Edition 85

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Loveless (Russia, 2017) [IMDB:7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 92% , My Rating: 7.5]

Trailer

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, this movie tells the story of a child caught in the crossfire of an ugly divorce. As the child goes missing, the parents launch a search which intensifies as the story progresses. The director whose earlier works include ‘Leviathan’, goes for a more nuanced storytelling with subtle hints on the state of the Russian society. Unlike ‘Leviathan’ which spared no punches, ‘Loveless’ is often puzzling and enigmatic. The suspense is intact till the end and the open-ended climax leaves much space for speculation and contemplation. The pace of the movie dips in the latter half when the proceedings turn plain boring but the quest for the missing boy keeps the audience hooked. ‘Loveless’ is sure to get an Oscar nomination but not good enough to win.

Movies I Saw This Week

I, Tonya (2017) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, My Rating: 7.0]

Trailer

Margot Robbie stars as real life figure skater Tonya Harding whose chequered career’s low point was a botched up and bizarre kidnapping saga of her opponent. Robbie, who used to play ice-hockey earlier, brings the expertise to give a creditable performance in scenes where she is in the ice rink. There is nothing compelling about the screenplay and it hurtles towards an inevitable end. Margot Robbie plays her much abused character with conviction but the only Oscar that this movie will win will rightfully belong to the controlling mother of Tonya played with relish by Allison Janney.

The Disaster Artist (2017) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 92% , My Rating: 7.0]

Trailer

For those who have not had the misfortune of watching a gutter movie called the ‘The Room‘ released in 2003, ‘The Disaster Artist’ is based on the events surrounding the making of that movie. ‘The Room’ had a second life when it gained popularity with some viewers rating it as the “best worst movie” ever made (which is a very generous assessment). The legend behind the movie was one Tommy Wiseau who wrote, produced, distributed, directed and acted in the original. James Franco, another goofball from Hollywood, has a field day as he tries to play Tommy Wiseau in a rather compassionate look at the original. Whether such a tribute to ‘The Room’ is warranted is certainly questionable. In fact, as a movie ‘The Disaster Artist’ fails to stand on its feet once it is robbed of the context. For most of the funny scenes to work, it is important to have viewed the original. Whether it is worth sitting through the mind numbing experience of watching ‘The Room’ so that ‘The Disaster Artist’ can be appreciated, is a question left to the discerning viewer. James Franco is sure to sweep awards which have a category for a comical performance but when it comes to the real deal (ie, the Oscars), he will be educated on good acting by the performances of veterans like Gary Oldman and Daniel Day-Lewis.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) [IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 93% , My Rating: 8.5]

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Frances McDormand gives her best performance after ‘Fargo’ in a masterpiece scripted and directed by Martin McDonagh. The movie begins with a mother’s pointed questions about the rape and murder of her daughter. The difference being that she goes for the audacious by putting those questions on three billboards. As a viewer, it may be difficult to foresee what unfolds in the narrative from there on. What surely does happen is by far the best Hollywood movie of 2017. The movie proceeds with the ease of knife sliding through butter. Frances McDormand, in what will be an Oscar winning performance, embodies the spirit of the character and plays it with the grit and steely determination making it one of the strongest woman protagonists in cinema. What elevates the screenplay is that all the cast members bring their A game to the show. Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell add gravitas to their roles as the ailing police chief and a racist officer respectively. The humour in this tense drama is first rate and never out  of place. This movie is easily among the best to have made it to the cinemas in 2017.

Lady Bird (2017) [IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 99% , My Rating: 7.5]

Trailer

Greta Gerwig turns director in a bittersweet coming of age movie set in Sacramento. Incidentally, Greta Gerwig is from Sacramento. Saoirse Ronan lives up to the promise she had shown in ‘Brooklyn’ as she plays the role of a small town high school student trying to find her bearings and love over the course of a few months. There are tons of movies with similar themes but what makes ‘Lady Bird’ charming is the freshness of the writing and the little twists and turns which keeps the viewer interested in the events on screen. ‘Lady Bird’ may not be a classic but it has its own rightful place in the list of the best movies of the year.

The Shape of Water (2017) [IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 92% , My Rating: 8.0]

Trailer

Gullermo del Toro is a master at story telling as demonstrated multiple times previously and most memorably in ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’. This is reinforced by ‘The Shape of Water’ where he blends fantasy, music and romance into an intoxicating concoction. For the grace with which he tells an impossible story itself, he deserves the Oscar for Direction. ‘The Shape  of Water’ is a love story between a cleaner at at secret facility and a water creature. The premise is so outrageous that you may be put off by the synopsis but as you watch the movie, you may find yourself rooting for this romance. ‘The Shape of Water’ owes its mood to the music of Alexandre Desplat who looks like a shoo in for the Oscars. Pity that Hans Zimmer will not be getting his Oscar for another extraordinary score in ‘Dunkirk’. Watch ‘The Shape of Water’ if you are willing to be taken to the stars and clouds by the magic of cinema.

