Edition 90

The Non-English Movie of The Week

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

Trailer

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]

Trailer

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]

Trailer

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]

Trailer

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]

Trailer

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]

Trailer

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]

Trailer

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]

Trailer

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]

Trailer

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]

Trailer

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.

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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)