Parasite (South Korea, 2019)[IMDB: 8.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 99%, My Rating: 8.5]
‘Parasite’, the winner of Palme d’Or at Cannes, is an instant classic. It is one of the most riveting films I have seen in recent times. Every scene and dialogue of this thriller hits the bulls-eye. Thought the complex interplay of societal tensions and personal aspirations are at the centre of the film, the script holds up to scrutiny even when these external dimensions are not considered. A family at the lower rungs of the society gets a chance to be the caretakers in an affluent household. As the plot gets more sinister and breathtaking, a maelstrom is unleashed on a stable household. The director is at the peak of his powers and the screenplay is a work of genius in this unmissable movie of the year.
Movies I Saw This Week
Ford v Ferrari [Le Mans ’66](2019)[IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, My Rating: 7.5]
The good thing about this movie and perhaps what makes it different from the run of the mill race movies is the care given to fully realize the emotional aspect of the characters on screen. The film tells the time when a snubbed Ford made it a personal crusade to bring down the hegemony of Ferrari at Le Mans. Even for a film with an expected climax, the movie leaves a bittersweet feeling at the end. For a running length of 152 minutes, the goings on screen captivate the viewer for most of the time. This movie is a salute to the American spirit of innovation and it does so without sounding jingoistic. I am sure American parents will be lining up to show their kids this smooth and uncluttered piece of film-making.
Judy (2019) (2019)[IMDB: 7.2., Rotten Tomatoes: 83%, My Rating: 7.0]
Judy Garland was a legend in her times. The difficult life that led to her stardom and her feeling of being inadequate made a mess of her life. Zellweger has a roll playing this flawed diva in her difficult final years. Zellweger’s performance is nuanced and she is able to draw the sympathy of the audience. She even sings the songs herself. Good enough to get an Oscar nomination for sure. The movie is all about Judy: her failings, her small victories, her poor decision making, her insomnia, her bravo performances, her terrible performances. Watch it for Judy Garland.
Extra Ordinary (2019)[IMDB: 6.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%, My Rating: 7.5]
This is probably the most fun ghost movie I have ever seen. Full of tongue -in-cheek references to the genre and made with a subversive spirit, ‘Extra Ordinary’ is a movie you would not want to miss. An Irish driving school inspector with powers to tackle spirits is brought to deal with a particularly interesting case involving absurd rituals, a one hit wonder singer and a whole lot of hangers-on. This parody of a movie uses and discards cliches when it suits the script. Plot devices like virgins required for sacrifice in satanic rituals are used to the hilt to bring out the absurdity of the concepts and get a few good laughs.
The Art of Self-Defense (2019)[IMDB: 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 84%, My Rating: 7.0]
A loner with no social connections is drawn to the world of Karate after a life threatening burglary attempt. As he descends more and more into the local Karate universe, he discovers the twisted secrets and dealings of what is essentially a cult. He also imagines himself to be somebody else. His newfound confidence and sense of belonging are questioned as the days progress. This is a fairly engaging movie with a convenient plot twist. Undoubtedly a good film to watch, the movie does leave a feeling that things could have been done better.
Harpoon (2019)[IMDB: 6.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, My Rating: 7.5]
One of the independent movies of 2019 that is definitely a winner in every sense. For a movie with a cast of three marooned in a yacht, the possibilities are limited due to the space available. The director and writer are able to exploit every angle possible with enough twists and turns to keep the viewer engaged. The acting, background score and directing combine to make this a movie with good returns for a fan of thrillers. Highly recommended.
Good Boys (2019)[IMDB: 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 79%, My Rating: 6.5]
There is nothing great to see here but lot of good material makes it a thoroughly entertaining venture. There is hardly a plot and it is all about friendship with dollops of reality thrown in. The movie is unpretentious and has some witty scenes and dialogues. It brings the naivety of adolescence and the optimism of childhood together in the life of three carefree boys. The film delivers on what it promises in the trailer. Do not watch with high expectations and you will come out smiling.
Luce (2019)[IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, My Rating: 6.5]
‘Luce’ is a complicated movie. The complication is largely due to the fact that the protagonist is a former child soldier rescued from Eritrea and raised by two suburban white parents. If this background is taken out of the conversation, then it is a movie about a self-centred teenager plotting his success and wiping out challenges or challengers to his plans in life. The provocative film has a slew of conflicted characters, none more than the white mother of Luce played by Naomi Watts whose unwavering loyalty to him in the face of evidence undermining him is shown as desperation to hold on to her belief that her life has not been wasted raising a deviant. There is much to ponder in ‘Luce’ but there are some rough edges that could have been smoothed out to present a more satisfying narrative.
