Review: The Big Sick

Kumail Nanjiani’s breakout film role in this fantastic Romantic Comedy

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The Big Sick is the true life tale of how Kumail Nanjiani fell in love. In love with a girl that just broke up with him and who’s now in a coma. Absurdly funny, intelligent and at times heartbreaking, this film is proof that the Rom-Com genre is not out of ideas just yet.

This is not the first time Judd Apatow has brought a relatively unknown comedian into the limelight, think Steve Carrell in ’40 Year Old Virgin’ or Melissa McCarthy in ‘Bridesmaids’. He has an incredible ability to spot talent and cultivate them into Hollywood superstars. Nanjiani’s performance demonstrates the ability we have seen in his previous projects such as Silicon Valley and proves he can hold his own in a leading role of a feature film. It would be tremendously disappointing to see him relegated to bit parts or supporting roles and I hope this marks the beginning of a new chapter in his career.

Kumail’s character is both a comedian and an Uber driver. It is both of these professions that helps him meet Emily. At one of his shows Emily shouts playful encouragement, a woohoo, which Kumail points out is heckling regardless of intention. Following the show he continues talking to her about her abhorrent rudeness, leading to flirting and an eventual night of passion. Afterwards, she decides to leave citing that she is not ready for a relationship, and calls an Uber. Suddenly Kumail’s phone starts ringing, and so begins a series of ‘this is the last time’ Uber based dates.

Despite Nanjiani being Pakistani born, he is not presented as different to any other character. While this may seem a meaningless statement, the implications are far from it. All too often major releases make a big song and dance about diversity, The Big Sick revels in its grounded, realistic treatment of everybody regardless of creed or colour. The only exception for this is during a scene at a stand up show when a frat boy shouts ‘Go back to ISIS’. His character is the only one that seems out of place, a gentle point towards a deeper meaning.

This grounding extends to the humour as well, with an unpredictability that keeps the viewer sharp. The highlight of which is during the first conversation between Kumail and Emily’s parents, Beth and Terry, played fantastically by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano. Terry starts by saying how he always wanted to have a conversation about 9/11 with someone like him. After an awkward pause, Kumail expresses his sadness at losing ’19 of our best men’. Another notable moment is earlier on where there is a major toilet humour joke without it seeming overly crass.

Weighing in at just under two hours, as with all Apatow films, it is a tad lengthy. 5 to 10 minutes could be shaved off to become more streamlined — the second act is slow at times — but this complaint is minute in comparison to the phenomenal accomplishment of Kumail and, spoiler, wife Emily Gordon. To take a traumatic personal experience and put that on the big screen for everyone to see is incredibly courageous. The countless rewrites the script underwent is evidence of their determination to create the best possible version of their story. The resulting product is truly fantastic.

In this genre, the two pivotal components are emotion and humour. The majority of entries either do one competently or both adequately. To achieve both so effortlessly and in such large doses is the sign of something special, a movie that will be remember far beyond the end of its cinematic run.

For an interview with Kumail Nanjiani click here!

In Conversation with Kumail Nanjiani

Kumail Nanjiani talks about his new film, his inspirations, and an on stage disaster

It’s late on Thursday July 7th. Manchester is midway through a tight schedule of preview screenings and interviews, but Kumail and Emily show no signs of fatigue from their string of late nights and early starts. Nor have they lost any of their appetite, emerging from the lobby with the same enthusiasm as day one.

Just yesterday they were in London, at an event much larger than the one today. The host was Richard Curtis, CBE, veteran of the Rom-Com genre and personal inspiration of Kumail. From ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ to ‘Notting Hill’ Curtis has perfected a craft very few can replicate, creating ensemble cast films with well-rounded characters.

Oh look who dropped in

That evening, after the screening, Kumail was invited to dinner with Curtis. “I was trying so hard to keep it cool but I’m sure he saw right through me” Suddenly there was a knock at the door. I say suddenly, but Kumail said only he was surprised. Curtis just smiled, sauntered over the door, and revealed Hugh Grant — A little exposition is needed here. In his formative years, growing up in Pakistan, Kumail was fond of Hugh Grant. Mimicking his hairstyle and lack of smiling because Grant said in an interview that “smiling made him look fat” — For the remainder of the dinner he tried his best to play it cool and not embarrass himself in front of his idols, secretly taking pictures, posting them to Twitter the moment their backs were turned.

