The Big Sick (2017)

The Big Sick first caught my eye in Empire magazine, when I realised that this inspiring true story turned rom-com featured Kumail Nanjiani as well, himself. This stark contrast from other retold true stories brings a powerful warmth, wit and depth to his character in a sincere parallel to the truth upon which the film unfolds – making The Big Sick one of the most amazing stories told this year.

Kumail Nanjiani is a young Pakistani stand up comedian from Chicago, who spends his days performing, meeting eligible Pakistani girls (not by choice) and showcasing his love for Pakistan through one-man-shows in his local theatre. During one particularly dry gig, Kumail meets his match in Emily, played by Zoe Kazan. However, Kumail’s traditional Muslim family are unaware of his romance, and continue to press for an arranged marriage with other local Pakistani girls. Mention of the next development in the film should not come as a shock, considering it’s The Big, Sick, after all and the publicity campaign is heartily in Emily’s unfolding medical crisis – but do not fear because it’s nothing like the weepie Me Before You or The Fault in Our Stars. In fact, this dramatic crisis brings a beautiful display of superior storytelling as we follow Kumail as bedside vigil alongside Emily during the entire process. Ultimately, what unfolds is a unique story of faith, commitment and passion wrapped in the fabric of a modern love.

One of the most wonderful things about The Big Sick is the husband and wife duo that brought their story to life, Kumail Nunjiani and Emily V. Gordon. Almost parallel to the real events that conspired in their own relationship, the storytelling gravitates to the passion and honesty of the living breathing masterpiece (that is their story) that brought this film to life. The sharp, intuitive and witty scripting delves into a lot more than you would naturally expect from a rom-com, diverting into almost another genre in itself. The modern love, age-old prejudices, religion and commitment knitted into real life romances come alive in this film, in a way that is both as profoundly deep as it is profoundly entertaining. I’ve watched a lot of comedies, but I haven’t laughed out loud like this in a long time.

The undeniable on-screen chemistry that grows between Kumail and Zoe is the cherry on the top of the cake, in a story that reaches out of a cross-cultured romance into the turmoil of our world to bring a shining beacon of hope. In this way, The Big Sick does more than make you simply think, it draws together people, our community, to become better people with more compassion for others. No wonder this is the film everyone is talking about. Don’t miss your chance to revel in its magic – you won’t be disappointed.

Rich in emotional honesty and equal parts moving, The Big Sick successfully infuses the traditional rom-com formula with a modern sensibility.”

★★★★★

IMDb – 8.1/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 98%

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

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All monster films fall into two kinds of categories – one that takes its time to reveal the monster and one that shows you the monster straight away. The star of this show is front and center for the entire 118 minute running time. We’re all accustomed to the mighty King Kong from Merian Coopers’ 1933 original all the way to 2005’s Jack Black reboot, there are just way too many spiels to list. But you’ll be happy to know this remake is engaging, mesmerising and Tom Hiddleston (I’m sold).

Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ reset of the Kong legend returns to 1973, as the last American troops are pulling out of Vietnam. Colonel Packard, played by Samuel L. Jackson (I’m sold sold), is reluctant to leave the battlefield, suspended in an existential crisis as the war draws to a close. Packard’s right-hand man Chapman, Toby Kebbell, looks forward to returning home to his son, as do all of the other helicopter squadron members do. But on the other side of the world, Government representative John Goodman relentlessly pursues a hollow-earth theory expedition on Skull Island. A land mass perpetually overcast by violent storms, there is no limit to what could be discovered. He hires James Conrad, Tom Hiddleston, to be the skilled tracker on the mission to chronicle any findings, and piggybacks on the helicopter squadron to discover monsters, bombs and a grizzly John C. Reilly (Step Brothers).

Vogt-Roberts and the film’s screenwriting trio play out the occasionally troubling conflicts of Vietnam on the backdrop of a panicked survival group attempting to escape a forbidden island. The period setting throughout Skull Island is based on an appealing soundtrack by the stooges and Jefferson Airplane, but the updated man-vs-beast conflict of previous King Kong tales roots in the blood-soaked anxiety of war. The cycle of war is astonishing, and superbly written – unlike anything you’ve seen in any other King Kong film. The island is richly bathed in colour of both natural and post-production, but this unique style sets it apart from any modern re-imagining. Designs are impressive, creations are emotive and breathtaking … it’s showy … but it works.

