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.

 

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Edition 81

The Non-English Movie of The Week

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

Trailer

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.

Academy Awards 2017: Predictions

Oscar statuettes are displayed at Times Square Studios 23 January 2006 in New York. The statuettes will be presented to winners of the 78th Academy Awards 05 March 2006 in Hollywood.

The coveted Oscars will be handed out tomorrow. My attempt to see the future this year. You can also have a look at my predictions in the previous years here: 2016 , 2015 and 2014.

Best Motion Picture of the Year

Who Will Win: ‘La La Land’

Who Should Win:’Manchester by the Sea’

Honourable Mention: ‘Moonlight’

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Who Will Win: A toss up between Denzel Washington and Casey Affleck. I would love to see Casey Affleck win.

Who Should Win: Casey Affleck

Honourable Mention: Denzel Washington could spring a surprise. I also liked Ryan Gosling’s performance.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Who Will Win: Emma Stone because Hollywood loves its princesses and Emma carried the biggest film of the year on her shoulders.

Who Should Win: Isabelle Huppert because her performance in Elle is nuanced and perfect.

Honourable Mention: Natalie Portman for ‘Jackie’

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Who Will Win: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight

Who Should Win: Jeff Bridges for ‘Hell or High Water’

Honourable Mention: Michael Shannon for ‘Nocturnal Animals’

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Who Will Win: Viola Davis for ‘Fences’

Who Should Win: Viola Davis for ‘Fences’

Honourable Mention: Michelle Williams for ‘ Manchester by the Sea’

Best Achievement in Directing

Who Will Win: Damian Chazelle for ‘La La Land’

Who Should Win: Damian Chazelle

Honourable Mention: Kenneth Lonergan for ‘Manchester by the Sea’

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Who Will Win: Manchester by the Sea

Who Should Win: Manchester by the Sea

Honourable Mention: La La Land

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

Who Will Win: Moonlight

Who Should Win: Fences

Honourable Mention: Arrival

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

Who Will Win: Zootopia will win. I would not be surprised if ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ wins. Kubo is the better movie but Zootopia is a love letter to diversity and tolerance (and this is 2017).

Who Should Win: Kubo and the Two Strings’

Honourable Mention: Moana

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Who Will Win: Close call between ‘Toni Erdmann’ and ‘The Salesman’. For a politically charged season the likely winner is ‘The Salesman’ from Iran.

Who Should Win: A Man Called Ove

Honourable Mention: Land of Mine

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Who Will Win: Linus Sandgren for ‘La La Land’

Who Should Win: Linus Sandgren

Honourable Mention: Greig Fraser for ‘Lion’ and Rodrigo Prieto for ‘Silence’

Best Achievement in Editing

Who Will Win: Mad Max: La La Land

Who Should Win: La  la Land

Honourable Mention: Hacksaw Ridge

Best Achievement in Production Design

Who Will Win: La La Land

Who Should Win: La La Land

Honourable Mention: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Who Will Win: Jackie

Who Should Win: Jackie

Honourable Mention: La La Land

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling

Who Will Win: Star Trek Beyond

Who Should Win: Star Trek Beyond

Honourable Mention: A Man Called Ove

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

Who Will Win: La La Land

Who Should Win: La La Land

Honourable Mention: Moonlight

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

Who Will Win: La La Land

Who Should Win: La La Land

Honourable Mention: None

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Who Will Win: The Jungle Book

Who Should Win: Star Wars: The Jungle Book

Honourable Mention: Kuboe and the Two Strings

Best Documentary, Feature

Who Will Win: OJ: Made in America

Who Should Win: OJ: Made in America

Honourable Mention: 13th

Edition 79

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Train to Busan (2016) [IMDB:7.5 , Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, My Rating: 8.0]

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Trailer

Although I have seen all the Oscar nominees in the foreign language category this year, they have mostly been drab stuff. ‘Train to Busan’ is not nominated for the Oscars but it is what Hollywood would envy the south Korean movie industry for. ‘Train to Busan’ is an out and out entertainer which does not hold back for even a second on the thrills. With well crafted characters and wonderfully choreographed sequences, it is an edge of the seat thriller with a novel take on the zombie genre. I have never been to South Korea but traveling in a train in South Korea is not an experience I look forward to. ‘Train to Busan’ is one of the best movies ever in the zombie category. It is a ride I highly recommend.

