Edition 76

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Aferim (Romania, 2015) [IMDB: 7.8 , Rotten Tomatoes: 98%, My rating:8.0 ]

Aferim_poster_goldposter_com_1

Trailer

My introduction to Romanian cinema was through the classic ‘4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days’. ‘Aferim’ continues the tradition of high quality movies from the East European nation. Shot in black and white, Aferim tells the story of the search for a runaway Gypsy, with the socio-cultural background of slavery, in the 19th century. The mores of that period are in turn humorous and outrageously shocking. This contributes to the dark humor which is the running theme of the movie. At the same time, the nasty and brutish life of a slave is not lost in the plot. The twisted idea of justice and the ruthlessness of the landlords add to a strange mix of emotions the viewer experiences during the film. Even scenes where the slaves are auctioned off are conducted with a sense of normalcy. The credit for giving coherence and direction to the movie goes to the director. Overall, a must watch.

Movies I Saw This Week

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016) [IMDB: 7.0 , Rotten Tomatoes: 76%, My rating: 6.5 ]

popo

Trailer

‘Popstar’ is a mockumentary in the vein of the cult classic ‘Spinal Tap’. Even though ‘Spinal Tap’ hit the bulls eye, ‘Popstar’ hits the target a bit off centre. It tells the story of a band member trying to chart his independent path but failing badly. Replete with instances that can be traced to the behaviour of real world pop-stars, this movie works till the last thirty minutes. At that point it gets too cliched and subsequently boring. Watch it for the first hour where the satire is as biting as the banality of the songs.

Central Intelligence (2016) [IMDB: 6.8, Rotten Tomatoes:71%, My rating: 6.0 ]

centralintelligencesmall

Trailer

Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson bring a lot of heart and a few laughs to this comedy about a man in a mid-life crisis teaming up with a CIA agent on the run who used to be his high school pal. It is the kind of movie that you know will have a happy ending. In fact, if it were an animation movie, it would have been made by Disney. Especially so, because the movie is devoid of logic and relies solely on the lead pair to pull off the improbable. Kevin Hart shines with his rib ticking humour in a few scenes and ‘The Rock’ gets to perpetrate his idea of being macho. Put your grey cells to sleep, grab some popcorn and have fun.

Eye in the Sky (2015) [IMDB: 7.4 , Rotten Tomatoes: 95%, My rating: 7.5 ]

eye_sky_one_sheet

Trailer

One of the best thrillers to have come out in recent times, this movie tells the labyrinthine procedures and games that go on behind the scenes of a drone operation to eliminate dreaded terrorists. The arrival of a girl on the scene only adds to the already complex situation which leads to the nail biting finale. Evidently made on a shoe string budget, the movie is strongly supported by commendable performances from veterans like Mirren and Rickman. The movie also gives insight into the decision making process in the military. Even when there are unnecessary sentimental scenes which are incredulous, the movie never loses momentum. Highly recommended.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016) [IMDB: 6.7 , Rotten Tomatoes: 68%, My rating: 7.0]

whiskey-tango-foxtrot-movie-poster

Trailer

Based on the memoirs of a lady journalist who served in war ravaged Afghanistan and Pakistan, this movie traces her life and experiences in the region. The movie is more about how the setting changes her over the years and what she learns from being in a remarkably different milieu.Tina Fey carries the film with her sincere performance but that does not plug all the loopholes in a script which is weak, especially when it tries to explain the politics of the region. Still, recommended.

Finding Dory (2016) [IMDB: 7.9 , Rotten Tomatoes: 95%, My rating:7.0 ]

finding-dory-poster

Trailer

Riding on a massive media generated hype, ‘Finding Dory’ fires more blanks than expected from a Pixar movie. Starting on a solid premise with the endearing young Dory, the movie loses steam towards the end and starts resembling a cliched Bollywood production where anything goes. The animation is nothing to write home about. Frankly, I almost fell asleep midway through the proceedings. It must be said that the movie is not all gloom and doom. There are some nice touches but they are few and far between. Maybe, too much pre-release hype is a bad thing.

