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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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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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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

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Arrival

What’s there to like?

Arrival is a good ol’ fashioned thought-experiment style sci-fi story. One of those that begins by asking what if? and playing things out. In this case, the what-if is about aliens visiting the Earth–with all the confusion, uncertainty, and fear that would entail–and humanity’s struggle to communicate with them. Always nice to have some thought provoked.

For those of us who love language, this is a wet dream. Who knew a linguist could save the world? Don’t you dare tell me my liberal arts degree won’t come in handy!

The performances are good: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker all breathe life into their characters and represent their sometimes conflicting, sometimes converging interests. Adams and Renner–Louise and Ian–have solid chemistry. Renner in particular I found riveting–he subtly surprised me with some of this choices, showing some range compared to his other work.

Director Denis Villaneuve and writer Eric Heisserer construct a nice story, with a twinge of horror-like tension, and an earned payoff that’s set up nicely.

What’s not to like?

Two things, mainly. Although I’ll tip my cap to the buildup to the plot’s reveal, there’s a mystical component to how things play out. I’m not opposed to that kind of payoff in principle, but it’s a delicate needle to thread, and this one doesn’t satisfy my need for coherence, even if I’m trying to be generous to forces we don’t understand.

The other thing is that Ian, though played ably by Renner, is an inconsistent and contradictory character. His stated purpose–representing the scientific approach to learning about the aliens–is minimized or tossed aside for the most part. He didn’t need to be a scientist at all to play his part–just had to be a nice, reasonably smart dude supporting Louise’s greatness. What’s that– you’re trying to tell me it’s just a gender role reversal and normally the woman is defined by being the helpmate? Yeah, I won’t say you’re wrong. Still, I’m marking it down as a con rather than a pro or even a neutral.

The Verdict

Arrival is an enjoyable sci-fi movie, well-executed and widely accessible. It’ll get you thinking, and keep you entertained with taut story and solid acting. Hell, some may even like the twist more than I did. It’s certainly a thumbs up from me.

Recommended

 

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The Neon Demon

What’s there to like?

Before anything else, it’s important to note that The Neon Demon is one of those artsy(-fartsy), experimental films that takes itself rather seriously. A lot of people aren’t into that. I get it.

BUT, I often get a kick out of movies like this, and I found Nicolas Winding Refn’s current flick fascinating. It’s about the connection between vulnerability and beauty, and simultaneously, paradoxically, between beauty and power. (Elle Fanning deftly brings out all three qualities in the lead role, Jesse.) It’s about how people can be affected by them, and how hard it can be to distinguish those whose reactions are benign and those become more predatory. A little heavy on the English-lit homework angle? Maybe, but I loved it. Continue Reading

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Maggie’s Plan

What’s there to like?

Maggie’s Plan is what just you want from an indie: it’s different. It’s a New York-/Brooklyn-based story that feels kind of like a Noah Baumbach (maybe While We’re Young or Frances Ha), but director Rebecca Miller adjusts the dials a bit to decrease the self-seriousness and increase the fun. We’ve got the same white urban dwellers and great feel for the city, but the tonal balance kept me enjoying myself the whole time. Continue Reading

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Warcraft

What’s there to like?

You may not know this, but I’m a fairly serious World of Warcraft player. That makes this is a tricky review, because my take will obviously be different than that of those coming new or relatively new to the Warcraft universe. I think we can do it, though.

There are definitely some things to like, even if you don’t know this lore. The motion-capture orcs look gritty and cool (props to Toby Kebbell as Durotan–probably the most compelling character in the movie), and the spells the mages cast are also pretty. There is a lot of rich lore here, as well, that the film draws on. The characters’ backstories are extremely filled out, which helps. Continue Reading

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Sing Street

What’s there to like?

You know how in most musicals characters just break into song in the middle of a conversation, or walking down the road, or . . . whenever? For the most part, we don’t mind–that’s just how musicals are. Except John Carney musicals. They’re not very much like that at all. Like Once and Begin AgainSing Street is about musicians. And the thing is, musicians’ lives have a lot of music in them. I love traditional musicals and all, but it’s pretty cool the way the music makes so much sense in the context of a Carney movie. Continue Reading