Saturday, July 29, 2017

Dunkirk

Director Christopher Nolan's penchant for the unorthodox ensures that his films will be challenging, if not always totally satisfying viewing. In Dunkirk, Nolan, who is best known for the Batman trilogy that starred Christian Bale, explores the fluidity of time and perspective in his telling of the valor that went into the Dunkirk beach evacuation during World War II. To me, the genius of this surprisingly compelling battle tale is the crafty way Nolan telescopes time and ratchets up the intensity while blending and overlapping viewpoints and locales. Some might argue that the möbius narrative is too clever and a bit distracting. I loved the approach and found each of the primary performances -- especially the young, gritty soldier played by Fionn Whitehead, with whom we spend most of the film -- perfectly pitched, intense without being grating, and sympathetic without being cloying.  Highly recommended.

The Big Sick

Judd Apatow's motion picture production company specializes in high calorie, goodhearted comic fare that's heavy on the cringe (see for example Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping and Trainwreck).  The Big Sick -- a wonderfully tender and outrageous film -- is not as preoccupied with sex and excretions as one's typical Apatow feature and has a pretty serious Second Act, when one of the two romantic leads becomes gravely ill. Written by the film's star Pakistani comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily Gordon, the film, based on the writers' own courtship, blends the angst of classic "mismatched" lovers with Apatow's signature masculine arrested emotional development and familial dysfunction to explore human connections and love in all of its manifestations. Nanjiani and co-star Zoe Kazan make a sweetly neurotic couple but Holly Hunter as Emily's mother is remarkable and sure to get a supporting actress nomination come awards season. Highly recommended.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Sleight

J.D. Dillard’s Sleight shares more than a passing similarity to 2015’s Dope but veers away from the story of a rising mind using the drug trade to even out his chances of success into the land of science fiction and beyond. Both films star winning, fresh faces: Shameik Moore (Malcolm in Dope) and Jacob Latimore as Bo, a street magician whose secret owes as much to STEM education as it does to his own ingenuity and mother wit. When we meet Bo, he and his sister (Storm Reid) have recently been orphaned by the death of their mother. Bo has taken over his sister’s care. He does mindbending, David Blaine-type illusions during the day and sells Molly to annoying hipsters at night. He’s also taken up with a ruthless though sartorially challenged kingpin named Angelo (a convincingly menacing Dule Hill). Bo gets a hand from a kind neighbor named Georgi (Sasheer Zamata) and finds an eager companion in a battered young waitress named Holly (Seychelle Gabriel). As he tells Georgi, he’s dealing drugs to save up enough money to get his sister out of the neighborhoood and into a better school. His plans go sideways when his involvement with Angelo takes a brutal turn and desperation leads him to make a few (more) bad decisions. Dillard has a real star in young Mr. Latimore, and his performance as Bo holds what is at its core a sincere but pretty ridiculous story together.

The Dinner

Congressman Stan Lohman (Richard Gere) and his boorish, seemingly bipolar brother, Paul (Steve Coogan), are having a five-course meal in an impossibly posh restaurant with their wives (Rebecca Hall and Laura Linney, respectively) to talk about a pressing matter just hours before a piece of legislation the congressman is promoting comes up for a vote. Stan Lohman is also running for governor and needs the legislative win and the resolution of an incident involving the couples’ sons if he’s to move forward. Though the food being served in Oren Moverman’s dyspeptic filmThe Dinner looks divine, the bilious bickering between the brothers and the horrific doings of their sons make for especially difficult viewing. The film has layers of sickness and dysfunction and a startlingly abrupt ending.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Young British actor Tom Holland (The City of Z) has such a sure command of the role of Peter Parker / Spider-Man that Marvel fans will undoubtedly feel safe with him. Set in that precarious world of high school rivalries and crushes, Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming merges the drama of those uncertainties with larger threats and shows the young hero – whose drive might outstrip his nascent abilities – struggling with doing the right thing for the right reason in the wrong way (perhaps). Holland is joined by high wattage co-stars Michael Keaton as the villainous Vulture, Robert Downey Jr. as Parker’s “mentor” Tony Stark / Iron Man, Marisa Tomei as Aunt May and a host of colorful younger actors that keep this clever and kinetic story about alien-arms dealers grounded in what’s important – Academic Decathlon and School Dances.

Baby Driver

British director Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) commits boatloads of exuberance, wit and musical savvy to the ridiculously entertaining Baby Driver, a film fueled by the adrenalin of its oh-so-winning cast, led by the brilliantly nimble (and preternaturally adorable) Ansel Elgort (The Fault in our Stars) and featuring Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm and Kevin Spacey. Elgort stars as the oddly monikered Baby of the title, who is the iPod-addicted getaway driver for a crew run by Spacey’s Doc. Baby is working off a debt with hopes of going straight after one last job – then he meets diner waitress Debora (a wonderful Lily James) and things get, as they say, complicated. Wright’s direction matches the precision and daring of Baby’s driving, which is breathless and thrilling. But on top of some award-worthy camera work and editing is a seamless musical storyline the likes of which I’ve not heard used in such a way in a film. If you love a good cops and robbers story and sharp, creative moviemaking, you’ll no doubt find Baby Driver quite a ride. And you’ll want the soundtrack, without question.

John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum

Interestingly, even though Chad Stahelski's John Wick: Chapter 3 —Parabellum delivers deliciously brutal set pieces where our hero (K...