Archive for the ‘Romance’ Category

the shape of water

In 1962, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is a mute cleaning woman, taking care of her neighbor, a “starving artist” Giles (Richard Jenkins) who was forced into retirement and is trying to make his way back into the workforce, by drawing an ad for instant gelatin.  Elisa works in a government lab where scientists are analyzing an Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) from the Amazon jungle. Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) head of security, thinks he can extract the creature’s secrets by force.  Scientist Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michel Stuhlberg) thinks the creature could yield great scientific benefits, but he is conflicted.  After one of Strickland’s attacks on the creature, Elisa feels badly for the creature, and takes him a hard-boiled egg for lunch.  The creature snaps at her, and then takes the egg.  Depite the rocky beginning, the lunches become more frequent, and Elisa realizes that she’s falling in love with the creature, but Strickland and Hoffstetler may have other ideas for the Amphibian Man, can Elisa save him from further torture or worse?

At first glance, The Shape of Water is simply a science fiction movie with a monster and a damsel in distress, except this movie flips the script, and the damsel is the one doing the saving, and the monster is not the amphibian.  If the viewer digs a little deeper there are all kinds of themes in this movie.  Outcasts looking for happiness, the heartbreak of loneliness, the haves and have nots, the subjugation of women, the power of love, sometimes returned, sometimes unrequited, ageism, a celebration of classic film, all overlaid in a cold war settling where everyone spies on each other. The love story doesn’t work so well, because to be in love, there has to be communication, and other than a few words in sign language, Elisa doesn’t really communicate with the amphibian, and by making Elisa a mute, the film accidentally promotes a theme it’s trying to speak out against, the submissive female.  The ending is a cop out, but there are so many themes covered in the script that it’s hard to say it’s a let-down.

The acting is superb, it made the story much better.  Sally Hawkins was incredible, as Elisa, what made the role harder for her is she had to emote while having no dialogue.  Somehow, she accomplished this with her eyes and very expressive face, and the urgency of her sign language. Richard Jenkins is also fantastic as Giles, he complains about getting older in public, but is hiding part of his identity in private, which makes the character complex and makes the performance nuanced. Michael Stuhlberg is also hiding part of his identity, and that makes his role more complex.  Where do his loyalties lie?  Stuhlberg keep the audience guessing. Octavia Spencer is also very good as Elisa’s co-worker, Zelda.  She is especially intense when confronting her husband at a critical point in the film. Michael Shannon undoubtedly gives the best performance in the film, as Richard Strickland someone who has power, prestige and position, and uses all three to degrade and humiliate those below him, and aggrandize himself.  He sees himself as a modern day Samson, on a mission from God to save society from the Philistines or bring down the temple. More like Ahab in the Bible or Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, Strickland’s obsession with the creature made him oblivious to everything else.  Strickland’s black, moldering fingers, which are unsuccessfully reattached after a run in with the creature, are reflective of his black soul.  Shannon plays Strickland as devoid of a shred of decency or humanity, yet he thinks of himself as a decent man.  And Michael Shannon understood the contradiction, and played both sides, decent to those who mattered to him, reprehensible to those that didn’t.  Shannon should have won the Oscar for Bes Supporting Actor, I saw Sam Rockwell in 3 Billboards, Shannon was better.

Guillermo Del Toro once again infuses this film with color, mostly green.  The creature is green, the water he swims in is green, the bathroom walls are green, even the gelatin Giles puts in his ad is green.  There are big, bold shots of an old movie theater where there The Story of Ruth is playing.  There is one scene where Del Toro’s fondness for classic film gets the best of him, but The Shape of Water, like all his films is a visual treat.  He gets excellent performances from his actors, and the pacing is good.  Del Toro deserved the best director Oscar.

The Shape of Water:  Dive in.

 

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Stronger

Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a chicken roaster for Costco.  He lives with his mother, Patty (Miranda Richardson) in Boston.  For Patriot’s Day, Jeff wants to support his ex-girlfriend, Erin (Tatiana Maslany) who is running the Boston Marathon.  Unfortunately, on this Patriot’s Day in 2013, terrorists set off pressure cooker bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and Jeff was severely hurt by the blast, losing both legs in the attack.  Jeff’s future is uncertain, but he decides to get prosthetic legs.  The pressures of sudden fame begin to affect Jeff, he is asked to wave a flag at a Boston Bruins Stanley Cup game, and the roar of the crowds, and flashing lights, make him flash back to the day of the marathon.  Erin is wracked with guilt because Jeff was at the Boston Marathon to support her.  Erin decides to stay and help Jeff, but she is unsure of their future together. Patty sees Jeff’s injuries as a chance to meet famous people and gain fame and money.

