Edition 103

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Another Round (Denmark, 2020)[IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, My Rating: 7.0]

The Danes have the worst record for alcohol consumption in the Scandinavian region. The movie is an exploration of the way of life in Denmark and how profoundly alcohol affects the social and personal life of people. The story is about a group of school teachers who want to experiment with low consumption of alcohol to test a theory that a small amount of it in the blood in fact has significant advantages for the sense of well being. Mads Mikkelsen is the leader of the group. The story evolves as one would expect it to with no major surprises. The director is in complete control of the proceedings. I was left confused by what the movie wants to convey. Is it that alcohol affects different people differently or is it that small amounts are fine or further still, alcohol is addictive and bad for health.

Movies I Saw This Week

Nomadland (2020)[IMDB: 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, My Rating: 7.5]

A woman (Frances McDormand) whose life changes because of the 2008 economic crisis and the death of her husband, decides to lead her life by traveling and living around the country in a van. She supports herself with temporary jobs and she meets random people in brief encounters. It is the poignancy of the short encounters that make the film feel deep even when it is flawed. ‘Nomadland’ projects another way of life that celebrates the spirit of adventure when it is a choice but exposes the systemic failures of USA when that lifestyle is thrust on people. Besides being that one movie that makes Amazon look good, there are no major flaws in the film and the movie is arresting for the captivating performance from Frances McDormand who owns the movie from the start to end.

Minari (2020)[IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%, My Rating: 8.0]

A Korean family moves to Arkansas to start a new life by venturing into farming vegetables for the Korean expat population. Then the grandma from Korea joins them to take care of the kids as the parents work. The life goes on with its twists and turns. ‘Minari’ is an essential immigrant experience of trying to fit in but yet holding on to the cultural roots. When you finish watching ‘Minari’ what remains are the little vignettes of life than any major story. The denouement is hardly convincing but there is a lot to see in ‘Minari’ and those parts are told in a silky smooth way.

Promising Young Woman (2020)[IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, My Rating: 7.5]

This movie could have been much better. That is the first thought that struck me when I finished watching. It could have been written better, directed better, edited better and acted better. The story of a young woman going to any extent to avenge the death of her friend is presented in a rather interesting way. Somehow the movie leaves the feeling that there was a tight budget and not enough money to spend on the production design. The coffee shop in the movie looks and feels like an enterprise which would not make the cut in a children’s play. The scenes between the protagonist and her boyfriend are rather forced. If you can close your eyes to some jarring notes there is much to be liked in the movie, especially the story it wants to tell. Although Carey Mulligan is tipped for an Oscar nomination for this role, I think that someone else could have delivered this role better. Overall, the operative word is ‘better’.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020)[IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%, My Rating: 7.0]

This film captures the drama on a hot day when acclaimed singer Ma Rainey has to record a few songs. For those who do not know, Ma Rainey was one of the first female African-American singers to be ever recorded and marketed. Her clout and ability to get things done her way in the movie is indicative of her stature and commercial pull. The more dramatic bit of the movie features the late Chadwick Boseman who I hope gets at least an Oscar nomination for his last substantial role. This movie is well edited but the fact that it is adapted from a play shows in some of the scenes. The restricted number of locations also demonstrated a script which fails to grow from its original material. Kudos to Coca Cola for the clever product placement. Keeping aside these infirmities, this is a movie worth your time.

The White Tiger (2020)[IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, My Rating: 7.5]

This is a film about which I feel I can write a more authentic review for the mere fact that the novel is one of the few works of fiction I have read in the last many years. (I am a stickler for non-fiction) The booker prize winning work by Arvind Adiga thrives on dollops of sarcasm and dark humour. It is a difficult task to translate that on to the screen. The movie is successful in getting the essence of the book but does leave out some biting pieces of dark humour. It also adds few elements not mentioned in the book. For those looking for a story, the movie is about an unscrupulous man working his way up India’s notorious social ladder. Adarsh Gourav in the lead role has done justice to his role. Somehow he embodies the character you have in mind when you read the novel. As a movie, this one does not let you down but the book is better.

Sylvie’s love (2020)[IMDB: 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, My Rating: 7.0]

‘Sylvie’s Love’ is a movie which if you did not know its year of release would easily slot into the black and white era of Hollywood. It has the look and feel of one of those classics. It has enough drama to match. It is a simple story. (spoilers ahead) Boy meets girl. They get separated. Then they meet again. Then they unite. Then they choose to be separate. At the end, they reunite. Simple. Told you. The mood of the movie is unashamedly romantic but there are elements of the fading popularity of jazz music and the struggle of a woman to have a career in a not so distant past. Above all this is the fact that somehow a neat romantic movie got made when that is a genre which has struggled for screen space in recent times.

Run (2020)[IMDB: 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, My Rating: 6.5]

I had read about a girl being held captive by her mother in a magazine article few years ago. This movie seems to be based on that article even though it does not claim to be one. At a conceptual level there is nothing great here. There are enough movies that have dealt with such themes. I would not even say that the treatment is groundbreaking. It is a easygoing movie worth your time if you are thinking of opportunities to while away your time. At least it does not manipulate the audience and there is no structural complexity to make you scratch your head (Yes, I am speaking of Nolan here).

Bloody Hell (2020)[IMDB: 6.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, My Rating: 6.5]

Similar to ‘Run’, this movie is also a hostage drama but with a twist. It is playful and has a wicked sense of humour. A hero who somehow ends in jail for stopping a bank heist ends up in the basement of a crazy family in Finland. He must find a way out before he is wiped clean from the face of earth. There is some intentional comedy in the gruesome premise. That itself makes it a movie which is worth your time.

