Edition 98

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Parasite (South Korea, 2019) [IMDB: 8.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 99%, My Rating: 8.5]

‘Parasite’, the winner of Palme d’Or at Cannes, is an instant classic. It is one of the most riveting films I have seen in recent times. Every scene and dialogue of this thriller hits the bulls-eye. Thought the complex interplay of societal tensions and personal aspirations are at the centre of the film, the script holds up to scrutiny even when these external dimensions are not considered. A family at the lower rungs of the society gets a chance to be the caretakers in an affluent household. As the plot gets more sinister and breathtaking, a maelstrom is unleashed on a stable household. The director is at the peak of his powers and the screenplay is a work of genius in this unmissable movie of the year.

Movies I Saw This Week

Ford v Ferrari [Le Mans ’66] (2019) [IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, My Rating: 7.5]

The good thing about this movie and perhaps what makes it different from the run of the mill race movies is the care given to fully realize the emotional aspect of the characters on screen. The film tells the time when a snubbed Ford made it a personal crusade to bring down the hegemony of Ferrari at Le Mans. Even for a film with an expected climax, the movie leaves a bittersweet feeling at the end. For a running length of 152 minutes, the goings on screen captivate the viewer for most of the time. This movie is a salute to the American spirit of innovation and it does so without sounding jingoistic. I am sure American parents will be lining up to show their kids this smooth and uncluttered piece of film-making.

Judy (2019) (2019) [IMDB: 7.2., Rotten Tomatoes: 83%, My Rating: 7.0]

Judy Garland was a legend in her times. The difficult life that led to her stardom and her feeling of being inadequate made a mess of her life. Zellweger has a roll playing this flawed diva in her difficult final years. Zellweger’s performance is nuanced and she is able to draw the sympathy of the audience. She even sings the songs herself. Good enough to get an Oscar nomination for sure. The movie is all about Judy: her failings, her small victories, her poor decision making, her insomnia, her bravo performances, her terrible performances. Watch it for Judy Garland.

Extra Ordinary (2019) [IMDB: 6.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%, My Rating: 7.5]

This is probably the most fun ghost movie I have ever seen. Full of tongue -in-cheek references to the genre and made with a subversive spirit, ‘Extra Ordinary’ is a movie you would not want to miss. An Irish driving school inspector with powers to tackle spirits is brought to deal with a particularly interesting case involving absurd rituals, a one hit wonder singer and a whole lot of hangers-on. This parody of a movie uses and discards cliches when it suits the script. Plot devices like virgins required for sacrifice in satanic rituals are used to the hilt to bring out the absurdity of the concepts and get a few good laughs.

The Art of Self-Defense (2019) [IMDB: 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 84%, My Rating: 7.0]

A loner with no social connections is drawn to the world of Karate after a life threatening burglary attempt. As he descends more and more into the local Karate universe, he discovers the twisted secrets and dealings of what is essentially a cult. He also imagines himself to be somebody else. His newfound confidence and sense of belonging are questioned as the days progress. This is a fairly engaging movie with a convenient plot twist. Undoubtedly a good film to watch, the movie does leave a feeling that things could have been done better.

Harpoon (2019) [IMDB: 6.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, My Rating: 7.5]

One of the independent movies of 2019 that is definitely a winner in every sense. For a movie with a cast of three marooned in a yacht, the possibilities are limited due to the space available. The director and writer are able to exploit every angle possible with enough twists and turns to keep the viewer engaged. The acting, background score and directing combine to make this a movie with good returns for a fan of thrillers. Highly recommended.

Good Boys (2019) [IMDB: 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 79%, My Rating: 6.5]

There is nothing great to see here but lot of good material makes it a thoroughly entertaining venture. There is hardly a plot and it is all about friendship with dollops of reality thrown in. The movie is unpretentious and has some witty scenes and dialogues. It brings the naivety of adolescence and the optimism of childhood together in the life of three carefree boys. The film delivers on what it promises in the trailer. Do not watch with high expectations and you will come out smiling.

Luce (2019) [IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, My Rating: 6.5]

‘Luce’ is a complicated movie. The complication is largely due to the fact that the protagonist is a former child soldier rescued from Eritrea and raised by two suburban white parents. If this background is taken out of the conversation, then it is a movie about a self-centred teenager plotting his success and wiping out challenges or challengers to his plans in life. The provocative film has a slew of conflicted characters, none more than the white mother of Luce played by Naomi Watts whose unwavering loyalty to him in the face of evidence undermining him is shown as desperation to hold on to her belief that her life has not been wasted raising a deviant. There is much to ponder in ‘Luce’ but there are some rough edges that could have been smoothed out to present a more satisfying narrative.

