Edition 72

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Mustang (France, Turkey, 2015) [IMDB: 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes:97%, My Rating:8.0 ]

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Trailer

This drama on the lives of five free spirited sisters in Turkey, is in turns poignant and triumphant. In a deeply patriarchal society where older women are accessories to reinforce the system, the resistance of two of the sisters to chart their own course forms the heart of the story. Shot in Turkey, this film is also France’s entry at the Oscars and rightfully earned its nomination in the Foreign Film category. It may not be off the mark to say that the movie depicts the creeping religious extremism in a once liberal Turkey. Starting on a low gear the movie gains momentum and becomes a tour de force as it progresses. At some point in the movie it feels that in some societies the only expectation from a woman is marriage; a marriage in which she has no say whatsoever.

The cast and crew of the movie deserve plaudits for the original vision and performances. The climax of the movie is an optimistic one but feels out of place and unconvincing based on the narrative till that point. For all its infirmities, ‘Mustang’ is still one of the best films of 2015. Must see.

Movies I Saw This Week

Anomalisa (2015) [IMDB: 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes:92%, My Rating:7.5 ]

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Trailer

Charlie Kaufman is one of my favorite screenplay writers. I thoroughly enjoyed his creations like ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’, ‘Adaptation’, and ‘Synecdoche, New York’. In ‘Anomalisa’, he addresses the all too familiar issue of mid-life crisis with an unfamiliar technique. With only three actors voicing this motion capture format movie, the scenes are thankfully not belittled by the limited budget. A rock star sales professional who focuses on customer experience and his mundane life form the core of the movie. Mildly dull at times, Anomalisa’s saving grace is the philosophical tinge that permeates the movie. At its center, the movie is a deeply sad one with disturbing visions on solitude and love. Charlie Kaufman is in his elements when he taps into the small things that make life, dissects them and holds a mirror to the daily life. The only grouse I have with this movie is that it would have looked much better if it had been shot in the conventional format with real people.

The Stanford prison experiment (2015) [IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes:86%, My Rating:6.5 ]

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Based on the famous psychology experiment conducted at Stanford in 1971, the movie captures the behavior of students when they were segregated to prisoners and wardens in an experimental prison. As a classic case of how people respond to authority and power, the experiment itself was quite illuminating. This motion picture tries to capture the essence of what happened behind the scenes. At times revealing and at times painfully monotonous, the movie is dogged by the inconsistency of the material on screen. It is of interest to note that even unimposing characters show an air of supremacy when granted powers to lord over people. The high quality of research at top universities and the lengths to which researchers go can be understood with this showcase research phenomenon. The movie is recommended only for those with an interest in delving into the dynamics of power within a hierarchical system.

 

Sicario (2015) [IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes:93%, My Rating:7.5 ]

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Trailer

Emily Blunt plays the role of a FBI agent who is coerced to ‘volunteer’ to be part of a team fighting the drug cartels in the area of US-Mexico border. The opening scene sets the mood and pace of the movie but as the movie progresses only the mood is retained. Painfully and unnecessarily slow in certain segments, the movie bursts into life in fits and then returns to dormancy. Sicario’s subject matter is not refreshingly different from movies which have dealt with the same theme. Its beauty is derived from the spellbinding cinematography of Roger Deakins and an engaging music score. It is a pity that Deakins may well lose out to Emmanuel Lubezki at the Oscars. Emily Blunt, whose vulnerability is exposed as the movie progresses, adds her weight to the proceedings. Her anger and fear as her role in the mission is revealed is where the movie rises a notch higher than the movies of the same genre.