Call Me by Your Name (2017) [IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 96% , My Rating: 6.5]

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‘Call Me by Your Name’ is a bit of manipulative film making. It is the one of those annual LGBT themed movies with a heavy Oscar bait thrown in. For sure, it is a gorgeous looking movie shot in achingly beautiful parts of Italy. The movie is worth a watch just for the scenery. Timothee Chalamet is another reason for watching this gay romance, in which he stands out and promises much more for the future. The story is about a young boy who is wooed by the associate of his dad. Recommended if you like the category.

The Florida Project (2017) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 96% , My Rating: 8.0]

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A24 studio has the uncanny knack of picking low budget features with a solid story line which would not be green-lit by the major studios. ‘The Florida Project’ is a film that A24 can be proud of. It tells the tale of a brash child spending her summer holidays with her single mom in a motel close to Disneyland. The story is told through the eyes of the child and portrays the life of the American poor. William Defoe puts in a good shift as the manager of the motel. The movie does stray a bit from its main story on a couple of occasions but there something magical about the way the director handles the whole movie. ‘The Florida Project’ is not a great film but it is indeed a memorable one.

Darkest Hour  (2017) [IMDB: 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 85% , My Rating: 7.0]

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Winston Churchill whose career was built on his ambition to be the Prime Minister of Britain receives the honour when the soulless Nazi Germans are knocking on the gates of his country. All of his army is also facing an existential crisis as they are facing certain rout at Dunkirk. ‘Darkest Hour’ is the portrayal of Winston Churchill by Gary Oldman in the weeks following Churchill’s appointment as the wartime Prime Minister culminating in the rousing “We shall fight them….” speech. Overall, the movie is watchable but the screenplay is sometimes found lacking. The movie is a Gary Oldman show. He becomes Churchill. I would not be surprised if they mistakenly use the image of Gary Oldman for Churchill in the future. And, the Best Actor Oscar goes to Gary Oldman.

Molly’s Game (2017) [IMDB: 7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 87% , My Rating: 7.5]

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Jessica Chastain has now become the reference point for smart  and smooth talking women operatives in cinema. Following on her remarkable success in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ and ‘Miss Sloane’, she becomes the ‘Poker Princess’ Molly Bloom who was convicted of running an illegal poker operation in New York. Aaron Sorkin’s direction and screenplay follow the sleekness he had shown in his earlier screenplays. ‘Molly’s Game’ is not a thriller. It is a character study which can be viewed with mild amusement. It is predictable but engaging. The movie does leave the question of whether it is telling more than it is hiding or vice-versa. For instance, Tobey Maguire is the actor on whom the star in the movie is based. Watch it if you like predictable but fast movies.

Documentary of the Week

Cries from Syria  (2017) [IMDB: 7.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 100% , My Rating: 8.0]

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The story of the beginning of the Syrian war told through citizen shot videos. Moving and disturbing.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Sicario 2: Soldado’ 

Did you know: ‘Get Out’ is the first film made by a debutant director to gross more than 100 million USD at the US box office.

Edition 82

The Non-English Movie of The Week 

Frantz (France, Germany, 2017) [IMDB:7.5  , Rotten Tomatoes: 90%, My Rating:7.5]

Trailer

‘Frantz’ is set during the war which was to end all wars. A young German lady leads a forlorn life after her fiance’s death in the battlefield. Her life changes when a Frenchmen turns up in her quaint little town. Told with elegance and grace, this story is very much a romance in its first half but almost becomes an intriguing thriller as it progresses to its unpredictable climax. Francois Ozon has so far been an overrated director but ‘Frantz’ changes that. The characters are neatly etched and reliably performed on screen. The tension that builds up is resolved in the Louvre but in a way which leaves scope for interpretations. That is no excuse for missing a hauntingly beautiful movie.

Movies I Saw This Week

Dunkirk (2017) [IMDB:8.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, My Rating:8.5]

Trailer

Much of Dunkirk is about setting the stage. This does test the patience of the viewer midway through the proceedings but the film soars as it nears the end. In hindsight, the slow build up is akin to a German musical piece which slowly but surely reaches a crescendo. For all the technical brilliance of the director, it is the background score which is the standout feature of the movie. The movie is littered with few unforgettable scenes, with the last flight landing acting as a metaphor for the whole movie. If you are wondering what that metaphor is, it is about hope and not giving up. It is about trying. Dunkirk is one of the best movies of the year. Dunkirk will be remembered.

The Wizard of Lies (2017) [IMDB: 7.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 72%, My Rating:6.5]

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Bernie Madoff will be remembered too. He is the most serious threat that Charles Ponzi has encountered to his name and infamy. Bernie Madoff is a fraud who duped his investors of billions of dollars leading to bankruptcies and suicides from USA to Switzerland. This movie tells the tale of the con artist with the focus being on his family. Robert De Niro carries his part competently and overall the movie is a one time watch. It is especially interesting for those who have an interest in knowing about the scandal and its repercussions.

