Quick Movie Review: The Big Sick (2017)

big sick

Just as 2009’s 500 Days of Summer shows us what can come out of an unsuccessful relationship, and 1989’s Say Anything leaves the story unfinished, 2017’s The Big Sick deals with how to fight through adversity in a relationship to make it work. While taking three different angles of relationships, what these films have in common, however, is they are realistic romantic comedies that people will be talking about (or have talked about) for a long time.

Comedian Kumail Nanjiani writes and stars in The Big Sick, where he plays himself in a semi-autobiographical story of how he and his wife, Emily, first meet.

It details Nanjiani’s courtship with Emily. Except he’s from Pakistan and Emily is a white American girl. In Kumail’s culture, people have arranged marriages, and his parents have been tying to set him up for a long time, but he doesn’t tell Emily. Kumail feels distant from his culture, and is very attuned to American life. Emily finds out what Kumail’s been hiding and that he hasn’t even told his parents about her. She immediately breaks up with him.

This part may be the only negative of this film. It feels slightly forced. Why would Kumail give up the girl he loves for ideals he doesn’t believe in? He says it’s so he doesn’t get cast out of the family, but we’re never truly convinced that he enjoys being a part of his family in the first place. However, it’s padded with so much good stuff on either side that it’s forgivable.

A little while later, it’s discovered that Emily has some sort of mysterious infection in her lungs and is put in a medically induced coma. Kumail still loves her and stays by her side, and meets her parents for the first time in the hospital. With the tension of their breakup, they’re unsure what to think of Kumail.

The result is one of the most real romantic comedies you will ever see. Not in the events themselves, necessarily, but in the lack of emphasis on them. There isn’t some groundbreaking event that leads to Emily’s mom getting past her reservations about Kumail, but it’s still one of the relationships that helps form this film.

The Big Sick tends to avoid cliches and stereotypes. Probably the only thing it stereotypes is comedians, but that’s because it’s written by one.

Ray Romano and Holly Hunter play Emily’s parents. Both are incredible. Hunter is commendable for her character’s seamless evolution, and Romano’s compassion and always-comforting humor ground the film.

The Big Sick’s major strength is that it’s much smarter than it appears to be. At one point, Emily’s parents want to move her to a “better” hospital while she’s in a coma, which goes against the advice of the hospital and Kumail, who both stress the dangers of doing so. Kumail aggressively tries to stop them, but Emily’s mother says that they are her parents and know what’s best for her. While Kumail’s parents are claiming that he’s being selfish for wanting to be with a white woman for their own reasons, he sees Emily’s parents doing the same thing, despite what’s actually best for Emily.

In the film, and in real life, Kumail is a stand-up comedian. The Big Sick takes us into the mind of a comedian and how he tries to find humor in everything–even the most depressing things. It’s a way of coping that some–including this film’s audience–may be put off by. It may seem like it never truly tries to grasp onto its melancholy.

Comedy is absolutely everywhere in this movie. And at times it’s relentless. It may feel like it’s parodying the events that take place, but it’s actually serving to show us something. The comedy is there to provide laughs and to establish a certain atmosphere, but it’s also used as a theming device. The movie isn’t just about this relationship between two people, but it’s about comedy itself and how ubiquitous it is in Kumail’s life. It’s made him who he is, and even allowed him to meet his wife.

While Emily is in her coma, Kumail spends almost all of his time with her parents, getting to know them. He witnesses their love for each other, while also getting to learn about their major issues. He sees that every couple has their problems and that if you truly love someone, you work them out and fight for your relationship.

The Big Sick is one of the best romantic comedies you will ever see in that it doesn’t feel like one, while at the same time dissecting for us the things that make relationships work. Things that you can’t always put into words.

Twizard Rating: 95

Advertisements

Quick Movie Review: Escape From L.A. (1996)

escape from la

In 1996, 15 years was a long time between sequels. The ’90s saw a lot more smoothing out of narratives, which is one reason why many movies from that decade don’t seem so dated. In the ’80s and before, everything was a bit looser and contained a lot more visual exposition in genres where now, we’re not at all used to–like action films.

