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’

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Edition 86

The Non-English Movie of The Week

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

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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]

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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.

Edition 83

The Non-English Movie of The Week

First They Killed My Father (Cambodia, 2017) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes:88% , My Rating: 7.5 ]

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After a couple of failed attempts at movie making, Angelina Jolie finally hits the sweet spot with her deadpan style which is suitable for a movie which deals with agony and intensifying despair. Set in Cambodia during the infamous Khmer Rouge regime and based on an autobiographical account of the events, this movie is a serious yet nuanced take on life during the regime as well as the disintegration of a way of life. Jolie’s success is also down to the fact that she resists the temptation of sidelining the central character in the narration. The movie unfolds through the eyes of the child and her family’s fervid attempts to stick together. The movie practically proceeds through a series of compelling events. ‘First They Killed My Father’ is a movie that deserves to be seen and applauded.

Movies I Saw This Week

Baby Driver (2017) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes:93%, My Rating:7.5 ]

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‘Baby Driver’ navigates the zone which is between the border of pop flick and high art. Though it has some tired premises like ‘one final heist before retirement’, the movie manages to hold attention by the sheer pace of the action it offers and and a good recycling of cliches. The central character of the movie is the driver of a getaway car for bank robbers. He has his quirks but his self assured demeanor is tested as the story progresses. It would be wrong to say that ‘Baby Driver’ is a all brawn and no brains story. Nevertheless, one may enjoy it more if the brain is left at home.

Who is Alice (2017) [IMDB: 7.0, Rotten Tomatoes: Not rated , My Rating:7.0 ]

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This is a surprisingly good movie with a solid screenplay and fine acting. It tells the tale of a struggling actress trying to juggle her personal and professional life. Without divulging much about the story, it can be said that the whole movie is a setup towards an unexpected climax. In fact, the movie makes more sense with the twist in the tale. Another striking feature of the movie is the uniformly good performance by every character in the movie. ‘Who is Alice’ is a movie which is not going to have a widescreen release or many awards to its credit but it is a very competent piece of film making that promises rich rewards for the discerning viewer.

American Made (2017) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes:87% , My Rating:7.0]

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‘American Made’ is about a real life pilot who got his cake and ate it too. He worked for the CIA and on the same trips smuggled drugs to the US. This movie does not offer anything novel but has the same ideas that sustain this kind of an enterprise. The story line borrows heavily from previous movies about arms dealers like the ‘Lord of War’ and many Oliver Stone flicks. This is not to suggest that the movie is a dud. It is fairly engaging and at times even revealing. Tom Cruise is still in Mission Impossible mode but with shoddier clothing. Watch it if you like flicks which are comforting because you can easily predict what is going to happen in the next scene.

Wind River (2017) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes:91% , My Rating:7.5 ]

The debut directorial venture of the writer of ‘Sicario’ and ‘Hell or High Water’, is a tour de force. It is a slow burning crime investigation which builds up to the grand finale. The sense of sadness is palpable throughout the film. The wild and cold background is a major contributor to the sense of intrigue and hopelessness that surrounds the life of the people on screen. I developed a sense of respect for the victim and her strong will to survive; a mission in which she fails. ‘Wind River’ is more than a thriller. It is a story of people battling the odds. It is a story which makes you think. It is one of the best movies of the year.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, My Rating: 7.0]

Is there a movie in which Adam Sandler is a better performer than Dustin Hoffman? The answer is an emphatic yes. ‘The Meyerowitz Stories’ was screened at Cannes in the competition section. I am not convinced of its Cannes level quality but the movie is a good one time watch. The family of a moderately famous artist comes together for various reasons. The interactions between them unleash the hidden emotions of each of them. The movie is a character study with the parent-child relationship being the focus of the story. The favourite son played by Ben Stiller is the polar opposite of his half brother played by Adam Sandler and it is made abundantly clear to them by the father who his favourite is. This movie is a sad and poignant one in most parts.It is fairly riveting for the family drama that it portrays. Watch it for the acting. Watch it for Adam Sandler.