Jeff becomes filled with doubts, why did he survive, is he a hero?  Will Erin come back to him, or does she pity him because of his injuries?  He starts missing rehabilitation appointments, and doesn’t really seem committed to recovering his mobility. Then Erin visits Jeff with some news, what is the news?  Does the news change Jeff’s mindset?

This is an instant classic because it’s a bracingly real look at the life rehabilitation of a double amputee.  It shows the viewer all the hardships that Jeff has to face, including things that most people take for granted like taking a shower, or going to the bathroom.  This film pulls no punches, it doesn’t glamorize Jeff, or make his family perfect, or perfectly capable of understanding Jeff’s physical and emotional needs.  The film understands that the consequences of becoming a double amputee also falls on the caretakers, and that can cause a lot of stress in a family.  This is a hard movie to watch at times, but it is worth the emotional rollercoaster ride, because all the emotions feel so real.  The ending may seem a little Hollywood, but not blatantly so.

This is probably Jake Gyllenhaal’s best film.  He plays Jeff as a complex, multi-layered human being.  Jeff is a nice guy, but not perfect, he caused his girlfriend to break up with him three times.  He’s a guy who hasn’t grown up yet, but has this huge weight thrust on him.  The viewer sees the doubts creep up in Gyllenhaal’s eyes, hear the doubts in his quivering voice, it’s a masterfully understated performance.   Thankfully, his Boston accent is also understated. Tatiana Masaly plays a character filled with guilt, but Erin is no shrinking violet, she expresses her anger and frustration with Jeff and his family regularly.  Her performance makes the movie more interesting to watch.  Miranda Richardson is an interesting character, not a bad woman, but always someone with an angle, trying to exploit what happened to her son for money  or fame, which brings her into frequent conflict with Erin.

The direction starts out with a few experimental shots, like the camera looking out of a peep hole, and trying odd angles, there is one extended shot of the amputated legs, but he doesn’t overuse the amputation, and even in the scene Jeff’s legs are blurred in the background, and not emphasized.  The director eschews special effects and concentrates on keeping the pacing fast and focusing on the rehabilitation story and the strife caused because of Jeff’s struggles to adjust to his new circumstances.  The terrorist attack is almost tangential to the story, as it should be.

Stronger:  Run to watch this excellent film.

girls trip

Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall) is invited to be a keynote speaker at the Essence Festival, the quintessential event celebrating black music and culture.  Ryan is going to the Essence Festival to promote her new book, with her husband Stewart.  (Mike Colter) She decides to invite her friends, because they have drifted apart in the last few years.  Ryan’s friend Sasha (Queen Latifah ) runs an internet gossip site called  Sasha’s Secrets, and she’s despite to find a story to boost clicks to her site,  Lisa Cooper (Jada Pinkett Smith) is a single mother who’s so devoted to her kids, that she doesn’t  even want to leave them alone with her mother to go on this trip with Ryan.  And there’s Dina (Tiffany Haddish) the  wild child of the  group, who will say or do anything, with no apologies. Sasha gets a compromising picture of Stuart with an Instagram model named Simone. (Deborah Ayorinde)   Does Sasha confront Ryan with this picture, possibly wrecking Ryan’s perfect marriage?  Does Sasha post the picture on her site, saving herself from financial ruin? Is the photo even real, or has it been photoshopped?

This movie tries hard to be Bridesmaids, but there are so many problems with the writing that it’s difficult to even begin to explain them.  Start with a few tried-and-true black woman stereotypes.  Dina is the stereotypical l brassy, streetwise black woman that is prevalent in most movies. Then there’s Ryan, with another black female stereotype, the Superwoman, she can do it all, juggle, husband and career, and not break a sweat.  Then there’s some bathroom humor, some Tyler Perry drama, including a bar fight, and for no particular reason, some 1990’s New Jack swing music.  So the uplifting feminist empowerment soliloquy near the end of the film, can’t make the viewer forget all the trivial nonsense that comes before it. On the positive side, there is a really good Madi Gras band in the movie, there should have been more scenes with them in it.

