Edition 90

The Non-English Movie of The Week

The Insult (Lebanon, 2017) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 99%, My Rating: 7.0]

Trailer

Lebanon is a hotbed of sectarian politics. The nation has strong contingents of Christian and Muslim denominations. Palestinian refugees constitute 10% of the population of Lebanon. It is in this powder keg that ‘The Insult’ is set. A Christian citizen of Lebanon sues a Muslim Palestinian refugee, and the events that ensue form the crux of the story. Up in the air is not just a legal question but decades old raw wounds which guide the motives of all the actors in the flick. Unfortunately, with revelations about the accused and the accuser, the story ties itself in knots. The director chooses the safest exit route by conceding partly to all involved. This only leads to an ending which is safe and is a big letdown for a movie which oozes with tension and drama for the large majority of its running time.

Movies I Saw This Week

22 July (2018) [IMDB: 6.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 79%, My Rating: 6.5]

Trailer

Paul Greengrass is a master at telling tales of tension and thrill. His success was undeniable in the Bourne Series and ‘United 93’ and to a lesser extent in ‘Captain Phillips’. In ’22 July’, he takes the viewer to the gory tragedy that unfolds at Utoya island, Norway where a right wing white supremacist (there is no need to name and glorify him) guns down 69 campers after already taking the life of 8 others with an explosion in Oslo. The tragedy and its aftermath are captured in this movie which is based on the more harrowing book ‘One of Us’. The movie is absolutely engaging in the first half but soon loses steam as it progresses. The focus is diluted by two strands that develop in the story. In many instances the killer is made to look reasonable. There is no outright condemnation of the monster and the lawyer who takes up his case begins with the intention of helping his client get away scot-free. The tragedy raises questions on the need for death penalty. If Hitler did not commit suicide and was caught by Norwegians, what would they have done with him?

A Prayer Before Dawn (2018) [IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, My Rating: 7.5]

Trailer

Based on a true story and a best selling book, this movie takes you inside the harsh prison life in Thailand and the contact sport of Muay Thai. Englishman Billy Moore finds a little bit of love, life and redemption as he navigates through the violence, abuse and underworld, serving his three year sentence. Notable for the gritty and realistic performances, ‘A prayer Before Dawn’ is a richly rewarding experience for those who have the patience to sit through the ordeal of real action sequences and shocking scenes of abuse.

Andhadhun (2018) [IMDB: 9.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%, My Rating: 8.5]

Trailer

Hands down the best Hindi movie of the year, ‘Andhadhun’ reaffirms my belief that Sriram Raghavan is the best director in India when it comes to making a taut thriller. For those who are not convinced yet, watch ‘Johnny Gaddaar’ or the more complex ‘Badlapur’. Andhadhun is the story of a pianist who pretends to be blind and then ‘witnesses’ a murder. The ball is set rolling from that moment and the myriad characters who appear (and some disappear) on the screen lead to a finale which is more clever than tense. The best thing about the movie is that it keeps the viewer engaged from start to end with well formed characters and great performances. There is even scope for some fun in the form of a Chaplinesque sequence with the piano playing in the background as a corpse is packed for disposal. Must see.

Mandy (2018) [IMDB: 6.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, My Rating: 7.5]

Trailer

The much maligned Nicolas Cage who was quietly riding into cinematic oblivion with duds piling up in the last few years, finds a comeback in a movie where you would least expect any redemption. In a movie reminiscent of grindhouse flicks, director Panos Cosmatos invites the viewer to a surreal experience of blood letting and horrific violence. Cage plays a man who is out to avenge his wife’s murder by a religious cult. From the word go, the movie with its distinct colour scheme and weird background score embarks on a cycle of gratuitous violence. Watching this movie requires oodles of patience and zero sensitivity to dismemberment of body parts or gushing of blood. Still, recommended.

Leave No Trace (2018) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%, My Rating: 8.0]

Trailer

Seldom does a movie so simple arrest attention like ‘Leave No Trace’. This is a movie which must be seen and is an absolute joy to watch. A father and daughter live in the woods and they prefer life that way. When they are discovered, their world starts unfolding. Packed with empathy and wisdom, ‘Leave No Trace’ is a character study with a matching screenplay. I wish there were more movies like this one.

Paterno (2018) [IMDB: 6.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 72%, My Rating: 7.0]

Trailer

Paterno was the head coach of the football team which was at the centre of the abuse scandal that engulfed Penn State University. The movie is a competent one made better by Al Pacino who is in fine form playing the title character. The real star in the real world though is the young local reporter who revealed the truth to the world and went on to win a Pulitzer for the same. Though sympathetic to Paterno for long stretches, the movie ends with a scene which shows the culpability and reveals the culture of silence which kept the scandal under wraps for a long time. ‘Paterno’ is not a great movie but one worth watching.

The Wife (2018) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 85%, My Rating: 6.5]

Trailer

Glenn Close is heavily tipped to receive an Oscar nomination for her role as an enigmatic wife in this family drama that somehow reaches the finish line while struggling to hold the attention of the viewer. The big revelation in the movie does not take the viewer by surprise as enough hints are given during the course of the movie. The actors are in fine form with Christian Slater playing an annoying character which just requires him to be himself. For other ‘gems’ of Christian Slater watch movies like Basil (1998). As for ‘The Wife’, it is for the viewer to decide if the good lead performances make up for a biting lack of authenticity in a drama about a winner of the Nobel prize in literature.

