Week 33

Movies: Non-English

Iron Monkey ( Hong Kong, 1993) [ IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 90%]

iron monkey

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7LgixNDtQo

Just as there is ‘Pulp Fiction’ in ‘Fiction’, there is ‘Pulp Action’ in ‘Action’ and the Chinese are quite good at it. Here, the ‘Pulp’ refers not just to the crass commercial aspect of the movie but also the fact that some guys are beaten to pulp in mindless action. Still, a little bit of fun never killed anyone. ‘Iron Monkey’ for me, is the pinnacle of such movie making. With spectacularly choreographed sequences, nail-biting action and awe inspiring set pieces, this is a film that one should not miss. Even after two decades this film remains quite a show. In case you are interested in the plot, a doctor puts on a mask and fights corruption. The plot is just incidental. Enjoy.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (China, 2000) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%]

crouching

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEaGsdiA0y0

There is scale. Then there is ambition. When these two combine, you get ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’. At times it gets grandiose but who does not like to suspend disbelief once in a while? Watch warriors walk on water, fight atop bamboos, flash swords without a care in the world in a monumental film of epic proportions which will leave you asking for more. The major advantage of this movie over ‘Iron Monkey’ is that it has top class actors and a solid story to tell. Above all, it has Ang Lee at the helm. It is a reminder of how versatile a director he is. It is the mark of a genius to have done films as varied as ‘Sense and Sensibility’, ‘Hulk’, ‘Brokeback Mountain’, ‘Lust , Caution’ and ‘Life of Pi’.

English Retrospective

The Changeling (1980) [ IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 81%]

Changeling_ver1

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

A man recovering from a terrible family tragedy moves into a large house. It takes him time to realize that he has company he never wanted. ‘The Changeling’ has some of the best horror scenes I have ever seen. It gives an eerie feeling similar to ‘The Shining’. The film is a George C Scott show all the way with the thespian being present in almost every frame. The ending is a bit convenient but then the ride compensates for the destination.

Slap Shot (1977) [ IMDb: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 88%]

slap shot

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUuEWI6F3dQ

An Ice Hockey team down in the dumps and facing closure finds an ingenious way of roaring back to winning ways. This film is not about Ice Hockey. In fact, at times it feels like a movie on boxing. I don’t know whether Ice Hockey was played like the way it is depicted in the movie. If so, it has come a long way. The movie is a farce and the good part is that it does not matter. The end scene lends some gravitas to an otherwise out and out entertainer.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) [ IMDB: 8.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%]

to kill a

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KR7loA_oziY

There have been few heroes in the world of fiction like lawyer Atticus Finch. Gregory Peck is Atticus Finch is this classic film adaptation of the classic book by Harper Lee. The protagonist defends an African American in the South against false charge of rape and in the process teaches his kids to stand up against prejudice and racism. Gregory Peck gives the performance of a lifetime. Must see.

Movies I Saw This Week

Still Mine (2013) [ IMDb: 7.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%]

still mine

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mv_Rl0CBPNs

One of the best films of the year. Highly recommended. An old couple, still strongly in love after 6 decades of marriage decide to build a new house. They run into the establishment in the process and also tackle the memory loss of the wife as they go along. Excellent writing and some memorable performances make it a film that deserves your full attention. If I had a vote at the Oscars I would have given this film a few of the statuettes.

How I Live Now (2013) [ IMDB:6.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 66%]

how i live

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSaxm68PPT4

Apparently the book on which the movie is based was a bestseller. Either the movie does not do justice to the book or the author got lucky. An American girl in England has to stay put with her love as the world is facing a nuclear meltdown, in this movie set in a not too distant future. It really requires an effort to remain interested in this film after ten minutes. None of the characters are likeable. I wouldn’t have really bothered if the protagonist disappeared midway through the film.

The Croods (2013) [ IMDB:7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 79%]

the croods

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fVCKy69zUY

I am mighty disappointed with animation movies nowadays because they have started to look the same. ‘The Croods’ is no exception and relies on the same tired gags and subplots. Hope that they rediscover the spark in those animation studios. As for this one, the kids may like it to some extent. Otherwise, off the mark.

Documentary Pick of the Week

Chasing Ice (2012) [ IMDB: 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 96%]

chasing-ice

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIZTMVNBjc4

This documentary should be viewed on the big screen. To call the images stunning would be a gross understatement. You almost forget that you are watching a documentary on global warming. Ice never looked so cool.

Eagerly Waiting for: ‘Out of The Furnace’ because it has a red hot cast in Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck and Zoe Saldana.

Did you know: Full length feature films (except foreign language films) should run with paid admission for at least 7 days in Los Angeles to be considered for the Oscars.

