Edition 90

The Non-English Movie of The Week

The Insult (Lebanon, 2017) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 99%, My Rating: 7.0]

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Lebanon is a hotbed of sectarian politics. The nation has strong contingents of Christian and Muslim denominations. Palestinian refugees constitute 10% of the population of Lebanon. It is in this powder keg that ‘The Insult’ is set. A Christian citizen of Lebanon sues a Muslim Palestinian refugee, and the events that ensue form the crux of the story. Up in the air is not just a legal question but decades old raw wounds which guide the motives of all the actors in the flick. Unfortunately, with revelations about the accused and the accuser, the story ties itself in knots. The director chooses the safest exit route by conceding partly to all involved. This only leads to an ending which is safe and is a big letdown for a movie which oozes with tension and drama for the large majority of its running time.

Movies I Saw This Week

22 July (2018) [IMDB: 6.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 79%, My Rating: 6.5]

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Paul Greengrass is a master at telling tales of tension and thrill. His success was undeniable in the Bourne Series and ‘United 93’ and to a lesser extent in ‘Captain Phillips’. In ’22 July’, he takes the viewer to the gory tragedy that unfolds at Utoya island, Norway where a right wing white supremacist (there is no need to name and glorify him) guns down 69 campers after already taking the life of 8 others with an explosion in Oslo. The tragedy and its aftermath are captured in this movie which is based on the more harrowing book ‘One of Us’. The movie is absolutely engaging in the first half but soon loses steam as it progresses. The focus is diluted by two strands that develop in the story. In many instances the killer is made to look reasonable. There is no outright condemnation of the monster and the lawyer who takes up his case begins with the intention of helping his client get away scot-free. The tragedy raises questions on the need for death penalty. If Hitler did not commit suicide and was caught by Norwegians, what would they have done with him?

A Prayer Before Dawn (2018) [IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, My Rating: 7.5]

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Based on a true story and a best selling book, this movie takes you inside the harsh prison life in Thailand and the contact sport of Muay Thai. Englishman Billy Moore finds a little bit of love, life and redemption as he navigates through the violence, abuse and underworld, serving his three year sentence. Notable for the gritty and realistic performances, ‘A prayer Before Dawn’ is a richly rewarding experience for those who have the patience to sit through the ordeal of real action sequences and shocking scenes of abuse.

Andhadhun (2018) [IMDB: 9.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%, My Rating: 8.5]

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Hands down the best Hindi movie of the year, ‘Andhadhun’ reaffirms my belief that Sriram Raghavan is the best director in India when it comes to making a taut thriller. For those who are not convinced yet, watch ‘Johnny Gaddaar’ or the more complex ‘Badlapur’. Andhadhun is the story of a pianist who pretends to be blind and then ‘witnesses’ a murder. The ball is set rolling from that moment and the myriad characters who appear (and some disappear) on the screen lead to a finale which is more clever than tense. The best thing about the movie is that it keeps the viewer engaged from start to end with well formed characters and great performances. There is even scope for some fun in the form of a Chaplinesque sequence with the piano playing in the background as a corpse is packed for disposal. Must see.

Mandy (2018) [IMDB: 6.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, My Rating: 7.5]

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The much maligned Nicolas Cage who was quietly riding into cinematic oblivion with duds piling up in the last few years, finds a comeback in a movie where you would least expect any redemption. In a movie reminiscent of grindhouse flicks, director Panos Cosmatos invites the viewer to a surreal experience of blood letting and horrific violence. Cage plays a man who is out to avenge his wife’s murder by a religious cult. From the word go, the movie with its distinct colour scheme and weird background score embarks on a cycle of gratuitous violence. Watching this movie requires oodles of patience and zero sensitivity to dismemberment of body parts or gushing of blood. Still, recommended.

