Edition 86

The Non-English Movie of The Week

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

Trailer

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]

Trailer

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]

Trailer

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]

Trailer

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]

Trailer

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]

Trailer

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]

Trailer

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]

Trailer

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]

Trailer

‘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]

Trailer

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 63

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Wild Tales (Argentina, 2014) [IMDB: 8.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 95%, My Rating: 8/10]

Wild Tales

Trailer:

This Argentinian film is currently in the limelight for all the wrong reasons because one segment of the film resembles the actions of the monster co-pilot in the Germanwings aircraft crash. Otherwise, it is one of the best films to have come out in 2014. A compilation of six segments, the films uniting thread is the rage and anguish of the characters which leads them to unforeseen consequences. Though all of the segments are not uniform in quality, the highs of most cover for the lows of the few. I particularly enjoyed the sequence of road rage and the one involving fighting against the establishment. Also, the now infamous sequence is one of the better ones in the movie. If you are looking for solid entertainment from a foreign language movie, it does not get much better than this.

Movies I Saw This Week

Rosewater (2014) [IMDB: 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 75%, My Rating: 6.5]

rosewater

Trailer:

The much admired host of The Daily Show returns to movies, making his debut in directing. It is strange to see that Jon Stewart who dazzles in comedy, picked up a rather grim tale to tell. Taken from real life, the movie tells the story of a Canadian journalist who is detained in confinement in Iran where he is suspected of being a spy. The title of the movie comes from the fact that the only way the detainee could identify his captor is through the smell of rosewater. The ever reliable Gael Garcia Bernal plays his role pretty well but the infirmities in Jon Stewart’s direction are there to see. Solitude is difficult to convey in a movie. Unlike other situations, it takes time to build the right emotions. Unfortunately, when the movie has to convey this, the movie itself may appear stretched and painstakingly slow. This is the major frailty of this otherwise genuine movie.

Kidnapping Mr. Heineken (2015) [IMDB: 6.0, Rotten tomatoes:25%, My Rating: 5.5]

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Based on the investigative book into the kidnapping of the beer baron Alfred Heineken in Netherlands, this movie fires a lot of blank shots in between the few genuine ones. The kidnappers are played by a bunch of actors who have had their fair amount of success but that success was a long time ago. In a movie where the kidnapped Mr. Heineken (played by Anthony Hopkins) gets all the good scenes, the cause of the kidnappers is not helped by some shoddy screenplay and poor acting. I don’t know whether it was the director or the scriptwriter who was on Heineken while making the movie. As a viewer, you may require a Heineken or two to get over the pain of watching this one.

Top Five (2014) [IMDB: 6.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 88%, My Rating:7/10]

TOP-FIVE-POSTER-570

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Written and directed by Chris Rock and starring him in the lead role, Top Five is one of the better romantic comedies of last year. It tells the story of a comedian on the eve of his wedding to a reality TV star. The movie has a charm of its own and keeps the viewers engaged. It has funny and poignant moments in equal measure, none more than the scene when the protagonist meets his father. Chris Rock rises above the stand up comedy routine that brought him fame. It is a very mature piece of filmmaking even when it uses clichés in some scenes. Recommended.

Hunterrr (2015) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: Not yet rated, My Rating: 5/10]

Hunterrr

Trailer:

This sex comedy clearly knows its target audience but goes awry after 45 minutes or so. The protagonist is a sex addict who has derision for the idea of marriage. Told in flashback-flash forward format, the movie takes the viewer on the numerous amorous encounters of the lead character interspersed with his attempts at landing a suitable girl. It is when the latter part kicks in that the story goes berserk. The film looks like the tacky titillating films from another era. Though the views of the protagonist on skin colour and his contempt for black skin may be dismissed as the rant of a third rate character, I am still waiting for a Bollywood comedy which does not derive its humour from skin colour, LGBT community, objectification of women or plain toilet humour.

