Edition 72

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Mustang (France, Turkey, 2015) [IMDB: 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes:97%, My Rating:8.0 ]

mustang-toh-exclusive-poster

Trailer

This drama on the lives of five free spirited sisters in Turkey, is in turns poignant and triumphant. In a deeply patriarchal society where older women are accessories to reinforce the system, the resistance of two of the sisters to chart their own course forms the heart of the story. Shot in Turkey, this film is also France’s entry at the Oscars and rightfully earned its nomination in the Foreign Film category. It may not be off the mark to say that the movie depicts the creeping religious extremism in a once liberal Turkey. Starting on a low gear the movie gains momentum and becomes a tour de force as it progresses. At some point in the movie it feels that in some societies the only expectation from a woman is marriage; a marriage in which she has no say whatsoever.

The cast and crew of the movie deserve plaudits for the original vision and performances. The climax of the movie is an optimistic one but feels out of place and unconvincing based on the narrative till that point. For all its infirmities, ‘Mustang’ is still one of the best films of 2015. Must see.

Movies I Saw This Week

Anomalisa (2015) [IMDB: 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes:92%, My Rating:7.5 ]

anomalisa

Trailer

Charlie Kaufman is one of my favorite screenplay writers. I thoroughly enjoyed his creations like ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’, ‘Adaptation’, and ‘Synecdoche, New York’. In ‘Anomalisa’, he addresses the all too familiar issue of mid-life crisis with an unfamiliar technique. With only three actors voicing this motion capture format movie, the scenes are thankfully not belittled by the limited budget. A rock star sales professional who focuses on customer experience and his mundane life form the core of the movie. Mildly dull at times, Anomalisa’s saving grace is the philosophical tinge that permeates the movie. At its center, the movie is a deeply sad one with disturbing visions on solitude and love. Charlie Kaufman is in his elements when he taps into the small things that make life, dissects them and holds a mirror to the daily life. The only grouse I have with this movie is that it would have looked much better if it had been shot in the conventional format with real people.

The Stanford prison experiment (2015) [IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes:86%, My Rating:6.5 ]

THE-STANFORD-PRISON-EXPERIMENT-movie-poster2

Based on the famous psychology experiment conducted at Stanford in 1971, the movie captures the behavior of students when they were segregated to prisoners and wardens in an experimental prison. As a classic case of how people respond to authority and power, the experiment itself was quite illuminating. This motion picture tries to capture the essence of what happened behind the scenes. At times revealing and at times painfully monotonous, the movie is dogged by the inconsistency of the material on screen. It is of interest to note that even unimposing characters show an air of supremacy when granted powers to lord over people. The high quality of research at top universities and the lengths to which researchers go can be understood with this showcase research phenomenon. The movie is recommended only for those with an interest in delving into the dynamics of power within a hierarchical system.

 

Sicario (2015) [IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes:93%, My Rating:7.5 ]

Sicario-Poster

Trailer

Emily Blunt plays the role of a FBI agent who is coerced to ‘volunteer’ to be part of a team fighting the drug cartels in the area of US-Mexico border. The opening scene sets the mood and pace of the movie but as the movie progresses only the mood is retained. Painfully and unnecessarily slow in certain segments, the movie bursts into life in fits and then returns to dormancy. Sicario’s subject matter is not refreshingly different from movies which have dealt with the same theme. Its beauty is derived from the spellbinding cinematography of Roger Deakins and an engaging music score. It is a pity that Deakins may well lose out to Emmanuel Lubezki at the Oscars. Emily Blunt, whose vulnerability is exposed as the movie progresses, adds her weight to the proceedings. Her anger and fear as her role in the mission is revealed is where the movie rises a notch higher than the movies of the same genre.

The Revenant (2015) [IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes:86%, My Rating:8.0 ]

reve

Trailer

With a dozen Oscar nominations and a few Golden Globe wins, ‘The Revenant’ is in the driver’s seat for the ongoing awards season. It tells the true story of frontiersman Hugh Glass who was left for dead by his team in the wild with only the crushing winter for company. Director Innaritu follows his trademark hard hitting style he has carried from his directorial debut Amores Perros (reviewed in the first edition of this blog). The film opens with a scene similar to the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan. Many movies have tried to copy that template of a high voltage opening scene to grab the attention of the viewer but very few have been successful. ‘The Revenant’ belongs to the latter category. Then the movie gets into its subject matter where DiCaprio is mauled by a bear. That scene basically checks out the Oscar for best makeup. Then our hero goes through all sorts of trials and tribulations. That checks out the ever elusive acting Oscar for DiCaprio. Finally the effort to act in such a demanding movie may be the only way for Dicaprio to get an Oscar rather than the acting itself.