Kayamkulam Kochunni (2018) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: Not Rated, My Rating: 7.0]

Trailer

The legendary thief who even has a temple to his name for his good samaritan acts is reborn on the big screen. An incredibly lucky Nivin Pauly seems to get all the right roles even when it is glaringly evident that his histrionic skills are not up to the mark. The movie itself keeps the viewer engaged even when the screenplay fails to offer anything fresh. Some of the songs in the movie are absolutely unnecessary and plain regressive. Nevertheless, the movie deserves appreciation for trying.

Documentary of the Week

Three Identical Strangers (2018) [IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 95%, My Rating: 8.5]

Trailer

An incredible true story about three identical brothers separated at birth and reunited as teenagers. One of the best documentaries I have seen.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Shoplifters’, winner of the Palme d’Or 2018 releasing in the US on 23 November.

Did you know: The movie ‘Arsenal (2017)‘ is still rated 4.0 on IMDB. As of today, Arsenal football club are in their ‘traditional’ 4th spot in the Premier League.

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Edition 89

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Audition (Japan, 1999) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 81%, My Rating: 8.0]

Trailer

‘Audition’ launched the Japanese high-brow horror genre along with the more widely viewed ‘Ringu’. ‘Audition’ is a more layered and complex venture than Ringu. Watching ‘Audition’ is akin to peeling onions. Painful to watch for the sheer tragedy that unfolds, ‘Audition’ is that rare thriller-horror movie which slowly grows on you. A widower holds a fake casting call to find his next life partner. The enigmatic lady who catches his attention is the lady of his dreams. The dreams soon turn to nightmares as the master director takes you on a ride well worth the build-up. Watch ‘Audition’ if you have the courage to sit through silent horror.

Movies I Saw This Week

American Animals [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 85%, My Rating: 7.5]

Trailer

Based on a true story of a bungled art heist, ‘American Animals’ tells the story of a few millennials who repeatedly fail to see the lines they are willing to blur to achieve instant wealth. Interspersed with interviews of the real life characters, the movie plays out more as a dark comedy than a thriller. With the foregone conclusion of the denouement, the movie is a stark portrayal of how much naivety and indecision went into a plan notable more for the lack of a coherent plan. What is baffling about the crime itself is that the perpetrators did not meet the standard definition of criminals. One of them came from a stable family, another was good at academics and a third one was almost a serial entrepreneur. The distrust in the team is evident as they recollect past events in which their narratives are full of contradictions. American Animals is a character study of millennials for whom the idea of what is right or wrong is more grey than black or white.

Hereditary [IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, My Rating: 7.5]

Trailer

From writer-director Ari Aster comes a tale of a family discovering unpleasant secrets with the added tension of an unfolding horror show. The talented and underappreciated Toni Collette mourns death in her family and learns more about death itself as we progress in this instant horror classic. The clues are there from the first frame itself. I don’t want to spoil the fun by revealing more. Go watch it.

Game Night [IMDB: 7.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 83%, My Rating:6.0 ]

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Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman star as a star-crossed couple who land up in situations they never bargained for. A motley group of characters ranging from a spooky neighbour to a high flying brother keep the action going in this mad caper. McAdams and Bateman who meet at a game night and marry, continue their proud tradition of hosting game nights. It is during one of those nights that things go berserk. What follows is a sequence of events which is mildly amusing. The best part of the movie is the end sequence with some side jabs to even Harvard University. Recommended if you have the time to spend on movies which require minimum amount of your grey cells to function.

Set It Up [IMDB: 6.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 90%, My Rating: 7.0 ]

Trailer

The thing about this Netflix flick is that if you have low expectations, you are in for a surprise. Smartly written and directed with panache, ‘Set it Up’ is a mini revival of the romantic comedy genre which was more or less on life support. Romantic comedy as a genre has been conveniently given the short shrift by the big Hollywood studios in the last decade or so. In ‘Set it Up’, two overworked office slaves plot to make their bosses fall in love with the express intention of lessening their own workload. The best thing about the movie is that it never bores you and that is a big achievement when it is a romantic comedy. Watch it if you like movies as smooth as Teflon.

Chappaquiddick [IMDB: 6.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 80%, My Rating: 7.5]

Trailer

The Kennedy family was the original first family of the US till the Clintons and Bushs turned up. The senior Kennedy was the first head of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Besides the obvious fame of John and Robert Kennedy, the Kennedys have had a hand in many pies from founding the Special Olympics to creating the California Museum. The enigmatic yet respected figure in the family was the only surviving male child of the senior Kennedy. Ted Kennedy had to live a life of expectations and the burden of his other brothers’ popularity. Ted also had an infamous criminal event which besmirched his reputation and put an end to any hopes of reaching the highest office in the nation. ‘Chappaquiddick’ is a faithful and contentious retelling of the events that cast a long shadow on the legacy of Ted Kennedy. The movie is engrossing for the material it handles and does not hold back any punches on the culpability of Ted Kennedy. Ted Kennedy swings between the courage of his convictions and the urgency of self-preservation in this crisp thriller.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society [IMDB: 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 82%, My Rating: 7.0 ]

Trailer

First things first. The best thing about the movie is the title. It is almost irresistible not to watch a movie with such a title. The novelty of the title wears off once you are told of the origin story. The movie is mostly passable stuff from the director who brought us a mini classic like ‘Four Weddings And A Funeral’. Intrigued by the correspondence she receives; a fledgling author decides to take a trip to Guernsey. There she gets embroiled in the mysterious case of a missing woman. As she tries to unravel the secrets of the island, she not only discovers the truth but also herself. Though the movie is largely watchable, I have this sneaky feeling that the novel which formed the source material must be better.

