Edition 95

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Birds of Passage (Colombia, 2019) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 95%, My Rating: 8.0]

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An instant classic depicting the origin and evolution of the drug trade in tribal communities in Colombia, this movie focuses on the slow but sure impact of the drug trade and the new found wealth. People who get corrupted by money lose their marbles as they straddle the worlds of crime and custom. The tribal rituals to honour the forefathers become a show of strength. Honour and stubbornness become a potent mix, especially when illegal money is added to it. Great cinematography and a strong screenplay add to the quality on show. Highly recommended.

Movies I Saw This Week

Arctic (2019) [IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, My Rating: 7.0]

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‘Arctic’ at its core is a simple and at times cliched survival tale of a man who must find a way out of a plane crash in the Arctic. What will keep you engrossed is the acting and the surprises the director is able to pull off every time the viewer tries to second guess the flow of events. The bleak landscape and the impotence of man facing the wrath of nature add to the bleary feel of the movie. Recommended if you like survival tales.

Private Life (2018) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%, My Rating: 7.5]

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I have not seen any recent movie which mimics life with such honesty without falling into the trap of predictability. ‘Private Life’ is a sincere, funny, poignant and resplendent piece of film making. A middle aged couple desperate for a child try all that is legally possible to attain their goals. The roller-coaster ride that they take is devastatingly close to real life with characters the viewer can identify with. You would not want to miss it.

Stan & Ollie (2018) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, My Rating: 7.5]

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I remember Laurel and Hardy as belonging to a different time and space. I have read comic books with them as protagonists and after a certain age the comedy duo just disappeared from my mind. The final years of the duo are brought to the big screen in this warm and spirited comedy. Even the biggest stars fade and some of them cling on to the vestiges of fame. Laurel and Hardy take a last lap of honour and resolve their differences in this sweet little movie. The best comic line though belongs to Hardy’s wife when she speaks about Laurel’s wife. Recommended.

Fighting with My Family (2019) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, My Rating: 7.5]

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This is one of the movies where the film is better than the real person it is based on. In fact, even as a standalone feature without any references to real life characters, this film is a thoroughly enjoyable watch with some truly heartwarming scenes and knockout dialogues. A British girl from a family for whom wrestling in not just a pastime harbours ambitions of hitting the jackpot with WWE. No spoilers here. She fulfills her dream. The ride to the dream is the fun here. Watch it.

Booksmart (2019) [IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%, My Rating: 8.0]

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When you think some of the genres are as good as dead, there comes a movie which rewrites the rules of the game. ‘Booksmart’ is the reinvention of the high school coming-of-age story which is as fresh as the dew drops in the morning. Two girls decide to do in a night what they missed in all the years of high-school. They accomplish the mission with palpable energy and infectious humour. With some rip-roaring scenes and outrageous comedy (I’ll never forget the ‘Malala rule’), ‘Booksmart’ is a fine way to spend your time.

Hotel Mumbai (2019) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 85%, My Rating: 7.0]

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Do not watch this movie if you cannot stomach graphic violence. You have been warned. If you are the battle hardened type, this movie has rich rewards. A start to end thriller with gut wrenching scenes and edge of the seat moments, ‘Hotel Mumbai’ is a recreation of the terrorist attack on the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai renowned for its excellent customer care of the rich and famous. Some of the staff take this care to the extreme which can be also interpreted as being foolhardy when the more reasonable option is to just escape from the slaughter scene. There is also the typical American hero who acts as if nothing will happen to him as he probably thinks that the bullets will discriminate. Still, a story that must be told because what transpired needs to be known and etched in memory.

Us (2019) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%, My Rating: 5.5]

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For me, ‘Us’ was a monumental letdown. It is a film that does not scare and is very much predictable which makes it a weak candidate in the horror-thriller genre. The critics and fanboys can search for all the subtext and symbolism but at its core ‘Us’ is a poorly written movie about doppelgangers. There are no metaphors here. There are loopholes and more of them than you would want even in a romantic comedy. Some of the events have no explanation whatsoever. ‘Get Out’ was no masterpiece but was at least watchable. ‘Us’ is a train wreck that you get to make when your debut movie grosses 100 million at the box office.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019) [IMDB: 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 60%, My Rating: 6.0]

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The title of the movie reminds me of certain people I know. Jokes aside, Ted Bundy was the outlier among serial killers. He was also a charmer. The movie tells us how those who surrounded him thought about him. He was able to pull the wool over the eyes of many including female admirers who believed in his lies till the very end. My issue with the movie is that it fails till the climax to show the evil incarnate that Bundy was. For a more nuanced take on a serial killer, try ‘My Friend Dahmer’.

Documentary of the Week

At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal (2019) [IMDB: 8.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%, My Rating: 8.5]

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It is only in the US documentaries that people come out to speak to documentary crew on the abuse they received. This makes for powerful documentaries. ‘At the Heart of Gold’ is one such documentary. Must watch.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Yesterday’ by Danny Boyle

Did you know: Jordan Peele was so insulted when Sony offered him the role of Poop in The Emoji Movie (2017) that he retired from acting to focus entirely on being a screenwriter and film director.

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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]

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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]

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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.