The movie was shot only with natural light. That means that the crew had to plan shots and utilize the limited time in a difficult terrain to film. The scenery is engrossing and at times intimidating. Unlike last year’s ‘Birdman’, Emmanual Lubezki does not make the presence of his camera apparent and yet delivers one of the most exquisitely shot movie of our times. It is hard to see him not getting a hat trick of Oscar wins. The movie unnecessarily blends in other themes which are irrelevant to the central theme and create distraction. Now the question is about the best Film and Director. This will be a tight call because as an end product the film is spectacular but boring for much of the latter half. More on the predictions in my annual predictions issue before the Oscars. One category the film will not win is the Editing. As the film moves towards the climax you cannot be faulted if you are thinking of what to do after the movie. It does get tedious at some points but the movie is spectacular at some other points. Watch it for the spectacular points.

Creed (2015) [IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes:94%, My Rating:7.5 ]

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Trailer

‘Creed’ has been in the news for the Oscar snub delivered to its African-American director and lead star. The truth is that purely on the basis of merit that is a fair decision and so is the Oscar nomination for Sylvester Stallone. Creed is a good movie but not a great movie. It plays highly on nostalgia and extracts every ounce of the popularity of the ‘Rocky’ franchise to build its story line. The only one who puts the nostalgia to good use is Stallone who delivers the best performance of his career as the retired champion who takes the son of his great opponent under his tutelage. Full of sports movie cliches, the movie succeeds by keeping it grounded and anchoring the story on the capable shoulders of Stallone.

Joy (2015) [IMDB: 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes:60%, My Rating:6.0 ]

joy

Trailer

The third collaboration of the team of Director David O. Russell, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper after ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ and ‘American Hustle’, this movie is the weakest of the lot. In a role which doesn’t suit her Jennifer Lawrence still delivers a very competent performance but the word competent cannot be associated with anybody else who was involved in the making of this movie that meanders like a river before fading into irrelevance. The story is inspired by the life of the inventor of a long lasting ‘revolutionary’ mop and sundry other products. The mop looks to be a very good product but the same cannot be said of the movie which is tiring and directionless in large parts. Wish mops could mop up the remnants of such movies.

Landmine goes click (2015) [IMDB: 6.3, Rotten Tomatoes:95%, My Rating:6.5 ]

land-mine-goes-click

Trailer

An entertaining revenge drama told in the format of a thriller makes this movie one of the better independent films of 2015. A group of friends in a remote location face an unexpected challenge when one of them steps on a landmine. Their efforts to rescue him lead to a series of events which extend much beyond the landmine itself. Delightfully directed and enacted, the movie is definitely worth a watch.

Mistress America (2015) [IMDB: 6.0, Rotten Tomatoes:82%, My Rating:6.5 ]

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Trailer

Well written comedy with good dialogues is a hallmark of Greta Gerwig movies. So is the case here. Greta plays a happy go lucky lady with a severely inflated image of her caliber. In reality she is just good at talking and has no plans or the will to implement plans. An episode in her life is told through the eyes of an outsider. The good thing about the movie is that the characters stay true to their roles and are able to connect with the audience. Good viewing especially if you have no great expectations.

Backcountry (2015) [IMDB: 6.0, Rotten Tomatoes:88%, My Rating:6.5 ]

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Trailer

A couple lost in the woods get attacked by a bear. There could be an Oscar competition for the best bear between the bear in this one and in The Revenant but both of them are a tribute to the way computer effects have helped in movie making. As for Backcountry, it is a movie in which the tension builds up slowly but surely. All hell breaks loose in the last 20 minutes of the movie. Some of the scenes are too graphic and meant only for those who can stomach them. Otherwise, worth your time.

Documentary of the Week

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom (2015) [IMDB: 8.5, Rotten Tomatoes:95%, My Rating:6.5 ]

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Trailer

A documentary chronicling the popular uprising in Kiev against the government. Nominated for Oscars this year, the documentary follows a dateline to show the events that unfolded in the anti-government agitations but is restricted by its inability to get the point of view of the opposing side.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ because three is a charm.

Did you know: 94% of Academy Award voters are Caucasian and 77% are male. Only about 2% are black, while Latinos compose less than 2%. Oscar voters have a median age of 62. People younger than 50 constitute only about 14% of the membership. (Source: LA Times)

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Week 39

Movies: Non-English

The Dreamlife of Angels (France, 1998) [ IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%]

Dreamlife of Angels

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJxtNk5Q9V4

The first instance of two actresses sharing the gong for the best actress (for the same film) at Cannes is reason enough to watch this little French gem. I was reminded of this movie after reviewing ‘Blue Is the Warmest Colour’ a fortnight ago. If ‘Blue …..’ is the adolescent version, then this one is the mature version. Two financially broke women share a flat and hope for a better future from the misery of routine lives. Once more characters enter the frame, their relationship unravels. Then the two actresses revel like veterans on screen. Watch it for them.