The Laundromat (2019)[IMDB: 6.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 42%, My Rating: 6.0]
Based on the Panama papers scandal, this movie is a narrative mess. Steven Soderbergh is an acclaimed director whose repertoire is rich with some memorable movies. ‘The Laundromat’ is not one of them. Meryl Streep tries to hold the story together but even she is conveniently forgotten for large parts of the movie. Too many loose ends are left unattended. Some interesting threads like the events in Panama or the Chinese episode are amusing but do not add to a coherent narrative.
Documentary of the Week
Cold Case Hammarskjöld (2019)[IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 82%, My Rating: 7.5]
Mads Brugger made the real world parody ‘The Ambassador’. In this new documentary he tries to uncover the conspiracy that led to the death of UN Secretary General Hammarskjold. He discovers more than what he bargained for. Highly recommended.
Eagerly waiting for: ‘Knives Out’
Did you know: Christian Bale lost 70 pounds to play his role in ‘Ford vs Ferrari’, much of which was the weight he gained for ‘Vice (2018)’.
The Square (Sweden, 2017) [IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 82%, My Rating: 7.0]
Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes, this movie straddles between the realms of satire, drama and social commentary. The largely successful attempts to have some fun at the expense of the vacuous art world do not compensate for a screenplay notable for its inconsistency. The director bites more than he can chew. The missteps of a director at an art museum and the shenanigans surrounding his life form the bulk of the story. Then there are multiple strands on immigration, social media hype, artless art and allegories on the state of the society. The farce culminates in a mystifying sequence at an annual reception. ‘The Square’ is an entertaining movie in most ports but is more memorable as an opportunity squandered.
Some actors have the ability to rise above a movie and draw the viewer in. Daniel Day Lewis is perhaps the greatest living actor and what a pity that he makes movies once in a blue moon. As the workaholic designer in ‘Phantom Thread’, he is a joy to watch. His screen presence and a masterclass in acting take the otherwise average movie a notch or two higher. The story is about a designer at the top of his game and the interruptions in his life when a lady as hard as a nail walks into his life. The cinematography of the movie is first rate and the director should take some credit for keeping the movie as taut as he could. Watch it for Daniel Day-Lewis.
The Man Who Invented Christmas(2017) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 82% , My Rating: 7.5]
The story of author Charles Dickens as he pulls out all stops to get the classic ‘A Christmas Carol’ published after reeling from the failure of his three previous novels. The movie does a good job of bringing the persona of Dickens to screen. Although a bare minimum knowledge of ‘A Christmas Carol’ will be needed to understand the movie well, the lack of it will not be a hindrance to enjoying this movie which celebrates the life of Dickens. Not only is there a context to the creation of ‘A Christmas Carol’, there is nice back story to the life of Dickens and his evolution as an author. This movie is one of the lesser known and yet eminently watchable releases of 2017.
Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017) [IMDB: 6.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 51% , My Rating: 5.5]
I expected much more from the director of ‘Nightcrawler’ and what was served was a damp squib. The only saving grace of this mangled venture is a powerhouse performance from Denzel Washington. He plays a civil rights lawyer who gets the short end of the stick after a selfless life dedicated to causes he believes in. He goes rogue and from there on the director also goes rogue. Some movies tie themselves in knots and have no fair chance of untangling the mess. This movie, after a certain point in the narrative, is in dire search for a climax. Imagine you have in mind a juicy piece of chicken and what you get is a wet piece of chicken dripping with water. This movie is the cinematic equivalent of that wet piece of chicken.
My Friend Dahmer(2017) [IMDB: 6.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 83% , My Rating: 7.0]
Jeffrey Dahmer was one of the worst serial killers in history. He was a sociopath. Before he started his killings, he was the classmate of a cartoonist in high school. This movie which is based on the best selling graphic novel by his cartoonist friend tries to shed some light on the making of a sociopath. The movie is a character study and does not try to airbrush the brutality of the killer. The good part is that there are no killings in the movie as the movie shows the build up to the creation of a monster. Packed with competent performances and a strangely memorable ending, this is a movie which is certainly worth your time.
A Futile and Stupid Gesture(2018) [IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 75% , My Rating: 7.0]
This movie tells the story of the people behind the creation of ‘National Lampoon’ through the story of one of the co-founders of the magazine and movie franchise. The movie takes a format which gives it a feeling of a documentary. A bevy of comedians including Chevy Chase are part of this ride. The story is told in a conventional format and is thoroughly entertaining. The only gripe could be that for a story full of irreverent people and unconventional ideas, the director sticks to a rather straightforward narrative. Still, recommended.
