shot.

The Thin Red Line (1998) [ IMDB:7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 80%]

thin red

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejm0XvT3rB8

The Army as it is. Sudden death, painful superiors and a low life. Dream casting with too many stars to count.

Badlands (1973) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes:98%]

Badlands-707049238-large

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKykxE7CBbc

A couple like to kill. A study in psychology.

Eagerly Waiting for: ‘The Amazing Spiderman 2’ because it is going to be the first blockbuster of 2014.

Did you know: The sounds made by the Brachiosaurs in ‘Jurassic Park’ were a combination of whale and donkey sounds.

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Week 40

Movies: Non-English

The Great Beauty (Italy, 2013) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%]

The Great Beauty

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dyt430YkQn0

Winner of the Best Foreign Language movie at last week’s Golden Globes, this Italian film captures the beauty of Rome like never before. On his 65th birthday the lead character gets a blast from the past which makes him introspect the life he has led. The same Rome which is the home to the papacy also has a vibrant night life. It is in this melange that he finds the sublime and the loud. The film captures the wide open spaces in Rome which a casual visitor might miss for the hustle and bustle of a sprawling metropolis. The film is an ode to Rome but has some really sharp writing and the average viewer will be challenged to understand all the references to art and artists that the dialogues often refer to. It also has its fair share of philosophy but is never dull. Watch this ambitious and pensive work of art for the sheer grandeur it shows. I have not seen all the Oscar nominees in the Foreign Language category but I am willing to put my money on this film winning at the Oscars too.

Love Me If You Dare (France, 2003) [ IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 89%]

Yann Samuell

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtzjUjVQe9Q

Panned by critics but loved by audiences, this French film was a blockbuster in France. It is easy to see why the movie was butchered by critics. It has no sense of logic and tells an improbable story. At the same time it is easy to see why the audiences loved it. It moves at such a frenetic pace that you are not bothered by the lack of logic. The way it has been shot and the acting compensate for a listless story. I am an admirer of the acting talent of Marion Cotillard. As always, she steals the show. As for the story, it is about two friends who carry on a game they started as kids, well into adulthood and way beyond reasonable behaviour. The game subsumes everything in their life and becomes their life itself. Watch this madcap film on a lazy weekend.

Movies I Saw This Week

12 Years a Slave (2013) [ IMDB: 8.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%]

12 Years a Slave

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUQNjfhlREk

Winner of the Best Picture at the Golden Globes and a hot favourite to land the same statuette at the Oscars, the movie tells a story that must be told. A free man who is good at playing the violin is abducted and sold as a slave. Based on actual events and adapted to the screen from the book with the same title, the movie is a must watch. The director Steve McQueen is notorious for making films which are difficult to watch and which don’t hold back their punches. His earlier work ‘Hunger’ was a pain to watch but this one has raw violence which made me turn my head away from the screen a few times. There are indeed more violent films that are released every year but with this one the realization that not a very long time ago this is what people did to other people makes it all the more direct. Still that is an education that is necessary, lest we forget. The film is a must watch. The only competition for Jennifer Lawrence in the Supporting Actress category at the Oscars will be from Lupita Nyong’o who puts in a memorable performance.

Her (2013) [ IMDB: 8.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%]

Her (2013)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anlrUiZvCfU

Thank God that better sense dawned on Joaquin Phoenix and he came back from retirement to continue his career as an actor. Following up on his masterclass in ‘The Master’, he shows us why he is one of the finest actors of this generation in this ‘romance’. This original piece of work by Spike Jonze is more or less a lock in for the Original Screenplay at the Oscars as it was at the Golden Globes. The film has a very interesting first to its credit. It won Scarlett Johansson the Best Actress award at the Rome Film Festival, the only instance in its history that a character not appearing on screen has been given the award. That is explained by the story. Scarlett Johansson is the voice of the operating system with which Joaquin Phoenix falls madly in love with. The story is set in the future where the operating systems are intelligent enough to communicate intelligently with the user. They are pretty advanced too because they can understand and respond to even the speech of Joaquin Phoenix, an actor not particularly known for mouthing dialogues with clarity. There are other indicators to show that the setting is very futuristic. The city landscape in fog filled, hardly anyone ever wears jeans, all characters wear cotton pants with no belts and so on. The story is a lesson on how customization is important. There is always a demand for personalized services, be it professional letter writers (the job of the protagonist) or operating systems. At another level the story sheds light on how people sometimes develop a love for inanimate objects. After all this, it still is a simple love story with the associated highs and lows. What makes it a work of genius are some truly inspired scenes. (Spoilers ahead) The one when a surrogate visits the protagonist in lieu of the operating system is one such. Another one is when the operating system tells about her other loves. ‘Her’ is one of the most engaging films of the year with a screenplay that makes you think. Some of the metaphors are too good to be missed. How about men wanting to have girlfriends who are submissive and speak only when asked to? How about the allure of the voice over form and content? How about watching something new when you think new is no more possible?

