“The Big Sick”

When a come-on-line is “What’s your name, and would you like to see it in Urdu?”, we smile. When an allusion to the “X-Files” (our male star’s favorite series) is made by a potential Pakistani bride’s screams of “the truth is out there” , we laugh out loud! With a tone that will remind you of “My Big, Fat,Greek Wedding”, “The Big Sick” is an equally silly title with a spirited foray into another’s cultural norms.

Comic Kumail Nanjiani is the boyfriend of Emily (Zoe Kazan). Written by Nanjiani and his real wife, Emily Gordon, the film is semi-autobiographical. They are attracted to each other, hook up, and are fearful of steady dating. They break-up and Emily, who is studying to be a therapist, develops an infection in most of her vital organs. She is put into an induced coma after her ex-boyfriend’s signs the consent form. When Emily’s parents arrive in Chicago, they treat Kumail like the cad who broke their daughter’s heart. He wins them over with his steadfast devotion at her sick bed.

Holly Hunter and Ray Romano play Emily’s parents, Beth and Terry. Their chemistries are well-matched: Hunter more high-strung to Romano’s laconic vibe. Her fight with a comedy club heckler is value laden. Kumail’s retort to Beth’s question of if the prejudice is always like this is fashioned into a joke: ” Usually a different mom comes in to help me.”

“The Big Sick” is well-paced, well-acted, and clever. The fact that it is also heartfelt makes it worth seeing. It is a romantic comedy with serious issues. The parents of both of our stars play key roles. Fidelity and parental expectations and imminent death are interwoven themes. The tone is kept both suspenseful, yet light, which is hard to do. Expert use of irony and understatement propel the format. One of my favorite understatements being Kumail’s: ” I like my jokes thoroughly explained”.

The communication between the parents and the young adults is honest and loving, yet fraught with conflict. It reminds me of one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons that has a young couple sitting at a table with eyes locked over their wine glasses:” Before this goes any further, I should let you know that I have parents.”

One conversations comes after the sacrifices Kumail’s parents have made for him in coming to America is broached. He thanks his father and then asks why he was brought to America if his parents wished him to live a Pakistani life. His father, played beautifully by Anupam Kher, responds with his own question: “You think this American Dream is just getting what you want?” The next scene where Kumail orders at ” The Quick and Hot ” drive-in keeps the laughs ironing out the frustrations. Enjoy Kumail’s bag of devotions, especially the photo ashes of his mother’s bridal attempts. Zenobia Schroff is memorable as Kumail’s mother.

Director Michael Showalter does a great job of bringing us ” ghosting” mothers, teary fathers, and the possibility of a world in which cultural mixing can make for a fresh world, and maybe even peace in the Middle East.

“The Beguiled”

A remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood film starring Colin Farrell, “Beguiled” is atmoshperic and Freudian,and a tad silly. Kirsten Dunst’s character is the least plausible. Why would a woman, who wishes to escape her claustrophobic five-student classroom, not act out when her lover is poisoned before they can run Westward Ho? Edwina (Dunst) was emotional enough when she pushed him down the staircase, emotional enough when he ripped her bodice of its pearl buttons. Can this lonely soul just sew his shroud without any retribution or outcry ?

“Character development” this critic screams, again for Colin Farrell, our Union mercenary of Irish origin, Corporal John McBurney. He is a wounded “player”, who plays all seven females, no matter their age with flattery and teasing unctuousness. He is not unlikeable, just into self-preservation and self-gratification. The women/girls are all beguiled as shown in a wonderful table scene where each try to compete for his favor.

The eleven-year-old mushroom picker, Amy, portrayed beautifully by Oona Laurence, is a picture of braided hair and sweetness as the apron-clad rescuer. Amy helps the leg-wounded corporal hobble to The Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies, where he is treated and allowed to convalesce instead of taken to a Confederate prison camp. The young Amy introduces him to her classmates: the musical Jane ( Angourie Rice), the bright Marie (Addison Riecke), the playful yet solicitous, Emily (Emma Howard), and the lusty coquette, Alicia ( Elle Fanning).

Headmistress Miss Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) takes full charge. She is herself charmed by McBurney. One of the funniest lines,however, comes out of her mouth as she tells teacher Edwina to bring the saw and the anatomy book. Fear and prayer mix with suspense to create an odd tone here. Miss Martha feels driven to act. She asks for suggestions, and the girls by in.