Beyond human inspirations, Kumail too found his fondness of film critical in shaping the comic he is today. Of course, elements from some will have seeped into his film, The Big Sick. In particular he mentions 1987’s Broadcast News and 82’s Tootsie. “I wanted to make a Rom-Com with real emotion and real laughs. Most just half-ass both”. The commentaries of both proved invaluable in making this film, based upon his story with his, then girlfriend, now wife. Rom-Com’s often suffer from clear-cut edges separating comedy and drama, but Kumail is weary of this. “I learned that at the peak of an emotional scene. That that moment is the perfect time for a joke. The drama and humour feed into each other”

That’s the movie you’re going to make

5 years ago, 5 years after the events of the film, Kumail and Emily decided the time was right to make their story into a screenplay. No longer raw enough to cause tears, their memory of the events was still fresh. Early on in the process they met with producer Judd Apatow (40 Year Old Virgin, Superbad). After hearing the story his vision was clear, telling the pair “your story is so unique no one could ever think of it”.

Apatow acted as a mentor during writing. They began building a skeleton of facts, each moment a bone in what would eventually become a living, breathing being. Not everything seen on the screen is true to life. A scene here, a character there, but for the most part, this is their story. With each draft they submitted, Apatow gave thousands of notes. “Each detail was important to him, every character needed depth, struggles and dreams”

Although an autobiographical film, Emily did not want to play the role and auditions took place after the three year writing process concluded. She decided against attending, not wanting the actresses to “feel weird look at who they would have to become”. The tapes were initially discouraging. Although there were many fantastic actresses, none encapsulated Emily, her sarcasm, her presence, her charm. That was, until Zoe Kazan. “She did something more than the others, she took the words on the paper and really made them her own”

He just shouted it out before I even finished asking the question

Before any financing was secured, the pair decided to keep the project a secret, especially from their families. “We didn’t want to have any awkward conversations before they were necessary, and we didn’t want to disappoint them if it didn’t come to fruition” When harvesting season came though, the fruits of a fully financed deal with FilmNation were ripe for the plucking. The Apatow name surely sweetening the deal, his name synonymous with box office success.

Shortly after Kumail approached his family to walk them through the script, pointing out the real moments from the artificial. “I remember approaching my dad to ask who he would like to play him. I’ve never seen him so sure of anything in his life. He was set on Anupam Kher. So we sent him the script and the very same day he said yes. I didn’t even expect a response. He told us it would be his 500th film. 500! I haven’t even seen 500 films”

With the cast and crew ready, leads Kumail and Zoe ready, there was just one problem niggling in the back of Kumail’s mind, the kissing scenes. “I told her (Emily) to not be on set for them as I didn’t feel comfortable making out with another girl while saying her name but they were both amazingly normal about it. Turning it on me saying it was weirder if she left. – I think most of the cut scenes were making out scenes though, so I guess in the end i must have just been real bad at it”

She told me she was gunna beat my ass

In the film, there is a scene where Kumail crashes and burns terribly in an show, his pent up feelings about a hospitalised Emily erupting, one of several heartbreaking moments. But this was not his worst experience on stage. “I got a call to do Lettermen so I quickly arranged some practice shows the next town over (Atlanta) a week before. During the set a drunk women started aggressively heckling me. Now, on stage you feel like a superhero, a confidence unlike anything you’d have normally, so I started aggressively heckling back. I thought I got the upper hand and it was over, but then she flicked her lit cigarette at me and tried to start a fight”

Fortunately the show did not descend into violence, with Kumail shining during his Letterman performance a week later. From Silicon Valley to Adventure Time, all his successes can be traced back to this, his big break. Back in present day his greatest success of all, The Big Sick, received wide acclaim during its premiere at Sundance. Shortly after, a bidding war for distribution rights took place, with Amazon Studios paying $12 million, the second largest deal of the entire festival. It will receive its full release on July 14th and I would eagerly recommend you do. It is a fantastic film and a great achievement for them both.

