Friday, July 21, 2017

"The Big Sick" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new rom-com "The Big Sick" as well as DVDs "Sleepless" and "A Cure for Wellness."  The Book of the Week is "Ten Restaurants that Changed America."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die" with "The Last Laugh."]




The Big Sick

 

A Pakistani-American stand-up comic meets a non-Pakistani girl and they start a relationship, but as we all know, true love never runs smooth.

I am starting to think that I am an angry person because I rant so much.  Over the last couple of weeks, I ranted about how much I hate movie sequels and remakes, and in my review below of "Sleepless," I rant a bit about movies that use digital photography. 

Now I am going to rant about rom-coms that aren't funny.

What is the deal with comedies these days?  They are just not funny anymore.  I can count on one hand the number of comedies that have made me laugh.  Actually, not even that many.  Where are the Woody Allen's (his early films), John Candys and Peter Sellers of today, comic actors who could make you laugh just by looking at them?  Oh, I know we have Melissa McCarthy and Christopher Guest and some others, but in general, when I have watched a comedy in the last couple of years, I have been disappointed.  And romantic comedies?  Those have practically gone the way of the dinosaur.  Where are the "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "When Harry Met Sally" rom-coms of today?

Well, rant over.  I finally found one.

This film is delightful, romantic and funny, all of the traits that a successful rom-com should have.

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a comic slogging away in small clubs in Chicago at night and working as an Uber driver during the day when he meets Emily (Zoe Kazan), a girl who "Woo hoos" during his set.  In a very cute meet-cute, Kumail explains that any kind of audience participation, even if it's positive, can be considered heckling and would throw a comic off his game. Emily asks him: "So if I said you were great in bed, that would be heckling?" 

 And so she had him at "Woo hoo."
 
Though this could be considered a basic boy meets girl, boys loses girl, boy gets her back rom-com, it has some very special elements that separates it from the pack.
 
First of all, Kumail is Pakistani and is part of a traditional Pakistani family who believes that marriages should be arranged.  As Kumail explains to Emily, "In Pakistan arranged marriage is just called 'marriage."  So we have the dramedy element of Kumail not telling his parents about Emily while at the same time entertaining their picks for his arranged marriage, women who "just happen to drop by" when he is dining with his parents. 

In the meantime, Kumail and Emily are happily in love until Emily finds Kumail's stash of "bio-data." These are like resumes which potential brides bring to a meeting with her potential husband and his family, a common practice in the course of arranging a marriage.  When Emily finds these, she breaks off their relationship. 

So that's one element that sets this film apart from other rom-coms. But then there is the coma.  I don't remember a coma as a central element in a rom-com

This film reminded me of  the comic documentary "Meet the Patels."  Even though that was about Indian arranged marriages, the process seems to be very similar with Pakistani families, and the protagonist of that one was also a stand-up comic with an American girlfriend he doesn't tell his parents about.  


Directed by Michael Showalter (he also directed "Hello My Name is Doris" which I liked), produced by Judd Apetow, and written by Nanjiani and his real-life wife, Emily V. Gordon, based on their real life courtship with some literary license thrown in, this film is delightful and avoids any juvenile humor, which can sometimes be found in Apetow's films.

Kumail is adorable.  His deadpan delivery and facial expressions are funny just on their own, but the writing is quick and witty and best of all...funny.  Zoe is adorable, quirky and smark and I love adorable, quirky and smart.  I am not a big fan of Holly Hunter who played Emily's mother.  I find her mannerisms and voice annoying but here she was fine.  But it was Ray Romano who was a revelation.  Not usually a big fan of him, either, and he also has an annoying and very recognizable voice, but, here, he brings huge heart to his role as Emily's Dad. You wouldn't even recognize him as that Raymond from "Everybody Loves Raymond," except for that voice.  He was adorable too. The whole thing was so damn adorable...and, what do I do when I have a really good film experience?  Yes, you are right, I cried...for joy!

Rosy the Reviewer says...it takes a coma to make a guy realize he loves you...in a good way.  Don't miss this one.  It's the best comedy to come along in a long time.

 

 

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!

On DVD






Sleepless (2017)


This is one of those cop thrillers where you have to ask - Good cop or bent cop? 

OK, here I go again.  Over the last couple of weeks I have ranted about how much I hate sequels and movie remakes, and I just finished ranting about rom-coms that aren't funny.  Well, I feel another rant coming on.

Movies shot in digital!

