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The Beguiled

What’s there to like?

The Beguiled is a dark, sometimes mysterious story. What drew me in was the detailed world of Civil War-era Southern manners and customs. The way they talked, the propriety of how men and women interact with each other, and so on. And most of all, the restraint. But all that wasn’t just a historical curiosity or part of the art direction–it really drove the plot forward. You’ve got this soldier (Colin Farrell), a representation of brutality and power, of masculine brutality and power, entering a secluded girl’s school (led by Nicole Kidman’s headmistress, Kirsten Dunst playing a teacher, and Elle Fanning as one of the students)–this bastion of only women. He’s injured and he needs their care. But the restraint and the polarization between masculine and feminine highlight the sexuality in the air. So you’ve got a blurring of the lines between danger and sexual attraction, at least from the point of view of all these women towards this unknown, scary soldier. Continue Reading

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The Big Sick

What’s there to like?

It’s been a little while–a few months at least–since I’ve seen a nice little indie comedy. In The Big Sick, Kamail Nanjiani plays a Pakistani man in Chicago who falls in love with an American woman played by Zoe Kazan. Cultural obstacles present themselves, and then a serious illness sends everything sideways.

Indie romantic comedies live or die on how relatable they are. And with The Big Sick, I can believe it. I can buy into the whole thing. I believe the group of friends who are sort of trying to make it as comedians but giving not 100%. Maybe 80%. Good enough to get by and probably pretend to yourself you’re really #gettingafterit. The flirting between Kumail and Emily felt real, and charming. There’s a we-can’t-do-this-again theme to their first meetings, but it becomes clear they don’t entirely mean it. And there’s this bit of heartwarming heckling at the end that’s nice and, again, charming.

Another relatable factor: my family is obviously nowhere near as traditional as Nanjiani’s was, but when I lived in New York and Chicago, it definitely felt like my growing up was out of another culture. So I enjoyed that too, even though the details were different and more dramatic in the movie.

And oh, there was some surprisingly real relationship and marriage juice from Emily’s parents. Pearls of wisdom like, you can never know you you love someone until you cheat on them. Simultaneously ridiculous and maybe containing some tiny kernel of bizarre insight buried deep down.

I guess I should say it’s funny too? Certainly there were some laughs, but nothing overwhelming, and it’s hard to remember a lot of the jokes and lines. I mean, it’s definitely a comedy, but I enjoyed the romance and the poignant stuff more than the yuks, I think.

What’s not to like?

It’s not that I didn’t like a lot of stuff. Just at this level I’m talking about things that kept it good instead of great.

So, with that disclaimer, I’ll say that even though I said I liked the flirting part, a lot of the rest of the romantic relationship part felt a little flat. Which is a bit weird, if it’s based on a true story. And since I’m sure they spiced up a few things in the name of artistic license, maybe some of the dramatic elements could have been heightened to make the romantic part of this romcom more . . . romantic.

The Verdict

A charming, heartwarming indie romantic comedy that has strengths in the indie aspect as much as in the romantic or comedy parts.

Recommended

[crossposted at loganbeaux.com]

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Dinner With Beatriz

What’s there to like?

To be honest, Dinner With Beatriz started a little slow for me. I wasn’t quite hooked in. Salma Hayek is more off-putting than appealing as a frumpy holistic healer. But then Jay Duplass and Chloe Sevigny (what a pair!) show up as a striving, hopeful, 1%-wannabe couple, and I knew I would enjoy this thing.

The story, centrally, is about a fish out of water. Wealthy people are having a dinner party to celebrate a business deal that will make them all a lot of money. Hayek’s Beatriz, comparatively much poorer, ends up attending the party because she gave a massage to the hostess earlier in the day and her car wouldn’t start.

And while a primary way Beatriz is different from her dinner mates is social class, there are other differences too. She’s got a soft spot for the weak and oppressed, be they animals or people. She doesn’t seem to have very good manners. She grew up in Mexico. And all those factors come into play in making the party less successful than hoped.

I haven’t even mentioned John Lithgow and Connie Britton yet, but they’re central and wonderful. Mike White’s screenplay brings nice complexity in showing how strong convictions don’t always make you right.

What’s not to like?