Udta Punjab (2016) [IMDB:8.2 , Rotten Tomatoes: 77%, My rating:6.5 ]

Udta_Punjab

Trailer

(Spoilers ahead) The thing that struck me the most while watching this movie on the drug epidemic sweeping Punjab is that none of the characters find it particularly difficult to come out of drug addiction. They just will it and it happens. The only addict who checks into a de-addiction centre kills his doctor. In fact, the irony in the movie is that all the addicts survive at the end. Many people are killed during the movie and all those who are killed are either in the drug trade or in rescue work. The addicts enjoy their drugs and live happily ever after. But for the shenanigans of a demented Censor Board Chief ( who was subsequently put in his place by the courts), ‘Udta Punjab’ would not have received the importance it is being given. From a botched product placement for ‘Cox & Kings’ to doctors who enter drug manufacturing facilities as if on a stroll, the amateurish plot leaves much to be desired. The only redeeming factor for the movie is that it shatters the popular image of Punjab as a land of mustard fields with people who are ready to break into Bhangra at the drop of a hat.

Love & Friendship (2016) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 99%, My rating: 7.5]

love_and_friendship_xlg

Trailer

The thing about classic literature is that they stand the test of time. Well made movies from classic works have one major thing going for them: the screenplay. A recent success was an adaptation of ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ in which Carey Mulligan displayed her histrionics. A suitable addition is ‘Love & Friendship’ with the underrated Kate Beckinsale in a career best performance. Based on Jane Austen’s ‘Lady Susan’, the movie tells the story of a widow who desperately needs to find a husband for herself and her daughter. The key for her success is that she should not give away her desperation and execute her plans with gusto and slyness. The fine ensemble assembled makes the movie a slow but riveting affair. Recommended.

Phoenix (Germany,2014) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%, My rating:8.0 ]

phoenix_ver2

Trailer

‘Phoenix’ is movie about identity, greed and guilt. An Auschwitz survivor with a disfigured face tracks down her husband who might have betrayed her. (Spoilers ahead) The movie is a commentary on Germany immediately after the war when people had not come to terms with the guilt of the nation and a code of silence hid the horrors of the concentration camps. At a more personal level it is a metaphorical take on how greed blinds people. Even when everyone else is able to identify his wife, the husband sticks to the belief that she is dead. The wife’s unwillingness to accept that her husband was responsible for her fate is expressed through her momentary hope for a reunion. Some of the events are implausible but the viewer is kept on the edge of the seat till a befitting climax which acts as an icing on the cake. Must see.

Ozhivudivasathe Kali [An Off-Day Game] (Malayalam, 2016) [IMDB: 8.5, Rotten Tomatoes: Not Listed, My rating:8.0]

ozhivu-divasathe-kali-movie-poster-9393

Trailer

I have not pondered on the metaphors in a any recent Malayalam movie than in this gem of a film. The movie is an allegory to the politics and social fabric of Kerala. The subtlety of the events is maintained till the last moment of the movie. The second half of the movie is an uninterrupted single shot where the camera does the talking. Without being overt, the movie addresses issues like feudalism, casteism, gender equality, patriarchy, left wing politics, the idea of justice, the idea of democracy, tyranny of the ruling class, alcoholism and much more. The story is set on an election day when five friends get together for a booze fest. For a movie with first time actors, it is remarkably accomplished. The director and writer deserve the plaudits for stating so much without saying anything. Must see.

Valiya Chirakulla Pakshikal [Birds with Large Wings (Malayalam, 2015) [IMDB: 8.2 , Rotten Tomatoes: Not Listed, My rating: 7.5 ]

valiya-chirakulla-pakshikal-movie-poster-8577

Trailer

Based on the tragedy in the lives of the people in Kasargode district of Kerala,India due to repeated exposure to the chemical Endosulfan, the movie is gut wrenching to watch. Filled with real life characters who suffer from mental and physical deformities as a consequence of the chemical exposure, it is evident that the tears of the photographer protagonist did not require any glycerin. There are no performances here. All that matters is real. Yet another pointer to the fact that lives in India are cheap. As a movie, the only drawback is the tendency to show long unnecessary scenes of vehicles on the road.

