Movie review: The Big Sick

Brief synopsis: A Pakistani-American man and a Caucasian-American woman fall (reluctantly) in love. When Emily suffers a life-threatening illness, Kumail meets her parents and struggles to reconcile his family obligations with his love for Emily.

This appears to be a semi-autobiographical movie based on the lives of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon (the co-writers). For those of you who are fans of the television show 
“Silicon Valley,” Nanjiani plays the character of Dinesh.

Jim and I were pleasantly surprised at the movie’s excellence. It is funny, sad, and moving and deals with the cross-cultural assimilation aspects of an immigrant family, which really resonated with me. (My favorite line is when Kumail asks his parents, “Why did we come here if you didn’t want me to have an American life?”).

Holly Hunter and Ray Romano portray Emily’s parents. Their evolving relationship with Kumail is the most emotionally complex relationship of the movie. (The poor actress who plays Emily—Zoe Kazan—is in a coma for a good portion of the movie.) All four actors play their roles with nuance and delicacy and a light touch that prevents the movie from sinking into cliche.

The only criticism I have of the movie is that the pacing was a bit uneven. There were definitely some parts that moved rather slowly. Overall, however, this was a small gem of a movie, and both Jim and I highly recommend it!


Movie review: Jason Bourne

I love the Bourne series of movies. I love its anti-government, conspiracy theory nature. I even love “The Bourne Legacy,” which most people don’t. I adore Jeremy Renner, and the character growth of the female lead in that movie isn’t something you see in a lot of in action movies (see also “The Terminator” and “The Peacemaker”).

However, I may have to make an exception for the latest installment in the series. Oh, sure, there are still the highly thrilling fight scenes and the fast-paced action sequences. And there are actually plot twists, kind of (miracle of miracles). In addition, the acting of the secondary characters is solid if not extraordinary. But (and this is a big BUT), I don’t go see Bourne movies for angst. (If I wanted to see angst, I’d go see some chick movie. Not my thing.) And there was way too much angst in this movie. Jason Bourne is either a killer or he’s not. The government is either covering up some illicit program or it’s not. But to angst about either of these things is a waste of good celluloid.

The family opinion was split. Jim doesn’t like action movies to begin with (he only goes to indulge me) and was appalled at the collateral damage in this one. The daughter thinks Matt Damon is hot and loves angst so liked the movie very much. This was the son’s first Bourne movie, and he did not care at all for the herky jerky filming style.

Next time someone proposes another installment of the Bourne series, I recommend returning to the government conspiracy theory plots (and to come up with an original one). In the meantime, I’ll go back to being on Team Cap and wait for the next Avengers movie.

Movie review: Finding Dory

We were fortunate enough to be able to attend an advance screening of the latest Pixar movie, “Finding Dory.” (Thank you to Disney for donating the item to a Children’s National fundraising event!)

Jim and I are both fans of “Finding Nemo” and actually thought the emotional resonance of that movie was one of its many strengths. (But our son was born with a club foot, so we could definitely relate to Nemo’s bad fin.)

Thirteen years later, “Finding Dory” is Dory’s quest to find her parents. There are a few cameo appearances by Crush and the other sea turtles and a nice introduction/summary of “Finding Nemo” for those who haven’t seen it, but this is definitely Dory’s movie. Marvin and Nemo play strong supporting roles. But Hank, a mimic septupus, steals the movie. Voiced by Ed O’Neill (from “Modern Family” and “Married with Children”), he once again plays the curmudgeonly character with the heart of gold. Even more impressive is the animation that was required to give life to Hank. As the Disney representative explained to us, octopuses have no joints, which makes animation extremely difficult because there’s no joint to hang the motion off of. (They slither more than they move.) It took two years before the animators figured out a way to animate that movement. And each scene where you see Hank with all seven legs took months to animate. As a mimic septupus, Hank has to blend into his surroundings but still be obviously him—a tricky feat at the best of times and an added complexity to the animation.

All of this is fascinating, of course, but has nothing to do with Pixar’s real strength, which is storytelling. I think anyone who knows a parent of or a child with special needs will relate to this movie, as Dory’s parents worry about her future, as Dory copes with her limitations and moves forward despite them, and as Dory’s friends appreciate her very real strengths. The movie ends happily, of course (it is a Pixar movie, after all!) but not without plenty of obstacles, tears, and emotionally fraught moments. It is a worthy member of the Pixar family.

This movie received an enthusiastic thumbs up from all of us, and we are definitely going to go see it again!

