They Nominated What?!

January 23, 2018 by  
Filed under CineBlog

Each year at CineSnob.net, we set our alarm clocks for way too early and watch the Oscar nominations live, like the film nerds we are. We then stumble to our computers and in blind outrage and pure jubilation, give some quick reactionary thoughts on the nominees. Let’s dive into the major categories, shall we?

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

“The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh

CODY: Most of these nominations were expected, except for “The Big Sick,” which much to my personal delight makes the cut. This award is very likely to go to Martin McDonagh, who missed out on best director.

KIKO: If I had a vote, I would’ve given a nom to Paul Thomas Anderson for “Phantom Thread,” but nothing happened out of the ordinary in this category. Glad to see Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon get a nod for putting their real-life on display for “The Big Sick.”

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

“Call Me by Your Name,” James Ivory
“The Disaster Artist,” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
“Logan,” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green
“Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin
“Mudbound,” Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

CODY: Hot damn, “Logan” gets rewarded in a completely unexpected nomination. It’s certainly well-deserved, but it is always a huge surprise to see comic book fare wind up on the nomination list. This category also sees the lone nomination for “The Disaster Artist” (more on that later). “Call Me By Your Name” should win this pretty easily.

KIKO: “Logan” getting this nomination is HUGE. Well deserved, since, in my opinion, it’s the best superhero movie ever made. I wasn’t big on “Mudbound” at all, so I would’ve rather have seen that nom go to anything else.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”

CODY: The 5th spot was always going to be a toss up between Holly Hunter and Lesley Manville and the Academy went with Manville in a morning that trended upward for “Phantom Thread” as a whole. This category was once a battle between Allison Janney and Laurie Metcalf, but Janney seems to be running away with it.

KIKO: Not too many people saw Lesley Manville getting an Oscar nomination for “Phantom Thread,” but I was one of the few who had her in my final five. The Mary J. Blige nomination boggles my mind. That space should’ve gone to Holly Hunter for “The Big Sick.” And very happy that the cringe-worthy performance by Hong Chau in “Downsizing” was forgotten.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”
Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World”
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

CODY: Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell each get a nomination for “Three Billboards” which is very well deserved, as it was once thought that they may split votes. Willem Dafoe gets the days lone nomination for “The Florida Project,” and Christopher Plummer gets nominated for nine days of work, replacing Kevin Spacey in “All The Money in the World.” I would have much rather seen either Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg here instead of Plummer, but oh well. Expect Rockwell to continue his mad dash towards the Oscar.

KIKO: I agree with Cody. I would rather have seen Michael Stuhlbarg for “Call Me By Your Name” get this nomination over Plummer. Actually, I would rather have seen Patrick Stewart get the nom for “Logan,” but that wasn’t going to happen. I really want Dafoe to win this, but Rockwell is winning everything!

BEST ACTRESS

Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Meryl Streep, “The Post”

CODY: As we’ve learned in previous years, never, ever, ever bet against Meryl Streep. This top 5 had been cemented for a while, so no surprises here. Frances McDormand has very well deservedly been taking home the prize at virtually every award show. I don’t expect that to change.

KIKO: No surprises here. This was the easiest category to predict even though Jessica Chastain was peeking in from the sixth spot to see if Streep was going to trip up at the last minute. But, come on, it’s Streep. She’s the one Idiot in Chief Trump called “overrated” last year. Hahaha. Don’t ever doubt Streep.

BEST ACTOR

Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”

CODY: The controversy surrounding James Franco broke close to the end of final voting for Oscar nominations and many people wondered if it would sink his chances. He was once seen as a pretty strong lock for a nomination and is now left out of a nomination. As a result, Daniel Kaluuya sneaks in, as does Denzel Washington in a movie that very few people liked. The most exciting inclusion is that of Timothee Chalamet, who was fantastic in “Call Me By Your Name.” Regardless of all this, Gary Oldman is your 100% iron clad lock of the night.

KIKO: Washington for “Roman,” really? Looks like the Franco controversy caught up to him. Doesn’t matter. Oldman is going home with the Oscar this year. And he really, really, really wants it.

BEST DIRECTOR

“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro

CODY: Christopher Nolan finally breaks through! Very well-deserved. The biggest surprise here by far is the inclusion of Paul Thomas Anderson for “Phantom Thread,” which comes from out of nowhere and leap frogs some other strong contenders. Greta Gerwig also becomes only the 5th woman to be nominated for best director. In earlier years, when best picture/best director were completely interlocked, this may have spelled disaster for “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri.” But the times have changed, and the film could go the way of Ben Affleck/”Argo,” winning best picture without a best director nomination. This category will be a true toss up on Oscar night, but my early money is on Guillermo del Toro for “The Shape of Water.”

KIKO: Paul Thomas Anderson is my God. Paul Thomas Anderson is my God. Paul Thomas Anderson is my God. Paul Thomas Anderson is my God. Paul Thomas Anderson is my God. With that said, the best directed film this year was “Dunkirk,” so it’s great to see Nolan finally make it in.

