Edition 86

The Non-English Movie of The Week

The Square (Sweden, 2017) [IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 82%, My Rating: 7.0]

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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.

Movies I Saw This Week

Phantom Thread (2018) [IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 91% , My Rating: 7.5]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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‘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]

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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 you know: 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.

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Edition 78

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Elle (France, 2016) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, My Rating: 7.5]

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Trailer

Isabelle Huppert is one of the finest actors of this generation. This movie is another proof of her acting prowess. She fills every frame of the movie and keeps the suspense going. There are shades of Basic Instinct, an earlier work of the director. The basic story is that of the protagonist playing a cat-and-mouse game with her unknown rapist. The complexity of the film is created by the numerous subplots  which are interlinked. The complicated back story of the protagonist  and her subsequent mistrust of police aid in storytelling. In the end all the subplots fall into place like that of a jigsaw puzzle. Maybe, it is this comfortable ending that won the film the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Highly recommended.

Movies I Saw This Week

Florence Foster Jenkins (2016) [IMDB: 7.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 87%, My Rating: 7.0]

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There’s something about Meryl Streep which keeps the viewer engaged even in a mediocre movie.  ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ has no claim to greatness  but it is carried solely by the form shoulders of Meryl Streep ably supported by Hugh Grant.  For a director who won Meryl Streep last Best Actress Oscar for ‘The Queen’,  this is definitely not an improvement. The director is definitely successful in creating sympathy for Florence Foster Jenkins but the masses couldn’t care less for the fate of a troubled aristocrat. A movie on the world’s worst opera singer compares favorably with a movie on the world’s worst director. The latter titled ‘Ed Wood‘ was definitely a better work of art. At least, it had self-doubt.

Sully (2016) [IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 85%, My Rating: 7.5]

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Clint Eastwood makes great movies. Tom Hanks  acts in great movies. Their combination to tell the story of an American hero in Captain Chesley Sullenberger is one of the best movies of the year. Like some of the previous Clint Eastwood movies there is no attempt at making the movie dramatic. At the same time, the movie cannot be classified as a character study as it only scratches the surface. Nevertheless, Tom Hanks pulls off with elan the role of a hero who is not aware of his heroic act.  Aaron Eckhart plays the best role of his life as the co-pilot. The thing about the ‘Miracle On Hudson’ is that it is one of those events which can hardly be ever repeated. Even the recreation of the movie isn’t enough to convince the viewer about the possibility of such an event. Perhaps that is where the movie had its task cut out and perhaps that is where it is not entirely successful. A shorter film of one hour would have done more justice to the plot.

Hell or High Water (2016) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%, My Rating: 8.0]

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Undoubtedly one of the best movies of the year Hell or High Water is supported by a cast comprising of thespians like Jeff Bridges Chris Pine.  Set in the forgotten parts of America and resembling a Western, the high point of the movie is that it resists the urge to pull out the gun on various occasions. The simmering tension of the movie is felt till the last frame. Concurrently the movie makes a bold statement on the plight of Americans left behind by the forces of capitalism. Most of the anger is directed at big banks who seem to get away with murder. Consequently, bank robberies form the central theme of the movie. The story is that of two brothers who rob the same bank they owe, to avoid foreclosure. In between all the gloom and doom there are also some subtle humor like in the restaurant where the waiter  knows a limited menu.  Alas, the movie is a reaffirmation of the fact that Jeff Bridges is one of the finest actors alive today. Must watch.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%, My Rating: 6.5]

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Following the success of his debut feature ‘What we do in the shadows’, the director’s second feature, ‘The hunt for the wilderpeople’, is a letdown. Indeed there are moments of humor in the movie but some of it seems forced and especially unexpected from a young child. The style of direction is a cross between that of Wes Anderson and Tim Burton. The movie tries to address some of the social issues but it soon turns to a farce. Set in the picturesque  mountains of New Zealand, it is also a peep into the life of the people at the margins of the society. I had a feeling that I had seen similar movies set in the America of 1980s. The only saving grace for the movie is that it does not bore the wits out of the viewer. The burden of high expectations seems to have taken a toll on the director.

The Light Between the Oceans (2016) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 59%, My Rating: 6.5]

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The undeniable beauty of ‘The Light Between the Oceans’ is compromised by the cringingly sentimental storyline. Boasting such performers like Michael Fassbender, Alicia vikander and Rachel Weisz, The movie is unable to tap into the talent at its disposal.  By the second half, the movie sets  out on a predictable path. The film tells the tale of a young childless couple who one day find a baby marooned at sea. Some movies have difficult choices to make. The options at their disposal are equally worthwhile. Choosing one over the other is so precarious an exercise that this undermines the whole tale. That is the malady which effects this movie.

