Edition 79

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Train to Busan (2016) [IMDB:7.5 , Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, My Rating: 8.0]

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Trailer

Although I have seen all the Oscar nominees in the foreign language category this year, they have mostly been drab stuff. ‘Train to Busan’ is not nominated for the Oscars but it is what Hollywood would envy the south Korean movie industry for. ‘Train to Busan’ is an out and out entertainer which does not hold back for even a second on the thrills. With well crafted characters and wonderfully choreographed sequences, it is an edge of the seat thriller with a novel take on the zombie genre. I have never been to South Korea but traveling in a train in South Korea is not an experience I look forward to. ‘Train to Busan’ is one of the best movies ever in the zombie category. It is a ride I highly recommend.

Movies I Saw This Week

La La land (2016) [IMDB:8.5 , Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, My Rating: 8.5]

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Trailer

‘La La Land’ could have been a mediocre movie. If the music did not work, it could even have been a bad movie but the music worked. The acting worked. The direction was in secure hands. The producers wanted to change the story line but the director stuck to his guns. Much younger actors were to play the roles meant for Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. All that did not happen. As the movie rightly portrays the glorious possibilities of life, it is those final few minutes and the last act of the story that takes it to heights seldom achieved in  movie making. ‘La La Land’ is the ‘Shawshank Redemption’ of romance for the impact the climax has on the movie. It is not just about the climax though. Emma Stone steals the show with her performance that should land her the Oscar. Ryan Gosling supports her in his own deadpan style. In many ways ‘La La Land’ is a reinvention of the musical genre.

Hacksaw Ridge (2016) [IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, My Rating: 7.5]

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Trailer

This movie based on a true story tells the tale of a war hero who refused to kill during war. Directed by the Hollywood bad boy Mel Gibson, the film is gory with many sequences of unfiltered action. That does create the setting of the war but takes away the story from its core of a conscientious objector’s fight to hold on to his beliefs and yet be an able servant to his country’s army. Andrew Garfield plays the character with a lot of heart but some inherent contradictions in the screenplay reduce the impact of his performance. It is also very difficult to understand, let alone appreciate his moral positions. By straddling the worlds of religion, country and army, Hacksaw Ridge delivers a message which is lost somewhere in the movie. Nevertheless, a one time watch.

Manchester by the Sea (2016) [IMDB: 8.2 , Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, My Rating: 8.5]

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Trailer

Let me say this aloud. If Casey Affleck does not get the Oscar for this performance, then it would be travesty of justice. ‘Manchester by Sea’ is the among the best two movies I have seen in the last one year. Superficially, it is about the story of man who is asked to take care of his brother’s young son after the death of his brother. The layers that the film unravels is akin to the experience of peeling onions. At every level, the story gets more interesting and new insights in to the life of the lead character emerge. Casey Affleck who is there in practically every frame of the movie delivers a pitch perfect performance. He brings to life the tortured soul whose awkward behaviour is based on his tragic past. The rest of the cast also perform competently. ‘Manchester by Sea’ is a great movie with a haunting and unforgettable performance by Casey Affleck. Must See.

Arrival (2016) [IMDB: 8.1 , Rotten Tomatoes: 94%, My Rating: 6.0]

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Trailer

‘Arrival’ has been generally well received but I am in the minority. (Spoilers ahead) It is a very pretentious movie where a linguist is called on to interact with aliens who have made contact with earth. The unfortunate part is that this is just a suitable prop for telling a story which has nothing to do with aliens. It is a manipulation of the intelligence of the audience with word plays on the concept of palindromes and another idea of the movie itself being a palindrome. Amy Adams plays a human character who for the sake of keeping up appearances to suit the screenplay of the movie does not believe in the notion of aging. So she looks the same at every age bracket she plays. Some cheap ideas to cement her credentials include the Sanskrit word for war and some other shenanigans of the director to suit the situation. Arrival is low level science, cheap propaganda and dimwitted screenplay disguised as high brow thriller.

Sing Street (2016) [IMDB: 8.0 , Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, My Rating: 8.0]

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Trailer

‘Sing Street’ is the most underrated movie of the year. It is also the feel-good movie of the year. A young boy in Dublin in 1985 falls in love with a girl at first sight. He makes the audacious move of inviting her to be in his band’s music video. She says yes. The problem is: he has to now form a band which he said he had. Filled with terrific music and authentic characters, ‘Sing Street’ delivers the kind of roller-coaster ride which keeps you engaged. The music videos that are shot are epic in nature. With some generous doses of humour and smartly crafted dialogues, the movie is also a toast to a time in history and the uninhibited freedom of adolescence. Highly recommended.

