Edition 95

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Birds of Passage (Colombia, 2019) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 95%, My Rating: 8.0]

Trailer

An instant classic depicting the origin and evolution of the drug trade in tribal communities in Colombia, this movie focuses on the slow but sure impact of the drug trade and the new found wealth. People who get corrupted by money lose their marbles as they straddle the worlds of crime and custom. The tribal rituals to honour the forefathers become a show of strength. Honour and stubbornness become a potent mix, especially when illegal money is added to it. Great cinematography and a strong screenplay add to the quality on show. Highly recommended.

Movies I Saw This Week

Arctic (2019) [IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, My Rating: 7.0]

Trailer

‘Arctic’ at its core is a simple and at times cliched survival tale of a man who must find a way out of a plane crash in the Arctic. What will keep you engrossed is the acting and the surprises the director is able to pull off every time the viewer tries to second guess the flow of events. The bleak landscape and the impotence of man facing the wrath of nature add to the bleary feel of the movie. Recommended if you like survival tales.

Private Life (2018) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%, My Rating: 7.5]

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I have not seen any recent movie which mimics life with such honesty without falling into the trap of predictability. ‘Private Life’ is a sincere, funny, poignant and resplendent piece of film making. A middle aged couple desperate for a child try all that is legally possible to attain their goals. The roller-coaster ride that they take is devastatingly close to real life with characters the viewer can identify with. You would not want to miss it.

Stan & Ollie (2018) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, My Rating: 7.5]

Trailer

I remember Laurel and Hardy as belonging to a different time and space. I have read comic books with them as protagonists and after a certain age the comedy duo just disappeared from my mind. The final years of the duo are brought to the big screen in this warm and spirited comedy. Even the biggest stars fade and some of them cling on to the vestiges of fame. Laurel and Hardy take a last lap of honour and resolve their differences in this sweet little movie. The best comic line though belongs to Hardy’s wife when she speaks about Laurel’s wife. Recommended.

Fighting with My Family (2019) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, My Rating: 7.5]

Trailer

This is one of the movies where the film is better than the real person it is based on. In fact, even as a standalone feature without any references to real life characters, this film is a thoroughly enjoyable watch with some truly heartwarming scenes and knockout dialogues. A British girl from a family for whom wrestling in not just a pastime harbours ambitions of hitting the jackpot with WWE. No spoilers here. She fulfills her dream. The ride to the dream is the fun here. Watch it.

Booksmart (2019) [IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%, My Rating: 8.0]

Trailer

When you think some of the genres are as good as dead, there comes a movie which rewrites the rules of the game. ‘Booksmart’ is the reinvention of the high school coming-of-age story which is as fresh as the dew drops in the morning. Two girls decide to do in a night what they missed in all the years of high-school. They accomplish the mission with palpable energy and infectious humour. With some rip-roaring scenes and outrageous comedy (I’ll never forget the ‘Malala rule’), ‘Booksmart’ is a fine way to spend your time.

Hotel Mumbai (2019) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 85%, My Rating: 7.0]

Trailer

Do not watch this movie if you cannot stomach graphic violence. You have been warned. If you are the battle hardened type, this movie has rich rewards. A start to end thriller with gut wrenching scenes and edge of the seat moments, ‘Hotel Mumbai’ is a recreation of the terrorist attack on the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai renowned for its excellent customer care of the rich and famous. Some of the staff take this care to the extreme which can be also interpreted as being foolhardy when the more reasonable option is to just escape from the slaughter scene. There is also the typical American hero who acts as if nothing will happen to him as he probably thinks that the bullets will discriminate. Still, a story that must be told because what transpired needs to be known and etched in memory.

Us (2019) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%, My Rating: 5.5]

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For me, ‘Us’ was a monumental letdown. It is a film that does not scare and is very much predictable which makes it a weak candidate in the horror-thriller genre. The critics and fanboys can search for all the subtext and symbolism but at its core ‘Us’ is a poorly written movie about doppelgangers. There are no metaphors here. There are loopholes and more of them than you would want even in a romantic comedy. Some of the events have no explanation whatsoever. ‘Get Out’ was no masterpiece but was at least watchable. ‘Us’ is a train wreck that you get to make when your debut movie grosses 100 million at the box office.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019) [IMDB: 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 60%, My Rating: 6.0]

Trailer

The title of the movie reminds me of certain people I know. Jokes aside, Ted Bundy was the outlier among serial killers. He was also a charmer. The movie tells us how those who surrounded him thought about him. He was able to pull the wool over the eyes of many including female admirers who believed in his lies till the very end. My issue with the movie is that it fails till the climax to show the evil incarnate that Bundy was. For a more nuanced take on a serial killer, try ‘My Friend Dahmer’.