Deepwater Horizon (2016) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 83%, My Rating: 6.5]

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The debacle at Deepwater Horizon was one of the biggest tragedies of the oil industry. From the BP CEO who infamously said, ” I’d like to have my life back” to the frontline soldiers of the company who lost their lives, the movie captures an event, the wounds of which are yet to heal.  Deepwater Horizon documents the events that happened on the fateful day of the tragedy. The template is the standard one used for all the disaster movies.  No great acting chops are expected yet competent performances are delivered. The movie captures the horror of the tragedy without deviating from the standard storyline. The movie is not particularly illuminating but some of it needs to be heard and seen.

War Dogs (2016) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 71%, My Rating: 6.5]

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This movie could have been titled ‘It Happens Only in America’. Two neophytes receive a 300 million dollar defense contract. What follows is a series of games involving  arms traders and phoney businessmen. Jonah Hill is the big fat  dealer who will stop at nothing. The improbable story covers countries like Jordan, Albania and Iraq and is essntially the juvenile version of ‘Lord of War’. The film could have been taut and this aspect is particularly conspicuous. Otherwise, a decent watch.

The Siege of Jadotville (2016) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 73%, My Rating: 6.5]

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This is the type of African tale which must be told.  Unfortunately they could have chosen a better story to tell.  Set in 1960s Congo in the midst of a Civil War,  the movie captures the fate of neutral United Nations Peacekeeping Force which does not receive support from the government, the opposition or the rebels. To make matters worse, they don’t even  receive support from the United Nations.  They are pawns in a bigger political game whic involves mining companies, colonial powers, world superpowers and a fledgling government. They are left to battle for survival against formidable odds.  The low production quality of Netflix is evident in this movie. Unfortunately, it is a story about heroes who need to be remembered and it does not get the treatment it deserves.

Don’t Think Twice (2016) [IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 99%, My Rating: 7.5]

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‘Don’t Think Twice’ is one of the best movies of the year  until the last 10 % of the movie  when it gets  cloyingly sweet.  The movie has freshness written all over it. It tells the tale of a group of actors and how the Dynamics between them changes when one of them is chosen for a starring role in a television program. The movie is littered with instances of wit and humor. The young actors in the movie give it the credibility  it seeks. Recommended.

Documentary of the Week

Weiner (2016) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%, My Rating: 8.0]

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Anthony Weiner was once the young Turk among democrats. His fall from grace and the unraveling of his personal life are captured in this intimate documentary. One of the best documentaries of the year.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘A United Kingdom’ which tells the true life story of a Botswanian prince who married a British lady.

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Did you know: ‘La La Land’ now holds the record for the most Golden Globe wins by a film.

Edition 60

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Leviathan (Russia, 2014) [IMDb:8.0, Rotten tomatoes: 99%, My Rating: 9/10]

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Of the few hundred movies that I have seen in 2014, ‘Leviathan’ is the best. It is also the most depressing. It is unsparingly bleak, brutally honest and hauntingly beautiful.

A man decides to stand up against the might of the Russian State, in a coastal town where generations of his family have lived. His mortal enemy is the mayor of the town and when he summons his lawyer friend from Moscow to fight his case, he sets in motion a chain of events that spiral out of control. The vast expanse of the remote Russian terrain and the suitably frugal government offices conspire to cover up the opulence and decadence at the heart of the society. It would be a surprise if ‘Leviathan’ does not take the Oscar for the foreign language movie.

Movies I Saw This Week

Whiplash (2014) [ IMDB: 8.7, Rotten Tomatoes:96%, My rating:7.5]

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‘Whiplash’ has too many twists and turns. It could have been an ideal candidate for a script tying itself in knots but ‘Whiplash’ redeems itself by untying all the knots (or shall we say notes?) without making it feel like a Houdini escape. For the most part you won’t notice that such a short story is basically held together by some praiseworthy performances. In the case of J.K Simmons, it is also an Oscar worthy performance. In fact, if there is one category on which I am willing to put my money now, it is the Best Supporting Actor, for J.K. Simmons.

I was reminded of some of the teachers whom I had the misfortune of meeting and who confused rigor with inhumanity. ‘Whiplash’ is about a drummer who overcomes the hurdles placed by such a teacher. All this is told in a very engaging way and this has now helped ‘Whiplash’ to become the dark horse in the ‘Best Screenplay ‘ category at the Oscars.