Dallas Buyers Club (2013) [ IMDB: 8.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%]

dallas

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvMPU0WaPcc

Matthew McConaughey shed 45 pounds to look the part of an AIDS patient in this movie based on actual events. It is this kind of copious shedding of body weight which usually wins Oscars but then you have to raise a toast to the man who has given a string of strong performances over the last three years and transformed his career from being a gung-ho shirtless hero in movies like ‘Dazed and Confused’ to someone who has discovered that he could be remembered for his performances than anything else. That also makes him the leader in the pack for this years Best Actor Oscar. The film is not worth much. It follows the story of a bigot who gets AIDS and is forced to change his opinion on himself and others. Also, he circumvents the FDA to find medication for himself and in the process runs into a litany of court cases. At some stage in the movie I stopped caring about the story and started focusing on the acting of Matthew McConaughey. In the end that is all that there is to this flick but then that is one good reason to watch this one.

Documentary Pick of the Week

Dirty Wars (2013) [ IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes:84%]

Dirty Wars

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KpzBAKJmig

The Oscar nomination for this one this year is down to the fact that it deserves to be seen widely and a few good men need to be appreciated. As a documentary, it is not a great one but just for sincerity and guts it needs to be seen. By the way, it is on the war in Afghanistan.

Coen Brothers Retrospective

Their latest work was snubbed at the Oscars but then I guess they have too many awards to be bothered by that. Here is a look at some of the best work from them. For more have a look at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001053/?ref_=tt_ov_dr

The Big Lebowski (1998) [IMDB: 8.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%]

The Big Lebowski

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cd-go0oBF4Y

The story of a man who is mistaken for a millionaire. Royally snubbed at the Oscars without even a nomination. History has since judged. Classic.

Miller’s Crossing (1990) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%]

Miller's Crossing

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYifReJJn4M

Divided loyalties in a gang war. The movie has never divided opinion. Must see.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?  (2000) [IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 89%]

O Brother, Where Art Thou

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqcnp8pHbwA

George Clooney doesn’t give two hoots about his image when he acts for the Coen brothers. Find out why.

Eagerly Waiting for:’The Wind Rises’ because it is supposed to be better than all the animation movies made last year.

Did you know: Martin Scorsese’s ‘Hugo’ was the director’s first film in twelve years without Leonardo DiCaprio.

Week 39

Movies: Non-English

The Dreamlife of Angels (France, 1998) [ IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%]

Dreamlife of Angels

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJxtNk5Q9V4

The first instance of two actresses sharing the gong for the best actress (for the same film) at Cannes is reason enough to watch this little French gem. I was reminded of this movie after reviewing ‘Blue Is the Warmest Colour’ a fortnight ago. If ‘Blue …..’ is the adolescent version, then this one is the mature version. Two financially broke women share a flat and hope for a better future from the misery of routine lives. Once more characters enter the frame, their relationship unravels. Then the two actresses revel like veterans on screen. Watch it for them.

The Mirror (Russia, 1975) [ IMDB: 8.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%]

mirror

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7SN7spZlZk

A man facing death recollects his life. His sorrows, his triumphs, his childhood, his loves and much more. The nation’s history also plays out in the background. As they say, once your whole life will flash in front of your eyes. Make it worth watching. A timely reminder on that concept from (of all places) Russia. Classic.

