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 ]

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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)

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Edition 67

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Corn Island (Georgia, 2014) [IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: Not yet rated, My Rating: 7.5]

Corn Island (2014)

Trailer:

For the first time we have a Georgian film in this blog and from what I have seen, I would love to have a look at many more movies from Georgia. ‘Corn Island’ tells the story of a man and his granddaughter who have to farm for survival. The entry of new characters- some unexpected and some uninvited- makes the story unpredictable. The high point of the movie is the cinematography and the breathtaking scenery that aids the ambiance. Some of the shots and terrain reminded me of ‘Mud (2012)’. Though the movie has a rather tedious pace, the images on screen do not make an eyesore. Overall, this one is recommended to all those who like to try something new.

Movies I Saw This Week

The Gift (2015) [ IMDB:7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, My Rating: 6/10]

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Trailer: 

Full disclosure: I slept for 15 minutes during the movie. The good part ( or from a neutral perspective, the bad part) is that I did not miss anything. This movie is a good one time watch but leaves you with the feeling that a good one hour drama was stretched to be made into a watchable movie. For a seasoned viewer, it is very easy to predict the climax of the movie which has a good performance from Rebecca Hall. Interestingly, the director-writer of the movie has also taken the role of being the provider of ‘gifts’ in the movie. The fact that he has a one note performance could be attributed to this. ‘The Gift’ is the kind of movie that you will have difficulty remembering after a few years. If at all the movie retains a place in your memory, it would be due to the dialogues in the climax scene.

Chappie (2015) [IMDB:7.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 31%, My Rating: 4.5]

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Trailer:

This Dev Patel movie is a reminder that voting in IMDB does not reflect the true merit of a movie when it comes to sci-fi flicks. The robot with emotions is a concept that Hollywood has tried multiple times; some successful like ‘Wall-E’ and some disasters like ‘Bicentennial Man’. ‘Chappie’ tries too hard to sound authentic but is let down more by human actors who fail to match even the robot when it comes to emotions. Avoid this one and hope that the next robot movie will have better things to do and better co actors.

Madame Bovary (2015) [IMDB: 6.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 43%, My Rating: 5.5]

madame_bovary

Trailer:

This movie is the latest interpretation of the classic novel and the main reason why I was interested in watching this one was the decent quality of the trailer. Some expensive movies which have been beautifully shot are a joy to watch (try ‘To The Wonder’) even when they have rather mediocre story lines. As it turns out, the producers seem to have handpicked the scenes that were put in the trailer because the movie does not deliver on any front. The performances are uninspired and the screenplay is insipid. In the final analysis it is a sheer waste of time and money: my time and the producer’s money.

Danny Collins (2015) [IMDB:7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 80%, My Rating: 7.5]

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Trailer:

There are some people who can continue to light up the screen after decades of solid performances. Al Pacino is one such thespian. Here he plays a down and out singer who lives on past glories. A letter from his past changes his life forever. Based on a true story, ‘Danny Collins’ tells a very enjoyable ( who cares if it is predictable) tale of a man on self discovery at a ripe old age. That also makes this movie Al Pacino’s best performance in over a decade. Definitely worth a watch.

 

Phantom (Hindi, 2015) [IMDB: 5.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 41%, My Rating: 5.5/10]

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Trailer: 

As the movie’s tagline says, after watching ‘Phantom’ I wished that it was true. In fact, the confidence with which the movie was unfolding made me feel that it was indeed based on true events. I even googled to find out whether the terrorist David Headley was dead. When truth struck and I was back to my senses, I realized that ‘Phantom’ was a fanciful work of imagination which does not stop at stretching the limits of imagination but also bends and breaks it. At the same time it is a decent thriller to watch, if you can forget the fact that you read newspapers. The things going for the movie are the racy pace and the limited screen time for Katrina Kaif. The things against the movie are your functioning brain and Saif Ali Khan. After all this, still a decent one time watch,

While We’re Young (2014) [IMDB: 6.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 845, My Rating: 7.0]

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Trailer:

Ben Stiller has been trying too hard to get out of the comedian tag for the last few years. Perhaps he does not realize that his acting talents are very limited and he looks best in movies like ‘Tropic Thunder’ and ‘Zoolander’. Here, Stiller plays husband to Naomi Watts (who is in her comfort zone in the role). Their lives and thoughts are deeply affected by the entry of a young couple into their lives. The phenomenon of mid-life crisis gets another look in this movie. The movie is ultimately rewarding for those who have the patience to sit through some of the plainly boring sequences.

Kunjiramayanam (Malayalam, 2015) [IMDB: 6.3, Rotten Tomatoes: Not yet rated, My Rating:6.0]

Kunjiramayanam Posters-Stills-Images-Malayalam Movie-Vineeth Sreenivasan-Dhyan Sreenivasan-Basil Joseph-Onlookers Media

Trailer: 

This debut feature film by Basil Joseph tells the story of events that happen in a small village in Kerala. An entertaining study of the lives and culture in a picturesque village in Central Kerala is told in an interesting way. The grip of the director on the subject is evident and it is truly a feast for the eyes to have rich visuals in the background. It is not for nothing that they call Kerala ‘God’s Own Country’.

Documentary of the Week

South of the Border (2009) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 69%, My Rating: 7.0]

South of the Border (2009)

Trailer:

A one sided take on the governments in South America. An introduction to the politics in Latin America.

Eagerly waiting for:Crimson Peak‘ directed by Guillermo del Toro and starring Jessica Chastain.

Did you know: ‘Skyfall’ is the first Bond flick directed by an Oscar winning director.