1981’s Escape From New York is a good movie, but it feels dry and disjointed at times. Escape From L.A. is just a lot more fun and easier to follow. We get more depth from Snake Plissken and see him actually care about something and someone.

Just like New York, Los Angeles has now turned into an autonomous prison where the inmates are left to fend for themselves. It’s 2013 and the president’s daughter steals her father’s doomsday device, which can rid any nation or region of the world of their technology at the press of a button. She takes it into the prison and gets it to a mastermind criminal who intends to use this device to threaten the US government if they try to stop him from taking over the country. The government hires Snake (Kurt Russell) to retrieve this device.

The president believes that anyone who is convicted of performing an immoral act must be banished to L.A. Which is basically how real life prison works–except in this movie, he puts people away for eating red meat or not having the same religious beliefs as he does.

Basically, as rough as it is inside the walls of the L.A. prison, at least they have true freedom–unlike life outside the prison walls. This gives Escape From L.A. more of a wild west feel.

At one point, the villain says, “This city can kill anybody.” I can’t help but feel like this is also a parallel to the real life Los Angeles. People come here to become something and fulfill their dreams, usually to find out that it doesn’t happen as easily as they thought, or may never happen at all. It defeats them and eats them alive.

But depth of story is nothing without depth of character. Plissken actually seems vulnerable, and even has a hopeless look on his face at times. He’s given someone to care about other than himself for once, and his own personal philosophies and growth are more realized.

The film gives us a lot of information at first, but doesn’t take long to become engaging. The action scenes are entertainingly ridiculous. There’s an actual sequence where Snake is surfing a 40-foot wave next to a cliff, and then jumps from the wave onto the back of a car that’s driving on the cliff. It’s cartoony and silly, but intentionally. Another scene that takes place inside a pseudo-replica of Disneyland is another charm.

Just like the first film, it creates this whole world within the city walls, yet this one expands on that and even makes it a little more fun and mysterious. Making us feel like there’s so much more we haven’t even seen yet.

Escape From L.A. is an improvement on its predecessor. The themes are much more relatable and timeless. Escape From New York acts as commentary on the Watergate scandal, whereas Escape From L.A. talks about the state that this country has always been in. It has an epic feel and an extremely memorable and rewarding finish.

Twizard Rating: 96

Quick Movie Review: Chopping Mall (1986)

chopping mall

Chopping Mall isn’t really scary and it doesn’t get you with a bunch of visually disturbing images, which is part of the reason why it didn’t really have any kind of traction until it was released on VHS.

Nowadays it’s developed a cult following mostly because it’s dripping with 1980s nostalgia. That, mixed with an odd concept and an epic finish, and it’s a recipe for tape-heads all over the world.

Chopping Mall takes place entirely inside of a multi-story shopping mall that “hires” three crime fighting robots to protect the mall after hours. But after a thunder storm, the robots go haywire and connive to kill everyone.

Meanwhile, eight teenage employees decide to throw a make-out party inside one of the department stores after it closes. They soon realize they must fight for their lives until the morning.

We almost wish that there were more backstory behind the killer robots. Then again, it’s not completely unacceptable for there not to be. They were struck by lightning. That’s it.

The dialogue isn’t award-winning, though it’s riddled with quotes akin to the kind you’d expect a movie titled Chopping Mall to have. The acting starts off way better than we expect. It’s somewhat disappointing. And maybe the filmmakers realized that too, because in the 2nd half we get some insanely delivered lines.

You can put Chopping Mall in the horror genre, but it’s more of a sci-fi exploitation film with horror elements. In reality, it’s a more PG-13 interpretation of its title, with no real “chopping” happening at all. But it’s still entertaining. Definitely good for rewatching and having a good laugh here and there. It’s not perfect, but at 76 minutes, who cares?

