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Movie Reviews

The Big Sick (Review 2)



Reviewer: Philip Price

Director: Michael Showalter

Stars: Adeel Akhtar, Aidy Bryant, Anupam Kher, Bo Burnham, David Alan Grier, Ed Herbstman,Holly Hunter, Jeremy Shamos, Kumail Nanjiani, Kurt Braunohler, Ray Romano, Vella Lovell, Zenobia Shroff, Zoe Kazan

Released: July 28th, 2017

I love movies about stand-up comedians. There is something to the art form that I, personally, don’t believe I’d ever be able to successfully master and that is the factor of succeeding in such a fashion where it outwardly seems like one is struggling without actually struggling at all. Stand-up is very much an art that requires one to put their whole selves on the line and bank on the fact their personality is endearing enough for the majority of the audience to find appealing and latch onto. To do this one has to express a large amount of humility while simultaneously sparking a small amount of jealousy-jealousy in the way that the audience wishes they could channel and overcome their own life’s obstacles in the same way a given comedian seems to be doing by discussing them in front of a crowded room. One can’t succeed at the job too effortlessly or they lack credibility yet if the routine doesn’t come with a certain amount of effortlessness they seemingly lack the natural “it’ factor it takes to thrive; to stand out among a sea of other would-be storytellers. It’s a fine line one must walk in order to be able to pull off a certain kind of aura and it no doubt comes down to knowing one’s self better than others might ever care to get to know themselves i.e. exposing or opening one’s self up to their own shortcomings, faults, disadvantages-whatever it may be that people believe takes them down a few pegs from the pedestal they constantly hope to achieve as a person. By all accounts, Kumail Nanjiani is a fine stand-up comedian though I’d be lying if I said I’d listened to any of his sets prior to seeing his feature writing debut in The Big Sick (and no, I haven’t seen Silicon Valley either). This is brought up for the reason that those strengths Nanjiani plays toward as a stand-up have clearly crossed over to his screenwriting process as not only have he and his wife, Emily V. Gordon, crafted a heartfelt and rather eye-opening story around cultural differences in relationships, but they have done so by telling their story and to do this in an effective manner one certainly has to know themselves and be honest about themselves with themselves if that story is truly going to resonate. Needless to say, The Big Sick accomplishes as much rather well and, not coincidentally, does so with just the right amount of effortlessness so as to be both endearing to audiences in its quest and enviable to fellow artists in its craft.

In The Big Sick Nanjiani plays a stand-up comedian of Pakistani descent so not too much of a stretch for the actor/comic, but this is still very much a concrete representation of a very formative part of his life and deals in a subject matter that is obviously very near and dear to his heart, so you better believe he brings the best he can to the screen. As was true in Nanjiani’s life not too long ago this version of Kumail is a struggling stand-up who hopes to make it to the big time, but for now is working as an Uber driver to keep the lights on. He has a circle of comic friends that include the likes of CJ (Bo Burnham), Mary (Aidy Bryant), and roommate Chris (Kurt Braunohler). It is on a night down at the local comedy club where the four friends along with other comics do five or so minute sets that Kumail is heckled by an innocent enough looking white girl after he calls out for his fellow Pakistani’s in the house. This, of course, turns out to be a rather critical person in Kumail’s story as it is none other than Emily (Zoe Kazan), a college student studying to be a therapist who is out for a night with some friends. Kumail is inherently drawn toward Emily and the conversation starts out cute enough with Kumail trying a few of his own parlor tricks that Emily sees right through. The two hook-up, but swear that’s all it is and come to the mutual decision they will probably never see one another again. Of course, this doesn’t come to pass and before we know it The Big Sick is offering us a tale of a whirlwind romance through the guise of a romantic comedy that is truncated into a forty minute runtime. It is at the forty minute mark that the film begins to alter its DNA – taking on a more serious, more dramatic role as Emily falls ill with what is known as adult-onset Still’s disease (AOSD) or an extremely rare form of arthritis that can shut down major organs when left untreated. To try and remedy the situation the doctors at a Chicago hospital place Emily in a medically induced coma leaving Kumail, who has yet to meet his girlfriend’s suburban parents, to navigate the waters of their relationship and what might come to be with those parents. Enter Emily’s parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano), who aren’t overly excited to see Kumail given his and their daughter’s recent turmoil having to deal with the fact Kumail had not yet informed his traditional Pakistani family he was dating outside their religion and had been evading meeting Emily’s parents due to a fear of getting so involved that undesirable decisions would have to be made.