Documentary of the Week

Virunga (2014) [IMDB: 8.3 , Rotten Tomatoes: 100%, My rating: 8.5]

virunga-poster

Trailer

A fight to save mountain gorillas and a national park in Congo turns into a war with the local community and the conservationists pitted against vested interests. Beautiful and tragic. Hats off to the conservationists who have the stomach for such battles.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Jason Bourne’ because we have good memories of the series.

jason-bourne-movie-2016-poster

Did you know: There is a sound effect called the Wilhelm Scream that has been used in over 200 movies and TV shows since 1951.

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Week 34

Movies: Non-English

I Served the King of England (Czech Republic, 2006) [ IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 81%]

I served the king of england

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

The story of an ambitious waiter and the women in his life set in the background of World War 2. This poignant and funny tale is in the tradition of similar Czech films. A throwback to the excesses of Nazis when they had the upper hand in the war, the film does not fail to mock the Nazis even when the mood turns sober. Not a must watch but certainly worth your time.

He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not ( France, 2002) [ IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 85%]

he loves me

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2d8uitPvMU

The thing with this movie is that you don’t expect it to have the twists and turns with a crowd favourite like Audrey Tautou in the lead. This under appreciated French film takes an unexpected turn and in a split second the whole premise of the movie changes. From a sweet love story it becomes a tale of violent obsession. Every story has two sides. Some of them a few more.

English Retrospective

On the Waterfront (1954) [ IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%]

on the w

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSImMMMf5nA

A few people (the curious types) have asked me the origin of the name of this blog. It comes from a dialogue in the movie ‘On the Waterfront’. It is faithfully reproduced below:

“Charlie: Oh I had some bets down for you. You saw some money.

Terry: You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it. It was you, Charley.”

It is one of the saddest dialogues I have ever heard; the kind that puts in a capsule a lot of emotions. That feeling of what could have been, but for. Only real life dialogue of this nature that made be feel sad for the speaker was uttered by Al Gore when he said, ” Once I was the next President of USA.” I am sure Al Gore is not reading this but just for the sake of it he should know that he will have a more respectable place in World History than the idiot who stole the election.

Coming to the movie, it is a masterclass in acting from Marlon Brando. One of the movies to see before you die.

Saving Private Ryan (1998) [ IMDB: 8.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 95%]

saving

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwhP5b4tD6g

I have not yet seen a movie which has war scenes shot with such perfection as ‘Saving Private Ryan’. It remains an injustice that this film lost the Best Picture Oscar to ‘Shakespeare in Love’. My favourite Tom Hanks leads a mission to find and return Private Ryan whose three brothers have been slain in action during the Second World War. Steven Spielberg deservedly won the Oscar for the Best Director for this flick and strangely that was the last time he tasted Oscar success. Everything about this film is top notch and close to perfection. I am biased towards Tom Hanks and Matt Damon. Therefore I cannot say anything bad about this movie. Must watch.

Shakespeare in Love (1998) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%]

shakespeare

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CxNF4eA6yw

Sometimes an idea can lead to a great story and when such a story has a great screenplay and free dialogues from Shakespeare, it can have unexpected success. The germ of the idea here is the question: ‘How could Shakespeare write such fine romance without himself being in love?’ What comes out of this idea is ‘Shakespeare in Love’, a fictionalized movie trying to imagine the inspiration for the Bard of Avon’s romantic works especially ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Sometimes originality gets the better of everything. As a friend once told me, if imitation is the best art then his ‘Juliet and Romeo’ should also have been equally famous as ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Ultimately ‘Shakespeare in Love’ upset the apple cart of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ at the Oscars winning seven Oscars to the latter’s five.

Movies I Saw This Week

Captain Phillips (2013) [ IMDB: 8.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%]

captain

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3ASoBrFGlc

Tom Hanks get back his mojo back after a few duds in this out and out thriller directed by Paul Greengrass. Greengrass who was behind the Borne series, had worked in the television industry before turning a feature film director. The influence of television is evident in the way he uses the camera for a lot of hand held shots and the movement of the camera contributes to the element of tension on screen. Even though ‘Captain Phillips’ is one of the better thrillers to have come out in recent years, I believe that earlier works of Greengrass like ‘United 93’ and ‘Bloody Sunday’ were better made and had more interesting stories to tell. As for this one, it would a major surprise if Tom Hanks lands an Oscar for his role. Coming to the story, the film gives a blow by blow account of the hostage crisis involving the hijacking of a US flagged cargo ship by Somali pirates, the first such event in 200 years. A nice one time watch.