The Cobbler (2014) [IMDB: 5.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 7%, My Rating: 2/10]

cobbler-540365l

Trailer:

I have seen every single movie that Adam Sandler has acted in and I used to like his movies but in the last few years he has been scraping the bottom of the barrel. With The Cobbler he may have hit the nadir and I hope that he has. The only good thing about the movie is that Adam Sandler’s onscreen time is reduced by the fact that his forefathers pass on to him the ability to transform into the person once he steps into that person’s shoes. So you have some small time actors living up their dream. Adam Sandler just sleepwalks through the movie. The numerous sub plots don’t hold together. After watching this movie, I am reminded of the famous adage. Stars don’t die. They just fade away.

Spring (2014) [IMDB: 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 88%, My Rating: 6.5/10]

Spring

Trailer:

‘Spring’ is one of those romantic movies which will work with a section of the audience and I am part of that section. It tells the story a American who finds love in Italy. His lady love has some dark secrets that will not help in his quest for fulfilling the love. More of a meditative piece than a mushy romantic film, ‘Spring’ has very well written dialogues, scenic Italian landscapes and two very engaging performances. If you are looking for something different within the same framework, this movie might just suit you.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014) [IMDB: 6.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 62%, My Rating:5.5]

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Trailer:

Coming from Disney (that itself says a lot about the movie), this one is a simple family comedy which will instill family values and the such stuff kids need to be taught. On a horrible day when everything goes wrong, a family learns to stick together and stand up for each other. They also turn it into the most memorable day of their lives. Take your family along to watch this because it is a Disney film and Disney makes only predictable family stuff.

Documentary of the Week

The Ambassador (2011) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 76%, My Rating: 7.5/10]

Ambassador_Poster_Web

Trailer:

Danish filmmaker ‘purchases’ a diplomatic passport from Liberia and poses as its representative in the Central African Republic. What follows is epic. Must watch.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘True Story’ with James Franco and Jonah Hill.

Did you know: ‘The Turning Point’ (1977) and ‘The Color Purple'(1985) share the record for the films with most Oscar nominations (11) without a single win.

Edition 55

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Miracle in Cell No. 7 (South Korea, 2013) [ IMDB: 8.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%]

MICN7-27x40_20june

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This Korean blockbuster tells the story of the bonding between a father and a daughter. The father who is a simpleton gets framed in a rape case and is sentenced to death. The daughter who has nobody else in the world, is smuggled into the prison cell of the father. A remarkable tearjerker which is cloying, this Korean film is an out and out crowd pleaser. I often feel that Korean and Indian movies have a lot in common. The most important of those is the ability to play unashamedly to the galleries. As for this movie, I have a feeling that this is waiting to be made into a bad copy in Hindi. Why spoil the experience by watching another badly made Bollywood movie? Go for the original.

Movies I Saw This Week

The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014) [ IMDB: 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 83%]

hundredfootjourney

Trailer:

Based on the novel with the same name, this is another crowd pleaser which is a cheerily brisky movie to watch. An Indian family of cooks, displaced by riots in India moves to Europe, only to accidentally end up in a French village. The patriarch of the family (played adorably by Om Puri) decides to set up shop and then the restaurateur comes in direct competition with an obsessive owner of a Michelin starred restaurant right across the street. What ensues is a no holds war; a battle royale between Indian and French cuisine. While I was secretly hoping that the Indians win hands down, the movie takes a different route and becomes a lesson on cultural integration and tolerance. It is therefore not difficult to see why the film is produced by Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg. The film is a bit clichéd but has some very good dialogues. Some of them are cheesy (” I am a cook, not a chef”)  and some have far greater depth (The one on French national anthem and the French national slogan). With decent music from A R Rahman and more than decent performances, this is an easy film to watch.

The Guest (201) [ IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%]

THE GUEST

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Every once in a while there comes a movie which you are willing to write off without bothering to watch it but when you watch it you know how wrong you were. ‘The Guest’ is one such movie. It surely will not win any awards and uses every cliché possible to advance the plot. There are enough loopholes in the plot but in spite of all this there is something remarkably endearing about the movie that makes you sit through it and enjoy it. In real world terms, it means that you know you are watching nonsense but you start liking the nonsense because it is really nicely done nonsense. A family grieving for its lost soldier son gets some succor in the form of a guest who claims to be the son’s colleague. The guest wins over every member in the family but soon his mask starts slipping. What could have been a really bad movie starts kicking in the style. Acted and shot with panache, this finally becomes the  guilty pleasure of 2014.