I can always tell when a movie is shot in digital rather than film because it looks like one of those old soap operas that used to be on TV.  Remember "The Guiding Light?"  Shooting in digital lacks depth of field and resolution which makes all of the frames look flat.  There is no texture and that makes me feel like I am watching TV and I didn't pay $12 to watch TV.  Well, I know, I was watching this on DVD so I didn't actually pay $12 but that's not the point.  The point is that watching a movie on digital is annoying, and I shouldn't have to be annoyed when I am watching a movie! Now there might be times when digital works better, especially when the filmmaker wants to have a home movie look, but for a film like this, no!

Anyway, rant over.  Let's get on with it! 

Jamie Foxx stars as Vincent Downs, a vice cop in Las Vegas (except this was actually shot in Atlanta, another complaint of mine - setting a movie one place and filming it another.  When you live in Seattle you have to accept that all movies set in Seattle will be filmed in Vancouver, B.C. I might rant about that next week). Anyway, Downs and his partner, Sean Cass (T.I.), rob casino owner Stanley Rubino (Dermot Mulroney) of a shipment of cocaine who Rubino had intended to sell to Rob Novak (Scoot McNairy), the son of a crime boss.  Ironically, Downs and Cass are also the investigators in the robbery, but clash with Jennifer Bryant (Michelle Monaghan) and Doug Dennison (David Harbour), who are Internal Affairs investigators and who are suspicious of them.

Meanwhile, Downs has a messed up personal life.  He is estranged from his wife, Dena (Gabrielle Union), who is getting married to someone else.  He also has a 16-year-old son, Thomas (Octavius J. Johnson), who gets kidnapped by Rubino's guys and held hostage so that Vincent will give Rubino his cocaine back. Rubino is sweating it, because he owes the cocaine to Novak who is not a nice guy.  Let's just say I know this about Novak because there is a disturbing scene where a kid is hung upside down and pelted with baseballs from a pitching machine, and if that's not enough, he cuts off his thumb.  So these are not guys who Rubino does not want to mess with. 

So Vincent gets the cocaine he and Cass stole, hides it in a ventilation shaft in the mens' bathroom in Rubino's casino hoping to have some leverage as he makes a deal with Rubino. However, what he doesn't know is that Bryant, thinking Vincent is a bent cop, has followed him, finds the cocaine and hides it in the womens' bathroom and a little game of revolving bathroom doors ensues.

When Vincent discovers that the cocaine is missing, he has to figure out a way to get his son back without that cocaine so he comes up with the bright idea to substitute sugar for the cocaine. It kind of all goes to hell after that, but here's the main thing for you to wonder about in this movie:  Is Vincent a good cop or a bad cop?  And what about Bryant and Dennison?  Good cops or bad cops?

Directed by Baran bo Odar with a screenplay by Andrea Berloff (adapted from the film "Nuit Blanche" - yet another remake - sigh), this film doesn't really say anything new about the good cop/bad cop trope with the usual car chases and gun action found in this kind of film.

I haven't quite decided yet on Jamie Foxx as a dramatic actor.  Oh, I know he won an Oscar for "Ray," but here is overacts just a teensy-weensy bit.  No actually, he overacts a lot!  He played this same kind of part in "Baby Driver" too.  It's like he wants to make sure we know he's a dramatic actor so he looks hard and says every line with deep, deep conviction. But I also feel like Foxx can't decide what he wants to be - dramatic actor?  Action guy? Comic?  Singer?  And I have to admit, I still can't watch Jamie without thinking of him as Ugly Wanda on "In Living Color."  Sorry, Jamie, but I can't.


It's fun seeing Dermott Mulroney as a bad guy and all of the other bad guys are believable.  Speaking of bad guys, why is it that they all seem to look alike?  They are all skinny with five o'clock shadows, bald heads or very short shaved hair and they all seem to wear t-shirts under suit jackets.  Is there some code amongst movie bad guys about appropriate attire when torturing people?

Now, Michelle Monaghan.  I really like her, and she is an actress who should be a lot more famous than she is.  She is beautiful and talented and could play any part. Here she kicks some you know what and I like tough women characters. However, she doesn't seem to carry very many films and I don't know why, but if you want to see her in a starring role, see "Fort Bliss."  The film is forgettable but she is not.

Rosy the Reviewer says...and this film? Speaking of forgettable...

 
(***Sorry about the rants but I just can't seem to help myself. I already feel another one coming for next week where I plan to rant about the excessive use of Power Walks in movies***)

 





A Cure for Wellness (2016)


A young executive is sent to bring back his company's CEO who has gone to a spa in the Swiss Alps but this spa turns out to be

People who work in a high pressure environment are prone to dying from heart attacks and stress so it's a good thing to go to a spa and de-stress, right?  Well, we shall see.