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Week 15

Movies: Non- English

The Class (France, 2008) [IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%]

the-class_us_poster

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8HWJqgMAhU

Winner of the ‘Palme D’Or’ at Cannes, this film tells the story of a teacher grappling with a group of teenagers from different backgrounds in his classroom in suburban Paris. Hailed for holding a mirror to the new socio-cultural mix of the French society, this film is as powerful as it is simple. The characters are so believable that you will forget momentarily that they are acting and performing the scenes given to them. One thing I have always loved about French cinema is that it gives importance to the character and dialogues more than anything else. The banter among students about some obscure nations competing in the African Cup of Nations  point to the effect of immigration from former French colonies. The movie is also a pointer to the restrictions that the teachers face in the name of the rights of students. My endearing memory of this movie is a discussion on it with a friend when I was in France. I had watched this movie in India and in my keenness to impress him I started talking about it. His response, ” It is nice that you have seen it. It has not even been released widely in France and I don’t know anyone else who has seen it. At least you get to see such movies.”

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Romania, 2007) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 96%]

4 months

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZisE16JBUMA

Could the story of an abortion be a thriller? Yes, if it set in communist ruled Romania during the 1980s. This movie was the winner of Palme d’Or at Cannes and took the film festival circuit by storm, winning all the major accolades except the Oscar. The only reason why it did not win the Oscar is because in the USA people are still fighting the right of a woman to have control of her body. The film is a must watch for choosing to shed light on a dark period in Romania’s history. It has some disturbing images. If you are the religious type, please stay away. For more sensible people, it is a must watch. Two thumbs up from a bleeding heart liberal.

Hollywood Retrospective

Synecdoche, New York (2008) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 70%]

synecdoche-new-york-poster-764x1024

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIizh6nYnTU

This debut feature from the writer of gems like ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ and’Adaptation’ is one of the most devastating films I have ever seen. Chosen by Roger Ebert as the best film to have come out in the first decade of the 21st century, this is not for the ordinary viewer. In fact, most will not be able to fully grasp the story on first viewing. It is a little arty and the writing is also complex that the viewer will not be able to make much sense of what he sees on screen. At a simplistic level, it is the story of a man and the women in his life. At a more complex level, it supports the idea that our lives are predetermined and we do not have much control over anything. Philip Seymour Hoffman hits the high notes with his performance and his acting is an essential viewing for anyone who thinks that acting is a serious craft.

Are we so powerless that we cannot have a say in our destiny or is it that we are just playing out the parts written for us. Is it all about fate? Will the voice just say it? Die.

Chinatown (1974) [ IMDB: 8.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%]

chinatown_amsel-german-movie-poster

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T37QkBc4IGY

As I have mentioned in one of the earlier posts, Roman Polanski is not a director who likes happy endings except for his masterpiece ‘The Pianist’. In ‘Chinatown’ also the dominant feeling is that of doom and gloom. The climax confirms the general pessimism of Polanski towards life, perhaps a reflection of the awful tragedies in his life. Nevertheless,  this movie is a compelling one with a solid story and outstanding performances. Jack Nicholson plays a private detective who is hired to investigate personal lives but as he begins his investigation he soon learns that it is as painful and complex as peeling onions. Chinatown’s final sequence has a dialogue; “It’s not worth it”. The opposite is true for the movie.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) [IMDB: 8.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 90%]

butch cassidy

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDw6VSSAVg4

This Western has Paul Newman and Robert Redford at their best. They essay the roles of two outlaws. Based on real life events, this motion picture is a delight to watch. The movie has enough action, adventure and comedy. In one of the scenes where they try to rob a bank in Bolivia, they do it by writing their instructions on paper slips in Spanish so that they don’t forget. The love Robert Redford has for the movie is evident from the fact that he chose the name ‘Sundance’ for the film festival he started. There must be a reason why he loves it so much. Watch it.

Movies I Saw This Week

Before Midnight (2013) [IMDB: 8.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%]

before_midnight_1

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euOJkb0U8v

The quote may be for books but it holds true for movies also. Some movies are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some movies are to be watched only in parts, others to be watched, but not curiously, and some few to be watched wholly, and with diligence and attention. Thankfully every movie in the ‘Before ….’ series falls into the last category. ‘Before Midnight’ may be the best in the series. The thing with the ‘Before…..’ series is that either you love it or you don’t understand it. How can they make movies one after the other every nine years, that has the same people speaking to each other and yet keep it interesting? Julie Delphy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater were perhaps born to do this. Nothing is forced: the dialogues, the acting, the story. It all looks so easy and that is the triumph of the movie. We find the couple nine years after their coming together but with some family and work related stuff to bother them. I have tried to figure out the formula for the series or at least the way dialogues are written. What I think are the key factors in keeping it engrossing are; a) never have long monologues unless it is an anecdote, b) have lot of anecdotes, c) discuss about the world and keep it civilized d) don’t discuss money e) don’t discuss any relatives outside the immediate family unless there is a death. All this does not take away the fact that ‘Before Midnight’ makes the mundane sound so exciting. I hope that at least this time the actors get Oscar nominations and maybe a win too. I also hope that they find another reason to make the fourth movie in the series after nine years.

