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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The Paper Anniversary Edition

In the last one year this blog has been published regularly every week without fail. When I started out, the idea was to quit after an year.During the last one year, the trying circumstances under which I have published the blog every week only cemented that thought but I won’t be entirely stopping with this edition. This blog will continue to be published but it will no more be a weekly. Thank you for the continued readership.

Movies: Non-English

Time of the Gypsies (Italy-Yugoslavia, 1988) [ IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%]

Time of the Gypsies

Trailer:

Five time winner at the Cannes, Emir Kusturica is a director whose oeuvre needs no introduction. His movies are remarkable for the fact that they do not try to tell unbelievable or extravagant stories. He likes to focus on ordinary people with interesting lives. He populates such stories with quirky supporting cast and shoots the films at a pace which keeps you interested in the proceedings on screen. This film is another in a glowing list that he has produced and this one takes us to the world of gypsies with their idiosyncrasies and rituals. A young man in a gypsy family blessed with telekinetic powers moves out to the big city where he gets drawn into crime. Peppered with remarkably shot sequences which are authentic, this film is a must watch for the glimpse it gives of normal people who are on the fringes of the society.

Amarcord (Italy,1973) [ IMDB:8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%]

Amar

Trailer: 

Another classic from another master. Fellini looks at the lives of people in an Italian coastal town during the Mussolini years. The magical and saccharine tale is tempered only by the liberal doses of political reality. The number of characters introduced in the film are far too many but they are vital to the story and remain a part of it even when they appear only in a single scene. The cinematography is breathtaking and it is ably assisted by the original music. A must watch bittersweet story with heavy political undertones.

Movies I Saw This Week

Dom Hemingway (2013) [ IMDB:6.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 55%]

DomHemingwayPoster

Trailer: 

Twelve years a prisoner, Dom who has been released from the penitentiary goes back to collect what he was promised for his silence during the trial. Once outside the prison, he realizes that the world has since moved on and it may be difficult to get what he believed was legitimately his. He also has an estranged daughter to deal with and has to fix his broken family and his fragile ego. Jude Law goes off the beaten track but the screenplay does not aid his cause. Not a dud but not a classic too.

Better Living Through Chemistry (2014) [ IMDB: 6.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 36%]

Better Living Through Chemistry

Trailer: 

A married and respected pharmacist loses control of his life when he meets a lonely young wife. They hit it off together with the aid of drugs. Coming at a time when a series like ‘Breaking Bad’ has made chemistry far too cool, this one also shows the vast powers that people who have access to the supply of pills can wield to amuse themselves.Unfortunately, the bubble bursts midway and then the film really goes nowhere even when it thinks it is making progress. Similar to the hallucinatory effects of some drugs, the story is a no brainer without anything substantial. I guess some of the guys dreamt up the story when they were high on something.

Diana (2013) [ IMDB: 5.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 8%]

Diana_poster

Trailer: 

Diana was an overrated,over hyped lady who gained sympathy for being the lonely rebel in an irrelevant monarchy. This disaster of a film tries to map the turbulent period in her relationship with the monarchy when it had reached a point of no return. Naomi Watts styles herself on the lady but there is nothing much she can do to improve a plastic lady whose photo op moments were her only contribution to the society. The screenplay is bereft of any value and looks like a string of tabloid gossip strung together to make an awful film. The film is not even able to match the voyeurism which mostly defines the British tabloids. The film never has an emotional connect and it is better to give it a miss unless you are not aware of some tempestuous chapters in the leading lady’s life.

Documentary Pick of the Week

Manufactured Landscapes (2006) [ IMDB:7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 84%]

Manufactured Landscapes

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ie5SJ39LsDg

Photographer Edward Burtynsky travels the world to see the effect of human activities on the environment and the beauty in the ugliness of the large industrial facilities. Thought provoking.

The : D Retrospective

No Way Out (1987) [ IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 92%]

No_Way_Out_(1987_film)_poster

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lypNWLvpb0I

The film that catapulted Kevin Costner to stardom is a labyrinthine thriller which slowly tightens the screws as it proceeds. A Naval Officer is drawn into a cover up and an investigation designed to uncover nothing. He must be part of a process investigating the death of his ex-girlfriend when he is quite sure of what might have happened to her. An edge of the seat thriller which has a predictable ending.

The Hurricane (1999) [ IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 87%]

Hurricane

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsmszHWnO3k

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was a renowned African American boxer who was wrongfully accused of murder and imprisoned. The film tells the story of  the people who help him prove his innocence. The film is cliched to some extent but features perhaps the best performance by Denzel Washington. He brings the anguish of the lead character to the screen with much success. He also looks the part as a boxer. A very good watch.