Skull Island takes on the role of mixing in memorable actors in even the smallest parts of the film. Few of the characters are built upon more than an introduction or a rapid-survival failure. John C. Reilly is particularly spot-on, with a mix of mania and sorrow, in the middle of an extravagant tale of monsters. Goodman is a selfish deadpan, Jackson derails with his eyes fuming with rage and Larson delivers a kind of kindness and compassion that causes Hiddleston to run around in gas masks for her. The cast is sensational really, and in my opinion a great combination for an epic spiel like this one.

Perhaps the most satisfying part of Kong comes after you’re done reeling from the fun of the film. This definitely won’t be the last we see of this fantastic ape, but it’s the kind of messy enjoyable throwback that will leave you wanting more.

★★★☆☆

Imdb – 7.1/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 79%

Silence (2016)

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Silence, this religious epic, a dream project of director Martin Scorsese for decades, is somewhat difficult and unwieldy, as well as a bit gory, but it’s also magnificent, beautiful, and masterful.” – Common Sense Media ★★★★★

This is what makes Scorsese’s film so radical, and so unlike many other movies about religion: It’s actually art.” – The Atlantic ★★★★★

Returning to the ideas that haunted his whole career, Martin Scorsese delivers a film of grandeur and great fervour about Christianity, martyrdom and the silence of God. Sacrifice in the service of the greater good beckons to the ambiguous heroism of one man reaching a future of earthly peace and comfort, in the midst sin and humiliation. Martin Scorsese takes a fearless plunge into deciphering the silence of God in the midst of human suffering, drawing out a passion project of incomprehensible faith and power.

Following the 1966 passion novel by Shusaku Endo, Silence pays its small tribute to the extremely profound influence of Portuguese missionaries who risked their lives to bring the word of God to 17th century Japan. Andrew Garfield, with his eyes filled with fervour, stars as Father Sebastian Rodrigues. Adam Driver, his somewhat starved body resembling an ascetic saint, co-stars as Father Francisco Garupe. These two young Portuguese priests, fierce and full of determination, journey east to Japan in search of their missing mentor Father Cristovao Ferreira, played by Liam Neeson. Senseless rumours drain the village of his apposition to the Christian faith, but when Rodrigues and Garupe arrive in Japan they quickly realise just how viciously Christianity is being suppressed. What unfolds is a gruelling story of relentless faith under ruling samurai who are mercilessly committed to flushing out hidden Christians, any way they can.

Within Martin Scorsese’s’ creative collaboration with Jay Cocks, who also wrote The Age of Innocence, the script doesn’t wallow in the violent visuals, but rather utilises them as a way to reflect the horror of religious persecution. The introduction of doubt is the propeller of the film, considering 2 hours and 40 minutes of spirituality is unlikely to sell to an audience of Marvel Comic Universe-ites. In particular, Liam Neeson is phenomenal in reflecting his character’s reconciliation of conviction and doubt about God, in choosing to suffer with mankind instead of ending its suffering. This is the heart and soul of the film. But all of the performances in Silence are sensational, each character grabbing onto this intense, sacrificial dedication that pulses through their very veins. As Scorsese mentioned, “Silence is about the necessity of belief fighting the voice of experience.” And there is no doubt that Scorsese maintains a rigorous fix on the complexity of faith, refusing to temper with the film’s harshness with any form of sentiment. But to most visionaries’ delight, issues of this complexity are not designed to go down easy, but instead, they are entitled to live and breathe in the cinema air.

But if I can add a personal comment from a Christian point of view, something baffles me about the way faith wavers under pressure, even though martyrdom is so prominent today. *Spoiler alert* I hated the ending – I think he should have died for his faith.

But if I can add a personal comment, from a Christian point of view, something baffles me about the way faith wavers under pressure, even though martyrdom is so prevalent today. *Spoiler Alert* I hated the ending – I think he should have died for his faith.

The price for your glory is their suffering.