Twizard Rating: 78

Quick Movie Review: Spaceballs (1987)

spaceballs

As a kid I watched Spaceballs after hearing my friends spew quotes from the film. This was maybe around 2001 or so. I was a lifelong Star Wars fan and understood all of the references, but the jokes just weren’t as funny as I had anticipated. Clever, sure. But not enough to make me laugh out loud. As an adult rewatching it, I acknowledge that there are some creative moments, and can appreciate them a little bit more, but it’s still a far cry from the types of comedies on the market today. As parody films usually are.

It’s interesting though, that the things I found funniest then are different than the things I find funny now. And then there are things that I don’t find funn–neither now nor then.

I recognize that Mel Brooks is a comedic genius, but also realize that this particular film was towards the end of his run, which ultimately ended about 8 years later.

The movie is essentially a Star Wars parody, and although the plot is superfluous, I’ll give you a little bit. A planet, run by a Darth Vader spoof, plans on stealing another planet’s air supply in order to replenish their own, so a Han Solo-type character tries to stop them.

Spaceballs is the type of film that shows how far comedy has come. Though parodies don’t really make the cut anymore, in 1987 there was a market for them.

But still, this film is extremely dated. It’s a wacky, gimmick-filled script that’s mostly not that funny anymore–or at all. The comedy is sort of all over the place. Sometimes it’s reminiscent of some B-roll Monty Python, and other times shows some radiation from Airplane!, but it never quite sticks to one schtick.

Monty Python and Airplane! are funny if you grew up with them, and still find many new fans in today’s culture. Spaceballs doesn’t have as much luck.

But it’s visually and conceptually pleasing, even if the parody premise makes us less invested in the plot. The Star Wars themes and appealing set pieces allow it to be enjoyable anyway.

Rick Moranis is great as Lord Dark Helmet, and even despite antiquated humor, the jokes never fall flat because they’re always delivered with conviction and confidence–credit to Brooks and the talented cast that he’s assembled.

Twizard Rating: 76

Quick Movie Review: Escape From New York (1981)

escape from new york

It’s a ballsy move making Escape From New York take place a mere 16 years into the future. In the film, the world has changed so much. Even by today’s standards. The United States government has turned Manhattan into a maximum security prison surrounded by giant 50-foot walls, due to a 400% increase in crime. There are no guards in the prison. The prisoners inside are left to the world they’ve created.

Air Force One has been hijacked, and the President’s escape pod crash lands inside the Manhattan prison, so the government hires one of its inmates, Snake Plisskin (Kurt Russell), to rescue the President in exchange for his pardoning.

Snake is pretty dry, and at one point we fear that we’re going to have to suffer through 90 minutes of his surliness. We watch a Kurt Russell movie because we want Kurt Russell. But this is like watching a Will Ferrell movie and getting Taylor Lautner with better acting.

Not only is he pretty void of emotion, but we get hardly any backstory on him or any of the other interesting characters. Just murmurings here and there, which ends up sounding like gibberish amidst the context of the film.

The way Russell says things should make them corny, but it never does. Early on we start forgetting that he sounds like Batman playing Clint Eastwood. Partially due to Russell’s acting, but also because the dialogue is so crisp.

A year early, this one feels like Blade Runner, but less brooding. It’s weird and deceptively goofy. Like the type of weird straight-to-video VHS tape that would have developed a cult following 30 years later. Only this was a mainstream hit.

The film isn’t as dated as it appears. Though some of the character decisions definitely are. I mean, you can’t get away with “forgetting the gun” as easily these days. But its unvarnished look is what gives it character. It feels more real than the likes of Blade Runner. Maybe it doesn’t have as much to say, but it definitely still says something.

The main bad guy within the prison, Duke (Isaac Hayes), is a crime boss who desperately wants to leverage the President for his own escape from prison. The hype around Duke is far more sinister than the character himself. They give him sinister things to say, but Hayes is just too cool to make them convincing.

Escape From New York is not quite as epic as it wants to be, but it’s not due to a fault in the impressively constructed universe. The sets are believable and you get a great feel for the suffocation of this prison. But it’s just a little dated and slow for an action film.