A large company is on the verge of a merger so when Pembroke (Harry Groener), the head of a large company, sends a letter to his Board of Directors that he is at a spa in the Alps and will not be returning. With the merger threatened, the Board sends young executive Lockhart (Dane DeHaan, a hot young actor currently starring in "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" opening in theatres today)) to find his boss and bring him back.  When he arrives in the town at the base of the spa, Lockhart learns that there is bad blood between the townspeople and "the people on the hill," and when he finally makes his way to the spa, he realizes that there is something strange going on there.  And trust me, there is.

However, on his way back to his hotel, a deer hits the car (cover your eyes for this part - deer death by car is horrible), and Lockhart finds himself back at the spa with a broken leg. When Lockhart finally makes contact with Pembroke, Pembroke tells him he is not well and does not want to leave the spa.

In the meantime, with time to kill as he convalesces, Lockhart meets Hannah (Mia Goth, who looks eerily like a young Shelley Duvall), a strange girl who doesn't seem to be a patient and, of course, there has to be a sinister doctor running everything so he also meets slithery Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs).  Volmer orders the spa treatment for Lockhart, which involves being submerged in water, a lot of slithery eels and drinking water, lots and lots of water.  About 3/4 of the way through the film, when much of the bad stuff was kicking into gear, I shouted at the screen, "Stop drinking the damn water!"  Eventually, Lockhart discovers the dark history of the spa but not before enduring some terrible trials, one of which was a bit of dental torture that would give that scene in "Marathon Man" a run for its money.

Let's just say that this film gives the expression "taking the waters" a whole new meaning.

It's all very Stephen King and Michael Crichton with the kinds of odd characters and strange locations you find in Wes Anderson films with some gaslighting thrown in for good measure as Lockhart starts to question his own sanity.  Who and what is real?

There is a thing I have noticed about movie previews (what would one of my reviews be without a rant?). 

A preview, or trailer, is designed to make you want to see the film, but sometimes when you finally see it, you realize that the the best bits were all in the trailer.  The film never gets any better than the preview.  That is especially true of many comedies.  So before I saw this film, I had seen the trailer countless times at the theatre and thought it was one of those strange films with all kinds of kooky characters and a weird plot that wouldn't really make sense so I didn't particularly want to see it. I only watched this film because it had just come out on DVD and I can't help myself. I want to see everything, but in this case, the trailer was odd and the movie was a bit odd, yes, but mostly really good. Yes, there are kooky characters and a strange plot but it's fun. Moral of the story?  Don't judge a film by its trailer. However, I do have to say the film was also too long and took a strange turn at the end that lost me.

Directed by Gore Verbinski with a screenplay by Justin Haythe, the cinematography is gorgeous and surreal and the film reminded me a bit of "The Lobster," a wonderful film that not enough people saw.

DeHaan reminded me of a young Leo DiCaprio and, I think he is going to be a big star.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like Stephen King, Michael Crichton with a little bit of Wes Anderson thrown in, you will enjoy this film.




***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

193 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?





The Last Laugh (1924)




An aging hotel doorman must face the humiliation of losing his prestigious job.

Emil Jennings stars as an aging doorman, who when fired from his job as a doorman at a luxurious hotel, faces the laughter and scorn of his family and neighbors. His job is a prestigious one for the lower class neighborhood in which he lives.  Every day he puts on his fancy uniform and walks through his neighborhood to the admiration of his friends and neighbors.  So when he is demoted to a men's room attendant he can't bring himself to tell anyone.  He steals back his fancy uniform and puts it on each day and then takes it off before he gets to work and stores it in a locker. 

Eventually he is found out, is rejected and dejected and falls into a deep depression.

But wait!

As we learn from a title card (also called intertitles):

"Here our story should really end, for in actual life the forlorn old man would have little to look forward to but death.  The author took pity on him, however, and provided quite an improbably epilogue."

Guess who got the last laugh?

This is a silent film directed by F.W. Murnau, and except for that last title card, or subtitle, this was a silent film with absolutely no subtitles and yet I knew what was going on at all times.  Such is the power of this visual medium called the moving picture.  As I have said in past reviews, I tend not to be a big fan of early cinema.  I am a child of television and I guess I need more stimulation but this film reminded me again of that old saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words."  So I may not extoll the virtues of every silent film because of the overacting that was required and the scant plots, but I do admire films that use visuals instead of words.  The camera work in this film was so beautiful that I was transported to another time and place and it was all without words.