The Promise (2017) [IMDB: 6.0 , Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, My Rating: 6.5]

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A love story set in the last days of the Ottoman empire which saw the killing of Armenians (Claimed to be a genocide by Armenia and vehemently denied by Turkey. Neutrals tend to side with Armenia). Oscar Isaac plays an Armenian doctor who falls in love, loses his loved ones and ends up being alive. He is also the weakest link in the story with his acting which leaves you underwhelmed. Even accounting for this, the film is a spectacle with its impressively mounted sets and breathtaking cinematography. The film has a few rough edges and would have been a much better product in the hands of a more competent director. Still, worth a watch.

7 Days in Hell (2015) [IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 80%, My Rating: 7.0]

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In between the gloom of genocide and a Ponzi scheme, ‘7 Days in Hell’ feels like heaven. An uproarious mockumentary which has fun at the expense of the tennis world, this is a short yet sweet feature in which the last thing that matters is the story. For those interested in the story, it is about an epic seven day match at the Wimbledon. Sounds crazy? The title is just a warm up.

Norman (2017) [IMDB: 6.4 , Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, My Rating: 6.5]

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Richard Gere finds another level to his ouvre as actor in this poignant tale where he plays the title character Norman. There is nothing likable about the protagonist. He is the kind of social wannabe you want to avoid like the plague. He is disgusting and eminently detestable. The masterstroke of Gere is that it is he who plays the character to perfection and arouses in you the aforementioned emotions. Gere plays a loner who aims to be a power broker. Due to some circumstances he bonds well with an Israeli politician who rises to become the Prime Minister of Israel. What could have been Norman’s moment in the sun quickly becomes his downfall. ‘Norman’ is a movie which keeps you guessing till the end and is definitely worth the effort.

Some Freaks (2017) [IMDB:6.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, My Rating: 7.0]

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This small indie flick relies on strong writing and the novelty of the premise. A one eyed boy and an obese girl fall in love (with each other, of course). The strength of their love is put to test when the girl goes to college and starts losing weight. ‘Some Freaks’ is a coming of age movie which is also realistic and peppered with characters who are relatable. There is an undeniable feeling of sadness that permeates the movie. Yet, ‘Some Freaks’ is one of the best indie films of the year and is not boring even for a second.

Jab Harry met Sejal (2017) [IMDB: 6.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 54%, My Rating: 1.5]

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In the streets of India, we find hawkers who make savouries like samosa. They use the same oil and as their tenure lingers their surroundings become unclean. The oil becomes acidic and pungent but the hawker keeps on using it. ‘Jab Harry met Sejal’ is the cinematic equivalent of the samosa that is made from that oil. Imtiaz Ali has milked the same trope of ‘self-realization’ now so much that the cow has started bleeding (gau rakshaks: take note). An ageing 51 year old superstar romancing another girl (29 year old) in another version of the same movie in which they take viewers across Europe is so dated that Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister of India when Shahrukh Khan tried his luck in this story for the first time. This time the movie also takes a regressive approach when it comes to respect for women and the behaviour of the hero towards locals in Europe. Imtiaz Ali is so formulaic that his leads are from Punjab and Gujarat, two states in India from which most of the foreign based Bollywood movies have their protagonists. I saw reviews of this movie in which the critics have chided Imtiaz Ali for making a bad movie as if his earlier duds like Rockstar and Love Aaj Kal were any better. I saw Rockstar in the theater. I remember how it felt. The key learning for the director should be that you cannot fool everyone all the time. I do have sympathy for the viewer who wasted his money at the cinema. Not for having lost the money but for the sheer ordeal of sitting through this disaster flick. This prem katha should be flushed down the toilet along with the pseudo intellectual hubris of its director.

Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017) [IMDB:7.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 86%, My Rating: 6.0]

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‘Bareilly Ki Barfi’ is no whiff of fresh air. It is the same mass produced bottle of perfume but the point is, it smells good. It has no pretensions and aims to be a simple entertainer, a task which it accomplishes with reasonable success. It has the classic Bollywood plot. Two men love a woman. The movie relies on a convenient screenplay and a two hour suspension of disbelief. At some point in the movie when you are back to your senses you may ask yourself what the fuss is about. Can’t the guy just open his mouth and tell the truth? The movie is largely engaging because of its sleek editing and a decent performance from Kriti Sanon. Anushka Sharma can take classes from her on playing the bubbly girl. In fact, Anushka Sharma can take acting classes from anyone. Ayushman Khurana plays a confused character and Rajkumar Rao is mostly unconvincing in his ‘dual personality’ performance. In spite of all this, the movie feels more than the sum of its parts. Recommended if you are a fan of this genre.

Documentary of the Week

Icarus (2017) [IMDB: 8.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, My Rating: 8.0]

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‘Icarus’ tells the true story of the Russian doping scandal. Right from the doping Guru’s mouth. One of the best documentaries of the year.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Mother!’ directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem.

Did you know: Christopher Nolan is red and green colourblind.