BEST PICTURE

“Call Me by Your Name”
“Darkest Hour”
“Dunkirk”
“Get Out”
“Lady Bird”
“Phantom Thread”
“The Post”
“The Shape of Water”
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

CODY: We get nine out of a possible ten nominees here, with a few surprises. “Get Out” subverts genre expectations and is nominated for best picture. “Darkest Hour,” a film with a tepid, yet solid response gets rewarded, and “Phantom Thread” sneaks in as well. This category is also a toss up, though at this point feels like a two horse race between “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “The Shape of Water.” Early lead to “Three Billboards.”

KIKO: “Get Out” is the first “horror” film to get nominated for Best Picture since “The Silence of the Lambs,” which won the award in 1991. I really have a sneaky suspicion that it could win, too. But “Three Billboards,” even without a director’s nom, and “The Shape of Water” seem poised to do some damage. And would you look at at that – “Phantom Thread.” Paul Thomas Anderson is my God.

Cody’s final thoughts:

The biggest winners of the day are “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri,” which seem to be in a showdown for best picture. A lot of credit should also go to “Get Out” and “Lady Bird,” for pulling out some big nominations. Big days were also had by a few unexpected films like “Darkest Hour” and “Phantom Thread” which the Academy turned out to like a lot more than many people thought. The nominations are diverse, which is a pleasant surprise given some of the controversy from previous years. “The Florida Project” had a pretty bad day, only getting a nomination for Dafoe. Not really sure what the Academy didn’t like, but this film really faded fast, despite love from critics groups. There weren’t a ton of huge surprises and I can’t really think of anyone who was completely snubbed, which is staggering for Oscar morning. There were a lot of weak categories and obvious choices, and the stars seem to be aligning for a lot of categories.

Kiko’s final thoughts:

I hate the word “snub” but the biggest snub of the day was probably James Franco not getting nominated for “The Disaster Artist.” Who knows how the controversy factored in, but my guess is that whichever Oscar voters waited till the last minute to turn in their ballot probably scratched him off pretty quickly once news hit that there were allegations of sexual misconduct against him. Visit Oscars.com for a list of all the nominees. A quick few last thoughts about some of those:

  • “The Boss Baby” and “Ferdinand” getting Oscar noms is just ridiculous. That’s what happens when you change the rules for Best Feature Animation.
  • “Jane” got left out of Best Documentary? Yikes. No one saw that coming.
  • Only one nomination for “The Florida Project,” my favorite film of 2017? Sigh.
  • John Williams getting a nomination for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” instead of “The Post” is questionable.

Call Me By Your Name

January 19, 2018 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg
Directed by: Luca Guadagnino (“A Bigger Splash”)
Written by: James Ivory (“Maurice”)

As the calendar turns to a new year and the quality of box office options are about the plummet, the one savior is the slow roll of award-worthy films slowly leaking their way to wider releases. Next up for audiences is the highly-acclaimed love story “Call Me By Your Name.”

In the Summer of 1983, Elio (Timothee Chalamet) is in Italy with his parents. His father, who is a college professor, has a student intern named Oliver (Armie Hammer) come to live with them in their summer home. As Elio shows Oliver around town and spends time with him socially, he begins to realize that he has deeper feelings for him. As he expresses this, he finds out that Oliver may feel the same way as the two head down the path of summer love.

The acting is across the board phenomenal, but much of the credit deserves to go the Chalamet, who plays the part to perfection. The role calls for much internal conflict and Chalamet has a piercing empty stare that is simultaneously expressionless and emotes deep agony. Beyond that, he’s magnetic and endlessly likeable, two qualities that will serve him well in almost any role in what is sure to be a bright future. Hammer, for his part, is great as well, as the confident Oliver. In a relatively low-key role, veteran actor Michael Stuhlbarg plays Oliver’s father. It’s a role that is solid throughout, but absolutely comes to life in a monologue later in the movie that is, hands down, the best scene of the movie and possibly the best bit of acting of Stuhlbarg’s career.

The ever evolving relationship between Elio and Oliver is at the center of the film and takes a more slow-burn approach. This allows for the film’s earlier moments to showcase gorgeous views of Italy and all of the care-free summer activities it has to offer. Even though they drift apart for various reasons (some of them intentional), Elio and Oliver eventually find themselves drawn back to one another, which is where the film takes off. The film almost takes a different tone altogether at that point, switching from a snapshot of summer life and fun to the intricacies and courtship of a new relationship, especially one which features so much self-discovery.

