Extraction is Netflix production starring Chris Hemsworth and Randeep Hooda (!!) with a script by Joe Russo of the Avengers films. Frankly, it felt like I was in the middle of a shooter video game for much of the film, with a staggering body count. But, the movie is at least half in Hindi and Bengali, with subtitles, and it was just cool to have actors from the Hindi industry and Hollywood together in a film.
The Big Sick – My favorite Rom Com in years
I have been anticipating The Big Sick‘s theatrical release since it started a bidding war at Sundance in January. There was a slow roll out of the film, first just NY and LA and then adding a few cities each weekend until finally it came to my Chicago Suburb. It made it to 5th in the US box office last weekend. I saw it on a Wednesday matinee and it was nearly sold out! On a Wed at 1:30! (Granted it was Senior discount day, but still!)
I was worried the film wouldn’t live up to my hightened expectations — the trailer is so amusing, but I shouldn’t have worried. I loved it!
I wasn’t familiar with Kumail Nanjiani really, as I’ve only watched a few episodes of his HBO series Silicon Valley. He just is so charming and sweet in this film. He immigrated to the US from Pakistan when he was 18, and has a tight knit family. His father requested that Anupam Kher play him in the film, and they finally found a cousin of Anupam’s to reach him in India. When Anupam first called Kumail after he read the script, Kumail hung up on him because he thought it was a prank!
Zenobia Shroff, who I think has a few Bollywood credits, plays Kumail’s mother in the film. Kumail wants to pursue a career as a stand up comic, but his family just wants him to take the LSAT and agree to an arranged marriage. His mother has girl after girl “just drop by” when Kumail is home for dinner with his family.
Kumail meets Emily at one of his stand up shows. She yells “Whoo Hoo” when he asks if anyone in the crowd is from Pakistan. Then he gently tells her she should never heckle even if it’s a positive thing. “Even if I yell out that you’re great in bed?” They have so much chemistry in the film. It’s adorable.
When Emily finds the cigar box full of pictures of Pakistani women his mother has been trying to set him up with, they have a huge argument and break up. Shortly afterwards Emily becomes seriously ill and is put into a medically induced coma in ICU. Kumail has to notify her parents, and it’s very awkward when they are all in the waiting room together at the hospital. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter play Emily’s parents, and they have a loving, but bickering relationship. It felt very real to me. Emily has told her parents about the breakup, so they don’t see any reason for Kumail to stay — but he has to.
Kumail has kept his relationship with Emily a secret from his family, because a cousin who married a non-Muslim white woman has been completely cut out of the family. He is torn by his love of Emily and his devotion to his family.
Even though I knew things would work out, I cried in this film. I also laughed out loud, and laughed a lot. It is so funny. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter were given license to improvise some of their lines, and they are gems. Judd Apatow is a producer on the film and helped Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon write the real life story of their rocky courtship into a workable script.
I heartily recommend you listen to Terry Gross’s interview with Kumail and Emily on Fresh Air. It’s fascinating hearing the process they went through to make this film with Apatow, and also more background on their families and relationship.
This film is about a real life conflict and a traumatic time in the lives of Kumail and Emily. I won’t spoil how it all works out, but it was glorious to watch it unfold. I highly, highly recommend that everyone see this film. It lives up to the hype, believe me. Just a delightful script, and great performances all around.
I’ve been reading about how we’re finally getting to see and hear Muslim-American stories. There was Hassan Minhaj’s fantastic comedy special Homecoming King and of course Aziz Ansari’s Master of None series also on Netflix. But this is the big time — a film on the big screen. This film was made before we were in the midst of the Trump presidency, but seems even more topical now.
Baby Driver – Fantastic Fun Action flick with Heart
I unabashedly adore Edgar Wright. His Cornetto trilogy starting with Shaun of the Dead are so hilarious = the second, Hot Fuzz is one of my favorite films of all time. And the brilliance that is Scott Pilgrim!