Movies I Saw This Week

La La land (2016) [IMDB:8.5 , Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, My Rating: 8.5]

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Trailer

‘La La Land’ could have been a mediocre movie. If the music did not work, it could even have been a bad movie but the music worked. The acting worked. The direction was in secure hands. The producers wanted to change the story line but the director stuck to his guns. Much younger actors were to play the roles meant for Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. All that did not happen. As the movie rightly portrays the glorious possibilities of life, it is those final few minutes and the last act of the story that takes it to heights seldom achieved in  movie making. ‘La La Land’ is the ‘Shawshank Redemption’ of romance for the impact the climax has on the movie. It is not just about the climax though. Emma Stone steals the show with her performance that should land her the Oscar. Ryan Gosling supports her in his own deadpan style. In many ways ‘La La Land’ is a reinvention of the musical genre.

Hacksaw Ridge (2016) [IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, My Rating: 7.5]

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This movie based on a true story tells the tale of a war hero who refused to kill during war. Directed by the Hollywood bad boy Mel Gibson, the film is gory with many sequences of unfiltered action. That does create the setting of the war but takes away the story from its core of a conscientious objector’s fight to hold on to his beliefs and yet be an able servant to his country’s army. Andrew Garfield plays the character with a lot of heart but some inherent contradictions in the screenplay reduce the impact of his performance. It is also very difficult to understand, let alone appreciate his moral positions. By straddling the worlds of religion, country and army, Hacksaw Ridge delivers a message which is lost somewhere in the movie. Nevertheless, a one time watch.

Manchester by the Sea (2016) [IMDB: 8.2 , Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, My Rating: 8.5]

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Trailer

Let me say this aloud. If Casey Affleck does not get the Oscar for this performance, then it would be travesty of justice. ‘Manchester by Sea’ is the among the best two movies I have seen in the last one year. Superficially, it is about the story of man who is asked to take care of his brother’s young son after the death of his brother. The layers that the film unravels is akin to the experience of peeling onions. At every level, the story gets more interesting and new insights in to the life of the lead character emerge. Casey Affleck who is there in practically every frame of the movie delivers a pitch perfect performance. He brings to life the tortured soul whose awkward behaviour is based on his tragic past. The rest of the cast also perform competently. ‘Manchester by Sea’ is a great movie with a haunting and unforgettable performance by Casey Affleck. Must See.

Arrival (2016) [IMDB: 8.1 , Rotten Tomatoes: 94%, My Rating: 6.0]

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Trailer

‘Arrival’ has been generally well received but I am in the minority. (Spoilers ahead) It is a very pretentious movie where a linguist is called on to interact with aliens who have made contact with earth. The unfortunate part is that this is just a suitable prop for telling a story which has nothing to do with aliens. It is a manipulation of the intelligence of the audience with word plays on the concept of palindromes and another idea of the movie itself being a palindrome. Amy Adams plays a human character who for the sake of keeping up appearances to suit the screenplay of the movie does not believe in the notion of aging. So she looks the same at every age bracket she plays. Some cheap ideas to cement her credentials include the Sanskrit word for war and some other shenanigans of the director to suit the situation. Arrival is low level science, cheap propaganda and dimwitted screenplay disguised as high brow thriller.

