Edition 86

The Non-English Movie of The Week

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

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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‘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 60

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Leviathan (Russia, 2014) [IMDb:8.0, Rotten tomatoes: 99%, My Rating: 9/10]

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Of the few hundred movies that I have seen in 2014, ‘Leviathan’ is the best. It is also the most depressing. It is unsparingly bleak, brutally honest and hauntingly beautiful.

A man decides to stand up against the might of the Russian State, in a coastal town where generations of his family have lived. His mortal enemy is the mayor of the town and when he summons his lawyer friend from Moscow to fight his case, he sets in motion a chain of events that spiral out of control. The vast expanse of the remote Russian terrain and the suitably frugal government offices conspire to cover up the opulence and decadence at the heart of the society. It would be a surprise if ‘Leviathan’ does not take the Oscar for the foreign language movie.

Movies I Saw This Week

Whiplash (2014) [ IMDB: 8.7, Rotten Tomatoes:96%, My rating:7.5]

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‘Whiplash’ has too many twists and turns. It could have been an ideal candidate for a script tying itself in knots but ‘Whiplash’ redeems itself by untying all the knots (or shall we say notes?) without making it feel like a Houdini escape. For the most part you won’t notice that such a short story is basically held together by some praiseworthy performances. In the case of J.K Simmons, it is also an Oscar worthy performance. In fact, if there is one category on which I am willing to put my money now, it is the Best Supporting Actor, for J.K. Simmons.

I was reminded of some of the teachers whom I had the misfortune of meeting and who confused rigor with inhumanity. ‘Whiplash’ is about a drummer who overcomes the hurdles placed by such a teacher. All this is told in a very engaging way and this has now helped ‘Whiplash’ to become the dark horse in the ‘Best Screenplay ‘ category at the Oscars.

Selma (2014) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%, My Rating: 7.5]

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Based on an important chapter in the US Civil Rights Movement led by Nobel laureate Martin Luther King, ‘Selma’ tells a topical tale. Unfortunately, it was snubbed in categories like direction, acting and screenplay at the Oscars. It also revealed some interesting statistics: 94% of Oscar voters are white and 77% are white men with an average age of 63. Even Martin Luther King would have struggled to get a nod from such a group. The director Ava DuVernay has a double handicap. She is a woman and she is African American.

Coming to the movie, the creators of the movie were not allowed to use the actual speeches used by Dr.King. Still, the scenes are quite rousing and performed with anguish and passion. It is on watching such movies that one gets to know of Dr.King being whacked by every Tom, Dick and Harry who disagreed with him. As a movie, ‘Selma’ may not be a classic but it is  great chronicle of one of the struggles that shaped history. Highly recommended.

Cake (2014) [IMDB: 6.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 47%. My Rating: 5.5]

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There was a lot of heartburn when Jennifer Aniston was snubbed by the Academy in spite of concerted lobbying for a ‘Best Actress’ nomination. After watching ‘Cake’, I was wondering what all that hoopla was about. Clearly a movie made with the sole intention of fetching Aniston an Oscar, ‘Cake’ leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Aniston plays  a character suffering from chronic pain (presumably) after a personal tragedy. Aniston went the extra length of wearing as little make up as possible for this movie. All she ends up delivering is an insipid performance. Now that Aniston got her ‘Cake’, she also got to learn that she cannot have the cake and eat it too.

Pride (2014) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, My Rating: 7.0]

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Based on a true story, ‘Pride’ is about the LGBT community and the miners who became bedfellows during Thatcher era miner’s strike in Britain. Set in Wales, the movie has a pleasing pace and gathers momentum as it progresses. The dialogues are fresh the creators have tried their best to keep the historical accuracy of events. A lively background also lifts the film from being pedestrian. It is a movie which is not bad but it would also be an exaggeration to call it a very good film.

Big Eyes (2014) [IMDB: 7.0, Rotten Tomatoes:71%, My Rating: 5.5]

Big-Eyes

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There was a Tim Burton who made thoroughly enjoyable movies like ‘Edward Scissorhands’. There is a Tim Burton who makes soulless movies like ‘Big Eyes’. Just like his favorite Johnny Depp, he also making uninspired movies. This one has Amy Adams essaying the role of Margaret Keane whose paintings of children with big eyes were a rage a few decades ago.  The trouble was that her husband fraudulently took all the acclaim and the millions generated from the sales of her paintings. It is about how the painter reclaimed what was rightfully hers. The whole movie looks like a stale 80s documentary where everything seems so artificial and simplistic. It is a story without any memorable moments. At some point in the movie, you wish that the agony had been shorter. Wish the editor of the movie had scissorhands.

