Intense Movies

Departures (Okuribito)

Director: Yôjirô Takita (2008, Japanese, 130 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (81%), IMDB (8.1), Amazon, Roger Ebert.

Watch online: YouTube.

Similar movies: death, intense.

Summary: The movie won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2009. Heavy, poignant but great.

Plot: A cellist loses his job. Through a quirk of fate, he takes up the job of performing the last rites for those who just died. It involves cleaning the body, decorating it and placing it a coffin. These rituals are performed with great love and respect for the departed.

While watching the movie, at one point, I imagined that many of the people I know are no more. I was surprised at who popped up in my memory :) At another point, I remembered physical objects that I have kept with myself as memories of people I know. These are some of my attachments.

The movie interweaves multiple threads in the cellist's life: his wife, his friends, his mom who is no more and his dad who abandoned the family many years ago. The ending is beautiful. Highly recommended.


A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)

Director: Asghar Farhadi (2012, Persian, 123 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (99%), IMDB (8.4), Amazon.

Watch online: YouTube.

Similar movies: city life, depressing, family, intense, separation.

Summary: An intense family drama that won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2012. The story involves two families. The first family is a middle class couple with an 11-year old daughter. The husband's father lives with them. He has Alzheimer's. The second family is a poor family with a 5-year old daughter. Both families have troubles of their own, a lot of which is due to the strong personalities of the two husbands. Acting is great. Character development is awesome. The story is gripping. It kept me engaged throughout. An Amazon review aptly puts it, "The only film where people watch the end credits with bated breath!" :)

After watching the movie, I read the story at Wikipedia and understood a few moments in the movie better.


Serving Life

Director: Lisa Cohen (2013, English, 85 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (N/A), IMDB (7.0), Amazon.

Watch online: Hulu.

Similar movies: death, documentary, illness, intense, old age.

Summary: A beautiful documentary, emotional and insightful. Prisoners in a maximum security prison in USA volunteer to become hospice workers. They take care of other prisoners who are dying. Everybody is authentic. Nobody is acting. Highly recommended. Amazon reviews are helpful in understanding what feelings the movie evokes. The title of the movie has double meaning: the prisoners are "serving life".


Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru No Haka)

Director: Isao Takahata (1988, Japanese, 89 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (97%), IMDB (8.4), Amazon, Roger Ebert.

Watch online: WatchAnimeMovie.

Similar movies: anime, death, depressing, intense, war.

Summary: Yet to write.


The Burmese Harp (Biruma no Tategoto)

Director: Ron Ichikawa (1956, Japanese, 116 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (91%), IMDB (8.0), Wikipedia, Amazon.

Watch online: YouTube.

Similar movies: intense, war.

Summary: Yet to write.


My Life As A Dog (Mitt Liv Som Hund)

Director: Lasse Hallström (1985, Swedish, 101 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (100%), IMDB (7.7), Amazon.

Similar movies: childhood, death, family, illness, intense.

Summary: A beautiful movie! A 12-year old boy named Ingemar is the main character. He is faced with his mother's illness, puberty, relocation to another town and separation from his dog, all at once. In the midst of turbulence, a panorama of joyful, sorrowful and comic moments unfolds in Ingemar's life. Lasse Hallström has handled the storyline well. The movie is delicate, touching and authentic.

Character development is pretty good. Other than the main characters, there are queer townsfolk which add spice. Landscape shots of Swedish homes in snow are gorgeous. The movie won the Golden Globe Award for the Best Foreign Film in 1987.

An ongoing thread in the movie is innocent exploration of sexuality at young age. The scenes in the movie may surprise Indian audiences who have to realize that sexuality is handled very differently in Sweden. For example, an effective sex education program is in place since 1956. Kids who grow up in USA and relocate to Sweden are shocked when they attend these classes. At the same time, they find them rewarding because Sweden's program is more in touch with reality than the equivalent US program. Straight Facts about the Birds and Bees in US News, 2007. RFSU is the organization behind Sweden's sex education programs.


Scenes From A Marriage (Scener Ur Ett Äktenskap)

Director: Ingrid Bergman (1974, Swedish, 283 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (94%), IMDB (8.3), Wikipedia, Amazon, Roger Ebert.

Watch online: YouTube, Hulu.

Similar movies: intense, separation.

Summary: This was the first movie by Bergman that I watched. I really liked it.

The movie narrates the story of a loving couple as their 'perfect marriage' of ten years with two kids disintegrates. The movie is in six parts. It was originally a TV series with six episodes. Each episode showcases the relationship at different points of time, which are several weeks to several years apart.

