Edition 84

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Our Little Sister (Japan,2015) [IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes:93% , My Rating: 7.5 ]

Trailer

‘Our Little Sister’ tells the story of three sisters who take in their fourth sister they never knew they had. This Japanese tale is a quiet triumph and a joy to watch. It also gives an insight into the traditions and way of life in rural Japan. The movie is akin to a piece of music which flows unabated. There is a sublime sense of happiness pervading the movie even when it tackles more serious questions. For a film which could have ended in various ways, ‘Our Little Sister’ bows out with a dignity that is the hallmark of the feature. Highly recommended.

Movies I Saw This Week

Detroit (2017) [IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes:83% , My Rating: 8.5 ]

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I have thoroughly enjoyed previous movies of Katheryn Bigelow like ‘Hurt Locker’ and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ (One of the best movies of the decade). ‘Detroit’ surely lives up to the expectations. Based on a real life incident in Algiers Motel, Detroit during the race riots of 1967, ‘Detroit’ is a story which must be told. Exposing the deep fault lines within the American social fabric and raising pertinent questions on police criminality, the movie is an edge of the seat thriller. ‘Detroit’ never has a boring moment but it has plentiful moments of horror and sadness. All credit for the memorable movie is due to Bigelow who deftly handles a theme which could have failed miserably in the hands of a less competent director. Watching the movie itself is a harrowing experience which can question your belief in the idea of justice itself. For all its pains, the movie is a pleasure.

Mother! (2017) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes:68% , My Rating: 4.5 ]

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My emotion towards ‘Mother!’ has been summed up beautifully by Anthony Lane of the ‘New Yorker’; “If you gave an extremely bright fifteen-year-old a bag of unfamiliar herbs to smoke, and forty million dollars or so to play with, “Mother!” would be the result.” ‘Mother!’ is a movie which is an insult to the intelligence of the audience. It is pointless and manipulative even when discounted for the allegory it purportedly portrays. I had to search to find out what the heck all this posturing by the director was about. If you are interested, the idea behind the movie is explained in an article here. It does not exonerate the director who also wrote the screenplay. Jennifer Lawrence who rose to fame through Harvey Weinstein movies, puts in a solid shift. There is nothing redeeming about the movie. It is a self indulgent piece which should be played as torture to death row inmates.

1922 (2017) [IMDB: 6.4, Rotten Tomatoes:88% , My Rating: 7.5]

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Based on the Stephen King novella, ‘1922’ is a haunting movie. Though the omens point to a decline into tragedy, the events that follow are nothing short of terror. Dealing with the concept of guilt and retribution, this movie sucks in the viewer with its raw and relentless attack on the protagonist who is destined to disintegrate. This is one of the underrated flicks of the year. The only word of caution is to watch the movie with subtitles as the accent is dated and a tad difficult to pick up.

Logan Lucky (2017) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes:93% , My Rating: 7.0]

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Steven Soderbergh is one of the most talented directors of our generation. ‘Logan Lucky’ marks his return to form. A disparate group bound only by their love for the booty decide to rob NASCAR (nothing less!) on a race day. As is the case with every good heist movie, it is not the heist per se which is important but what happens afterwards. That is what makes the movie better than average. Surely, ‘Logan Lucky’ is not a masterpiece but it is a movie which does justice to your viewing time. Since half decent heist movies have been in short supply recently, this movie quenches the appetite for the time being. Recommended.

It (2017) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes:85% , My Rating: 7.0]

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Another movie based on the work of Stephen King, ‘It’ has been a smash hit at the box office. The reasons are not hard to miss. It has a bunch of kids at the centre of the story and deals with adult themes like identity and willpower. A murderous shape shifting demon needs to be tamed before it finds its new prey. All the usual Stephen King props are in play in this movie. Conquering the fear of the dark, first love, taming inner demons, unity in diversity, and some other simplistic ideas are thrown in to add weight to the movie. The only thing missing is a kid in spandex. Surely, ‘It’ is not a boring movie. Far from it, ‘It’ has its moments but otherwise it is a movie with a standard template which leave the viewer rather underwhelmed as the credits roll.