Review: Transformers: The last Knight

Let’s not mention that after credit scene…

Transformers films used to entertaining spectacles about alien robots hidden on Earth. They were never great films but they were great cinematic experiences. One thing they all shared though was some semblance of coherence. A story that, although way out there, kind of made sense. This one is a mess. A lazy, nonsensical mess.

I have to open by saying that the start of the film was surprisingly impressive. As the stars of the Paramount Logo took their positions, fiery projectiles flew overhead. The camera pivoted and we watched them come crashing down into Saxon soldiers in Medieval England during a huge battle. Being a Michael Bay picture there was obviously liberal use of pyrotechnics but it set the tone for a potentially thrilling experience. Sadly it only lasted until the first line of dialogue, perhaps a whole 90 seconds in, and I began to realise that the next two and a half hours of my life were going to be one narrative car crash after another.

There are so many issues on so many levels that it is difficult to know where to begin. For instance when showing Mark Wahlberg around his castle in England, Anthony Hopkins mentions that ‘this is the watch that killed Hitler’. There is no explanation and it is never mentioned again after that moment. Shortly after there is a needless and entirely unrelated Nazi cutscene that added nothing that couldn’t be said with words and I’m convinced was just used as padding for the budget. The $217 million production budget.

Another baffling Hopkins moment was when he was refused entry into 10 Downing Street, attempting to meet the Prime Minister. Upon this refusal he simply said that he’ll use the other entrance then, the secret one, which naturally comes out into the exact room he needs to be with the exact person he needs to see. Once inside he sits down and waits to be noticed, as if the alien planet on a crash course with Earth will just pause until he is ready to continue.

As that alien planet, Cybertron, reaches Earth, we see its anchors run along the surface of the Moon with one destroying the Lunar Landing area. Something which bothered me was how the American flag wasn’t bleached white from the Sun’s. This was probably for two reasons. Firstly, the Transformers films are all about American patriotism, the American Military and the strength of the American people. The second, and most important reason, is that Michael Bay and his crew just don’t care. They know that no matter how insultingly poor the film is, people will still flock to it.

In preparation for this film, it seems that Bay was presented with five or six different scripts. Instead of choosing just one, he picked the opening of one, a few pages from another, and so on before telling the writers to make the ending work. There are twelve knight Transformers who are supposedly among the greatest of their kind but barely get seen. They merge together to form a quite impressive looking three-headed dragon but when one gets killed later on they someone still manage to make the same three-headed dragon. Another transformer we meet has a gun that can slow down time within a certain range of where it is shot. Again we have no explanation of how or where it is from and no other character human or robot is even interested.

Michael Bay has always faced criticism for his films, but retorts that he makes them for teenagers. But do teenagers care about King Arthur anymore? Or about Suicide Squad knock-off character introductions? Or Stonehenge? Or even Transformers?

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2017 Film Challenge – June

Effin’ A, Cotton, Effin’ A!

Here we are, half way through the year. 6 months have passed in a flash. This has been a productive month with me moving house, starting another job and getting an invitation to a preview screening of an upcoming major release plus an interview with the leading actor/writer! Watch this space for more on this, as a hint for the film it was a smash it at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. This month I watched 13 movies bringing us to a grand total of 155. This is 30 above our needed pace so I’m confident this can easily be reached. Here are the films I saw, and my opinions of them (reviews are linked).

