Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 A GREAT YEAR FOR MOVIES

In truth, many movies are time fillers and a few seem like a total waste of time.  To appreciate quality you have to endure something less than high quality.  A good percentage of the over 300 movies I watched were enjoyable.  Those of you with different tastes may find something worth your while.

"Our Brand is Crisis," gives a back door look at how decisions are manipulated.  Sandra bullock making a statement as she wanted to do it, not just for the money or contract obligation.  She plays a difficult to like person, but very well working for a Latin American election.

"Trumbo"  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2017/01/trumbo-and-black-list.html  told about the blacklisting era in Hollywood.  It is humorous in parts, but on a very serious topic  Later in year watched "Spartacus" where Trumbo was once again able to use his name.   Also watch "He ran all the way" another movie where Dalton used a front man, but wrote the script.

"Spartacus" reviewed after over 50 years after first watching, and again after"Trumbo" and learning this was one of his breakthroughs.  A great movie--well written.  all star cast Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov.

"Lion" was an inspiring story about tracing what would have been untraceable a decade or so ago.   2 Bollywood stars in very small roles.  Some of the scenery was filmed in Tasmania.  Dev Patel, the main character also appeared in "The man who knew Infinity" another enjoyable movie.

"Hell or High Water" contained a lot of violence, but underneath it was a well written story of family trying to stick together against human weakness and greed



"The Zookeeper's Wife" another excellent movie with Jessica Chastain.  She contributes to the movie's excellence, but she makes good choices.

"Arrival" directed by Quebecker Denis Villaneuve is told in an inventive style.  Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner perform well in a thought provoking science fiction drama.  What grounds will we find with aliens.



"Split" acting tour de force with a few twists.  James McAvoy plays a man with over 20 personalities who kidnaps three young women.  Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

"The Girl on the Train" after reading the book my expectations were high.  Emily Blunt didn't let me down and it must be admitted it was suspenseful and layered.  But to read the book is to get much more depth.  Ever the complaint of those who read the book first.

"Snowden" is  a traitor or a whistle blower- or maybe misguided.  I found him very observant and conscientious with a message we need to pay attention to.

"Free State of Jones" presented a mostly forgotten bit of Civil War history including a different perspective than was taught to me in school.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2017/09/free-state-of-jones.html

"Hidden Figures" was viewed as the Charlotesville Riots were happening.  It is a shame that too many whites feel threatened by blacks.  This movie, based on true events depicts blacks overcoming ignorance to the benefit of all.  It might actually make blacks seem more threatening, but at the same time take away the notion that they are inferior.  Well produced.

"A Monster Calls" is not a movie for young children.  Deals with an impending death and is very well done.

"Lady MacBeth" seen at the Hamilton BMO International Film Festival and bears little resemblance to Shakespeare's play.

"Miss Sloane" probably suffered at the box office for being to close to how lobbyists actually operate. A great combination of politics and a twist ending.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2017/09/miss-sloan-under-rated-movie.html

"The Crucible"   by Arthur Miller was inspired by the hysteria of Joseph McCarthy.  Demonstrates injustice when mobs take over.

With "Frida" I enjoyed the biography, acting of Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina and music (done by husband of director and given his own commentary on the DVD).  Later read that Salma Hayek was pressured by the infamous Harvey Weinstein during the filming.  This was a project very dear to her heart and she persisted and resisted to make it an outstanding movie and a tribute to Frida Kahlo.

"The Normal Heart" depicts the beginnings of the Aids epidemic when no one knew what it was or how it was spread.  It was associated with gays, most of them in the closet,but the epidemic proved  a big factor in Gay Liberation.  A little too explicit in parts, but realistic. Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bonner and Juliet Roberts played historical figures.

Just before Christmas I watched "Dunkirk" on a small screen, but admittedly this one deserves the big screen.  The story is an old one, but not appreciated this far down the road in history.  The Germans had forced their European opposition into a corner.  There were over 400,000 allied soldier barely holding on in Dunkirk and it looked like Britain was finished.  The movie depicted the strategic choices made, but also the individual battles on land, sea and air that allowed this most strategic retreat to give Britain and the whole "free world" another chance to overcome tyranny.  Very well done.

"Maudie" was about a famous folk artist in Nova Scotia.  My daughter went to school in Nova Scotia and we became aware of Maudie.  Well played by Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke.

