Sunday, June 04, 2017

THE BIG SICK


THE BIG SICK is a culture-clash romantic comedy based on the true story of how stand up comedian Kumail Nanjiani (SILICON VALLEY) met his wife Emily Gordon (Zoe Kazan - RUBY SPARKS).  He grew up in Pakistan and though settled in Chicago his mum and dad (Anupam Kher) still expect him to be an observant Muslim and to marry a Pakistani wife, a parade of whom happen to drop by for family dinners so that he can choose one.  Even when Kumail meets psychology student Emily, and even when they both fall in love with her, he can't envisage a future with her if it means giving up his family who would ostracise him.  And so she breaks up with him and that should be that.  However, as in real life, Emily gets sick, goes into a medically induced coma, and Kumail realises how much he loves her. He also starts to bond with her parents - played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter - nuanced characters who both resent his treatment of their daughter, but realise he loves her, and are battling with their own relationship issues.  The sickness also gives Kumail the courage to tell his parents how he feels, and to tentatively navigate a new relationship with them based on truth, chipping away at their froideur. 

WONDER WOMAN


Beating an admittedly low bar, WONDER WOMAN is unquestionably the best movie in the DC franchise. It has some of the darkness of BATMAN VS SUPERMAN but never feels pretentious or portentous; and in the place of SUICIDE SQUADS' maddeningly shifting tone and offensive objectification of Harley Quinn we have a movie with a straightforward compelling story and a courageous and often subtle take on modern sexual and racial politics.  The result is a film that's both highly enjoyable and yet deeply meaningful  - a long overdue strong heroine in a universe full of macho posturers. 

The movie opens in contemporary France with Batman reaching out to Diana/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), but it's essentially a long flashback and origins story, told in live action and with beautifully designed animation and the most seamless use of CGI.  We see the young child growing up on an island of Amazonian woman - fierce warriors created by Zeus to protect humanity from the corrupting influence of his son Aries, the god of war.  Diana herself is moulded from clay by her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen - GLADIATOR), and made live by Zeus himself. Accordingly, she is herself a god, sister to Aries, although this fact seems to escape her logical notice.  The Amazons have been holed up on a magical island while World War One is raging around them, until US spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine - STAR TREK reboot) crash lands in their midst.  A brave Diana then returns with him to wartime Europe, supposedly to bring an end to war by killing Aries, whom she believes is German General Ludendorff (Danny Huston.)

Saturday, June 03, 2017

CROWN HEIGHTS


CROWN HEIGHTS is an earnest, plodding and ultimately redundant film adaptation of the true story of a miscarriage of justice.  In 1980, West Indian American immigrant  called Colin Warner was wrongfully arrested and convicted for murdering a man in Brooklyn, New York.   The evidence was scant, and his conviction apparently rested on the testimony of a young teenager who contradicted himself on the stand.  Although sentenced to 15 years to life, Colin served over 20 years because every time he went up for parole, he refused to admit that he'd committed a crime.  He showed no remorse, and was therefore refused parole. Luckily for him, his friend Carl King campaigned for his release, raising money for lawyers and gathering much of the testimony himself, at the expense of his marriage and job.  This resulted in Colin finally being released and receiving a justifiably handsome payout.  This story was the focus of a WBEZ podcast as part of the This American Life series (you can listen here) and benefits from the voices of the protagonists - their personalities, and the tension of how the story unfolds.   Within its hour running time we can a real sense of their character, relationship and the sheer effort it took to get Colin released.  It was listening to this podcast that inspired writer director Mark Ruskin (BOOSTER) to create this fictional treatment of the same story.

WILSON


To quote the back of Daniel Clowes' darkly brilliant graphic novel, "Wilson is a big-hearted slob, a lonesome bachelor, a devoted father and husband, an idiot, a sociopath, a delusional blowhard, a delicate flower, 100% Wilsonesque!"  In this new movie from director Craig Johnson (THE SKELETON TWINS), Clowes adapts his own work faithfully to give us a film that is funny, melancholy and sometimes plain crazy.  Woody Harrelson plays the protagonist as a shambolic man with no sense of proper behaviour.  Spurred by the death of his father he tracks down his ex-wife Pippi (Laura Dern - CERTAIN WOMEN), who's now a recovering addict. She tells him she had the child he thought she aborted, and put her up for adoption.   Much of the rest of the film concerns this deeply dislikable and yet somehow charming man trying to forge a relationship with the girl (Isabella Amara - SPIDERMAN THE HOMECOMING) and navigate the wild twists that life throws at him.  To say more would be to spoil the surprise. 

Friday, June 02, 2017

PATTI CAKE$


Geremy Jasper's debut feature film PATTI CAKE$ is an exuberant feelgood underdog movie that isn't afraid to show the scuzzier, nastier sides of life in America's rustbelt. Set in contemporary New Jersey, a stone's throw from a Manhattan that feels impossible to reach, it stars Australian actress Danielle Macdonald (EVERY SECRET THING) as the self-style rap star wannabe.  Plain old Patricia Dumbowski in real life, Patti is teased as Dumbo for her girth, but re-creates herself as an empowered, sexy rapper.  All this in the face of living with a selfish weary alcoholic mother (cabaret star Bridget Everett - TRAINWRECK) and a chronically ill foul-mouthed nana (Cathy Moriarty - RAGING BULL).  It's evident that though still a teen, Patti is the glue that holds the family together, keeping food (such as it is) on the table by bar tending at the local dive and waiting tables for caterer.  The love she has for her mother and nana despite the hassle they put her through is evident.  The things that get Patti through the day are her love of rap music, and her best friend and fellow rapper, Hasheem (Siddharth Dhananjay) and the creepy weird black kid (Mamadou Athie - THE CIRCLE) who plays heavy metal who calls himself Antichrist (that they meet at a amateur talent show.  Just as there's real warmth and chemistry in the relationship between the three women, there's real warmth, fun and camaraderie in the relationship between the three friends and soon band-mates.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

BEATRIZ AT DINNER


Directer Miguel Arteta and writer Mike White follow their collaboration on THE GOOD GIRL with this hamfisted painfully earnest take on the class divide in contemporary America.  Salma Hayek plays Beatriz, a massage therapist and earnest do-gooder who treats both suffering cancer patients and rich capitalist bastards.  As the film opens, there's a chance it might be a comedy.  Beatriz is quirky!  She keeps goats in her house and has a habit of saying socially inappropriate things and invading people's space.  But that isn't what this film is.  When Beatriz' car breaks down at a client's (Connie Britton - NASHVILLE) house in Newport Beach, that client invites her to stay for dinner - a small celebration of future profits on a real estate development.  The rich guests (Chloe Sevigny, Jay Duplass) proceed to ignore Beatriz, then assume she's the help, then ignore her disquiet at their development.  But when the richest and most evil of the men (John Lithgow) reveals he also hunts rhinos, Beatriz really loses it.

The problem I have with this film is that it isn't a biting political satire or a nuanced portrait of class or race relations. Rather it's a pantomime filled with caricatures.  The bad guys here are truly bad.  The airhead dippy wives are just that.  And Beatriz is ultimately a Christlike martyr of zero flaws and faults. This makes for dull, dumb, simplistic storytelling.  The audience deserves far more.

AT DINNER has a running time of 83 minutes and is rated R. The movie played Sundance 2017 and opens in the USA on June 9th.