Well, the screenplay’s complexity can also be a little confusing towards the end. I left not quite being able to figure out what the movie was trying to convey. That’s partly a good thing–I like leaving with something to think about–but sometimes it’s a little much.

Also. There’s an ending that’s extra confusing.  I had so many lingering questions. Just too many, really. Seemed out of character. And I guess I’ll leave it at that.

The Verdict

A fish out of water, culture clash movie that shows everyone sharing the blame for a crappy evening–even the supposedly moral ones.

Fine

[cross posted at loganbeaux.com]

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

What’s there to like?

Well we have a fifth(!) installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The first trio was surprisingly enjoyable. And the fourth, lagging behind by a few years, pulled together a nice victory lap. Johnny Depp did his thing, and Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane brought enough pizzazz to make it fun.

And now we have a fifth, subtitled Dead Men Tell No Tales. So how is it? Continue Reading

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The Wizard of Lies

What’s there to like?

Biopics have a hard row to hoe, at least as far as I’m concerned. There are the facts of the story to deal with, characters to develop, and only a couple hours to do it in. The Wizard of Lies largely manages to rise above a lot of that and deliver some nice touches.

The best decision they made was to focus on Bernie Madoff’s personal and family life through the ordeal. Obviously the scandal had tragic reverberations that affected lots of innocent people, but the family effects were where the drama was. Continue Reading

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King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

What’s there to like?

Puzzlingly, I find myself having not seen very many Guy Ritchie movies. In fact, The Man from U.N.C.L.E just might be the only one. From the buzz (and counterbuzz) surrounding King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, I was worried I might not take to it.

I’m happy to say, I got it. I got Ritchie’s point of view. He certainly swung for the fences on this one. Some may consider it a strikeout, but for my money, he connected. The big-swing point of view mainly comes down to two things, in my view.

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The Circle


What’s there to like?

I’ve really been looking forward to this one. Dave Eggers is one of my favorite contemporary authors, and I loved this novel. I’ve also liked Eggers adaptations in the past, like A Hologram For the King.

And, in fact, there were some things that benefited quite a bit from the movie medium. For example, the creep of conformity. Being able to look around and see everyone else buying into something and how easy it is to slide right in.

I’m also enjoying Emma Watson’s expanding repertoire and range–Hermione who?–even if at times I could hear her really working hard on that American accent.

And there were some wonderful moments, such as when Mae (Watson) is confronted by concerned Circlers about why on Earth she wouldn’t be socializing and sharing more. So many choices! They’re optional, of course (but why aren’t you doing anything?). And it’s all just for fun (but seriously, do it)!

What’s not to like?

Unfortunately, while it’s fun to see a favorite novel adapted, there’s a lot that didn’t quite gel here. For one, the tone. In the book, the vision and scope of the Circle’s ideas were inspiring and intoxicating for the most part, with only tiny worries presenting themselves little by little. In the movie, everything is creepy as hell pretty much from the beginning. There just wasn’t enough time to build the premise properly, perhaps?

And Tom Hanks, for being maybe the most charming man in history, is awfully . . . not very charming here. And he’s playing a guy who supposedly runs on charm. I’m not saying Hanks half-assed this role, but I’m not saying he didn’t, either.

Overall, there are just too many ideas packed in here for most of them to be dealt with adequately. The movie failed to capture what it set out to. And it’s too bad.

The Verdict

It’s nice to see a movie aim big, tackling timely and relevant issues and well written fiction. But it’s even nicer when a movie connects with its aim. And The Circle didn’t.

Fine

[Cross-posted at loganbeaux.com.]

 

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Manchester By the Sea

What’s to like?

It can throw you off, as a critic, when a movie’s themes hit close to home. Will everyone be affected this way, or is it just me, I ask? Casey Affleck, playing Lee in Manchester by the Sea, has to travel from the big city back to the smaller community where he grew up when life gets crazy. But as specifically parallel as that experience is to my life, it’s also universal–even archetypal–in its relatability. So let’s go ahead and chalk that one up in the plus column. Same with Lee’s small but meaningful growth from a person looking out only for number one to a person who realizes he’s happier if he considers what someone else wants. Hell, come to think of it, at this rate I guess we’ll call this an age-old tale. Continue Reading