The cinematography is pretty: all haze, Spanish moss, and wild garden. The school’s antebellum splendor is punctuated with six huge Ionic columns – all fluted and more welcoming than the monstrous, filigreed, iron gate. Shots of girls playing at the water pump, hoeing lackadaisically, hanging frocks on the clothesline, and singing in the candlelit music room are lovely. Director Sofia Coppola has an eye for the scene be it French lessons or firelight brandies. For me, Coppola elicited the mushroom picker in Truffaut’s film “The Wild Child”. Six Ionic columns with their staunch flutes seem to hold this edifice aloft. The females under Ms. Martha ultimately do the same.

1864 Virginia has these Southern belles calling the Union soldiers “blue bellies” and vocalizing that their charge could be dangerous. Rape and rapine are both feared. McBurney says that he is pleased to be a prisoner. This soon changes as he lay on their fainting couch. The sounds of water splashing and cloth being rung out, and the in and out of breath, soft hummings and giggles and window peerings set the stage, and remind us of the quiet of this century. Birdsong and cannon booms mingle. Cicadas win out, and rise again.

The corporal has lines galore: ” Tell me a little about yourself? I have never come across such delicate beauty.” If the roses and flowers of this school need trimming, he sharpens his tool to assist. “I have missed being with you”, our wounded soldier whispers to Edwina. He is found in Alicia’s bed before his words evaporate. McBurney’s leg is re-mangled when Edwina pushes him down the stairs. Once he awakens to his fate he screams the question: “Are you ladies learning about castration?” He shoots down a crystal chandelier in his fury, yet Colin Farrell does not seem like a real threat. The women are in control. As they wait under the Ionic facade, for the Confederate soldiers to take the body away, we wonder why they needed to tie the help sign around the iron gate. The women have this!

“Baby Driver”

“Baby Driver” will not give you pause. Rather this Edgar Wright action film will give you musical beats to drum through every car maneuver known to man, all seen before. Centered on the back story of our driver, who lost both parents in a car crash at the age of six, we wonder why fast cars fascinate. In a flashback, we see Baby strapped in the backseat watching his parents argue before mom rams into the back of a tractor trailer.

Besides serial car chases and robbery heists, we have a love at first sight complication as our young driver falls for last year’s Cinderella, Lily James, now decked out in waitress garb including her embroidered name, Debora. The music continues and there is some cute repartee about nomenclature in song. Babe suffers from residual tinnitus since his early accident, and the perpetual ear bud lyrics give him relief and give our movie the beat it needs.

Ansel Elgort plays our everyboy, who owes a debt to Doc (Kevin Spacey). He stole Doc’s Mercedes! But Spacey is the criminal mastermind who never enters a bank and never uses the same crew of wastrels twice, but Babe is his getaway driver, par excellence. A grizzled Jon Hamm and an equally thuggish Jaimie Foxx seem to enjoy their farcical characters while looking occasionally embarrassed.

Our setting is Atlanta, Georgia. Our title taken from a Simon and Garfunkel song. Our car initially a supped up, lipstick-red Subaru. British director and writer Edgar Wright has Baby recording his team’s conversations and then making music from the detritus. My favorite being “He Is Slow”. The driving for these series of brazen heists proves the reverse.

The dialogue is as bad as one would expect, “You get feelings in this job- you die.” intones Bats. (Jaimie Foxx). Bats shoots a store clerk for a few boxes of gum.” Tequila” plays like a music video amid gun shots. Elgort dances, runs, glides, and jumps through the Peachtree Mall after playing parking garage gladiator with Jon Hamm. Babe ends up on a bridge with Debora saying, “You don’t belong in this world” as he tosses his keys. Baby ends up in prison, but will be paroled in five years. Debora sends him tons of postcards, and we see them heading West on Route 66 with the radio blaring. Like I said above, nothing gave me pause in this movie except the 98% approval rate from “Rotten Tomatoes”.

“Beatriz at Dinner”

Salma Hayek is memorable as the Mexican-American therapist who through massage, and herbal and sound holistics softens the edges of pain and ennui. Her moist eyes and sensitivity shine as emblematically as her fiery, righteous anger. Her station wagon has broken down at the Newport, California seaside estate of her long time clients. She is graciously asked to dine at a catered celebration for the estate owner’s boss. Wishfully, Beatriz’s bumper sticker ironically reads ” All is One”.

John Lithgow is the smug and triumphant capitalist, Doug Strutt, who wants to be admired, and is by the three couples feteing his current real estate win. Lithgow adds a few “Trumpian” characteristics to his performance, but there is no need. We intuit the character connection. Doug’s memoir published by Random House is titled ” Life Is A Game-And Guess Who Won? “. Lithgow is gleefull when he intones: ” I have money so people listen.” Beatriz has goats, and one of them was killed.