Why it's a Must See:  "Despite a ludicrously unconvincing happy ending grafted on at the insistence of the UFA, [this film] remains a very impressive attempt to tell a story without the use of intertitles...[It is] one of Murnau's typically eloquent explorations of cinematic space: the camera prowls around with astonishing fluidity...it is the camera's mobility that is evocative, as when it passes through the revolving doors that serve as a symbol of destiny. The dazzling technique on display may, in fact, be rather too grand for the simple story of one old man, yet there is no denying the virtuosity either of Murnau's mise-en-scene or of Karl Freund's camera work."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...a beautiful example of the innovations of movie making in it's infancy.
(Silent, in b & w)




***Book of the Week***




Ten Restaurants That Changed America by Paul Freedman (2016)


A history of dining out in America through the profiles of ten restaurants that helped shape American eating habits. 

Freedman chronicles ten different restaurants over three different centuries, from the 1830's to the present.  He makes clear that these are not necessarily the ten BEST restaurants over that time period, though these restaurants served wonderful food, but perhaps food that would not necessarily be popular today.  These restaurants did more than serve wonderful food; they changed how we Americans ate, they influenced our tastes and got Americans to dine out.  According to Freedman, what we eat today is the result of the innovations of these ten restaurants.


Delmonico's
This famous restaurant began as a simple pastry shop in New York City in 1827, but by 1830 it was serving fine French food, had an immense menu, efficient service and a gracious atmosphere and set the standard for fine dining.  It also inspired many imitators who used the name Delmonico's without authorization.



Antoine's
Established in 1840 in New Orleans' French Quarter, Antoine's, serving French-Creole cuisine, is the oldest grand restaurant in continuous existence.



Schrafft's
"The Ladies Who Lunch." The first restaurant to market to women at a time when women were discouraged from dining without a man and the first to cater to the middle class.  "From its very beginning, Schrafft's epitomized the restaurant's role as a decorous but economical refuge, a midday oasis of sorts, where women who were shopping could dine and recuperate, or where women who worked in offices or stores could have a tranquil if more hurried lunch."



Howard Johnson's
"As American as fried clams."  Starting with its first restaurant in suburban Boston, fried clams was one of their specialties along with their 28 flavors of ice cream.  Can you name them?  What was your favorite? I think Bergundy Cherry was mine. Who of us Baby Boomers didn't go on road trips with our family hoping to stop at Howard Johnson's?  But then McDonald's came along and it was a whole different ball game.


Mama Leone's
Mamma Leone's was an Italian restaurant that flourished in New York City from 1906 to 1994 and was a forerunner in the popularity of "ethnic" restaurants.


The Mandarin
"The Best Chinese Food East of the Pacific."  Freedman writes that with so many to choose from, it was daunting to choose one Chinese restaurant to highlight, but the Mandarin was "both historically significant and intriguing." It opened in San Francisco in 1961 and closed in 2006 and was one of the first Chinese restaurants to serve "Mandarin" food or non-Cantonese.  It was at the Mandarin where Americans had their first pot-stickers, hot-and-sour soup and other Sechuan dishes. With over 40,000 Chinese restaurants in the United States - "more than there are branches of McDonald's, Burger King and KFC combined...Chinese food is as American as apple pie," the popularity of Chinese restaurants in America came from the restaurants catering to American taste.  Chop Suey is NOT Chinese. 



Sylvia's
Sylvia Woods opened her restaurant in New York's Harlem in 1962 and was famous for its soul food, rural, Southern "down-home" cooking.  This restaurant, according to Freedman, "reveals the cultural implications of the movement of black people from the South to the North in the first part of the twentieth century." 



Le Pavillon
This was the leading high-end restaurant in America in the mid-twentieth century run by Henri Soule and began as a temporary restaurant, part of the French exhibit created for the New York World's Fair of 1939-1940.



The Four Seasons
The epitome of modern at the time, The Four Seasons is credited with introducing the idea of seasonally-changing menus to America. It was the first destination restaurant to print its menus in English.




Chez Panisse
Celebrity chef Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley in 1971 and her "farm to table" approach to food still influences how we eat now.

Freedman includes biographies of the various chefs who moved in and out of those restaurants, copies of menus, lots of historical photographs and he goes on to talk about the end of the fine French dining craze, concluding with a discussion of five major current and recent dining trends:

  • Farm to table
  • Molecular/Modernist Gastronomy
  • Celebrity Chefs
  • The Influence of Asia
  • The New Informality of the Dining Experience

And there are recipes too!  Classic recipes from the ten restaurants.  Who doesn't want to make those fried clams from Howard Johnson's?

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are a foodie, you will love this well-researched history of dining out in America.





 

Thanks for reading!



 See you next Friday 


 
for my review of  
 
  
"Girls Trip"



and
 


 The Week in Reviews


(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)


 and the latest on



"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before 

 I Die Project."


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