Gerald’s Game (2017) [IMDB: 6.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, My Rating: 7.5]

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Based on the novel by Stephen King, this movie is one of the triumphs of the year. It is a survival story on the surface but has multiple strands that make it a psychological thriller. A women is chained to her bed in a freak accident when her husband dies in their remote house. The distraught lady has to fight her inner demons to not only survive but also to find a way out of the quagmire. In such a survival movie, the odds are that the person will live to tell the tale (Spoilers ahead) but I was always second guessing on how she would wriggle out of the situation. I thoroughly  enjoyed watching this movie. It is a cat and mouse chase of the highest order: the one between you and your mind.

The Beguiled (2017) [IMDB: 6.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 78%, My Rating:6.0]

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Sophia Coppola won the best director award for this movie at the Cannes film festival. I could not figure out why. She has practically reshot an earlier version of the film starring Clint Eastwood with no significant additions. I may be biased by my knowledge of the climax in the previous version but then Sophia Coppola does not add anything substantial to the movie. For the uninitiated, the movie tells the story of a wounded soldier who is tended by a group of women. The sexual tensions and the personal equations lie at the heart of the story. The film does not warrant anything more than a single watch and that too only for those who have not seen the original.

Annabelle: Creation (2017)  [IMDB: 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes:70% , My Rating:6.0]

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‘Annabelle: Creation’ is a horror movie for the sake of some cheap thrills. It has unnecessary scenes in which the sole aim of the director is to frighten the audience for no rhyme or reason. Most of the scary scenes in the movie do not contribute to he development of the story and come with no particular reason at a specific point in the story. The setting of the movie itself is dubious and creating a backstory for an average movie is only with the intent of milking the franchise. Horror movies can be much better and classy. For starters, watch ‘The Shining’ or ‘Let the Right One In’.

Documentary of the Week

Russia with Simon Reeve (2017) [IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: Not rated, My Rating: 8.0]

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On the 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution, BBC takes you on a trip across the breadth of Russia. Filled with stunning visuals and insights on life in Russia, this a documentary series worth every minute of its three hour run time.

Eagerly waiting for: Roman J. Israel, Esq. starring Denzel Washington.

Did you know: Steven Spielberg is the Godfather of Drew Barrymore and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Edition 82

The Non-English Movie of The Week 

Frantz (France, Germany, 2017) [IMDB:7.5  , Rotten Tomatoes: 90%, My Rating:7.5]

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‘Frantz’ is set during the war which was to end all wars. A young German lady leads a forlorn life after her fiance’s death in the battlefield. Her life changes when a Frenchmen turns up in her quaint little town. Told with elegance and grace, this story is very much a romance in its first half but almost becomes an intriguing thriller as it progresses to its unpredictable climax. Francois Ozon has so far been an overrated director but ‘Frantz’ changes that. The characters are neatly etched and reliably performed on screen. The tension that builds up is resolved in the Louvre but in a way which leaves scope for interpretations. That is no excuse for missing a hauntingly beautiful movie.

Movies I Saw This Week

Dunkirk (2017) [IMDB:8.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, My Rating:8.5]

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Much of Dunkirk is about setting the stage. This does test the patience of the viewer midway through the proceedings but the film soars as it nears the end. In hindsight, the slow build up is akin to a German musical piece which slowly but surely reaches a crescendo. For all the technical brilliance of the director, it is the background score which is the standout feature of the movie. The movie is littered with few unforgettable scenes, with the last flight landing acting as a metaphor for the whole movie. If you are wondering what that metaphor is, it is about hope and not giving up. It is about trying. Dunkirk is one of the best movies of the year. Dunkirk will be remembered.