It is this crossroads in life that makes The Big Sick so unique in its approach to storytelling and interesting in terms of character dynamics and other, larger themes. For all accounts and purposes the writing of this film by Nanjiani and his now-wife, the real-life Emily (spoiler alert), was a therapeutic process in and of itself for the couple who were, ten years on, able to think out loud and evaluate everything they had to in fact overcome in order to wind up together; the tangible things that had to be dealt with in this life for a feeling-a hunch, that there was something worth pursuing between the two of them. It has always surprised me by how much we, as humans, can let our emotions and potential feelings determine such large parts of our being-aspects that have sometimes been determined without our consent even. It takes a lot of courage to place a bet on feelings that may or may not turn out to be a love of the moment rather than the girl, but in taking this step towards evaluating their own love story we see how Nanjiani and his character of Kumail come to decide it is most definitely the girl they are in love with over the course of her being in a coma. It is in this navigation that The Big Sick and its director Michael Showalter (Wet Hot American Summer) find their secret weapon and that is in the film’s ability to transition back and forth so effortlessly (there’s that word again) between the heavier dramatic beats that include Emily getting sick, being admitted to the hospital, and Kumail being asked by the doctor to sign a consent form so that they may put her under the medically induced coma to the more comedic ones such as Holly Hunter’s Beth manically dealing with her daughter’s illness by lashing out at a heckler at one of Kumail’s shows. All of this only for the movie to then revert back to Kumail having to deal with his own parents and them kicking him out of their family because of his refusal to abide by Muslim tradition and marry a Muslim/Pakistani woman. The movie does this a number of times, but we never feel the tonal shifts in ways that are disruptive. Never is it jarring to go from a moment where Romano’s character is smiling and reflecting just seeing his daughter up and walking around again to that of him making a joke about her calling him if she “feels a coma coming on.” It is yet another facet of the film that is a technically difficult thing to pull off when you’re manufacturing every moment and emotion being projected on screen, but that the movie itself pulls off without so much as a hiccup. Without feeling as if it has to try. It would be one thing if the film felt like two separate entities as it very much is given it charts Kumail and Emily’s relationship as well as Kumail and Emily’s parents relationship, but the script eases the audience from one scenario to the next with a structure that keeps it consistently funny enough that Showalter knows where to keep his tone and knows how to use that consistency to really drive the heavy moments home with the only downfall being that, with so much going on, it gets to feel a little more labored than it should in the last fifteen to twenty minutes.