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  • The Big Lebowski x2 – What can I say? Whenever I’m stuck for ideas on what to watch, this is my fallback choice. A masterpiece
  • Horrible Bosses – From a masterpiece to, well, the absolute opposite. An unfunny, unoriginal and lazy film. I cannot recommend this less.
  • The Pianist – A harrowing war-time picture about Polish Jews in Warsaw during World War 2. Uncomfortable to watch at times and with scenes that will stay with you for a while.
  • Project X – This is less of a movie more of a music video to the soundtrack. If you’re not into house music or house parties, this one isn’t for you.
  • Interstellar – Perhaps my favourite film of all time, a science fiction film like no other. Thought provoking and visually stunning, a must watch for an Sci-Fi or Nolan fan.
  • The Red Turtle – An enchanting tale of a man shipwrecked on an island. Purely visual, wholly entertaining. Another beautiful film by Studio Ghibli.
  • Rush Hour – The buddy cop sub-genre is massively oversaturated but the electric chemistry between Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan makes this one of the better examples.
  • War Dogs – Another average Rise/Fall film that gets pumped out seemingly every month by one studio of another. Miles Teller and Jonah Hill are the saving graces here making it worth a watch if you are a fan of either.
  • Dodgeball – Incredibly silly and over the top but never feels like too much. Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn are both great in their roles. A hilarious sports comedy.
  • Secret Life of Walter Mitty – In my opinion this is Ben Stiller’s best directorial effort. An ambitious, spectacle of a film, it achieves everything it sets out to do.
  • Reservoir Dogs – A phenomenal debut film by Tarrentino. Unrelenting in its violence, snappy in its dialogue and surprising in its intellectual depth.
  • My Life as a Courgette – A charming stop motion film about a group of kids living in a children’s home. It features a beautiful soundtrack, adorable characters and with a very short 71 minute run time, there is no excuse not to see it.

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Best Films of the Month:

  1. Interstellar
  2. My Life as a Courgette
  3. The Big Lebowski
  4. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  5. Reservoir Dogs

Most Watched Films:

  1. The Big Lebowski (6)
  2. La La Land (3)
  3. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (3)
  4. Dodgeball (2)
  5. War Dogs (2)

The Big Lebowski is starting to pull away now. I’m sure that it’ll achieve double figures by the end of the year, probably being the only film to do it. No other film so far this year has had the same easy viewing vibe but we are only half way through so a lot could happen. La La Land has sadly been stuck at 3 watches for the past few months, I think I exhausted myself. It will get a couple more this year but whether it’ll still be second or even on the top 5 remains to be seen.

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To check out the months you have missed, click one of the following links:

Review: My Life as a Courgette

“There’s no one left to love us.”

It is safe to say this is the best stop-motion since Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. Originally an auto-biographical account of Gilles Paris’ experience in an orphanage (“Autobiographie d’une Courgette), we follow the string of events that happen to 9-year-old Icare, or rather Courgette as he prefers to be known, after what should be any child’s worst nightmare.

The very fact this film was in the form of stop motion intensified the magic of the story. Every emotional scene is heightened by the intricate workmanship going into the children’s interactions amongst themselves or with adults. This is an area My Life as a Courgette excels in, as the film recognises children’s receptiveness and perceptivity. Adult’s words and actions greatly affect on children, becoming all the more important for them to understand how deeply these orphans are traumatised and just how they are dealing with this.

Authority figures such as the policeman or the social workers are shown in their best light, and is somewhat a tribute to the system. They are fully comprehensive of the children’s needs, such as Icare’s need to be called “Courgette” as his late mother nicknamed him. They do not underestimate their intelligence and give them a secure sense of home and family within the orphanage.

During a skiing trip organised by the orphanage, Camille (another of the home’s residents) and Courgette share a meaningful evening of confessed deep thoughts under the stars, as Courgette realises that now his alcoholic mother is dead, he is relieved his future will never involve drinking large amounts of beer with her as he always imagined. The orphanage has opened up doors and windows of happiness and possibility he never knew existed.

On the same trip, little Ahmed approaches a girl to compliment her red skiing goggles. The girl’s mother rushes over, immediately assuming Ahmed is a thief and demands where his parents are, to which he replies he doesn’t know. Aggressively shooing him away, she humiliates him by calling him a liar. Ahmed’s reaction is heart-breaking, he did not deserve to be shouted at, even less-so to be falsely accused of lying or stealing. If director Claude Barras and screenplay writer Céline Sciamma wanted to get the audiences tear ducts working, this scene did a brilliant job of doing so.

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One of the best things about the film is the script, made up of small details that make the stop motion characters intensely realistic. A few things couldn’t help getting lost in translation, such as one child’s confusion of the words “préliminaires” and “préparatifs” in an adorable attempt to show off his knowledge about grown-ups and sex, but this is understandably imperceptible to anyone who doesn’t speak French. The discussions these children have reflect, at least for characters Simon, Courgette and Camille, the gift of insight, intuition and understanding.