So often in modern “forbidden” love stories, the relationships feel more lustful than full of love and thus the films emotional moments feel unearned. That is not the case with “Call My By Your Name.” Perhaps it’s the slow build and push and pull of Elio and Oliver’s relationship, but there is not one false note between them in the entire movie. Sure, their sense of attraction is palpable, and there is plenty of sexual discovery, but their sense of true connection is even more powerful as the relationship feels less like a summer fling and more like two souls uniting. Elio and Oliver’s relationship is almost doomed to fail just by design and circumstances. There is something intrinsically beautiful, however, about two people who put their entire beings into a relationship they know can’t work. That pure display is exactly why “Call Me By Your Name” is a transcendent love story.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

November 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan
Directed by
: Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster”)
Written by: Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster”) and Efthymis Philipou (“The Lobster”)

With his 2015 film “The Lobster,” writer and director Yorgos Lanthimos established himself as a creative force. With a fascinating premise and surrealist world building, the script was nominated for an Academy Award and firmly put him on the radar of film fans yearning for something cerebral and exciting. With another great premise, Lanthimos’ “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” continues the trend of high-level creativity and firmly plants him as a true talent to watch.

As a skilled cardiologist, Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) has a successful career, an ophthalmologist wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and two great kids. But there is something lurking in his mostly hidden relationship with an odd, but seemingly harmless teenager named Martin (Barry Keoghan). As their relationship comes to the surface, Martin reveals earth-shattering information that may change the course of Murphy’s life, along with the rest of his family.

One of the things that Lanthimos did that made “The Lobster” easy to crack into despite its outlandish premise is create a universe in which its idiosyncrasies were the norm. Everyone talked in stilted speech with quick basic sentences and an underlying level of social awkwardness. The same technique is employed with “Sacred Deer,” which allows the film to be rooted in somewhat of an alternate universe where everyone talks differently and really strange things happen.

It’s easy to see how some audience members may confuse Farrell’s performance in both films, for example, to be simplistic and odd. In reality, Farrell is giving a fantastic performance that helps establish the setting. The revelation in this film, however, is Keoghan who gives a super creepy and darkly funny performance.

The narrative itself, while not as creative as “The Lobster,” still works pretty well as an updated take on a classic tragedy, provided you are able to buy in. It may not have a terrible amount to say metaphorically but it is well paced, features great tension and is fascinating to watch play out, even if you have an idea of where the story is going.

With the amount of by the numbers, run of the mill storytelling that happens every week at the theater, anyone doing something different is a breath of fresh air. Lanthimos clearly has a warped sense of humor and a keen eye for story telling that is absurd and fantastical while remaining intimate and grounded. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” may not be one of the better films of the year, but its certainly one of the purest forms of an artist distilling his singular vision into a unique movie going experience.

Battle of the Sexes

September 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough
Directed by
: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (“Little Miss Sunshine”)
Written by: Simon Beaufoy (“Slumdog Millionaire”)

With a story as relevant today as it was in 1973, it’s easy to see how a dramatic portrayal the Battle of the Sexes tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs could strike a chord and bring to the forefront the relevancy of the lack of equality between men and women in areas from respect, to wages, and how those battles are still being fought today. It’s a shame that the film has no interest in doing that.

In protest of the pay gap between men and women for tennis tournaments, Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) breaks from the professional tennis association and forms her own tennis circuit that tours the country. Meanwhile, tennis hustler and former champion Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) is struggling to pay off debts and deal with a gambling addiction. In an effort to drum up money and publicity, Riggs devises a plan: to take on King in a tennis match to determine the superior gender.

Though Stone and Carell are certainly good in the film, both suffer from a lack of well written characters. Carell’s Riggs is particularly one-dimensional and never fully feels like a fleshed out character. Instead, he seems like a desperate man who is either drunk or perpetually out of it, trying to drum up controversy for a big pay day. King, on the other hand, is subdued and struggling internally with her sexuality. It’s certainly an interesting take, and a complex story, yet it somehow feels out of place given the setting and early design of the film.

Rather than focusing on the pivotal Battle of the Sexes tennis match and the events that led up to it, screenwriter Simon Beaufoy chose to frame the movie through following a love-triangle of sorts, with King struggling to maintain her marriage with a man, while becoming involved with a woman. So much screen time is devoted to this plot line, that it’s almost easy to forget what movie you are watching. Stone and Andrea Riseborough are good here, but the film never really commits to this relationship hard enough to feel like a movie about King’s sexual awakening.

The biggest problem, however, is the way in which it treats the driving force behind the match itself, which is the attitude of Riggs and his persistent attitude that men are superior to women. By treating Riggs’ sexism as a publicity stunt to promote a tennis match, “Battle of the Sexes” severely undercuts any and all impact it makes as a statement of inequality. There is no context or worse, consequence, to any of his sexist statements or chauvinist attitudes and, subsequently, it all comes across as one big joke. It’s made even worse by having King partake in the publicity frenzy, having fun with Riggs and focused in her own world which makes her moment of catharsis completely unearned.

But beyond that, “Battles of the Sexes” is just a dull film that is more interested in telling a lustful love story than it is talking about equality, gender gaps or even tennis. The tone never sets in comfortably, leaving the film feeling disjointed and dispassionate. Worst of all, in a time where this story could draw a striking parallel to present day issues, it takes a route that virtually ensures that can’t be done. Ultimately, “Battle of the Sexes” feels like a missed opportunity.