Twizard Rating: 82

Quick Movie Review: The Disaster Artist (2017)

disaster artist

If you’ve ever seen The Room, you know it’s bad. Even after witnessing its atrocity it’s hard to believe what you just watched. Yet what makes it so much more unbelievable is knowing that there was actually somebody in this world who was capable of making something so terrible and so addictingly enjoyable at the same time.

The Disaster Artist is a love story, not only to The Room, but to its creator, Tommy Wisseau. It details the relationship between Wisseau and actor Greg Sestero. From how they met all the way to the premiere of The Room five years later.

James Franco plays Wisseau, giving us one of the best impersonations we’ve ever seen of anyone. Playing alongside him is his brother Dave Franco as Sestero. The two are so disguised in their roles that you never even think about the fact that they’re brothers.

Tommy is this guy who has stereotyped, in his head, the ideal celebrity as Milli Vanilli, essentially. He’s romanticized the idea of being a celebrity but hasn’t ever realistically conceived how he’s going to become one, because he thinks being a celebrity just means being cocky about how good you are. This conflicts with his genuine desire to be loved, even if it’s not for the right reasons. In the end, that’s exactly what happens. There’s this ego that is very obviously masking insecurity.

While it’s largely supposed to be an in-depth study of Wisseau himself, we already get that in a way, with his film The Room. But I think it’s Sestero who is slightly more compelling as his character develops so seamlessly over the course of the film–much to the credit of Dave Franco.

Greg, like Tommy, is obsessed with this romanticized idea of being an actor. He’s an aspiring actor and isn’t very good, but wants it anyway. When he faces career struggles, he perseveres due to his desire to see himself in the same likeness as his heroes, like James Dean.

If La La Land is about chasing the dream, The Disaster Artist is more focused on what you want out of that dream. For Greg it doesn’t matter how good the project is, he just wants to see himself in it–to be able to say he was in a movie just like the icons he looks up to. For Tommy it’s about being able to put his name on something, have people see his vision, and to be accepted by society.

The Disaster Artist does something excellent in that it makes us truly die of laughter while simultaneously never wavering from its vision of offering us a deep insight on the complex dynamic between two people and their individual issues. It’s probably some of the most fun you will have at the movies in recent years. Perhaps even more fun than the film that inspired it in the first place–however impossible that may seem. While The Room is never realized by its creators, The Disaster Artist is fully realized. And that dichotomy is what makes it even more brilliant.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter (1991)

neverending story 2

One of the things that makes the first NeverEnding Story so amazing is its unique storytelling. It follows Bastian’s journey of reading Atreyu’s adventure in the storybook, while at the same time placing Bastian in the mind of Atreyu, eventually summoning him into the book itself.

The NeverEnding Story II takes place a few years after the events from the first film. Bastian, this time played by Jonathan Brandis, discovers that words from the NeverEnding Story book are missing from its pages. Summoned inside again, he must face a new threat to the land of Fantasia.

While taking place in the same world, the version created for this sequel is confusing and often times suffocating. Whereas the Fantasia in the original film feels like a place you would actually want to visit. Here, it’s a much more lazily created world, relying mostly on what’s already been established in our minds by its predecessor.

This time, Bastian must save Fantasia from the evil sorceress Xayide. We’re never quite sure what threat she poses to the universe, but we do know that she doesn’t want Bastian there to stop her.

And in order to do so, she creates a machine that strips Bastian of one of his memories each time he makes a wish with his magical necklace. But since he’s unaware of this machine, he continues to make wishes. And the film finds absolutely every opportunity for him to keep making more wishes.

There are few things more frustrating in a movie than when the audience knows of a threat to the protagonist that the protagonist won’t figure out for almost the entire film. Watching him fall into the same trap repeatedly, not knowing that it’s harming him, makes us want to rip our hair out.

The film relies on the protagonist’s cluelessness to move the story along. Which isn’t usually a good thing unless we’re watching a comedy. Though this movie almost becomes one. But since the first film is so beloved, those normally-laughable moments are more disappointing than anything.