Nymphomaniac Vol 1 & 2 (2014) [ IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 75%]

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From acclaimed director Lars Von Trier comes this movie about a nymphomaniac recollecting her sexual experiences. More smoke than fire, this movie is a voyeuristic expedition solely interested in titillating the viewer.  I don’t get it when such movies are slotted as high art because they simply aren’t good enough. The film had its fair share of controversy too because it has unsimulated sex scenes. That I am afraid to report, is the only claim to fame of this movie.

22 Jump Street (2014) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 83%]

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The thing with maths is that you can always add one. The sequel to 21 being 22 would not have been a major problem if not for the various scenarios that are shown as possible future sequels as the end credits roll. Come on, this sequel itself is an unwarranted tribute to a lousy original. The good thing is that it looks better than the original but that is not much to say. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum reprise their roles as cerebrally challenged undercover cops. This time they are back in college. The film does have its moments but overall, it doesn’t make the cut. Recommended for those who like big loud senseless movies.

Endless Love (2014) [ IMDB: 6.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 15%]

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A remake of the 1981 Brooke Shields starrer, this movie begs the question ‘Why?’. To start with, the original was a lousy and painful one to watch. Its only redeeming feature was the (then) angelic face of Brooke Shields. The 2014 version has no reason for its existence. It sticks to the same tacky screenplay and is not aided by some plastic performances. For those interested, the story is that of a girl falling in love with a boy; a relationship the girl’s parents oppose tooth and nail. Sounds familiar? Save yourself the pain. Give it a miss.

Rang Rasiya (2014) [IMDB: 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%]

Rangrasiya-2014

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The story of legendary Indian artist Raja Ravi Varma who dared to put a face to the gods. His representations of the Hindu gods and goddesses continue to be used on posters and artwork to this day. He was also one of the first to understand the commercial aspects of art and marketing. It would be nearly impossible to capture his genius in a movie. ‘Rang Rasiya’ tries with mixed results. The film is a genuine attempt at an authentic portrayal of the life and times of the artist; his passions, his art, his battles and his demons. It is ultimately the multitude of issues that the film tries to tackle that becomes its undoing. It also has a subtext about the freedom of expression for an artist, which has become a hostage in present India. Randeep Hooda puts in a fine performance as the protagonist. Definitely among the better Hindi movies of 2014.

Kill Dil (2014) [IMDB: 5.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 33%]

Kill Dil

Trailer:

Shaad Ali who made his name through movies like ‘Saathiya’ (which I like) and ‘Bunty aur Babli’ (which I dislike) returns to helm the affairs seven years after the disastrous ‘Jhoom Barabar Jhoom’. The hibernation for seven years seems to have done no good and exposes the rustiness of the filmmaker. Two abandoned kids raised by a don turn to crime and proudly finish off 11 souls when a girl walks (rather dances) into their life. The criminals try to reform but find that some things are easier said than done. Ranvir Singh doesn’t require make up to play the stupid youngster who thinks no end of himself. Parineeti Chopra has the same ‘Oh I am so cool’ look she sports in every movie. As for Ali Zafar, he should stick to singing. Thespian Govinda looks better at dancing than being a gangster. The movie is let down by some uninspired music by the Shanka-Ehsaan-Loy trio who also are well past their glory days. The movie tries too hard and it shows. I am reminded of the similar fate of the ‘Sarfarosh’ (1999) director John Mathew Matthan whose second movie was a dud called ‘Shikhar’ (Ajay Devgan, Shahid Kapoor, Bipaha Basu)released in 2005. Moral of the story: Don’t take 6 or 7 year long vacation.

Documentary Pick of the Week

Facing Ali (2009) [IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 83%]

facingAli_key3

Trailer:

It has been 20 years since there was a rumble in the jungle. Why was Muhammad Ali voted the sportsman of the century? Certainly not just for the punches he could throw. Listening to the people who received the punches, it is clear that the punches were enough.

Eagerly Waiting for: ‘Nightcrawler’ because it is generating rave reviews.

Did you know: ‘Casino Royale’ was the first James Bond movie approved by the Chinese censors.