Regina Hall is not really convincing as the “I have it all, you can have it too” persona.  It is not until late in the movie until the writers  humanize her character, that she shows any range at all.  Queen Latifah is competent , but again, there’s little range for the character, Latifah goes between angry and indignant, and that’s not a lot of range.  I didn’t buy Jada Pinkett Smith as a dowdy  hypochondriac, single mother of 2, so the transformation was not that shocking.  Tiffany Haddish is not very funny, she tries really hard,  but she is kind of annoying.  Mike Coulter does a really good job as the roguish, cheating husband, he is a dirtbag, but he has to maintain a public persona, so he is all smiles on the outside.

The direction has nothing noteworthy to speak of, other than a scene at Mardi Gras, and a scene with the marching band, the audience wouldn’t know that it was set in New Orleans at all.  The pacing is slow, the length is excessive for a comedy, and other than Mike Colter, there are no really good performances to speak of.

Girl’s Trip:  Falls flat.

baby driver

Baby  (Ansel Elgort) is a young getaway driver who works for Doc (Kevin Spacey) who’s a mobster.  Baby’s first job is driving Griff (Jon Bernthal) Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Elza Gonzalez) away from a bank robbery.  He does this in a red Subaru.   Baby’s second job is a Brinks truck heist featuring three different criminals, Eddie (Flea) J.D. (Lanny Joon) and Bats. (Jamie Foxx)  Once again, Baby escapes with his life.  Doc promises Baby that’s his last job and Baby is glad, because while going to the same diner every day, because his mom used to work there, he meets Debora (Lilly James)a cute waitress, and the two fall in love.  Baby is out of the getaway driving business and working as a pizza delivery boy, when Doc calls with one more job, involving money orders and the post office.  After a threat from Doc, will Baby take the big job, or forget his life of crime and run off with Debora?

Most people have heard of a mash up in music, Baby Driver is a mash-up of genres.  It’s a crime caper, it’s a drippy romance, and it’s got so much music, it might as well be a musical.  But the music and the romance divert attention from the crime drama, in ways that didn’t help this movie.  There are coincidences that would never happen in real life, like two cars looking just like the getaway car on the first getaway, there are backstory elements that only serve to garner sympathy to the Baby character, and there’s a badly mismatched cast, which makes the viewer wonder if this group of people would ever do anything together, much less plan robberies together.  It’s got that one last bank job cliché, and then it breaks that promise, because there is not enough material in the film to maintain interest. The ending would have been fine, if the movie had ended five minutes before it did. If this movie wasn’t a mash-up of genres, it would have been just another heist movie with a lot of shooting and fancy driving, so I guess the touches of style are better than nothing.

This movie features some of the strangest casting in any recent movie I’ve  seen.  Ansel Elgort is good as the innocent getaway driver, but does anyone believe that a guy like that would actually be a getaway driver?  No.  And Elgort laid that Southern accent on a bit too thick, it was noticeable.  The writers failed to give Baby any dimensions though, he was basically all good all the time, and that got boring quickly. Jon Hamm is great in Mad Men, but he is not a thug, and making him dress up in a leather jacket with stubble doesn’t exactly make him look tough, he just looks out of place, like he missed a revival of Grease or something. Casting 27 year old Elza Gonzalez as Hamm’s girlfriend when Hamm is 46, makes the idea of Hamm in this movie even more ridiculous.  The two were obviously badly mismatched, and Gonzalez was only used for eye-candy purposes.  Kevin Spacey plays what he always plays, an authority figure who everyone fears for some unknown reason.  Well I hope he enjoyed himself in this movie, because he’s finished in Hollywood. Jamie Foxx plays what he always plays, a slightly crazed, unpredictable character who makes jokes. One can argue about casting any of these people, but what are Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and 70’s lounge singer Paul Williams doing in this movie?  Strange casting indeed.

The direction is not great, the pacing is uneven, it goes from a faced paced action flick to a slowly paced romance, and back and forth between the two.  The director used the beat in the music in concert with some of the action, which is unique, but hardly worth sitting through this movie for.  Watch Drive with Ryan Gosling, which also has arthouse excesses, but it’s got a better story and better acting than this movie.

