Edition 70

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Like Someone in Love (Japan, 2012) [ IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 82%, My Rating:7.0 ]

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Iranian maestro Abbas Kiarostami chose Tokyo as his setting for a film based on relations developed in the most unlikely places. An old man and a young lady develop a peculiar relationship in a short span of time; the fact that she is a call girl does not make matters easy. A slow burning piece like the director’s earlier work ‘ The Wind Will Carry Us‘, the story moves at a languid pace often testing the patience of the viewer. The movie does not rise and soar even when there are scenes which suggest the potential for course correction. The compelling part of the film is that a renowned filmmaker from Iran cannot make such a movie in Iran because of the general lack of the freedom of expression there. The whole saga of another Iranian Jafar Panahi who was banned from making movies for 20 years and his attempts to get around this ban is well documented.

Movies I Saw This Week

Spectre (2015) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 67%, My Rating: 6.0]

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The twenty fourth film of the Bond franchise is a damp squib with tired gags, stale screenplay, car chases which are as good as advertisements for the cars, an unusually insipid Daniel Craig and a poor villain who would not have received any attention from Bond in Bond’s heydays. The existential crisis for Bond is aggravated by the competition from a multitude of superheroes who have clearly demarcated audiences. After the brilliant reinvention of Bond in ‘Casino Royale’, two of the films that have followed have failed to inspire confidence. Only ‘Skyfall’ has been a face saver for Bond among the last three installments. ‘Spectre’ suffers from a story that meanders along and the direction of Sam Mendes suggests that he may be past his glory days of ‘American Beauty’ and ‘Road to Perdition’. In ‘Spectre’, Bond goes in search of an organization and he even gets a ring with the trademark logo of the organization. A terrorist organization which has merchandise to distinguish its members is so tacky that it belongs to the 60s era of film making. The attempts at humour are notable for their inability to achieve exactly that. The only thing stunning in the first 90 minutes of the movie is the Austrian landscape and that is the tragedy of Spectre.

Bridge of Spies (2015) [IMDB: 8.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 92% , My Rating: 8.0]

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The story of James Donovan is indeed a remarkable one. This lawyer turned negotiator was a true servant of the nation when he went the extra mile to negotiate the release of an American pilot in exchange for a convicted spy during the height of cold war. He also was instrumental in the release of detainees held by the Cuban government after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. ‘Bridge of Spies’ documents the former story in detail and does not disappoint. In fact, it matches and exceeds the expectations generated by the combination of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. The movie will certainly garner a few Oscar nominations for the heartwarming drama it effectively captures. It is interesting to note that when more and more movies are being made with the accompanying technology at the centre of film making, the original whizkid Spielberg is turning to such solid drama. Some movies are exceptional in their own silent way. This is one such movie.

The Walk (2015) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 85%, My Rating:7.5 ]

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The histrionics of Philippe Petit are not just amusing but are also acts of artistic daredevilry.  More than 30 years ago he committed what some dub as the artistic coup of the century. He had the idea,courage and expertise to perform a high wire walk across the twin towers of the World Trade Center. He did it without any protective equipment. The attempt was captured in a high quality documentary called Man On Wire. ‘The Walk’ is the movie version of the event. (spoilers ahead) I had thought till I saw the movie that Petit had just walked across the towers once but it is only on watching the movie that the artistry and courage of his feat become apparent. After completing his first end to end walk, he goes on the ‘trip’ again and again. As Beethovan’s Fur Elise plays in the background, the magic of the walk unfolds on the screen. Even when the movie takes a long time to reach the final act, the wait is worth the iconic images that unfold.

Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (India, 2015) [IMDB: 5.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 55%, My Rating: 4.5]

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India is currently ranked 172 (its lowest ever) in FIFA ranking. Watching ‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’ can give you insights into what ails Indian soccer. Salman Khan persuades a gathering to play football. He places the ball for kickoff. Then they break into a song and dance about it. When done with the dance, they finally start playing and then goals are scored because the lady goalkeepers run for their lives when the ball is hit in their direction. Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is full of such insights. Salman Khan has a way even with gravity. Few days after falling from a few hundred feet and after being treated in a ‘facility’ with fire burning around him, he returns to the screen as if he had been on a vacation. At the exact moment when that Salman has an accident, a new Salman (without a moustache) turns up as a replacement for the prince. How many times will Hindi movies have themes involving a doppelganger? This movie is essentially a remake of every movie from Rajshri productions. The Barjatyas are stuck in the past and perhaps they know that. So they leave a few years between their movies so that the audience forgets and forgives them. In this movie, they got Salman Khan to sign up and then roped in actors (Neil Nitin Mukesh, Arman Kohli of Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani, Sonam Kapoor etc) who were looking for work. Then they slated it for release on Diwali. Left with no other movie to watch, everyone flocked to the theatres and made the film a blockbuster. For those who don’t believe it, this movie was the second highest grossing film internationally after Spectre in its opening weekend, making a cool $40 million. 

Knock Knock (2015) [IMDB:5.0 , Rotten Tomatoes:33% , My Rating:3.0 ]

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Keanu Reeves is a husband alone at home when his family is away. Two young women knock on his door on a stormy night. Does it sound like the premise for a b grade flick? It does and the movie lives up to its ‘potential’. I guess Reeves is not getting any quality work. Avoid.

Anarkali (Malayalam, 2015) [IMDB:7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: Not Listed, My Rating:6.5 ]

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Capturing the breathtaking beauty of Lakshadweep islands, this Malayalam movie tells a passionate love story spanning more than a decade. A naval officer and his lady love endure the fierce oppostion from the girl’s father in pursuit of love. Shot almost entirely on the island, the movie introduces mainland Indians to life on the island. With a running time of 167 minutes, the film drags a bit in the second half. It compensates through stunning visuals and a simple yet effective screenplay. Certainly worth a one time watch.

Rani Padmini (Malayalam, 2015) [IMDB:7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: Not Listed, My Rating:6.5 ]

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After a few duds Aashiq Abu returns to form in Rani Padmini which tells the story of two women who are poles apart. One is bound by a sense of duty to her husband and the other is a practical minded lady with shades of grey. They meet on a road trip and discover themselves. Like most Aashiq Abu movies, nothing much happens during the movie. It is more about the conversations and the experiences. There are touches of humour especially when dealing with gangsters. There is even a hint of satire when the character insists that she only likes stories that ” have a message”. In its own way, the film is a tribute to independent women. The visuals are easy on the eye and the effort that has gone into making the film is only too evident. Overall, a movie worth your time.

Documentary of the Week

Amy (2015) [IMDB:8.0 , Rotten Tomatoes:96% , My Rating:7.5 ]

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Amy Winehouse was the first British woman to win five Grammy awards. She was only 27 when she died of alcohol poisoning. Her story. One of the documentaries of the year.

 

Eagerly waiting for: ‘By the Sea’ starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jole and directed by Angelina Jolie.

Did you know: Before beginning his movie career Keanu Reeves used to manage a pasta shop in Toronto, Canada

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Week 44

Movies: Non-English

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

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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%]

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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

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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%]

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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%]

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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%]

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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

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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%]

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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

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

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

Casualties of War

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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)