Dinner party repartee is mostly downhill. Big game killing is broached as good for developing nations and their economy. Beatriz throws a cell phone at Doug, and screams, ” Are you for real!?” Doug smiles and counters with, ” Does she get out much?” The mogul versus immigrant theme leads to an unsatisfying last fifteen minutes where wish lanterns sent aloft and silent oars gliding by mangrove roots does nothing to cancel out.

Mike White as screenwriter has some work yet to do. Is “Beatriz at Dinner” a satire or a parable, or somewhere in between? His use of thought sequences akin to magic realism infuriates. The ambiguity left seems like lazy lack of closure. The viewer is left to do the work. Does the servant girl despair or simply wash her skin of any remnants of the deplorables. Director Miguel Arteta shows us the great divide of our times. There is no compromising. Murder, martyrdom, or ritual cleansing seem to be our only choices.

The other table guests are equally as shallow and as self-serving with the exception of the hostess Cathy played by Connie Britton. Britton’s Cathy, in contrast to her fawning underling husband, seems open to a less rigid marker between the economic haves and the have nots. For Cathy’s husband the rules are determined by beholdenness.

I wanted more: more banter, more in-depth debate, more script development. The film’s strengths rest on fine acting and attention to props like the Virgin Mary and Buddha swaying on the wagon’s dash. This gated community with its three security checks will have most patrons burning sage while knowing that the struggle is not the primal man vs. nature, but the equally primal man vs. man. My favorite line being Beatriz’s : “Try healing something,Doug.”

“Paris Can Wait”

Seeing an 81 year-old female director in her film debut was one impetus for seeing “Paris Can Wait”. Seeing a woman listened to, appreciated, and romanced old-style was another. A “chick flick” for the over-fifty-set this may be, but Diane Lane brings her character, Anne, to the forefront. She is a woman, who has stepped back, has often been stepped over, but has never been stepped on. Yes, she is financially privileged, used to fine service, and is loved by her second husband, played briefly by Alec Baldwin. Anne has lost a baby son, and raised a loving daughter, owned a dress shop, and dabbles at photography. There is nothing remarkable about her.

Using the structure of a road trip, director Eleanor Coppola
sets up a temptation for Anne. Will she or won’t she succumb to the wiles of our dapper Frenchman, Jacque?

Jacque is played deliciously by Artaud Viard. Flirty, warm, attentive, he is a charmer who understands that his colleague, Anne’s husband, prioritizes his work over pleasure. Their marriage often plays as afterthought. Anne is not discontent with Michael, but she enjoys the attention of the irrepressible sensualist, who seems to have a coterie of women fawning over him. He takes the time to savor all the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes and touches. Anne is intrigued and rather awkwardly beguiled.

Here, Lane is perfect as the a woman: unstartled, practical; and yet, instinctually imaginative. In this imaginary land, she is enjoying the wandering, and to a point, we do to. Some sequences of road travel do seem to over dally.

Scuptuous food platings and river walks below Roman ruins fill the screen. There is a capricious picnic amid car troubles, and metronomic flattery amid confidences shared. The atmosphere is light, but possibly transformative. French “joie de vivre” is the tempo.

Some of the most knowing intimacies of a twenty-year-old marriage are humorously portrayed. Michael lets a phone call interrupt kissing his wife, and he depends on her for the details of his inseam measurements and his sock pairings. Business calls during their meals have Anne explaining that she knows it is rude behavior, but she is used to it. Jacques tells her that she should not be. And the game is on.

The game is about romancing. Mozart, truffle season, heaps of roses, creamy chocolates and Jacques’ famous, ” Let’s pretend we don’t know where we are going, or who we are?” He gives Anne the pet name, “Brulee”. Creamily, creme de la cream, evocative!

There are hints of mean testosterone in Jacque when he discloses an indiscretion of Michael’s, and we wonder who will pay for all the cheese, fruit, wine, and watercress. Even a little jealousy is tried as Jacque introduces Anne to Martine, who tells her that “You will never forget your travels with Jacque. Trust me!”

This is an easy summer flick to take your husband to when “you are not used to feeling this way”…meaning romanced!

“My Cousin Rachel” (2017)

Not everyone remembers the first film adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s gothic novel “My Cousin Rachel” (1952), but it was Richard Burton’s first Oscar nomination. His last line, “Rachel, my torment”, made young girls wish they could elicit such power and passion.