Documentary of the Week

At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal (2019) [IMDB: 8.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%, My Rating: 8.5]

Trailer

It is only in the US documentaries that people come out to speak to documentary crew on the abuse they received. This makes for powerful documentaries. ‘At the Heart of Gold’ is one such documentary. Must watch.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Yesterday’ by Danny Boyle

Did you know: Jordan Peele was so insulted when Sony offered him the role of Poop in The Emoji Movie (2017) that he retired from acting to focus entirely on being a screenwriter and film director.

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Edition 94

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Burning (South Korea, 2018) [IMDB: 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%, My Rating: 8.0]

Trailer

‘Burning’ does not hit the viewer hard for about three-fourth of its duration. It is only after viewing the entire film that the finer points of the plot fall into place. Inconsequential scenes make sense and random dialogues fit in a jigsaw puzzle which looks different even after assembly based on the perspective of the viewer. The director uses metaphors abundantly while holding a mirror to contemporary Korean society. This mystery thriller tells the story of three youngsters who are acquaintances but share something far more than what is apparent. If you do watch this memorable movie, try to read up on it. The various interpretations by viewers of the scenes make for some interesting reading. Highly recommended.

Movies I Saw This Week

The Wild Pear Tree (Turkey, 2018) [IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%, My Rating: 8.0]

From the director of ‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’ (a favourite of mine) and ‘Winter Sleep’ comes this three hour long movie of a young graduate trying to understand his role in the Turkish society while discovering himself. The movie is told through a series of long conversations with friends, family, strangers and a particularly acerbic yet incisive writer. The conversations reveal more about the protagonist and the people in the countryside of Turkey. Definitely worth three hours of your life.


Shoplifters (Japan, 2018) [IMDB: 8.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 99%, My Rating: 8.0]

Enigmatic and filled with surprises, ‘Shoplifters’ is a modern Japanese classic which showcases the craft and control of its director. A family’s life changes when they take in a small girl into their setup where they themselves thrive on stealing from shops and supermarkets. The director is successful in manipulating the viewers’ emotional response as the film progresses. The actors emote with perfection and the roving camera is a silent observer when the chickens come home to roost. Highly recommended.

Capernaum (Lebanon, 2018) [IMDB: 8.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, My Rating: 7.5]


Acclaimed Lebanese director Nadine Labaki literally drags the viewer through the streets of Beirut in this movie about a young boy too sincere for his own good and yet corrupted by the environment. The clear triumph of Mrs Labaki is her ability to extract some phenomenal acting performances from the characters especially the protagonist. Poverty, refugee problems and parental responsibilities are dealt with in this movie which does tend to get a bit out of hand in the latter half. For all the good cinema on show, I had this nagging feeling that this could have been a much better movie with a better climax had more thought gone into the screenplay.


Border (Sweden, 2018) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, My Rating: 7.0]

Featuring what some call as the weirdest sex scene in cinema history, ‘Border’ offers a strange and compelling story about people on the fringes of the society. A lady border guard whose USP is her sensational sense of smell finds the reasons for her awkwardness and the dark history of eugenics in Sweden. The movie is, as all good movie must be, a director’s show. A special mention for the makeup department for transforming the actors who do not look anything like their real life personalities.


Instant Family (2018) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 81%, My Rating: 7.0]


A light-hearted comedy which plays it by the book and still keeps the viewer engaged enough to care about the proceedings on screen. Based on the life of the scriptwriter, the movie tells the tale of a couple who look for adopting a child and end up with three. Rose Byrne pulls off a heart warming performance as a mother trying to understand her new children. There are no twists in the tale but there are some genuinely funny moments. Hope Hollywood can make more of the same.


On the Basis of Sex (2018) [IMDB: 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 74%, My Rating: 6.5]

There are two or three cracking dialogues in this movie. One is when a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg is asked by her dean on why she chose to study law when a man could have had her seat at the Harvard Law School. This biopic on the Supreme Court judge looks at the making of a legal eagle and her family life. While successful in depicting the entrenched misogynistic attitudes of her times, the movie has glaringly obvious ideas on how to also show the times. The number of times the characters smoke on screen must be some sort of a record for the amount of fumes on display. Maybe the director just wanted to drive home the point that smoking in public was a normal thing those days. Felicity Jones performs with earnestness as RBG but if you want to know the judge better, watch the documentary RBG. The documentary is better than the movie.