Wild (2014) [IMDb: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 90%, My rating: 4]

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This movie’s only purpose is to somehow land Reese Witherspoon another Oscar. If you have too much money and time, and your choice is between watching ‘Wild’ and paying somebody to kick you, do the latter. A woman goes on a wild trek to tide over a personal tragedy . That’s it. She backpacks and just walks. Reese Witherspoon wants an Oscar for acting in this movie. Many critics concur. I think they should be asked to go for a walk.

 

I (2015) [IMDB: 8.4, Rotten tomatoes: 55%, my Rating: 3.0]

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From my childhood I have enjoyed most of the movies from Shankar even when they had the same story of a man’s struggle against corruption. Muthalvan, Gentleman, Indian and Anniyan were essentially the same tale told in different ways. In ‘I’, corruption gives way to romance. The hero wants to take revenge on those who sabotaged his love and life. The director throws logic out of the window, digs a grave and buries science, and relies on low brow humor to hold together a film disintegrating like the body of the protagonist. Even the normally reliable AR Rahman is not able to give a hummable tune. The dictum followed by the director is to disfigure characters and make them look as repelling as his makeup man possibly could.  While Shankar created spectacles with a much lower budget in his earlier films, his revenge instrument in this big budget movie is a syringe. If you ever have to explain to a foreigner what this movie is about, tell him/her that it is the Indian version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’.

Documentary of the Week

Citizenfour (2014) [IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%, My rating: 9/10]

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Edward Snowden. The documentary of the year. Must watch.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’

Did you know: Jason Schwartzman, Sofia Coppola and Nicolas Cage are cousins.

 

 

 

Edition 59

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Winter Sleep (Turkey, 2014) [IMDB: 8.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 86%, My Raing:7/10]

Winter Sleep

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Winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival in 2104, this is another masterwork from perennial Cannes favourite Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Set in the interiors of Turkey where everyone knows everyone, this movie tells the tale of a retired actor whiling away his time, doing pretty much nothing. He has a hotel to manage and he also writes articles on mundane issues. His running feuds with his wife and his divorced sister pale into insignificance when he has to address issues created by his tenants. The film captures the breathtaking locales and the cultural hues of Turkey. The performances are competent and the film has its moments but those moments are few and far between. This, is especially testing when you have to muster the patience to sit through 196 minutes of the movie. If it had chopped off 100 minutes from the running time, the movie would have looked much better. For its unjustifiable duration, ‘Winter Sleep’ can induce sleep even in the summer.

Movies I Saw This Week

Edge of Tomorrow (2014) [IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes:90%, My Rating: 7.5/10]

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This movie was a commercial flop and largely overlooked by the audiences in spite of the critical acclaim it received. Maybe some movies are not lucky enough at the box office because there is enough to suggest that this movie is one of the best action films of 2014. Set in the future where one man (Tom Cruise, who else?) is humanity’s last hope to fight an alien invasion, this movie brings in a cocktail of time travel, hi-tech combat and lofty ideals. Although Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt give mediocre performances when they could have easily put their histrionic qualities to test, the movie more than holds on its own. With enough twists and turns, it keeps you engaged without getting boring, inviting you to second guess the various permutations and combinations that are possible. Recommended.

The Imitation Game (2014) [IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 90%, My Rating: 7.5/10]

Imitation Game

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Based on the life of legendary Alan Turing and his seminal contributions to the Allies’ efforts in breaking the German code during the Second World War, ‘The Imitation Game’ tries to delve into the life of a genius tormented by his sexuality. The movie has been tirelessly promoted in the build up to the Oscars but it is a  good movie but not good enough. Benedict Cumberbatch gives all he can to bring Turing to life on screen and he is not let down by an ensemble cast, with another notable performance from Keira Knightley. The movie has a riveting background score and is ably directed. The moral dilemmas of Mr. Turing and his inability to make sound judgement when he is enjoined to not speak about a spy, are all captured well. The asperity of Mr.Turing did not endear him to many but that wouldn’t be the main roadblock for Cumberbatch to achieve Oscar glory. Unfortunately for him, there are better performances this year.

