Week 44

Movies: Non-English

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

in a better

Trailer: 

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%]

lust caution

Trailer:

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

Trailer: 

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%]

Philomena

Trailer: 

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%]

Frozen

Trailer: 

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%]

jai ho

Trailer: 

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

Trailer: 

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%]

Scarface

Trailer:

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

Trailer:

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

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

Casualties of War

Trailer:  

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)

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Week 35

Movies: Non-English

Rashomon (Japan, 1950) [ IMDB: 8.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%]

rashomon1

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCZ9TguVOIA

A work of genius from Akira Kurosawa, this piece of art remains essential viewing for anyone interested in knowing anything about cinema. The story has many characters recalling the same event and the different interpretations that they give depending on who is narrating. Enough paens have been sung about the movie and any high praise is worth it. Watch it to find out why.

Even the Rain (Spain, Mexico, 2010) [ IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 88%]

Even-the-Rain-Poster

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFozF1ATuBU

A group of people filming a documentary get entangled with the problem of drinking water privatization in the region they are filming. The film is an allegory comparing the neo-liberals to the colonizers in a not so subtle manner. In the process they revive some of the heroes of yore and make a strong political statement. As usual, Gael Garcia Bernal steals the show. Worth a watch.

English Retrospective

Driving Miss Daisy (1989) [ IMDB: 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 82%]

driving

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQ3wXC5jqKE

The story of an African American chauffeur and his Jewish patron. I am not a huge fan of the film and I don’t think it deserves 4 Academy awards but the competition was mediocre. Also, the Academy likes to think that it is at the vanguard of the fight for social justice. It may also be that I may have my own prejudices on the condescending manner in which the film moves. Please watch and disagree with me.

Ordinary People (1980) [ IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%]

ordina

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZYHe8IAlto

The accidental death of the older son of an affluent family deeply strains the relationships among the bitter mother, the good-natured father, and the guilt-ridden younger son (From IMDB). Robert Redford‘s directorial debut won 4 Academy awards including ‘Best Picture’ in an upset. ‘Ordinary People’ is a good film but nowhere close to ‘Raging Bull’ over which it triumphed at the Oscar. The bigger snub was for Martin Scorsese who lost out to Robert Redford in the director category. Only people who like depressing family dramas over classy biopics would have voted for ‘Ordinary People’.

In the Heat of the Night (1967) [ IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%]

IN_THE_HEAT_OF_THE_NIGHT_DVD_HIRES[1]

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11QFgfddrec

Sidney Poitier was the first African American to win the Oscar for the ‘Best Actor’. ‘In the Heat of the Night’ is one of his finest performances. He plays a cop trying to solve a murder mystery in a town not particularly well-disposed towards black men. The thrill in the movie is as much a result of the murder investigation as it is due to the racial relations tensions involved. I often feel sad for Sidney Poitier. He is one actor who has been roundly abused on screen for his skin colour on many occasions, even when he comes across as a perfect gentleman.

Movies I Saw This Week

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013) [ IMDB: 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 92%]

alan partridge

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

For once, I agree to the blurb. It is indeed the comedy of the year. A radio jockey who has only one interest and that is self-interest, gets involved in a hostage crisis when one of his disgruntled colleagues takes over the radio station. The movie has some clever writing and many well written lines blend in with the scenes. To add to this, not one character seems to be in a normal mental state. The concoction of a self centred man, a madman and few nutcases makes this film a pleasure to watch. Highly recommended.

2 Guns (2013) [ IMDB: 6.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 71%]

2 guns

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVNe3RK2fgI

Two undercover operatives run into each other and form an unlikely partnership to save themselves from quick death. The film tries too hard to be stylish and forgets that there is only so much that style can do. It is a reminder of what Denzel Washington has become. Mediocre.

Scenic Route (2013) [ IMDB: 6.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 62%]

Scenic

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wb7Hrtwzwjs

The friendship of two friends are tested to the limit and beyond when they are stranded in the middle of nowhere. Could have been much better. Could have been much worse. In the end it settles for the ordinary. The acting is good though.

Documentary Pick of the Week

The Tillman Story (2010) [ IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%]

tillman

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ad2WOOOojyg

Pat Tillman joins the US Army when he could have easily settled for a cosy life with his million dollar contract as a football player. He gets killed in ‘friendly fire’ and the ever lying Bush administration tries to twist the story to suit its needs. Tillman’s family fights back. They are ignored, then they are ridiculed and then they win.