The Revenant (2015) [IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes:86%, My Rating:8.0 ]

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Trailer

With a dozen Oscar nominations and a few Golden Globe wins, ‘The Revenant’ is in the driver’s seat for the ongoing awards season. It tells the true story of frontiersman Hugh Glass who was left for dead by his team in the wild with only the crushing winter for company. Director Innaritu follows his trademark hard hitting style he has carried from his directorial debut Amores Perros (reviewed in the first edition of this blog). The film opens with a scene similar to the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan. Many movies have tried to copy that template of a high voltage opening scene to grab the attention of the viewer but very few have been successful. ‘The Revenant’ belongs to the latter category. Then the movie gets into its subject matter where DiCaprio is mauled by a bear. That scene basically checks out the Oscar for best makeup. Then our hero goes through all sorts of trials and tribulations. That checks out the ever elusive acting Oscar for DiCaprio. Finally the effort to act in such a demanding movie may be the only way for Dicaprio to get an Oscar rather than the acting itself.

The movie was shot only with natural light. That means that the crew had to plan shots and utilize the limited time in a difficult terrain to film. The scenery is engrossing and at times intimidating. Unlike last year’s ‘Birdman’, Emmanual Lubezki does not make the presence of his camera apparent and yet delivers one of the most exquisitely shot movie of our times. It is hard to see him not getting a hat trick of Oscar wins. The movie unnecessarily blends in other themes which are irrelevant to the central theme and create distraction. Now the question is about the best Film and Director. This will be a tight call because as an end product the film is spectacular but boring for much of the latter half. More on the predictions in my annual predictions issue before the Oscars. One category the film will not win is the Editing. As the film moves towards the climax you cannot be faulted if you are thinking of what to do after the movie. It does get tedious at some points but the movie is spectacular at some other points. Watch it for the spectacular points.

Creed (2015) [IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes:94%, My Rating:7.5 ]

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Trailer

‘Creed’ has been in the news for the Oscar snub delivered to its African-American director and lead star. The truth is that purely on the basis of merit that is a fair decision and so is the Oscar nomination for Sylvester Stallone. Creed is a good movie but not a great movie. It plays highly on nostalgia and extracts every ounce of the popularity of the ‘Rocky’ franchise to build its story line. The only one who puts the nostalgia to good use is Stallone who delivers the best performance of his career as the retired champion who takes the son of his great opponent under his tutelage. Full of sports movie cliches, the movie succeeds by keeping it grounded and anchoring the story on the capable shoulders of Stallone.

Joy (2015) [IMDB: 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes:60%, My Rating:6.0 ]

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Trailer

The third collaboration of the team of Director David O. Russell, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper after ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ and ‘American Hustle’, this movie is the weakest of the lot. In a role which doesn’t suit her Jennifer Lawrence still delivers a very competent performance but the word competent cannot be associated with anybody else who was involved in the making of this movie that meanders like a river before fading into irrelevance. The story is inspired by the life of the inventor of a long lasting ‘revolutionary’ mop and sundry other products. The mop looks to be a very good product but the same cannot be said of the movie which is tiring and directionless in large parts. Wish mops could mop up the remnants of such movies.

Landmine goes click (2015) [IMDB: 6.3, Rotten Tomatoes:95%, My Rating:6.5 ]

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Trailer

An entertaining revenge drama told in the format of a thriller makes this movie one of the better independent films of 2015. A group of friends in a remote location face an unexpected challenge when one of them steps on a landmine. Their efforts to rescue him lead to a series of events which extend much beyond the landmine itself. Delightfully directed and enacted, the movie is definitely worth a watch.

Mistress America (2015) [IMDB: 6.0, Rotten Tomatoes:82%, My Rating:6.5 ]

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Trailer

Well written comedy with good dialogues is a hallmark of Greta Gerwig movies. So is the case here. Greta plays a happy go lucky lady with a severely inflated image of her caliber. In reality she is just good at talking and has no plans or the will to implement plans. An episode in her life is told through the eyes of an outsider. The good thing about the movie is that the characters stay true to their roles and are able to connect with the audience. Good viewing especially if you have no great expectations.

Backcountry (2015) [IMDB: 6.0, Rotten Tomatoes:88%, My Rating:6.5 ]

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Trailer

A couple lost in the woods get attacked by a bear. There could be an Oscar competition for the best bear between the bear in this one and in The Revenant but both of them are a tribute to the way computer effects have helped in movie making. As for Backcountry, it is a movie in which the tension builds up slowly but surely. All hell breaks loose in the last 20 minutes of the movie. Some of the scenes are too graphic and meant only for those who can stomach them. Otherwise, worth your time.