Leave No Trace (2018) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%, My Rating: 8.0]

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Seldom does a movie so simple arrest attention like ‘Leave No Trace’. This is a movie which must be seen and is an absolute joy to watch. A father and daughter live in the woods and they prefer life that way. When they are discovered, their world starts unfolding. Packed with empathy and wisdom, ‘Leave No Trace’ is a character study with a matching screenplay. I wish there were more movies like this one.

Paterno (2018) [IMDB: 6.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 72%, My Rating: 7.0]

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Paterno was the head coach of the football team which was at the centre of the abuse scandal that engulfed Penn State University. The movie is a competent one made better by Al Pacino who is in fine form playing the title character. The real star in the real world though is the young local reporter who revealed the truth to the world and went on to win a Pulitzer for the same. Though sympathetic to Paterno for long stretches, the movie ends with a scene which shows the culpability and reveals the culture of silence which kept the scandal under wraps for a long time. ‘Paterno’ is not a great movie but one worth watching.

The Wife (2018) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 85%, My Rating: 6.5]

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Glenn Close is heavily tipped to receive an Oscar nomination for her role as an enigmatic wife in this family drama that somehow reaches the finish line while struggling to hold the attention of the viewer. The big revelation in the movie does not take the viewer by surprise as enough hints are given during the course of the movie. The actors are in fine form with Christian Slater playing an annoying character which just requires him to be himself. For other ‘gems’ of Christian Slater watch movies like Basil (1998). As for ‘The Wife’, it is for the viewer to decide if the good lead performances make up for a biting lack of authenticity in a drama about a winner of the Nobel prize in literature.

Kayamkulam Kochunni (2018) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: Not Rated, My Rating: 7.0]

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The legendary thief who even has a temple to his name for his good samaritan acts is reborn on the big screen. An incredibly lucky Nivin Pauly seems to get all the right roles even when it is glaringly evident that his histrionic skills are not up to the mark. The movie itself keeps the viewer engaged even when the screenplay fails to offer anything fresh. Some of the songs in the movie are absolutely unnecessary and plain regressive. Nevertheless, the movie deserves appreciation for trying.

Documentary of the Week

Three Identical Strangers (2018) [IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 95%, My Rating: 8.5]

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An incredible true story about three identical brothers separated at birth and reunited as teenagers. One of the best documentaries I have seen.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Shoplifters’, winner of the Palme d’Or 2018 releasing in the US on 23 November.

Did you know: The movie ‘Arsenal (2017)‘ is still rated 4.0 on IMDB. As of today, Arsenal football club are in their ‘traditional’ 4th spot in the Premier League.

75: Platinum Edition

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Son of Saul (Hungary, 2015) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, My rating: 9.0]

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Trailer

One of the most emotionally draining movies of all time, ‘Son of Saul’ effortlessly canters into the status of a classic. With accolades which include top prizes at assorted film festivals including Cannes, and the Best Foreign Movie at the Oscars, the movie is a compelling tour-de-force. The story revolves around a Jew who is tasked with handling ‘operations’ in the Auschwitz concentration camp and his desperate attempts to organize a religious burial for his son who is gassed to death. ‘Son of Saul’ is one of the most original films I have ever seen.The camera focuses on the protagonist and the story is told through his silent despair. Even when the background is mostly out of focus, the horror at the concentration camp is very much in focus. The utter disregard for human life and the clockwork precision of activities at the camp would have been shocking if they had not been deeply moving. This is a movie you will find difficult to forget.

Movies I Saw This Week

The Man Who Knew Infinity (2016) [ IMDB:7.9, Rotten Tomatoes:62%, My Rating:6.5 ]

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Srinivasa Ramanujan was a self taught genius who could have revolutionized the field of mathematics but for his untimely death. In his short life span he was able to create ripples in the lake that is mathematics. The movie version shines a light on his remarkable life but is let down by the sloppy acting of Dev Patel. His acting is still in the infancy of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ days. Jeremy Irons saves the day by virtually carrying the scenes with his screen presence and dialogue delivery. The hackneyed script meanders along before it is set on its due course. There are some redeeming factors which don’t let the film sink but a far better movie would do justice to S. Ramanujan. Till then, if you want to see a movie with a mathematics genius, watch ‘Good Will Hunting‘.