May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers

September 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Directed by: Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio
Starring: Scott Avett, Seth Avett

Early on in “May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers,” mega-producer Rick Rubin discusses how traditionally, when bands are comprised of siblings, they tend to hate each other. Obvious omission of Oasis aside, Rubin’s point remains that the closeness of working together and the struggle for creative control can break bonds as thick as blood. Throughout the film, however, we see what Rubin means firsthand, as the Avett Brothers are clearly the exception to the rule.

Directed by comedy producer/director extrodainnare, Judd Apatow as well as Michael Bonfiglio, “May It Last” chronicles the writing, production and release of the Avett Brothers’ 2016 album True Sadness.

As far as music documentaries go, there isn’t a lot of conflict. Band members aren’t screaming at each other or talking behind each others backs, nobody is getting kicked out, and there’s no debauchery to be found. Instead what we see is a peak behind the curtain of not only the Avett family, but the creation of a new album from the ground up. Some of the best studio footage shows the Avett’s working through new songs, suggesting lyrics to each other and organically creating. It’s a really interesting look at how songs are composed and evolve from an idea, to laying them down on the album, to performing them live.

From the get-go, it is clear that the Avett’s are the type who wear their hearts on their sleeves. For better or worse, what they are feeling is expressed through their music, and the band feeds off of catharsis. It is these moments, where the Avett’s open up, that are what makes the film truly special.

Seth, for example, explores the depths of heartache and despair following his divorce in a traditional sounding and extremely catchy song “Divorce Separation Blues.” The best sequence of the film, however, comes during the recording of the song “No Hard Feelings.” The entire take of the recording unfolds, with pure feeling oozing out of Seth and Scott. When the take ends, Seth in particular is emotionally drained as the brothers are complimented on how great the song is. What follows is a fascinating conversation between Seth, Scott, and the man behind the camera about the uncomfortable conflict with being congratulated for completing a song that was born of suffering. It’s an entirely new perspective on music in general that is worth the price of admission alone.

There are times that “May It Last” feels more like a behind-the-scenes companion piece that may be included with their new album. But as the film evolves, it is clear that audiences are getting a uniquer glimpse into the creative process of two immensely talented artists with a singular vision and a gift for expression. Existing fans of the Avett Brothers may get a bit more out of it, but “May It Last” stands on its own as a successful foray into why music, and especially deeply personal music, is so important.

Step

August 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Paula Dofat, Blessin Giraldo, Cori Grainger
Directed by: Amanda Lipitz (debut)

One of the more complicated things in the world of documentary filmmaking is being able to not only make your subjects, topics and narratives interesting to watch, but to also be able to give them enough context to be impactful on multiple levels. With “Step,” director Amanda Lipitz takes a seemingly singular subject matter, a high school step dancing team, and deftly explores the socio-economic and political undertone surrounding its events.

As an all girls school in Baltimore, Maryland, The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women has one goal in mind: for all of its attendees to be accepted into and graduate from college. Though academics are of utmost importance, for many girls, the step dancing (chants and vocals mixed in with creating percussive sounds with body movements like stomping or slapping) team is the primary outlet of artistic expression, frustration, and camaraderie. Through the eyes of several subjects, the school year is documented as some girls thrive and some girls struggle to find their next step in life.

When viewing “Step,” it’s hard to not pull parallels to 2011 Oscar winning documentary “Undefeated.” Like the football players in Manassas, this step dancing team is one of the only outlets for these girls. With the stresses of school, energy and emotion comes pouring out during practices and competitions and you can see the passion in every movement. Beyond that, their education is, for some, the only way out of not only the town that could be holding them back, but the cyclical nature of family history. Many of these girls are the first in their families to go to college, and some of the most effective scenes of the film show the gravity of just how important breaking this educational barrier is.

There are also subjects who run themselves ragged for these kids, often times when the students don’t quite understand not only the gravity of the situation, but the ways in which they are being helped. These counselors, coaches, teachers and parents are often brought to tears with the possibility that some of these girls maybe prone to getting in their own way of success, or not giving enough effort to make it into college.

“Step” is an enriching glimpse into a culture that is fiery, passionate, and at times, an expression of pent of frustration of very timely cultural and political situations. But beyond that, it’s a very humanistic story about not just the strive for excellence, but breaking cycles and going further than generations before you…all while being gracious towards the groundwork that has been laid.

Dunkirk

July 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy
Directed by: Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”)
Written by: Christopher Nolan (“Inception”)

As one of the most highly regarded filmmakers of the modern era, director Christopher Nolan’s ambition is both his biggest strength and his greatest weakness. With his ambition, Nolan conceptualized “Inception,” which explored the world of dreams and consciousness, creating an entire universe filled with painstakingly detailed ideas and a dazzling visual landscape to match. His ambition has also occasionally stifled him, such as with “Interstellar,” a generally good movie that gets far too bogged down with a convoluted third act to make any lasting impact. With his latest film, “Dunkirk,” Nolan has taken historical subject matter and while staying ambitious in certain ways, created his most restrained film yet. The results, like most of Nolan’s work, are spectacular.