The Mule (2018) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 70%, My Rating: 5.5]

Good old Clint Eastwood returns to direct and act in a drama on a real life drug carrier who was the oldest in the world in that trade. How do we know? He was caught by the law enforcement and a reporter wrote a long article on it. Then Eastwood decided that this is what he was going to make a movie on. Notable more for the lack of drama and a sure sign that Clint Eastwood must be talking to chairs ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=933hKyKNPFQ ) nowadays, ‘The Mule’ is for large parts boring. For the remaining parts, you are left wondering: why was this movie made?


Holmes & Watson (2018) [IMDB: 3.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 11%, My Rating: 2.5]

Will Ferrell was once funny. Once as in, ‘once upon a time’ and not just one time. Now like the tagline of his movie ‘They Don’t Have a Clue’, he seems to have lost it, completely. Inane, idiotic and unfunny are the words that come to mind when ‘Holmes & Watson’ is mentioned. This movie is the opposite of comedy. Dreamt up by people who bring a bad name to slapstick humour and filled with feeble attempts to write funny situations, this movie is the cinematic equivalent of the Greek economy. Nothing can salvage it. I hear that medical marijuana has been made legal in many US states. Probably the writer and director had some medical condition.

Documentary of the Week

Leaving Neverland (2019) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%, My Rating: 8.0]

A damning documentary on Michael Jackson in the words of his accusers. Those words carry much weight. Not for the weak of heart. Not for the worshipers of Michael Jackson. For those who seek the truth.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum’

Did you know: Clint Eastwood, is an anagram for ‘old west action’

Academy Awards 2019: Predictions

In a year where the general quality of movies left much to be desired, the Oscars may not have any movie which wins more than 4 of the coveted gongs. Here are my predictions for the winners of 2019.

You can also have a look at my predictions in the years from 2014 to 2018 here: https://couldhavebeenacontender.wordpress.com/2018/03/

Best Motion Picture of the Year

Who Will Win: ‘Roma’ but I would not be surprised if ‘Green Book’ steals it.

Who Should Win:’Roma’

Honourable Mention: ‘Green Book’. Why some movies like ‘Black Panther’, ‘BlacKkKlansman’ and ‘Vice’ have been nominated is beyond me.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Who Will Win: Rami Malek

Who Should Win: Rami Malek

Honourable Mention: Viggo Mortensen deserves some acclaim for his acting in ‘Green Book’

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Who Will Win: Glenn Close. Give that lady an Oscar please.

Who Should Win: Glenn Close

Honourable Mention: Olivia Coleman and Melissa McCarthy

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Who Will Win: Mahershala Ali for ‘Green Book’. You can bet your money on this.

Who Should Win: Mahershala Ali

Honourable Mention: Richard Grant for ‘Can you ever forgive me?’

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Who Will Win: Regina King for ‘If Beale Street could Talk’

Who Should Win: Regina King for ‘If Beale Street could Talk’

Honourable Mention: Dames Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone for ‘The Favourite’. I have much sympathy for Amy Adams who is on course to be the next Glenn Close: lots of nominations but no wins.

Best Achievement in Directing

Who Will Win: Who else? Alfonso Cuaron for ‘Roma’

Who Should Win: Alfonso Cuaron

Honourable Mention: Pawel Pawlikowski for ‘Cold War’.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Who Will Win: ‘Green Book’

Who Should Win: ‘First Reformed’

Honourable Mention: Why was ‘Eighth Grade’ not nominated?

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

Who Will Win: ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’

Who Should Win: ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’

Honourable Mention: ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

Who Will Win: ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’

Who Should Win: ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’

Honourable Mention: ‘Mirai’

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Who Will Win: ‘Roma’

Who Should Win: ‘Cold War’

Honourable Mention: ‘Shoplifters’

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Who Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron for ‘Roma’

Who Should Win: Alfonso Cuaron for ‘Roma’

Honourable Mention: Lukasz Sal for ‘Cold War’

Best Achievement in Editing

Who Will Win: ‘Vice’ in a very open category

Who Should Win: No clear favourites in this category. ‘First Man’ was not even nominated.