Sing Street (2016) [IMDB: 8.0 , Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, My Rating: 8.0]

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Trailer

‘Sing Street’ is the most underrated movie of the year. It is also the feel-good movie of the year. A young boy in Dublin in 1985 falls in love with a girl at first sight. He makes the audacious move of inviting her to be in his band’s music video. She says yes. The problem is: he has to now form a band which he said he had. Filled with terrific music and authentic characters, ‘Sing Street’ delivers the kind of roller-coaster ride which keeps you engaged. The music videos that are shot are epic in nature. With some generous doses of humour and smartly crafted dialogues, the movie is also a toast to a time in history and the uninhibited freedom of adolescence. Highly recommended.

Southside With You (2016) [IMDB: 6.5 , Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, My Rating: 6.5]

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Trailer

Based on the first date of Barack and Michelle Obama, this movie is an easy watch. Similar in style to ‘Before Sunrise’, the story takes us to the first few hours the couple spent together walking the streets and visiting exhibitions. The dialogues are casual and the attempt is clearly to set a leisurely pace and make it look as informal as possible. The best part is the casting with actors who bring genuineness to the characters. Recommended.

The Queen of Katwe (2016) [IMDB:7.3 , Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, My Rating: 7.5]

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A true story of a chess champion from Uganda who creates history. ‘Queen of Katwe’ has its flaws but it has a deeply humane story at its heart which enthralls and captures the attention of the viewer. It does not stereotype the Africans in the movie. The everyday struggles of life in an impoverished neighbourhood and subsequent highs of international recognition are captured without exploiting or glorifying either of the them. There are no villains in the  movie. It is about normal people doing extraordinary things and (at the risk of sounding cliched ) the triumph of human spirit. Recommended.

Jolly LLB 2 (2017) [ IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 74%, My Rating: 7.5]

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Trailer

The sequel to the award winning original is better made, has better production values and has much better actors in Annu Kapoor and Akshay Kumar. The plot is very engaging and at some points convenient. Akshay Kumar plays a lawyer who is as principled as Silvio Berlusconi. The hilarious introduction scene has him helping students rig  exams. The first half progresses well with the character having a change of heart. The second half is focused on the courtroom proceedings which are the best part of the movie with Saurabh Shukla and Annu Kapoor squaring off. There are many missing links in the story in the second half but they may be set aside as allowances for story telling. I personally liked the plot of the original more but this sequel holds on its own and delivers another success for Akshay Kumar. It is curious to note that every major hit of the actor in recent times has him play the ordinary man whereas other stars are scrambling to play larger than life characters.

Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru (2016) [ IMDB” 9.0, Rotten Tomatoes: Not yet rated, My rating: 7.0]

dhruvangal

Trailer

The movie which has 16 characters and relates to events over 16 hours is a decent thriller from a debutante director. The infirmities in direction are easy to see in the initial part of the movie. For a regular movie watcher, it is not difficult to see where the story is proceeding. Some of the scenes are predictable. The movie rises above the average fare by some inventive film making which relies on different versions of the story. At the same time, the compulsion on the part of the director to make it like a jigsaw puzzle in which all the pieces fall in place at the end is a distraction. Some ambiguity would have helped. The novelty about the movie is that when the same story is said by two different people there is a role reversal between the hero and the villain.

Documentary of the Week

I am Bolt (2016) [IMDB: 7.0 , Rotten Tomatoes: 83%, My Rating: 6.5]

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Trailer

Usain Bolt on what makes him normal. Other great athletes on what makes him special. The life and times of the fastest man in human history.

Eagerly waiting for: The Academy Awards

Did you know: There is something called the the Black List to determine the best screenplays for which there are no takers yet. Screenplays which figure prominently on the list have then been picked up and made into movies. Some of the films that saw the light of the day after featuring in the Black List are  Argo, American Hustle, Juno, The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, Spotlight and The Revenant. For more on this visit https://blcklst.com/ .

 

Edition 78

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Elle (France, 2016) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, My Rating: 7.5]

elle

Trailer

Isabelle Huppert is one of the finest actors of this generation. This movie is another proof of her acting prowess. She fills every frame of the movie and keeps the suspense going. There are shades of Basic Instinct, an earlier work of the director. The basic story is that of the protagonist playing a cat-and-mouse game with her unknown rapist. The complexity of the film is created by the numerous subplots  which are interlinked. The complicated back story of the protagonist  and her subsequent mistrust of police aid in storytelling. In the end all the subplots fall into place like that of a jigsaw puzzle. Maybe, it is this comfortable ending that won the film the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Highly recommended.