Telling the story of the largest retreat in military history from allied forces in World War II, the film unfolds with a trio of timelines, one taking place by land over a week span, one by sea over a day span, and one by air over an hour span. It is the most noticeable narrative quality, evoking Nolan’s non-linear storytelling from “Memento,” though not nearly as radical. The results of this narrative structure pay off immensely. Through this device, Nolan is not only able to shift in and out between different perspectives, but he is able to create an immense amount of tension. Nail-biting moments may begin over one timeline and the audience not see a resolution until the timelines intersect. It’s the type of higher level thinking that Nolan has made his signature and really allows him to put a new perspective on a war movie.

While none may stand out, every one of the timelines are solid in their own right and serve their purpose. The land segments, bolstered by unknown actor Fionn Whitehead as Tommy are really able to show the desperation of the soldiers trapped at Dunkirk. Even as he tries to sneak his way just to survive, the soldiers seem to be foiled at every turn as sitting ducks to the enemy. With the sea segments, Nolan is able to use fantastic actor Mark Rylance to display the courage of a regular citizen insisting on taking his own boat rather than having it be commandeered to rescue troops. Finally, with the air segments, Nolan utilizes the films most notable actor, Tom Hardy, to display the heroism from fighter pilots who were some of the only protection the soldiers had.

From a visual standpoint, Nolan has created another masterpiece. The air segments feature impressive aerial shots, especially from cameras mounted on planes that feature the vast oceans below. Even on regular screens (the film did not screen for critics on the much lauded 70mm IMAX), the scope of “Dunkirk” is massive. But beyond just visual marvels and beautiful constructed shots, the audio of “Dunkirk” is wildly immersive. Gunshots in the opening segment and the unexpected ones throughout the film are jolting, creating visceral intensity and tension. There is also an unsettlingly taut score from Hans Zimmer, doing his best work in years. Make no mistake, “Dunkirk” is loud, but with the chaos going on around, it feels like a necessity.

Perhaps as a result of the timeline jumps, leaving characters in one place and picking up with others, the only thing that “Dunkirk” truly feels like its missing is stronger emotional ties to its characters. Still, it can’t help but feel like a nitpick when the movie, despite having traditional heroes to really latch onto, still generates plenty of emotion. With “Dunkirk,” Nolan has created nothing less than a cinematic marvel. It’s visually breathtaking, ambitious and stirring. In other words, it’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from Christopher Nolan.

Kumail Nanjiani & Emily Gordon – The Big Sick

July 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

In “The Big Sick,” comedian and actor Kumail Nanjiani and his wife and co-writer Emily Gordon dramatize their real-life love story, which is a little unusual.

After dating for several months, Emily wound up in a medically-induced coma to fight an infection. In the film, Kumail must navigate this stressful situation while trying to cope with his family, who want him to follow Pakistani traditions with an arranged marriage, and the stress dealing with Emily’s parents.

Kumail and Emily sat down with us to talk about maintaining a comedic tone in a dramatic situation, the screen-writing process, and the importance of culture in film.

Was it surreal at all for your movie to open with an Elijah Wood joke with Elijah Wood there in the theater watching?

Kumail Nanjiani: I had forgotten and we knew Elijah was sitting right behind us. As that scene was happening I was like, “Ohhh no!”

Emily Gordon: We were both just covering our faces.

KN: Then I turned around and mouthed, “I’m sorry” to him.

EG: He took it like a champ. We actually had more dialogue there where the response was, “No, he lives in Austin most of the time” and we cut all that out. We should have put back in just for this.

KN: He was literally right behind us.

With a movie like this, obviously tone is one of the most important things about it. You’ve seen movies like “50/50” tackle cancer with a humorous tone. How did you strike the balance with tone and what were some of the things you were most concerned about?

EG: I think we were very concerned that if we had too much fun that people would think that we were making light of this girl who is sick the entire time. I think we always wanted to make sure to remind the audience that we’re not forgetting about her. Don’t forget about her either. What was cool is that we didn’t really realize that when you have any scenes in a hospital, even if you’re not directly seeing a girl that’s in a coma, you can’t stop thinking about it. We would write scenes that were set in a hospital that were just about talking about medical stuff but we realized that as long as you’re seeing the hospital, you know whats going on. So we were able to write scenes that were in the hospital that we’re a little more fun and deviated a little bit because the work is already being done by the scenery and that’s stuff that we didn’t think about while we were writing.

KN: The tone thing is important because we always wanted to make sure that with the reality of Emily being sick, that the comedy didn’t feel unreal. But also that there was enough comedy. The scene right after she gets put in the coma and I use her thumb to unlock her phone, I think that makes people feel safe. They’ve seen something very intense happen, certainly the movie has taken a turn. That little joke signals to the audience that, “Hey, this is still the same movie. It’s still going to be funny. It’s obviously more intense now, but don’t worry, it’s still a comedy.” I think that little joke plays so well because it’s a relief for the audience.