Little Pink House [IMDB: 6.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 74%, My Rating: 6.5]

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The bone of contention in this movie is the question of whether the government has the right to take away your land for passing it to other private parties. Based on litigation which went all the way to the Supreme Court of USA, this movie is a faithful and unfortunately tepid retelling of an event which caused much consternation in the general populace. The movie has an unfocused approach where it plays out well neither as a drama nor as a courtroom thriller. At the centre is an unwilling protagonist who is only willing to test the water but not take the plunge into the heart of the issue. (Spoilers Ahead) Since there is hardly any scope for celebrating a case which was lost in the court but won outside of it through attrition, the demand is on the viewer to see the bigger picture.

Adrift [IMDB: 6.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 73%, My Rating: 6.5 ]

Trailer

Produced by Shailene Woodley who also plays the lead, ‘Adrift’ tells the true story of a lady who was lost at sea for weeks and had to gather her wits to survive. ‘Adrift’ is mostly off target when it shows the sights of the sea and the despair of the sailor. The oxygen supply to the movie is provided by the scenes of flashback that come with comforting frequency in a movie told in the flashback – flash forward format. The flashback scenes make the movie endearing and build the much-needed emotional element to the movie. This could have been a better movie if it had a better director, a better music director and a better editor.

Documentary of the Week

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind [IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%, My Rating: 7.5 ]

Trailer

A peek inside the life of Robin Williams. The man behind the jovial characters he played on screen.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Fahrenheit 11/9’

Did you know: George Clooney was the highest earning actor in the world last year but most of his income came from his ‘Casamigos Tequila’ business.

Edition 88

The Non-English Movie of The Week

In the Fade (Germany, 2018) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 75%, My Rating: 7.0]

Trailer

From acclaimed director Fatih Akin comes an avenge drama which gives a glimpse of the struggles of the delicately balanced identity politics in Germany. Diane Kruger plays a mother caught in the crossfire of neo-Nazi extremism and an inept judicial system. It is with great horror that she sees the tables turned on her when the neo-Nazis who show no remorse for their actions get away scot-free. She decides to take matters into her own hands. The film which plays out as a thriller has a lot going for it but the highlight of the movie is the sterling performance by Diane Kruger who scooped up many awards, including one at Cannes, for her theatrics. For all the drama that unfolds during the course of the movie, it is the denouement which leaves much food for thought.

Movies I Saw This Week

Thoroughbreds (2018) [IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 86%, My Rating: 7.5]

Trailer

Cory Finley is a director who offers copious amounts of promise in this stylish take on entitled millennials who cannot take no for an answer. Two friends reunite and in their cold emotionless thoughts develop a plan to kill. For them everything is dispensable and there is no concept of what is right or wrong. One of them revels in silence and the other reveals her inane thoughts by opening her mouth. They are always impeccably turned out. The director never lets the pace drop and shrewdly writes the dialogues which take the story forward without upsetting the tempo of the movie. The product is as high class as the the background of the protagonists of the movie.

Ali’s Wedding (2017) [IMDB: 6.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, My Rating: 7.0]

Trailer

This Australian feature is a delight to watch. It is that rare cross between a colourful Bollywood flick and a thoughtful Hollywood drama. The movie tells the life of Ali whose one lie spirals out of control. Though ‘Ali’s Wedding’ does paper over some medieval practices vis-a-vis the treatment of women in Islam, it does not hold back when it shows the intricacies of the life in the Muslim community in Australia. Mostly, the results are hilarious and when they are not, they still do not bore you. A breezy watch with heart warming performances and an engaging screenplay, Ali is worth your time.

The Death of Stalin (2018) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, My Rating: 7.5]

Trailer

This biting political satire is an unvarnished look at the fictional politics during the death of Stalin. There are two ways to look at the movie. The favourable way is to see it as an attempt at farce to bring out some key ideas relating to politics and power play in the erstwhile Soviet Union. The slightly less favourable way is to read it with the present animosity between Russia and Britain and a British filmmaker’s attempt to paint the Russians as scoundrels. Apparently, the Russian government agrees with the latter evaluation as it has banned the movie in Russia. From a neutral perspective, the setting and shenanigans of the movie could fit into any autocracy in the world. The viewer may watch the proceedings with slight bemusement. There are enough colourful characters in this movie to keep you engaged and their unpredictability brings enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. Recommended.

A Quiet Place (2018) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 95%, My Rating: 7.5]

Trailer

‘A Quiet Place’ is set in a post apocalyptic world where aliens who respond to sound, kill and silence is golden. A corollary from the plot is that the movie has minimal dialogues. A family tries to survive and care for itself in seclusion. Their griefs and joys interspersed with violence form the crux of the movie. Though the film borrows heavily from other ventures which had sound in them, it finds its own place as one of the most well written movies to have come out in recent times. On a lighter note, the film shows you how to keep infants silent and how steaming or grilling is the best way to cook. Recommended.

The Mercy (2018) [IMDB: 6.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 71%, My Rating: 6.0]

Trailer

The good thing with the movie is that it is based on a true event which had captured the imagination of the people for its scandalous nature. The bad thing about the movie is that there is no anticipation or excitement as the story is well known. To add to this, the director does not delve much into the character study and lets the events play out. The film which tells the story of amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst who went for broke as he decided to take up the challenge to be the first person to circumnavigate the earth non-stop. The performances of Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz add respectability to the movie. Ultimately, the movie is about a man who did not know what he was getting into and could never utter the word ‘no’ with conviction.

Revenge (2018) [IMDB: 6.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, My Rating: 7.5]

Trailer

With with the ‘Me Too’ and ‘Time’s Up’ movements in the vogue, ‘Revenge’ is a timely movie which may at many levels be the defining movie of  the aforementioned movements. Sophisticated and chic, ‘Revenge’ is a revenge drama with blood splashed all over it. For the ones who enjoy gore and violence, this movie may be music to ears and poetry in motion. With great performances and outstanding music complemented by beautiful cinematography which captures the brutal landscape, ‘Revenge’ does not fall into the trap of slasher films. It is often meditative and makes the audience root for the wronged heroine. ‘Revenge’ is not for the weak of heart and if you watch it you will understand that it was never meant to be.