Movies I Saw This Week

Florence Foster Jenkins (2016) [IMDB: 7.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 87%, My Rating: 7.0]

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There’s something about Meryl Streep which keeps the viewer engaged even in a mediocre movie.  ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ has no claim to greatness  but it is carried solely by the form shoulders of Meryl Streep ably supported by Hugh Grant.  For a director who won Meryl Streep last Best Actress Oscar for ‘The Queen’,  this is definitely not an improvement. The director is definitely successful in creating sympathy for Florence Foster Jenkins but the masses couldn’t care less for the fate of a troubled aristocrat. A movie on the world’s worst opera singer compares favorably with a movie on the world’s worst director. The latter titled ‘Ed Wood‘ was definitely a better work of art. At least, it had self-doubt.

Sully (2016) [IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 85%, My Rating: 7.5]

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Trailer

Clint Eastwood makes great movies. Tom Hanks  acts in great movies. Their combination to tell the story of an American hero in Captain Chesley Sullenberger is one of the best movies of the year. Like some of the previous Clint Eastwood movies there is no attempt at making the movie dramatic. At the same time, the movie cannot be classified as a character study as it only scratches the surface. Nevertheless, Tom Hanks pulls off with elan the role of a hero who is not aware of his heroic act.  Aaron Eckhart plays the best role of his life as the co-pilot. The thing about the ‘Miracle On Hudson’ is that it is one of those events which can hardly be ever repeated. Even the recreation of the movie isn’t enough to convince the viewer about the possibility of such an event. Perhaps that is where the movie had its task cut out and perhaps that is where it is not entirely successful. A shorter film of one hour would have done more justice to the plot.

Hell or High Water (2016) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%, My Rating: 8.0]

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Undoubtedly one of the best movies of the year Hell or High Water is supported by a cast comprising of thespians like Jeff Bridges Chris Pine.  Set in the forgotten parts of America and resembling a Western, the high point of the movie is that it resists the urge to pull out the gun on various occasions. The simmering tension of the movie is felt till the last frame. Concurrently the movie makes a bold statement on the plight of Americans left behind by the forces of capitalism. Most of the anger is directed at big banks who seem to get away with murder. Consequently, bank robberies form the central theme of the movie. The story is that of two brothers who rob the same bank they owe, to avoid foreclosure. In between all the gloom and doom there are also some subtle humor like in the restaurant where the waiter  knows a limited menu.  Alas, the movie is a reaffirmation of the fact that Jeff Bridges is one of the finest actors alive today. Must watch.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%, My Rating: 6.5]

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Following the success of his debut feature ‘What we do in the shadows’, the director’s second feature, ‘The hunt for the wilderpeople’, is a letdown. Indeed there are moments of humor in the movie but some of it seems forced and especially unexpected from a young child. The style of direction is a cross between that of Wes Anderson and Tim Burton. The movie tries to address some of the social issues but it soon turns to a farce. Set in the picturesque  mountains of New Zealand, it is also a peep into the life of the people at the margins of the society. I had a feeling that I had seen similar movies set in the America of 1980s. The only saving grace for the movie is that it does not bore the wits out of the viewer. The burden of high expectations seems to have taken a toll on the director.

The Light Between the Oceans (2016) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 59%, My Rating: 6.5]

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The undeniable beauty of ‘The Light Between the Oceans’ is compromised by the cringingly sentimental storyline. Boasting such performers like Michael Fassbender, Alicia vikander and Rachel Weisz, The movie is unable to tap into the talent at its disposal.  By the second half, the movie sets  out on a predictable path. The film tells the tale of a young childless couple who one day find a baby marooned at sea. Some movies have difficult choices to make. The options at their disposal are equally worthwhile. Choosing one over the other is so precarious an exercise that this undermines the whole tale. That is the malady which effects this movie.