Many marriages, especially traditional Indian marriages, continue out of a sense of duty and respect for tradition. It is not mutual love or satisfaction that binds the couple together. "Scenes From a Marriage" is the opposite: it shows how a mature Swedish couple continues to love each other even though their marriage disintegrates. The couple keeps in touch for several years thereafter and their mutual fondness only increases, even though both have moved on. As the movie progresses, the man learns of his limitations. The woman goes through self introspection and learns how she was brought up, how her parents shaped her behavior and how her behavior impacted her marriage. She changes herself slowly - the breakup actually emancipates her.

The movie has insights into human behavior, especially in close quarters. There are only two characters! Most scenes are closeups. Dialogues are intense. Wouldn't such a movie be hard to watch? Yes. But the dialogues, storyline and acting in "Scenes From A Marriage" are riveting. Bergman stays away from melodrama. His approach is humanistic and he generates compassion for both characters as they come to terms with their situation and make peace with each other.


No Man's Land (Ničija Zemlja)

Director: Danis Tanovic (2001, Bosnian, 98 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (93%), IMDB (7.9), Amazon, Roger Ebert.

Watch online: YouTube.

Similar movies: depressing, intense, war.

Summary: A pretty good movie that won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Both the opening scene and the closing scene of the movie are haunting. Two soldiers, a Bosnian and a Serb, find themselves in a trench that lies in no man's land, an area between the two enemy lines. Both are injured. A third soldier is found nearby, lying on a landmine. If he moves, all three will die. The situation is comical but there is no comedy in the movie, just drama. The point of the movie is to show blind hatred between two warring parties and the inefficacy of bureaucratic UN peace keeping forces.

Memorable quote from the movie: "Because I have a gun and you don't!"


Pulp Fiction

Director: Quentin Tarantino (1994, English, 154 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (94%), IMDB (9.0), Wikipedia, Amazon.

Watch online: NetFlix.

Similar movies: intense.

Summary: Pulp Fiction won an Oscar for Best Screenplay. Dialogues are really really good. Violence in the movie was distasteful for me. But as Roger Ebert points out, it's not in excess of regular movies (Hindi or English).

The nuanced and passionate discussions in eloquent English between Travolta and Jackson reminded me of two friends at Google whom I've known for many years. My favorite dialogues:

"Would you give a guy a foot massage?", followed by a pause.. which sealed the first argument in the movie.

"It's unfortunate what we find pleasing to the touch and pleasing to the eye are seldom the same." (in the beautiful love making sequence with dialogues centered around pot bellies).

Mia: Don't you hate that?

Vincent: What?

Mia: Uncomfortable silences. Why do we feel it's necessary to yak about bullshit in order to be comfortable?

Vincent: I don't know. That's a good question.

Mia: That's when you know you've found somebody special. When you can just shut the fuck up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence.

.. and the closing long dialogue by Jackson where he decides to quit crime.

Other memorable dialoguesDetailed analysis by Roger Ebert who points out the spiritual elements in the movie.


The Cloud Capped Star (Meghe Dhake Tara)

Director: Ritwik Ghatak (1960, Bengali, 126 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (N/A), IMDB (8.1), Amazon.

Watch online: YouTube.

Similar movies: depressing, family, illness, intense, village life.

Summary: Haunting and tragic. Very well made. Character development and story telling were both wonderful. I felt that each role was played to perfection and there were no extra characters.

This is the first movie by Ritwik Ghatak that I saw and I really liked it. Recommended if you're in a mood to watch a serious, sombre, tragedy.


The Case is Closed (Kharij)

Director: Mrinal Sen (1982, Bengali, 95 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (43%), IMDB (7.3), Amazon.

Watch online: YouTube.

Similar movies: death, depressing, family, intense, suspense.

Summary: The story is simple: a servant boy dies in an apartment. What happens next? There is a little bit of suspense as events unfold but the focus is on how various people handle the situation. The social fabric of middle class life is portrayed very well. Even though the theme of the movie is intense, there is no melodrama.

A succinct summary of the movie is here.


Battleship Potemkin (Bronenosets Potyomkin)

Director: Sergei Eisenstein (1925, Russian, 66 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (100%), IMDB (8.0), Wikipedia, Amazon, Roger Ebert.

Watch online: YouTube, NetFlix.

Similar movies: intense, silent, suspense.

Summary: A gripping, silent movie. Full of drama and excitement. Set in Russia. The movie presents a dramatized version of a real mutiny against oppressive officers in a battleship named Potemkin in 1905. That mutiny has some connection with the Russian Revolution of 1917.

The movie has no hero or heroine. Only a few characters have names. It is all about groups of people and the masses. The story telling is awesome, scenes are great and the pace is good. The Wikipedia article for the movie points out that the film shocked viewers for the amount of violence, which was too graphic for those times (1925).