Lust Stories (2018) [IMDB: 7.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 77%, My Rating: 5.0]

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An anthology directed by four respectable filmmakers, ‘Lust Stories’ stays true to its title. Probably that is the best thing I can say about it. Many of them play out like short films made by film students to complete their coursework. Somehow, it is the final piece of the quartet directed by Karan Johar which gets naughty. Karan Johar has no qualms about ruining one of his popular songs and he relishes the chance to do something different from the syrupy brainless movies he normally dishes out. It is in this setting that the high brow directors like Anurag Basu, Zoya Akhtar and Dibankar Banerjee fail to get out of their comfort zone. The pieces by the Basu and Akhtar are particularly tedious. The low cost of production is also evident in their work. Overall, the lust part is strong but the story part is particularly weak in ‘Lust Stories’.

The Kissing Booth (2018) [IMDB: 6.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 70%, My Rating: 5.5]

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Some movies question your judgment as you watch them. In this case, my judgement of having chosen to watch ‘The Kissing Booth’. Based on a book developed on Wattpad (the warning signs were there, you see) and apparently loved by the millennials, the movie does justice to its source material. That’s not saying much though. The story is about a girl who falls for her friend’s brother but that is a taboo as per the regulations and rules governing their friendship. There are decidedly positive outcomes in this bleak scenario. For one, the movie works if you have are not bothered too much by the concept of logic and sense. ‘The Kissing Booth’ in fact, gives a good name to chick flicks.

The Week Of (2018) [IMDB: 5.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 36%, My Rating: 5.5]

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The problem with ‘The Week Of’ is that I enjoyed it for a large part of its running time. Even when I was laughing at an outrageous joke or set piece. Even when I knew that what I saw did not make sense. Some of the jokes are so bad that they are good. As the setting of two families getting together for a wedding played out, one could not miss the fact that Adam Sandler was now the father of the bride. Adam Sandler is also one of the writers of the script. That is when I realized that Sandler is not going to go away anytime soon. Maybe it is a good thing. Maybe not.

Documentary of the Week

Faces Places (2017) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 99% , My Rating: 8.0]

Trailer

A quirky duo set off on a road trip. They bring joy to people in small towns in France. An uplifting documentary which was crowdfunded.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘BlacKkKlansaman’ directed by Spike Lee

Did you know: ‘In the Fade’ is only the second time in her 47 acting credits where Diane Kruger speaks German.

Academy Awards 2018: Predictions

The prestigious Oscars will find new winners on  March 04. This edition is my attempt to see the future this year. You can also have a look at my predictions in the previous years here: 2017 , 20162015 and 2014.

Best Motion Picture of the Year

Who Will Win: A close call between ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ and ‘ The Shape of Water’. My vote is for the former.

Who Should Win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Honourable Mention: The Shape of Water

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Who Will Win: Gary Oldman for being Churchill in ‘The Darkest Hour’

Who Should Win: Gary Oldman

Honourable Mention: Daniel Day-Lewis

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Who Will Win: Frances McDormand who has all but sealed her win. She has been unbeatable this awards season.

Who Should Win: Frances McDormand

Honourable Mention: Meryl Streep is a permanent fixture in this category and received some undeserved nominations in the last few years. Her performance in ‘The Post’ is a far more nuanced one than anything she has produced in recent times but her permanence in nominations makes people overlook a truly creditable and memorable performance.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Who Will Win: Sam Rockwell for the screwed up cop in ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing , Missouri’

Who Should Win: Sam Rockwell

Honourable Mention: Willem Defoe gave his best performance in years, in ‘The Florida Project’

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Who Will Win: Allison Janney for the uncharitable mother in ‘I, Tonya’

Who Should Win:Allison Janney

Honourable Mention: Laurie Metcalf for ‘Lady Bird’

Best Achievement in Directing

Who Will Win: Guillermo del Toro for ‘The Shape of Water’

Who Should Win: There is no other movie more influenced by its director’s vision than ‘The Shape of Water’. Guillermo del Toro will finally have his day in the sun.

Honourable Mention: Jordan Peele should get something for ‘Get Out’, maybe it will in the Screenplay section.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Who Will Win: ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ in a field of no outstanding movies but a bunch of competent ones.

Who Should Win: ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ because it is the one screenplay which is difficult to write, purely from a writer’s perspective.

Honourable Mention: ‘Get Out’ and ‘Lady Bird’

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

Who Will Win: ‘Call Me by Your Name’

Who Should Win: Nothing stands out in a weak field of passable movies in this category.

Honourable Mention: ‘Mudbound’

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

Who Will Win: ‘Coco’

Who Should Win: Nobody in this category deserves an Oscar. All are pedestrian movies.

Honourable Mention: ‘Loving Vincent’

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Who Will Win: With ‘In the Fade’ not making it to the shortlist, this category is wide open. ‘A Fantastic Women’ seems to be the frontrunner but ‘The Square’ and ‘Loveless’ could spring a surprise. Especially ‘Loveless’ because it captures in a single word the current state of US-Russia relations.

Who Should Win: ‘A Fantastic Woman’

Honourable Mention: ‘The Square’

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Who Will Win: Roger Deakins for ‘Blade Runner 2049’

Who Should Win: Roger Deakins

Honourable Mention: Hoyte van Hoytema for ‘Dunkirk’

Best Achievement in Editing

Who Will Win: My vote is for ‘Dunkirk’ but ‘Baby Driver’ has a real chance of winning.