In that The Big Sick more or less becomes this movie about Kumail hanging out with his girlfriend’s parents and his discovering of his love for Emily while coming to terms with what he must do in regards to confronting his own parents it is the large middle chunk of the movie that features Nanjiani, Romano, and Hunter playing off of one another that becomes the most memorable. For starters, Hunter is cool as hell and there’s nothing anyone can do about it making it impossible to resist her charm despite the fact she is initially opposed to having anything to do with Kumail because of that aforementioned recent turmoil. Hunter is a woman and a personality so strong and so singular to herself that she automatically becomes one of those people you want to impress and you want to like you or, in this situation, that we want Kumail to overcome the obstacle of and earn her seal of approval. Hunter’s Beth is a spitfire for lack of a better word and she rightfully puts nothing in front of the well-being of her daughter. Romano is not necessarily the more emotional parent, but he is the one that is easier to read and because of this is more of a push-over than that of his counterpart. It is Terry who first invites Kumail to come eat with him and Beth at the hospital cafeteria, and it is Terry who suggests they go to one of Kumail’s shows the night before Emily’s surgery so that he might be distracted by something to take his mind off the stress of his daughter being in a coma. As Terry, Romano portrays more than just the lovable dad figure who is willing to give whatever his girl happens to love a chance because he believes there must be a reason his daughter adores something or someone, but he is a layered human being with as many faults as he has merits. The Big Sick is a movie that very easily could have gotten itself into the weeds of who is right and who is wrong and why so and so is justified in feeling this way, but it never makes the movie about an “us versus them” type dilemma. Rather, Kumail’s parents Azmat (Anupam Kher) and Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff) are portrayed as human beings entrenched in their heritage and who only want for their son what they have built. They are understanding as far as his ambitions despite their urging of him to be a doctor or lawyer, but they hold out for Kumail to marry a nice Muslim girl going so far as to set-up blind dates with potential candidates every time Kumail comes over for family dinner. Kumail’s arguments are made and his struggle realized, but his parents are never vilified despite the fact their actions tend to be rather radical. It is a movie about acceptance and love, about generational differences and cultural clashes that is able to preach about as much without outwardly stating as much while still leaving viewers with all the warm, fuzzy feelings they might expect from a solid rom-com.

The combination of these distinct personalities along with Nanjiani’s leading turn that sees him utilize his keen sense of humor to deflect the impossibly personal and delicate situation he encounters make this movie the diamond in the rough it no doubt felt like it was coming out of Sundance back in January. With the hype that has followed though, and with it becoming one of if not “the” hit indie movie of the summer there are expectations to temper. The Big Sick is an all-around good movie and is aided by the fact it not only has an interesting love story at the heart of it, but by the fact that it also champions the acceptance of different cultures in America by showing the day to day existence of a native Pakistani man and a Pakistani family while featuring all-around great performances from a dream cast with the added bonus of being sincere in the emotions it means to elicit from its audience. I wasn’t as moved as I expected to be though there is a scene involving a few voicemails that will undoubtedly get anyone with any remnant of a soul, but I was invested in the characters plight and more importantly, in the characters themselves. I was happy to see Bo Burnham on the big screen for the second time this summer and I was more than moved by the amount of heart this thing showed in the moments that it let go of all the inhibitions surrounding media these days and just allowed itself and its characters to be happy and human, but this isn’t necessarily the exceptional piece of filmmaking you might have been led to believe. It’s very good for what it is and there is much to be said for that (I’ve just written nearly 2,500 words on it, so there’s that), but not every piece of art that is exemplary for its own form or, in this case, genre, has to be a masterpiece and The Big Sick, while no masterpiece of the cinematic art form, is still a very good movie. A movie that plays as both pleasing and challenging in that it admits its love story isn’t a fairy tale, but still comes with a “Happily Ever After”.

I love movies, simple as that. I watch them with an intent to write about them and have always enjoyed discussing the latest news and releases with others. I received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and Mass Communications/Digital Filmmaking and combined those interests when I began writing about cinema. Hope you enjoy the reviews, Happy reading!

Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Assassination Nation ★★★★



Assassination Nation Movie Marker

Director: Sam Levinson

Stars: Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse

Released: London Film Festival 2018

When Director, Sam Levinson started writing Assassination Nation over two years ago, he probably had no idea how shockingly relevant this dark comedy would be today. Written as his wife was about to give birth, he credits his fear of raising his child in an increasingly brutal country as the main inspiration behind this vivid satire, depicting the disastrous consequences of living online.

The city of Salem, Massachusetts is about to delve into chaos when a data hacker starts exposing highly porn-ified secrets of its population. Internet search history, digital photos and texts conversations are published. Political careers and marriages end. The hack reaches Salem’s high school whose principal is also targeted and forced to resign, despite claiming his innocence. In need of a scapegoat, the town’s authority (macho detective and police man) finds it in high school head girl, Lily (Odessa Young), whose affair with a married man,  just leaked. Lily and her friends must face the town’s growing hysteria that quickly turns into a blood bath of sexism and brutality.