Good Time(2017) [IMDB: 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 92% , My Rating: 7.0]
Robert Pattison shows that he can act. He and his mentally challenged brother have to solve a litany of problems in the aftermath of a bank robbery. ‘Good Time’ loses its pace at some key moments and the work could have been more unsettling in the hands of an experienced director. Nevertheless, the famished face of Robert Pattison carries the weight of the movie. He is practically unrecognizable from his ‘cool dude’ image in the insufferable ‘Twilight’ franchise. The last scene of this movie is a knockout and summarizes the movie in the most effective way possible. Watch, if you like slow dark stuff.
Downsizing(2017) [IMDB: 5.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 51% , My Rating: 4.0]
I believe that Alexander Payne is one of the most overrated directors of our time. He has received undeserved praise for pedestrian films like ‘Nebraska’, ‘The Descendants’ and ‘About Schmidt’. Finally he is exposed in this ruinous and boring movie called ‘Downsizing’. Matt Damon signs up to a new program in which people who are shrunk in size with the aid of science start living in secluded gated communities. After the first twenty minutes, this movie is a bore fest with the viewer wishing that he could also shrink in size and disappear from the movie hall. The movie is just an ego trip for the director and soon tumbles into a the worst mode possible at a cinema; it becomes a pulpit for preaching. Save your time. Think big. Skip this small minded movie.
Only the Brave (2017) [IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 92% , My Rating: 7.5]
‘Only the Brave’ has the right blend of emotion and action to keep the viewer engaged. It tells a story of firefighters with all the technical stuff while ensuring that the human element is never lost. The story follows a band of characters with a back story which helps in keeping the viewer invested in the destinies of the people on screen. Highly recommended.
Documentary of the Week
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail(2017) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 93% , My Rating: 7.5]
The story of a small community bank which was the only financial institution taken to trial in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. When the companies that were deemed “too big to fail” were bailed out, this small bank was considered too small to be trampled upon. Engaging watch.
Eagerly waiting for: The Academy Awards on March 4.
Did youknow: In the first edition of this blog in April, 2013, this section told the story of Kevin O’Connell who held the record for maximum Oscar nominations (20) without a win. As a testament to the power of perseverance, he broke his bad luck dating backing to 1984 (his first nomination was for ‘Terms of Endearment’) and won his first Oscar on his 21st nomination. This was for Sound Mixing in ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ last year. The new holder of the unenviable ‘most nominations without a win’ title is another veteran at Sound Mixing: Greg P. Russell, who has 17 nominations to his credit. As an aside, cinematographer Roger Deakins who is right up there in the list with 13 unsuccessful nominations is nominated this year for the 14th time, with his brilliance in ‘Blade Runner 2049’ giving him the nomination this year. Here’s to a win for Roger Deakins.
The Second Mother (Brazil, 2015) [IMDB: 8.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 95%, My Rating: 8/10]
This movie, which stimulates careful consideration of the class divides in the Brazilian society, tells the story of a housemaid who lives in Sao Paulo, the financial capital of Brazil. The maid’s serene and stable life goes into a tailspin when her daughter who shares a frosty relationship with her comes to stay with her in Sao Paulo. The skillfully woven tale examines the dynamics of the relationships when an outsider challenges it in myriad ways. The comedienne Regina Case gives a performance par excellence and the acclaims the movie has received is well deserved. Certainly worth a watch.
Movies I Saw This Week
The Martian (2015) [ IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes:93%, My Rating 7.5]
While watching ‘The Martian’ the one thing that doesn’t strike the viewer is that the director Ridley Scott is 77 years old. With celebrated movies like ‘Gladiator’, ‘Thelma & Louise’, ‘Black Hawk Dawn’, ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ and ‘American Gangster’, ‘The Martian’ is the antithesis of what you would expect from a veteran. Brilliantly conceived and executed using cutting edge technology, the movie is an introduction to life on Mars (the planet and not the chocolate). Astronaut Matt Damon has to use all the wits at his disposal when he is stranded in the hostile environment on Mars while awaiting succour. The movie has a predictable story line and occasionally feels like a documentary. Also, it looks like an out of the world version of ‘Cast Away’ with a person trained to be better at being alone. That also takes away the emotional anger, distress and frustration that was essential in a movie like ‘Cast Away’. A 3D version also does not add anything to the movie. On a lighter note, how many times will Hollywood send missions to rescue Matt Damon after attempts in ‘Saving Private Ryan’, ‘Interstellar’ and now ‘The Martian’?