Stand Up Guys (2012) [IMDB: 6.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 48%]

stand up guys

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

When you have Al Pacino, Alan Arkin and Christopher Walken, you expect at least an above average attempt. This movie disappoints on that front. At best, it is an average film which might have nursed ambitions of greatness but then goes to sleep after the first ten minutes. It is a story of old con men trying to settle some accounts while trying to enjoy their last days. Nothing special but not bad enough for me to get excited and tear into it.

Fukrey (India, 2013) [IMDB: 6.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 64%]

fukrey

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GT-lN6c6Uk

‘Fukrey’ has no ambition. It knows that its hatchet job is to pose as a juvenile comedy and recover its money in the first weekend of release. Many bollywood movies have done this carpet bombing of the box office and ensured that they get suitable returns on their investment before the word spreads that the movie is pathetic. There are no jokes in the movie, the joke is on the viewer while the producers laugh all the way to the bank. The movie is an insult to the people of Delhi. There is not even a single character who is not twisted. Men want to enroll in a college because girls also go there. Girls who go to college have other means of earning money. People who run those activities ask perfect strangers to sell drugs as if they were waiting for franchisees for their business. Think of ‘American Pie’. Remove the good looking girls and the humour (stupid as it is). You get ‘Fukrey’.

Mumbai Police (India, Malayalam, 2013) [IMDB: 7.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 80%]

mumbai+police+songs+stills+posters+download1

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REy6DziJwAQ

A cop who has just solved a murder mystery has an accident before revealing the culprit to anyone else. Sadly, he loses his memory when he recovers from the accident. Now he must start from scratch while his opponents now know that he cannot tell a friend from a foe. This thriller starts on such an interesting premise but then disintegrates into a character study rather than an investigation. Spoilers ahead. The central question of the movies is whether a person’s core character would change after an accident where he loses his memory. For example, will he be less violent than before? Or will he now become straight and cry when his gay past is revealed? I am not a psychologist to answer that but I think that even if such changes are possible, the character won’t cry over them. How unfortunate that we have to debate such things when we could have had an edge of the seat thriller. Disappointing.

Documentary Pick of the Week

Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids (2004) {IMDB: 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 96%]

Born_into_Brothels

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AODZ6k8LgEI

Oscar winning documentary on the kids who grow up in a red light area in Kolkata, India. Frankly, I believe that this documentary is exploitative in nature and the only reason it was made, in my opinion, was to win some awards. I could not empathize with the film makers as they just show what is obvious and they don’t have any real interest in the children who are the subject of the movie. You can agree or disagree by watching this one.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Kick-Ass 2’ because ‘Kick-Ass’ was kick-ass.

Did you know: Pixar takes up to 4 years to make an animation movie.

Week 9

Movies: Non- English

The Breath (Turkey, 2009) [IMDB: 7.8/10, Rotten Tomatoes: 82%]

nefes-vatan-sagolsun-filmi-izle

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arfWbfewMI0

Turkey may be in the spotlight currently for all the wrong reasons but they do make some fine movies. One of the finest to come out of this culturally rich nation is ‘The Breath’. The story of a group of men defending an outpost high in the mountains is not a conventional story. The fact that they have delusions and suicidal tendencies in a bitterly cold environment is understandable but what stands out is the excellent cinematography. Some of the memorable scenes include the torn flag fluttering in the wind and men typing on a typewriter on a wasteland of ice. I don’t know whether they shot on location. The team deserves an ovation if they did. If they put a set which makes it look as good as the location, they deserve more than an ovation.

Volver (Spain, 2006) [IMDB: 7.6/10, Rotten Tomatoes: 92%]

Volver_Poster

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

Pedro Almodovar is in fine form in this light film which has his muse Penelope Cruz in one of her better performances. I must say that when I first saw this movie I was not really impressed as I was focusing on the mother-daughter equation which forms the crux of the movie. Later I found out that the people in the Iberian peninsula really liked the film and a teacher of mine at the Delhi University who was from Portugal had a discussion on the film with me, which gave a new perspective. Well, the new perspective was that don’t take it very seriously and start believing in a little bit of magic in real life.

