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.

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Edition 72

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Mustang (France, Turkey, 2015) [IMDB: 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes:97%, My Rating:8.0 ]

mustang-toh-exclusive-poster

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 ]

anomalisa

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 ]

THE-STANFORD-PRISON-EXPERIMENT-movie-poster2

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 ]

Sicario-Poster

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 ]

reve

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 ]

creedpostersmall

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 ]

joy

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 ]

land-mine-goes-click

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 ]

MISTRESS-AMERICA_poster

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 ]

backcountry-movie-poster-bear

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 ]

Winter-on-Fire_poster_goldposter_com_2-400x538

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)

Week 42

Movies: Non-English

Ernest & Célestine (France, 2014) [ IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%]

Ernest & Célestine

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJ1rmOYLr2U

Academy Award nominee for the Best Animation Film this year, Ernest & Celestine is one of the two foreign made movies in the category (The other one being ‘The Wind Rises’ from Japan). Is is a testament to the fact that the better animation movies are increasingly being made outside of the Hollywood studio system.These foreign movies are also made at a fraction of the budget of Hollywood ones and usually do not have the technical finesse of their big money counterparts. Still they make for engaging viewing because in the end it is all about the story and the screenplay than anything else.Ernest & Celestine scores high on that front. Continuing the French connection of love with rats (Remember ‘Ratatouille’ ?), this film shows the bonding between a rat and a bear.That too, a rat brought up on the idea that bears are evil. Definitely worth your time.

The Grandmaster ( China, 2013) [IMDB: 6.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 75%]

Grandmaster

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uC5amKLgnFU

‘The Grandmaster’ is the market entry feature for Asian films for Annapurna Studios. Annapurna Studios was founded by Megan Ellison who is the daughter of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. The year 2013 has been particularly well for the studio which is behind movies like ‘Her’, ‘American Hustle’ and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ . Coming to the movie, the film has been lavishly mounted and tells the story of the Ip Man, who was the master of Bruce Lee. The major failing of the movie is that it is too verbose and the action sequences are not well choreographed. Hence the thrills are missing. The ever-present feeling is that of watching a chronicle of events than watching a movie. Overall, it is a damp squib but it has its moments. How about a husband and wife having a Kung Fu duel just for the fun of it?

Movies I Saw This Week

Frances Ha (2013) [ IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 92%]

frances ha

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBn5dgXFMis

‘Frances Ha’ is the female equivalent of ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ reviewed last week. It tells the story of 27 year old divorcee without a home of her own and trying her hand at things which she is not competent enough. Greta Gerwig gives a breakout performance and definitely deserved a nomination at the Oscars. It is baffling why the Academy prefers to give her 18th nomination to Meryl Streep for her insipid performance in ‘August: Osage County’ than reward Greta Gerwig for her genuine performance. ‘Frances Ha’ is shot in black and white which adds gloom to the already gloomy movie which has a cheerful character at its core who also knows that she is in dire straits. The film was one of the discoveries of Sundance Film Festival in 2013. It is easy to see why.

The Book Thief (2013) [ IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 50%]

Book Thief

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92EBSmxinus

This is the kind of movie which irritates me. Kids who speak like adults, Nazis as villains (what a convenient cliche), preachy dialogues, that overwhelming feeling that you are sitting in a propaganda session even when you are the staunchest supporter of the idea. To top it all, the voice over is by God (Yes you read that right). Apparently, the viewers do not seem to share my concerns but the critics and I are on the same boat. As for the plot, it is about an adopted girl in Nazi Germany.

In a World… (2013) [ IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 92%]

In a World...

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZHBjLFu5is

There are so many stories waiting to be told. ‘In a World’ tell the story of people in the voice over industry. It is about a woman who tries to find her footing in a male dominated industry with misogynistic veterans, among them her father. The romantic sub plots enrich the story. Though the film does tick the box for cliches, it is a romantic comedy worth watching.

Yaariyan (India, 2014) [ IMDB: 3.2, Rotten Tomatoes: Not yet rated]

Yaariyan

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3yJS4MB85Q

At the end of this movie (yes, I somehow reached the end) there is this tripe from the director about how she made the movie while balancing her gigantic responsibility of being a mother. As if to convince the viewer, she also has footage of her son on the sets. She should have put that disclaimer at the beginning of the film. That would have been an anticipatory bail and the viewers would have been better prepared for the motion picture she unleashes on them. It is plain and obvious that the lady got to don the director’s hat because she belongs to one of the country’s big production houses. The plot is a mixture of Australia bashing jingoism with some songs thrown in for the sake of romance. People who paid to watch this in theatres can try suing the producers for mental torture.

Documentary Pick of the Week

Cutie and the Boxer (2013) [ IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 95%]

Cutie and the Boxer

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXS6Aby5AUg

Nominated at this years Oscars, this documentary take a peek into the lives of a painter couple and their marriage that has spanned 40 years. My feeling is that there were better documentaries that did not get nominated this year.

Sergio Leone Retrospective

Sergio Leone is a name synonyms with Westerns. He was never feted with awards during his lifetime but with the passing of time his stature has only grown. If there is a director with whom a genre is associated, then that combination has to be Sergio Leone and Westerns.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) [ IMDB: 9.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%]

the_good_the_bad_and_the_ugly

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

A bounty hunting scam joins two men in an uneasy alliance against a third in a race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery (From IMDB). Sensational.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) [ IMDB: 8.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%]

Once Upon a Time in the West

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aO_uW_VDsO8

Story of a mysterious stranger with a harmonica who joins forces with a notorious desperado to protect a beautiful widow from a ruthless assassin working for the railroad ( From IMBD). Epic.

For a Few Dollars More (1965) [ IMDB: 8.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%]

For a Few Dollars More

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zk7XHtvDZ_E

From Imdb: Two bounty hunters with the same intentions, team up to track down a Western outlaw.

Eagerly Waiting for: ‘3 Days to Kill’ because Kevin Costner plays the lead.

Did you know: In 2002, Steven Spielberg finally finished college after a 33-year hiatus. He submitted ‘Schinder’s List’ for his student film requirement.