Tag Archives: Holly Hunter

Sundance Review: “The Big Sick”

LOUISA: 4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

There are certain movies that are so intensely personal, so fiercely credible that there’s no question they are based on true stories. “The Big Sick” is one of those films that lives and breathes authenticity. It feels authentic because it is authentic.

The story is based on the real life relationship between Pakistani-American comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his girlfriend (now wife), Emily Gordon. The couple wrote the screenplay together and there’s an enormous feeling of tenderness surrounding the entire project. The story starts out with your average indie film meet cute at a comedy club but then gradually shifts its tone into a serious drama when, after a break up, Emily winds up in the hospital in a medically induced coma, fighting for her life. The film is a beautiful, accurate representation of unwavering love and devotion through a health crisis — among other things. The movie touches on everything from the day-to-day life of a young standup comedian to the cultural pressures of submitting to an arranged marriage simply because it’s a family tradition.

Nanjiani plays himself while the off-putting and quirky Zoe Kazan steps into the role of Emily. Neither of these actors are especially appealing to begin with (and their onscreen chemistry is far from believable here), but both do their best to sell the story — and it’s nearly impossible not to respond to their overall spunk and charm. The film’s standout performance comes from Holly Hunter as Emily’s stressed out mother. Hunter makes it look naturally effortless to create a character who is not only dealing with her daughter’s life-threatening illness but also coping with a cheating husband (Ray Romano), all while remaining a fired up and outspoken firecracker of a woman (the scene where she heckles a racist heckler at a comedy club will bring the house down). Romano deserves accolades too; he gives a subtle, convincing performance that balances humor with compassion.

The film is a little too long, with the first half taking a while to set things in motion. The second half dominates with the best part of the story, however. Once Emily ends up in the hospital, the movie shifts its focus to exploring the budding relationship between Kumail and her parents. Kumail is bonding with his ex-girlfriend’s family while at the same time his own family is disowning him for dating a white woman. This is where you have to appreciate and acknowledge that there’s some great original (and immensely credible) writing in this movie.

“The Big Sick” is heartfelt and heartwarming rather than snarky and sarcastic, which might shock many of director Michael Showalter‘s longtime fans (especially considering the tone of previous material Showalter has written, directed and starred in). The film has a similar feel to his 2016 film “Hello, My Name is Doris,” but it’s more of a non-offensive, crowd pleasing dramedy that isn’t too much of a challenge for your standard film festival audiences. While this is indie film 101, I think it may lack a universal appeal that will resonate with multiplex audiences (I can practically see the mis-marketed ad campaign now: “see the outrageous new laugh-a-minute comedy from powerhouse producer Judd Apatow!“).

Luckily there’s an overwhelming amount of tenderness surrounding the entire project, and the abrupt shifts in tone is kept together by charming wit and kind hearted humor. This one will give you the cinematic warm fuzzies.

This film was screened and reviewed at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”

LOUISA:   2 STARS     MATT:   3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

The day of ‘Batfleck’ has finally arrived, so let’s get this out of the way early: he’s not half bad as Batman. I was one of the doubters who groaned and complained when I heard Ben Affleck would be playing the caped crusader, but he has made me eat my words. This isn’t to say the film is good (it isn’t), but Affleck is not the one who ruined it.

I’m not sure whom to blame for this big, bloated mess that is “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” but let’s say I think the majority of the fault lies squarely on the shoulders of director Zack Snyder. No doubt Snyder is capable and talented, but here he shows zero technique — it’s as if he isn’t a fan of the material or even that he actively loathes the DC Comics characters. Talk about a complete waste of an awesome idea.

The movie is awfully dark in both story and look. It’s not really something for kids either (half of the children in my sold out audience were audibly freaking out after the big end battle scene), and half the time I couldn’t see what the heck was going on because of all the brown and gold, muted cinematography. Everything was washed out, and I like to think of my larger-than-life superheroes as being bold and bright and colorful. It’s further burdened with ugly costumes, scene upon scene of animated crap, and the most anticlimactic action and fight scenes ever. The action pieces are as slow and boring as the entire pace of the movie, which clocks in at a draggy two and a half hour runtime.

Snyder particularly stumbles in the final 20 minutes of the film. The convoluted story jumps around so much that it will make your head spin. There are a dozen different potential endings (“Oh, the film’s over now? Uh, guess not.”) that ramble on and on. It’s as if the film is comprised of a bunch of puzzle pieces that were dumped on the table and haphazardly stuck together in all the wrong places. None of the pieces fit together correctly and half of the story doesn’t make any sense. Even Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is given little to do. By the time she shows up to save the day (translation: to dine on the meager, leftover action scraps), I had already lost interest.

