Edition 98

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Parasite (South Korea, 2019) [IMDB: 8.6, Rotten Tomatoes: 99%, My Rating: 8.5]

‘Parasite’, the winner of Palme d’Or at Cannes, is an instant classic. It is one of the most riveting films I have seen in recent times. Every scene and dialogue of this thriller hits the bulls-eye. Thought the complex interplay of societal tensions and personal aspirations are at the centre of the film, the script holds up to scrutiny even when these external dimensions are not considered. A family at the lower rungs of the society gets a chance to be the caretakers in an affluent household. As the plot gets more sinister and breathtaking, a maelstrom is unleashed on a stable household. The director is at the peak of his powers and the screenplay is a work of genius in this unmissable movie of the year.

Movies I Saw This Week

Ford v Ferrari [Le Mans ’66] (2019) [IMDB: 8.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, My Rating: 7.5]

The good thing about this movie and perhaps what makes it different from the run of the mill race movies is the care given to fully realize the emotional aspect of the characters on screen. The film tells the time when a snubbed Ford made it a personal crusade to bring down the hegemony of Ferrari at Le Mans. Even for a film with an expected climax, the movie leaves a bittersweet feeling at the end. For a running length of 152 minutes, the goings on screen captivate the viewer for most of the time. This movie is a salute to the American spirit of innovation and it does so without sounding jingoistic. I am sure American parents will be lining up to show their kids this smooth and uncluttered piece of film-making.

Judy (2019) (2019) [IMDB: 7.2., Rotten Tomatoes: 83%, My Rating: 7.0]

Judy Garland was a legend in her times. The difficult life that led to her stardom and her feeling of being inadequate made a mess of her life. Zellweger has a roll playing this flawed diva in her difficult final years. Zellweger’s performance is nuanced and she is able to draw the sympathy of the audience. She even sings the songs herself. Good enough to get an Oscar nomination for sure. The movie is all about Judy: her failings, her small victories, her poor decision making, her insomnia, her bravo performances, her terrible performances. Watch it for Judy Garland.

Extra Ordinary (2019) [IMDB: 6.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%, My Rating: 7.5]

This is probably the most fun ghost movie I have ever seen. Full of tongue -in-cheek references to the genre and made with a subversive spirit, ‘Extra Ordinary’ is a movie you would not want to miss. An Irish driving school inspector with powers to tackle spirits is brought to deal with a particularly interesting case involving absurd rituals, a one hit wonder singer and a whole lot of hangers-on. This parody of a movie uses and discards cliches when it suits the script. Plot devices like virgins required for sacrifice in satanic rituals are used to the hilt to bring out the absurdity of the concepts and get a few good laughs.

The Art of Self-Defense (2019) [IMDB: 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 84%, My Rating: 7.0]

A loner with no social connections is drawn to the world of Karate after a life threatening burglary attempt. As he descends more and more into the local Karate universe, he discovers the twisted secrets and dealings of what is essentially a cult. He also imagines himself to be somebody else. His newfound confidence and sense of belonging are questioned as the days progress. This is a fairly engaging movie with a convenient plot twist. Undoubtedly a good film to watch, the movie does leave a feeling that things could have been done better.

Harpoon (2019) [IMDB: 6.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, My Rating: 7.5]

One of the independent movies of 2019 that is definitely a winner in every sense. For a movie with a cast of three marooned in a yacht, the possibilities are limited due to the space available. The director and writer are able to exploit every angle possible with enough twists and turns to keep the viewer engaged. The acting, background score and directing combine to make this a movie with good returns for a fan of thrillers. Highly recommended.

Good Boys (2019) [IMDB: 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 79%, My Rating: 6.5]

There is nothing great to see here but lot of good material makes it a thoroughly entertaining venture. There is hardly a plot and it is all about friendship with dollops of reality thrown in. The movie is unpretentious and has some witty scenes and dialogues. It brings the naivety of adolescence and the optimism of childhood together in the life of three carefree boys. The film delivers on what it promises in the trailer. Do not watch with high expectations and you will come out smiling.

Luce (2019) [IMDB: 6.9, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, My Rating: 6.5]

‘Luce’ is a complicated movie. The complication is largely due to the fact that the protagonist is a former child soldier rescued from Eritrea and raised by two suburban white parents. If this background is taken out of the conversation, then it is a movie about a self-centred teenager plotting his success and wiping out challenges or challengers to his plans in life. The provocative film has a slew of conflicted characters, none more than the white mother of Luce played by Naomi Watts whose unwavering loyalty to him in the face of evidence undermining him is shown as desperation to hold on to her belief that her life has not been wasted raising a deviant. There is much to ponder in ‘Luce’ but there are some rough edges that could have been smoothed out to present a more satisfying narrative.

The Laundromat (2019) [IMDB: 6.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 42%, My Rating: 6.0]

Based on the Panama papers scandal, this movie is a narrative mess. Steven Soderbergh is an acclaimed director whose repertoire is rich with some memorable movies. ‘The Laundromat’ is not one of them. Meryl Streep tries to hold the story together but even she is conveniently forgotten for large parts of the movie. Too many loose ends are left unattended. Some interesting threads like the events in Panama or the Chinese episode are amusing but do not add to a coherent narrative.

Documentary of the Week

Cold Case Hammarskjöld (2019) [IMDB: 7.8, Rotten Tomatoes: 82%, My Rating: 7.5]

Mads Brugger made the real world parody ‘The Ambassador’. In this new documentary he tries to uncover the conspiracy that led to the death of UN Secretary General Hammarskjold. He discovers more than what he bargained for. Highly recommended.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Knives Out’

Did you know: Christian Bale lost 70 pounds to play his role in ‘Ford vs Ferrari’, much of which was the weight he gained for ‘Vice (2018)’.

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)