The Laundromat (2019) [IMDB: 6.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 42%, My Rating: 6.0]

Based on the Panama papers scandal, this movie is a narrative mess. Steven Soderbergh is an acclaimed director whose repertoire is rich with some memorable movies. ‘The Laundromat’ is not one of them. Meryl Streep tries to hold the story together but even she is conveniently forgotten for large parts of the movie. Too many loose ends are left unattended. Some interesting threads like the events in Panama or the Chinese episode are amusing but do not add to a coherent narrative.

Documentary of the Week

Cold Case Hammarskjöld (2019) [IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 82%, My Rating: 7.5]

Mads Brugger made the real world parody ‘The Ambassador’. In this new documentary he tries to uncover the conspiracy that led to the death of UN Secretary General Hammarskjold. He discovers more than what he bargained for. Highly recommended.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Knives Out’

Did you know: Christian Bale lost 70 pounds to play his role in ‘Ford vs Ferrari’, much of which was the weight he gained for ‘Vice (2018)’.

Edition 85

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Loveless (Russia, 2017) [IMDB:7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 92% , My Rating: 7.5]

Trailer

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, this movie tells the story of a child caught in the crossfire of an ugly divorce. As the child goes missing, the parents launch a search which intensifies as the story progresses. The director whose earlier works include ‘Leviathan’, goes for a more nuanced storytelling with subtle hints on the state of the Russian society. Unlike ‘Leviathan’ which spared no punches, ‘Loveless’ is often puzzling and enigmatic. The suspense is intact till the end and the open-ended climax leaves much space for speculation and contemplation. The pace of the movie dips in the latter half when the proceedings turn plain boring but the quest for the missing boy keeps the audience hooked. ‘Loveless’ is sure to get an Oscar nomination but not good enough to win.

Movies I Saw This Week

I, Tonya (2017) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, My Rating: 7.0]

Trailer

Margot Robbie stars as real life figure skater Tonya Harding whose chequered career’s low point was a botched up and bizarre kidnapping saga of her opponent. Robbie, who used to play ice-hockey earlier, brings the expertise to give a creditable performance in scenes where she is in the ice rink. There is nothing compelling about the screenplay and it hurtles towards an inevitable end. Margot Robbie plays her much abused character with conviction but the only Oscar that this movie will win will rightfully belong to the controlling mother of Tonya played with relish by Allison Janney.

The Disaster Artist (2017) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 92% , My Rating: 7.0]

Trailer

For those who have not had the misfortune of watching a gutter movie called the ‘The Room‘ released in 2003, ‘The Disaster Artist’ is based on the events surrounding the making of that movie. ‘The Room’ had a second life when it gained popularity with some viewers rating it as the “best worst movie” ever made (which is a very generous assessment). The legend behind the movie was one Tommy Wiseau who wrote, produced, distributed, directed and acted in the original. James Franco, another goofball from Hollywood, has a field day as he tries to play Tommy Wiseau in a rather compassionate look at the original. Whether such a tribute to ‘The Room’ is warranted is certainly questionable. In fact, as a movie ‘The Disaster Artist’ fails to stand on its feet once it is robbed of the context. For most of the funny scenes to work, it is important to have viewed the original. Whether it is worth sitting through the mind numbing experience of watching ‘The Room’ so that ‘The Disaster Artist’ can be appreciated, is a question left to the discerning viewer. James Franco is sure to sweep awards which have a category for a comical performance but when it comes to the real deal (ie, the Oscars), he will be educated on good acting by the performances of veterans like Gary Oldman and Daniel Day-Lewis.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) [IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 93% , My Rating: 8.5]

Trailer

Frances McDormand gives her best performance after ‘Fargo’ in a masterpiece scripted and directed by Martin McDonagh. The movie begins with a mother’s pointed questions about the rape and murder of her daughter. The difference being that she goes for the audacious by putting those questions on three billboards. As a viewer, it may be difficult to foresee what unfolds in the narrative from there on. What surely does happen is by far the best Hollywood movie of 2017. The movie proceeds with the ease of knife sliding through butter. Frances McDormand, in what will be an Oscar winning performance, embodies the spirit of the character and plays it with the grit and steely determination making it one of the strongest woman protagonists in cinema. What elevates the screenplay is that all the cast members bring their A game to the show. Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell add gravitas to their roles as the ailing police chief and a racist officer respectively. The humour in this tense drama is first rate and never out  of place. This movie is easily among the best to have made it to the cinemas in 2017.

