Edition 86

The Non-English Movie of The Week

The Square (Sweden, 2017) [IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 82%, My Rating: 7.0]

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Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes, this movie straddles between the realms of satire, drama and social commentary. The largely successful attempts to have some fun at the expense of the vacuous art world do not compensate for a screenplay notable for its inconsistency. The director bites more than he can chew. The missteps of a director at an art museum and the shenanigans surrounding his life form the bulk of the story. Then there are multiple strands on immigration, social media hype, artless art and allegories on the state of the society. The farce culminates in a mystifying sequence at an annual reception. ‘The Square’ is an entertaining movie in most ports but is more memorable as an opportunity squandered.

Movies I Saw This Week

Phantom Thread (2018) [IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 91% , My Rating: 7.5]

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Some actors have the ability to rise above a movie and draw the viewer in. Daniel Day Lewis is perhaps the greatest living actor and what a pity that he makes movies once in a blue moon. As the workaholic designer in ‘Phantom Thread’, he is a joy to watch. His screen presence and a masterclass in acting take the otherwise average movie a notch or two higher. The story is about a designer at the top of his game and the interruptions in his life when a lady as hard as a nail walks into his life. The cinematography of the movie is first rate and the director should take some credit for keeping the movie as taut as he could. Watch it for Daniel Day-Lewis.

The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 82% , My Rating: 7.5]

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The story of author Charles Dickens as he pulls out all stops to get the classic ‘A Christmas Carol’ published after reeling from the failure of his three previous novels. The movie does a good job of bringing the persona of Dickens to screen. Although a bare minimum knowledge of ‘A Christmas Carol’ will be needed to understand the movie well, the lack of it will not be a hindrance to enjoying this movie which celebrates the life of Dickens. Not only is there a context to the creation of ‘A Christmas Carol’, there is nice back story to the life of Dickens and his evolution as an author. This movie is one of the lesser known and yet eminently watchable releases of 2017.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017) [IMDB: 6.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 51% , My Rating: 5.5]

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I expected much more from the director of ‘Nightcrawler’ and what was served was a damp squib. The only saving grace of this mangled venture is a powerhouse performance from Denzel Washington. He plays a civil rights lawyer who gets the short end of the stick after a selfless life dedicated to causes he believes in. He goes rogue and from there on the director also goes rogue. Some movies tie themselves in knots and have no fair chance of untangling the mess. This movie, after a certain point in the narrative, is in dire search for a climax. Imagine you have in mind a juicy piece of chicken and what you get is a wet piece of chicken dripping with water. This movie is the cinematic equivalent of that wet piece of chicken.

My Friend Dahmer (2017) [IMDB: 6.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 83% , My Rating: 7.0]

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Jeffrey Dahmer was one of the worst serial killers in history. He was a sociopath. Before he started his killings, he was the classmate of a cartoonist in high school. This movie which is based on the best selling graphic novel by his cartoonist friend tries to shed some light on the making of a sociopath. The movie is a character study and does not try to airbrush the brutality of the killer. The good part is that there are no killings in the movie as the movie shows the build up to the creation of a monster. Packed with competent performances and a strangely memorable ending, this is a movie which is certainly worth your time.

A Futile and Stupid Gesture (2018) [IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 75% , My Rating: 7.0]

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This movie tells the story of the people behind the creation of ‘National Lampoon’ through the story of one of the co-founders of the magazine and movie franchise. The movie takes a format which gives it a feeling of a documentary. A bevy of comedians including Chevy Chase are part of this ride. The story is told in a conventional format and is thoroughly entertaining. The only gripe could be that for a story full of irreverent people and unconventional ideas, the director sticks to a rather straightforward narrative. Still, recommended.

Good Time (2017) [IMDB: 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 92% , My Rating: 7.0]

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Robert Pattison shows that he can act. He and his mentally challenged brother have to solve a litany of problems in the aftermath of a bank robbery. ‘Good Time’ loses its pace at some key moments and the work could have been more unsettling in the hands of an experienced director. Nevertheless, the famished face of Robert Pattison carries the weight of the movie. He is practically unrecognizable from his ‘cool dude’ image in the insufferable ‘Twilight’ franchise. The last scene of this movie is a knockout and summarizes the movie in the most effective way possible. Watch, if you like slow dark stuff.