A brilliant way the orphanage came up with helping the children communicate was to give them a communal weatherboard, or “La Météo des Enfants”. This was genius in its simplicity, as the moods ranged from stormy to sunny, being a good meter for each child to easily share what mood they are in. One’s state of mind can be difficult to articulate for anyone, let alone for young, traumatised children.

Each of these children have a huge amount of character, much to do with their individual background stories. We are told the reasons of their being in the orphanage, and suddenly the home becomes a microcosm of society’s problems today. Sciamma mentioned being aware of the political dimension of My Life as a Courgette by portraying the palette of dysfunctional families that exist all around us. The character of Simon is particularly well done, his cliché hard exterior is justified by his acute take on reality. “We’re all the same” he reassures Courgette, “There’s no one left to love us”.

When Courgette and Camille spend a weekend at the Policeman’s home, they cannot help but notice the framed photo of a child and wonder out loud where he is. In a simple and honest manner, the Policeman explains that “sometimes, it’s the kids who leave the parents”. Then showing Camille and Courgette around, they marvel at his collection of succulents and plants. He tells the children that he likes to grow things, which I saw as a wonderful metaphor for his ability to nurture and protect.

The compact runtime of 70 minutes was a very smart move. Although obviously stop motions are painstakingly difficult and costly to make, which can explain the concise runtime, the story didn’t feel too long or too short, and immediately felt rewatchable for all the right reasons. Going into the cinema with extremely mild expectations, I welcomed the numerous ways in which this film touched me, left in utter amazement at the sheer perfection of this masterpiece.

Meteo des enfants

Review: Dodgeball

I know you. You know you. And I know you know that I know you.

On the surface, you wouldn’t expect a comedy sports movie about Dodgeball to be a commercial success. But on opening weekend in June 2004 it comfortably beat out the opening weekend of Spielberg-Hanks’ The Terminal, grossing over $11 million more. A true underdog story.

The film centres around Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn), an incompetent gym owner with a don’t try can’t fail outlook on life. After not collecting membership fees for 13 months along with a slew of other blunders, his gym Average Joe’s is at risk of being foreclosed. That is of course if he can’t come up with $50,000 he owes in 30 days.

Across the road in the shrine to insecurity that is Globo Gym, owner, operator and founder White Goodman (Ben Stiller) awaits to demolish Average Joe’s to make way for an auxiliary parking lot. Suffering from a severe case of Napoleon complex, he surrounds himself with massive, muscly men called Laser, and Blazer, and Taser, and all kinds of azer’s.

After a car wash to build up some funds results in them actually losing money, the group of misfits that make up the members share a drink, ready to concede. Suddenly, and in the exact perfect moment, one of the members remembers an advertisement in Obscure Sports Quarterly magazine about a professional Dodgeball tournament. The prize for the winner? $50,000. Following an embarrassing loss turned win by disqualification in their qualifying match they make it to the finals in Las Vegas, picking up dodgeball legend Patches O’Houlihan in the process to be their coach.

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Dodgeball is a film that really should not be as good as it is. Vaughn and  Stiller both give fantastic performances throughout, in particular this was much needed for the latter after his lacklustre leading role in Starsky & Hutch. Stiller plays a parodical role of a self-loving gym addict teetering on the edge of a mental breakdown, and Vaughn is his usual charismatic self, acting as a Captain, steering the ship through a sea of silliness and slapstick.

While the humour was thick and fast and for the most part hit their mark, the jokes coming from Rip Torn’s character Patches were overly crass and was the only blemish on an otherwise spotless film. Thankfully he is killed off in an incredibly ironic way which goes some way to making up for his actions prior.

Contrastingly the funniest character during the film was a barely recognisable Jason Bateman as Pepper Brooks, sitting next to Gary Cole as two dodgeball commentators. Their chemistry and polar opposite personalities lead to some of the most hilarious exchanges with Bateman personally delivering many highly quotable lines.

This movie looks like it was almost as funny to shoot as it was to watch with numerous surprising cameos and a relentless humour that will bring you back again and again. There may not be any deep underlying meaning or character depth, but then again, does a film about throwing rubber balls need all that? It’s a bold strategy, one that I think pays off.

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