From New Zealand, "The Dark Horse" based on a story of a man from mental institutions who helps poor Maori youth develop a focus on chess.  Mental illness plays a very big role.

Documentaries get right down to the facts, but of course one has to consider how creditable they are and how relevant.  In some cases they are just as dramatic as fictional movies, but mostly they are sobering.  The ones listed below and in foreign categories all seem relevant and creditable.  Imagination is great, but facts are critical.

"Elian"  was a documentary to cover Cuban/American relations-.  The events were manipulated for political purposes.  Lots of details I never knew or had forgotten.  It was very emotional at the time with many Americans not respecting international family law.

"Freedom's Furies" was about the reaction of the Hungarian water polo team to Soviet repression during the Hungarian Revolution.  It had two personal connections--Hungarian refugees did cross my life in several ways plus I had in interest in water polo through my daughter.

"Red Army"  would appeal to hockey fans, Canadians and Russians and most sports lovers.  The Russians were very good for the game of hockey.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2017/09/the-red-army.html

Zero Days (2016) is frightening.  Stuxnet attacks have been hidden, but apparently Israel and United States developed a cyber weapon strategy and Israel jumped the gun to attack Iran.  It stunned Iran, but they recouped and now have a similar ability as now does Russia and North Korea.  It is terrifying because it is subtle and difficult to detect.

"An Inconvenient Truth Sequel" is a reminder that in many ways the climate crisis has gotten more serious despite increased efforts to deal with it.  The vested interests have used their resources to resist.  More at:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2017/11/an-inconvenient-sequel-truth-to-power.html

"Score " was devoted to the men and women who write the music in the background.  Lots of movies have catchy melodies, but this documentary reveals a more important role in capturing the mood and enhancing action.

"Red Lines"  trying to sort out the mess that is Syria..  Two activists were frustrated that they were unable to get any foreign help.    Truly frightening to see so many dead bodies, many of which were children.  Mistrust was everywhere.  Obama was portrayed as indecisive, but I feel the movie did not do justice to the Congressional mess.

SUBTITLED MOVIES

If you really like movies you owe it to yourself to take a closer look at what the rest of the world has to contribute.  There are a lot more subtitled movies to read about in this blog, but that is mostly due to the fact there are a lot more to watch and I find many of them well worth an extra effort.  Perhaps I am a bit preachy, but here is my pitch:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/09/do-subtitles-scare-you-who-knows-what.html

Bollywood, is one of my obsessions, but it turns out there is much more to films coming from India.   "Sairat,"the best of the year, with the cover photo at top.   It was produced in Marathi and is beautiful in music and cinematography.  The story seems stereotypical in the beginning, but the second half the story turns grim in a very realistic manner.

Widening my scope I saw a number of movies from India with different languages.  'Interrogation,' 'Thithli', "Nila," were each excellent and available on Netflix.   "OK Kanani" was the original Tamil version that was copied by Bollywood, but after seeing the two of them, the Tamil version is much superior.  Another highly rated movie, "Wrong Side Raju" is the first Gujarati film for me and was very impressive for plot, music, cinematography.  read more at:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2017/01/regional-films-from-india.html

"Dangal" had an odd subject for a blockbuster movie, but the public has taken to the story of the daughters of a wrestler.  Very popular in China.  Anything Aamir Khan is involved is guaranteed to have quality.  The story is very well told and the actors at all levels are very good.

"Hindi Medium"  Irrfan Khan again this time focusing on education in India.  The private schools favors the rich.

"Newton" was nominated for India's entry for the 2018 Oscar foreign film award.  About an election worker in a hostile territory raising concerns for anyone wanting to promote democracy this gives food for thought.

"Toilet, Ek Prem Katha" has an odd premise, a man's new wife leaves him when she learns they do not have a toilet.  The Indian government has a major campaign to put more toilets available (http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2014/11/world-toilet-day.html), but getting the toilets built is only part of the problem.  Cultural resistance has made modernization difficult.  This movie deals with it in a very entertaining way.  Another one for Akshay Kumar, a friend to the Harpers.  Bhumi Pedneker was good as the female lead.


"Mom" was a different kind of movie for Srvedi.  A revenge movie with a few twists.  Sridvii plays a step mother who is not accepted by her step daughter who gets gang raped.  Not able to find justice in the courts she with the aid of private detective take revenge.  There is a police officer (who does not play by the rules either) is on to her and later one of the targets is as well.  She is excellent and well supported by the other actors.