Baby Driver:  Drove me to drink.

 

 

Movie Review: The Big Sick (2017)

Posted: November 10, 2017 in Comedy, Drama, Romance
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Kumail Nanjani (Himself) is a Pakistani stand-up comedian, he tells his parents, Azmat (Anupam Kher) and Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff) that he wants to be a lawyer.  Kumail is dating an American girl, named Emily (Zoe Kazan) despite meeting many Pakistani girls to please his parents.  Soon enough, Emily finds out that Kumail is dating all these girls behind her back and she breaks up with him.  After he has moved on, Kumail gets a phone call, and is shocked to hear that Emily has a really serious viral infection.  The doctors may need to do an operation to remove the virus and keep it from spreading and the y may need to put Emily in a medically induced coma to operate.  The doctors can’t find Emily’s parents, Beth  (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano) so Kumail has to decide whether to sign the papers or not. What does he do?

First and foremost, this movie was marketed as a light romantic comedy, but the actual movie is light-years away from a light romantic comedy.  This movie is 2 hours of drama, and melodrama with a few jokes sprinkled in.  The main character is an unlikable SOB, who lies to his parents, and girlfriend, and his girlfriend, the other main character,  is in a coma, gee, are we having fun yet? There are jokes in this movie, but the viewer has to slog for hours of really depressing movie to get to those jokes.  Is it worth it?  Not for me it wasn’t.  The ending is not that great either, there are at least two false ending before getting to the real ending, which makes the real ending all the more annoying.  The standup comedy scenes funny, are and the comedians are good.  There are some good performances here, but don’t  watch this film  waiting for a laugh out loud comedy, because it’s not.

Kumail Manjani is really not a likable guy and since he’s playing himself in a true story from his life, he must not be a likable person in real life.  His humor is also an acquired taste, something like a deadpan understated humor.  Zoe Kazan has a whiny voice that makes her character hard to stomach, when she’s not comatose. The people who make this movie watching are Emily’s parents. Ray Romano, who also has a whiny voice is not annoying in this movie, he’s actually very sweet and understanding, and funny in a way that this movie needed.  Holly Hunter plays Beth as a feisty Southern wife and mother who’ll fight anyone to save her daughter, but she does it while making the character endearing, which is not an easy thing to do.  The Pakistani characters were one-dimensional, and somewhat stereotypical, and that made Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff’s jobs very difficult.  I’ve seen Anupam Kher in Silver Linings Playbook Bend It Like Beckham and a few Hindi language film, and he usually plays the father in these movies, so this is not s stretch for him.  But the father is such a tradition-bound character that there’s not much for Kher to do as an actor. The mother is similarly boxed in.

The direction is not great, the pacing is slow, the story is two hours long, which is death for a comedy, and the great performances come not from the leads, but from the parents of the daughter, who are also Hollywood veterans.  The director is a television show director for the most part.  This looks like his first feature film. Judd Apatow  produced this, it didn’t seem like he had a big budget or needed one for that matter.

The Big Sick Not infectiously Funny.

love and friendship

The recently widowed Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckensale) has gone to live with her brother-in-law, Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards) and his wife Catherine, (Emma Greenwell) in their palatial home Churchill.  Susan has her eye on the much younger Reginald De Courcy (Xavier Samuel) who is also Catherine’s brother.  The age difference is shocking to Reginald’s father, Reginald Sr. (James Fleet) who is determined to stop the courtship. Quite suddenly, Susan’s daughter, Fredrica (Morfydd Clark) shows up at Churchill , and she is panicked at the thought of marrying Sir James Martin (Tom Bennet) a wealthy dolt, who wants very much to marry Fredrica, but Fredrica has fallen for young Reginald at first sight.  Nothing seems to be standing in the of Susan and young Reginald getting married, but then Lucy Manwaring  (Jenn Murray) confronts Reginald with some shocking news about Susan.  What is this news?  Does it make Reginald rethink his upcoming nuptials?  Who does Susan marry?  Who does Fredrica marry?

This is a period piece, set in 1790 based on a Jane Austen novella.  It’s a comedy of manners filled with polite titters and not large guffaws.  Most of the laughs come from Susan manipulating her daughter, her best friend and the men in her life to get her desired result. The James Martin character provides more laughs with his absurdist, buffoonish character.  If one digs deeper, there is a bit of social commentary about why women married in the late 18th century, but it’s subtle like the rest of this movie.  I’ve seen better Jane Austen adaptations, Emma and Sense and Sensibility, but this is pretty good.