Documentary of the Week

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom (2015) [IMDB: 8.5, Rotten Tomatoes:95%, My Rating:6.5 ]

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Trailer

A documentary chronicling the popular uprising in Kiev against the government. Nominated for Oscars this year, the documentary follows a dateline to show the events that unfolded in the anti-government agitations but is restricted by its inability to get the point of view of the opposing side.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ because three is a charm.

Did you know: 94% of Academy Award voters are Caucasian and 77% are male. Only about 2% are black, while Latinos compose less than 2%. Oscar voters have a median age of 62. People younger than 50 constitute only about 14% of the membership. (Source: LA Times)

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Edition 59

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Winter Sleep (Turkey, 2014) [IMDB: 8.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 86%, My Raing:7/10]

Winter Sleep

Trailer:

Winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival in 2104, this is another masterwork from perennial Cannes favourite Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Set in the interiors of Turkey where everyone knows everyone, this movie tells the tale of a retired actor whiling away his time, doing pretty much nothing. He has a hotel to manage and he also writes articles on mundane issues. His running feuds with his wife and his divorced sister pale into insignificance when he has to address issues created by his tenants. The film captures the breathtaking locales and the cultural hues of Turkey. The performances are competent and the film has its moments but those moments are few and far between. This, is especially testing when you have to muster the patience to sit through 196 minutes of the movie. If it had chopped off 100 minutes from the running time, the movie would have looked much better. For its unjustifiable duration, ‘Winter Sleep’ can induce sleep even in the summer.

Movies I Saw This Week

Edge of Tomorrow (2014) [IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes:90%, My Rating: 7.5/10]

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This movie was a commercial flop and largely overlooked by the audiences in spite of the critical acclaim it received. Maybe some movies are not lucky enough at the box office because there is enough to suggest that this movie is one of the best action films of 2014. Set in the future where one man (Tom Cruise, who else?) is humanity’s last hope to fight an alien invasion, this movie brings in a cocktail of time travel, hi-tech combat and lofty ideals. Although Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt give mediocre performances when they could have easily put their histrionic qualities to test, the movie more than holds on its own. With enough twists and turns, it keeps you engaged without getting boring, inviting you to second guess the various permutations and combinations that are possible. Recommended.

The Imitation Game (2014) [IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 90%, My Rating: 7.5/10]

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Based on the life of legendary Alan Turing and his seminal contributions to the Allies’ efforts in breaking the German code during the Second World War, ‘The Imitation Game’ tries to delve into the life of a genius tormented by his sexuality. The movie has been tirelessly promoted in the build up to the Oscars but it is a  good movie but not good enough. Benedict Cumberbatch gives all he can to bring Turing to life on screen and he is not let down by an ensemble cast, with another notable performance from Keira Knightley. The movie has a riveting background score and is ably directed. The moral dilemmas of Mr. Turing and his inability to make sound judgement when he is enjoined to not speak about a spy, are all captured well. The asperity of Mr.Turing did not endear him to many but that wouldn’t be the main roadblock for Cumberbatch to achieve Oscar glory. Unfortunately for him, there are better performances this year.

Unbroken (2014) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 49%, My Rating: 6.5/10]

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The moot point while watching ‘Unbroken’ is whether a better director could have done a better job with the source material on hand. Louis Zamperini, on whom the story is based, was a champion runner, decorated war hero and an inspirational speaker. His life had countless moments which would have looked great on screen but in director Angelina Jolie’s hands those moments look forced and tame. ‘Unbroken’ tells the story of Zamperini’s unlikey rise from humble origins, his remarkable success in athletics and the relentless torture that he had to undergo in a Japanese POW camp during the Second World War. Jack O’Connell gives an impressive performance in a breakout role. ‘Unbroken’ is a movie of great ambitions but lacks a soul. It is a lesson on how clichéd one can become when making a biopic and how disrespectful that can be to a legend who deserved better than this.