Unbroken (2014) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 49%, My Rating: 6.5/10]

Unbroken

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The moot point while watching ‘Unbroken’ is whether a better director could have done a better job with the source material on hand. Louis Zamperini, on whom the story is based, was a champion runner, decorated war hero and an inspirational speaker. His life had countless moments which would have looked great on screen but in director Angelina Jolie’s hands those moments look forced and tame. ‘Unbroken’ tells the story of Zamperini’s unlikey rise from humble origins, his remarkable success in athletics and the relentless torture that he had to undergo in a Japanese POW camp during the Second World War. Jack O’Connell gives an impressive performance in a breakout role. ‘Unbroken’ is a movie of great ambitions but lacks a soul. It is a lesson on how clichéd one can become when making a biopic and how disrespectful that can be to a legend who deserved better than this.

Birdman (2014) [IMDB: 8.6, Rotten Tomatoes;92%, My Rating: 8.0]

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I am an admirer of deirector Alexandro Gonzalez Inarritu. I have loved his works like ‘Babel’ and ‘Amores Perros’. ‘Birdman’ is a shift from his usally dark depressing themes. In fact, there is even an element of mischief in this movie, which is being categorized as a comedy. The merits of that categorization aside, the film tells the story of a thespian who is tryng his best to stay relevant. Micael Keaton delivers a heavy duty performance as the protagonist who has seen better days. Shot in 10 minute uninterrupted sequences using one camera, the movie tries to play around with cinematic formats. Another highlight is an unconventional background score which many have hailed as groundbreaking but I found to be annoying. In terms of performances, this is the best performce by an ensemble cast in 2014. Michael Keaton will go head to head with Eddie Redmayne for this year’s Best Actor Oscar. The movie is also a strong contender in the film, director, cinematography and screenplay categories. The major disadvantage that the movie faces is that it is not a mass entertainer like ‘Boyhood’. This could prove to be its Achilles heel.

American Sniper (2014) [IMDB:7.6, Rotten Tomatoes:74%, My rating:7/10]

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There is no movie dividing the critics and the audiences like this one. Seen by some as an unapologetic look at the American side of the story in the Iraq war and by another equally vociferous section as the story of a true American hero, this movie tells the story of the most successful sniper in the history of America who finally died from the gunshot wounds he received from ‘friendly fire’ when he was  in USA. Judged purely on quality, the movies is a poor cousin of ‘The Hurt Locker’. There are many action sequences in the movie but none of them are good enough to capture your full attention. Many such scenes get repetitive. If the intention was to create a contrast between the life in a war zone and life at home, then the movie resoundingly fails to do so. The viewer will not be able to feel any compassion for the character on screen who is a monstrous sniper. Amercans have every right to (in fact, they should) honour a brave soldier who put his life in danger to serve his country. War movies are not supposed to be an examination of what the enemy feels about getting killed. Even if the hero here was convicted of slander in real life, it does not take away his service to the nation. Inspite of this, the movie is a very tedious one to watch and does not deserve the high praise it is getting. It also does not deserve the scorn that seems specially reserved for it. American sniper, in the end, is a an average movie about a great sniper directed by a once great director.

The Good Lie (2014) [IMDB: 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 87%, My Rating: 8/10]

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After a mish mash of snipers, tortured geniuses, former superheroes and real life superheroes, comes the time to review a movie which is undoubtedly the feel good movie of the year. ‘The Good Lie’ is not a movie that will move mountains or has a scale or budget that will put it in the top league but for the sheer quality that it produces from its limited budget, it is one of the must see movies of 2014. The story traces the lives of orphaned Sudanese children trying to escape civil war in their country and their journey to USA. Effortlessly funny and charming, this movie has its heart in the right place. With enough doses of humour without becoming a comedy movie, the film is about real people in the real world. Must watch.

Documentary of the Week

Ivory Tower (2014) [IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 83%, My rating: 6.5/10]

Ivory Tower

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A look at the American college system. Very interesting to watch but misses some salient points.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Timbuktu’. Should a good one. Also, I have been close to Timbuktu but never been there.

Did you know: Courtesy: http://www.rogerebert.com Roger Ebert’s review of M Night Shyamalan’s ‘The Village’ quoted below. “Eventually the secret of Those, etc., is revealed. To call it an anticlimax would be an insult not only to climaxes but to prefixes. It’s a crummy secret, about one step up the ladder of narrative originality from It Was All a Dream. It’s so witless, in fact, that when we do discover the secret, we want to rewind the film so we don’t know the secret anymore.

And then keep on rewinding, and rewinding, until we’re back at the beginning, and can get up from our seats and walk backward out of the theater and go down the up escalator and watch the money spring from the cash register into our pockets.”