The film’s core storyline revolves around Lily, who with her friends make up the popular clique of Salem’s High School. The 1990’s had their mysterious virgin nymphs (“Virgin Suicide”) and the 2000s, their bullying princesses (“Mean Girl”) but in 2018, the popular girls are fun, clever and most of all, nasty. Born in a comfortable middle class family, Lily has good grades and a cheeky talent for drawing. What Lily and her friend lack is a reliable grown up figure to look up to. Surrounded by threatening boyfriends and denigrating parents, the only grown-up who pays her some attention is her principal but even he cannot completely give in when she makes a clever accusation of the sexism of internet and social media while defending her pornographic art work.

Assassination Nation 2 Movie Marker

There is thin line between victim and executioner in Assassination Nation and Levinson strategically jumps from teasing to threats as if one didn’t exist without the other. Levinson seems less interested in exposing the already well established outcomes of the digital age than exploring the hypocrisy and shaming young people, and particularly young woman, face on a daily basis.

Half way between  Little Red Riding Hood and Nikita, and far from victims, these girls fight back with whatever they are threaten with, usually guns but at times razors and even a shovel. Full of extreme close-ups, the camera is intrusive, and if this closeness can be difficult at first, it quickly helps creates a real connection with those girls.  Surrounded by obvious and familiar characters (naïve head cheerleader, immature boyfriend, cheating husband…), and lifted by invigorating performances by Hari Nef (Bex) and Odessa Young (Lily), these girls can only shine in authenticity and it is hard not to root for them.

Salem’s utter obliviousness takes final form in the slushy sipping little brother, revealed as the hacker. Youngest and quiet, he seemed like a harmless addition to the dinner table and yet could bring a nation to its knee. The warning signs were there, adults chose to ignore them. The film ends with a public letter to a certain president of a certain powerful nation and a feminist call to action against any form of violence and misogyny.

The film will most likely not affect every generation in the same way and will probably swing between anti-sexist fantasy revenge to painfully relevant. Yet there is nothing in this film that can’t be traced back to a recent newspaper headline or twitter feed, regrouped to create a bloody picture of the modern America, kids are made to grow up in.

“Don’t take your anger out on me, I just got here.”

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Beautiful Boy ★★★★



Released: 18th January 2019

Directed By: Felix Van Groeningen

Starring: Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

It was his tender infatuation with Armie Hammer’s sun-kissed research assistant, in the exquisite Italy-set romance Call Me By Your Name, which allowed Timothee Chalamet to emphatically march into many a cinema goer’s heart. Now he seems determined to shatter them in this affecting portrait of a young man torn apart by crystal meth addiction, based on the best-selling memoirs written by David and Nic Sheff.

Fusing the separate father and son perspectives into a singular vision. Felix Van Groenigen’s Beautiful Boy plays out like a slideshow of a photo album, leaping between various stages of Nic’s (Timothee Chalamet) upbringing in San Francisco, with the emotional pulse of the film quickening as his troubles deepen.

Applying significant strain on his relationship with his dad David (Steve Carell), who goes to remarkable lengths to garner a thorough understanding of this drug epidemic and how it tortures one’s self in both body and mind, whilst his son struggles to articulate his emotions. It only ripples throughout the family unit, slowly severing the ties with stepmother Karen (Maura Tierney) and Nic’s LA-based birth mom Vicki (Amy Ryan). Encompassing them all is a real air of desperation, as they look to salvage their home life and drag their eldest back from the brink.

Arguably intentional to mirror the often disorientating state of Nic. The narrative structure adopted by Van Groenigen allows heady highs of intimacy and unflinching honesty, making continuous leaps within the time frame. Yet it does hamper the film’s early attempts to build emotional momentum, surprisingly leaving you distant as you look to engage in this family’s plight. The musical choices seem intent to compliment this approach too and whilst some are inspired in their beauty, there is the occasional song that creates a sense of intrusion.

