Edition 85

The Non-English Movie of The Week

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

Trailer

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

Movies I Saw This Week

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

Trailer

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

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

Trailer

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

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

Trailer

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

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

Trailer

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

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

Trailer

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

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

Trailer

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

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

Trailer

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

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

Trailer

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

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

Trailer

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

Documentary of the Week

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

Trailer

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

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Sicario 2: Soldado’ 

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

Edition 60

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Leviathan (Russia, 2014) [IMDb:8.0, Rotten tomatoes: 99%, My Rating: 9/10]

Leviathan-Poster

Trailer:

Of the few hundred movies that I have seen in 2014, ‘Leviathan’ is the best. It is also the most depressing. It is unsparingly bleak, brutally honest and hauntingly beautiful.

A man decides to stand up against the might of the Russian State, in a coastal town where generations of his family have lived. His mortal enemy is the mayor of the town and when he summons his lawyer friend from Moscow to fight his case, he sets in motion a chain of events that spiral out of control. The vast expanse of the remote Russian terrain and the suitably frugal government offices conspire to cover up the opulence and decadence at the heart of the society. It would be a surprise if ‘Leviathan’ does not take the Oscar for the foreign language movie.

Movies I Saw This Week

Whiplash (2014) [ IMDB: 8.7, Rotten Tomatoes:96%, My rating:7.5]

whiplash-poster

Trailer:

‘Whiplash’ has too many twists and turns. It could have been an ideal candidate for a script tying itself in knots but ‘Whiplash’ redeems itself by untying all the knots (or shall we say notes?) without making it feel like a Houdini escape. For the most part you won’t notice that such a short story is basically held together by some praiseworthy performances. In the case of J.K Simmons, it is also an Oscar worthy performance. In fact, if there is one category on which I am willing to put my money now, it is the Best Supporting Actor, for J.K. Simmons.

I was reminded of some of the teachers whom I had the misfortune of meeting and who confused rigor with inhumanity. ‘Whiplash’ is about a drummer who overcomes the hurdles placed by such a teacher. All this is told in a very engaging way and this has now helped ‘Whiplash’ to become the dark horse in the ‘Best Screenplay ‘ category at the Oscars.

Selma (2014) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%, My Rating: 7.5]

selma

Trailer:

Based on an important chapter in the US Civil Rights Movement led by Nobel laureate Martin Luther King, ‘Selma’ tells a topical tale. Unfortunately, it was snubbed in categories like direction, acting and screenplay at the Oscars. It also revealed some interesting statistics: 94% of Oscar voters are white and 77% are white men with an average age of 63. Even Martin Luther King would have struggled to get a nod from such a group. The director Ava DuVernay has a double handicap. She is a woman and she is African American.

Coming to the movie, the creators of the movie were not allowed to use the actual speeches used by Dr.King. Still, the scenes are quite rousing and performed with anguish and passion. It is on watching such movies that one gets to know of Dr.King being whacked by every Tom, Dick and Harry who disagreed with him. As a movie, ‘Selma’ may not be a classic but it is  great chronicle of one of the struggles that shaped history. Highly recommended.

Cake (2014) [IMDB: 6.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 47%. My Rating: 5.5]

cake

Trailer:

There was a lot of heartburn when Jennifer Aniston was snubbed by the Academy in spite of concerted lobbying for a ‘Best Actress’ nomination. After watching ‘Cake’, I was wondering what all that hoopla was about. Clearly a movie made with the sole intention of fetching Aniston an Oscar, ‘Cake’ leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Aniston plays  a character suffering from chronic pain (presumably) after a personal tragedy. Aniston went the extra length of wearing as little make up as possible for this movie. All she ends up delivering is an insipid performance. Now that Aniston got her ‘Cake’, she also got to learn that she cannot have the cake and eat it too.

Pride (2014) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, My Rating: 7.0]

Pride_Movie_2014_Poster

Trailer:

Based on a true story, ‘Pride’ is about the LGBT community and the miners who became bedfellows during Thatcher era miner’s strike in Britain. Set in Wales, the movie has a pleasing pace and gathers momentum as it progresses. The dialogues are fresh the creators have tried their best to keep the historical accuracy of events. A lively background also lifts the film from being pedestrian. It is a movie which is not bad but it would also be an exaggeration to call it a very good film.