Who Should Win: Dunkirk

Honourable Mention: I, Tonya

Best Achievement in Production Design

Who Will Win: The Shape of Water

Who Should Win: The Shape of Water

Honourable Mention: Dunkirk

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Who Will Win: ‘Phantom Thread’

Who Should Win: ‘Phantom Thread’

Honourable Mention: ‘Beauty and the Beast’

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling

Who Will Win: ‘Darkest Hour’

Who Should Win: ‘Darkest Hour’

Honourable Mention: ‘Wonder’

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

Who Will Win: Alexandre Desplat for the magical score of ‘The Shape of Water’

Who Should Win: Alexandre Desplat

Honourable Mention: Hans Zimmer for ‘Dunkirk’. Without the music, ‘Dunkirk’ would be a series of images.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song)

Who Will Win: ‘Remember Me’ from ‘Coco’

Who Should Win: ‘Remember Me’ from ‘Coco’

Honourable Mention: ‘This is Me’ from ‘The Greatest Showman’

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Who Will Win: Blade Runner 2049

Who Should Win: Star Wars: Blade Runner 2049

Honourable Mention: Kong: Skull Island

Best Documentary, Feature

Who Will Win: A wide open category this year. The safe bet and my favourite is ‘Faces Places’ but ‘Icarus’ had a much bigger impact. Above these two for grittiness alone, is ‘Last Men in Aleppo’

Who Should Win: Faces Places

Honourable Mention: ‘Last Men in Aleppo’

Edition 86

The Non-English Movie of The Week

The Square (Sweden, 2017) [IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 82%, My Rating: 7.0]

Trailer

Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes, this movie straddles between the realms of satire, drama and social commentary. The largely successful attempts to have some fun at the expense of the vacuous art world do not compensate for a screenplay notable for its inconsistency. The director bites more than he can chew. The missteps of a director at an art museum and the shenanigans surrounding his life form the bulk of the story. Then there are multiple strands on immigration, social media hype, artless art and allegories on the state of the society. The farce culminates in a mystifying sequence at an annual reception. ‘The Square’ is an entertaining movie in most ports but is more memorable as an opportunity squandered.

Movies I Saw This Week

Phantom Thread (2018) [IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 91% , My Rating: 7.5]

Trailer

Some actors have the ability to rise above a movie and draw the viewer in. Daniel Day Lewis is perhaps the greatest living actor and what a pity that he makes movies once in a blue moon. As the workaholic designer in ‘Phantom Thread’, he is a joy to watch. His screen presence and a masterclass in acting take the otherwise average movie a notch or two higher. The story is about a designer at the top of his game and the interruptions in his life when a lady as hard as a nail walks into his life. The cinematography of the movie is first rate and the director should take some credit for keeping the movie as taut as he could. Watch it for Daniel Day-Lewis.

The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 82% , My Rating: 7.5]

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The story of author Charles Dickens as he pulls out all stops to get the classic ‘A Christmas Carol’ published after reeling from the failure of his three previous novels. The movie does a good job of bringing the persona of Dickens to screen. Although a bare minimum knowledge of ‘A Christmas Carol’ will be needed to understand the movie well, the lack of it will not be a hindrance to enjoying this movie which celebrates the life of Dickens. Not only is there a context to the creation of ‘A Christmas Carol’, there is nice back story to the life of Dickens and his evolution as an author. This movie is one of the lesser known and yet eminently watchable releases of 2017.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017) [IMDB: 6.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 51% , My Rating: 5.5]

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I expected much more from the director of ‘Nightcrawler’ and what was served was a damp squib. The only saving grace of this mangled venture is a powerhouse performance from Denzel Washington. He plays a civil rights lawyer who gets the short end of the stick after a selfless life dedicated to causes he believes in. He goes rogue and from there on the director also goes rogue. Some movies tie themselves in knots and have no fair chance of untangling the mess. This movie, after a certain point in the narrative, is in dire search for a climax. Imagine you have in mind a juicy piece of chicken and what you get is a wet piece of chicken dripping with water. This movie is the cinematic equivalent of that wet piece of chicken.

My Friend Dahmer (2017) [IMDB: 6.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 83% , My Rating: 7.0]

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Jeffrey Dahmer was one of the worst serial killers in history. He was a sociopath. Before he started his killings, he was the classmate of a cartoonist in high school. This movie which is based on the best selling graphic novel by his cartoonist friend tries to shed some light on the making of a sociopath. The movie is a character study and does not try to airbrush the brutality of the killer. The good part is that there are no killings in the movie as the movie shows the build up to the creation of a monster. Packed with competent performances and a strangely memorable ending, this is a movie which is certainly worth your time.

A Futile and Stupid Gesture (2018) [IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 75% , My Rating: 7.0]

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This movie tells the story of the people behind the creation of ‘National Lampoon’ through the story of one of the co-founders of the magazine and movie franchise. The movie takes a format which gives it a feeling of a documentary. A bevy of comedians including Chevy Chase are part of this ride. The story is told in a conventional format and is thoroughly entertaining. The only gripe could be that for a story full of irreverent people and unconventional ideas, the director sticks to a rather straightforward narrative. Still, recommended.

Good Time (2017) [IMDB: 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 92% , My Rating: 7.0]

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Robert Pattison shows that he can act. He and his mentally challenged brother have to solve a litany of problems in the aftermath of a bank robbery. ‘Good Time’ loses its pace at some key moments and the work could have been more unsettling in the hands of an experienced director. Nevertheless, the famished face of Robert Pattison carries the weight of the movie. He is practically unrecognizable from his ‘cool dude’ image in the insufferable ‘Twilight’ franchise. The last scene of this movie is a knockout and summarizes the movie in the most effective way possible. Watch, if you like slow dark stuff.