Eagerly Waiting for: ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ because I will see all the movies in which Tom Hanks appears even for a second.

Did you know: Launched in 2004, the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) is the oldest film festival in the Gulf region. This blog is also being published from Dubai today.

Week 29

Movies: Non-English

A Prophet (France, 2009) [ IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 97%]

prophet

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l69ARbQt-Ko

One of the truly sensational French films of the last decade, ‘A Prophet’ tells the gripping story of an Arab convict who plays the system to emerge on top when he is incarcerated. In a prison where Italian and Arab gangs fight each other, he rises to the top even when he is the only Arab member in a group of Corsicans. For a complex film, it has a free flowing screenplay and taut editing. Reasons enough for it to sweep all major awards in its release year.

Confession of Murder (South Korea, 2012) [IMDB:6.8, Rottten Tomatoes: Not yet rated]

confession

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

After a 15 year statute on limitations expires, a serial killer publishes his memoirs detailing each of his murders. The emotionally drained detective who was looking at the case soon finds a reason to re-look at the events. This South Korean thriller starts on an interesting premise but mostly fires blanks when some real action was the need of the hour. Leaves you with a feeling of having left your meal mid way.

English Retrospective

Seabiscuit (2003) [ IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 77%]

seabiscuit

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yv6RnFTlu4I

Based on the award winning non fiction book on a little known racing legend, ‘Seabiscuit’ is more about the people behind the horse than the horse itself. With little more finesse this movie could have been a classic but then it has an Achilles heel and a very prominent one at that. It trivializes the ‘Great Depression’ as if Seabiscuit was at the core of the recovery and return of hope. It is in this gamble where it tries to blend in history that the movie falls flat. This is not to say that it is a bad movie. It has its moments. Some of them truly great and the movie is an inspirational one. For better or worse, it is not about the horse.

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) [ IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%]

Glengarry Glen Ross Postrer2

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgAU2RJHfvE

The machinations in a real estate company. Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin and Kevin Spacey. Six reasons to watch the movie. Based on a play by David Mamet. Make that seven reasons.

My Cousin Vinny (1992) [IMDB: 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 84%]

My-Cousin-Vinny-Poster

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SL4HdaZXuOw

Few Hollywood movies have made me laugh like ‘My Cousin Vinny’. If you start laughing there is no reason to stop. The plot involves an attorney trying to save his cousin and his cousin’s friend when they are wrongfully accused of murder. Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei have a field day. Never knew courts could be such fun. Must watch.

Movies I Saw This Week

Now is Good (2012) [ IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 64%]

Now is Good Movie Poster

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENg2HnY5UuM

A girl suffering from leukemia has a bucket list to execute. Even though the theme has been done to death (no pun intended) in movies, this one tugs at your heart in some moments. It is very difficult to make bad movies or truly great ones out of such themes. What you usually get is average stuff but this one is a little above average.

The Look of Love (2013) [IMDB: 5.8, Rotten Tomaotes: 56%]

look of love

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Z4yqK1KxuY

A low for Michael Winterbottom who was once a very promising director. The Britisher’s attempt at trying to give a sentimental look to the life of Paul Raymond who became Britain’s richest man by appealing to people’s baser instincts, does not wash.

Odd Thomas (2013) [IMDB:6.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 65%]

odd thomas

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEnvutQ0UI4

From the creators of ‘The Mummy’, this one gives the look of a low budget film which was made on a holiday. A young man has supernatural powers but cannot talk about them. He has to save a town and his girlfriend when devilish forces attempt to create havoc. Yawn.

Documentary Pick of the Week

Marley (2012) [ IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 95%]

marley

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuIkYtYi4b0

Bob Marley analyzed threadbare. Love music? Must See.

Eagerly Waiting for: ‘The Armstrong Lie’ because it could be the documentary that exposes Lance Armstrong for what he is; a drug cheat.

Did you know: The Hollywood Walk of Fame has the names of more than 2500 artists embedded on it.

Week 23

Movies: Non-English

The White Balloon ( Iran, 2005) [ IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 86%]

white balloon

The whole movie at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6G5vLObkuw

This is the debut feature of Jafar Panahi who has had to fight a witch hunt by the conservative Iranian establishment over the years. Like all his films, this one is also a simple tale. A  girl goes to the market to buy goldfish. Like many Iranian films this one also relies heavily on the histrionics of child actors. Though they make excellent actors, it requires immense patience to direct children who throw tantrums at regular intervals. In ‘This is not a film’, one of Panahi’s works, he shows the difficulty of directing the protagonist in the White Balloon.  All I can say is that it is worth the pain and effort. Highly recommended.