Talvar (2015) [IMDB: 8.6, Rotten Tomatoes:98%, My Rating: 7.0]
‘Talvar’ is a barely camouflaged take on the infamous double murders to rock Noida, a suburb of Delhi. Though the parents of the girl were convicted and are serving their sentence now, the film tries to turn the story upside down. Viewed from an objective point of view, the movie is an unvarnished attempt to take sides and prove the parents innocent in the whole affair. It does not leave any ambiguity and even ridicules views contrary to the moviemaker’s desired stand. Simultaneously the movie raises some disturbing questions related to the handling of the crime scene and ‘confessions’ of some suspects under narco-analysis (The procedure has since been outlawed by the Supreme Court of India as no one can be forced to give evidence against himself/herself). What stands out in the movie are the stirring performance from the ever reliable Irrfan Khan and the sorry state of affairs in the government investigation agencies. The crux of the matter finally boils down to the access outsiders have in a household and how security is sometimes compromised. Director Meghna Gulzaar finally delivers a watchable movie after a history of duds but credit must largely go to the writing of Vishal Bharadwaj who pens an entertaining but ultimately flawed screenplay.
Inside Out (2015) [ IMDB: 8.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%, My Rating: 8.0]
In animation in Hollywood, there is Pixar and then there are the rest. It is akin to a 100m sprint where there is Usain Bolt and the rest. The showcase feature from Pixar this year tells the story of a young girl trying to adjust to life in a new setting. Her emotions are controlled by distinct characters representing happiness, sadness, anger, disgust and fear. There are some nice touches like happiness and sadness sharing similar hair colour to imply that they are related. The movie does get a tad slow in some parts but overall is a joy to watch. Unless something exceptional is released, my money is on ‘Inside Out’ to win the next Academy Award for the ‘The Best Animation Picture’.
Melissa McCarthy stars as the spy in the movie which has some really smart writing to aid to an otherwise average story line. The element of humour is the only running theme in the movie. Aided by clever one liners and some outrageously funny scenes (like the one in an Italian restaurant), the movie is a breeze to watch. The unconventional appearance of the lead is exploited to the hilt and there is a delightful supporting cast of Jude Law, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham and Miranda Hart. Jason Statham lets his hair down in a role parodying his earlier efforts. All of this makes the movie a thoroughly enjoyable fare.
Amar Akbar Anthony (Malayalam, 2015) [IMDB:7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: Not Yet Rated, My Rating: 6.5]
Marking the directorial debut of the multi talented Nadirshah (who has also set the songs to tune), this Malayalam movie tells the tale of three youngsters whose goal in life is to visit Pattaya in Thailand. The truth is that all this is a mere diversion for the antics that they end up performing. The movie is a series of anecdotes with the sole aim of getting a good laugh from the viewers. Some of the jokes achieve more than what they were expected to do. The serious angle in the movie seems to be an afterthought to bring some gravity to the proceedings. For the kind of comedy only Malayalam movies can provide, this is indeed a laugh riot.
Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 (2015) [IMDB: 8.5, Rotten Tomatoes:: Not yet rated, My Rating:5.0]
Based on the template provided by the original, this sequel goes all out to demolish women as vain, scatterbrained and egotistical individuals out to get the naive and goodhearted men. If only things could be that simple. Essentially a demolition job, this movie inadvertently exposes the severe flaws of the characters it sets out to rescue. More than anything, it is about men who make deeply deficient choices. They seem to be thinking with other parts of the body than with their heads when making the choice of a girlfriend. Compared to the prequel where the men were sitting ducks, here they are foxy fellows who feign ignorance till it suits them. Finally when that time does come, they consider themselves as valiant martyrs in the cause of love. There is a cringe-worthy scene at the end where the men rediscover their love for their mothers. There is also an incoherent rant on women by one of the embattled men. The last time he did that it was amusing but now it looks like a forced addition. All in all, this sequel lacks the intellectual honesty of the original.
There is a scene in this movie when Imran Khan says, “Maa chali gayi” (Mother has gone). The expression on his face is that of a lifeless sculpture. I thought that he was telling that the mother has gone to buy groceries or to take a walk. Seconds later it dawned on me that he was announcing the death of his mother. I almost cried. Not for the mother but for the fact that I paid to see a non actor in a disaster of a movie. ‘Katti Batti’ is full of such moments where you curse the moment you decided to walk into the movie hall. Imran Khan has the acting abilities of a stone but then Kangna Ranaut is supposed to be one of the best of this generation. Even she looks like a kid lost in a fair with no idea of what is going on. The anti climax makes you wonder what was going on till that point in the movie. This film is s farce and I am being kind. The best actor in the movie is a turtle. Who gives money to Nikhil Advani to make movies and still does not have a change of heart after Imran Khan is cast in the lead role? There is a lot more that can be said against the film but the electricity consumed by my laptop when I type is worth more than the movie. Save electricity.
When I started this blog 50 weeks ago, I had never imagined that it would have readers from 73 countries and the average weekly readership would cross 70. For 49 weeks I have written ( at times, by burning midnight oil) about my experiences at the movies. The 50th week is a tribute to all the readers who found something worth reading here. For this edition I asked a reader who has read all previous 49 editions, for a list of that person’s 50 favourite movies. This edition is about those 50 movies.