Selma (2014) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%, My Rating: 7.5]

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Based on an important chapter in the US Civil Rights Movement led by Nobel laureate Martin Luther King, ‘Selma’ tells a topical tale. Unfortunately, it was snubbed in categories like direction, acting and screenplay at the Oscars. It also revealed some interesting statistics: 94% of Oscar voters are white and 77% are white men with an average age of 63. Even Martin Luther King would have struggled to get a nod from such a group. The director Ava DuVernay has a double handicap. She is a woman and she is African American.

Coming to the movie, the creators of the movie were not allowed to use the actual speeches used by Dr.King. Still, the scenes are quite rousing and performed with anguish and passion. It is on watching such movies that one gets to know of Dr.King being whacked by every Tom, Dick and Harry who disagreed with him. As a movie, ‘Selma’ may not be a classic but it is  great chronicle of one of the struggles that shaped history. Highly recommended.

Cake (2014) [IMDB: 6.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 47%. My Rating: 5.5]

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There was a lot of heartburn when Jennifer Aniston was snubbed by the Academy in spite of concerted lobbying for a ‘Best Actress’ nomination. After watching ‘Cake’, I was wondering what all that hoopla was about. Clearly a movie made with the sole intention of fetching Aniston an Oscar, ‘Cake’ leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Aniston plays  a character suffering from chronic pain (presumably) after a personal tragedy. Aniston went the extra length of wearing as little make up as possible for this movie. All she ends up delivering is an insipid performance. Now that Aniston got her ‘Cake’, she also got to learn that she cannot have the cake and eat it too.

Pride (2014) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, My Rating: 7.0]

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Based on a true story, ‘Pride’ is about the LGBT community and the miners who became bedfellows during Thatcher era miner’s strike in Britain. Set in Wales, the movie has a pleasing pace and gathers momentum as it progresses. The dialogues are fresh the creators have tried their best to keep the historical accuracy of events. A lively background also lifts the film from being pedestrian. It is a movie which is not bad but it would also be an exaggeration to call it a very good film.

Big Eyes (2014) [IMDB: 7.0, Rotten Tomatoes:71%, My Rating: 5.5]

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There was a Tim Burton who made thoroughly enjoyable movies like ‘Edward Scissorhands’. There is a Tim Burton who makes soulless movies like ‘Big Eyes’. Just like his favorite Johnny Depp, he also making uninspired movies. This one has Amy Adams essaying the role of Margaret Keane whose paintings of children with big eyes were a rage a few decades ago.  The trouble was that her husband fraudulently took all the acclaim and the millions generated from the sales of her paintings. It is about how the painter reclaimed what was rightfully hers. The whole movie looks like a stale 80s documentary where everything seems so artificial and simplistic. It is a story without any memorable moments. At some point in the movie, you wish that the agony had been shorter. Wish the editor of the movie had scissorhands.

Wild (2014) [IMDb: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 90%, My rating: 4]

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This movie’s only purpose is to somehow land Reese Witherspoon another Oscar. If you have too much money and time, and your choice is between watching ‘Wild’ and paying somebody to kick you, do the latter. A woman goes on a wild trek to tide over a personal tragedy . That’s it. She backpacks and just walks. Reese Witherspoon wants an Oscar for acting in this movie. Many critics concur. I think they should be asked to go for a walk.

 

I (2015) [IMDB: 8.4, Rotten tomatoes: 55%, my Rating: 3.0]

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From my childhood I have enjoyed most of the movies from Shankar even when they had the same story of a man’s struggle against corruption. Muthalvan, Gentleman, Indian and Anniyan were essentially the same tale told in different ways. In ‘I’, corruption gives way to romance. The hero wants to take revenge on those who sabotaged his love and life. The director throws logic out of the window, digs a grave and buries science, and relies on low brow humor to hold together a film disintegrating like the body of the protagonist. Even the normally reliable AR Rahman is not able to give a hummable tune. The dictum followed by the director is to disfigure characters and make them look as repelling as his makeup man possibly could.  While Shankar created spectacles with a much lower budget in his earlier films, his revenge instrument in this big budget movie is a syringe. If you ever have to explain to a foreigner what this movie is about, tell him/her that it is the Indian version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’.

Documentary of the Week

Citizenfour (2014) [IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%, My rating: 9/10]

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Edward Snowden. The documentary of the year. Must watch.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’

Did you know: Jason Schwartzman, Sofia Coppola and Nicolas Cage are cousins.