Better Watch Out (2017) [IMDB: 6.6, Rotten Tomatoes:91% , My Rating: 7.0]

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What I loved about ‘Better Watch Out’ is the twist it gives to ‘Home Alone’. In fact, there are not so subtle references to the ‘Home Alone’ franchise in this thriller with a bad heart. A boy is left with his nanny when his parents are away. What unfolds initially is a horror movie but with a major turn in the story as it evolves. Even the ending of the movie holds a punch and leaves the door open for a sequel. ‘Better Watch Out’ is a bit of twisted fun and I am not complaining.

A Ghost Story (2017) [IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes:90% , My Rating: 5.5]

Trailer

With a remote in your hand you will need very small amount of time to watch this tedious and unrewarding drama. Surprisingly, some people did find this movie interesting. I found the movie to be absolutely one of the worst of the year with its fake ideas and positioning. It has all the ingredients of a brainless idea which got greenlit by the presence of some bankable stars. For the record, the movie concerns itself with afterlife and coping with grief. In this respect the movie does not attain salvation. To be more to the point, it needs to be buried deep in the ground.

The Foreigner (2017) [IMDB: 7.2., Rotten Tomatoes:75% , My Rating: 6.5]

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Apparently, Jackie Chan has cried twice in his movies before. The third time is in ‘The Foreigner’ and this time you will join in his pain. Even in a movie where Pierce Brosnan has more screen time and better dialogues, Jackie Chan stands out as the 60 year old father who has lost everything and wants to avenge his daughter’s death. Though the politics of the movie is dubious and some parts are a stretch of imagination, the movie is written well enough to keep the viewer engaged till its predictable climax. The worldwide box office of more than a 100 million USD shows that the audiences also seem to approve the first real acting turn by superstar Jackie Chan.

Ingrid Goes West (2017) [IMDB: 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes:86% , My Rating: 6.5]

Trailer

In times such as this where social media acts as an alternative to the real world, ‘Ingrid Goes West’ is a timely reminder of how far things can go wrong in the cyberspace. The lead character’s manic obsession of the number of likes she receives and the number of followers she has, leads to her losing her footing in the real world. As she gets close to an ‘influencer’ by crook, her obsession spirals out of control. ‘Ingrid Goes West’ tells that story and does it with panache. My only grouse is that the ending was unnecessarily saccharine sweet.

Documentary of the Week

Blue Planet 2 (2017) [IMDB: 9.8, Rotten Tomatoes:89% , My Rating: 10.0]

Trailer

Wow! Just wow. All the beauty in the world like never before. Educational, informative and entertaining. Must watch.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Phantom Thread’ because it is the swansong of Daniel Day Lewis.

Did you know: Shashi Kapoor had more films as the protagonist than any other member of the Kapoor clan. RIP Shashi Kapoor.

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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 ]

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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 ]

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 ]

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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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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 ]

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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 39

Movies: Non-English

The Dreamlife of Angels (France, 1998) [ IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%]

Dreamlife of Angels

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJxtNk5Q9V4

The first instance of two actresses sharing the gong for the best actress (for the same film) at Cannes is reason enough to watch this little French gem. I was reminded of this movie after reviewing ‘Blue Is the Warmest Colour’ a fortnight ago. If ‘Blue …..’ is the adolescent version, then this one is the mature version. Two financially broke women share a flat and hope for a better future from the misery of routine lives. Once more characters enter the frame, their relationship unravels. Then the two actresses revel like veterans on screen. Watch it for them.

The Mirror (Russia, 1975) [ IMDB: 8.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%]

mirror

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7SN7spZlZk

A man facing death recollects his life. His sorrows, his triumphs, his childhood, his loves and much more. The nation’s history also plays out in the background. As they say, once your whole life will flash in front of your eyes. Make it worth watching. A timely reminder on that concept from (of all places) Russia. Classic.