EG: We would calibrate it as we were editing the movie and we would move scenes slightly to make sure that we’re keeping the movie aloft in the zone we wanted it to be in. I think (director) Michael Showalter is so good with tone.

KN: Judd (Apatow, producer) obviously, too, but we did so many edits of this movie and Judd would be like, “Alright, this scene needs a funny joke in here, so find some version where we can get one big laugh in this scene.” He would give us a lot of assignments like that. There’s a scene with my whole family towards the end of the movie, with me at the dinner table, and that’s where he was like, “It’s going to be a moving scene, but it’s also gotta be funny.” We realized that we could actually put in a lot more jokes than we thought. We did an edit of the movie that was great and he was like, “The movie needs 20 more great jokes, so put in 50 more jokes and we’ll figure out which 20 to keep.” So, we did that. We put in 40 jokes, 20 of them worked in front of an audience, so we kept 20 of them and suddenly the movie had 20 more jokes in it.

In terms of joke writing versus producing a screenplay, what did you find as the differences between joke writing, which you’ve done before as a stand-up, and screenplay writing with story beats and everything?

KN: What was interesting is that you realize the higher the stakes, the funnier the joke is going to be. So, actually, we realized that if we have jokes in there that are funny, that are in character, that are in the right situation, you can get really, really big laughs just because the stakes are so high. In stand-up, you’re starting each story and the stakes as you go, and you have to be super funny, but in a movie like this, as long as the reality level is good, the jokes will work much bigger than they would in a pure comedy. Just because it’s a release of tension. We did so many drafts of this movie and when we would shoot, we would have the older version of jokes, too, so we could try other versions and put them in front of an audience and see which ones worked better.

When you’re writing something that is as deeply personal and traumatic, for both of you, how do you handle the urge to overshare or the idea of pulling back because it is too personal?

EG: I think you try to put as much as you can out initially and then go back and see what feels like too much. When you’re reading it, what would you not want the world to see? I kept thinking, “If I don’t want even Michael Showalter to read this, then I definitely don’t want the world to see it.” So, that’s a version of it. But then you find that there’s more that you’re comfortable with than you realize. I think it can be self-indulgent to do a real overshare. So, this was always in service of the story, more so than the shock value of what it’s like to be in a coma. I think that was really important for us and a litmus test for us, too.

KN: We weren’t using the shock value of the coma. In fact, that was a big obstacle for us.

EG: I still have people make coma jokes to me and I’m like, “You don’t get to make a coma joke to me.”

KN: We have that in the movie! And she goes, “That’s too soon, dad.”

EG: When Ray (Romano) suggested that, I said, “It’s too soon, Ray. But do it in the scene! Please, let’s do that!”

Culturally speaking, you’ve seen some advancement in some aspects in movies, but very rarely have you seen Muslim culture taking center stage. Can you talk about the importance of putting the culture front and center?

KN: I don’t think that this movie in and of itself is really important in any way except that I think it’s important to have different kinds of stories about every group in the world. You can obviously see that there’s a lot of Jewish humor around, but there isn’t that much Muslim humor around. I think this story is only important in the sense that it shows a Muslim family being like a human American family that loves each other and has fun and has its own problems. I think we’re starting to see more points of view. I think “Get Out” really articulated some racial…

EG: Stuff?

KN: Yeah, I was trying to think of another word than stuff. It’s been a long day of talking. But like racial…I’m gonna find a better word than stuff.

EG: Do you want me to say stuff while you’re thinking of the word? I have never seen a family speaking Urdu on TV or in a movie that wasn’t to plan a terrorist attack. That bummed me out. I, as an outsider…half of my family is Muslim now, and I get to see them having fun and I get to see them in a way where I realize, “Oh, I’ve never seen this represented on television or in the media at all.” That really bummed me out. It was important to me that we see a Muslim family having fun. We always have this joke that I want to start a Tumblr called “Muslims Having Fun” because I see it all the time and other people don’t and I feel like I’m privy to this cool little world that other people don’t know of. I wanted to make sure family spoke Urdu in the movie and I wanted to make sure that they were a fun family. I think that was really important to both of us, but that’s been a thing that I’ve seen that I’ve realized most White people don’t ever see. Did you think of the word?

KN: I think “Get Out” really articulated some racial stuff about America. (laughs)

EG: (laughs)

KN: I was just wrapped up in what you were saying. I didn’t think of it. I think hopefully what that movie shows is not just that people are making stuff with other points of view but that people also want to see them.

EG: People are making money!

KN: Yeah, that’s the most important thing. If new viewpoints are commercially viable then we’re going to see more of them. I think that’s why movies like “Get Out” or “Hidden Figures” are important, because they are financially successful.

EG: And “Moonlight” for God’s sake.