Southside With You (2016) [IMDB: 6.5 , Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, My Rating: 6.5]

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Trailer

Based on the first date of Barack and Michelle Obama, this movie is an easy watch. Similar in style to ‘Before Sunrise’, the story takes us to the first few hours the couple spent together walking the streets and visiting exhibitions. The dialogues are casual and the attempt is clearly to set a leisurely pace and make it look as informal as possible. The best part is the casting with actors who bring genuineness to the characters. Recommended.

The Queen of Katwe (2016) [IMDB:7.3 , Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, My Rating: 7.5]

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Trailer

A true story of a chess champion from Uganda who creates history. ‘Queen of Katwe’ has its flaws but it has a deeply humane story at its heart which enthralls and captures the attention of the viewer. It does not stereotype the Africans in the movie. The everyday struggles of life in an impoverished neighbourhood and subsequent highs of international recognition are captured without exploiting or glorifying either of the them. There are no villains in the  movie. It is about normal people doing extraordinary things and (at the risk of sounding cliched ) the triumph of human spirit. Recommended.

Jolly LLB 2 (2017) [ IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 74%, My Rating: 7.5]

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Trailer

The sequel to the award winning original is better made, has better production values and has much better actors in Annu Kapoor and Akshay Kumar. The plot is very engaging and at some points convenient. Akshay Kumar plays a lawyer who is as principled as Silvio Berlusconi. The hilarious introduction scene has him helping students rig  exams. The first half progresses well with the character having a change of heart. The second half is focused on the courtroom proceedings which are the best part of the movie with Saurabh Shukla and Annu Kapoor squaring off. There are many missing links in the story in the second half but they may be set aside as allowances for story telling. I personally liked the plot of the original more but this sequel holds on its own and delivers another success for Akshay Kumar. It is curious to note that every major hit of the actor in recent times has him play the ordinary man whereas other stars are scrambling to play larger than life characters.

Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru (2016) [ IMDB” 9.0, Rotten Tomatoes: Not yet rated, My rating: 7.0]

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Trailer

The movie which has 16 characters and relates to events over 16 hours is a decent thriller from a debutante director. The infirmities in direction are easy to see in the initial part of the movie. For a regular movie watcher, it is not difficult to see where the story is proceeding. Some of the scenes are predictable. The movie rises above the average fare by some inventive film making which relies on different versions of the story. At the same time, the compulsion on the part of the director to make it like a jigsaw puzzle in which all the pieces fall in place at the end is a distraction. Some ambiguity would have helped. The novelty about the movie is that when the same story is said by two different people there is a role reversal between the hero and the villain.

Documentary of the Week

I am Bolt (2016) [IMDB: 7.0 , Rotten Tomatoes: 83%, My Rating: 6.5]

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Trailer

Usain Bolt on what makes him normal. Other great athletes on what makes him special. The life and times of the fastest man in human history.

Eagerly waiting for: The Academy Awards

Did you know: There is something called the the Black List to determine the best screenplays for which there are no takers yet. Screenplays which figure prominently on the list have then been picked up and made into movies. Some of the films that saw the light of the day after featuring in the Black List are  Argo, American Hustle, Juno, The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, Spotlight and The Revenant. For more on this visit https://blcklst.com/ .

 

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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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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 ]

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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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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 ]

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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 ]

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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 ]

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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)

Week 32

Movies: Non-English

The Cranes are Flying (Russia, 1957) [ IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%]

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Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGsXmwPj0TA

This Russian classic is set during the Second World War. A young girl is forced to marry someone she doesn’t love when her lover is away in the battlefield. The most outstanding feature of the movie is the universally acclaimed cinematography. Some of the scenes have been shot so magnificently that they can be used to teach cinematography. Unlike many contemporary movies where beautiful images are confused for good cinematography, here the camera moves to create the right mood for the story. The story is not exceptional but holds your attention even after half a century. In addition to this some competent acting also helped the movie clinch the Palme D’or at Cannes. Must see if you want to know anything about Russian cinema.

The Wind Will Carry Us (Iran, 1999) [ IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 96%]

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Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsS3sXwwwNo

An engineer moves into a rural community and it changes his outlook towards life and people. This Iranian tour de force is a reminder that Iran always punches above its weight in the world of cinema with a handful of exceptionally talented filmmakers. The film is a bit slow but like the Turkish film ‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’ reviewed a few weeks ago, it is not the story that matters but the setting. The landscapes are haunting and there is a wild beauty about them. For folks from the cities it is a reminder that time stands still in many places and in those places people take life as it comes.

