The Big Sick

August 26, 2017 at 10:38 am | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ½

Sometimes the most cliché of genres can offer the sweetest surprise. It is a difficult thing to convince me to see a romantic comedy, any more. I feel like I have seen it all and disliked most of it. They are cloying, predictable and only blandly humorous. Yet, “The Big Sick” manages to be something I almost never expect from a romantic comedy; it is deeply touching. Written by real-life spouses Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon, the film tells us the story of how they met. In what is definitely an unexpected twist for a romantic comedy, the main focus of the movie is on Kumail’s relationship with Emily’s parents (Holly Hunter & Ray Romano), rather than with her, as they struggle to deal with her unexpected illness. This vehicle allowed the audience to get to know his character outside of the standard rom com clichés. The film’s humor is fairly gentle. There are no belly laughs and it won’t have you in tears, but it did keep me genuinely chuckling throughout. At times, scenes could feel like they were veering toward stereotype (particularly where Kumail’s family was concerned) but it always felt more like a gentle ribbing than anything else. Because this was so autobiographical, the film felt very loving and respectful toward its characters. There is nothing biting here. If you are looking for a side-splitting good time, this may not be the movie for you. But you will genuinely feel good throughout. You will find it hard not to like everyone and you will find it hard not to be moved. You probably won’t shed any tears from laughing but you might still shed a tear or two or other reasons.

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Logan Lucky

August 20, 2017 at 8:10 pm | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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This film could serve as a good lesson on how to use Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic in conjunction with each other. It got a sterling 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and a middling 78% on Metacritic. Given that the former is a straight up-or-down vote, whereas the latter is a graded score, the takeaway is that virtually every single critic liked “Logan Lucky,” but only moderately. And guess what? I liked “Logan Lucky.” I really did. But only moderately. Steven Soderbergh has always had a penchant for odd little films (“The Limey,” “Bubble,” “The Informant!”) that he mixes in with his massive successes (“Erin Brockovich,” all the “Ocean’s” movies). Here we get a blend of the “Ocean’s” type heist film mixed with the sort of mockery of its lead characters that you saw in “The Informant!” This is a heist movie for the current era, where NASCAR-loving, blue collar workers replace the slick cultural elites of the “Ocean’s” films. But Soderbergh doesn’t quite love these characters like he loved the originals. The “Ocean’s” films were all slick gloss and romanticism. This film is asking us to laugh at these characters, rather than with them. The humor is never cruel but it is poking fun, none-the-less. The caper they set about to commit is as ridiculous and unrealistic as one might expect, but that’s okay. A heist movie requires a suspension of disbelief. Though this film does talk out of both sides of its mouth; we are expected to believe these characters are both brilliant enough to come up with their plan and dumb enough for us to laugh at. The story starts very slowly and I found the begining dragged a lot. Channing Tatum did a passable job as the lead character, though he has never been a standout actor for me. Adam Driver, who I normally like, was odd here. I could not figure out where he was trying to go with his character; some of his acting and speech choices just felt a bit confusing for me. And we had to suffer through a painfully miscast Seth MacFarlane. The film really lit up when Daniel Craig’s character arrived. Whenever he was on screen, the film had energy and direction and had moments of genuine humor. In fact, the film could be very funny in parts. At other times, the film was clearly trying so hard to make us laugh that it fell flat. Overall, this was a fun, lighthearted ride. But it felt like there could have been more there. If the characters had just been a bit more developed, there might have been a real opportunity for some understanding, instead of just parody. And, frankly, we could all use a bit more understanding these days.

Dunkirk

August 6, 2017 at 8:19 am | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ½

Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk,” opens quietly enough, with young British soldiers strolling through an abandoned French village. But, it doesn’t stay quiet for long and, once the action begins, it does not let up for scarcely a moment of its two hour run time. Nolan pounds us unrelentingly with a sense of chaos and uncertainty. If there is anything truly brilliant about this film, it is the way in which we are made to experience it, rather than simply watch it. The story of the Dunkirk evacuation is told from three perspectives: air, land and sea. In each, we start with three guys (three fighter pilots, three civilians on a boat, three boys at Dunkirk trying to find any way home). Over the film, their stories twist, diverge and come together in a kaleidoscope of ways. Nolan has deliberately told the story out of order and it remains unclear for most of the film where each story fits in the timeline with each other. This confusion for the audience gives us a sense of the confusion at Dunkirk, with nobody aware of what is going on anywhere else. We are forced to abandon a traditional narrative and just take each intense scene within the context of its moment. Nolan also plays brilliantly with the camera. Occasionally, he gives us these vast, sweeping vistas. Often, we have tight camera shots, in the dark, and tilted at strange angles (“why is the ocean running along the right side of the screen?”). We can lose our sense of up/down, day/night in much the same way the poor soldiers did. There are times we watch people scrambling to escape sinking boats and the audience is no more sure of which way is up than the drowning men are. Nolan collaborated again with his favorite composer, Hans Zimmer (“Inception,” “Interstellar”) to create a discordant, driving score that succeeds in capturing the anxiety and madness of what we see on screen. While my favorite performance was the excellent Mark Rylance as the civilian father/boat captain, this was not an actor driven film. The real star here is the story itself. Chaotic, beautiful, unrelenting and poetic. I felt more in the middle of this film than any I have seen in a long time.

A Ghost Story

August 4, 2017 at 2:34 pm | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ½

I’m not sure I know how to describe this film because I am not sure how I felt about it. It is hard to know what to expect from a film that appears so patently odd, even in the previews. But, I think I was expecting something more emotional and less pensive. David Lowery is most famous for directing the utterly different (and entirely banal) remake of “Pete’s Dragon.” Whatever “A Ghost Story” is, it is not banal. At times, Lowery’s directing reminded me very much of Terrence Malick, particularly in the film, “Tree of Life.” Like that one, this film was suffuse with a ponderous mood, so much so that it occasionally threatened to drag the narrative to a halt. And I use the term narrative loosely, as this was more a movie of mood than story. The central character was simply a sheet with holes. He had no facial expression, no body language and no speech. He remained blank and, in many ways, utterly disconnected from us. Yet, he also could seem painfully intimate and human at times. Very little was ever spoken. In fact, I doubt there was even 20 minutes of total speaking in the entire film. We easily went stretches of 10-15 minutes at a time without a word being said. We watched Rooney Mara silently grief-eating half of an entire apple pie in real time. She stared at the floor silently eating for almost 10 minutes as we watched her. But that also seems like where the real power of this film lies. This is a treatise on love and loss and soul-crushing heartbreak. Lowery’s brilliance is in not showing that in the big, flashy Hollywood way that we would expect. But the grief and emptiness are all over the screen, none-the-less. This is mostly a film about grief and emptiness and the pervading silence captures that emptiness; it fills the theater with a sense of that emptiness very effectively. I say “mostly” because this film also has an undercurrent of an aridly dry sense of humor. It’s so dry that it’s barely visible, but it’s there with a wink and a nod. I warn you: this movie will make you endure it. But, if you do and can sit quietly enough, intently enough, you might just hear the elegiac voice whispered through the silence. For anyone who has truly, deeply, passionately loved and lost, there is something in this film that may just haunt you.

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