1. Bucket List (2007) [ IMDB:7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 78%]
The Plot: Two terminally ill men from dissimilar backgrounds go on a journey together and try to do everything they always wanted to do.
The Highlight: Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson team up. If for nothing else, the film is worth a watch for the energy they bring to the screen. It is for the same reason and the high expectations from such a film that the viewer may find a little underwhelmed at the end. Still, a very good watch.
The Plot: Two top cops from Los Angeles are sent to a small town to investigate the death of a teen. The sting in the tale is that the sun does not set in the town.
The Highlight: Christopher Nolan’s early work saw a bunch of accomplished actors on screen but the real winner was the cinematography which set the right mood for the film. Even the small town feels like a character on screen. Its beauty and serenity are breathtaking but also add the suspense in the movie.
The Best Scene:
The Best Line: “I can’t judge. There are two kinds of people in Alaska: those who were born here and those who come here to escape something. I wasn’t born here.”
The Plot: How one event happening/not happening changes the course of a women’s life. The vicissitudes and glorious uncertainties of life.
The Highlight: Gwyneth ‘Conscious Uncoupling’ Paltrow who puts in her best performance after her Oscar winning performance in ‘Shakespeare in Love’.
The Best Scene:
The Best Line: “For God’s sake, Gerry. I asked you a simple question; there is no need for you to become Woody Allen.”
4. Shutter Island (2010) [ IMDB:8.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 76%]
The Plot: Set in 1954, the film purportedly shows the investigation to find out the location of a convict who has escaped from a mental asylum.
The Highlight: Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio team up to bring their most provocative story which requires multiple viewings to have a full debate on; a conclusive interpretation being a difficult goal. In the end the story does not matter. All that matters is how much of it is real.
The Best Scene:
The Best Line: “No assumption, no, not at all. You misunderstand me. I said, you are ‘men of violence’. I’m not accusing you of being violent men. That’s quite different.”
The Plot: An immigrant from Cuba builds his fortune in the world of crime and drugs in 1980s Miami.
The Highlight: Al Pacino shows once more time why he is one of the greatest actors ever.
The Best Scene:
The Best Line: “I always tell the truth. Even when I lie.”
6. Groundhog Day (1993) [ IMDB:8.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%]
The Plot: Bill Murray plays a weatherman who finds that he is living the same day again and again. The good thing is that he has Andie MacDowell for company.
The Highlight: It is a toast to the ordinary life which could be extraordinary if one lived it as if there is no tomorrow.
The Best Scene:
The Best Line: “I don’t deserve someone like you. But If I ever could, I swear I would love you for the rest of my life.”
7. The Help (2011) [ IMDB: 8.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 89%]
The Plot: At the height of the Civil rights movement, a young white woman decides to write a book on the light of African American maids and their perception of their masters.
The Highlight: Viola Davis in an illuminating performance.
The Best Scene:
The Best Line: “Courage sometimes skips a generation. Thank you for bringing it back to our family.”
8. The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005) [ IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 83%]
The Plot: A rank outsider wins against all odds at the 1913 US Open in golf, beating his idol on the way.
The Highlight: Nothing exceptional but once in a while the right cliches at the right time make the right kind of movie.
The Best Scene:
The Best Line: “Let me tell you something. I came here to win a trophy. And on the face of it Ted Ray or I should carry it off. Not for you, not for England, but for sheer bloody pride at being the best, that’s why we do this. And if Mr. Ouimet wins tomorrow, it’s because he’s the best, because of who he is. Not who his father was, not how much money he’s got, because of who he bloody is! And I’ll thank you to remember that.
The Plot: A group of interesting characters join the hunt for a missing diamond.
The Highlight: Unbridled action, peppy dialogues and lots of style.
The Best Scene:
The Best Line: “Yes, London. You know: fish, chips, cup ‘o tea, bad food, worse weather, Mary fucking Poppins… LONDON.”
10. Roman Holiday (1953) [ IMDB: 8.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%]
The Plot: An American newsman takes a princess on a trip of Rome on her day away from boring life.
The Highlight: Audrey Hepburn. William Wyler. Gregory Peck.
The Best Scene:
The Best Line: “I have to leave you now. I’m going to that corner there and turn. You must stay in the car and drive away. Promise not to watch me go beyond the corner. Just drive away and leave me as I leave you.”
11. American Gangster (2007) [ IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 87%]
The Plot: A detective trying his best to nab a drug lord.
The Highlight: A simplistic story and an average performance from Russel Crowe are eclipsed by Denzel Washington in one of his best performances.
The Best Scene:
The Best Line: “Success. It’s got enemies. You can be successful and have enemies or you can be unsuccessful and have friends.”