Deepwater Horizon (2016) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 83%, My Rating: 6.5]

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The debacle at Deepwater Horizon was one of the biggest tragedies of the oil industry. From the BP CEO who infamously said, ” I’d like to have my life back” to the frontline soldiers of the company who lost their lives, the movie captures an event, the wounds of which are yet to heal.  Deepwater Horizon documents the events that happened on the fateful day of the tragedy. The template is the standard one used for all the disaster movies.  No great acting chops are expected yet competent performances are delivered. The movie captures the horror of the tragedy without deviating from the standard storyline. The movie is not particularly illuminating but some of it needs to be heard and seen.

War Dogs (2016) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 71%, My Rating: 6.5]

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This movie could have been titled ‘It Happens Only in America’. Two neophytes receive a 300 million dollar defense contract. What follows is a series of games involving  arms traders and phoney businessmen. Jonah Hill is the big fat  dealer who will stop at nothing. The improbable story covers countries like Jordan, Albania and Iraq and is essntially the juvenile version of ‘Lord of War’. The film could have been taut and this aspect is particularly conspicuous. Otherwise, a decent watch.

The Siege of Jadotville (2016) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 73%, My Rating: 6.5]

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This is the type of African tale which must be told.  Unfortunately they could have chosen a better story to tell.  Set in 1960s Congo in the midst of a Civil War,  the movie captures the fate of neutral United Nations Peacekeeping Force which does not receive support from the government, the opposition or the rebels. To make matters worse, they don’t even  receive support from the United Nations.  They are pawns in a bigger political game whic involves mining companies, colonial powers, world superpowers and a fledgling government. They are left to battle for survival against formidable odds.  The low production quality of Netflix is evident in this movie. Unfortunately, it is a story about heroes who need to be remembered and it does not get the treatment it deserves.

Don’t Think Twice (2016) [IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 99%, My Rating: 7.5]

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‘Don’t Think Twice’ is one of the best movies of the year  until the last 10 % of the movie  when it gets  cloyingly sweet.  The movie has freshness written all over it. It tells the tale of a group of actors and how the Dynamics between them changes when one of them is chosen for a starring role in a television program. The movie is littered with instances of wit and humor. The young actors in the movie give it the credibility  it seeks. Recommended.

Documentary of the Week

Weiner (2016) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%, My Rating: 8.0]

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Anthony Weiner was once the young Turk among democrats. His fall from grace and the unraveling of his personal life are captured in this intimate documentary. One of the best documentaries of the year.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘A United Kingdom’ which tells the true life story of a Botswanian prince who married a British lady.

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Did you know: ‘La La Land’ now holds the record for the most Golden Globe wins by a film.

Edition 77

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Cemetery of Splendor (Thailand, 2015) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%, My Rating: 7.5]

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‘Cemetery of Splendor’ is a hypnotic masterpiece from the Palme D’or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Continuing his passion for metaphysics from his previous movies like ‘Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives’ and ‘Syndromes and a Century’, the director dwells on a peculiar sleeping disease that strikes a group of soldiers in Thailand. With understated humour and purposeful pacing the director is able to take the movie to an exalted level without compromising on the story line. Highly recommended for those who seek something different.

Movies I Saw This Week

The Fundamentals of Caring (2016) [ IMDB:7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 84%, My Rating: 6.5]

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Trevor suffers from muscular dystrophy and a bad sense of humour. He embarks on a road trip with his caregiver. The movie is about the people they meet and the bond that develops between them as they progress through their rollercoaster of a journey. Cliched to the hilt, the movie is saved from disaster by the performance of the ensemble cast. Paul Rudd especially stands out but his role could have been more well rounded if there had been some better writing. Overall, an easy movie to watch and an easier one to forget.