Vincere ( Italy, 2009) [ IMDB: 6.8, Rotten Tomaotes: 92%]

vincere-2009-brrip

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeaRJxJcp7E

This is the true story of Mussolini’s secret lover and his child with her. Covering an issue kept under wraps till now, this films is more insightful for the revelations about the early life of Mussolini. Mussolini was a turncoat and an opportunist who frequently changed his ideology to meet the mood of the populace. His disowning of his son and his megalomaniac nature are exposed in this film. The movie has the feel of an epic. Giovanna Mezzogiorno is absolutely stunning as she is in many films. It is a shame that she has not really made it big in Hollywood. Recommended only for those who have an interest in politics.

English Retrospective

Airplane! (1980) [ IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%]

airplane

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07pPmCfKi3U

Whoever says that the 80s were about bad college romances should take a look at this dangerously funny movie. Propriety is thrown out of the window as quirky characters make a flight little more than exciting. Involving gags that hold back nothing, this is a comedy you should not miss.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) [ IMDB: 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%]

planes-trains-and-automobiles

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNWx7_tZRcI

A man has to reach home for Thanksgiving. His determination to be home is matched only by the difficulties he must overcome to be with his family. Add to this mix a stranger who specializes in creating chaos. What you get is a John Hughes movie starring Steve Martin and John Candy in roles that seem tailor made for them. The film has been an inspiration for many other road movies. It is also one of the best roles of John Candy, who died young at the age of 44. It makes me wonder at the glorious possibilities of what could have a stellar career. To be sure, he did memorable work in the movies he was in. In this one, he is even better than Steve Martin in the comedy department and that is something few can claim to be.

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) [ IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 86%]

kramer vs kramer

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNLcfJ06y34

Any movie with Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep needs no introduction. Here they play a couple who were once in love but now face a battle for the custody of their only child. Sentimental without being melodramatic, this film was a surprise winner at the Oscars, collecting 5 of them. Strong screenplay and directing only add to the performances of Streep and Hoffman. A masterclass in acting.

Movies I Saw This Week

Jobs (2013) [IMDB: 5.5, Rotten Tomatoes: 26%]

jobs

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lx-PC1KZS3Y

There are some movies which do not make anyone happy. ‘Jobs’ is one such movie. Steve Jobs had a lot of admirers during his lifetime for making a cult out of a brand. On the other side, he was universally despised by almost all who came in contact with him. He was also a complex character who refused accept his love child and refused to pay for child support but later started supporting her. This movie is Steve Jobs for dummies because beyond that it does not provide anything insightful about his life. The focus is on boardroom battles and personality clashes and not on innovation or design. Ashton Kutcher is a poor actor and he should stick to oddball romantic comedies. His depiction of the older Jobs walking with a stoop is painful to watch. The worst crime of the movie is that it does not shed any light on the products that made Jobs famous. The movie ends with Jobs second home coming to Apple. That is as good as making a movie on Bill Gates without mentioning Windows.

Adore (2013) [ IMDB: 6.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 30%]

adore

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjGaV0CEBR0

Two close friends who are mothers of teenage sons fall in love with each other’s sons. I guess they had to just come up with something provocative. The saving grace is that Naomi Watts and Robin Wright look absolutely marvelous and their acting is top notch. Otherwise there is nothing to waste your time on. I guess they just made it over a holiday. Surely a miss.

What Maisie Knew (2012) [ IMDB: 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 88%]

what maisie

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmvojT6yX9A

A girl is at the center of a bitter custody battle between her parents. The best thing about the movie is that it is told through the eyes of the child and there are numerous moments when the camera tells the story without the aid of dialogues. It also has very well written characters who are normal people with shades of grey. One interesting thing about the movie is that the way you perceive the characters changes as the movie progresses. The foul mouthed mother has a soft side to her and the drug addict turns out to be a genial character. Recommended.

Documentary Pick of the Week

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008) [ IMDB: 8.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%]

IF

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtyY0CXdiNo

A filmmaker friend of a murder victim decides to make a film on him when he gets to know that his friend’s ex-girlfriend is pregnant with the dead man’s child. The intention is to pay a tribute to his friend and also introduce the child to his father. Devastating. One of the saddest documentaries I have ever seen.

Eagerly Waiting for: ‘Rush’ because Ron Howard returns with a film on Formula 1.

Did you Know: Elizabeth Taylor married 8 times, twice to Richard Burton.