Death to 2020 (2020)[IMDB: 6.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 37%, My Rating: 6.0]

This is a mockumentary. It lands a few good punches and some of the humour is genuine. The problem is that sarcasm in the real world is a dying art because there is too much of misinformation floating around. I would not be surprised if some parts of the population did not get the humour in this enterprise. I enjoyed large bits of it and would recommend it.

Documentary of the Week

Crazy, Not Insane (2020) [IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%, My Rating: 7.5]

I did not know that multiple personality disorder is an area on which there is no consensus in the scientific community. A leading proponent of the dissociative identity disorder presents her case. Draw your own conclusions.

Eagerly waiting for: James Bond to come to a cinema near me.

Did you know: In 2020, Netflix released more movies than any other major Hollywood studio. It will do so again in 2021.

Week 41

Movies: Non-English

The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium, 2013) [ IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 87%]

The Broken Circle Breakdown

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3a50DJkCxqw

Academy award nominee for ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ category this year, this film from Belgium is a devastating tearjerker. It is a heady mix of music, romance and tragedy with moments of sheer brilliance. The wedding scene and the climax are scenes that stand out. The movie follows the challenges faced by a young family and their desperate attempts to overcome them but at the core of the story is the conflicting religious beliefs of the husband and wife which appear beyond reconciliation. I believe that one of the reasons that the film has a nod at the Oscars is because of the way it tears into the George Bush presidency by using actual footage to support the arguments of one of the characters. The good thing is that even if the politics of the movie is disregarded as inconsequential, it is a movie worth your time. Two thumbs up.

The Third Half (Macedonia, 2012) [ IMDB: 8.2, Rotten Tomatoes: Not yet rated]

The Third Half

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJq03xHc6mE

Another film on Nazis, which I believe is a theme that has been done to death by Hollywood. Maybe the Macedonians did not figure that out. So they also came up with a mild version to suit their historical narrative. The end product is a movie which is not bad but does not introduce any new elements in a predictable story line. My curiosity stemmed from the fact that it tells the story of a football team trying to get its act together and at the same time bogged down by politics. If you can take another film on Nazis this film is highly recommended. Otherwise, highly forgettable.

Movies I Saw This Week

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) [IMDB:7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%]

Inside Llewyn Davis

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFphYRyH7wc

Oscar Isaac produces a scintillating performance as the title character of a movie which certainly falls into the drama genre but is neither a tragedy nor a triumph. Llewyn Davis is a folk singer who tries to piece together a living when he is not hopping from one couch to another in his quest to find a place to sleep. (Spoiler ahead) His life is so messed up that he gets to know through a third party that he has become a father and he still does not want to see the child. Llewyn Davis is a musician who is neither great nor ordinary. As a character, he is neither weak nor strong. It is this very quality of a man who cannot be faulted because he is not impractical but at the same time is not practical enough that makes this story a little complex. That also makes the film very engaging to watch as it opens up to unpredictable twists and turns. A special mention must be made of the cinematography of this movie which is a strong contender at the Oscars but may eventually lose out to ‘Gravity’. All in all, this is not a movie for everyone but for the discerning few.

All Is Lost (2013) [ IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%]

All Is Lost

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lk_R04LfUQU

Robert Redford’s best movie in years tells the story of a man marooned with his damaged boat in the ocean when it is hit by a stray container. It chronicles his desperate attempts to rescue himself from imminent and painful death. The movie is slow but I believe that the plot dictated the pace of the movie. A standout feature is the background score. At the Oscars this year this category will be a straight shootout between ‘All Is Lost’ and ‘Gravity’. I would love to see an Indian version of this movie because the Hollywood hunks like to appear calm and composed under trying circumstances but imagine Shahrukh Khan in such a role. He would have cried his heart out and appeared vulnerable, making him endearing. Some movies are better off with such men and Robert Redford is not such a man.

Dedh Ishqiya (India, 2014) [IMDB: 7.9, Rooten Tomatoes: 77%]

dedh

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_J3fkfUDkx8

A half decent story with a plausible twist makes this one of the early winners of 2014. All the actors are in fine form and the movie has a good pace to it. It is the story of two con men who think they have found their match in a mysterious duo. The good thing with the movie is the crisp writing which serves as a refresher course in chaste Hindi. Definitely worth a watch.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) [IMDB:7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 49%]

Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1Xk-yTuFEU

Ben Stiller should stick to comedies. His capabilities as a director are evidently limited and this movie is the best proof for it. He is neither funny nor engaging. The movie about a man with a fertile imagination and pretty much only that, is a damp squib. The story meanders along and is a big yawn. The producers could have donated the money to some charity. At least they wouldn’t have to explain to their children their poor decision making abilities.

Documentary Pick of the Week

20 Feet from Stardom (2013) [ IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 99%]

20 Feet from Stardom

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWyUJcA8Zfo

The story of the unsung chorus singers on stage. Nominated for the Oscar this year. Strong contender. Worth a watch.

Terrence Malick Retrospective

Days of Heaven (1978) [ IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%]

Days of Heaven

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlZDsMCW0U4

A story of passion, intrigue and treachery set in a farm. Competently acted. Beautifully shot.

The Thin Red Line (1998) [ IMDB:7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 80%]

thin red

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejm0XvT3rB8

The Army as it is. Sudden death, painful superiors and a low life. Dream casting with too many stars to count.

Badlands (1973) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes:98%]

Badlands-707049238-large

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKykxE7CBbc

A couple like to kill. A study in psychology.

Eagerly Waiting for: ‘The Amazing Spiderman 2’ because it is going to be the first blockbuster of 2014.

Did you know: The sounds made by the Brachiosaurs in ‘Jurassic Park’ were a combination of whale and donkey sounds.

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.