Me Before You (2016) [IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 75%, My Rating: 6.5]

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Syrupy romance of a couple divided by class and wealth. Haven’t we heard that before? Here the man is wheelchair bound. The caregiver is a sassy girl who is blind to the thoughts of her subject. What follows is a predictable movie where anything goes. In fact, there are scenes in this movie which are an exact replica of the scenes in ‘The Fundamentals of Caring’. This is not to say that scenes have been copied but it clearly shows the lack of strong screenplay or even the intention of having one. If the movie doesn’t sink, it is because of the featherweight screenplay. Some gravitas to the proceedings is given by the strong and bubbly performance of Emilia Clarke. Otherwise there isn’t much to talk about.

Demolition (2016) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes:57%, My Rating: 5.5]

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Despite the availability of an acclaimed star cast and a moderately successful director, ‘Demolition’ is a movie in self-destruct mode almost paying a tribute to its title. A banker recovering from the tragic loss of his wife finds himself at the crossroads. Unable to reconcile with his present day life, he starts searching for answers in the past. The confused narrative and the weak attempts to give depth to the story end up making a mess of the screenplay. The movie at its best is watchable and in most parts avoidable.

Tumbledown (2016) [IMDB:6.3, Rotten TOmatoes: 69%, My Rating: 6.5]

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A wife grieving the loss of her husband finds a new beginning with the help of a new friend and some music. The movie does give a feel of ‘have been there and done that’. The inspired writing helps the movie to rise above mediocrity. Rebecca Hall who is present in almost every frame of the movie plays her part convincingly. The effective background score and cinematography aid her. ‘Tumbledown’ is an an antithesis of ‘Demolition’ in every conceivable way. Good that we have a choice and ‘Tumbledown’ is the hands down winner.

Green Room (2016) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, My Rating: 7.0]

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From the soulful ‘Tumbledown’ to the punk rock of ‘Green Room’ may not be the transition you were looking for. A band on the run from a crime scene forms the crux of what ‘Green Room’. The director exploits the limits of the genre while bending a few rules in this edge of the seat thriller once the chase starts. Populated by psychopaths and neo-nazis, the bleak setting is not a constraint for some subtle comedy as well. All in all a breeze to watch. Highly recommended.

The Brothers Grimsby (2016) [IMDB:6.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 37%, My Rating: 4.0]

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In cinema there are not many worse spectacles than comedy which is stale. ‘Dicatator’ was funny. ‘Borat’ had its moments but this one is defined by its lack of humour. Granted that we are not looking for high brow comedy from Sacha Baron Cohen but even his gigs and buffoonery don’t justify the existence of this plot less wonder. Bereft of any logic, trying to hard to be comic and attempting to look chic, the movie falls flat on its face. Avoidable.

The Ridiculous 6 (2015) [IMDB:4.9, Rotten Tomatoes:0%, My Rating: 2.0]

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I have some good news and some bad news. The good news (for Adam Sandler) is that he has been signed by Netflix for a multiple movie contract. The bad news is that this is only the first movie in the series. Plagued by problems during production including accusations of racism on the sets, the movie is strictly for racist Adam Sandler fans. The movie is an insult to intelligence with a particularly bad portrayal of native Americans. Unfortunately the movie had the best opening on Netflix which is also a sad commentary on the state of the American society.

Documentary of the Week

(Dis)Honesty : The Truth About Lies (2015) [IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 88%, My Rating: 7.5]

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From the Dean of Admissions at MIT to bankers, there is a problem of dishonesty. A documentary that delves into the reasons for dishonesty. Highly recommended.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Sully’ starring Tom Hanks and directed by Clint Eastwood.

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Did you know: ‘Mulholland Drive’ topped BBC’s list of 21st century’s greatest films.