"Madaari" was still another film about political corruption.  Corruption is not personal, it is part of the structure.  The protagonist says he is an ideal voter; too busy to study who to vote for.  Irrfan Khan  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2017/02/madaari-open-movie-about-government.html

I watched my favourite Shah Ruk Khan in three movies.  "Raees" with a Pakistanni leading lady and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.  "Dear Zindagi"  Shah Rukh Khan with Alia Bhatt as a patient of Shah Rukh Khan.  Gauri Shinde ("English Vinglish") ws involved as writer.   A good role for Shah Rukh transitioning from leading male loves to an advisor for young woman   On the other hand I also saw "Jab Harry met Sejal" where he romanced the younger Anushka Sharma.  Shah Rukh Khan is always charming, but he needs to get roles more suitable for his age   He is still my favourite and most enjoyable actor to watch.  https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=2655588228309700460#allposts/postNum=8  

"Rangoon" was enjoyed by me more than most critics.  Interesting subject; Indian freedom seekers allied with Japanese during World War II.   Good acting, music, cinematography.

"Jolly LLB 2"had a very interesting script.  Akshay Kumar  is becoming the most certain box office success bet.

"Kaabil" with Hrithik Roshan is a very light hearted romance at beginning then a brutal revenge story with a blind man outsmarting his enemies.  Unfortnately Yami Gautam is killed off to make way for the revenge plot.

"Kahaani2' was a bit of a disappointment, but only because the original "Kahaani" is one of the best twists ever.  "Kahaani 2" was an above average suspense movie, just not as unique as the original.  No continuation from the first except Vidya Balan starred.

"Kanoon" (1960) a mystery, but with a strong plea to abolish capital punishment

"The Ghazi Attack" first submarine movie for Bollywood.  An opportunity to create tension.  Based on real events it is like a chess game, but with lots of stress.

"Trapped"   has been compared to" Castaway," but with a twist.  The protagonist was a vegetarian trapped in an empty apartment.  Very ingenious how he survives.

"Poorna" watched without the benefit of sub titles.  Well worth it--maybe 20% of the words were in English and I am sure I missed some subtleties.  Raul Bose was the force behind it.  Proves the value of education and motivation.  Poorna was a 13 year old who was the youngest girl to climb Mount Everest.   Excellent cinematography and background music.  Very inspiring.  Had a positive impact on social welfare.  Even some singing from Airijit Singh.

"Phillauri" is a romance in fact two parallel romances, one with fantasy elements.  Second producing film for Anushka Sharma and enjoyable.

"The Salesman" won foreign Academy award directed and written by Asghar Farhadi--pleased to learn he is working on a Spanish producton with Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Ricardo Darin that I look forward to in 2018.  All three actors are among the world's most impressive in my opinion.

From the Japanese I was glad to watch "Our Little Sister' by writer/director Hirakazu Kore-eda who did  another great family drama, "Like Father, Like Son."

From Sweden "The Emigrants" (1971) and "the New Land' (1972)  in succession was quite the endurance test, but very memorable. Read more http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2017/01/the-emigrants-in-new-land.html

"A Man Called Ove" cautions us not to judge people.  We see a grumpy old man nitpicking, but as the movie progresses we see a different man.  Rolf Lsssgard played a key role in my favourite movie, "After The Wedding."  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2017/07/a-man-called-ove.html

A fourth Swedish movie, "The Last Sentence" (with low ratings from IMDB) is a very interesting movie.  It is biographical on Torgy Segerstedt who was adamantly opposed to Hitler in writing.  Sweden was neutral while it had seen it neighbours Norway invaded by the Germans and Finland by the Russians.  The behind the scenes feature narrated by Jan Troell's daughter was very revealing in her description of the pursuit of perfect details that might not appear in the finished project.  Jesper Christensen was Danish and language was a big concern, but Troeel considered him the ideal choice.  History plus an open adulterous relationship to demonstrate Torgy was very human and I am left with his quote, "No human can withstand close scrutiny."
 



Italian,  "The Leopard"  Burt Lancaster dubbed--Garibaldi; "Twice Born" between Italy and Bosnia--surprised to learn that Penelope Cruz had learned Italian in order to act in previous film--fluent in special feature  "Paisan" (1946)

Dutch:  "Antonia's Line" was a most unusual film--a variety of characters and circumstances--lots of philosophical views--importance of friendship and love sex (multiple couples to music)   LINK  saw "Within the Whirlwind"

The Hispanic film world gave me opportunities to watch good movies on several fronts.

