Being awash with films or various web series is one way of keeping busy in these times, but one also wastes a tremendous amount of time deciding what to watch. The following five are some of the ones that managed to catch my attention. Not that some of the others I saw are not worthy; just that I managed to write a few words on the following.
Five Came Back (2017)
Five Came Back, a three-part series on Netflix features Paul Greengrass, Steven Spielberg, Lawrence Kasdan, Guillermo del Toro and Coppola talking about the war efforts of Frank Capra, John Ford, William Wyler, George Stevens and John Huston – how they were recruited by Washington to make war documentaries for propaganda and inspiration, and the conflict between them and American military around how war should be depicted. Narrated by Meryl Streep and featuring some really great footage from the films they made, shot in conflict zones, the series also includes interviews of the veteran directors compiled from different sources. Post-war, scarred by their experiences, they moved away from sugar-coated films, got into conflict with Hollywood bosses and made the best films of their careers.
A Fantastic Woman (2017)
A young transgender waitress faces the collective wrath of the family members of her 57-year old partner when he dies of brain related complications at the flat that they share. They demand that she vacate the flat and return his car, but all that she wants is the dog gifted to her by her lover and a chance to pay respect to her partner’s memory at his funeral.
A tender but unsentimental portrayal of a woman’s journey that examines issues of class, sexuality, humiliation, grief and determination played with subdued energy by Daniela Vega, a real-life transgender actress, and directed with a sure hand by Sebastian Lelio. This is what good cinema is about. This Chilean film went on to fetch the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Film in 2017 and a host of other awards at different festivals. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime. Don’t miss it.
The Great Hack (2019)
“The bulk of our resources went into targeting those whose minds we thought we could change. We called them the ‘persuadables’. They are everywhere in the country… Our creative team designed personalized content to trigger those individuals… We bombarded them through blogs, websites, articles, video, ads, every platform you can imagine. Until they saw the world the way we wanted them to. Until they voted for our candidate.”
The Great Hack, a feature documentary streaming on Netflix, uncovers in minute details – through the accounts of whistle-blowers how, every time we log on to Facebook, swipe a credit card or do a web search, our data are harvested, sold and analysed to influence our behaviour and choices to determine the outcome of elections. It’s a trillion-dollar-a year industry! Scary stuff.
What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)
“How can you be an artiste and not reflect the times?”
Nina Simone (1933-2003) was denied admission at a piano school for being a black; began to sing quite unwittingly while playing the piano at a bar to sustain her family, and rose to be an iconic jazz artiste in the 1960s, earning fame, money and a husband who took control of her career and pushed her to greater heights in the commercial circuit. But the ‘60s also saw her lending her support – and voice to the Black Civil Rights Movement. Record companies and radio stations began to shun her, and her personal life – with an increasingly abusive husband and a distraught daughter lay in shambles. She suddenly left it all and settled in Liberia, deciding not to sing at all; but the call of music was difficult to resist. But by this time, she had become a manic depressant…
I am still reeling under her influence and songs since watching What Happened, Miss Simone?. It is an extraordinary documentary that chronicles the rise and fall and rise of a complex character. Anybody interested can watch it on Netflix.
An Officer and a Spy (2019)
Dealing with the miscarriage of justice involving a Jewish artillery officer of the French army who is accused of high treason, Roman Polanski’s latest film, An Officer and a Spy explores the rampant anti-Semitism of the late 19th century Europe and the deep-rooted prejudices of the military establishment and ordinary citizens. Based on a true account that shook the French nation and inspired Emile Zola to write an impassioned open letter accusing the French government of complicity, the film resonates so much with contemporary state of affairs.
Cinematically, a tour-de-force that demonstrates once again (since The Pianist) that given the right subject, Polanski is still capable of delivering a masterwork – at the age of 86. He keeps a firm rein on an otherwise potentially explosive drama without letting it spill over and evokes a mood through meticulous production designing and cinematography that carries the audience right into the turbulent period.
And this one is a bonus!
Blast of Silence (1961)
A cold-blooded professional killer on an assignment in New York succumbs to the charm of a woman and for the first time in his career – hesitates; but the consequences could be fatal if he does not carry out his part of the deal…
From the very first shot of the film that begins with a speck of light that slowly reveals itself to be the end of a tunnel through which a train hurtles into a city, you know you are being sucked into a unique, relentless journey. Stumbled across this rare gem of an independent film-noir from 1961, written and directed by Allen Baron who also plays the lead. A sombre jazz score and evocative black and white photography, accompanied by an unusual voice-over that speaks directly to the protagonist, this atmospheric thriller has been compared to Jean-Luc Godard’s À Bout de Souffle (1960) and had inspired the likes of Martin Scorsese. Check it out on YouTube.