Edition 76

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Aferim (Romania, 2015) [IMDB: 7.8 , Rotten Tomatoes: 98%, My rating:8.0 ]

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My introduction to Romanian cinema was through the classic ‘4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days’. ‘Aferim’ continues the tradition of high quality movies from the East European nation. Shot in black and white, Aferim tells the story of the search for a runaway Gypsy, with the socio-cultural background of slavery, in the 19th century. The mores of that period are in turn humorous and outrageously shocking. This contributes to the dark humor which is the running theme of the movie. At the same time, the nasty and brutish life of a slave is not lost in the plot. The twisted idea of justice and the ruthlessness of the landlords add to a strange mix of emotions the viewer experiences during the film. Even scenes where the slaves are auctioned off are conducted with a sense of normalcy. The credit for giving coherence and direction to the movie goes to the director. Overall, a must watch.

Movies I Saw This Week

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016) [IMDB: 7.0 , Rotten Tomatoes: 76%, My rating: 6.5 ]

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‘Popstar’ is a mockumentary in the vein of the cult classic ‘Spinal Tap’. Even though ‘Spinal Tap’ hit the bulls eye, ‘Popstar’ hits the target a bit off centre. It tells the story of a band member trying to chart his independent path but failing badly. Replete with instances that can be traced to the behaviour of real world pop-stars, this movie works till the last thirty minutes. At that point it gets too cliched and subsequently boring. Watch it for the first hour where the satire is as biting as the banality of the songs.

Central Intelligence (2016) [IMDB: 6.8, Rotten Tomatoes:71%, My rating: 6.0 ]

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Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson bring a lot of heart and a few laughs to this comedy about a man in a mid-life crisis teaming up with a CIA agent on the run who used to be his high school pal. It is the kind of movie that you know will have a happy ending. In fact, if it were an animation movie, it would have been made by Disney. Especially so, because the movie is devoid of logic and relies solely on the lead pair to pull off the improbable. Kevin Hart shines with his rib ticking humour in a few scenes and ‘The Rock’ gets to perpetrate his idea of being macho. Put your grey cells to sleep, grab some popcorn and have fun.

Eye in the Sky (2015) [IMDB: 7.4 , Rotten Tomatoes: 95%, My rating: 7.5 ]

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One of the best thrillers to have come out in recent times, this movie tells the labyrinthine procedures and games that go on behind the scenes of a drone operation to eliminate dreaded terrorists. The arrival of a girl on the scene only adds to the already complex situation which leads to the nail biting finale. Evidently made on a shoe string budget, the movie is strongly supported by commendable performances from veterans like Mirren and Rickman. The movie also gives insight into the decision making process in the military. Even when there are unnecessary sentimental scenes which are incredulous, the movie never loses momentum. Highly recommended.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016) [IMDB: 6.7 , Rotten Tomatoes: 68%, My rating: 7.0]

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Based on the memoirs of a lady journalist who served in war ravaged Afghanistan and Pakistan, this movie traces her life and experiences in the region. The movie is more about how the setting changes her over the years and what she learns from being in a remarkably different milieu.Tina Fey carries the film with her sincere performance but that does not plug all the loopholes in a script which is weak, especially when it tries to explain the politics of the region. Still, recommended.

Finding Dory (2016) [IMDB: 7.9 , Rotten Tomatoes: 95%, My rating:7.0 ]

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Riding on a massive media generated hype, ‘Finding Dory’ fires more blanks than expected from a Pixar movie. Starting on a solid premise with the endearing young Dory, the movie loses steam towards the end and starts resembling a cliched Bollywood production where anything goes. The animation is nothing to write home about. Frankly, I almost fell asleep midway through the proceedings. It must be said that the movie is not all gloom and doom. There are some nice touches but they are few and far between. Maybe, too much pre-release hype is a bad thing.