Downsizing (2017) [IMDB: 5.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 51% , My Rating: 4.0]

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I believe that Alexander Payne is one of the most overrated directors of our time. He has received undeserved praise for pedestrian films like ‘Nebraska’, ‘The Descendants’ and ‘About Schmidt’. Finally he is exposed in this ruinous and boring movie called ‘Downsizing’. Matt Damon signs up to a new program in which people who are shrunk in size with the aid of science start living in secluded gated communities. After the first twenty minutes, this movie is a bore fest with the viewer wishing that he could also shrink in size and disappear from the movie hall. The movie is just an ego trip for the director and soon tumbles into a the worst mode possible at a cinema; it becomes a pulpit for preaching. Save your time. Think big. Skip this small minded movie.

Only the Brave (2017) [IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 92% , My Rating: 7.5]

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‘Only the Brave’ has the right blend of emotion and action to keep the viewer engaged. It tells a story of firefighters with all the technical stuff while ensuring that the human element is never lost. The story follows a band of characters with a back story which helps in keeping the viewer invested in the destinies of the people on screen. Highly recommended.

Documentary of the Week

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (2017) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 93% , My Rating: 7.5]

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The story of a small community bank which was the only financial institution taken to trial in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. When the companies that were deemed “too big to fail” were bailed out, this small bank was considered too small to be trampled upon. Engaging watch.

Eagerly waiting for: The Academy Awards on March 4.

Did you know: In the first edition of this blog in April, 2013, this section told the story of Kevin O’Connell who held the record for maximum Oscar nominations (20) without a win. As a testament to the power of perseverance, he broke his bad luck dating backing to 1984 (his first nomination was for ‘Terms of Endearment’) and won his first Oscar on his 21st nomination. This was for Sound Mixing in ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ last year. The new holder of the unenviable ‘most nominations without a win’ title is another veteran at Sound Mixing: Greg P. Russell, who has 17 nominations to his credit. As an aside, cinematographer Roger Deakins who is right up there in the list with 13 unsuccessful nominations is nominated this year for the 14th time, with his brilliance in ‘Blade Runner 2049’ giving him the nomination this year. Here’s to a win for Roger Deakins.

Edition 85

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Loveless (Russia, 2017) [IMDB:7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 92% , My Rating: 7.5]

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Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, this movie tells the story of a child caught in the crossfire of an ugly divorce. As the child goes missing, the parents launch a search which intensifies as the story progresses. The director whose earlier works include ‘Leviathan’, goes for a more nuanced storytelling with subtle hints on the state of the Russian society. Unlike ‘Leviathan’ which spared no punches, ‘Loveless’ is often puzzling and enigmatic. The suspense is intact till the end and the open-ended climax leaves much space for speculation and contemplation. The pace of the movie dips in the latter half when the proceedings turn plain boring but the quest for the missing boy keeps the audience hooked. ‘Loveless’ is sure to get an Oscar nomination but not good enough to win.

Movies I Saw This Week

I, Tonya (2017) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, My Rating: 7.0]

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Margot Robbie stars as real life figure skater Tonya Harding whose chequered career’s low point was a botched up and bizarre kidnapping saga of her opponent. Robbie, who used to play ice-hockey earlier, brings the expertise to give a creditable performance in scenes where she is in the ice rink. There is nothing compelling about the screenplay and it hurtles towards an inevitable end. Margot Robbie plays her much abused character with conviction but the only Oscar that this movie will win will rightfully belong to the controlling mother of Tonya played with relish by Allison Janney.

The Disaster Artist (2017) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 92% , My Rating: 7.0]

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For those who have not had the misfortune of watching a gutter movie called the ‘The Room‘ released in 2003, ‘The Disaster Artist’ is based on the events surrounding the making of that movie. ‘The Room’ had a second life when it gained popularity with some viewers rating it as the “best worst movie” ever made (which is a very generous assessment). The legend behind the movie was one Tommy Wiseau who wrote, produced, distributed, directed and acted in the original. James Franco, another goofball from Hollywood, has a field day as he tries to play Tommy Wiseau in a rather compassionate look at the original. Whether such a tribute to ‘The Room’ is warranted is certainly questionable. In fact, as a movie ‘The Disaster Artist’ fails to stand on its feet once it is robbed of the context. For most of the funny scenes to work, it is important to have viewed the original. Whether it is worth sitting through the mind numbing experience of watching ‘The Room’ so that ‘The Disaster Artist’ can be appreciated, is a question left to the discerning viewer. James Franco is sure to sweep awards which have a category for a comical performance but when it comes to the real deal (ie, the Oscars), he will be educated on good acting by the performances of veterans like Gary Oldman and Daniel Day-Lewis.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) [IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 93% , My Rating: 8.5]

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Frances McDormand gives her best performance after ‘Fargo’ in a masterpiece scripted and directed by Martin McDonagh. The movie begins with a mother’s pointed questions about the rape and murder of her daughter. The difference being that she goes for the audacious by putting those questions on three billboards. As a viewer, it may be difficult to foresee what unfolds in the narrative from there on. What surely does happen is by far the best Hollywood movie of 2017. The movie proceeds with the ease of knife sliding through butter. Frances McDormand, in what will be an Oscar winning performance, embodies the spirit of the character and plays it with the grit and steely determination making it one of the strongest woman protagonists in cinema. What elevates the screenplay is that all the cast members bring their A game to the show. Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell add gravitas to their roles as the ailing police chief and a racist officer respectively. The humour in this tense drama is first rate and never out  of place. This movie is easily among the best to have made it to the cinemas in 2017.