So, when I saw this trailer for Baby Driver, my anticipations was at a fever pitch. It is fantastic. Not laugh out loud guffaws like I had in Hot Fuzz, but oh, so clever. I’m no Fast and Furious type of girl, but the driving is simply amazing. I’ve read that it surpasses some of the Fast and Furious movies.
The music in it is insanely good. Hot Fuzz is still my favorite film of his. This one is a bit more “straight” heist film, but with quirks.
Wonder Woman – So Inspiring to Young Girls and the Lift We All Needed
I can’t review Wonder Woman like any old film. It shouldn’t be so momentous that a woman director has directed for the first time a superhero film, that cracked $100 million opening weekend. But it is. Patty Jenkins had directed an Oscar winning independent film, Monster, that cost $8 million, had garnered the Directors Guild Award for the TV Series The Killing — and yet…. the headlines said it was a “gamble” to let her helm a superhero film. It is maddening. When young male directors are given huge action or superhero films after smaller indie films, it’s not called a gamble. The Mary Sue called out this double standard misogyny.
I can’t separate my review of the film from what it has felt like to read about other women’s reaction seeing the film. It’s everything to see a woman centered superhero film, directed by a woman. And then there are the pictures of the little girls who dressed up to see the film, or got to meet their heroine. Gah!
I was a young girl when the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman TV show aired in the US. I watched it every week!
It is everything for these girls now to have both a female lead for Star Wars and now Wonder Woman.
So, how was the film? It was good. Very good. I don’t know if I can call it great merely as a film — but at this point, it’s not merely a film, it’s a cultural phenomenon. I can’t separate all my feelings out. I will tell you that Gal Godot was excellent as Wonder Woman. When she was cast, people said her accent would be horrible — you know what? I thought it was perfect. It made her seem that much more “other” — that she had been raised on this isolated island away from the world.
Chris Pine was fantastic. It was huge that someone who had headed up his own franchise, Star Trek, was willing to play the sidekick to a female Superhero. This is what Chris Pine said back in 2015 when he was cast as Steve Trevor:
“What excites me most is to work in a movie with a superhero woman. With a woman in the lead role. I am teamed with this intelligent, beautiful and strong woman to defeat the villains and save humanity.”
He had a nice comedic touch in early scenes with Gal Godot, and there was great chemistry between them, too, especially in a nice scene where he teaches her to dance. Let me just tell you also, another nice thing about a woman director — we learn just how much male nudity you can have in a PG-13 film! He’s not a damsel in distress, but he’s always the one to say, “No, Diana, you can’t do that.” And then he turns around and she’s already done it. Like the incredible No Man’s Land scene.
I really enjoyed the early part of the film, where we see little girl Diana watching her aunt, General Antiope train the Amazon warriors. And how cool is it that Robin Wright, Princess Buttercup herself is this badass warrior! Connie Nielsen was also perfectly cast as Diana’s mother.
I really enjoyed the film right up till near the end. It was a solid film. The battle on the Amazon Isle was great. But nothing was so visually stunning that it took my breath away.
Where the film was a bit lacking for me was the villain reveal and the way the film ended. I won’t go into spoilers exactly why. My main issues, though were with the villain’s motivation. As my son said, “The themes got a bit muddy there at the end.” Still, this was a film that was about something and not just watching superheroes crash into buildings. Diana believes in the inherent goodness of humanity, and then learns the world is more complex than she thought. Someone’s sacrifice restores her faith in humanity.
There is actually Oscar talk about Wonder Woman. This is big. And I’m not just talking about technical VFX awards. Anne Thompson of Indie Wire wrote today that she could see a supporting nod for Chris Pine and a best actress nod for Gal Godot. Wouldn’t that be something to see?
I have been going back and forth on my rating between four and four and a half stars. It’s not a perfect film, but it felt so damn good. Gal Godot is the perfect Wonder Woman — And for those little girls!
Totally Gnarly Notes – Excellent!
