Amazing Grace, 2007

Seven years late in the viewing, but the richer for it. That would be my one-sentence summary of my reaction-cum-review of this thoughtfully made film on England’s long struggle and saga to abolish the practice of slavery.

I was more intrigued and drawn to the movie for its title and the story behind its composition, in that the slave-trader John Newton who authored that famous hymn was the inspiration to William Wilberforce, England’s Member of Parliament, who took it upon himself to use the power of his office to persuade his colleagues to draft and pass a bill for abolition.

Thoughtfully crafted, this is a period-piece which weaves historical drama, much of it quite dry and yet compelling alongside the personal stories of the key players in the process, played masterfully by all, especially the young Benedict Cumberbatch.

It is note-worthy that England succeeded in passing laws of abolition more than a hundred years before the United States of America did. The story, in terms of content and context was very much in line with the more recent film Lincoln.

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Kingsman: The Secret Service, 2015

If you have a good week night you wish to throw away, as well as anywhere between $10-25 you don’t care about, by all means go see this movie. Because you will have accomplished a splendid way to throw away both time and money. In fact, such a waste of both things was the viewing that I felt I had wasted not just time but my life itself.

If anything, a movie such as this drives home quite vociferously the point that even having the likes of Colin Firth, Michael Caine, and Samuel L. Jackson, does not a good movie make. Which is really too bad, because I truly had high hopes for a spy story with such a stellar cast.

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A Most Violent Year, 2015

Is there an underside of the American Dream? The answer would be a resounding ‘yes’ after having watched this film – a drama about an immigrant from Colombia trying to make his way to the top in crime-ridden New York City in the year 1981.

Oscar Isaac is undoubtedly the star of this film, and actually, were it not for his arrestingly good looks, there are times when the dry bones landscape of a graffiti-laden NYC tends to lose its artistic charm and the tightly controlled and expertly coiled plot seems to underwhelm ever so slightly. But Mr. Isaac and his self-determined, beautiful, and compelling wife played by Jessica Chastain are a power couple, and you cannot help but watch with wonder as they engage a potential investor to close a deal. With his camel-hair topcoat and her plunging neckline, this is uber-cool gangster dynamics at its best.

There is not so much direct violence as is suggested in the title as there is in the mood of the film. And the mood is both violent and pregnant with suspense, so much so, that one almost wishes the violence would erupt already and be done with. And yet, there is both a sense of relief as well as a feeling of being underwhelmed with an ending that offers no redemption. Such is the fate of violence, as it most always is.

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The Interview, 2015

So, this was what the big deal was all about?! How did something so ordinary and forgettable cause such a global uproar with political ramifications? I suppose stranger things have happened…

File this under the “stupid-mindless-crass-humor-satire” category. And if you can’t laugh at stuff like this, well, then, you shouldn’t be watching stuff like this. Because that’s the only recommended reaction to the entire movie!

James Franco and Seth Rogen make a good duo and are the quintessential pair of dudes obsessed with body parts – both male and female. As journalists of an entertainment news channel who travel to North Korea to interview the Supreme Leader, there’s plenty of opportunity for them to display consummate American-style bromancing even as they confirm that American pop-culture by way of music and movies is our largest global export.

If you’re seeking something meaningful, sensitive and intelligent, don’t even touch this with a barge pole.  But if you’re up for some mindless fun, and are curious about what all that fuss was about, then by all means, go for it!

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The Imitation Game, 2015

A thought-provoking film on a myriad of issues – historical, social, and technological – this is one of several other science-based and WWII-oriented movies in the last couple of months.

Want to learn more about World War II and the communication infrastructure of the Nazis’ war strategy? More thrillingly, want to learn about how Churchill appointed a twenty-six year old mathematician-turned-cryptologist to break the code and intercept messages from the enemy that resulted in the war ending two years earlier than it would have otherwise? This is a fine story that explains just how that all happened.

Have an interest in the science of cryptology and the mathematical minds of young British men and one woman holed away in a country estate who worked on a machine that broke the German’s Engima code? And that very machine that was to become the foundational technology of modern computing as we know it? This is a story of Alan Turing, the British mathematician who led the efforts to conduct this hugely important, top-secret work.

Also, in case you wondered about the sexual orientation of Alan Turing – although why it should matter to you or anyone is beyond me – well, there’s plenty of back-story that addresses all that and more. As for the implications of his personal life-choices, the tragedy of it all is really quite sad.

And finally, as for any questions surrounding the state of matrimony and society’s expectations of it, the story also incorporates the matter-of-fact way in which marriages of convenience are not so strange after all.

Keira Knightly is quite effortless in her role as the one young woman who despite her proclivities with mathematical matters, conforms to society’s views of the professions best suited for young women, and yet, is no less determined than Turing to pursue her dreams and ambitions. As for Turing, portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, there is no doubt that a fine performance is given by Mr. Cumberbatch from beginning to end.

Again, no doubt a thoughtful film.

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Exodus: Gods and Kings, 2015

How about an epic way to start a new year? That may have been my subliminal thought as I prepared to watch this film with my family on New Year’s Day.

And epic it was, indeed. With creative license used liberally in the telling of the story, the acclaimed director Ridley Scott has certainly offered a grandiose viewing of an unforgiving landscape of Egypt and in the masses of Hebrew slaves who toil to build the architectural marvels, to the many plagues that come and go, and the eventual parting of the sea as Moses leads his people out of the clutches of Pharaoh.

And yet, there is something a little underwhelming about it all. For one thing, the famous phrase uttered by Moses, “Let my people, go!” is not once uttered by Christian Bale – who does a fine job nonetheless. And the famous burning bush scenes are accompanied by a personification of God in the form of a little boy who looks arguably quite sinister. And as for Moses and his struggle with his dual identity, it would have been nice to see that struggle explored more personally and convincingly.

Albeit the older movie, The Ten Commandments, that told the same story of the exodus of the Hebrew people may have lacked the digital and technological finesse of this one, it had a certain quality about it that overwhelmed. This one, on the other hand, succeeded unfortunately in underwhelming to a certain degree.

Still, it is a grand work of art, and the performances of the actors seem sincere and compelling. Mr. Bale makes a fine Moses, and wears his robes and sandals well. Surprising, there is even a handful of actors who play such small, insignificant roles that one wonders why they signed up – actors such as Aaron Paul (of Breaking Bad fame), Sigourney Weaver, and Sir Ben Kingsley. 

Finally, the musical score is almost as grand as Gladiator, but not quite so haunting, and the battle scenes are definitely jaw-dropping.

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307/365/02

First movie on the first day of the new year. It was epic!

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