Hello I Must Be Going (2012) [ IMDB: 6.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 73%]

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Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g71WfCXUTrY

Hailed at the Sundance Film Festival for some breakout performances, this feature tells the story of a lady trying to get her life back on track after going through  a divorce. I don’t know why they advertised this as a comedy because the overwhelming feeling was of sadness and I did not come even close to laughing. Nothing much to write about and also nothing much to whine about. An average flick.

Much Ado About Nothing (2013) [ IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 84%]

much ado

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

A faithful adaptation of Shakespeare’s work by the same title, this is the kind of movie that only Hollywood would finance. Where else would they have the guts to make movies with very much the same dialogues that Shakespeare wrote. Shot in classy black and white, it is a film that demands attention and the returns are quite good if you can give what the film asks for.

Gori Tere Pyaar Mein (India, 2013) [ IMDB: 4.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 36%]

Gori_Tere_Pyaar_Mein

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cg-t4Wsa6LU

Yes, I saw it like some of you. Not worth reviewing. I empathize with those who spent money to watch this torture. It is the kind of film where the director should stand outside the theatre and apologize to every single person who comes out after watching his movie.

Documentary Pick of the Week

The Crash Reel (2013) [ IMDB: 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%]

crash-reel

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KkFZ-QC53Q

Shaun White was the King of Snow. Kevin Pearce was his challenger in the half-pipe event. They were friends. They were world number 1 and 2 in the lead up to the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Then tragedy struck. A documentary which captures a story that must be told. One of the documentaries of the year. My heart goes out to Kevin’s mother. Even though she is never at the focus of the events, it is her strength of character that shines through the whole story. Just for the record, I cried.

Eagerly Waiting for: ‘Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues’ because some stupid films of Will Ferrell have their moments of madness.

Did you know: Nelson Mandela appears as a teacher in the film ‘Malcom X’, his only appearance as an actor in a movie. RIP Nelson Mandela. 

Week 21

Movies: Non-English

Divided We Fall ( Czech Republic, 2000) [ IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 90%]

divided we fall

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAYjBHUIS7A

This acclaimed film is set in erstwhile Czechoslovakia during the Second World War. It deals with the issue of persecution of Jews under the Nazis, a theme done to death by Hollywood to the extent that you lose sympathy for the Jews. This film though, raises moral questions with shades of grey. The major actors on screen can be counted in one hand. There is nothing remarkable in the way the story is told but it has its twists and turns mostly because some of the steps taken by the actors cannot be anticipated in a normal moral framework. Extraordinary situations lead to extraordinary solutions.

The Thief (Russia, 1997) [IMDB; 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 88%]

Thief_FilmPoster

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fs7FGGvRQYU

Deception is the main theme in this Russian drama set during the rule of Stalin. A single mother and her son are drawn towards a soldier who is their only hope for escape from poverty. Things do not exactly turn out the way they are planned. It is a pleasure to watch this wonderfully shot movie but the emotion it deals with is the polar opposite of pleasure. The story is told through the eyes of a child. Circumstances force him to be on the wrong side of the law. It is difficult to forget his reaction when he sees his stepfather in the climax of the movie. Recommended.

English Retrospective

Terms of Endearment (1983) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 87%]

terms of endearment

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsdDeh0M_nk

Winner of five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actress (for Shirey Maclaine), this movie tells the story of the relationship between a mother and daughter who love each other more than they themselves know. It is not an exceptional movie but the performances make it worth a watch. Debra Winger won many fans with her fine performance but it was Shirley Maclaine who upstaged her at the Oscars. The movie tends to be too sentimental towards the end but I can tell you that some of the scenes are really worth all those sentiments. The bedside scene with the kids towards the end will melt the hearts of even the emotion resistant folks. To add to all this, there is Jack Nicholson playing  a former astronaut.