Lady Bird (2017) [IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 99% , My Rating: 7.5]

Trailer

Greta Gerwig turns director in a bittersweet coming of age movie set in Sacramento. Incidentally, Greta Gerwig is from Sacramento. Saoirse Ronan lives up to the promise she had shown in ‘Brooklyn’ as she plays the role of a small town high school student trying to find her bearings and love over the course of a few months. There are tons of movies with similar themes but what makes ‘Lady Bird’ charming is the freshness of the writing and the little twists and turns which keeps the viewer interested in the events on screen. ‘Lady Bird’ may not be a classic but it has its own rightful place in the list of the best movies of the year.

The Shape of Water (2017) [IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 92% , My Rating: 8.0]

Trailer

Gullermo del Toro is a master at story telling as demonstrated multiple times previously and most memorably in ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’. This is reinforced by ‘The Shape of Water’ where he blends fantasy, music and romance into an intoxicating concoction. For the grace with which he tells an impossible story itself, he deserves the Oscar for Direction. ‘The Shape  of Water’ is a love story between a cleaner at at secret facility and a water creature. The premise is so outrageous that you may be put off by the synopsis but as you watch the movie, you may find yourself rooting for this romance. ‘The Shape of Water’ owes its mood to the music of Alexandre Desplat who looks like a shoo in for the Oscars. Pity that Hans Zimmer will not be getting his Oscar for another extraordinary score in ‘Dunkirk’. Watch ‘The Shape of Water’ if you are willing to be taken to the stars and clouds by the magic of cinema.

Call Me by Your Name (2017) [IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 96% , My Rating: 6.5]

Trailer

‘Call Me by Your Name’ is a bit of manipulative film making. It is the one of those annual LGBT themed movies with a heavy Oscar bait thrown in. For sure, it is a gorgeous looking movie shot in achingly beautiful parts of Italy. The movie is worth a watch just for the scenery. Timothee Chalamet is another reason for watching this gay romance, in which he stands out and promises much more for the future. The story is about a young boy who is wooed by the associate of his dad. Recommended if you like the category.

The Florida Project (2017) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 96% , My Rating: 8.0]

Trailer

A24 studio has the uncanny knack of picking low budget features with a solid story line which would not be green-lit by the major studios. ‘The Florida Project’ is a film that A24 can be proud of. It tells the tale of a brash child spending her summer holidays with her single mom in a motel close to Disneyland. The story is told through the eyes of the child and portrays the life of the American poor. William Defoe puts in a good shift as the manager of the motel. The movie does stray a bit from its main story on a couple of occasions but there something magical about the way the director handles the whole movie. ‘The Florida Project’ is not a great film but it is indeed a memorable one.

Darkest Hour  (2017) [IMDB: 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 85% , My Rating: 7.0]

Trailer

Winston Churchill whose career was built on his ambition to be the Prime Minister of Britain receives the honour when the soulless Nazi Germans are knocking on the gates of his country. All of his army is also facing an existential crisis as they are facing certain rout at Dunkirk. ‘Darkest Hour’ is the portrayal of Winston Churchill by Gary Oldman in the weeks following Churchill’s appointment as the wartime Prime Minister culminating in the rousing “We shall fight them….” speech. Overall, the movie is watchable but the screenplay is sometimes found lacking. The movie is a Gary Oldman show. He becomes Churchill. I would not be surprised if they mistakenly use the image of Gary Oldman for Churchill in the future. And, the Best Actor Oscar goes to Gary Oldman.

Molly’s Game (2017) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 87% , My Rating: 7.5]

Trailer

Jessica Chastain has now become the reference point for smart  and smooth talking women operatives in cinema. Following on her remarkable success in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ and ‘Miss Sloane’, she becomes the ‘Poker Princess’ Molly Bloom who was convicted of running an illegal poker operation in New York. Aaron Sorkin’s direction and screenplay follow the sleekness he had shown in his earlier screenplays. ‘Molly’s Game’ is not a thriller. It is a character study which can be viewed with mild amusement. It is predictable but engaging. The movie does leave the question of whether it is telling more than it is hiding or vice-versa. For instance, Tobey Maguire is the actor on whom the star in the movie is based. Watch it if you like predictable but fast movies.

Documentary of the Week

Cries from Syria  (2017) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 100% , My Rating: 8.0]

Trailer

The story of the beginning of the Syrian war told through citizen shot videos. Moving and disturbing.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Sicario 2: Soldado’ 

Did you know: ‘Get Out’ is the first film made by a debutant director to gross more than 100 million USD at the US box office.