REVIEW: The Big Sick

11 07 2017

I’m all about a good cross-cultural romantic comedy (I can probably recite every line of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” by heart), so “The Big Sick” was right up my alley to begin. Kumail Nanjiani’s true story ups the ante, though, by adding significantly greater dramatic stakes. An early dinner scene with his Pakistani family contains discussion of a relative who dared to marry outside the Muslim faith and have a mixed baby – “it’s like he’s dead,” someone says. “No one will visit.”

Despite half-heartedly entertaining his mother’s parade of eligible wives, Kumail (playing himself) falls for Zoe Kazan’s Emily after she gently heckles him during a stand-up set. She’s a stark contrast to the bland, eager-to-please Pakistani women, to say the least. Willing to push back on his requests and call out his good-natured mansplaining, Emily overwhelms him, as he does for her.

Like any relationship, Kumail and Emily’s faces setbacks … not the least of which being a mysterious illness that forces doctors to put her into a medically-induced coma. (With a chilling montage of Kumail walking through the hospital, director Michael Showalter immediately and effectively shifts the tone in a more somber direction.) This development puts him into contact with her parents, Ray Romano’s calmly neurotic Terry and Holly Hunter’s frazzled mama bear Beth, who do not exactly hold him in the highest regard. Over time, though, Kumail comes to learn from them and appreciate the geographic, cultural and gender hurdles they had to surmount to make their relationship work.

“The Big Sick” is not reinventing the wheel of the dramedy, but it’s still worth commending for a number of reasons. Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, his real wife (spoiler alert!), tell a story that’s specific and personal but never too precious. It’s distinctively theirs with a little something to offer all of us. And while a good chunk of the film deals with Kumail’s comedy career, Showalter’s camera is judicious. He knows the value of a quick reaction shot. The way he captures the full lay of the land in any given scene demonstrates how the non-verbal alchemy of an actor can enhance a great story beyond the words on a page. B+ /

Advertisements




REVIEW: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

29 03 2016

I miss Christopher Nolan. Never mind that it has been less than four years since his final Batman film and fewer than 18 months since his most recent directorial effort, “Interstellar.” He understood that the scope of a sprawling comic book movie could be an epic canvas for ambitious thematic and aesthetic content, not just an excuse for bombast and branding.

He has, inexplicably, turned over the keys to the kingdom to Zack Snyder, a director full of sound and fury that signifies nothing. He has an eye and a knack for style, to give him some credit, but Snyder never deploys it in use of a story or an idea. He’s all showmanship for its own sake – surfaces above substance, declaration over development.

As if 2013’s “Man of Steel” was not nauseating enough, he arrives with an “Avengers”-ified sequel in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” It’s roughly the cinematic equivalent of Kim Kardashian’s “Break the Internet” magazine cover. Call it “Break the Box Office,” if you will, as it’s already crushing at the box office this year. The film is practically incoherent and only gets more pointless and frustrating with each new turn. With each successive insipid development, the experience is as numbing as it is infuriating.

Snyder is more concerned that we notice the giant CGI pearls snapped at the murder of Bruce Wayne’s mother than providing context or rationale for this universe in which the film takes place. So two superheroes, Batman and Superman, have been living across the water from each other … and that was not worth mentioning in “Man of Steel?” While it’s nice that the film does not waste time rehashing an origin story, clearly Ben Affleck’s Batman is much different than Christian Bale’s. He’s more overtly villainous and cynical – but why?

Perhaps these questions might have been answered in the many scenes left on the cutting room floor. These crucial contextual bits are more important than ever as they could give the franchise a headwind as it launches a bevy of spinoffs and sequels. Marvel movies are bearable because their brain trust actually cares about their characters. They might ultimately succumb to formulaic plots, sure, but they at least understand that audiences want to get attached to these larger-than-life figures. Come and forget the action, stay and remember the characters.

Read the rest of this entry »





REVIEW: Manglehorn

26 04 2015

ManglehornRiverRun International Film Festival

Since hitting what most people would deem rock-bottom with the twofer of “Your Highness” and “The Sitter” in 2011, director David Gordon Green has rebounded with a tediously artful movie in “Prince Avalanche” and an intermittently brilliant movie in “Joe.”  His third film in the recovery, “Manglehorn,” falls somewhere in between those two poles.

Green, working with Al Pacino, gives the legendary actor what Bill Murray got in last year’s “St. Vincent” – a tender character study that highlights segments of the heart normally hidden from public view.  Although, to call “Manglehorn” a study implies something more academic than what actually appears on screen.  Paul Logan’s script runs in episodic circles, entertaining but sometimes a little enraging.

As the film chugs along, the film slowly parses out details about Pacino’s titular character and the past that looms largely and invisibly over his every action.  The small-town Texas locksmith, after a life full of disappointing and being disappointed by the people closest to him, attunes himself more to the needs of his beloved feline friend than any human around him.  He goes through his days pensively and mechanically as a gruff, “Birdman“-esque narration illuminates his inner thought process.

These hauntingly quiet moments allow “Manglehorn” to stand apart from the crowd of films featuring Pacino and other graying actors.  For an actor most known for violent outbursts (“SAY HELLO TO MY LITTLE FRIEND,” anyone?) or quiet fury (the final shot of “The Godfather Part II” comes to mind), a seldom-seen side of a septuagenarian makes for a satisfying sight.

Pacino soars not just in these silent soliloquies but also in vulnerable scenes with Holly Hunter’s romantic prospect Dawn and Manglehorn’s estranged son Jacob, played by Chris Messina.  Even amidst the sometimes discursive mess of the movie, Green still maintains tone and character with a fairly firm grip.  B2halfstars