Here, Sam Claflin plays a seemingly younger, more naive lover. A couple of scenes are almost smirk producing! Obsessive love merges with mystery and mistaken perception to give one an “Sense Of An Ending” jolt. In fact, these two based-on-book films would be fun to compare.

Du Maurier’s setting is 19th century Cornwall with its rocky cliffs, foamy seascapes, cantering horses and rumbling carriages. Her tenth novel,” My Cousin Rachel, published in the summer of 1951, uses the traditional Irish wolf hounds, the sunshine curse miasma and the stock romance elements to beautiful effect.

Philip Ashley is the 23-year-old narrator, the orphan and nephew of Ambroise Ashley. His beloved uncle writes Philip a letter imploring him to come to his rescue. His young wife,Rachel, is poisoning him, watching him like a hawk; and he fears for his sanity. He has fevers, headaches, and is light-sensitive. Ambroise distrusts his doctor, and piteously entreats Phillip: ” For God’s sake, come quickly!”.

When Phillip arrives at the villa, Dr. Gamboli intones, ” I have been expecting you. He is dead.” Phillip is to inherit the entire estate. Rachel has left for London, but weeks later will return with the storm. The dogs follow her upstairs and her commanding presence takes charge. Phillip attempts to confront her, but his anxious rapping on her door leaves her offering him tea. Her charms beguile even in her black mourning veil. He later tells her: “You are not the woman I hated.” Besotted, he gives her family pearls and increases her allowance. We hear servant whispers and rumors of a duel in her past between husband and lover, unbridled extravagance, and limitless appetite. Rachel Weisz seems born to play her namesake. She captures just the right winsome smiles and stoney eye glints.

The cinematography of Mike Eley is as memorable as any gothic romance filmed. Cliff falls, pearl cascading close-ups, make him a master of premonition. One of the most lovely scenes, features Phillip and Rachel’s romantic romp in a bed of bluebells. She is disinterested, he sated. There are alleyways with woman plucking chickens, candle lighted bedroom scenes, and ominous cliff paths to enjoy.

Director Roger Michell will undoubtably send viewers back to the author of ” The Birds” and may even have viewers purchasing ” Manderley Forever”: A Biography of Daphne Du Maurier by Tatiana De Rosnay translated into English this year. I could see this film again. One just wants more.

“Gifted”

Dueling values, familiar battles, and a seven-year-old math prodigy, who needs what all children need~ to know that they are loved~ are the spokes of this rather run-of-the-mill custody courtroom drama. Abandonment issues aside,”Gifted” deals with using another’s talent for self-aggrandizement. The acting sets this film apart. Marc Webb’s directing is laudable.

The villain grandmother (Lindsay Duncan) is a haughtily clueless intellectual. The script has made her British. Your guess may be the same as mine! Her money gives her power, and now she wants a legacy in academia that her gifted daughter kept from her.

Her grand-daughter Mary, played remarkably by McKenna Grace is the second math prodigy in this very bright, but depression ridden family. Both Mary’s mother and her grandfather have taken their own lives. Blaming the cold, intellectually ambitious matriarch is a tad too simple. Even though,I can see viewers using the “being Evelyn” every time someone acts superior by using a snarky, putdown. Evelyn’s best rhetoricals are thrown at her son:” This god-forsaken mosquito hutch was a conscious choice?”

Uncle Frank (Chris Evans) has been given sole custody of the certainly precocious and often bratty Mary. He is a drop-out philosophy professor who repairs broken boat engines like he has energized his orphaned niece. As a now laid-back Floridian, he attempts to normalize the abnormal. A pet cat named Fred, a loving neighbor and sometimes sitter, outdoorsy activities, a piano, disco all help keep Mary’s head out of the math theorems and quadratic equations. Mary knows she is different. Uncle Frank is trying to preserve her childhood while still home-schooling the young savant in Trachtenberg methodology.

School placement becomes an issue. Jenny Slate plays her classroom teacher. A romance develops with Frank. She becomes a pivotal figure when she sees a one-eyed cat poster and acts accordingly.

As Evelyn focuses on the “The Seven Great Millenium Problems In Mathematics” and salivates over the Nobel Prize, her family falls apart. Somehow it is she who has not thought things through.

My favorite scene takes place in a maternity ward. Frank knows how to teach by showing, not just telling. When Mary stops jumping up and down and asks, ” Can we stay for another?”, there is not a dry eye in the theater.

This is not a great movie, but it is a crowd pleaser. The sound track is horridly overdone, but the lessons broached are worthy of a family hug.