Birdman (2014) [IMDB: 8.6, Rotten Tomatoes;92%, My Rating: 8.0]

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I am an admirer of deirector Alexandro Gonzalez Inarritu. I have loved his works like ‘Babel’ and ‘Amores Perros’. ‘Birdman’ is a shift from his usally dark depressing themes. In fact, there is even an element of mischief in this movie, which is being categorized as a comedy. The merits of that categorization aside, the film tells the story of a thespian who is tryng his best to stay relevant. Micael Keaton delivers a heavy duty performance as the protagonist who has seen better days. Shot in 10 minute uninterrupted sequences using one camera, the movie tries to play around with cinematic formats. Another highlight is an unconventional background score which many have hailed as groundbreaking but I found to be annoying. In terms of performances, this is the best performce by an ensemble cast in 2014. Michael Keaton will go head to head with Eddie Redmayne for this year’s Best Actor Oscar. The movie is also a strong contender in the film, director, cinematography and screenplay categories. The major disadvantage that the movie faces is that it is not a mass entertainer like ‘Boyhood’. This could prove to be its Achilles heel.

American Sniper (2014) [IMDB:7.6, Rotten Tomatoes:74%, My rating:7/10]

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There is no movie dividing the critics and the audiences like this one. Seen by some as an unapologetic look at the American side of the story in the Iraq war and by another equally vociferous section as the story of a true American hero, this movie tells the story of the most successful sniper in the history of America who finally died from the gunshot wounds he received from ‘friendly fire’ when he was  in USA. Judged purely on quality, the movies is a poor cousin of ‘The Hurt Locker’. There are many action sequences in the movie but none of them are good enough to capture your full attention. Many such scenes get repetitive. If the intention was to create a contrast between the life in a war zone and life at home, then the movie resoundingly fails to do so. The viewer will not be able to feel any compassion for the character on screen who is a monstrous sniper. Amercans have every right to (in fact, they should) honour a brave soldier who put his life in danger to serve his country. War movies are not supposed to be an examination of what the enemy feels about getting killed. Even if the hero here was convicted of slander in real life, it does not take away his service to the nation. Inspite of this, the movie is a very tedious one to watch and does not deserve the high praise it is getting. It also does not deserve the scorn that seems specially reserved for it. American sniper, in the end, is a an average movie about a great sniper directed by a once great director.

The Good Lie (2014) [IMDB: 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 87%, My Rating: 8/10]

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After a mish mash of snipers, tortured geniuses, former superheroes and real life superheroes, comes the time to review a movie which is undoubtedly the feel good movie of the year. ‘The Good Lie’ is not a movie that will move mountains or has a scale or budget that will put it in the top league but for the sheer quality that it produces from its limited budget, it is one of the must see movies of 2014. The story traces the lives of orphaned Sudanese children trying to escape civil war in their country and their journey to USA. Effortlessly funny and charming, this movie has its heart in the right place. With enough doses of humour without becoming a comedy movie, the film is about real people in the real world. Must watch.

Documentary of the Week

Ivory Tower (2014) [IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 83%, My rating: 6.5/10]

Ivory Tower

Trailer:

A look at the American college system. Very interesting to watch but misses some salient points.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Timbuktu’. Should a good one. Also, I have been close to Timbuktu but never been there.

Did you know: Courtesy: http://www.rogerebert.com Roger Ebert’s review of M Night Shyamalan’s ‘The Village’ quoted below. “Eventually the secret of Those, etc., is revealed. To call it an anticlimax would be an insult not only to climaxes but to prefixes. It’s a crummy secret, about one step up the ladder of narrative originality from It Was All a Dream. It’s so witless, in fact, that when we do discover the secret, we want to rewind the film so we don’t know the secret anymore.

And then keep on rewinding, and rewinding, until we’re back at the beginning, and can get up from our seats and walk backward out of the theater and go down the up escalator and watch the money spring from the cash register into our pockets.”