12. Kiss the Girls (1997) [ IMDB: 6.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 64%]
The Plot: A girl who survives a serial killer’s murder attempt holds the key to nabbing him.
The Highlight: Though there are enough loopholes in the movie, it is the sheer presence of Morgan Freeman that makes the film worth a watch.
The Best Scene:
The Best Line: “Multiply your anger by about a hundred, Kate, that’s how much he thinks he loves you.”
13. Match Point (2005) [ IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 81%]
The Plot: A married man falls for the girlfriend of his brother-in-law.
The Highlight: What you don’t expect from Woody Allen and what you absolutely expect from Scarlett Johansson.
The Best Scene:
The Best Line: “The man who said “I’d rather be lucky than good” saw deeply into life. People are afraid to face how great a part of life is dependent on luck. It’s scary to think so much is out of one’s control.”
The Plot: The only hope for a leukemia patient is to get a bone marrow transplant from her sister, a sister who is estranged from her for two decades.
The Highlight: Some stirring performances from Streep, Keaton and DiCaprio.
The Best Scene:
The Best Line: “Most of the time I just keep to myself. I think like what it would be like to be… someone else.”
23. The Last King of Scotland (2006) [ IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 89%]
The Plot: How it was to be a confidante and physician of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.
The Highlight: Acting lesson from Forest Whitaker.
The Best Scene:
The Best Line: “You deserve to die. But dead, you can do nothing. Alive, you might just be able to redeem yourself.”
24. The Tourist (2010) [ IMDB: 6.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 42%]
The Plot: Angelina Jolie walks into the life of Johnny Deep while he is on a vacation in Italy. Wish that was true.
The Highlight: I can’ think beyond Angelina Jolie here.
The Best Scene:
The Best Line: “It’s the um… the Roman god, Janus. My mother gave it to me when I was little. She wanted to teach me that people have two sides. A good side, a bad side, a past, a future. And that we must embrace both in someone we love.”
The Plot: A firefighter’s life told in flashback as he awaits to be rescued before he dies.
The Highlight: Reel life heroes find time to act in a movie that tell the tales of real life heroes.
The Best Scene:
The Best Line: “People are always asking me how is it that firefighters run into a burning building when everyone else is running out. Courage is the answer.”
42. The King’s Speech (2010) [IMDB: 8.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%]
The Plot: A stuttering king has to inspire his nation in times of war. Some men are thrust into greatness and they learn to speak along the way.
The Highlight: Colin Firth who is otherwise very good with his dialogues, had to unlearn.
The Best Scene:
The Best Line: “If I’m King, where’s my power? Can I form a government? Can I levy a tax, declare a war? No! And yet I am the seat of all authority. Why? Because the nation believes that when I speak, I speak for them. But I can’t speak.”
43. The Holiday (2006) [IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 80%]
The Plot: An American and a Britisher swap homes during a vacation and find their respective partners.
The Highlight: One of Nancy Meyers’ more accomplished works.
The Best Scene:
The Best Line: “You’re supposed to be the leading lady in your own life, for God’s sake!”
44. The Color Purple (1985) [ IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%]
The Plot: Adaptation of the classic novel on the life of an African American woman.
The Highlight: Shoddy direction by Steven Spielberg.
The Best Scene:
The Best Line: “The jail you planned for me is the one you’re gonna rot in.”
45. The Day of the Jackal (1973) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 90%]
The Plot: A conspiracy to kill the President of France.
The Highlight: The coldness of the assassin.
The Best Scene:
The Best Line: “You have to employ a professional. Your organization is so riddled with informers that nothing you decide is a secret for long. No, the job would have to be done by an outsider. The only question would be by whom, and for how much.”
46. The Usual Suspects (1995) [ IMDB:8.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 96%]
The Plot: It must be easy to solve a crime when the suspects are limited and known. Or is it?
The Highlight: Kevin Spacey can tell stories.
The Best Scene:
The Best Line: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
The Plot: Greenhorn Vinny has to defend his cousin in a murder trial in small town Alabama.
The Highlight: Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei make you laugh so much that your stomach hurts.
The Best Scene:
The Best Line: “Well I hate to bring it up because I know you’ve got enough pressure on you already. But, we agreed to get married as soon as you won your first case. Meanwhile, TEN YEARS LATER, my niece, the daughter of my sister is getting married. My biological clock is TICKING LIKE THIS and the way this case is going, I ain’t never getting married.”
48. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) [ IMDB: 8.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 95%]
The Plot: A jailed serial killer is the only one who can help a young investigator reach another serial killer on the rampage.
The Highlight: Anthony Hopkins won the Best Actor Oscar for which his onscreen time was the least among all previous winners in the category.
The Best Scene:
The Best Line: “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”
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%]
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%]
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%]
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’ 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’.
