Edition 110

The Non-English Movies of The Week

The Worst Person in the World (Norway, 2021) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%, My Rating: 7.5]

This movie is about a lady who perpetually feels that the grass is greener on the other side whenever she weighs up her romantic relationships. The subsequent silly decisions she makes which leave behind a debris of relationships, often with tragic consequences, form the crux of the movie. Needless to say, its stature is bolstered by the multiple Oscar nominations it has received. Amusing for the most part, the film cannot be accused of being boring. It is a bit bitter and a bit sweet or shall we say a bit bittersweet.

Drive My Car (Japan, 2021) [IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%, My Rating: 8.0]

A Saab 900 model car is the omnipresent item in this movie. So is an all pervading sense of grief. An actor who is past his best days plunges into unspeakable sadness with the death of his wife. He hires a driver who has an intriguing past. Together they heal. This movie merits a viewing for its acting and screenplay which are stellar. Though there are dozens of good road movies, this one is not about the road or the car or the journey. It is an exquisite drama. Watch it if you like high quality movies.

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (Bhutan, 2021) [IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%, My Rating: 7.5]

‘Lunana’ is the surprise contender for this year’s foreign language category at the Oscars. And why not? It is a small Bhutanese movie shot in the “remotest school in the world” in a village called Lunana. Five minutes into the movie you can predict how it is going to progress. I guess three quarters of the Oscar nomination is for the scenery which is breathtaking. The other quarter is for the audacity to take it to the Oscars. The story is a simple one. A young teacher awaiting to migrate to Australia is sent on some sort of punishment to Lunana. The experience changes his life. There is nothing bitter about this one. It is all through a sweet movie.

Movies I Saw This Week

Licorice Pizza (2022) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, My Rating: 6.5]

I am yet to figure out how this one is nominated for the best picture at the Oscars. It clearly is a competent movie but the best picture nod is stretching things too far. I guess the nostalgia got to the Academy’s older voters. As for the plot, a fifteen year old boy falls in love with a 25 year old woman in the Nixon era in sunny California. He is a budding businessman and she is a little lost in life. They go their separate ways, meet up again and eventually she says ‘yes’ to him. The main actors are all making their debuts and they look assured in the hands of a much celebrated director.

Nightmare Alley (2021) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 79%, My Rating: 7.5]

There is a scene almost midway through the film which (if you are an avid moviegoer like me will spot) gives away the plot of ‘Nightmare Alley’. A remake of a black and white classic, the film gets a royal makeover in the hands of Guillermo del Toro. For once, Bradley Cooper can be proud of his work. The supporting cast is splendid as well. The story is about a man who trains himself to be a mentalist and tries to test the limits of his skill often with fatal consequences. The director goes out of his way to show that the protagonist is a flawed character, thereby laying the groundwork for whatever tragedy befalls him. Tragedy does come in copious amounts in a movie which is ultimately a morality tale.

House of Gucci (2021) [IMDB: 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 62%, My Rating: 6.0]

Let me say it straight away. This is a bad movie with bad directing and terrible acting. The sorrow that I felt while watching the movie was from the realization that there was some great material available waiting to be shaped into a great movie. The script, direction and acting are unjust to what could have been a classic. Things are so bad that serious scenes look staged and funny. Jared Leto is insufferable. Adam Driver left the acting chops at home. Lady Gaga should stick to the singing. I am outraged that she got a best actress nomination at BAFTAs and is tipped to be the hot favourite to win. For what? This movie tells the rather eventful story of how the brand Gucci ended up with no one with that surname associated with it. There is infidelity, a gold-digger daughter-in-law, murder and intrigue at the core of the tale. This was an easy movie to make. How they botched it up is more interesting than the movie itself.

The Lost Daughter (2021) [IMDB: 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 95%, My Rating: 5.5]

I generally don’t like movies where the story has to be explained for the average Joe to understand what just happened. Apparently Maggie Gyllenhaal doesn’t share my sensibilities. In her debut feature, she asks the audience to please read the book from which the story is adapted. Coming to the story, it’s about a woman who does not like the idea of being a mother. Granted that motherhood is not for everyone. So what is the point? That the protagonist does not like being a mother. What else is there in the movie? Olivia Colman crying for no apparent reason as if she has been teargassed, Olivia Colman spending time on the beach, Olivia Colman trying her best to get another Oscar and so on and so forth. Yawn.

Don’t Look Up (2021) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 56%, My Rating: 4.0]

Completing the terrible list of movies nominated for this year’s Oscars is this slow car (or comet) crash. Adam McKay has made enjoyable movies such as Anchorman, Vice and the Big Short. This movie is a demonstration of how bad things get when satire goes wrong. The world is going to end unless immediate action is taken and a few scientists know that. The scientists in question being DiCaprio and Weinstein favourite Lawrence. Truth be told, these are the last people who should be on television trying to explain the earth ending phenomena to viewers. Watching them do their silly act on television instead of blurting out with alarm what they know is in itself a mockery of the movie. There is too much preaching and a holier than thou attitude. If it is not for the people associated with this movie and the star power they bring to the table, this movie should be considered for the Razzies and not the Oscars. Two thumbs down.

Being the Ricardos (2021) [IMDB: 6.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 68%, My Rating: 6.0]

This is a real life story based on the life of Lucille Ball and the love of her life (that is, untill they divorced) Desi Arnaz who are linked to the communist party, when this equated with career death by association in Hollywood. The events during a tumultous week are covered in this breezy screenplay by Aaron sorkin. Nothing much happens though. Nicole Kidman is in the lead role playing an Oscar bait character while finding it impossible to move any muscles on her cheek. Is it Botox or is it the make up? You can devote half of your attention to this movie and do other chores with the other half if you plan to take up the challenge of watching it.

Encanto (2021) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, My Rating: 7.0]

‘Encanto’ has great animation. It has a sub-standard storyline, predictable scenes, unnecessary songs (a lot of them) and a clear target audience. To sum it up, it is in classic ‘Best Animation Oscar’ territory. A family in which the women have one specific small scale superpower (think of Superman and scale it down) are in an existential crisis as their powers wane. How they overcome this impending doom and gloom forms the rest of the movie. No prices for guessing whether it is a happy ending.

Documentary of the Week

Ascension (2021) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%, My Rating: 8.0]

China is the factory of the world. This Oscar nominated documentary is a slightly unfocused look on how the Chinese live and work.

Eagerly waiting for:  ‘Writing with Fire’, the Oscar nominated documentary from India

Did you know: Betty White who died recently (aged 99) was (at the age of 88 and a half) the oldest person to ever host Saturday Night Live .

Edition 86

The Non-English Movie of The Week

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

Trailer

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]

Trailer

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]

Trailer

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]

Trailer

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]

Trailer

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]

Trailer

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]

Trailer

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]

Trailer

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]

Trailer

‘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]

Trailer

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.