Honourable Mention: ‘Green Book’

Best Achievement in Production Design

Who Will Win: ‘Black Panther’

Who Should Win: ‘The Favourite’

Honourable Mention: ‘First Man’

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Who Will Win: ‘Black Panther’

Who Should Win: ‘The Favourite’

Honourable Mention: Mary Poppins Returns

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling

Who Will Win: ‘Vice’

Who Should Win: ‘The Favourite’

Honourable Mention: ‘Black Panther’

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

Who Will Win: I really have no clue here because ‘First Man’ and ‘A Star is Born’ are not nominated. If having a lot of music is the criteria, then ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ should win but the award may go to ‘Black Panther’

Who Should Win: None of the nominated movie have an Oscar worthy score.

Honourable Mention: ‘Black Panther’

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

Who Will Win: ‘First Man’

Who Should Win: ‘First Man’

Honourable Mention: ‘Black Panther’

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

Who Will Win: ‘A Quiet Place’

Who Should Win: ‘First Man’

Honourable Mention: ‘Black Panther’

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

Who Will Win: Lady Gaga for ‘A Star is Born’

Who Should Win: Lady Gaga for ‘A Star is Born’

Honourable Mention: Diane Warren for ‘RBG’

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Who Will Win: ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

Who Should Win: ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’

Honourable Mention: ‘First Man’

Best Documentary, Feature

Who Will Win: ‘Free Solo’

Who Should Win: ‘RBG’

Honourable Mention: ‘Hale County This Morning, This Evening’

Edition 92

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Roma (Mexico, 2018) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, My Rating: 8.5]

Trailer

Poles apart from his previous venture ‘Gravity’ in scope and temperament, Alfanso Cuaron’s ‘Roma’ is a study of the unraveling of a family told through the eyes of the housemaid who herself is in the midst of a personal turmoil. Rumoured to be based on the director’s childhood, ‘Roma’ is undoubtedly the pinnacle of the director’s vision. It is a love letter to the housemaid and his childhood told with evocative images and a deep empathy for the characters at the centre of the story. The movie is also remarkable for its attention to detail. ‘Roma’ is a universal movie that would not be out of place in any time or geography. Must see.

Movies I Saw This Week 

Cold War (Poland, 2018) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, My Rating: 9.0]

Trailer

Deviating from the norm, I have included this Polish movie in this section of the blog because I loved this movie. I believe that it is one of the best movies of the year and would easily walk into the top three of the year. It is a searing love story set against the Cold War. With remarkable lead performances and memorable cinematography, ‘Cold War’ is an instant classic which is on a higher pedestal than the director’s previous work ‘Ida’. The political shenanigans and the intrigue of ‘Cold War’ are heightened by the drama and passion that the director brings into the movie. Two star crossed lovers go through hell as they cling on to the last shreds of hope when villains in the form of circumstances and people envelop them. For all my experience of watching thousands of movies, I never saw the ending coming. The climax of the movie is something that will etch this movie in your mind for a long time. Must see.

Green Book (2018) [IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%, My Rating: 8.0]

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‘Green Book’ has been at the receiving end of a concerted campaign to discredit it ahead of the Oscars. Truth be told, this is the most topical film of the year with an excellent screenplay and commendable performances. Mahershala Ali is a shoo-in for the ‘Best Supporting Actor’ at the Oscars. ‘Green Book’ is a classic road movie which tells the true tale of an African American musician chauffeured by a Italian American in the racially volatile deep South during the 60s. ‘Green Book’ deals with important themes of racism, friendship and culture and emerges unscathed. The endearing movie is boosted by its charming sense of comedy. Overall, a very good movie which is worth your time.

Vice (2018) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 66%, My Rating: 7.5]

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Adam Mckay holds back no punches is an all out assault on Dick Cheney in ‘Vice’. The director sticks to his signature style of film making which is a curious superimposition of the documentary style on a drama. Backed by first rate research, the movie reveals more about the events that catapulted Cheney into the driver’s seat in American politics and his links with the stakeholders. For the uninitiated, the movie also traces the depth of the relationship between the principal actors of the Bush-Cheney era. As a cinematic venture ‘Vice’ does fall flat on many occasions but it is a movie that needs appreciation for the mere fact that it was made.