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) [ IMDB:7.6, Rotten Tomatoes:90%, My Rating: 7.0]

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’10 Cloverfield Lane’ would have been a classic but for its title. That sentence will make sense when you watch the full movie. A young woman finds herself in an underground bunker after a car crash. Her rescuer claims to be protecting her from the perils of the outside world. She also has company in the form of another hostage. As her stay extends in the bunker, her will to escape gets stronger. The movie is engaging but the jarring background score in the initial parts of the movie distracts the viewer more than it thrills. Even then the anticipation of what lies ahead is never lost. There are some neat tricks in the screenplay like the scene in which the protagonist removes the mask and discovers that everything is normal. ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ is a good sequel and lays the groundwork for another sequel but it could have been much more than that.

Eddie the Eagle (2016) [ IMDB:7.6, Rotten Tomatoes:86, My Rating:7.5 ]

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There is nothing like a feel good movie. Feel good movies from the sports arena are especially captivating because who doesn’t love an underdog story? Eddie Edwards was not shooting for the stars when he chose skiing. His single-minded pursuit was for Olympic glory. He did not even want to win. He just wanted to be an Olympian. This movie, based on real events, is his story. Taron Egerton transforms to Eddie Edwards and makes him a lovable character. Hugh Jackman has fun in a role that helps him break the mold. Together they create an engaging duo in a well written movie with all the paraphernalia that accompany such movies. For a movie which has a guarantee of a happy ending written all over it, ‘Eddie the Eagle’ is a good watch.

Hush (2016) [ IMDB:6.7, Rotten Tomatoes:100%, My Rating:7.5]

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‘Hush’ is the story of a deaf-mute author who is under siege from a killer while alone at home. The killer reveals himself to her and makes it amply clear who is in the driver’s seat. What ensues is a cat and mouse game with the death of one of them as the only way to end the standoff. Deftly handled scenes and some fine acting make this movie a top class thriller. Definitely worth a watch.

The Ardennes (Belgium, 2015) [ IMDB:7.0, Rotten Tomatoes:Not yet rated, My Rating:6.5 ]

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‘The Ardennes’ from Belgium tells the tale of two brothers over the course of four years when one of them is convicted for a botched up crime. The movie has a wafer thin plot and moves at a languid pace for most part. It is predictable to some extent but it is the last twenty seconds of the movie that take it another level altogether. The easy thing to do to is to skip the scenes which don’t have dialogue in them. If it were to be reduced to one hour, the movie would have been a rather short and sweet package. Nevertheless, a good film.

The Jungle Book (2016) [ IMDB:7.9, Rotten Tomatoes:94%, My Rating:7.5] 

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‘Jungle Book’ brings a truckload of nostalgia. When I was a kid (that was a quarter of a century ago), ‘Jungle Book’ used to be one of the main cartoons on Doordarshan (India’s official TV network). From the remarkable run this movie version is having at the box-office, it is safe to assume that it is not just me who is having a bout of nostalgia. The success of the movie is also because of the technical wizardry at work. The scenes are captivating and the editing is sleek. There is no dull moment in this masterful production of a much loved novel.  There are some discordant notes though. In the original Jungle Book the snake ‘Kaa’ was a male and friendly to Mowgli but in the film Kaa becomes a female and becomes a dangerous adversary. Similarly, the monkey king is given mannerisms, crooning and dialogues similar to that of an African-American. Small discordant notes. Enjoyed the film though.