KN: “Moonlight,” yeah. They’re successful movies from different points of view.

EG: The idea that we could be grouped with any of those, which we just grouped ourselves in with them, but the idea that they could…

KN: I didn’t, you did. I’m hoping that there’s an audience for our movie as well.

It Comes at Night

June 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo
Directed by: Trey Edward Shults (“Krisha”)
Written by: Trey Edward Shults (“Krisha”)

Post-apocalyptic films have always been a source of intrigue, but recent years have shown a different take on them. While many films in the past have focused on the catastrophic event itself, contemporary films have experimented with deeply intimate and passionate narratives in the wake of these events, instead choosing to focus on the character influence and even ignoring the cause of the event itself. It’s a great way to tell a personal story, and has allowed independent filmmakers to tell a big story on a small scale. It’s perhaps fitting, that indie filmmaker Trey Edward Shults (“Krisha”) takes the idea of a post apocalyptic landscape and creates a moody, tense thriller with his sophomore effort “It Comes at Night.”

Keeping to just his wife and his teenage son, Paul (Joel Edgerton) fights to protect his family from an unknown threat outdoors that has made everyone sick and wiped out the population. When he finds a man Will (Christopher Abbott) in his home, he meets with his family who agrees to allow him to bring his wife and young son to live with them in exchange for food. As the family dynamics change, events begin to make both Paul and Will leery of each other as paranoia sets in and nobody can be trusted.

Though the title, trailers and marketing may suggest that the film is a horror, “It Comes at Night” feels far more like a psychological thriller than anything else. There are some moments of horror with disturbing imagery and a couple of cheap jump scares, but the film is truly effective in its ability to build tension.

The film is boosted by its performances, primarily that of Edgerton and to a slightly lesser extent, Abbott. Edgerton, in particular, plays his role with a sense of desperation that makes his character feel capable of doing anything for the sake of protecting his family. The tension doesn’t necessarily come from the looming threat outside, but rather what is going on inside closed doors and what truths will be unveiled.

It’s also a very well made film from a technical standpoint. It features beautiful cinematography from Drew Daniels that really helps set the tone and mood for the film. It’s well edited, well performed, and for the direction from Trey Edward Shults successfully creates a fully believable post-apocalyptic landscape.

When digging deeper, however, “It Comes at Night” fails to find much below surface level. Thematically, there’s nothing overtly present that makes the film stand out in any significant way. It’s technically sound and is certainly intense at times, but other than creating mood and atmosphere, very little about the film resonates.

Shults is a name to watch out for and has created a thriller full of mystery, intrigue and slow-burning intensity. It feels, however, like a missed opportunity to create something deeper and more meaningful. Instead, “It Comes at Night” plays as an above average thriller about how desperation and protection can push a man to the brink and awaken hidden horrors.

Chuck

May 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Elizabeth Moss
Directed by: Philippe Falardeau (“The Good Lie”)
Written by: Jeff Feuerzeig (debut) and Jerry Stahl (“Bad Boys II”)

Even though its prominence and national interest has waned in favor of MMA in recent years, there seems to be an everlasting connection to the cinematic world and boxing. Perhaps it is because boxing has seen so many of its prominent figures rise and fall, which makes for a good narrative. Or, more likely, perhaps it is that “Rocky” set the bar for sports films so high that boxing films will always be timeless comparisons. It is fitting, perhaps, that the latest entry into the genre is a biopic of Chuck Wepner, the man who, allegedly, inspired Sylvester Stallone to write “Rocky.”

In 1975, boxer Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber) gets the opportunity of a life time: to fight the heavyweight champion of the World, Muhammed Ali. As a huge underdog, Wepner goes 15 rounds with Ali and is seconds away from going the distance. This performance turns Wepner into a local folk hero, and Wepner must do all he can to keep his family intact while turning down a path of drugs and women.

Without question, “Chuck” serves as a showcase for Schreiber who gives a fantastic performance. Wepner is a character who absorbs and loves the fame, as small scale as it is, but also has an acute awareness of the façade and showmanship that goes into it. Schreiber captures this quite well, especially in scenes where he must work his way through shame and guilt over his behavior. While the supporting cast is mostly good, nobody is on screen long enough to make much of a difference one way or another. Elizabeth Moss is probably the best of the bunch, and far-underutilized.

One of the more interesting aspects of “Chuck” is that the most formative event of Wepner’s life is a stepping stone to more story, rather than a climax. Wepner’s famous fight with Ali takes place relatively early on in the film with very little build up. It’s an admirable decision from screenwriters Jeff Feuerzeig and Jerry Stahl to not center the movie around that one big fight, as it may have come off as a biopic version of “Rocky.” Instead, it shows what happened in the wake, and the darker, self-destructive patterns of a man with very little self-control and the need to be admired.

That said, the movie still has some pretty generic moments. Once the debauchery starts, it’s no different than any other film where a person of prominence spirals into drugs, lets the fame get the best of them and alienates family. There’s some pretty good writing sprinkled throughout the film and the early parts of the film feature some true greatness. But “Chuck” punches itself out and staggers to the finish. Despite that, “Chuck” is still worth the price of admission for Schreiber’s excellent performance.