Not everything is terrible, however, and I’ll give credit where credit is due. The movie starts off strong and builds momentum — for about the first 30 minutes. After that, it begins a gradual and then a drastically sharp decline. Thankfully the film is jam-packed with talented actors who make even the most unwatchable scenes watchable. The standouts are the reliable Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Jeremy Irons (Alfred) and Laurence Fishburne (Perry). Diane Lane, Scoot McNairy and Holly Hunter bring their A-game too — and balance out the completely wooden Henry Cavill as Superman (seriously, how did this guy get the job in the first place?). The dividing line as far as performances go will undoubtedly be Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor). Eisenberg plays the famed villain with an amusing over-the-top, psychotically weird bravado. He thoroughly fills the void left by Michael Shannon as Zod — and we all know that Shannon is the undisputed master of the ‘playing to the balcony’ style of over-acting.

There were two unintentionally funny moments too. Near the end, the characters discuss trying to put together a team to fight for justice. Rather than causing excitement, it made me feel a little embarrassed as I know I was witnessing the set-up of what will amount to nothing more than a low-rent version of the Avengers. Second, Aquaman shows up! His very brief cameo got a (deservedly) big laugh from my audience.

I know my readers will see this movie regardless of any positive or negative reviews, but you’ve been warned. There’s nothing fun nor exciting nor spectacular about this unsatisfying film, and there should be. Instead, it is (sadly) a messy, boring yawn.

MATT SAYS:

Let’s be honest with one another here: you’re not reading my review to help you decide whether you want to see “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” You are either going to see it, or you’re not; it’s just that type of movie. You’re reading my review because you want to know how I felt about it, and see whether my opinion agrees with yours. I hope you’ll tell me in the comments.

Now that we understand one another, game on.

First, if you’re reading this before you see the movie, a tip so that you don’t waste your time: there’s no post-credits scene. I waited for one, and I promise it’s not there. The Marvel movies have taught us all to expect them, and I was more than a little disappointed to not get one. I was impressed, however, by the sheer size of the visual effects team on this movie. There were about 3-4 minutes of screen crawl time devoted just to VFX credits. Wow!

Now to the review. I liked the SIZE of the movie. Not the run time, just the scope. I love it when a big event movie feels like a big event movie. There’s something viscerally appealing about these movies where larger-than-life characters are introduced and the score and deep bass tones announce to you “THIS IS IMPORTANT.” When events occur in other places around the world, they actually feel like they are happening somewhere else, which makes sense because in the credits I counted something like 6 different filming locations scattered all across the globe. You only get this kind of scope and scale with these massive-budget, big event movies. I love that because when you’re watching it – particularly when it’s with one of the first audiences to see the movie – you really have the sense that you’re actually part of something. Enjoying a big movie like this one with an audience that is all keyed up to see it is a sensation that cannot be duplicated at home. To me, that is the very essence of the theatrical experience, and why streaming, on-demand, and home video will never completely replace movie theaters.

That said, at times the movie was TOO big. There were too many storylines, too many things happening, to keep the nice, tight focus that could have made this movie great. As someone who has seen every superhero movie but has read none of the comic books and has missed all of the recent DC-based t.v. shows, I felt lost at times. There are plenty of things that must have been Easter eggs but were lost on me (which is okay – that’s the very essence of an Easter egg), but at some times I felt a little bit lost and confused. The story seems to take place in a line of continuity that includes the recent “Dark Knight” movies as well as the last “Superman” movie, but I’m not entirely sure.

In fact, I didn’t start really enjoying “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” until about 75 minutes into its substantial running time. There was an excessive amount of screen time devoted to cinematic throat-clearing and way too much prelude to the actual conflict. Which might be okay, but really not much of anything happened by way of action until about the 75-minute mark. I understand the need to set up the conflict, but there was maybe a little too much set-up here with scenes that definitely could have been trimmed.

This movie obviously rises and falls on the strength of the Batman – Superman conflict, and I’m pleased to report that it worked well. I’m still not entirely sold on Batman’s motivation, but to me the trickier part has to be convincing us that Superman could be perceived as a bad guy, and that he would be capable of killing Batman. On this, the film succeeds. This Superman is not the goody-goody, flag-waving Christopher Reeve version; this is a mortal with faults, flaws, doubts, and weaknesses. He’s pulled in different directions and tortured by near-constant public criticism of the death toll of his collateral damage.  He sees the Batman as an antihero and disagrees with his moral code, and it’s not unrealistic to think that one of them very possibly could kill the other. This is all convincing and compelling stuff, and the strength of the movie.

Plus, there’s actually a clear winner in the conflict, which defied my expectations.

Its flaws, other than the overly long exposition, are in an overly heavy use of computer-generated effects. Whereas “The Dark Knight” gave us a tactilely rich world that felt realistic, “Dawn of Justice” relies a little too much on CG (it was no surprise to me that the VFX team was massive). Fast-cutting shots are (once again) overused and the picture suffers from having to operate in a PG-13 environment where punches are pulled and consequences are ignored. As a rule, overuse of CG takes me out of the film and makes me care less about what’s happening, which undermines the strength of the story.”Batman v Superman” was no exception.