Creep (2015) [ IMDB:6.2, Rotten Tomatoes:96%, My Rating:6.5]

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‘Creep’ is shot in the ‘found footage’ format. A craiglist ad entices a videographer to take up a one day shoot in a remote area. When he arrives there he finds his spooky but well meaning guest. The videographer’s sympathies soon turn into pure angst and fear. For once, he does not realize what he has signed up for. In some ways the naivete of the protagonist is the cause of all his perils. I wondered more than once on the improbability of the plot and also how easily the videographer’s concerns were rubbished by the police. If you sweep such inconsistencies under the carpet, the movie is a rather engaging watch. Mercifully, it is only 77 minutes long.

Jacobinte Swargarajyam (Malayalam,2016) [ IMDB:7.9, Rotten Tomatoes:Not listed, My Rating: 7.5]

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Dubai is a mirage in the middle of a desert. It is in this Dubai that dreams are built and hopes are shattered. When the 2008 economic crisis and a cheating business partner create the perfect storm for a family, the family finds strength and courage from sources hitherto unknown to them. ‘Jacobinte Swargarajyam’ tells the story of that family. Based on real events, the movie does not fall into the trap of being excessively sentimental. The makers also resist the temptation of making it a riches to rags to riches story. The focus is on people: within the family and outside it. Another piece of evidence to show that the best movies in India are made in non-Hindi languages.

Baaghi (Hindi, 2016) [ IMDB:5.9, Rotten Tomatoes:63%, My Rating:5.5]

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This movie is vehicle for Tiger Shroff to establish his credentials as an action hero. The problem with it is that it looks dated and the story and screenplay seem to have been stolen from the tomb of Tutankhamun. The director is so out of his ideas that he even recreates a song sequence of ‘Dil-Se’ in his thoroughly boring songs. Not content with this he also has a copy of a rain song which looks eerily similar to another song in the Tamil film ‘Mazhai’ (That movie is a remake of Telugu hit ‘Varsham’.  The formula is simple. Action sequence followed by a song. Repeat. The jokes could have been called stale but they were pickled a long time ago by other filmmakers to extend their expiry dates. Good that they shot most of the movie in Kerala because people there could have never understood the nonsense they were being subjected to.

Sairat (Marathi, 2016) [ IMDB:9.5, Rotten Tomatoes:Not listed, My Rating: 8.0 ]

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Official selection at the Berlin International Film Festival and on course to be the biggest Marathi film of all time, ‘Sairat’ holds a mirror to the deep seated caste prejudices in our society. Unnecessarily long at 170 minutes, the movie is about the budding love between youngsters from two different castes and the ramifications of their love. Told through the eyes of the leading lady (Rinku Rajguru in a National Award winning role), the film is a breeze in the first half. The director steadily builds the story and adds more gravitas to the proceedings in the second half. The score does no harm to his efforts. It is difficult to write more without giving away the plot details but suffice to say that the climax of the film is truly exceptional for the thought that has gone into it.

Fan (Hindi, 2016) [ IMDB:8.0, Rotten Tomatoes:82%, My Rating:4.0]

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Nobody loves Aryan Khanna (that is, Shahrukh Khan) more than Gaurav Chandna (that is, Shahrukh Khan). The word ‘Narcissim’ traces its origin to a young Greek called Narcissus who fell in love with his reflection in a pool. What if people turned suicidal after watching ‘Dilwale’ and ‘ Happy New Year’? SRK still has fans going crazy in front of his house when he cares to wave at them. He has fans willing to kill for him. He has fans willing to die for him. He has producers who make films for him. He has writers who indulge his megalomania. He can make films where the other actors have nothing to say or do. He can hold forth on issues affecting the nation as if he really cares. He can release films in movie halls and expect people to watch. But he cannot make even his fans watch a film called ‘Fan’. Alas, even SRK’s fans have brains.

Documentary of the Week

That Sugar Film (2014) [ IMDB:7.3, Rotten Tomatoes:64%, My Rating:6.5]

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A documentary chronicling the ill effects of sugar on the body. Informative.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Kabali’ because there is no one like Rajnikanth

Did you know: “Shahrukh” means “face of the king”