Edition 82

The Non-English Movie of The Week 

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

Trailer

‘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]

Trailer

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]

Trailer

‘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 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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Trailer

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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Trailer

‘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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Trailer

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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Trailer

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.