Movies I Saw This Week

American Hustle (2013) [ IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%]

american hustle

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ST7a1aK_lG0

I could not really figure out why ‘American Hustle’ is getting nominated at all major awards in so many categories this year. Agreed that it is a good movie but to call it a great one is a slight misrepresentation of facts. As the name suggests, it is a con movie but with a conscience. It certainly has some good performances going for it. Amy Adams delivers another competent one. I am a huge fan of Jennifer Lawrence and that makes me think that she deserves the Oscar for Supporting Actress but that would be an improbable win considering that she just landed the Best Actress Oscar only last year. At the same time, Bradley Cooper may consider himself lucky if he wins for the Best Supporting Actor because it wouldn’t be possible but for the sympathy votes he gets for his failure to win last year. Coming back to the movie, it creates the right ambiance and the credit for that has to go to the director. Other than that I did not find the movie to be special in any sense. Anyone with the IQ of a lamp post could have seen the twist in the end coming because such movies need to have one. I think the guys in Hollywood are all excited because someone finally made a movie in which the FBI is taken to the cleaners.

Blue Jasmine (2013) [ IMDB: 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%]

blue jasmine

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FER3C394aI8

What they say for wine is true for Woody Allen too. Both get better as they age. For a change, Woody Allen is not putting some old wine in a new bottle. He moves to a new terrain and after a long time I was really impressed by his direction as he brings the best out of Cate Blanchett. I have not seen the movie ‘Philomena’ in which Judi Dench is reported to have given a great performance. If Judi Dench has not pulled off something spectacular (and she is well capable of that), then this year’s Best Actress Oscar will go to Cate Blanchett for her affecting portrayal of a former socialite going through emotional distress and penury. Her acting is simply stunning and it helps that the the whole plot revolves around her. For a profoundly sad tale, the trademark witticisms of the writer brings relief even in the gloom. Two thumbs up to one of the best written and acted films of 2013.

Rush (2013) [ IMDB:8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 92%]

rush

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dA3XN54J8nY

‘Rush’ recreates the fierce and famed rivalry of two Formula 1 superstars of the 70s, Niki Lauda and James Hunt. I expected more thrills and edge of the seat action for a movie based on a sport which has a lot of scope for spiking adrenaline levels. It disappoints on those two counts. In fact, it is not even about the rivalry between the two drivers. It is more about their personalities and the obsession they have for winning against all odds. Niki Lauda comes across as a calm and determined man who is organized and thinks about racing even during his honeymoon. James Hunt, on the other hand, is the brash character who has too many woman in his life that he does not really have to have a separate honeymoon. To slightly twist the title of a book that went from non-fiction to fiction (cycling, if you still don’t get it), ‘it is not about the cars’.

Lone Survivor (2013) [ IMDB: 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 71%]

lone survivor

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoLFk4JK_RM

The true story of an US assault team which sees their best laid plans go for a toss in an operation in Afghanistan. The film is quite slow off the blocks but soon catches up with long strides shortly after. Once the action starts it is quite an interesting film. There is nothing to rave about but then the film is definitely worth a watch.

Martin Scorsese Retrospective

Goodfellas (1990) [ IMDB: 8.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%]

Goodfellas

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qo5jJpHtI1Y

Perhaps the best story on the mafia outside the ‘Godfather’ series. Must see. Period.

The Departed (2006) [ IMDB: 8.5, Ritten Tomatoes: 94%]

The Departed

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGWvwjZ0eDc

The movie that finally got Scorsese the Oscar. In my opinion, the perfect screenplay.

Taxi Driver (1976) [ IMDB: 8.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%]

Taxi Driver

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLpMx8_TYOo

Some movies define a period in history. Some performances are so great that it is impossible to imagine someone else in that role. Some movies are unforgettable. Taxi Driver. Robert De Niro. No excuses for not watching.

Documentary Pick of the Week

Searching for Sugar Man (2012) [IMDB; 8.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 96%]

Searching for Sugar Man

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDw7OqVBT-w

How does it feel to be a rock star (pun intended) in one part of the world and be an unknown in your country of residence? One of the most uplifting documentaries ever made.

Eagerly Waiting for: ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ because it has a large cast and a fine director in Wes Anderson.

Did you know: After the release of the Tom Cruise film ‘Top Gun’,the applications by young men to the US Navy went up by 500 percent.

Week 38

Movies: Non-English

Maria Full of Grace (Colombia, 2004) [ IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%]

Maria Full of Grace

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5yJOXgxZw8.