The sequel also gives the evil more of a face and personality–an insult to the original, whose evil is a malevolent force rather than an actual character–punctuating and emphasizing its truly deep themes.

The NeverEnding Story II never seems to know what it’s trying to say. All it wants to do is be appealing to young kids, while its predecessor is aimed at the kid in all of us.

It just tries to be too appealing, bringing a type of sitcom-y humor to the franchise. Instead of being the wide-eyed, innocent Bastian, they’ve made him a sarcastic smart aleck. He’s basically not even the same character. And neither is Atreyu. Here, he is a vulnerable child with an ego. Before, he was a strong and humble warrior inside the body of a child.

In the first NeverEnding Story, you couldn’t wait to get back inside of Fantasia. While most of the highlights in the sequel take place in the real world.

There’s an intriguing subplot involving the relationship between Bastian and his father. The entire film should have been grounded in this, but instead tries to conjure up forced depth through other means. But even those are never fully realized either.

By the end of the film, we still never quite figure out what Bastian’s purpose in Fantasia is.

It’s not exactly unwatchable, but it’s pretty poor. The lore of Fantasia itself–where it’s found–is still enough to make it externally appealing. But every time you get sucked in, the bad acting and atrocious dialogue take you right out.

Twizard Rating: 50

Quick Movie Review: The Shining (1980)

shining

At times it’s hard to tell if Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is unnecessarily vague, or if there is some sort of symbolism that we are missing. It’s so simple that it’s hard to believe there is more to it than what we’re watching, but knowing the filmmaker tells us that perhaps there is something more.

The Shining is an experience in hallucinations, so that we’re unsure of what’s real and what’s fake. It’s powerful, but can also be frustrating for the audience. We want answers, and the film not only fails to give them to us, but doesn’t even address that there needs to be any. Yet these ambiguities add the mystique of it all. There’s often beauty in things that aren’t merely black and white.

Jack Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, who temporarily moves to the Overlook Hotel in snowy Colorado to become its caretaker during the offseason when the hotel has no guests. There, he hopes to cure his writer’s block and work on a new project. His son, Danny, has “the shining”, which allows him to speak telekinetically with others who have the ability, and also to see the past and future.

Unsuccessful, Jack starts getting agitated with his family and becomes influenced by the spirits of the hotel’s past.

It’s a horror movie, and remains very scary despite not really having any jumpy moments. The amazing musical score and Kubrick’s brilliant direction help the film maintain its tension throughout by not allowing us to have the relief that would usually follow any scares.

However, while Nicholson is believable when he’s going crazy, its his performance during the beginning when he’s supposed to be normal that I wasn’t a fan of. You can read in his face that he thinks he knows something we don’t. He makes it too obvious that he knows he’s gonna snap later on in the movie. From the beginning his character is slightly off-putting and creepy, so the transition doesn’t feel as drastic and his psychopathy later on isn’t necessarily startling to us.

We don’t quite get enough of a relationship beforehand of Jack with his family, so there’s no chemistry established and no emotional heartbreak when he does finally go crazy. The film is very deep with its themes, but not as much with its characters.

But it’s still effective as a whole. It looks amazing and every shot is just so perfect that we can feel ourselves in the hotel, while simultaneously suffocating from the confusion of its labyrinthine atmosphere.

The Shining not only holds up well, but it probably gets even better with age. The pacing is slow, even for 1980, but now it’s a welcomed change from the slashers we’ve seen over the years–even if this one helped define those as well. It’s not just a horror film, but an artful piece of cinema.

Twizard Rating: 97

Quick Movie Review: Friday the 13th (1980)

friday the 13th

Summer camp, teenagers, murder. Friday the 13th wasn’t quite the first film to carry these traits, but it definitely popularized them, along with the slasher film sub-genre as a whole.

The movie follows a group of young adults who are fixing up an old abandoned summer camp, when they soon become stalked by an unknown killer.

