Week 44

Movies: Non-English

In a Better World (Denmark,2010) [ IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 86%]

in a better

Trailer: 

Winner of the Academy Award for the best foreign language film, this film from Denmark marries the liberal conscience of the Scandinavians with harsh realities of strife torn Africa. A Danish doctor serving in Africa has some ethical dilemmas to face and matters are not helped by the dysfunctional family he has back home. The film has been shot exquisitely, with the dust bowls of Africa contrasting with the serenity of the green fields in Denmark. The story is masterfully told, with an impending sense of disaster writ over it. The acting is competent, a reminder that good movies can be made without a lot of money.

Lust, Caution (Taiwan, 2007) [IMDB:7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 84%]

lust caution

Trailer:

Shanghai is the setting for this espionage thriller directed by double Oscar winner Ang Lee. A woman infiltrates the establishment and becomes the mistress of her target. What begins as a cautious relationship with clear cut motives turns into an affair replete with passion and intrigue. The film took the festival circuit by storm when it was released, partly owing to the fact that the love making scenes were not simulated. The performances are uniformly good and the story never loses its zing in the safe hands of Ang Lee. Watch this movie for the way the story has been woven. As the adage goes, this is a story on love but not a love story.

Movies I Saw This Week

Nebraska (2013) [ IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 92%]

Nebraska

Trailer: 

Bruce Dern shows that experience in acting does count as he plays an old man with an alcohol problem and an even worse case of delusion. Falling for a marketing trick, he believes that he is the winner of a million dollar bounty which makes him take a road trip with his estranged and unwilling son to claim his ‘prize’. His encounters along the way and the reactions he elicits from other characters make up the rest of the story. The film is shot in black and white. The thing about the performance from Dern is that he is able to draw the viewer into the movie to the extent that the viewer may start to sympathize with him. Needless to say, the film is a Bruce Dern show all the way. His lack of Oscar wins make him a sentimental favourite this year but it could still be case of ‘so near yet so far’ for him.

Philomena (2013) [ IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 92%]

Philomena

Trailer: 

An out of work BBC reporter finds common cause with a lady looking for her son who was taken away from her as a kid. Steve Coogan plays the liberal reporter who thinks himself to be beneath such ‘human interest stories’ and has no interest in the lives of common folks who seem below his radar of interest. He comes to the aid of a devout Catholic played by Judi Dench who holds on dearly to her beliefs even in the face of evidence that she was wronged by the church. The story is not riveting but the film does have a political statement to make. (Spoilers ahead) I was little amused that on discovering that her son was gay, Judie Dench says that she imagined him to be gay because he was sensitive child. This is exactly the kind of nonsense that gets you few brownie points but does not work in the real world. Think of it, sensitive children grow up to be gay. Even such gimmicks will not fetch Judi Dench the Oscar this year and I am willing to put my money on Cate Blanchette taking home the gong.

Frozen (2013) [ IMDB: 8.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 89%]

Frozen

Trailer: 

Anna wants to find her sister who has magical powers. She embarks on a journey to do so. Disney has positioned itself as the ultimate family brand and it is not difficult to imagine that Disney films will be sweet and heartwarming fare. I am not a fan of musicals and I find it difficult to sit through scenes in which the characters try out the strength of their vocal chords. The animation here is good but it is a reflection of the state of the animation industry that this film is the hot favourite to win the Animation Oscar this year. I yearn for the days of films like Wall E.