One of the few foreign films to have got the lead actress an Oscar nomination, this Colombian movie explores the dark lanes of illegal immigration and drug trafficking into USA. Catalina Moreno looks the part as the woman trying to escape the low life in Colombia for better prospects in the US. She accepts the proposal to act as a drug mule to achieve her ambitions. The film is not judgmental. The focus is on the person who is not just another face in the crowd. There is no stirring music or emotional manipulation and the camera hovers around trying to capture the intricate nuances of the story that is being told. I wouldn’t call it a must watch but it is a movie that deserves a good look.

Paradise Now (Palestine, France, 2005) [ IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 89%]

Paradise Now

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xi9yiGePxKw

Why do people turn to terrorism? There are no easy answers but ‘Paradise Now’ tries to address a complicated issue and offers a counter to ‘Munich’, also released in 2005. The film is also an exploration of the frustrations of the people of Palestine. The plot involves a suicide bombing to be carried out by two friends. The story follows them on their mission. That journey is also the setting for the dialogue on the complexity of the issues they face as Palestinians and that tete-a-tete is the crux of what the movie wants to address. I guess even Mossad would have been interested.

Movies I Saw This Week

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) [ IMDB: 8.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 79%]

Wolf of Wall Street

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iszwuX1AK6A

There is hardly a moment in the movie when Leonardo DiCaprio is sober. That also makes it a movie perennially on dope. Add to that some sleaze, women, Ferraris, FBI and even a storm. What you get is a film throbbing with energy reaching the point of hysteria. For those not knowing Martin Scorsese, they would be imagining him to be a 21 year old director and it is his creative vision at such a late stage in his career that truly stands out. Leonardo DiCaprio brings out a very strong performance but it may still not land him the elusive Oscar. He has a very able supporting cast but in the end the film tells a story that is very cliched. It is a moralistic take on a middle class boy gone bad and traces his meteoric rise and fall. There have been numerous films that have dealt with that template and this one offers no big surprises. The saving grace is the taut screenplay which keeps you engaged throughout. The film is a true entertainer and one of the better works of 2013. It will get a few nominations at the Oscars but more than one Oscar will be stretching the limits of optimism.

Don Jon (2013) [IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes:81%]

Don Jon

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6615kYTpOSU

A young man obsessed with sex, pornography and women goes through a catharsis and finds true love (or should I say true sex?). Along the way he enjoys confessing his sins at the church and finds out that his sister is not the douchebag he thinks her to be. I found the film to be a good one time watch. Though it has the feeling of pop art, it gets progressively serious as it proceeds and this finally separates it from the run of mill romcoms.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013) [ IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 72%]

mandela

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmm-aazQQKA

Idris Alba is Nelson Mandela in this biopic that traces the life of the legendary statesman. Watching the movie is like contemplating about the possibilities of what could have been. Frankly, the movie is the biggest letdown of 2013. More so because had it been a half decent effort, it could have ridden a sympathy wave to glory. As things stand, it is second only to the selfie of Obama at Mandela’s memorial service in the list of gaffes with respect to Mandela in a year when the world has been bending backwards in paying respect to the leader. It is a film that will soon be forgotten unlike the revolutionary at the heart of its story.

Sidney Lumet Retrospective

Sidney Lumet has been the director of many path breaking movies which have redefined movies. Besides the three movies introduced in detail here, he has been at the helm for some remarkable movies like ‘Prince of the City’, ‘Network’ (reviewed earlier in the blog), ‘Running on Empty’, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, ‘Serpico’, ‘Find Me Guilty’ and ‘The Verdict’.

12 Angry Men (1957) [IMDB: 8.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%]

12 Angry Men

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7CBKT0PWFA

Twelve men in a jury debate through reason and logic to reach a consensus. One of the movies to watch before you die.

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007) [ IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 88%]

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Jhrxn7QVDc

Fifty years after making ’12 Angry Men’ Sidney Lumet shows that class is permanent with this truly riveting flick about the dark secrets of a family. Must see.

Dog Day Afternoon (1975) [ IMDB:8.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%]

Dog-Day-Afternoon

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZHS7zexXlU

One of the best hostage dramas ever. Classic.

Documentary Pick of the Week

Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth (2013) [ IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: Not yet rated)

Mike Tyson Undisputed Truth

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVrC9xfBUHk

The story of Mike Tyson. In his own words.

Eagerly Waiting for: ‘Labor Day’ because Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin can create fireworks on screen.

Did you know: In 2013, 12 Hollywood movies grossed more than 200 million dollars each which is a new record.