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.
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%]
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.
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.
On the Waterfront (1954) [ IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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%]
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.
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%]
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.
I have often heard people say that there are no new stories to tell. It is so difficult to come up with something new. I believe that the solution is simple. Try to find the interesting in the mundane. Director Jan Troell is pretty good at this and has been around for more than 4 decades. In this exquisitely shot movie, a working class woman wins a camera in a lottery and this changes her life in ways she could not have imagined. Since a camera is involved the cinematographer seems to enjoy his work, bringing to us shots which have poetry written over them. Don’t miss the visuals for the subtitles.
Continuing on the theme of finely shot movies, this one captures the beauty of Russian wilderness. Two brothers who have never seen their father are intrigued by his return after twelve years. What is it that had kept him away and why is he back? The film is more of a thriller trying to deconstruct people’s thought processes. In my opinion, the best Russian film of the 21st century.
If there is a movie which stumbled in going from good to great because of poor editing, ‘Cast Away’ is the one. The flight crash scene which is unnecessarily prolonged and few scenes on the island make this one a long movie. Still, I think that Tom Hanks deserved the Oscar for this one more than the stone faced Russell Crowe who won it for ‘Gladiator’. I think why Hanks did not win it is because he already had two of them and also because some people got confused between Gladiator, the movie and Russell Crowe, the actor. In fact, this one has a better performance from Hanks than his previous wins (‘Philadelphia’ and ‘Forrest Gump’). The soundtrack of the movie is one of the best I have ever heard in a motion picture and definitely Alan Silvestri‘s best work. When is the Academy going to give him an Oscar? The film is a good lesson on product placements with Fedex and Wilson getting maximum mileage for their products/services. Minor irritants aside, this is a truly good movie and one of my favourites. It has a great story to tell and will always be on my list of the best films I have ever seen.
Gallipoli in Turkey is a pilgrimage site for Australians and New Zealanders. It is so because it was the sight of the biggest drubbing of the Allies during the First World War and the greatest loss for Australia and New Zealand. The campaign also ignited the movement towards modern Turkey and Mustafa Ataturk was a commander for the Turkish force in the campaign. This film tries to portray the tragedy, with Mel Gibson in one of his earlier roles. He does justice to his role and the film also largely succeeds in capturing the despair and hopelessness. I would love to see a good Turkish film telling their side of the story. Even this one grudgingly approves of the success of Turkish forces over the might of Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand during the campaign. A must watch, if you like war movies.
I did not know about James Dean until 2007, largely because I did not know about his tragic life. It was at the American Center (in the US embassy) in New Delhi where they screen free movies on weekends that I got to know him through ‘East of Eden’ and ‘Rebel Without a Cause’. One cannot help but wonder what could have been had he not died so young. In the end, the quality is what matters and not the quantity. James Dean will not be easily forgotten and this film is quite possibly the closest to his real life persona. The movie is a real gem and that is all I have to say about it. For Indian viewers who are not aware of him, don’t be bothered. Screen legend Dev Anand is a copycat of James Dean. Think of Dev Anand. Think of someone like him and ten times better than him. You get James Dean.
Movies I Saw This Week
Behind the Candelabra (2013) [ IMDB: 7.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 95%]
This gay themed movie has outstanding performances from Michael Douglas and Matt Damon and it is essentially a vehicle for both of them. The good thing is that it is through such movies that I get to know artists like Liberace. Steven Soderbergh is also seeing a revival of his career as a director with this one capping off his success with ‘Side Effects’ this year. An easy watch, if you are comfortable viewing such movies.
Somebody likes to kill and somebody wants to stop the killers. Since computer generated graphics have stretched the limits of what can be shown on screen without putting up a set, this one thrives on that cheap idea. Add some loud colours to that cheap idea. This is exactly the kind of movie which you will have a hard time remembering after a few months unless you have a system where you can remember the movies in which actresses have taken their clothes off. Cheers to Freida Pinto.
Your Sister’s Sister (2011) [ IMDB; 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 83%]
This is a one time watch. Sisters fall for the same man. One of them is desperate for the man and the other is so self assured about her man that she has no clue what is going on. The movie could have been much better had it not had the irritating acting of Mark Duplass as the man who is the object of affection of the two women. They could have taken somebody more charming. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger could have done a better job.
Grand Masti (2013) [ IMDB: 4.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 55%]
Vulgar. I am all for free speech but movies like these question such beliefs. A new category for film certification should be set up for such movies which thrive on verbal pornography, double entendres and objectification of women. Seems to be the work of mentally challenged writers with a single track mind. Lead actors who salivate and have seizures at the sight of women and women who are tasteless in everything they do. If you have paid to watch this movie you should check your mental health. No wonder, the men in India like to think low of women and crimes against women are on the rise. Absolute disaster of a movie and definitely the worst one of 2013.