Udta Punjab (2016) [IMDB:8.2 , Rotten Tomatoes: 77%, My rating:6.5 ]

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(Spoilers ahead) The thing that struck me the most while watching this movie on the drug epidemic sweeping Punjab is that none of the characters find it particularly difficult to come out of drug addiction. They just will it and it happens. The only addict who checks into a de-addiction centre kills his doctor. In fact, the irony in the movie is that all the addicts survive at the end. Many people are killed during the movie and all those who are killed are either in the drug trade or in rescue work. The addicts enjoy their drugs and live happily ever after. But for the shenanigans of a demented Censor Board Chief ( who was subsequently put in his place by the courts), ‘Udta Punjab’ would not have received the importance it is being given. From a botched product placement for ‘Cox & Kings’ to doctors who enter drug manufacturing facilities as if on a stroll, the amateurish plot leaves much to be desired. The only redeeming factor for the movie is that it shatters the popular image of Punjab as a land of mustard fields with people who are ready to break into Bhangra at the drop of a hat.

Love & Friendship (2016) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 99%, My rating: 7.5]

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The thing about classic literature is that they stand the test of time. Well made movies from classic works have one major thing going for them: the screenplay. A recent success was an adaptation of ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ in which Carey Mulligan displayed her histrionics. A suitable addition is ‘Love & Friendship’ with the underrated Kate Beckinsale in a career best performance. Based on Jane Austen’s ‘Lady Susan’, the movie tells the story of a widow who desperately needs to find a husband for herself and her daughter. The key for her success is that she should not give away her desperation and execute her plans with gusto and slyness. The fine ensemble assembled makes the movie a slow but riveting affair. Recommended.

Phoenix (Germany,2014) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%, My rating:8.0 ]

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‘Phoenix’ is movie about identity, greed and guilt. An Auschwitz survivor with a disfigured face tracks down her husband who might have betrayed her. (Spoilers ahead) The movie is a commentary on Germany immediately after the war when people had not come to terms with the guilt of the nation and a code of silence hid the horrors of the concentration camps. At a more personal level it is a metaphorical take on how greed blinds people. Even when everyone else is able to identify his wife, the husband sticks to the belief that she is dead. The wife’s unwillingness to accept that her husband was responsible for her fate is expressed through her momentary hope for a reunion. Some of the events are implausible but the viewer is kept on the edge of the seat till a befitting climax which acts as an icing on the cake. Must see.

Ozhivudivasathe Kali [An Off-Day Game] (Malayalam, 2016) [IMDB: 8.5, Rotten Tomatoes: Not Listed, My rating:8.0]

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I have not pondered on the metaphors in a any recent Malayalam movie than in this gem of a film. The movie is an allegory to the politics and social fabric of Kerala. The subtlety of the events is maintained till the last moment of the movie. The second half of the movie is an uninterrupted single shot where the camera does the talking. Without being overt, the movie addresses issues like feudalism, casteism, gender equality, patriarchy, left wing politics, the idea of justice, the idea of democracy, tyranny of the ruling class, alcoholism and much more. The story is set on an election day when five friends get together for a booze fest. For a movie with first time actors, it is remarkably accomplished. The director and writer deserve the plaudits for stating so much without saying anything. Must see.

Valiya Chirakulla Pakshikal [Birds with Large Wings (Malayalam, 2015) [IMDB: 8.2 , Rotten Tomatoes: Not Listed, My rating: 7.5 ]

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Based on the tragedy in the lives of the people in Kasargode district of Kerala,India due to repeated exposure to the chemical Endosulfan, the movie is gut wrenching to watch. Filled with real life characters who suffer from mental and physical deformities as a consequence of the chemical exposure, it is evident that the tears of the photographer protagonist did not require any glycerin. There are no performances here. All that matters is real. Yet another pointer to the fact that lives in India are cheap. As a movie, the only drawback is the tendency to show long unnecessary scenes of vehicles on the road.

Documentary of the Week

Virunga (2014) [IMDB: 8.3 , Rotten Tomatoes: 100%, My rating: 8.5]

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A fight to save mountain gorillas and a national park in Congo turns into a war with the local community and the conservationists pitted against vested interests. Beautiful and tragic. Hats off to the conservationists who have the stomach for such battles.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Jason Bourne’ because we have good memories of the series.

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Did you know: There is a sound effect called the Wilhelm Scream that has been used in over 200 movies and TV shows since 1951.