Downsizing (2017) [IMDB: 5.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 51% , My Rating: 4.0]

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I believe that Alexander Payne is one of the most overrated directors of our time. He has received undeserved praise for pedestrian films like ‘Nebraska’, ‘The Descendants’ and ‘About Schmidt’. Finally he is exposed in this ruinous and boring movie called ‘Downsizing’. Matt Damon signs up to a new program in which people who are shrunk in size with the aid of science start living in secluded gated communities. After the first twenty minutes, this movie is a bore fest with the viewer wishing that he could also shrink in size and disappear from the movie hall. The movie is just an ego trip for the director and soon tumbles into a the worst mode possible at a cinema; it becomes a pulpit for preaching. Save your time. Think big. Skip this small minded movie.

Only the Brave (2017) [IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 92% , My Rating: 7.5]

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‘Only the Brave’ has the right blend of emotion and action to keep the viewer engaged. It tells a story of firefighters with all the technical stuff while ensuring that the human element is never lost. The story follows a band of characters with a back story which helps in keeping the viewer invested in the destinies of the people on screen. Highly recommended.

Documentary of the Week

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (2017) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 93% , My Rating: 7.5]

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The story of a small community bank which was the only financial institution taken to trial in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. When the companies that were deemed “too big to fail” were bailed out, this small bank was considered too small to be trampled upon. Engaging watch.

Eagerly waiting for: The Academy Awards on March 4.

Did you know: In the first edition of this blog in April, 2013, this section told the story of Kevin O’Connell who held the record for maximum Oscar nominations (20) without a win. As a testament to the power of perseverance, he broke his bad luck dating backing to 1984 (his first nomination was for ‘Terms of Endearment’) and won his first Oscar on his 21st nomination. This was for Sound Mixing in ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ last year. The new holder of the unenviable ‘most nominations without a win’ title is another veteran at Sound Mixing: Greg P. Russell, who has 17 nominations to his credit. As an aside, cinematographer Roger Deakins who is right up there in the list with 13 unsuccessful nominations is nominated this year for the 14th time, with his brilliance in ‘Blade Runner 2049’ giving him the nomination this year. Here’s to a win for Roger Deakins.

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Edition 70

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Like Someone in Love (Japan, 2012) [ IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 82%, My Rating:7.0 ]

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Iranian maestro Abbas Kiarostami chose Tokyo as his setting for a film based on relations developed in the most unlikely places. An old man and a young lady develop a peculiar relationship in a short span of time; the fact that she is a call girl does not make matters easy. A slow burning piece like the director’s earlier work ‘ The Wind Will Carry Us‘, the story moves at a languid pace often testing the patience of the viewer. The movie does not rise and soar even when there are scenes which suggest the potential for course correction. The compelling part of the film is that a renowned filmmaker from Iran cannot make such a movie in Iran because of the general lack of the freedom of expression there. The whole saga of another Iranian Jafar Panahi who was banned from making movies for 20 years and his attempts to get around this ban is well documented.

Movies I Saw This Week

Spectre (2015) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 67%, My Rating: 6.0]

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The twenty fourth film of the Bond franchise is a damp squib with tired gags, stale screenplay, car chases which are as good as advertisements for the cars, an unusually insipid Daniel Craig and a poor villain who would not have received any attention from Bond in Bond’s heydays. The existential crisis for Bond is aggravated by the competition from a multitude of superheroes who have clearly demarcated audiences. After the brilliant reinvention of Bond in ‘Casino Royale’, two of the films that have followed have failed to inspire confidence. Only ‘Skyfall’ has been a face saver for Bond among the last three installments. ‘Spectre’ suffers from a story that meanders along and the direction of Sam Mendes suggests that he may be past his glory days of ‘American Beauty’ and ‘Road to Perdition’. In ‘Spectre’, Bond goes in search of an organization and he even gets a ring with the trademark logo of the organization. A terrorist organization which has merchandise to distinguish its members is so tacky that it belongs to the 60s era of film making. The attempts at humour are notable for their inability to achieve exactly that. The only thing stunning in the first 90 minutes of the movie is the Austrian landscape and that is the tragedy of Spectre.

Bridge of Spies (2015) [IMDB: 8.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 92% , My Rating: 8.0]

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The story of James Donovan is indeed a remarkable one. This lawyer turned negotiator was a true servant of the nation when he went the extra mile to negotiate the release of an American pilot in exchange for a convicted spy during the height of cold war. He also was instrumental in the release of detainees held by the Cuban government after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. ‘Bridge of Spies’ documents the former story in detail and does not disappoint. In fact, it matches and exceeds the expectations generated by the combination of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. The movie will certainly garner a few Oscar nominations for the heartwarming drama it effectively captures. It is interesting to note that when more and more movies are being made with the accompanying technology at the centre of film making, the original whizkid Spielberg is turning to such solid drama. Some movies are exceptional in their own silent way. This is one such movie.