English Retrospective

The Constant Gardener (2005) [ IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 84%]

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Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYXYzzng3Fo

A man tries to find out the reason for his wife’s murder and discovers more than what he had bargained for, in this film set in Africa. Ralph Fiennes brings his trademark intensity to his role as a man harrowed by guilt and searching for answers; in equal measure. The showstopper though, is the performance by Rachel Weisz who should be doing more of these kind of roles. She has a magnetic presence and  almost carries the whole film on her shoulders. Watch this deadly concoction of politics, espionage and corporate greed.

Trainspotting (1996) [ IMDB: 8.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%]

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Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2GKVtWsXKY

One of my friends once told me that the scenes of drug abuse in ‘Trainspotting’ could only be shot by someone who has experienced it himself. I don’t know whether Danny Boyle has ‘experience’ in this category but in the process he made arguably his finest movie in ‘Trainspotting’. The protagonist and his friends are habitual drug abusers in this story set in Scotland. He wants to get out of it all and make a decent living. Ewan McGregor, a regular with Danny Boyle, is in top form and his accent and and acting are pitch perfect.It is a story about friendship and group behaviour. For all its smugness and style, the movie is a psychological study of how certain characters behave under special circumstances. Must watch.

Big Fish (2003) [IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 90%]

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Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3YVTgTl-F0

I would love to see a movie made by Tim Burton which has a story fully set in the real world. ‘Big Fish’ suffers from Burton’s tendency to go overboard when simplicity could have helped his cause. The film’s story has a man trying to recollect his father’s life through a series of anecdotes. The colourful man that his father was, there are too many things that don’t fit in the puzzle. The movie is quite good but is not helped by some uninspired acting. Like most of Burton’s movies, it leaves a feeling of having missed the woods for the trees.

Movies I Saw This Week

42 (2013) [ IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 86%]

42

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9RHqdZDCF0

This film is based on the life of the first ever African-American Major League Baseball player Jackie Robinson. I did not know about this true legend earlier. He was an icon of the civil rights movement and an inspiration for many. His on field behaviour was impeccable. His off field life was exceptional. The movie may not have done justice to him because it would be so difficult to capture the life of such an extraordinary man in a single film. Other wise it is a very good film to watch and one of the better ones to have come out in 2013. The deep divides in the US society during his period are exposed and it is on watching such movies that we realize how far we have come from those days of inequality. I literally had tears by the time the end credits started rolling. The movies ticks every cliche for a sports movie but then inspiration is a cliche I love.

Prisoners (2013) [ IMDB:8.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 88%]

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Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpXfcTF6iVk

I have only two complaints against ‘Prisoners’. One, that it is painfully slow. Second, that no matter what, everyone should be presumed innocent until proven guilty and this dictum does not justify some horrible torture scenes in the movie. These apart, the movie is one of the best to have come out in 2013. The most remarkable thing is the high quality performances put in by every single person on screen. Hugh Jackman offers a new side to his acting as the charged up American who sings the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ in the shower. Maria Bello as his wife is outstanding. I wonder how she acts with such composure when they say ‘action’. Paul Dano is an exceptional talent and his choice of movies shows that he has the right priorities. Overall, an engrossing film to watch.

Ramleela (India,2013) [ IMDB: 6.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 62%]

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Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StphRCLkx6Q

Imagine Sanjay Leela Bhansali in the black and white era. What would he be telling? Nothing, because without colour his movies mean nothing. After a string of flops he returns to Gujarat which had earlier saved him with ‘Hum Dil de Chuke Sanam’. He even dons the hat of the music director for RamLeela. I suggest that the next time he leave it to someone who knows the trade. Since finding new stories is tough for Indian film makers, Bhansali also relies on ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Now no one call that a bad story. Bhansali sets it in Gujarat and it is easily understandable that the movie is shot in a set than in Gujarat. The story is set in a village where people shoot at children for the fun of it. Seriously, not funny. The major selling point of the movie is that the hero bares his torso. Maybe the women like it because I thought that Deepika Padukone looked stunning. The end is a disgrace to Shakespeare. (Spoilers ahead) Lovers kissing with guns pointed at each other? Are you kidding? Put them aside. Finish the kiss and then shoot each other. Take your own time. Shakespeare must have turned in his grave.

Documentary Pick of the Week

The Island President (2011) [ IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes:98%]

island pres

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

Mohammad ‘anni’ Nasheed came to power in Maldives in its first open election is 2008 dethroning Gayoom who ruled for 30 years prior to that. He recognized that the very existence of his nation would be in peril if measures to control global warming were not taken. The documentary captures his efforts in that direction. The unrestrained access that the filmmakers got gives a peek into the behind the scenes deliberations at government level. The setting is Maldives. So the images are beautiful. Too bad that Mr. Nasheed lost the reelection bid in 2013.

Eagerly Waiting for:‘Frozen’ because animation needs to wake up from the hibernation mode.

Did you know: The Golden Globes are awarded by the 93 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.