P.S. Two notes: the short before the movie, “Piper,” is a definite must-see, so don’t be late when you go see the movie. And, second, the actor who originally voiced Nemo has a cameo role in this movie. (He obviously couldn’t voice Nemo again because in the 13 years between movies, his voice changed!)

Movie review: Captain America: Civil War

I have a soft spot for movies with lots of explosions and (cartoon) violence.  I also have a soft spot for Disney.  And a soft spot for the Marvel movies.  And a *definite* soft spot for Jeremy Renner.  So when you have a movie that contains all of those elements AND adds an extra element of whether government oversight is a good thing or not, it’s enough to warm the cockles of my libertarian heart.

It’s also interesting (and wonderful) to see the Captain America movies improve with every installment.  I thought the original Captain America movie highly mediocre, but “The Winter Soldier” was a pretty good movie, and “Civil War” is excellent.  For those of us who have invested emotional capital in the Avengers characters, it’s a bit heartbreaking to see the divisions between them.  But the division is a result of a fundamental philosophical issue where reasonable minds can disagree, and so it’s an understandable rift.  And you know it’s an important philosophical issue when “The Economist” opines on it in its review of the movie (wrongly, in my humble opinion).  ☺  (It’s also completely in character for Steve Rogers and Tony Stark to almost reach an understanding and then divide again when Tony Stark overreaches himself.  That was a nice narrative touch.)

The movie also introduces two new characters to the Marvel universe—Spiderman (who provides some needed comic relief but some nice action moments, too) and Black Panther, who has a nice storyline about the ramifications of vengeance as a motive.  (And is just way cool, to boot.)

Captain America: Civil War doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not.  The movie has a lot of action and is fast-moving, to the point where some of the secondary characters don’t get a lot of screen time (ahem, such as Hawkeye).  But there is surprising depth to this movie, with its philosophical conundrum and character development.  Ultimately, it’s an excellent addition to the Marvel universe.  (And if you haven’t seen it yet, there are 2 codas to the movie, so don’t miss either one.)

The movie gets a thumbs up from the entire family.

Movie review: Spectre

Spectre has a difficult act to follow (besides being spelled the odd British way).  Skyfall (the previous movie) was generally recognized as one of the best James Bond movies, certainly of recent vintage.  Spectre is a solid but not spectacular addition to the Bond series.  The plot is interesting in the sense that you see a little bit more of Bond’s past and see the emergence of Blofeld and Spectre unfold (for those who have seen the older Bond movies).  Daniel Craig is his usual suave and professional self as James Bond.  Andrew Scott (known to “Sherlock” fans as Moriarty) makes an appearance, and Ralph Fiennes reprises his role as the new M.  Oh, and my favorite, the newish Q, also makes an appearance and has a larger role than Q does most of the time.
Bond returns to driving an Aston-Martin, as he should (product placement notwithstanding).  And libertarians the world over should rejoice at the movie’s theme of over-reaching surveillance by world governments and the loss of privacy, freedom, and individual liberties.
That being said, it was a good movie—one well worth the time to watch.  The family gives it two thumbs up!

Movie review: Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

The upside (if you can call it that) of being snowed in with 30 inches of snow is that you can gather for family movie night every night of Snowzilla (as long as school is cancelled the next day, of course).  We resumed Snowzilla movie watching with Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.  I am generally a fan of the franchise, even though it’s not anything like the television series, which I loved growing up.  I am also a huge fan of Jeremy Renner but a less than huge fan of Tom Cruise, whom I tolerate because the movies have been pretty entertaining.
The best thing I can say about this movie is that it is highly mediocre.  (Actually, the best thing I can say about this movie is that Ving Rhames makes a return for (a little bit) longer than 5 minutes.)  I do wonder whether Tom Cruise was so worried that Jeremy Renner might upstage him (which he came close to doing in the last movie) that the writers carefully crafted a plot that allowed Jeremy Renner to do nothing but play the ineffective bureaucrat with no action scenes to be had.  Alex Baldwin plays a jacka— CIA director, which is probably not a huge acting stretch for him.  And most attempts at comedic dialogue in the movie fall flat.
Otherwise, the movie is a grand tribute to Tom Cruise (did I mention I wasn’t a fan?) with a limited plot and unimpressive special effects.  I will say that the best scene in the movie was the one with the British Prime Minister and contained clever dialogue and ingenious plot twists.  Other than that, the movie was completely unimpressive in every way (but not horrible, just mediocre).