The acting is good.  Beckensale seems very comfortable with the Jane Austen turn of phrase, and she probably feels good being able to act in a role that doesn’t involve vampires or werewolves.  This is the kind of role she should be playing. Tom Bennett is extremely funny as the clueless suitor of Morfydd Clark, I wish he had a bigger role.  The rest of the actors play their character roles well, but no one really stands out, other than Beckinsale and Bennett.

There’s not much that stands out about the direction, the pacing is very slow, dull Victorian England looks appropriately dull, there’s nothing visual to spice thing up.  The director does something rather amateurish, in my opinion.  He puts the character’s names in the opening scenes, so instead of explaining who they are through exposition, the viewer reads who they are, which is an immature way to tell a story.

Love and Friendship:  Beckinsale is no plain Jane, in this Austen adaptation.

Beguiled

John McBurney (Clint Eastwood) is a Colonel in the Union army.  He’s been shot and is losing a lot of blood.  McB is found by 12 year old Amy (Pamelyn Ferdin) who takes him to a Confederate Girls’ School, run by a woman named Martha.  (Geraldine Page)  Martha plans to make him well and turn him over to the Confederate troops patrolling the area immediately, but McBurney has a plan, he starts to ingratiate himself to all the women in the house, including Amy, a house slave named Hallie, (Mae Mercer) a teacher in the school, Edwina (Elizabeth Hartman) a 17 year old “hussy” named Carol, (JoAnn Harris) and Martha.  Martha has been deserted by her brother, Hallie responds to McBurney’s promise to find her boyfriend, Edwina has never been with a man, Amy is just starting to notice men, and Carol just wants another man to sleep with.  McBurney seems to know what button to push with each woman, but he overindulges his cravings, and Carol sees him seducing Edwina, and gets angry, how does she plan to get revenge on McBurney?  Can he keep fooling these needy women?

This is a strange movie, and a far cry from Eastwood’s Dirty Harry persona, or maybe it isn’t.  This is a revenge fantasy, but who’s getting the revenge and who gets the last laugh?  It seems to me that this story is told from the man’s point of view, and the man seems to be a chauvinist.  His first objective is survival, then McBurney wants pleasure and he doesn’t really care who gives it to him.  The women all seem to have man issues, there’s not one self-actualized one in the bunch.  The storyline is a bit redundant after a while, and the strangeness, including a very strange dream sequence,  threatens to derail the plot, but it’s still fun to see who is left standing at the end.  Call it a guilty pleasure. It’s like a Tarantino movie, with a lot less violence.

This is a departure for Clint Eastwood, he doesn’t always play the love ‘em and leave ‘em type, in fact his films are known for their lack of female roles.  But since he can’t fight his way out of this situation or shoot his way out, he has to try to charm his way out.  It’s a macho role, just a different kind of macho role.  Geraldine Page is good as Martha, the founder of the school, with a lot of baggage, and some mighty strange baggage it is.  Page still plays the role as a prim and proper Southern schoolmarm, who keeps her desires locked away.  The rest of the women are stereotypes. Mae Mercer is the “sassy” slave.  Edwina is the virginal ideal woman of that era, Carol is jaded despite her young age, and Amy is the little girl, just starting to experience womanhood.  None of the women in these roles are good enough to make their badly written roles convincing, except for perhaps Elizabeth Hartman as Edwina.  The acting from the supporting cast is not great, the script reads like a Southern soap opera, and that ultimately leads to the downfall of the film.

Not to be outdone, Don Sigel, who directed Dirty Harry overdoes the visuals, the camera spins and reels, like a dizzy schoolgirl, and the effect is claustrophobic and nauseating.  Siegel directs this movie as if it was some kind of Victorian Gothic novel, like Jane Eyre, but this is a trashy low rent Jane Eyre, complete with creepy music from Lalo Schiffrin who’s done some good stuff like Cool Hand Luke and Bullitt, but this music seemed to intrude on the movie and not enhance it. The pacing of the film is slow, the performances are not that great, and it limps to an ending.

The Beguiled:  Eastwood goes South, in more ways than one.