“The Big Sick”

I’ve been saying since I started watching HBO’s great “Silicon Valley” that Kumail Nanjiani (Dinesh) is the funniest person on television. In “The Big Sick,” he further demonstrates his comedic talent as both co-writer and leading man.

Based on true events in Nanjiani and his wife (and co-writer) Emily V. Gordon’s relationship, Nanjiani is a semi-fictional version of himself. Kumail works as a full-time Uber driver and standup comedian in Chicago where he meets Emily (Zoe Kazan) at one of his shows. What starts as a fling blossoms into something serious for Kumail and Emily, but two things stand between them: his culture and her mysterious illness.

Most rom-coms have a couple meet in the first act, get together and break up in the second act, then reconcile in the final act via a ridiculous scenario. “The Big Sick” defies genre conventions, thanks to Nanjiani and Gordon’s experiences. This is a funny, sweet, and personal film.

Nanjiani shows gifted talent as his fictionalized self, going through a number of emotions. Kumail lies to his loved ones as a defense mechanism and learns that telling the truth helps insecurities. Kazan’s Emily is a great foil to Kumail since she hides certain things from him, which lead to both sad and awkwardly funny scenarios.

Ray Romano and Holly Hunter excel as Kazan’s parents, Beth and Terry. Hunter should be considered for award recognition. She’s high-strung, judgmental, but also an understanding mentor figure to Kumail. The second act primarily focuses on Kumail bonding with them and helping them overcome their differences. It’s nice to see a romantic comedy without the cliched antagonistic parents.

There are scenes with Kumail’s family that risk going this route, but Kumail’s parents’ (Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff) logic is understandable. They want Kumail to find happiness, but also consider their way in doing so.

“The Big Sick” is 124 minutes long, but it wastes no time with feelings. The montages are heartwarming, the arguments between Kumail and Emily are heartbreaking, and the standup sequences are insightful. For couples who need a date movie, “The Big Sick” is a perfect choice.

Grade: A

 

 

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“La La Land”

Director Damien Chazelle demonstrated his passion for jazz music in “Whiplash” two years ago, which was one of 2014’s best films. He further expresses his passion for both jazz and film in “La La Land,” which is the most passionate and energetic film of the year.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a self-righteous jazz musician. He wants to open his own club, but he doesn’t know where to begin. Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress. She wants to make it big, but doesn’t have faith in herself. Of course they meet and a romance blossoms, but we’re also treated to rich dialogue and lively musical numbers.

There isn’t a single dull moment in “La La Land.” From the retro opening credits to the end montage, Chazelle is on fire with the musical numbers and emotional moments. The opening scene is a masterful tracking shot, choreographing dozens of extras on a freeway who perform “Another Day of Sun.”

Every shot in this film is perfect and shows off the glamorous side of Los Angeles (a city I find dirty). Chazelle cuts the film brilliantly to highlight Sebastian and Mia’s emotions. They’re an adorable pair with great chemistry, but their mutual insecurities are overbearing.

As the film goes on, the drama progresses and we see that there are consequences to the couple following their dreams. Chazelle is less cynical about passion in “La La Land” than he was in “Whiplash,” but he remains realistic. He’s stating that you should follow your dreams, but there will be challenges along the way.

His intimacy with “La La Land” never comes off pretentious, but rather an introduction. Sebastian introduces a jazz-hating Mia to the genre, turning her into a fan. I don’t like musicals and have little jazz knowledge, but I know after watching “La La Land,” I want to watch more musicals and listen to more jazz.

“La La Land” is magical, but I wouldn’t call it a feel-good movie. It’s bittersweet, but more on the sweet side.

Grade: A+

“The Lobster”

As a single person, I would be fucking horrified to live in the “Lobster” society! No masturbation? No physical contact allowed in the woods? Happiness not guaranteed in relationships? Gah!

“The Lobster” stars Colin Farrell as David, a newly single man who’s transported to a hotel where the guests are put together for matchmaking. If he can’t find a match within 45 days, he’ll be turned into a lobster.

It’s an absurd premise with a Dystopian sci-fi formula. It’s almost predictable that David  escapes the society later and joins a group of rebels in the woods (led by a great Lea Seydoux). The first half is filled with some darkly funny, albeit disturbing moments.

Between a man being punished for masturbating, singles forced to live with one arm shackled behind their backs, and bickering couples being mandated as parents, the satire and horror are funny and rampant.

The second half loses steam when David moves to the woods and finds (what he thinks is) true love with a short-sighted woman (Rachel Weisz). The world building grows less interesting and the quirkier elements seem quirky just to be quirky.

“The Lobster” has a slow pace beginning-to-end, but it’s more noticeable in the second half. Even the beautiful slow motion shots and haunting music score grow redundant after a while.

“The Lobster” offers a refreshingly emotional performance from Farrell and some sharp moments, but I would have liked more world building and resolutions in the second half. Even a montage showing resolutions would have been satisfying. I’m in the minority of not liking this movie, but I’m sicking to my guns!

Grade: C+

“Pride & Prejudice & Zombies”

With a title like “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies”, you ought to know better than to take a movie like that seriously! It’s ridiculous and fun, but sometimes that’s all that matters.

A zombie plague has taken over 19th century England and Elizabeth Bennett (Lily James) and her sisters are all trained for zombie slaying by their no nonsense father (Charles Dance). Elizabeth forms an unlikely romance with fellow zombie hunter Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) and the two discover a plot that can trigger the apocalypse. While the fight their feelings for each other, they fight the zombies invading England more-so.

“Pride & Prejudice & Zombies” embraces genre cliches, iconic moments from Jane Austen’s novel “Pride & Prejudice”, and its numerous adaptations, including parodying Colin Firth’s white shirt-swimming scene from the BBC mini series. This isn’t just a spoof, but it also has a surprising amount of panache.

Between innovative POV zombie shots, a pop-up image-illustrated opening credits sequence, and some effective uses of shadows and fog, “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies” can almost pass as a serious period horror film. It’s evenly balanced with ridiculous moments including a sensual martial arts fight, subplots involving a clumsy and antagonistic love interest (Matt Smith), and the Four Horsemen.

The cast all does fine work and both James and Riley have great chemistry, managing to balance out even levels of absurdity and drama in their performances. The real stand out though is Smith. He’s a naturally clumsy person off camera and this makes his performance as Mr. Collins more enjoyable.

How can you criticize a movie that’s already this ridiculous? Well, there are a few subplots that aren’t well developed and slow the movie down at times. There are also a few too many characters that come and go throughout the movie, making us wonder their purpose. But once we get to the zombie battles, it’s back in full form.

I saw “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies” at a sneak preview, and I’d suggest checking it out at a five-dollar Tuesday theater when it’s released.

Grade: B-