This week also we start with a Spanish gem. Based on a true story, ‘The Sea Inside’ chronicles a man’s fight for dignity and assertion of his right to live or die. As a bed ridden man, Javier Bardem shows that emoting does not require the whole body. The scene where he imagines him getting out of the bed has been shot exceptionally well. This movie may not be for everyone as it does pose some disturbing questions. I have a particular liking for the title. All of us, I believe, have a sea inside us. Sometimes calm, sometimes agitated.
The Eel (Japan, 1997) [IMDB: 7.3/10, Rotten Tomatoes: 81%]
Winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival, this Japanese classic tells the story of a man trying to rebuild his life after a murder and a subsequent jail term. Usually the Palme d’Or goes to movies which focus on the technique than on the story. Here the story is as compelling as the style and for once it is not a slow movie. In spite of its comfortable pace, the philosophical moorings are hard to miss. In retrospect, the protagonist’s life would have been different and he would have lived it out differently but he deserves a second chance. Everyone does.
This one also is a Palme d’Or winner. A psychiatrist who thinks he has all the answers is shaken after the sudden accidental death of his only son. The dynamics of a happy family change for the worse. It is interesting to note how a complete stranger is the trigger for them to return to their normal lives. The sessions after the death are painful. The movie is a study of people than anything else. To be sure, the film ends on a positive note. Sometimes, just feeling the wind blow may be the best therapy.
The Bridge on River Kwai (1957) [ IMDB: 8.3/10, Rotten tomatoes: 96% ]
If there is one moment in movie history when self realization is shown with such devastating effect, it is when Alec Guiness’ character says, ” What have I done?” in the motion picture ‘The Bridge on River Kwai’. Winner of 7 Academy awards, it is one in a series of masterpieces by maestro David Lean. The story is set in a prisoners of war camp where British soldiers are held by the Japanese during the Second World War. The captives are given the task of building a railway bridge across the river Kwai. What follows is the crux of the story, eventually highlighting the futility of war. This one is a must see. Also, see how a profanity can be whistled.
The Elephant Man (1980) [IMDB; 8.3/10, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%]
This is a film about human dignity. The core idea being that every person deserves respect irrespective of how he/she looks. A heavily disfigured man finds his footing in a world which likes only the photogenic. His intelligence and character shine through with the help of a doctor. The movie was also a landmark for make-up. The category for ‘Make-up’ at the Oscars was introduced after this movie because people thought that if that did not deserve an Oscar, what would?
Movies I Saw This Week
Margaret (2011) [ IMDB: 6.5/10, Rotten Tomatoes: 71%]
A witness who is also a part cause for an accident that kills a woman goes in search of justice. Overall, the movies is not that bad but then it is only halfway through the movie that you realize that it is a study of the protagonist than a thriller. Anna Paquin is in fine form in that role but you will be left wondering what some of the characters are doing in the film, especially the ones like Matt Damon. I also think that the editor forgot to do his job. At 150 minutes the film does test your patience.
Shootout at Wadala (India, 2013) [IMDB: 5.7/10, Rotten Tomatoes: 47%]
Based on the first ‘encounter’ in Mumbai,, the film says the oft repeated story of a middle class boy turning to crime after being wronged by the establishment. It is an unremarkable movie which one should ideally catch when it comes on the TV. It is as predictable as the colour of the Indian PM’s turban. The movie is told through one liners and some of them are good too.
The movie has been shot so well that it shows Kerala at its full glory. For a movie made with limited financial resources, ‘Amen’ shows the hard work that has been put into the making of the film. A man’s attempt for recognition and his effort to win the hand of his lady love are told in the background of turbulent events at a church. The introduction of divine element in the climax was a nice touch. There are some avoidable scenes but the movie as a whole is a treat for the senses.
There are some really funny dialogues and scenes. The plot basically involves grandparents taking care of the kids when the parents are away. It is the type of movie which you don’t mind watching with popcorn to munch. No wonder that it was a blockbuster last year. If you are looking for anything beyond a ‘leave your brains at home’ entertainer, you will be disappointed. As always, Marisa Tomei is a delight to watch on screen.
Documentary Pick of the Week
The Cove (2009) [IMDB: 8.4/10, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%]
This is an activist documentary. It shows the murky business of dolphin fishing and how powerful business interests are often portrayed as national interest. It is an inside view of what happens in the fishing industry. The documentary had been immensely successful in creating awareness about the issue. It is definitely worth a watch.
Eagerly waiting for: ‘Man of Steel’ because if Christopher Nolan has a story to tell, it should be interesting.
Did you know: Akira Kurosawa and Alfred Hitchcock never won a competitive Oscar.