Edition 88

The Non-English Movie of The Week

In the Fade (Germany, 2018) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 75%, My Rating: 7.0]

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From acclaimed director Fatih Akin comes an avenge drama which gives a glimpse of the struggles of the delicately balanced identity politics in Germany. Diane Kruger plays a mother caught in the crossfire of neo-Nazi extremism and an inept judicial system. It is with great horror that she sees the tables turned on her when the neo-Nazis who show no remorse for their actions get away scot-free. She decides to take matters into her own hands. The film which plays out as a thriller has a lot going for it but the highlight of the movie is the sterling performance by Diane Kruger who scooped up many awards, including one at Cannes, for her theatrics. For all the drama that unfolds during the course of the movie, it is the denouement which leaves much food for thought.

Movies I Saw This Week

Thoroughbreds (2018) [IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 86%, My Rating: 7.5]

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Cory Finley is a director who offers copious amounts of promise in this stylish take on entitled millennials who cannot take no for an answer. Two friends reunite and in their cold emotionless thoughts develop a plan to kill. For them everything is dispensable and there is no concept of what is right or wrong. One of them revels in silence and the other reveals her inane thoughts by opening her mouth. They are always impeccably turned out. The director never lets the pace drop and shrewdly writes the dialogues which take the story forward without upsetting the tempo of the movie. The product is as high class as the the background of the protagonists of the movie.

Ali’s Wedding (2017) [IMDB: 6.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, My Rating: 7.0]

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This Australian feature is a delight to watch. It is that rare cross between a colourful Bollywood flick and a thoughtful Hollywood drama. The movie tells the life of Ali whose one lie spirals out of control. Though ‘Ali’s Wedding’ does paper over some medieval practices vis-a-vis the treatment of women in Islam, it does not hold back when it shows the intricacies of the life in the Muslim community in Australia. Mostly, the results are hilarious and when they are not, they still do not bore you. A breezy watch with heart warming performances and an engaging screenplay, Ali is worth your time.

The Death of Stalin (2018) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, My Rating: 7.5]

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This biting political satire is an unvarnished look at the fictional politics during the death of Stalin. There are two ways to look at the movie. The favourable way is to see it as an attempt at farce to bring out some key ideas relating to politics and power play in the erstwhile Soviet Union. The slightly less favourable way is to read it with the present animosity between Russia and Britain and a British filmmaker’s attempt to paint the Russians as scoundrels. Apparently, the Russian government agrees with the latter evaluation as it has banned the movie in Russia. From a neutral perspective, the setting and shenanigans of the movie could fit into any autocracy in the world. The viewer may watch the proceedings with slight bemusement. There are enough colourful characters in this movie to keep you engaged and their unpredictability brings enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. Recommended.

A Quiet Place (2018) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 95%, My Rating: 7.5]

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‘A Quiet Place’ is set in a post apocalyptic world where aliens who respond to sound, kill and silence is golden. A corollary from the plot is that the movie has minimal dialogues. A family tries to survive and care for itself in seclusion. Their griefs and joys interspersed with violence form the crux of the movie. Though the film borrows heavily from other ventures which had sound in them, it finds its own place as one of the most well written movies to have come out in recent times. On a lighter note, the film shows you how to keep infants silent and how steaming or grilling is the best way to cook. Recommended.

The Mercy (2018) [IMDB: 6.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 71%, My Rating: 6.0]

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The good thing with the movie is that it is based on a true event which had captured the imagination of the people for its scandalous nature. The bad thing about the movie is that there is no anticipation or excitement as the story is well known. To add to this, the director does not delve much into the character study and lets the events play out. The film which tells the story of amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst who went for broke as he decided to take up the challenge to be the first person to circumnavigate the earth non-stop. The performances of Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz add respectability to the movie. Ultimately, the movie is about a man who did not know what he was getting into and could never utter the word ‘no’ with conviction.

Revenge (2018) [IMDB: 6.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, My Rating: 7.5]

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With with the ‘Me Too’ and ‘Time’s Up’ movements in the vogue, ‘Revenge’ is a timely movie which may at many levels be the defining movie of  the aforementioned movements. Sophisticated and chic, ‘Revenge’ is a revenge drama with blood splashed all over it. For the ones who enjoy gore and violence, this movie may be music to ears and poetry in motion. With great performances and outstanding music complemented by beautiful cinematography which captures the brutal landscape, ‘Revenge’ does not fall into the trap of slasher films. It is often meditative and makes the audience root for the wronged heroine. ‘Revenge’ is not for the weak of heart and if you watch it you will understand that it was never meant to be.

Lust Stories (2018) [IMDB: 7.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 77%, My Rating: 5.0]

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An anthology directed by four respectable filmmakers, ‘Lust Stories’ stays true to its title. Probably that is the best thing I can say about it. Many of them play out like short films made by film students to complete their coursework. Somehow, it is the final piece of the quartet directed by Karan Johar which gets naughty. Karan Johar has no qualms about ruining one of his popular songs and he relishes the chance to do something different from the syrupy brainless movies he normally dishes out. It is in this setting that the high brow directors like Anurag Basu, Zoya Akhtar and Dibankar Banerjee fail to get out of their comfort zone. The pieces by the Basu and Akhtar are particularly tedious. The low cost of production is also evident in their work. Overall, the lust part is strong but the story part is particularly weak in ‘Lust Stories’.

The Kissing Booth (2018) [IMDB: 6.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 70%, My Rating: 5.5]

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Some movies question your judgment as you watch them. In this case, my judgement of having chosen to watch ‘The Kissing Booth’. Based on a book developed on Wattpad (the warning signs were there, you see) and apparently loved by the millennials, the movie does justice to its source material. That’s not saying much though. The story is about a girl who falls for her friend’s brother but that is a taboo as per the regulations and rules governing their friendship. There are decidedly positive outcomes in this bleak scenario. For one, the movie works if you have are not bothered too much by the concept of logic and sense. ‘The Kissing Booth’ in fact, gives a good name to chick flicks.

The Week Of (2018) [IMDB: 5.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 36%, My Rating: 5.5]

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The problem with ‘The Week Of’ is that I enjoyed it for a large part of its running time. Even when I was laughing at an outrageous joke or set piece. Even when I knew that what I saw did not make sense. Some of the jokes are so bad that they are good. As the setting of two families getting together for a wedding played out, one could not miss the fact that Adam Sandler was now the father of the bride. Adam Sandler is also one of the writers of the script. That is when I realized that Sandler is not going to go away anytime soon. Maybe it is a good thing. Maybe not.

Documentary of the Week

Faces Places (2017) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 99% , My Rating: 8.0]

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A quirky duo set off on a road trip. They bring joy to people in small towns in France. An uplifting documentary which was crowdfunded.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘BlacKkKlansaman’ directed by Spike Lee

Did you know: ‘In the Fade’ is only the second time in her 47 acting credits where Diane Kruger speaks German.

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Edition 72

The Non-English Movie of The Week

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

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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 ]

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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 ]

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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 ]

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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 ]

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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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‘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 ]

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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 ]

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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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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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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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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)