The Diving Bell and The Butterfly (France, 2007) [IMDB: 8.0/10, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%]

The_Diving_Bell_and_the_Butterfly_DVD

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G69Zh7YIg8c

This is one of the most inspirational movies I have ever seen. Based on a true story, it shows a man who has his full body paralyzed except for one eye which he can blink, go on to write a marvelous best selling book. The movie is good but not fantastic. It may sound cliched but if there is one movie which can be an advertisement for the triumph of human spirit, this is the one. See it to know about the most original book ever written in the toughest circumstances.

Hollywood Retrospective

Zodiac (2007) [IMDB: 7.7/10, Rotten Tomatoes: 90%]

zodiac

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q6q_MfcDEEE

This film is not sufficiently old to merit a retrospective but then it is one of the best thrillers I have ever seen. A journalist following the case of a serial murderer gets too involved with the case that he becomes part of the story. The story is based on true events. Aside from the investigation which is told in top rate style, the movie also focuses on real world difficulties when the time span of a case spans decades. A movie for the intelligent viewer who can appreciate the nuances of story telling. I was surprised that the movie was not even nominated at the Oscars. ‘Zodiac’ will walk into my list of all time best thrillers with ease.

Road to Perdition (2002) [ IMDB: 7.7/10, Rotten Tomatoes: 90%]

road-to-perdition-poster

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1iCd___dNY

Boasting of a stellar cast with the likes of Paul Newman, Tom Hanks, Jude Law and Daniel Craig, this is probably the best gangster movie after ‘The Godfather’. Shot exquisitely by Conrad L. Hall (which incidentally won him his third Oscar posthumously), the movie has an engaging story to tell. The actors have given their heart out to the film and it shows. Some of the scenes ooze quality. The finely choreographed shooting in the rain with just the background score to aid is one hell of a memorable scene. Another one is when Tom Hanks leaves the lift in a hurry. The speech at a remembrance is another top notch moment. I could go on and on because I am a huge fan of the movie. If you like classy movies with great dialogues and strong performances, ‘Road to Perdition’ is a must watch.

Movies I Saw This Week

Jack Reacher (2013) [IMDB: 7.0/10, Rotten Tomatoes: 6.9%]

jack reacher

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kK7y8Ou0VvM

The tagline says; ‘The law has its limits. He does not’. That may be true for the movie but not for Tom Cruise’s acting which is severely low on the range factor. Right from his ‘Top Gun’ days, his range is restricted to having a red nose when he has to show rage or anxiety or even plain cold. No wonder he has not landed an Oscar after futile attempts like ‘The Last Samurai’. However, Cruise is the star of the box office and he can get the cash registers ringing. Fortunately for him, once in a while he does get roles which require more panache than histrionics. Jack Reacher is one such role and definitely worth a watch if you know what to expect.

Yamla Pagla Deewana 2 (India, 2013) [IMDB: 3.7/10, Rotten Tomatoes: 20%]

Yamla-Pagla-Deewana-2

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xhm9Ukkn8eo

I did not know that the first movie in the series was successful enough to warrant a sequel or it could be that the Deols are trying to milk the last penny from the box office. It is an apology for a film and a better option than watching it would be to go and count the waves at the beach. Some of the critics who seem to be influenced by external factors were giving the movie an average rating for this pathetic attempt. One thing I will concede is that unlike most of the Bollywood sequels, it has the same set of characters from the original. That also is the highest praise I can come up for this movie.

Aurangzeb (India, 2013) [IMDB: 6.8/10, Rotten Tomatoes: 55%]

Aurangzeb-2013

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMo9jiUeopc

Buy ticket for one Arjun Kapoor and get one more Arjun Kapoor free. That is the cinematic equivalent of two free trips to Somalia. Even the usually reliable Prithviraj looks off colour. It is left to the veteran Rishi Kapoor to save the day. If you are willing to overlook the fact that there are as many holes in the plot as there are in a sieve, ‘Aurangzeb’ is a one time watch.

Documentary Pick of the Week 

Jesus Camp (2006) [IMDB: 7.5/10, Rotten Tomatoes: 87%]

Jesus Camp

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_1Jm2_iB7g

‘Catch them young’ could be the motto of any organisation looking at indoctrination. Though the film hits out at Christianity, things are not much different with other religions. The multi-billion recession proof industry of organised religion is taken to the cleaners in this compelling documentary. Disturbing.

Eagerly Waiting For: ‘World War Z’ because Brad Pitt is one actor growing in stature.

Did you know: India is one of the few countries in the world where the Head of the State presents the national film awards.