Eagerly Waiting for: ‘Fading Gigolo’ starring Woody Allen.

Did you know: In ‘Saving Private Ryan, all the main actors except Matt Damon were forced to undergo a brutal week long fitness camp for their roles as soldiers. Damon was exempt from it in order to generate genuine resentment towards him and his character.

Week 35

Movies: Non-English

Rashomon (Japan, 1950) [ IMDB: 8.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%]

rashomon1

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCZ9TguVOIA

A work of genius from Akira Kurosawa, this piece of art remains essential viewing for anyone interested in knowing anything about cinema. The story has many characters recalling the same event and the different interpretations that they give depending on who is narrating. Enough paens have been sung about the movie and any high praise is worth it. Watch it to find out why.

Even the Rain (Spain, Mexico, 2010) [ IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 88%]

Even-the-Rain-Poster

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFozF1ATuBU

A group of people filming a documentary get entangled with the problem of drinking water privatization in the region they are filming. The film is an allegory comparing the neo-liberals to the colonizers in a not so subtle manner. In the process they revive some of the heroes of yore and make a strong political statement. As usual, Gael Garcia Bernal steals the show. Worth a watch.

English Retrospective

Driving Miss Daisy (1989) [ IMDB: 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 82%]

driving

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQ3wXC5jqKE

The story of an African American chauffeur and his Jewish patron. I am not a huge fan of the film and I don’t think it deserves 4 Academy awards but the competition was mediocre. Also, the Academy likes to think that it is at the vanguard of the fight for social justice. It may also be that I may have my own prejudices on the condescending manner in which the film moves. Please watch and disagree with me.

Ordinary People (1980) [ IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%]

ordina

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZYHe8IAlto

The accidental death of the older son of an affluent family deeply strains the relationships among the bitter mother, the good-natured father, and the guilt-ridden younger son (From IMDB). Robert Redford‘s directorial debut won 4 Academy awards including ‘Best Picture’ in an upset. ‘Ordinary People’ is a good film but nowhere close to ‘Raging Bull’ over which it triumphed at the Oscar. The bigger snub was for Martin Scorsese who lost out to Robert Redford in the director category. Only people who like depressing family dramas over classy biopics would have voted for ‘Ordinary People’.

In the Heat of the Night (1967) [ IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%]

IN_THE_HEAT_OF_THE_NIGHT_DVD_HIRES[1]

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11QFgfddrec

Sidney Poitier was the first African American to win the Oscar for the ‘Best Actor’. ‘In the Heat of the Night’ is one of his finest performances. He plays a cop trying to solve a murder mystery in a town not particularly well-disposed towards black men. The thrill in the movie is as much a result of the murder investigation as it is due to the racial relations tensions involved. I often feel sad for Sidney Poitier. He is one actor who has been roundly abused on screen for his skin colour on many occasions, even when he comes across as a perfect gentleman.

Movies I Saw This Week

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013) [ IMDB: 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 92%]

alan partridge

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

For once, I agree to the blurb. It is indeed the comedy of the year. A radio jockey who has only one interest and that is self-interest, gets involved in a hostage crisis when one of his disgruntled colleagues takes over the radio station. The movie has some clever writing and many well written lines blend in with the scenes. To add to this, not one character seems to be in a normal mental state. The concoction of a self centred man, a madman and few nutcases makes this film a pleasure to watch. Highly recommended.

2 Guns (2013) [ IMDB: 6.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 71%]

2 guns

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVNe3RK2fgI

Two undercover operatives run into each other and form an unlikely partnership to save themselves from quick death. The film tries too hard to be stylish and forgets that there is only so much that style can do. It is a reminder of what Denzel Washington has become. Mediocre.

Scenic Route (2013) [ IMDB: 6.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 62%]

Scenic

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wb7Hrtwzwjs

The friendship of two friends are tested to the limit and beyond when they are stranded in the middle of nowhere. Could have been much better. Could have been much worse. In the end it settles for the ordinary. The acting is good though.

Documentary Pick of the Week

The Tillman Story (2010) [ IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%]

tillman

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ad2WOOOojyg

Pat Tillman joins the US Army when he could have easily settled for a cosy life with his million dollar contract as a football player. He gets killed in ‘friendly fire’ and the ever lying Bush administration tries to twist the story to suit its needs. Tillman’s family fights back. They are ignored, then they are ridiculed and then they win.

Eagerly Waiting for: ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ because I will see all the movies in which Tom Hanks appears even for a second.

Did you know: Launched in 2004, the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) is the oldest film festival in the Gulf region. This blog is also being published from Dubai today.