Movies I Saw This Week

American Hustle (2013) [ IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%]

american hustle

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ST7a1aK_lG0

I could not really figure out why ‘American Hustle’ is getting nominated at all major awards in so many categories this year. Agreed that it is a good movie but to call it a great one is a slight misrepresentation of facts. As the name suggests, it is a con movie but with a conscience. It certainly has some good performances going for it. Amy Adams delivers another competent one. I am a huge fan of Jennifer Lawrence and that makes me think that she deserves the Oscar for Supporting Actress but that would be an improbable win considering that she just landed the Best Actress Oscar only last year. At the same time, Bradley Cooper may consider himself lucky if he wins for the Best Supporting Actor because it wouldn’t be possible but for the sympathy votes he gets for his failure to win last year. Coming back to the movie, it creates the right ambiance and the credit for that has to go to the director. Other than that I did not find the movie to be special in any sense. Anyone with the IQ of a lamp post could have seen the twist in the end coming because such movies need to have one. I think the guys in Hollywood are all excited because someone finally made a movie in which the FBI is taken to the cleaners.

Blue Jasmine (2013) [ IMDB: 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%]

blue jasmine

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FER3C394aI8

What they say for wine is true for Woody Allen too. Both get better as they age. For a change, Woody Allen is not putting some old wine in a new bottle. He moves to a new terrain and after a long time I was really impressed by his direction as he brings the best out of Cate Blanchett. I have not seen the movie ‘Philomena’ in which Judi Dench is reported to have given a great performance. If Judi Dench has not pulled off something spectacular (and she is well capable of that), then this year’s Best Actress Oscar will go to Cate Blanchett for her affecting portrayal of a former socialite going through emotional distress and penury. Her acting is simply stunning and it helps that the the whole plot revolves around her. For a profoundly sad tale, the trademark witticisms of the writer brings relief even in the gloom. Two thumbs up to one of the best written and acted films of 2013.

Rush (2013) [ IMDB:8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 92%]

rush

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dA3XN54J8nY

‘Rush’ recreates the fierce and famed rivalry of two Formula 1 superstars of the 70s, Niki Lauda and James Hunt. I expected more thrills and edge of the seat action for a movie based on a sport which has a lot of scope for spiking adrenaline levels. It disappoints on those two counts. In fact, it is not even about the rivalry between the two drivers. It is more about their personalities and the obsession they have for winning against all odds. Niki Lauda comes across as a calm and determined man who is organized and thinks about racing even during his honeymoon. James Hunt, on the other hand, is the brash character who has too many woman in his life that he does not really have to have a separate honeymoon. To slightly twist the title of a book that went from non-fiction to fiction (cycling, if you still don’t get it), ‘it is not about the cars’.

Lone Survivor (2013) [ IMDB: 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 71%]

lone survivor

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoLFk4JK_RM

The true story of an US assault team which sees their best laid plans go for a toss in an operation in Afghanistan. The film is quite slow off the blocks but soon catches up with long strides shortly after. Once the action starts it is quite an interesting film. There is nothing to rave about but then the film is definitely worth a watch.

Martin Scorsese Retrospective

Goodfellas (1990) [ IMDB: 8.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%]

Goodfellas

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qo5jJpHtI1Y

Perhaps the best story on the mafia outside the ‘Godfather’ series. Must see. Period.

The Departed (2006) [ IMDB: 8.5, Ritten Tomatoes: 94%]

The Departed

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGWvwjZ0eDc

The movie that finally got Scorsese the Oscar. In my opinion, the perfect screenplay.

Taxi Driver (1976) [ IMDB: 8.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%]

Taxi Driver

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLpMx8_TYOo

Some movies define a period in history. Some performances are so great that it is impossible to imagine someone else in that role. Some movies are unforgettable. Taxi Driver. Robert De Niro. No excuses for not watching.

Documentary Pick of the Week

Searching for Sugar Man (2012) [IMDB; 8.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 96%]

Searching for Sugar Man

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDw7OqVBT-w

How does it feel to be a rock star (pun intended) in one part of the world and be an unknown in your country of residence? One of the most uplifting documentaries ever made.

Eagerly Waiting for: ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ because it has a large cast and a fine director in Wes Anderson.

Did you know: After the release of the Tom Cruise film ‘Top Gun’,the applications by young men to the US Navy went up by 500 percent.