Soundtrack is critical for overall experience of the movie. It actually contributes to the drama by generating the right emotions. Most modern movies have unnecessary music, which can be toned down or removed. For Battleship Potemkin, different soundtracks have been developed in different decades. Some screenings have live orchestra, even as late as 2006, which says something about the popularity of this film.



Director: Akira Kurosawa (1950, Japanese, 88 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (N/A), IMDB (8.4), Wikipedia, Amazon, Roger Ebert.

Watch online: YouTube.

Similar movies: crime, intense, suspense.

Summary: A landmark movie by Kurosawa in which four eye witnesses provide wildly varying accounts of the same incident which culminated in the death of a samurai. The film is notable for being the first to have such a plot. The movie ends without truth having been established.

The movie evokes questions about the nature of truth, memory and self image when recalling events. A good movie!


Good Will Hunting

Director: Gus Van Sant (1997, English, 126 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (97%), IMDB (8.3), Wikipedia, Amazon.

Similar movies: intense.

Summary: A movie showing the relationship between a skilled, compassionate therapist and a math prodigy with a difficult childhood. Many insightful scenes.


12 Angry Men

Director: Sidney Lumet (1957, English, 96 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (100%), IMDB (8.9), Wikipedia, Amazon, Roger Ebert.

Similar movies: intense, suspense.

Summary: Yet to write.


Ballad of Narayama (Narayama Bushiko)

Director: Keisuke Kinoshita (1958, Japanese, 98 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (100%), IMDB (7.9), Wikipedia, Amazon, Roger Ebert.

Similar movies: death, family, intense.

Summary: Yet to write.



Director: Govind Nihalani (1980, Hindi, 144 mins)

Reviews: IMDB (7.6), Amazon.

Watch online: YouTube.

Similar movies: intense.

Summary: Yet to write.


Wolf Children (Okami Kodomo No Ame To Yuki)

Director: Mamoru Hosoda (2012, Japanese, 117 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (92%), IMDB (8.0), Wikipedia, Amazon.

Watch online: WatchAnimeMovie.

Similar movies: anime, childhood, intense.

Summary: A sentimental, saddish movie. A woman falls in love with a "wolf man" who dies soon after their kids are born. So she singlehandedly raises her two "wolf children" who transform into wolves at will. When her kids are toddlers, she goes to great extremes to hide them from human eyes while continuing to live in a city. At age five, the kids become self aware and start inter-mingling with humans, carefully hiding their extraordinary abilities. By age twelve, one kid prefers to blend into humans. The other decides to stand out and live the life of a lone wolf.

Overall, the movie shows the struggles of a single mom, and the process of her kids figuring out their true calling as they grow up. I found the plot strange (somewhat repulsive too) but creative. Character development is awesome and the challenges faced by each individual are quite "real". A bit long and with a few melodramatic scenes that could have been deleted. Overall, the movie is artistic and worth watching.


Touching the Void

Director: Kevin Macdonald (2003, English, 106 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (93%), IMDB (8.0), Amazon, Roger Ebert.

Watch online: Hulu, Amazon Prime.

Similar movies: adventure, intense, true story.

Summary: An inspiring movie that showcases the strength of human spirit in tackling adversity. The movie is based on a true story that was captured in a book by the same name: Touching the Void by Joe Simpson. In 1985, he and his companion Simon Yates successfully climbed the Siula Grande in Peruvian Andes, becoming the first team to do so. On their way back, Simpson breaks his right leg and the pair gets separated. With great courage and determination, Simpson finds his way to base camp despite a broken leg.

North Face (2008, German) is an equally great movie on climbing but it's depressing because the expedition failed and everybody dies in the end. In contrast, Touching the Void is inspirational. The expedition is successful and everybody makes it, injured but alive.


North Face (Nordwand)

Director: Philipp Stölzl (2008, German, 126 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (84%), IMDB (7.4), Wikipedia, Amazon, Roger Ebert.

Watch online: Amazon Prime.

Similar movies: adventure, death, depressing, intense, true story.

Summary: A riveting, tragic true story of a team of two German and two Austrian climbers who attempt to climb the Eiger in 1936, a peak that had not been climbed before. Shooting was done near the Eiger itself. The movie has superb scenes of snow covered mountains and climbers making difficult decisions as they encounter one challenge after another. The movie ends on a tragic note when all the climbers die, one after another. Also, the love story sub-plot is quite unnecessary and detracts from the main story, which is about climbing.

Touching The Void (2003, English) is an equally great movie on climbing but more inspiring and positive. The expedition in Touching The Void is successful and everybody makes it, injured but alive. Still, North Face is a great movie that reminded me that mountain climbing is not about the winners alone; there are fatalaties as well.


2 Nov 2013
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