Lady Bird (2017) [IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 99% , My Rating: 7.5]

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Greta Gerwig turns director in a bittersweet coming of age movie set in Sacramento. Incidentally, Greta Gerwig is from Sacramento. Saoirse Ronan lives up to the promise she had shown in ‘Brooklyn’ as she plays the role of a small town high school student trying to find her bearings and love over the course of a few months. There are tons of movies with similar themes but what makes ‘Lady Bird’ charming is the freshness of the writing and the little twists and turns which keeps the viewer interested in the events on screen. ‘Lady Bird’ may not be a classic but it has its own rightful place in the list of the best movies of the year.

The Shape of Water (2017) [IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 92% , My Rating: 8.0]

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Gullermo del Toro is a master at story telling as demonstrated multiple times previously and most memorably in ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’. This is reinforced by ‘The Shape of Water’ where he blends fantasy, music and romance into an intoxicating concoction. For the grace with which he tells an impossible story itself, he deserves the Oscar for Direction. ‘The Shape  of Water’ is a love story between a cleaner at at secret facility and a water creature. The premise is so outrageous that you may be put off by the synopsis but as you watch the movie, you may find yourself rooting for this romance. ‘The Shape of Water’ owes its mood to the music of Alexandre Desplat who looks like a shoo in for the Oscars. Pity that Hans Zimmer will not be getting his Oscar for another extraordinary score in ‘Dunkirk’. Watch ‘The Shape of Water’ if you are willing to be taken to the stars and clouds by the magic of cinema.

Call Me by Your Name (2017) [IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 96% , My Rating: 6.5]

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‘Call Me by Your Name’ is a bit of manipulative film making. It is the one of those annual LGBT themed movies with a heavy Oscar bait thrown in. For sure, it is a gorgeous looking movie shot in achingly beautiful parts of Italy. The movie is worth a watch just for the scenery. Timothee Chalamet is another reason for watching this gay romance, in which he stands out and promises much more for the future. The story is about a young boy who is wooed by the associate of his dad. Recommended if you like the category.

The Florida Project (2017) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 96% , My Rating: 8.0]

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A24 studio has the uncanny knack of picking low budget features with a solid story line which would not be green-lit by the major studios. ‘The Florida Project’ is a film that A24 can be proud of. It tells the tale of a brash child spending her summer holidays with her single mom in a motel close to Disneyland. The story is told through the eyes of the child and portrays the life of the American poor. William Defoe puts in a good shift as the manager of the motel. The movie does stray a bit from its main story on a couple of occasions but there something magical about the way the director handles the whole movie. ‘The Florida Project’ is not a great film but it is indeed a memorable one.

Darkest Hour  (2017) [IMDB: 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 85% , My Rating: 7.0]

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Winston Churchill whose career was built on his ambition to be the Prime Minister of Britain receives the honour when the soulless Nazi Germans are knocking on the gates of his country. All of his army is also facing an existential crisis as they are facing certain rout at Dunkirk. ‘Darkest Hour’ is the portrayal of Winston Churchill by Gary Oldman in the weeks following Churchill’s appointment as the wartime Prime Minister culminating in the rousing “We shall fight them….” speech. Overall, the movie is watchable but the screenplay is sometimes found lacking. The movie is a Gary Oldman show. He becomes Churchill. I would not be surprised if they mistakenly use the image of Gary Oldman for Churchill in the future. And, the Best Actor Oscar goes to Gary Oldman.

Molly’s Game (2017) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 87% , My Rating: 7.5]

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Jessica Chastain has now become the reference point for smart  and smooth talking women operatives in cinema. Following on her remarkable success in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ and ‘Miss Sloane’, she becomes the ‘Poker Princess’ Molly Bloom who was convicted of running an illegal poker operation in New York. Aaron Sorkin’s direction and screenplay follow the sleekness he had shown in his earlier screenplays. ‘Molly’s Game’ is not a thriller. It is a character study which can be viewed with mild amusement. It is predictable but engaging. The movie does leave the question of whether it is telling more than it is hiding or vice-versa. For instance, Tobey Maguire is the actor on whom the star in the movie is based. Watch it if you like predictable but fast movies.

Documentary of the Week

Cries from Syria  (2017) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 100% , My Rating: 8.0]

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The story of the beginning of the Syrian war told through citizen shot videos. Moving and disturbing.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Sicario 2: Soldado’ 

Did you know: ‘Get Out’ is the first film made by a debutant director to gross more than 100 million USD at the US box office.

Edition 84

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Our Little Sister (Japan,2015) [IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes:93% , My Rating: 7.5 ]

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‘Our Little Sister’ tells the story of three sisters who take in their fourth sister they never knew they had. This Japanese tale is a quiet triumph and a joy to watch. It also gives an insight into the traditions and way of life in rural Japan. The movie is akin to a piece of music which flows unabated. There is a sublime sense of happiness pervading the movie even when it tackles more serious questions. For a film which could have ended in various ways, ‘Our Little Sister’ bows out with a dignity that is the hallmark of the feature. Highly recommended.

Movies I Saw This Week

Detroit (2017) [IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes:83% , My Rating: 8.5 ]

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I have thoroughly enjoyed previous movies of Katheryn Bigelow like ‘Hurt Locker’ and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ (One of the best movies of the decade). ‘Detroit’ surely lives up to the expectations. Based on a real life incident in Algiers Motel, Detroit during the race riots of 1967, ‘Detroit’ is a story which must be told. Exposing the deep fault lines within the American social fabric and raising pertinent questions on police criminality, the movie is an edge of the seat thriller. ‘Detroit’ never has a boring moment but it has plentiful moments of horror and sadness. All credit for the memorable movie is due to Bigelow who deftly handles a theme which could have failed miserably in the hands of a less competent director. Watching the movie itself is a harrowing experience which can question your belief in the idea of justice itself. For all its pains, the movie is a pleasure.