An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) [ IMDB: 6.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 81%]

an officer

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1Ehz_cAMGc

There are some movies with an endearing quality about them. This is one such film which works because of the thoughtful writing and the onscreen chemistry between Richard Gere and Debra Winger. A young man in the armed forces has his own demons to fight and personal battles to win. A factory girl enters his life. The story is how the relationship goes through testing times. It is a coming off age movie in the true sense. Richard Gere plays his most vulnerable character on screen but for me the star of the show is Debra Winger whose acting matches her beauty. A really good afternoon watch.

Chariots of Fire (1981) [ IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 85%]

chariots of fire

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWle59ZHPIM

If there is a movie which seals an Oscar for Best Music with the first few scenes, this is the one. The initial scene with the runners on the beach is one of the sensational sequences in cinema and all that is aided by the score by Vangelis. The story is about the British athletic team at the 1924 Olympics. It is no coincidence that the same theme music was played at all the medal presentation ceremonies at 2012 London Olympics. As for the movie, it loses steam midway but it is a joy to watch some of the sequences. If you are not British you may not enjoy it that much towards the end and I am not British.

Movies I Saw This Week

We’re the Millers (2013) [ IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 77%]

We're-The-Millers-Poster

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Vsy5KzsieQ

The summer blockbuster of 2013 is a crude comedy  which is also testament to the fact that Jennifer Aniston is a bankable star who can still make people laugh. Frankly, the humour does get little out of control at times but there are some genuine laugh out loud moments. The one when Sudeikis goes to get a hair cut is one such scene. The story involves an out of luck drug dealer trying to put together a family from assorted characters so as to make his drug deal look more realistic. Only Aniston ( and maybe Sandra Bullock) can pull off scenes like the family prayer on the aircraft. A guilty pleasure.

The Bling Ring (2013) [ IMDB: 6.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 60%]

BlingRingPB_CoverFINAL

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4LzhgExvrc

Sofia Coppola drew attention with the understated gem ‘Lost in Translation’ but she suddenly fell from grace with a dud called ‘Marie Antoinette’. Then came ‘Somewhere’ in 2010 and she won a few awards for that. ‘Bling Ring’ is comparable to the quality of ‘Somewhere’ where she seems to be doing a decent job as a director but she never touches the highs she was able to achieve with ‘Lost in Translation’ . The film is inspired by real life events where celebrity obsessed teenagers broke into the houses of celebrities to steal high end branded merchandise. There is nothing that raises the movie from an average flick. The scenes get repetitive in the middle. Only Sofia Coppola knows the secret behind her fetish for stupid songs in the background. May interest the viewer who is interested in celebrities. Otherwise, who gives two hoots about what happens to Paris Hilton?

Satyagraha (India, 2013) [ IMDB: 6.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 35%]

SATYAGRAHA1

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KXwGcZI13k

There is no sting in this tale. It is basically a screenplay stitched together by recent events in India. The problem with that is that the issue has received so much media exposure that there is hardly anything new to be said. Prakash Jha repeats the folly he made with ‘Arakshan’. Issues which look good in television debates don’t translate automatically into good cinema. In fact, it often makes for caricatures and plastic characters who don’t connect with the audiences. A poor attempt.

Grown Ups 2 (2013) [ IMDB: 5.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 7% by critics]

grown ups 2

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

I guess the first edition of this series made lot of money for the studios. There is no other reason why they would have gone for the sequel. I could not sit through the first edition and the sequel is a pain to watch. It is not funny, not even by the pathetic standards set by current Adam Sandler movies. Keep away.

Documentary Pick of the Week

Hot coffee (2011) [ IMDB: 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 86%]

hot coffee

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBKRjxeQnT4

An 81 year old lady wins 2.9 million USD in damages from McDonald’s after their coffee burns her body. This sets in motion a series of events culminating in major restrictions being passed on the rights of citizens in USA to sue companies. You don’t need to vote in elections because some corporations can buy the election for themselves. A thought provoking documentary.

Eagerly Waiting for: ‘Gravity’ because George Clooney and Sandra Bullock team up.

Did you know: Madonna changed costume 85 times for the film ‘Evita’.