Edition 85

The Non-English Movie of The Week

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

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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‘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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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 76

The Non-English Movie of The Week

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

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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 ]

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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 ]

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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 ]

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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]

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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 ]

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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 ]

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(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]

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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 ]

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‘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]

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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 ]

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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]

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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.

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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.

Edition 68

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Edition 68

Casa Grande (Brazil, 2014) [IMDB:7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: Not yet rated, My Rating: 7.5]

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Brazil has a reputation for producing some of the best movies from Latin America with gems like ‘Central Station’ (1998) and ‘Elite Squad’ (2007). ‘Casa Grande’ is an addition to this proud tradition. The movie deals with the trials and tribulations of a once rich family as their fortunes take a nosedive. The theme is not a novel one. There are other recent examples like ‘Tokyo Sonata’ (2008). The difference here is that the story unfolds through the eyes of the young son of the family who suddenly finds things that he had taken for granted are no more available to him. The camera is an observer in the chaos that engulfs him and his painful disintegration. The story is told in a matter of fact way. Its somber and quiet tone only adds to the intensity of the story that unfolds onscreen.

Movies I Saw This Week

Everest (2015) [ IMDB:7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 75%, My Rating 7.5/10]

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Trailer: 

The movie is based on the well documented 1996 Mount Everest disaster. The disaster has been the subject of movies and books, most notably the NYT bestseller ‘Into Thin Air’ by Jon Krakauer who was part of the ill fated expedition. For this movie version the screenplay was penned by Simon Beaufoy who was also the man behind ‘127 hours’, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and ‘The Full Monty’. The movie documents the ill fated expedition consisting of newbies and experts and is a study in human behaviour more than anything else. I saw the 3D version of the movie, which would have been fine in the 2D format as well. The good part about the movie is that it gives a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes in such an expedition. It is also deeply moving at a more humane level with examples of how decision making is influenced under stress. From the postman who wants to do the extraordinary to the guy who comes back from the dead, the characters in the movie are fascinating. It is one of the best movies of the year. Highly recommended.

The Visit (2015) [IMDB:6.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 62% My Rating: 6.5]

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Trailer: 

After reaching the nadir with ‘The Last Airbender’, ‘After Earth’ and ‘The Happening’, Manoj Night Shyamalan returns to form with ‘The Visit’. Shot a on a small budget without the backing of any major studio, the film really comes to life in the second half. The use of ‘found footage’ type filming may have been more of a requirement because of the low budget than an option, but this does work for the premise of the movie. Two grandchildren go to visit their estranged grandparents for a week. As the days progress the children realize that they are into something they did not bargain for. For once, Shyamalan has a twist which is not phony like the one in ‘The Village’. Surely, one of the better movies of the year.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, My Rating: 7.0]

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Trailer: 

With a star studded cast of scientologist Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg, the new edition of the Mission Impossible is a virtual tour de force. Stretching from Belarus to Vienna and from London to Morocco, the good guys are again out to get the bad ones. Obviously they are there to save the world too. They do it on bikes in the streets of Casablanca, in cars in the streets of Vienna and on a runway in Belarus. Thematically not very different from any superhero movie, MI proceeds at a pace which gives little time for the audience to ponder over the inconsistencies in the plot. There are some nice touches though, like the assassins timing their kill at the precision of a musical note in an opera. There is also the mandatory ‘mask removal’ scene. Given the fatigue associated with movie franchises after the first or second sequel, MI stays fresh to a large extent. That alone may be a reason to watch this movie.

Black Mass (2015) [IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 75%, My Rating: 6.5]

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Trailer:

In the early part of the movie there is a scene where the protagonist tells a child that the key to punching someone is to make sure that no one is watching. If no one saw it, it did not happen. The same guy then goes on to assist the authorities in fighting crime. Essentially, the movie is about crime but the main issue is that like many other such movies it tries to glorify some types of crime at the expense of the other types. For a genre which has been done to death in the last few decades, ‘Black Mass’ does not add anything substantial. Even in terms of the performances it can be safely said that Johnny Depp has seen better days. ‘Black Mass’ is your average flick trying to rise above the mediocrity of its script. If you are looking for a classic crime movie set in Boston, go for ‘The Departed’.

The D Train (2015) [ IMDB: 5.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 47%, My Rating: 5]

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Jack Black, one of the original members of the ‘frat pack’, stars as a middle aged man who has nothing remarkable about him except his lack of friends and a general ability to be ill behaved. He also happens to be in-charge of organizing a high school alumni reunion. In his over enthusiasm he tries to warm up to one of his schoolmates. What follows is not according to the script he has in mind when he ventures on his misadventures. The movie starts on an interesting note but loses track somewhere. Though Jack Black comes off as a fine actor, the movie may be a disappointment to his core audience who expect him to be funny. Unfortunately there isn’t a single scene in the movie which can be called funny. It is one of those movies where it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly is wrong with it. In the end it will be lost in a pile of trash that comes out of Hollywood every year.

Z for Zachariah (2015) [ IMDB: 6.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 77%, My Rating: 5.5]

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Trailer: 

In a post apocalyptic world a woman finds that the only others remaining are two men. As they live in isolation, the complex dynamics that come into play is beyond her initial anticipation. This movie is a character study more than anything else. Though delightful in spurts with scenes that make you ponder over relationships, the movie’s ultimate undoing is the snail’s pace at which the story is told. Margot Robbie proves that she can be competent but the movie belongs to Chiwetel Ejiofer who steals the show. Overall, a one time watch for the limited audiences who have the blessing of patience in their character.

Documentary of the Week

Cartel Land (2015) [IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, My Rating: 7.5]

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A story on the war on drugs in Mexico. Informative and honest.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Bridge Of Spies’ because it is a Steven Spielberg movie with Tom Hanks.

Did you know: Large parts of movies like ‘Kundun’ amd ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ were shot in Ouarzazate, Morocco.