Silence is a technical, visual and soulful marvel with editing capacities that effortlessly overlap into pure cinematic art. No one with the genuine belief of the power of cinema should miss this epic creation of essential filmmaking from the modern master – a man who embodies the images he puts on screen.

… “I pray but I am lost, am I just praying to silence?

★★★★★

Imdb – 7.5/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 84%

 

Hell or High Water (2016)

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“Taut, tense and burnished by Jeff Bridges at his best. This is a deceptively simple tale of Texan cops and robbers that drags the Old West into the modern age.” – Empire ★★★★☆

It took a while to notice that David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water had made the list of Best Picture nominees at the Academy Awards this year, while we were so overwhelmed that Martin Scorseses’ Silence and Tim Miller’s Deadpool had lost the race. Here comes a throwback to the dusty rambling glories of Hollywood new wave Westerns, inspired by Depression-era thrillers, to reveal arguably the most understated and contemporary socio-political film of last year. That’s a mouthful.

Brothers Toby, played by Chris Pine, and Tanner, played by Ben Foster, first arrive at a remote Texas Midland Bank branch to rob every penny they can fit in their sacks. They make off with some loose bills, and proceed to rob every other bank in the region. Here, Toby is the mastermind, conveying his sincere and potent grievance from the foreclosure on the mortgage of his family property. But of course, with the death of their mother and an oil discovery on the property, Toby is infuriated with immediate eviction and recruits ex-prisoner older brother Tanner to help earn the property back. It’s the story of cowboy’s and Indians – onetime kings of the plains now suspended in a place where both are pushed to near extinction, and what evolves is greed, pain and utter heartlessness.

David Mackenzie’s direction makes the robbery sequences bubble with jolts of extravagant yet realistic violence, getaway action and car chases, on the backdrop of dusty plains. The casting of each character enhances the regional colour and tone of the film, drawing out incredible performances from Chris Pine and of course the highly praised Jeff Bridges. The present day atmosphere and lack of open-carry laws, mixed in with rowdy cowboys creates an amusing and unpredictable vigilante of local distress. But the script is notably the most powerful in this film, and the exchanges are superb in a film so entirely thick with it. The low-key humour, the poignant loneliness, the undercurrent teasing, Hell or High Water is nothing like anything you’ve seen before.

Hell or High Water is talking, character and western backdrop thick. Riding on the back of films such as No Country for Old Men, it draws out weathered storefronts, abandoned pastures, rusted farm equipment and oil derricks on the premise of a film set to define regional identity. Only enhanced by an overly impressive score, Hell or High Water is pleasant but not extravagant, and a delight for anyone with a soft spot for Texas.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 7.7/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 98%

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

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“Masterfully told and beautifully acted” Empire ★★★★★

“A minor key masterpiece” The Guardian ★★★★★

The stricken, painful, heart-wrenching transgression of life is the current of Kenneth Lonergan’s newest addition, Manchester by the Sea. A glimpse of life in the real world, of unfathomable heartache, of lessons unlearned. The film already hailed by many as a masterpiece, Manchester by the Sea combines Arthur Miller and Woody Allen to express a superb abundance of beauty in turmoil.

The remarkable Casey Affleck is Lee Chandler, a lonely Boston janitor who carries copious poisonous rage towards the world and himself. The death of his beloved older brother Joe, who resonates only in generous reminiscence, saddles Lee with the sole guardianship of his only son Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges. Anger pulses through Lee’s ingenious face and remarkably indignant smile. What unfolds before Lee is an offer of poignant redemption by the parenthood and friendship of one incredibly unstable child. Yet the film doesn’t work out as simply as that.

Manchester by the Sea is deep, thoughtful and intrusive – a story about the complexity of forgiveness and compassion within the struggle of relieving pain. It is a story of parenting, but of the biological and completely improvised kind. On the surface this appears as a duller twist on the tedious childish-adult-forced-to-grow-up formula, by throwing heartache, loneliness and one orphan minor into the mix. But Lonergan is too indulged in his sensational actors, his undivided audience and perhaps reality itself to showcase any irrationality or formulae. But with the dry comedy pace and uncomfortable aesthetic of the film, there remains nothing but reality itself. This film is simply remarkable.