The Favourite (2018) [IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%, My Rating: 8.0]

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In a movie where all three female protagonists are evidently relishing the experience of acting to a fine script, ‘The Favourite’ tells the scheming that defined the reign of Queen Anne. Severely weighed down by her infirmities and declining health, Queen Anne is no more than a figurehead controlled by people with a plan. Her feeble attempts to assert herself only reveal the extent of her helplessness. Into the scene walks in another devious character played by Emma Stone and then all hell breaks loose. The director who rightfully receives an Oscar nomination does not paint the times in the class and elegance movies have tried to portray the times. There are frequent encounters with ‘other sections’ of the society. Ultimately, ‘The Favourite’ is a universal story of a seemingly powerful person in decline who is controlled by more nefarious elements. Realization comes late to the monarch and by then all possibilities of a course correction are exhausted. Highly recommended.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%, My Rating: 7.5]

Trailer

Based on a true story and a bestselling book, this movie is a subversive take on the market for memorabilia. A down on her luck author, played memorably by Melissa McCarthy, conjures up a scheme to make some easy money. The movie is more of a social commentary on characters at the fringe of the society. Their small joys and a life which lurches from one crisis to another is shown with care in the movie. Watch it for Melissa McCarthy.

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) [IMDB: 8.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 88%, My Rating: 7.5]

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Bohemian Rhapsody ticks all the boxes of a biopic but what elevates the movie are the sensational soundtrack and an award winning performance from Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury. Malek becomes Mercury and carries the movie on his shoulders from the first frame till the last one. The movie does not have any great surprises but is easy to watch and engaging. Recommended.

Widows (2018) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, My Rating: 7.0]

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‘Widows’ from director Steve McQeen is a heist movie with several undertones. Four women find themselves at life’s crossroads when their partners are killed in a botched up heist. Some of them team up to finish the mission which took their partners’ lives without realizing that they are only foot soldiers in a larger plot. Deftly weaving politics, corruption and other criminal elements, ‘Widows’ proceeds with a rapidly mounting body count culminating in a implausible yet satisfying finale. A special mention for the performance of Viola Davis is warranted.

The Front Runner (2018) [IMDB: 6.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 59%, My Rating: 6.5]

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Hugh Jackman plays a front-runner for the Democratic party’s ticket to challenge Ronald Reagan. The movie is based on the true story of Gary Hart who was consigned to the dustbin of history after the scandal that engulfed his campaign saw the wheels come off his juggernaut. The movie tries to play up the events in the story as a turning point in American politics but that argument does not hold up to scrutiny. The major problem with the movie is that Gary Hart is shown as a smooth talking politician with a vacuous personality lacking in any courage of conviction. His duplicity does not help the case of the movie.

Documentary of the Week

The Panama Papers (2018) [IMDB: 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%, My Rating: 7.0]

Trailer

The inside story of the courageous journalism that drove the leak of the Panama papers. Could have been better but still worth a watch.

Eagerly waiting for: The Oscars

Did you know: The Golden Globes are decided by the 93 voting members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association whereas the Academy Awards have more than 6,000 voters.

Edition 91

As we finish 2018, this year has been the best year for the blog in terms of readership with more than 500 views for each post. A big thank you to the readers across the globe and wish you a merry Christmas and happy new year!

The Non-English Movie of The Week

The Guilty (Denmark, 2018) [IMDB: 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 99%, My Rating: 7.5]

Trailer

An edge of the seat thriller from director Gustav Moller who uses every trick in the book to keep the viewer hooked on to the proceedings. The movie is a tribute to how sound effects can be used to drive the narrative. With minimal budget and only a handful of characters, the director is able to maintain the tempo of this cracking thriller. The few calls received by a troubled police officer at the emergency helpline form the movie’s screenplay. Must watch for the high concept and innovative storytelling.

Movies I Saw This Week

A Star is Born (2018) [IMDB: 8.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 90%, My Rating: 7.0]

Trailer

I am not going gaga over this movie. It is the third or fourth time that this screenplay or its various versions (discounting Bollywood ripoffs like Aashiqui) are making it to the big screen. For those who have seen earlier versions, there is nothing much in the movie. It is a fine debut for Bradley Cooper donning the director’s hat. Lady Gaga does light up the proceedings with her singing and some of the songs are a joy to listen to. Judged purely on its cinematic quality, this movie is short on its merits. It is a testament to the state of Hollywood that this movie is the most hyped and over billed contender this award season.