Movie review: The Martian

The book is on our to-be-read list, but 30 inches of impending snowfall seemed like a good excuse to watch this movie.  And a bit to my surprise, it was excellent!  Matt Damon obviously carries the movie, although there are strong supporting performances throughout by all the actors.  (It was especially nice to see Sean Bean in a role where you were reasonably certain he was not going to die.)  Who would have thought that such a geeky concept like success in growing potatoes in your own compost would be so compelling?  Somehow, in this movie, it is.
I also like the fact that [spoiler alert] there are no casualties in this movie.  I was certain there would be when a member of the astronaut crew mentioned his child’s impending 3rd birthday.  (In most movies, that is a sure sentence of death.)  This movie managed to be suspenseful and compelling without any explosions (to speak of) and no body count.  Hollywood should take note.  (Although I do like cartoonish violent movies.)
The family gave this movie an enthusiastic two thumbs up!
Now off to read the book…

Movie review: Inside Out

Once again, Pixar hits it out of the ballpark with a movie alternately funny and touching that appeals equally to kids and adults.

The nominal story is about an 11 year old girl, Riley, whose family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, and how she copes with this move. (Without detracting from the trauma of this movie, anyone who is lastingly upset about a move to the most fabulous city in the world is truly bonkers.)

The feelings in her head—Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust—all have a role in how Riley copes with the move. Without spoiling the movie (since we all know that Pixar never does happy endings), Joy discovers that as much as Sadness is truly a downer, it is Sadness that allows Riley to reach out for emotional support and cope with her circumstances.

I can’t imagine the pitch for this movie (“Uhh, we’d like to do a movie about what’s going on in an 11 year old girl’s head by animating her 5 main emotions”), but as with all Pixar movies, there is plenty of humor and pathos, triumph and tragedy.   Kids will enjoy this movie immensely, especially those who have gone through the process of uprooting and moving, and adults will enjoy an all-too-brief nostalgic glimpse into their childhood (imaginary friends, anyone?).

Pixar has demonstrated repeatedly that while the animation is important, the secret sauce is in the story. We enthusiastically give this movie a two thumbs up!

Movie review: Jurassic World

If what you’re looking for is a roller coaster thrill ride of a movie (especially one that contains dinosaurs), “Jurassic World” is the movie for you. For those of you who have seen “Jurassic Park,” the plot will seem hauntingly familiar, but this time, the dinosaurs are bigger, badder, and as one of the characters in the movie says, “ups the wow factor.”

Chris Pratt is an immensely likeable hero in the movie, as are the other main characters. Vincent D’Onofrio must have had great fun playing the anti-hero, but the primary stars in this movie are the dinosaurs.

When our 16 year old daughter saw this movie, she complained that the romance between Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard was particularly unrealistic. My response, “Of all the parts of the movie, that’s what you find most unbelievable?” We agreed instead that the most unrealistic part of the movie was when Bryce Dallas Howard outran a T rex while wearing 3 inch stiletto heels.

The pacing of this movie is terrific, although the plot is less than original, and the thrill ride intent of the movie leaves little time to flesh out the characters in a three dimensional way. It’s also quite violent, with fairly graphic visuals of various humans getting munched by dinosaurs. That being said, our 13 year old son enjoyed it immensely, and even Jim thought it was quite the adrenaline rush of a movie. Our daughter was not impressed, but, then, there was very little angst in the movie for her to gravitate towards.  🙂

We give the movie a (qualified) thumbs up!

Movie review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

I confess I have a tremendous weakness for movies with lots of explosions and clever banter where the plot is optional (it helps to have eye candy as well). The latest Avengers movie meets the criteria perfectly in all ways.

I saw this movie with the gaggle on Mother’s Day (a perfect Mother’s Day gift!) at Udvar-Hazy, the Air and Space Museum near Dulles Airport with the 86 foot by 36 foot screen and its updated 3D projection system and revamped audio system. It’s a great place to see a movie like the Avengers.

There is a semblance of a plot, where Tony Stark (aka Ironman) plays the role of a modern day Dr. Frankenstein. But, really, what this movie is about is a bunch of special effects with a plethora of explosions, and superheroes destroying robots. There’s a fair amount of clever banter, and some unexpected discoveries regarding the personal lives of Clint Barton (Hawkeye), Bruce Banner (Hulk), and Natasha Romanov (Black Widow). There are a couple of new characters, as well, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch.

I’m a big fan of Jeremy Renner as eye candy, and he certainly had a big enough role to satisfy in that way. Fans of Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey, Jr. will also be happy.

If you’re looking for a thoughtful, contemplative movie, the Age of Ultron is not it. But if you’re looking for an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours with excellent special effects and clever dialogue, this is a good place to start. Be sure to sit through the credits for a teaser ending. And, in case you were wondering, the Avengers (in some form or another) will definitely be back!