All throughout, it does well to take your mind off of the fact that it’s a horror film, striking when you least expect it. Almost as though it’s not fully aware that it’s a horror film itself–both a good and bad consequence of helping set a genre’s formula. Good because it gives you a better element of surprise, but bad because it tends to meander and lollygag. In fact, no one is even aware that there is a murderer on the loose until the final third of the film.

Unlike 1983’s Sleepaway Camp–which many accuse of being a Friday the 13th imitator–this film doesn’t really give its villain a personality until the very end.

While most of the movie is campy when not suspenseful, the last 15 minutes are truly chilling. But even during this part, it’s convenient stupidity of the characters that elongates the film an extra ten minutes or so.

Director Sean S. Cunningham does a pretty good job building the suspense when needed, but isn’t so competent with the young actors’ performances, often times overlooking a misdelivered line or two.

Actually, I think the suspense should be mostly credited to the fantastic score by Harry Manfredini, which is on a totally different level than the rest of the film. The music gives the movie integrity where it’s otherwise trying to find its footing.

This first Friday the 13th installment is definitely dated, and some of the copycat movies actually turn out better, but there’s something intangibly refreshing about a film that isn’t trying to replicate a formula beat by beat. Since there hadn’t quite been a proven formula yet at this time, Friday the 13th gets to certain spots on accident. The events happen organically instead of the filmmakers trying to hit all the marks of successful slashers before this one. Not that some aspects aren’t inspired, but it’s less shameless than what was to come following this film.

Twizard Rating: 74

Quick Movie Review: Ready Player One (2018)

ready player one

Steven Spielberg may seem like an odd choice to direct the feature film adaptation of the acclaimed Ernest Cline novel, Ready Player One. First of all, it’s not quite on the same wavelength as recent Spielberg offerings (e.g. The Post or Lincoln). Secondly, the director helped define the exact era being obsessed about in the story.

If you’re an achingly nostalgic person, then this is the movie for you. The film’s protagonist, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), is obsessed with ’80s pop culture. It’s the year 2045 and everyone is. In this version of earth, there is a virtual reality world/game called the OASIS, which almost everyone takes part in. They just put on these goggles and enter into their avatar’s body. The world is flooded with references from old video games and movies. Wade’s avatar drives Doc Brown’s DeLorean from Back to the Future.

But Ready Player One has something bigger to say. Touching upon the risks of becoming so detached with the real world that we forget what it’s really like. However, this threat never feels like a reality check in the movie. To the point where perhaps it doesn’t even have an opinion on which is better, one way or another. But that a balance of the two is what should be strived for.

In fact, watching the film may have us dreaming about how cool it would be if a place like this really existed. We can see the baggage that comes with it, but still, wouldn’t it be kinda worth it? To those of us who truly appreciate its purpose, it definitely would.

After the creator of the OASIS dies, he poses a challenge to all the users to find an Easter Egg that will give the finder complete control over the OASIS. So we follow Wade and his friends from inside the game, in a Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory sort of way, as they embark on this mission to find the Egg.

The movie takes us back and forth from the OASIS to reality so seamlessly that we almost have to remind ourselves which is which–intentionally, no doubt. Credit to the special effects team as well, but this detail also helps show how close the two worlds actually are.

Spielberg definitely has his hands full, but does well with the highly involved plot. He’s always known how to take a complicated story and trim the fat. In Ready Player One, the story does tend to get confusing a couple of times, but we end up getting back on track each time.

Just about the only thing he doesn’t do well is give us entertaining battle scenes. The nonsensical, Michael Bay-type action is the only aspect that can stifle the momentum a bit and cause our minds to wander–the one thing we don’t want to happen in this movie.

But that isn’t enough to make you dislike Ready Player One even in the slightest, since, unlike Michael Bay, there isn’t an hour’s worth of it.

While Ready Player One is very much inspired by–some would say derivative of–countless films before it, it’s an amalgamation of it all.

It’s the type of film where you should leave your critic’s badge at the door, because the things that it does wrong don’t matter. If you obsess about it, then you’re missing the point. It should be viewed as pure entertainment. It’s a much better experience that way.

Twizard Rating: 96