First Man (2018) [IMDB: 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 88%, My Rating: 7.5]

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Damien Chazelle makes his most carefully calibrated movie with the always wooden Ryan Gosling. As every human knows, Neil Armstrong was the first human to set foot on the moon. He was an enigmatic and reserved person tormented by personal tragedy. Ryan Gosling is weak as Armstrong in an otherwise strong film which starts slowly, picks up pace and has good liftoff towards the end. ‘First Man’ is not everyone’s cup of tea but in the category of tea it is the equivalent of the Makaibari Darjeeling tea: Elite and dwindling in quantity every year.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) [IMDB: 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, My Rating: 7.5]

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Coen brothers are back with a bang (well, mostly) in this anthology which stitches together 6 pieces to make what could have been a masterpiece but for the time being just is a good movie. Two of the six stories are misfits in an otherwise good collection. The acting is consistently good and the director duo bring their signature storytelling to all the sections. I especially liked the performance of Tim Blake Nelson. Highly recommended, more so if you like westerns.

Crazy Rich Asians  (2018) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, My Rating: 5.0]

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While watching this movie and after watching this movie, I have only one question, ” What was all the fuss about?”. Neither a cheesy romcom nor a strong drama, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ falls flat with its insipid story and howlers in stereotyping. The only instances where Indian origin people are shown in the very multicultural Singapore is when they are hangers on who open doors and do menial jobs. The movie shows a Singapore even Singaporeans will fail to identify with. All the usual stereotypes about tomboys, gay men, Asians etc are paraded without the slightest hint of irony. This in a story about a woman who proudly announces her humble origins throughout the movie and asserts her identity and individuality. It does not help her cause that the story writers use and misuse every cliche including a last minute scene in an aircraft.

The House That Jack Built (2018) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 74%, My Rating: 7.0]

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Lars Von Trier’s latest movie received copious amounts of boos and walkouts during its premiere at the Cannes film festival. It is not difficult to see why but in a rather twisted way (that is the only way with this movie), the film is watchable if the boldness of the filmmaker can be appreciated. The boldness does border on recklessness at certain points. With references to European horror classics like ‘Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)’, this movie does push the envelope. For those asking, the movie is about a serial killer told from his point of view of the events. Not for the faint of the heart.

We the Animals (2018) [IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, My Rating: 6.0]

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Story of three siblings growing up and discovering themselves. The movie has many subtexts including parenting, sexuality, innocence and so on. What it does not seem to have is an editor who could have cut out large slices of flab, trimmed the movie and made it more appealing. Led by strong performances and a screenplay which promises more than it delivers, ‘We the Animals’ is a lost opportunity. In the hands of a more assured director, this movie could have been something else altogether.

A Simple Favor (2018) [IMDB: 7.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 85%, My Rating: 7.5]

Trailer

Harvey Weinstein discovery Blake Lively gets on in the act as the busy enigmatic mothers who disappears. Her friend Anna Kendrick is left with the unenviable task of uncovering the mystery. With ample plot twists and turns, ‘A Simple Favor’ offers an engaging view of the dysfunctional aspect of American lives. For a movie which is essentially a character study, the one thing I liked is the ambiance the camera creates. ‘A Simple Favor’ will not be remembered for a long time but is well worth the two hours of your life you will have to spend for it. Recommended.

The Sisters Brothers (2018) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 85%, My Rating: 7.0]

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Joachim Phoenix has resurrected his career after the voluntary sabbatical and remains one of the finest actors of this generation. In this film, he plays the younger ‘brother’ of the duo chasing a gold prospector. More than a thriller or drama, the movie is a comedy if you can get the right cues. Some of the dialogues are funny to say the least. ‘The Sisters Brothers’ is not groundbreaking or mold breaking cinema and hopefully the creators never meant it that way. Once this baggage is cleared, this is an eminently watchable flick.

Documentary of the Week

Pick of the Litter (2018) [IMDB: 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%, My Rating: 8.0]

Trailer

Enlightening, engaging and in some ways touching documentary about the making of guide dogs for the blind. Must watch.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Arcticbecause it received a 10-minute standing ovation at its premiere at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.

Did you know: Yesteryear Malayalam director A B Raj was an assistant director for the David Lean classic ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’.

Edition 90

The Non-English Movie of The Week

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

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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.

Edition 89

The Non-English Movie of The Week

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

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‘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]

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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]

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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 ]

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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]

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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 ]

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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 ]

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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 ]

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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.