A theme that is prominent throughout Beautiful Boy is the perception of control, established by Nic’s growing discontent towards David and Van Groenigen utilises this visually in its confined and open-aired spaces. One fine example being through an intense cafe exchange, as Nic laments the great expectations placed on him, with both figures captured at a lower angle to emphasise their descent into hopelessness. What becomes clear and almost tangible is Nic and David are both addicts in their own way, unable to break respective habits and methods in order to move forward.

The great comedian who for me has become superior in far more dramatic works. Steve Carell is quietly impressive as David, remaining remarkably centred as he’s driven down a road he never envisaged for his son. With such a sharp focus on the father/son dynamic, Maura Tierney and Amy Ryan are somewhat sidelined, but both provide moments of potent poignancy when called upon. Of course, the film truly belongs to a stunning Timothee Chalamet who is fearless in representing the true horror and heartbreak of such a debilitating condition.

Brimming with sensitivity in its handling of an admittedly brutal subject matter. Beautiful Boy is painstakingly brilliant in its sincerity and authenticity.

To quote the trailer. When Carell and Chalamet share the screen. It’s… everything.

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Movie Reviews

Bad Times at the El Royale ★★★★

Bad Times at the El Royale feels like a throwback to Tarantino in all his 90’s pomp.



Director: Drew Goddard

Stars: Dakota Johnson, Cynthia Erivo, Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Lewis Pullman

Released: 12th October 2018 (UK)

Bad Times at the El Royale has seemingly fallen foul of the particularly hectic October release schedule in the U.K. As Venom and A Star is Born dominate the box-office and with the London Film Festival in full swing, El Royale has not received the recognition it deserves.

Boasting an impressive cast, Bad Times at the El Royale follows seven strangers whose stories intertwine at the El Royale hotel in Lake Tahoe. As each person’s agenda for being at the El Royale is revealed, tensions inevitably rises and the characters collide.

From the get-go, El Royale feels like a throwback to Tarantino in all his 90’s pomp. Director Drew Goddard, no stranger to managing madness following his debut A Cabin in the Woods, has crafted an immersive, intricately linked murder-mystery that feels like a grindhouse version of Cluedo. The violence is garish but necessary, the dialogue is short and snappy and the characters are most importantly, interesting. The hardest part of any film with so many moving parts, is making the audience actually bond with those involved. Goddard, who also wrote the screenplay, has nailed this – giving enough back-story for each, whilst holding enough back to keep us learning more.

Between Jeff Bridge’s bad-ass priest, Dakota Johnson’s kill-happy hippy and Chris Hemsworth’s dancing cult-leader, the wider cast have somehow managed to create a credible on-screen dynamic, despite the stark character contrasts. Cynthia Erivo’s soulful singer Darlene is the obvious standout and her interactions with Bridge’s Father Flynn provide some of the most film’s most satisfying scenes. Lewis Pullman’s unassuming concierge Miles is another strong performance deserving of a mention.

The film swaggers along accompanied by its killer soundtrack, which plays a crucial part in the films tonal change from chapter to chapter. It’s dark and violent, yet at times it’s engaging and even emotional. The sharp edits that mash-up the timeline don’t over-complicate the plot, but accentuate the frenzied feeling that Goddard is creating as we head towards the plot’s crescendo.

As expected there are some areas where a film with so much going on inevitably suffers. Jon Hamm’s Seymour is arguably the biggest victim of this, with his character perhaps not utilised as much as it could have been. The film also feels a little too fleshed out in parts, lingering on some of the less necessary aspects and leaving one or two plotlines unexplored as a result.

Bad Times at the El Royale really does feel like a Tarantino movie and that’s no mean feat, Goddard has taken his own style and applied tried and tested techniques to create a compelling, genuinely exciting movie and one that deserves to be enjoyed by a wider audience.


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