Jai Ho (India, 2014) [ IMDB: 6.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 52%]

jai ho

Trailer: 

Think of all the issues on which there can be no debate on what is right, like patriotism, rights of the physically challenged, respect for women, corruption, right to education and so on. Get the dates (the ones on the calendar and not the girls) of Salman. Make him the common man (yes, the ‘being human’ poacher with a heart of gold). Get him to sermonize. When the social science class gets boring, bring on the songs. If songs are not your stuff, no problem. There are lots of action sequences where Salman turns up so that he can bash up all those who are eagerly waiting for the favour of being thrashed by him. If you still don’t get the story, it is about a perfect human being (who does not get drunk and maul down pavement dwellers) who does nothing but help people. He does not ask anything in return but asks the recipients of his help to help three more people. To illustrate this, he shows us that multiplication with 3 is indeed a great thing. After filming the movie, he then appears on ad campaigns and asks people to pay money and forward the films promos to three more people. In case you were wondering what is the technical name for such a scheme, it is called a Ponzi Scheme and Salman is at the top of the pyramid. In case you are still wondering, he has made fools out of you and laughed his way to the bank. Unfortunately, he knows that he cannot be prosecuted for making a Ponzi film.

Documentary Pick of the Week

The Act of Killing (2013) [ IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 95%]

The Act of Killing

Trailer: 

The Indonesian forces killed millions of communists to wipe out communism from the country in the 1960s. Thugs and gangsters were the leading lights of this state sponsored mass killing. In the most courageous documentary to have come out in a long time, the filmmakers interview some of the men who perpetrated the crimes and who boast in public about the killings they have carried out. The killers are given the chance to recreate the killings in the format of a movie genre of their choosing. Watching this documentary is a surreal experience. It takes some time to comprehend what you see. The grave danger to the lives of the filmmakers is exemplified by the end credits in which half of the crew are listed as ‘Anonymous’. If there is justice in the world, this documentary should win over ’20 Feet from Stardom’ at the Oscars.

Brian De Palma Retrospective

Brian De Palma has made some landmark films in his time. A key feature of his movies is the presence of a flawed protagonist fighting his inner demons as he faces the rough world.

Scarface (1983) [ IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%]

Scarface

Trailer:

Al Pacino plays a Cuban immigrant who turns to crime and loses his footing. Essential viewing.

The Untouchables (1987) [ IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 89%]

Untouchables

Trailer:

The story of the infamous mafia man Al Capone. Must watch.

Casualties of War (1989) [ IMDB: 7.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 83%]

Casualties of War

Trailer:  

A man is the ony dissenting voice in his group when they decide to take a Vietnamese girl as a prisoner. Set during the Vietnam war. The best performance in the career of Michael J Fox.

Eagerly Waiting for: ‘300: Rise of an Empire’ because I had liked the first one in the series.

Did you know: Katherine Hepburn only drank water throughout ‘The African Queen’ production as a protest against John Huston and Humphrey Bogart’s alcoholism. However, most of the cast and crew became sick from the water and only Bogart and Huston were unaffected because they drank only whiskey. (Source: Huffington Post)

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Week 24

Movies: Non-English

Everlasting Moments (Sweden, 2008) [IMDB: 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%]

everlasting moments

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOnLN2veR1c

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.

The Return (Russia, 2003) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 95%]

return

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRXLsMk_7Kk

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.

English Retrospective

Cast Away (2000) [IMDB: 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 90%]

cast-away-movies-69383_1024_768

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJvosb4UCLs

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 (1981) [IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 88%]

gallipoli

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6m8gk6w2yY

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.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955) [IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 95%]

rebel without a cause

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAlzg0S51GY

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%]

Behind-the-Candelabra-2013

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fp3wAyRf15c

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.

Immortals (2011) [ IMDB: 6.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 35%]

Immortals_poster

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VdONYkKFmQ

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%]

your sister's

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6NJzrA4oHs

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%]

Grand_Masti

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r18noo_rGyA

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.

Documentary Pick of the Week

Blackfish (2013) [ IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%]

BLACKFISH_Film_Poster

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLOeH-Oq_1Y

A leading contender for the documentary of the year. It shows how ill advised it is to keep whales in captivity and make them ‘perform’.

Eagerly Waiting for: ‘All is lost’ because it could see Robert Redford’s return to form.

Did you know:’Hero’ (2002) was the first foreign language film to open at No: 1 at the US box office.