"The Mystery of Happiness"  interesting about business partners who were very close on the job and enjoying some activities, but never mixed up family life--one disappears the wife of the missing partner gets involved with the business and searching for her husband--where do you find happiness.   The lead appeared in the Argentine version of "Corazon de Leon."

Spain  "Julieta" (2016) directed and written by Pedro Almodovar, but inspired by three stories of Alice Munro.

"Corazon de Leon"  (Heart of a Lion) seen on Netflix from Colombia--really likeable characters, a black divorced lawyer and a short divorced architect--prejudice (short people, blacks and deaf)--pleasant music--it took a lot of research to learn thatt Marlon Moreno is over 6 feet tall and had been miniaturized to be 4'6" for the movie.   An outstanding performance by Maria Nela Ainisterra who was very charming, but also demonstrated a range of emotions..  Shah Rukh Khan is to be in a movie as a dwarf next year, but I think with a different plot.
Another one from Colombia was "Maria Full of Grace."  stunning talented lead actress.  Song by favourite, Julieta Venegas.
"
Chile, "The Club"  blunt movie about abusive clergy--the words may be difficult to stomach.  The same director as for "No"
A documentary from Chile, "Nostalgia for the Light" forced a philosophical insight by juxtaposing a renown telescope site in the Atacama Desert with women sifting through the sand looking for remains of their loved ones that had been murdered and dumped in the desert.

Fro Korea-"The Handmaiden" with clever plot (borrowed from English tv series) well executed, beautiful cinematography capturing some gorgeous scenery, beautiful acting--a bit too sexual for many, but part of the plot.   Really beautiful music

"Sunny" is about a rejected wife who chases her husband who has been sent with the Korean army to Vietnam.
Another touching movie was "My 11th Mother."

"Okja" a joint project between the U.S. and Korea with elements of fantasy.  Produced by Netflix

I watched a lot of Russian movies and recalled a number of masterpieces from past years.  One that prompted by this project that made an impression was "Battleship Potemkin" made in 1925, obviously without sound and in black and white  Amazing what was done with the resources available  Also enjoyed "Sibiriade," a massive movie about settling Siberia and "Solaris" which presented the real essence of science fiction.  Read more at:
http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2017/08/russian-movies.html

French Canadian, "La Derniere Fugue"  grimly realistic--life and death decisions guilt--piano themes from Bach--regrets--marital tensions see more:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2017/03/la-derniere-fugue.html
"Laurence Anyways" about a transgender transition--told from the man who always wanted to be a woman and his female lover who felt betrayed.

German:  'Labyrinthe of Lies" set in 1958 with most Germans, denying links to Nazis.
"Toni Erdman" If you are bothered by male and female full frontal nudity you might want to skip this, but you would be missing a movie that will make you laugh and cry (sometimes at the same time).  Really well done.  A fair amount of English dialogue.

French--thought of as a filler--"Rebellion" originally "L'ordre et la morale" is set in New Caldonia in 1988 when a few Kanak natives rebelled and took French soldiers hostage.  It was just before a French election and it was deemed critical to end the crisis as soon as possible.  The director played the key role of a man who wanted to negotiate recognizing the natives wanted independence.  A little bit of action, but mainly dealing with political pressures and how they could undermine negotiation.
Normally I avoid movies with low ratings from IMDB, but picked up from library.  "The Mark of Angels" with Gerard Depardieu and Joey Star--violent in parts, but an interesting plot, believable acting well put together.  One of the contenders for most undeserved low rating.

Over the years I have enjoyed watching a number of mini series.  They have the power to go into more depth than a two hour movie, but they don't have to drag on.  This past year I enjoyed "Shetland" and "River."  "The Crown," and "Line of Duty.:"  "13 /reasons." " Broadchurch" (with David Tennant) and "Doctor Foster."

My selection of photos and of links does indicate some difficult preferences, but does not necessarily reflect what would interest you the most.  As with most lists it just helps make you aware of some works of art that might be of interest.  You have to sort through them and your resources.  There are plenty of good and enjoyable movies I will never see, but I enjoy the search.

Check out my year end movie review from last year:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/12/film-memories-from-2016.html

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