I can’t beat this, I’m so sorry.”

From start to finish, Manchester by the Sea is powerful and thought-provoking. Rarely do films showcase the harsh reality of those who live with pain and loss, stricken by the fate of one horrible mistake. A story driven by characters whom the actors embodied with precision and with excellence, Manchester by the Sea is an outstanding addition to the Best Picture nominees this year.

★★★★★

Imdb – 8.1/10 Rotten Tomatoes – 96%

Jackie (2016)

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The assassination of John F. Kennedy, a moment that shook America and the rest of the world, but a moment that destroyed the first lady. This is a portrait of Jackie Kennedy, a beautiful illustration of a stunned, stricken existence enveloped in a mesmerising tragedy. Jackie portrays a stunning moment by moment story of the aftermath of horror, amplified by lonely silence, long corridors, conspiratorial whispers, haunting close ups and memories of a once happy life.

Pablo Larrain takes one piece of slimmer of history to create art on screen – the before, during and after of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, but most sensationally through the eyes of his beloved wife Jackie. Painted on a canvas of Mica Levi’s mesmerising orchestral score, the haunting strings weave seamless sadness and horror into a heartbreaking performance from Natalie Portman. On the screen explodes a fierce and powerful woman, who unlike many others, must stay composed in the waking hours of her husband’s death. A moving psychological portrait of Jackie, who fearlessly attempts to maintain her husband’s legacy and his fabricated world of Camelot.

Natalie Portman’s performance is careful and intelligent, and thick with anxiety hidden under layers of poise and grace. The Monroe breathiness of her voice and the heartbreaking dialogue of her painted lips exposes the precise and unfathomable truth behind Jackie’s moments in hell, torn between living and dying in the aftermath of her heartbreak.

“There comes a time in man’s search for meaning when he realises that there are no answers. And when you come to the horrible and unavoidable realization, you accept it or you kill yourself. Or you simply stop searching.”

Natalie Portman almost effortlessly carries Jackie, in an intimate and personal piece that should be considered more as a portrait than as a film. With her recent nomination for Best Actress in the Academy Awards, it is no wonder Portman was the first choice for taking on a role so demanding and so intimately powerful – I doubt anyone could bring so much life to Jacqueline Kennedy. Pablo Larrain’s most daring and most profound piece, a historical monument to the life of a woman who’s actions will echo in history’s books.

I will march with Jack, alone if necessary.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 7.1/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 89%

Fences (2016)

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Director and front man of Fences, Denzel Washington, brings the passion product of the year to life with high distinction and incomprehensible emotion. Awarded for four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress, Fences delivers a powerful, fervent and beautiful story on the backdrop sunlight, shadows and incredible performances.

An adaptation of August Wilson’s award winning stage play Fences, first performed in 1983, the film brings the daunting performances that haunted the stage to life. Troy Maxon is a middle-aged African-American man working as a garbage collector in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, whose vanished glory as a failed Baseball star gave him nothing more than a “pot to piss in, or a window to throw it off.” Perhaps Maxon’s cynical mood is the cause of his big appetite for booze, his loud humour, his wounded moods and his jolted pelvis, but the suppressed nature of the film is the contrast with his wife Rose, played by Viola Davis. What unfolds is one house struck with guilt and shame painted with spectacular attempts to mend an invisible fence of hopelessness and fear.

Fences is dense with such intelligence and compassion that you will struggle to tear your eyes from the screen. Although in single moments the air is thick with stage presence, the breathtakingly vibrant monologues and poetic stagecraft breath rare vulnerability of the characters to life. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are phenomenally well paired as husband and wife, drawing rich emotion from what feels like the depth of their souls.The camera captures each of these moments perfectly, always with the characters listening just as intently as we are. The character dynamics are simply unlike anything I’ve seen in cinema before.

“Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in.”

Fences is fierce and powerful, and outstanding in the caliber of Best Picture nominees. There is a rich pleasure in watching phenomenal actors tackle issues of poverty, racism and death in a way that hits home with everyone in the audience. Fences is just as heartbreaking as it is beautiful, resonating in the hearts of all of us in one way or another.

★★★★★

Imdb – 7.5/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 94%