The Wizard of Lies (2017) [IMDB: 7.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 72%, My Rating:6.5]

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Bernie Madoff will be remembered too. He is the most serious threat that Charles Ponzi has encountered to his name and infamy. Bernie Madoff is a fraud who duped his investors of billions of dollars leading to bankruptcies and suicides from USA to Switzerland. This movie tells the tale of the con artist with the focus being on his family. Robert De Niro carries his part competently and overall the movie is a one time watch. It is especially interesting for those who have an interest in knowing about the scandal and its repercussions.

The Promise (2017) [IMDB: 6.0 , Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, My Rating: 6.5]

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A love story set in the last days of the Ottoman empire which saw the killing of Armenians (Claimed to be a genocide by Armenia and vehemently denied by Turkey. Neutrals tend to side with Armenia). Oscar Isaac plays an Armenian doctor who falls in love, loses his loved ones and ends up being alive. He is also the weakest link in the story with his acting which leaves you underwhelmed. Even accounting for this, the film is a spectacle with its impressively mounted sets and breathtaking cinematography. The film has a few rough edges and would have been a much better product in the hands of a more competent director. Still, worth a watch.

7 Days in Hell (2015) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 80%, My Rating: 7.0]

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In between the gloom of genocide and a Ponzi scheme, ‘7 Days in Hell’ feels like heaven. An uproarious mockumentary which has fun at the expense of the tennis world, this is a short yet sweet feature in which the last thing that matters is the story. For those interested in the story, it is about an epic seven day match at the Wimbledon. Sounds crazy? The title is just a warm up.

Norman (2017) [IMDB: 6.4 , Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, My Rating: 6.5]

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Richard Gere finds another level to his ouvre as actor in this poignant tale where he plays the title character Norman. There is nothing likable about the protagonist. He is the kind of social wannabe you want to avoid like the plague. He is disgusting and eminently detestable. The masterstroke of Gere is that it is he who plays the character to perfection and arouses in you the aforementioned emotions. Gere plays a loner who aims to be a power broker. Due to some circumstances he bonds well with an Israeli politician who rises to become the Prime Minister of Israel. What could have been Norman’s moment in the sun quickly becomes his downfall. ‘Norman’ is a movie which keeps you guessing till the end and is definitely worth the effort.

Some Freaks (2017) [IMDB:6.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, My Rating: 7.0]

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This small indie flick relies on strong writing and the novelty of the premise. A one eyed boy and an obese girl fall in love (with each other, of course). The strength of their love is put to test when the girl goes to college and starts losing weight. ‘Some Freaks’ is a coming of age movie which is also realistic and peppered with characters who are relatable. There is an undeniable feeling of sadness that permeates the movie. Yet, ‘Some Freaks’ is one of the best indie films of the year and is not boring even for a second.

Jab Harry met Sejal (2017) [IMDB: 6.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 54%, My Rating: 1.5]

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In the streets of India, we find hawkers who make savouries like samosa. They use the same oil and as their tenure lingers their surroundings become unclean. The oil becomes acidic and pungent but the hawker keeps on using it. ‘Jab Harry met Sejal’ is the cinematic equivalent of the samosa that is made from that oil. Imtiaz Ali has milked the same trope of ‘self-realization’ now so much that the cow has started bleeding (gau rakshaks: take note). An ageing 51 year old superstar romancing another girl (29 year old) in another version of the same movie in which they take viewers across Europe is so dated that Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister of India when Shahrukh Khan tried his luck in this story for the first time. This time the movie also takes a regressive approach when it comes to respect for women and the behaviour of the hero towards locals in Europe. Imtiaz Ali is so formulaic that his leads are from Punjab and Gujarat, two states in India from which most of the foreign based Bollywood movies have their protagonists. I saw reviews of this movie in which the critics have chided Imtiaz Ali for making a bad movie as if his earlier duds like Rockstar and Love Aaj Kal were any better. I saw Rockstar in the theater. I remember how it felt. The key learning for the director should be that you cannot fool everyone all the time. I do have sympathy for the viewer who wasted his money at the cinema. Not for having lost the money but for the sheer ordeal of sitting through this disaster flick. This prem katha should be flushed down the toilet along with the pseudo intellectual hubris of its director.

Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017) [IMDB:7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 86%, My Rating: 6.0]

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‘Bareilly Ki Barfi’ is no whiff of fresh air. It is the same mass produced bottle of perfume but the point is, it smells good. It has no pretensions and aims to be a simple entertainer, a task which it accomplishes with reasonable success. It has the classic Bollywood plot. Two men love a woman. The movie relies on a convenient screenplay and a two hour suspension of disbelief. At some point in the movie when you are back to your senses you may ask yourself what the fuss is about. Can’t the guy just open his mouth and tell the truth? The movie is largely engaging because of its sleek editing and a decent performance from Kriti Sanon. Anushka Sharma can take classes from her on playing the bubbly girl. In fact, Anushka Sharma can take acting classes from anyone. Ayushman Khurana plays a confused character and Rajkumar Rao is mostly unconvincing in his ‘dual personality’ performance. In spite of all this, the movie feels more than the sum of its parts. Recommended if you are a fan of this genre.

Documentary of the Week

Icarus (2017) [IMDB: 8.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, My Rating: 8.0]

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‘Icarus’ tells the true story of the Russian doping scandal. Right from the doping Guru’s mouth. One of the best documentaries of the year.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Mother!’ directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem.

Did you know: Christopher Nolan is red and green colourblind.

 

Edition 81

The Non-English Movie of The Week

The Eagle Huntress (Mongolia, 2017) [IMDB: 7.6 , Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, My Rating:7.5]

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A cross between a movie and a documentary, Eagle Huntress tells the tale of a girl and her attempt to break the glass ceiling in the wilderness of Mongolia. The Eagle Huntress is an ode to women and all those who want to take a shot at changing the status quo. The film soars as it progresses and takes the viewer on an unforgettable journey with the stunning Mongolian landscape adding to the ethereal beauty of the proceedings. The movie is certainly one of the better photographed ones in recent times but all the credit must go the protagonist who keeps it engaging throughout the 87 minutes. Those 87 minutes just fly away. Highly recommended.

Movies I Saw This Week

Get Out (2017) [IMDB:7.8 , Rotten Tomatoes: 99%, My Rating: 8.0]

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There is a lot of mischief in ‘Get Out’. It is subversive, suggestive and sufficiently subtle. At the same time it does not hold back its punches. At its core, it remains a thriller but the racial dimension elevates the movie to another level. ‘Get Out’ is undeniably one of the best movies of the year and it earns its stripes with the solid screenplay and unconventional plot. A black man with a white girlfriend visits her parents for the first time. He gets more than what he bargained for and then he must get out or be killed. Expect no mercy from the director or any show of overt sentimentality. Fasten your seat belts for en edge of the seat thriller worth every penny that you will pay for.

War Machine (2017) [IMDB:6.2 , Rotten Tomatoes: 55%, My Rating: 6.0]

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Based on a Rolling Stone article which led to the resignation of a top General in the US army, ‘War Machine’ is a commentary on the triumphs and trials, more so of the latter, of USA in the Afghan war. A workaholic General is put in charge of salvaging the Afghan operations of the ‘Coalition of the Willing’. He believes that he can turnaround the situation by makes the locals allies in the war on the Taliban. His simplistic approach does not cut much ice and he then enters into a game of chess, bordering on the silly, with the US administration. The movie meanders a lot and is akin to a documentary puzzled together by a crew. There is no plot and when the finale occurs, the viewer is bewildered by the sequence of events. The saving grace is that the events are relatively engaging but the question of what was all that about is the one that lingers as the final credits roll.

