Edition 91

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

The Non-English Movie of The Week

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

Trailer

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

Movies I Saw This Week

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

Trailer

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

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

Trailer

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

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

Trailer

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

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

Trailer

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

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

Trailer

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

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

Trailer

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

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

Trailer

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

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

Trailer

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

Documentary of the Week

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

Trailer

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

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

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

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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 18

Movies: Non- English

The Baader Meinhof Complex (Germany, 2008) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 85%]

Baader Meinhof Complex

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FanVI8-zlsA

Germans are a curious bunch of people. They like things to be planned and dislike uncertainty. How such a society falls prey to radical ideologies is worth pondering about. After the disastrous fling with Nazism, Germans of the post war era have a shot at left wing radicalism. This film tells the true story of the group at the heart of this movement. The film is a copybook study on how idealism goes wrong and leads to bloodshed and crime. It also looks at how movements deviate from their path and ultimately fail. The movie is told at a good pace and the settings look authentic. The performances are nothing to gloat over but it is definitely worth a watch.

Army of Shadows (France, 1969) [IMDB: 8.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%]

army of s

Tralier: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=on38oTESbHU

This one charts the story of the French Resistance against the Nazis during the Second World War. France had easily capitulated to the Nazis but that did not stop a group of spirited people from putting up a resistance. This movie does not have supermen or gladiators fighting off the evil but it does have ordinary men doing extraordinary things in a very ordinary style. The story is written by two people who were part of the movement. The movie does not try to excite. It moves at the same pace throughout but as a viewer you are slowly drawn into the lives of the characters. The story is one of loyalty and deception, hope and heartbreak and many other hues. All this adds up to the best French movie on the Second World War. Highly recommended.

English Retrospective

The reason I am changing the name of the section to ‘English Retrospective’ is because some of the finest English movies are made outside USA.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Ireland, 2006) [IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 88%]

wind-that-shakes-the-barley

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6yvHe_ksnDA

Ken Loach is one of the best film makers alive. This is his masterclass. It is the story of two brothers who take up arms for Ireland against Britain but then find themselves at the opposite ends after the bigger enemy is dealt with. Ireland is one of the political disasters of the 20th century and the British government sowed the seeds of discord among those who fought them in Ireland. The movie is a painful recollection of the events and how successful the British were with their ‘Divide and Rule’ policy. It is a formula they later applied with great success in India too. Coming back to the film, it is a movie shot exquisitely and has a great story to tell. It never gets melodramatic but then the despair on the screen is affecting. I would say that it is a must see if you are interested in making any sense of the conundrum in Ireland. No wonder it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) [ IMDB: 7.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 96%]

four-weddings-and-a-funeral

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9JMuyzm3JRU

If you have seen too many movies on weddings with the same old story, take  a break and watch this one. Genre defining movie with clean humour and too many laugh out loud moments. This is the movie which made a star out of Hugh Grant and is testimony to the power of great writing. The movie deals with the protagonist’s love life over four weddings and a funeral. One of the biggest box office draws of 1994, this film was loved by audiences across the globe. A really good comedy which is my benchmark for wedding movies. Watch out for Rowan Atkinson in his best movie performance.

Fargo (1996) [IMDB: 8.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%]

fargo

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EB4PmbfG4bw

The Coen Brothers are masters of crime cinema. This is one of their best movies with Frances McDormand in an Oscar winning performance. I haven’t checked who were her competition that year but she would have won hands down any year for her role as the local policewoman trying to find the missing links in a series of crimes that sweep a small town. The movie is about a kidnapping gone wrong and how things spiral out of control leading to disastrous consequences. This one is so astutely made that if you blink you may miss some of the best moments. A real edge of the seat thriller. I just love it.

Movies I Saw This Week

The Great Gatsby (2013) [IMDB: 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 70%]

Great-Gatsby3

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TaBVLhcHcc0

I have not read the novel which is the source material for the movie and after watching the movie I don’t plan to. One thing I can say for sure is that the film is an early contender for the Oscar for ‘Set Decoration’. Though there are many scenes that have backgrounds that rely too heavily on technology to create the ambiance, the attention to detail is breathtaking. The film has been made with such dedication that every frame is so well thought out and it shows on screen. That is ultimately the failing of the movie because somewhere along the line the movie loses its soul in trying to look spectacular. I have not been a great fan of Baz Luhrmann who has made some below average films like ‘Australia’ and ‘Moulin Rouge’. Here he is let down by the fact that the baby faced  Toby Maguire who is also the narrator of the movie, has a baby voice. Leonardo DiCaprio is not going to win the elusive Oscar for this one but Carey Mulligan is a delight to watch. The Great Gatsby is hailed by some as a classic American novel but then the film makes it look like an average masala novel with a very convenient ending. The film never soars but it is not exactly a disaster either. Sometimes too much publicity is a bad thing.

The Company You Keep (2012) [IMDB: 6.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 56%]

Company_You_Keep_poster

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

A reporter from a local daily uncovers the identity of a fugitive on the run from FBI for more than three decades. The fugitive was part of a dreaded underground group which violently protested against the Vietnam war. Veterans like Robert Redford and Susan Sarandon add sparkle to this otherwise average film. It is engaging to a point but not exciting enough. The cards are heavily in favour of the fugitive. So things are not difficult to predict. Not a bad movie though. Anna Kendrick is a fine actress but she needs to get out of the role of the office assistant / intern which she seems to always end up with.

Lovelace (2013) [IMDB: 6.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 52%]

lovelace

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPJY-g-WoQo

Linda Lovelace was the star of the biggest grossing porn film of all time. This film takes you behind the scenes and details the seventeen days that Lovelace spent in the porn industry, gaining her a lifetime of infamy. It is a sympathetic portrayal of a lady exploited by her husband and how she shows the courage to come out of it all. Amanda Seyfried looks the part as the naive young lady. Fit for mature audiences only.

Documentary Pick of the Week

Religulous (2008) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 78%]

relig

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

Bill Maher talks to people on religion and God. Funny, revealing and informative.

Eagerly waiting For: ‘The World’s End’ because it has some really funny guys.

Did you know: French movies have won the most number of Oscars in the ‘Best Foreign Movie’ category.