The Walk (2015) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 85%, My Rating:7.5 ]

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The histrionics of Philippe Petit are not just amusing but are also acts of artistic daredevilry.  More than 30 years ago he committed what some dub as the artistic coup of the century. He had the idea,courage and expertise to perform a high wire walk across the twin towers of the World Trade Center. He did it without any protective equipment. The attempt was captured in a high quality documentary called Man On Wire. ‘The Walk’ is the movie version of the event. (spoilers ahead) I had thought till I saw the movie that Petit had just walked across the towers once but it is only on watching the movie that the artistry and courage of his feat become apparent. After completing his first end to end walk, he goes on the ‘trip’ again and again. As Beethovan’s Fur Elise plays in the background, the magic of the walk unfolds on the screen. Even when the movie takes a long time to reach the final act, the wait is worth the iconic images that unfold.

Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (India, 2015) [IMDB: 5.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 55%, My Rating: 4.5]

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India is currently ranked 172 (its lowest ever) in FIFA ranking. Watching ‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’ can give you insights into what ails Indian soccer. Salman Khan persuades a gathering to play football. He places the ball for kickoff. Then they break into a song and dance about it. When done with the dance, they finally start playing and then goals are scored because the lady goalkeepers run for their lives when the ball is hit in their direction. Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is full of such insights. Salman Khan has a way even with gravity. Few days after falling from a few hundred feet and after being treated in a ‘facility’ with fire burning around him, he returns to the screen as if he had been on a vacation. At the exact moment when that Salman has an accident, a new Salman (without a moustache) turns up as a replacement for the prince. How many times will Hindi movies have themes involving a doppelganger? This movie is essentially a remake of every movie from Rajshri productions. The Barjatyas are stuck in the past and perhaps they know that. So they leave a few years between their movies so that the audience forgets and forgives them. In this movie, they got Salman Khan to sign up and then roped in actors (Neil Nitin Mukesh, Arman Kohli of Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani, Sonam Kapoor etc) who were looking for work. Then they slated it for release on Diwali. Left with no other movie to watch, everyone flocked to the theatres and made the film a blockbuster. For those who don’t believe it, this movie was the second highest grossing film internationally after Spectre in its opening weekend, making a cool $40 million. 

Knock Knock (2015) [IMDB:5.0 , Rotten Tomatoes:33% , My Rating:3.0 ]

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Keanu Reeves is a husband alone at home when his family is away. Two young women knock on his door on a stormy night. Does it sound like the premise for a b grade flick? It does and the movie lives up to its ‘potential’. I guess Reeves is not getting any quality work. Avoid.

Anarkali (Malayalam, 2015) [IMDB:7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: Not Listed, My Rating:6.5 ]

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Capturing the breathtaking beauty of Lakshadweep islands, this Malayalam movie tells a passionate love story spanning more than a decade. A naval officer and his lady love endure the fierce oppostion from the girl’s father in pursuit of love. Shot almost entirely on the island, the movie introduces mainland Indians to life on the island. With a running time of 167 minutes, the film drags a bit in the second half. It compensates through stunning visuals and a simple yet effective screenplay. Certainly worth a one time watch.

Rani Padmini (Malayalam, 2015) [IMDB:7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: Not Listed, My Rating:6.5 ]

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After a few duds Aashiq Abu returns to form in Rani Padmini which tells the story of two women who are poles apart. One is bound by a sense of duty to her husband and the other is a practical minded lady with shades of grey. They meet on a road trip and discover themselves. Like most Aashiq Abu movies, nothing much happens during the movie. It is more about the conversations and the experiences. There are touches of humour especially when dealing with gangsters. There is even a hint of satire when the character insists that she only likes stories that ” have a message”. In its own way, the film is a tribute to independent women. The visuals are easy on the eye and the effort that has gone into making the film is only too evident. Overall, a movie worth your time.

Documentary of the Week

Amy (2015) [IMDB:8.0 , Rotten Tomatoes:96% , My Rating:7.5 ]

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Amy Winehouse was the first British woman to win five Grammy awards. She was only 27 when she died of alcohol poisoning. Her story. One of the documentaries of the year.

 

Eagerly waiting for: ‘By the Sea’ starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jole and directed by Angelina Jolie.

Did you know: Before beginning his movie career Keanu Reeves used to manage a pasta shop in Toronto, Canada

Edition 60

The Non-English Movie of The Week

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

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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]

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‘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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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.