Miss Sloane (2017) [IMDB:7.4 , Rotten Tomatoes: 74%, My Rating: 8.5]

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Miss Sloane is the best movie I have seen in 2017. It is also the best thriller I have seen in years. It is the most slick and well written movie I have seen in years. It is a cat and mouse game and even the veteran film-goers will find it difficult to guess the twists and turns the movie offers. Jessica Chastain plays the title role of a lobbyist with panache. She is a force of nature in her best performance after Zero Dark Thirty. The best thing about the movie is that it has a logical and coherent script which requires your full attention. If you blink during the movie, you may miss something vital onscreen. I am already a fan. Must watch.

Split (2017) [IMDB:7.3 , Rotten Tomatoes: 79%, My Rating: 7.0]

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After being pilloried by critics (and deservedly so) for many of his last few movies, Manoj Night Shyamalan returns to form in ‘Split’. With the use of some pseudo psychology, Shyamalan conjures up a story of a man who has close to two dozen personalities. James McAvoy seems to relish the role offered to him and plays it to perfection. Besides being a thriller, ‘Split’ brings in a considerable amount of philosophy and innocence into its theme. To the director’s credit, it never gets preachy. The box office numbers also vouch for its entertainment value. Made with a budget of less than a million, ‘Split’ grossed close to 140 million dollars.

Sandy Wexler (2017) [IMDB:5.1 , Rotten Tomatoes: 43%, My Rating: 6.0]

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Love him or hate him, Adam Sandler is the darling of  Netflix. His viewers could not be bothered with the critical reception of Sandler’s movies. He is one of the most watched stars on the Netflix platform. So he goes ahead and writes a story based on his long time manager. That movie is Sandy Wexler. Nothing great but mildly amusing with two or three funny scenes. That is enough for Sandler fans. If you are a Adam Sandler fan you may enjoy it. Better still, you can watch it on your next flight when you have nothing much to do other than inhale the recycled air. Even if you fall asleep doing it, you would not miss anything.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) [IMDB:7.9 , Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, My Rating: 7.5]

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Keanu Reeves has a dead emotionless face. Or a hit man face, if you prefer. He fits the profile of the cold and efficient hit man in search of a reason to kill. The sequel to John Wick scores high again in the choreographed action sequences where flying bullets seem to have poetry writ on them. The setting is Rome and that does not hurt. If you liked the original, you will love the sequel. In case you missed the sleeper hit original, the sequel may be a good way to catch up on a movie which is as much fun as it is mindless.

Mindhorn (2017) [IMDB: 6.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 90%, My Rating: 6.0]

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Mindhorn is the typical British comedy filled with irreverence and a bonkers plot. A yesteryear star is called upon to aid the police in murder mystery. With the dual mission of resurrecting his career and finding some reason to be alive, Mindhorn accepts the invitation which is a convenient excuse for him to go on a nostalgia trip. Filled with characters who have that one Achilles heel in their personalities which make them in turns endearing and unreasonable, the movie delivers some genuine moments of humour. Those moments are not frequent enough and the movie sometimes descends into a charade.

Gifted (2017) [IMDB:7.7 , Rotten Tomatoes: 86%, My Rating: 7.0]

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The story of a child genius whose deceased mother shared the same description. The child who is in the custody of her uncle faces a legal quagmire when her grandmother enters her life. Though the plot has some loopholes, it is a generally satisfying movie to watch. The peripheral characters like the teacher at the school are forced into the screenplay and probably should not have had the screen time provided to her. Nonetheless, a decent one time watch for the thematic elements.

Documentary of the Week

O.J.: Made in America (2017) [IMDB:9.0 , Rotten Tomatoes: 100%, My Rating: 9.0]

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Although this documentary is close to eight hours long, it never gets boring or tedious. In fact, it is as good as reading an expert commentary on the saga of O J Simpson with a running thread of racial tensions in the US in the decades leading up to the infamous double murders. More than the fall from grace of an all American hero, it is the race relations and the justice system which are under the microscope. An illuminating documentary and worth the effort.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power’ because Al Gore can tell the truth on climate change, once again.

Did you know: ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ is the first documentary to win two Academy awards.