Mother! (2017) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes:68% , My Rating: 4.5 ]

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My emotion towards ‘Mother!’ has been summed up beautifully by Anthony Lane of the ‘New Yorker’; “If you gave an extremely bright fifteen-year-old a bag of unfamiliar herbs to smoke, and forty million dollars or so to play with, “Mother!” would be the result.” ‘Mother!’ is a movie which is an insult to the intelligence of the audience. It is pointless and manipulative even when discounted for the allegory it purportedly portrays. I had to search to find out what the heck all this posturing by the director was about. If you are interested, the idea behind the movie is explained in an article here. It does not exonerate the director who also wrote the screenplay. Jennifer Lawrence who rose to fame through Harvey Weinstein movies, puts in a solid shift. There is nothing redeeming about the movie. It is a self indulgent piece which should be played as torture to death row inmates.

1922 (2017) [IMDB: 6.4, Rotten Tomatoes:88% , My Rating: 7.5]

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Based on the Stephen King novella, ‘1922’ is a haunting movie. Though the omens point to a decline into tragedy, the events that follow are nothing short of terror. Dealing with the concept of guilt and retribution, this movie sucks in the viewer with its raw and relentless attack on the protagonist who is destined to disintegrate. This is one of the underrated flicks of the year. The only word of caution is to watch the movie with subtitles as the accent is dated and a tad difficult to pick up.

Logan Lucky (2017) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes:93% , My Rating: 7.0]

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Steven Soderbergh is one of the most talented directors of our generation. ‘Logan Lucky’ marks his return to form. A disparate group bound only by their love for the booty decide to rob NASCAR (nothing less!) on a race day. As is the case with every good heist movie, it is not the heist per se which is important but what happens afterwards. That is what makes the movie better than average. Surely, ‘Logan Lucky’ is not a masterpiece but it is a movie which does justice to your viewing time. Since half decent heist movies have been in short supply recently, this movie quenches the appetite for the time being. Recommended.

It (2017) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes:85% , My Rating: 7.0]

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Another movie based on the work of Stephen King, ‘It’ has been a smash hit at the box office. The reasons are not hard to miss. It has a bunch of kids at the centre of the story and deals with adult themes like identity and willpower. A murderous shape shifting demon needs to be tamed before it finds its new prey. All the usual Stephen King props are in play in this movie. Conquering the fear of the dark, first love, taming inner demons, unity in diversity, and some other simplistic ideas are thrown in to add weight to the movie. The only thing missing is a kid in spandex. Surely, ‘It’ is not a boring movie. Far from it, ‘It’ has its moments but otherwise it is a movie with a standard template which leave the viewer rather underwhelmed as the credits roll.

Better Watch Out (2017) [IMDB: 6.6, Rotten Tomatoes:91% , My Rating: 7.0]

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What I loved about ‘Better Watch Out’ is the twist it gives to ‘Home Alone’. In fact, there are not so subtle references to the ‘Home Alone’ franchise in this thriller with a bad heart. A boy is left with his nanny when his parents are away. What unfolds initially is a horror movie but with a major turn in the story as it evolves. Even the ending of the movie holds a punch and leaves the door open for a sequel. ‘Better Watch Out’ is a bit of twisted fun and I am not complaining.

A Ghost Story (2017) [IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes:90% , My Rating: 5.5]

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With a remote in your hand you will need very small amount of time to watch this tedious and unrewarding drama. Surprisingly, some people did find this movie interesting. I found the movie to be absolutely one of the worst of the year with its fake ideas and positioning. It has all the ingredients of a brainless idea which got greenlit by the presence of some bankable stars. For the record, the movie concerns itself with afterlife and coping with grief. In this respect the movie does not attain salvation. To be more to the point, it needs to be buried deep in the ground.

The Foreigner (2017) [IMDB: 7.2., Rotten Tomatoes:75% , My Rating: 6.5]

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Apparently, Jackie Chan has cried twice in his movies before. The third time is in ‘The Foreigner’ and this time you will join in his pain. Even in a movie where Pierce Brosnan has more screen time and better dialogues, Jackie Chan stands out as the 60 year old father who has lost everything and wants to avenge his daughter’s death. Though the politics of the movie is dubious and some parts are a stretch of imagination, the movie is written well enough to keep the viewer engaged till its predictable climax. The worldwide box office of more than a 100 million USD shows that the audiences also seem to approve the first real acting turn by superstar Jackie Chan.

Ingrid Goes West (2017) [IMDB: 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes:86% , My Rating: 6.5]

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In times such as this where social media acts as an alternative to the real world, ‘Ingrid Goes West’ is a timely reminder of how far things can go wrong in the cyberspace. The lead character’s manic obsession of the number of likes she receives and the number of followers she has, leads to her losing her footing in the real world. As she gets close to an ‘influencer’ by crook, her obsession spirals out of control. ‘Ingrid Goes West’ tells that story and does it with panache. My only grouse is that the ending was unnecessarily saccharine sweet.

Documentary of the Week

Blue Planet 2 (2017) [IMDB: 9.8, Rotten Tomatoes:89% , My Rating: 10.0]

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Wow! Just wow. All the beauty in the world like never before. Educational, informative and entertaining. Must watch.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Phantom Thread’ because it is the swansong of Daniel Day Lewis.

Did you know: Shashi Kapoor had more films as the protagonist than any other member of the Kapoor clan. RIP Shashi Kapoor.