Big Eyes (2014) [IMDB: 7.0, Rotten Tomatoes:71%, My Rating: 5.5]

Big-Eyes

Trailer:

There was a Tim Burton who made thoroughly enjoyable movies like ‘Edward Scissorhands’. There is a Tim Burton who makes soulless movies like ‘Big Eyes’. Just like his favorite Johnny Depp, he also making uninspired movies. This one has Amy Adams essaying the role of Margaret Keane whose paintings of children with big eyes were a rage a few decades ago.  The trouble was that her husband fraudulently took all the acclaim and the millions generated from the sales of her paintings. It is about how the painter reclaimed what was rightfully hers. The whole movie looks like a stale 80s documentary where everything seems so artificial and simplistic. It is a story without any memorable moments. At some point in the movie, you wish that the agony had been shorter. Wish the editor of the movie had scissorhands.

Wild (2014) [IMDb: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 90%, My rating: 4]

wild_ver2_xlg

Trailer:

This movie’s only purpose is to somehow land Reese Witherspoon another Oscar. If you have too much money and time, and your choice is between watching ‘Wild’ and paying somebody to kick you, do the latter. A woman goes on a wild trek to tide over a personal tragedy . That’s it. She backpacks and just walks. Reese Witherspoon wants an Oscar for acting in this movie. Many critics concur. I think they should be asked to go for a walk.

 

I (2015) [IMDB: 8.4, Rotten tomatoes: 55%, my Rating: 3.0]

i-movie-posters

Trailer:

From my childhood I have enjoyed most of the movies from Shankar even when they had the same story of a man’s struggle against corruption. Muthalvan, Gentleman, Indian and Anniyan were essentially the same tale told in different ways. In ‘I’, corruption gives way to romance. The hero wants to take revenge on those who sabotaged his love and life. The director throws logic out of the window, digs a grave and buries science, and relies on low brow humor to hold together a film disintegrating like the body of the protagonist. Even the normally reliable AR Rahman is not able to give a hummable tune. The dictum followed by the director is to disfigure characters and make them look as repelling as his makeup man possibly could.  While Shankar created spectacles with a much lower budget in his earlier films, his revenge instrument in this big budget movie is a syringe. If you ever have to explain to a foreigner what this movie is about, tell him/her that it is the Indian version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’.

Documentary of the Week

Citizenfour (2014) [IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%, My rating: 9/10]

Citizenfour-online

Trailer:

Edward Snowden. The documentary of the year. Must watch.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’

Did you know: Jason Schwartzman, Sofia Coppola and Nicolas Cage are cousins.

 

 

 

Week 24

Movies: Non-English

Everlasting Moments (Sweden, 2008) [IMDB: 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%]

everlasting moments

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOnLN2veR1c

I have often heard people say that there are no new stories to tell. It is so difficult to come up with something new. I believe that the solution is simple. Try to find the interesting in the mundane. Director Jan Troell is pretty good at this and has been around for more than 4 decades. In this exquisitely shot movie, a working class woman wins a camera in a lottery and this changes her life in ways she could not have imagined. Since a camera is involved the cinematographer seems to enjoy his work, bringing to us shots which have poetry written over them. Don’t miss the visuals for the subtitles.

The Return (Russia, 2003) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 95%]

return

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRXLsMk_7Kk

Continuing on the theme of finely shot movies, this one captures the beauty of Russian wilderness. Two brothers who have never seen their father are intrigued by his return after twelve years. What is it that had kept him away and why is he back? The film is more of a thriller trying to deconstruct people’s thought processes. In my opinion, the best Russian film of the 21st century.

English Retrospective

Cast Away (2000) [IMDB: 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 90%]

cast-away-movies-69383_1024_768

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJvosb4UCLs

If there is a movie which stumbled in going from good to great because of poor editing, ‘Cast Away’ is the one. The flight crash scene which is unnecessarily prolonged and few scenes on the island make this one a long movie. Still, I think that Tom Hanks deserved the Oscar for this one more than the stone faced Russell Crowe who won it for ‘Gladiator’. I think why Hanks did not win it is because he already had two of them and also because some people got confused between Gladiator, the movie and Russell Crowe, the actor. In fact, this one has a better performance from Hanks than his previous wins (‘Philadelphia’ and ‘Forrest Gump’). The soundtrack of the movie is one of the best I have ever heard in a motion picture and definitely Alan Silvestri‘s best work. When is the Academy going to give him an Oscar? The film is a good lesson on product placements with Fedex and Wilson getting maximum mileage for their products/services. Minor irritants aside, this is a truly good movie and one of my favourites. It has a great story to tell and will always be on my list of the best films I have ever seen.