The Mirror (Russia, 1975) [ IMDB: 8.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%]

mirror

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7SN7spZlZk

A man facing death recollects his life. His sorrows, his triumphs, his childhood, his loves and much more. The nation’s history also plays out in the background. As they say, once your whole life will flash in front of your eyes. Make it worth watching. A timely reminder on that concept from (of all places) Russia. Classic.

Movies I Saw This Week

American Hustle (2013) [ IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%]

american hustle

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ST7a1aK_lG0

I could not really figure out why ‘American Hustle’ is getting nominated at all major awards in so many categories this year. Agreed that it is a good movie but to call it a great one is a slight misrepresentation of facts. As the name suggests, it is a con movie but with a conscience. It certainly has some good performances going for it. Amy Adams delivers another competent one. I am a huge fan of Jennifer Lawrence and that makes me think that she deserves the Oscar for Supporting Actress but that would be an improbable win considering that she just landed the Best Actress Oscar only last year. At the same time, Bradley Cooper may consider himself lucky if he wins for the Best Supporting Actor because it wouldn’t be possible but for the sympathy votes he gets for his failure to win last year. Coming back to the movie, it creates the right ambiance and the credit for that has to go to the director. Other than that I did not find the movie to be special in any sense. Anyone with the IQ of a lamp post could have seen the twist in the end coming because such movies need to have one. I think the guys in Hollywood are all excited because someone finally made a movie in which the FBI is taken to the cleaners.

Blue Jasmine (2013) [ IMDB: 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%]

blue jasmine

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FER3C394aI8

What they say for wine is true for Woody Allen too. Both get better as they age. For a change, Woody Allen is not putting some old wine in a new bottle. He moves to a new terrain and after a long time I was really impressed by his direction as he brings the best out of Cate Blanchett. I have not seen the movie ‘Philomena’ in which Judi Dench is reported to have given a great performance. If Judi Dench has not pulled off something spectacular (and she is well capable of that), then this year’s Best Actress Oscar will go to Cate Blanchett for her affecting portrayal of a former socialite going through emotional distress and penury. Her acting is simply stunning and it helps that the the whole plot revolves around her. For a profoundly sad tale, the trademark witticisms of the writer brings relief even in the gloom. Two thumbs up to one of the best written and acted films of 2013.

Rush (2013) [ IMDB:8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 92%]

rush

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dA3XN54J8nY

‘Rush’ recreates the fierce and famed rivalry of two Formula 1 superstars of the 70s, Niki Lauda and James Hunt. I expected more thrills and edge of the seat action for a movie based on a sport which has a lot of scope for spiking adrenaline levels. It disappoints on those two counts. In fact, it is not even about the rivalry between the two drivers. It is more about their personalities and the obsession they have for winning against all odds. Niki Lauda comes across as a calm and determined man who is organized and thinks about racing even during his honeymoon. James Hunt, on the other hand, is the brash character who has too many woman in his life that he does not really have to have a separate honeymoon. To slightly twist the title of a book that went from non-fiction to fiction (cycling, if you still don’t get it), ‘it is not about the cars’.

Lone Survivor (2013) [ IMDB: 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 71%]

lone survivor

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoLFk4JK_RM

The true story of an US assault team which sees their best laid plans go for a toss in an operation in Afghanistan. The film is quite slow off the blocks but soon catches up with long strides shortly after. Once the action starts it is quite an interesting film. There is nothing to rave about but then the film is definitely worth a watch.

Martin Scorsese Retrospective

Goodfellas (1990) [ IMDB: 8.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%]

Goodfellas

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qo5jJpHtI1Y

Perhaps the best story on the mafia outside the ‘Godfather’ series. Must see. Period.

The Departed (2006) [ IMDB: 8.5, Ritten Tomatoes: 94%]

The Departed

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGWvwjZ0eDc

The movie that finally got Scorsese the Oscar. In my opinion, the perfect screenplay.

Taxi Driver (1976) [ IMDB: 8.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%]

Taxi Driver

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLpMx8_TYOo

Some movies define a period in history. Some performances are so great that it is impossible to imagine someone else in that role. Some movies are unforgettable. Taxi Driver. Robert De Niro. No excuses for not watching.

Documentary Pick of the Week

Searching for Sugar Man (2012) [IMDB; 8.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 96%]

Searching for Sugar Man

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDw7OqVBT-w

How does it feel to be a rock star (pun intended) in one part of the world and be an unknown in your country of residence? One of the most uplifting documentaries ever made.

Eagerly Waiting for: ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ because it has a large cast and a fine director in Wes Anderson.

Did you know: After the release of the Tom Cruise film ‘Top Gun’,the applications by young men to the US Navy went up by 500 percent.