Their Finest

April 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy
Directed by: Lone Scherfig (“An Education”)
Written by: Gaby Chiape (debut)

Recent history has shown that the entertainment industry really loves making films about the entertainment industry. We have seen a propensity for filmmakers and storytellers to make films about the production of film, music, or other art forms, especially throughout moments of history. In “Their Finest,” a movie that is based on a novel rather than a true story, a spin on this idea is presented, with mostly strong results.

During World War II, the British military, in an effort to keep up morale and volunteers in an increasingly difficult war effort, is churning out propaganda films. In an effort to give the films a more “womanly” touch, Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) must pair up with writer Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) to create a film about the the Dunkirk evacuation. As they struggle to find the balance between providing what the military wants in a propaganda film and making the film good, personal relationships are strained and tested as they must fight to make the movie they want in the midst of war.

By far, the most impressive element of “Their Finest” is its performances. Arterton and Claflin have strong chemistry (even though their trajectory can be spotted from a mile away), with Arterton having delivering on a showcase role. The MVP of the cast, though, is international treasure Bill Nighy. Struggling with admitting that his leading man status is quickly waning, Nighy plays pompous perfectly, while nailing the nuances of a far-too-serious actor who is protecting his craft.

But while the strength of the movie lies upon its actors, there are a few things that aren’t quite up to snuff. One of the biggest problems facing “Their Finest” is the urge to tell, not show. There’s a lot of characters speaking about how great or talented someone is, talking about problems or elements of screenplays or work, but very little of it is happening on screen. Without that context, it is really hard to dig into the story and buy what they are selling. It also misses the mark when the script explains the differences between men and women in the workplace. Slight comments are made about wages, but it only seems to scratch the surface of true issues of inequality.

There are also some pretty predictable story beats, which feel as if most viewers will be able to, at the very least, figure out where the story is headed and how it’s going to get there. That isn’t to say that the narrative isn’t effective when it needs to be, it just all feels a little derivative, though performed in satisfactory ways.

The film misses a few opportunities to really make a statement about the advancement of women in the entertainment industry, though the themes of war-time fear and stress are nicely constructed. Though “Their Finest” isn’t quite the strong female-empowerment movie it wants to be, it is a well-performed, and at times well-written and well-told story.

Silence

January 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson
Directed by
: Martin Scorsese (“Goodfellas”)
Written by: Jay Cocks (“Gangs of New York”) and Martin Scorsese (“Goodfellas”)

As a film almost 30 years in the making, from one of the most prolific, respected and decorated filmmakers of his time, it’s almost impossible for Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” to not have impossibly high expectations. Sprawling, beautifully bleak and yet quietly presented, the first trailers indicated that this wasn’t your average Scorsese. As we move into the final wave of awards season films, all eyes are on Scorsese to see what exactly he has been sitting on for decades.

After the disappearance of Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), a pair of Jesuit priests, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Gariupe (Adam Driver), head to the dangerous land of Japan to track him down and to spread the word of Catholicism. As the two priests enter Japan, they see that being a Christian in Japan is a death sentence and they fight to keep the faith alive while trying find their mentor and keeping and their whereabouts a secret.

As an actor on the cusp for a while, “Silence” sees a fully realized Garfield. It’s a physical performance with a bit of weight loss, but also a sorrowful, charismatic, heartfelt and at times, humorous performance. It’s his film to carry with Neeson and Driver taking a bit of a backseat and he handles it well. Much of the rest of the cast is Japanese and very solid across the board. A lot is being made of the performance of Issey Ogata who plays the Inquisitor, and it’s valid. It’s almost strange as the performance seems hammy and cartooney yet completely works due to its commitment and darkly funny personality.

With a film this steeped in the story of priests and Catholicism, it is almost impossible to not say that what the audience takes from this film will largely depend on their own personal beliefs. At a minimum, however, the themes that can be extrapolated come down to “how far would one go to defend what they believe in?” As we watch our protagonists given time and time again to pull themselves, and those who follow them out of a situation at the expensive of selling out their believes, we see their struggle and their faiths tested. Scorsese deserves credit for not delving too far into forcing his beliefs on his audience, but the undertones are unmistakable. Is it meditative? Of course. Is it extremely religious in its themes? Absolutely.

“Silence” feels almost aggressively long, which isn’t helped by its slow pace. While much of the movie is compelling and ripe with strong performances, there are several false endings and a few check your watch moments. As a comprehensive piece, “Silence” probably falls around the middle or mid-to-lower range in Scorsese’s filmography. That isn’t to say it is a bad film on any level. It’s harrowing and challenging. It’s well performed and well written. There’s fantastic sound design and beautiful cinematography. But in the end, it remains a tough nut to crack and a little difficult to connect with on a level beyond its religiosity.

Next Page »