Gallipoli (1981) [IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 88%]

gallipoli

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6m8gk6w2yY

Gallipoli in Turkey is a pilgrimage site for Australians and New Zealanders. It is so because it was the sight of the biggest drubbing of the Allies during the First World War and the greatest loss for Australia and New Zealand. The campaign also ignited the movement towards modern Turkey and Mustafa Ataturk was a commander for the Turkish force in the campaign. This film tries to portray the tragedy, with Mel Gibson in one of his earlier roles. He does justice to his role and the film also largely succeeds in capturing the despair and hopelessness. I would love to see a good Turkish film telling their side of the story. Even this one grudgingly approves of the success of Turkish forces over the might of Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand during the campaign. A must watch, if you like war movies.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955) [IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 95%]

rebel without a cause

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAlzg0S51GY

I did not know about James Dean until 2007, largely because I did not know about his tragic life. It was at the American Center (in the US embassy) in New Delhi where they screen free movies on weekends that I got to know him through ‘East of Eden’ and ‘Rebel Without a Cause’. One cannot help but wonder what could have been had he not died so young. In the end, the quality is what matters and not the quantity. James Dean will not be easily forgotten and this film is quite possibly the closest to his real life persona. The movie is a real gem  and that is all I have to say about it. For Indian viewers who are not aware of him, don’t be bothered. Screen legend Dev Anand is a copycat of James Dean. Think of Dev Anand. Think of someone like him and ten times better than him. You get James Dean.

Movies I Saw This Week

Behind the Candelabra (2013) [ IMDB: 7.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 95%]

Behind-the-Candelabra-2013

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fp3wAyRf15c

This gay themed movie has outstanding performances from Michael Douglas and Matt Damon and it is essentially a vehicle for both of them. The good thing is that it is through such movies that I get to know artists like Liberace. Steven Soderbergh is also seeing a revival of his career as a director with this one capping off his success with ‘Side Effects’ this year. An easy watch, if you are comfortable viewing such movies.

Immortals (2011) [ IMDB: 6.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 35%]

Immortals_poster

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VdONYkKFmQ

Somebody likes to kill and somebody wants to stop the killers. Since computer generated graphics have stretched the limits of what can be shown on screen without putting up a set, this one thrives on that cheap idea. Add some loud colours to that cheap idea. This is exactly the kind of movie which you will have a hard time remembering after a few months unless you have a system where you can remember the movies in which actresses have taken their clothes off. Cheers to Freida Pinto.

Your Sister’s Sister (2011) [ IMDB; 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 83%]

your sister's

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6NJzrA4oHs

This is a one time watch. Sisters fall for the same man. One of them is desperate for the man and the other is so self assured about her man that she has no clue what is going on. The movie could have been much better had it not had the irritating acting of Mark Duplass as the man who is the object of affection of the two women. They could have taken somebody more charming. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger could have done a better job.

Grand Masti (2013) [ IMDB: 4.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 55%]

Grand_Masti

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r18noo_rGyA

Vulgar. I am all for free speech but movies like these question such beliefs. A new category for film certification should be set up for such movies which thrive on verbal pornography, double entendres and objectification of women. Seems to be the work of mentally challenged writers with a single track mind. Lead actors who salivate and have seizures at the sight of women and women who are tasteless in everything they do. If you have paid to watch this movie you should check your mental health. No wonder, the men in India like to think low of women and crimes against women are on the rise. Absolute disaster of a movie and definitely the worst one of 2013.

Documentary Pick of the Week

Blackfish (2013) [ IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%]

BLACKFISH_Film_Poster

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLOeH-Oq_1Y

A leading contender for the documentary of the year. It shows how ill advised it is to keep whales in captivity and make them ‘perform’.

Eagerly Waiting for: ‘All is lost’ because it could see Robert Redford’s return to form.

Did you know:’Hero’ (2002) was the first foreign language film to open at No: 1 at the US box office.