Today marks the 25th anniversary of Wayne’s World which is actually set in my home town of Aurora, IL. Excellent! Party On Wayne!
These two are too cute!
How La La Land reworks Casablanca. Why A-List actresses avoid Rom-Coms – is it the curse of Katherine Heigl? Speaking of Rom-Coms, here’s a list of 34 of the best Rom Coms of the past decade and where to stream them. Move over Spielberg and Scorsese, there’s some new kids taking over the town. Where you can stream some of the Oscar nominated films this month. Hasidic actor conquers Sundance. Model trains! The history of The Black List. Cards Against Humanity is looking for a very special new employee.
Not to get TOO political…. but Lin-Manuel Miranda has made us a Spotify Playlist. 11 Essential movies about refugees and immigrants (I need to see A Separation!) This twitter account takes me to a welcome alternate reality:
Speaking of Hidden Figures, these girls dressing up for their school project brings me such joy:
Have you seen La La Land yet? Those of us in Chicago have STRONG feelings about it:
2016 – My Movie Year
Letterboxd.com is where I keep a diary of all the films I watch, including films I rewatch. They have a very cool year in review feature. I was inspired by this Matt Bowes post about all the media he consumed in 2016, to make this post. I’ll just talk about the movies here, but I love how he listed all the comics, podcasts, etc., too!
So, according to Letterboxd, I saw 222 films in 2016, which includes short films and rewatches. That averages out to over 18 a month, and over 4 a week. Weeks like our visit to the Sundance Film Festival, where we saw 30 films (including shorts) certainly help to bump up that average, but I am an avid movie viewer no matter how you slice it. I just started this blog in April, but I had been posting short reviews on most films to Letterboxd before that.
2016 started with The Hateful Eight (which I didn’t love) and ended with Zootopia, which I did love. There were mostly older films, but I did watch 82 films that were released in 2016. It won’t surprise any of my readers that fully half were films from India, 111 of them.
Interestingly, the actor with the most films I saw was not Shahrukh Khan (who was second with 12), but Nasser with 14! That man is in EVERYTHING!
This year I discovered Telegu cinema megastar Mahesh Babu (9 movies) and Malayalam cinema star Prithviraj. I’ve got a stack of more Prithviraj movies to watch — the man has made so many! I’m amused that Prithviraj’s early film Stop Violence – which I watched without subs! – Letterboxd lists as my “most obscure movie”.
The highest rated (by people on Letterboxd) film I saw in 2016 is Moonlight, which is heading to the Oscars. The lowest rated is Yoga Hosers. Yeah. Have to pretty much agree with that — but Assassin’s Creed is giving it a run for it’s money on that score. Yoga Hosers is just crazy silly (Brat Nazis!) but it was worth it to go to the midnight premiere just to see Kevin Smith.
2016 will always be in my memory, because this was the year that a movie I helped get made premiered at Sundance.
How To Tell You’re A Douchebag is the movie I saw the most times this year, as I attended screenings of the film, and showed it to friends and family. I’m so proud of writer/director Tahir Jetter’s achievement. It was bought by BET and aired this summer. You can watch it on iTunes, Amazon video or Google play now!
Top films from 2016 I saw in Hollywood and Indian cinema coming soon.
La La Land – This movie is so glorious I actually cried tears of joy in the theater
I knew I was going to love La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s new film musical, but I wasn’t really ready for how it made me feel watching it in the theater today. Damien Chazelle blew me away with Whiplash, an intense movie about a jazz drummer which opened Sundance a few years ago, and garnered J. K. Simmons a Supporting Actor Oscar. The success of Whiplash let him make the musical movie he’d always dreamed of.
I went to see La La Land alone today because I. Could. Not. WAIT, but I will be dragging everyone I can to go see it on the big screen. I want to see it as many times as I possibly can. Critics have swooned, even Manohla Dargis wrote about how swept away she was watching it the second time.
I love movie musicals. I live and breathe them. I fell hard for Fred Astaire, adore Gene Kelly and the list goes on. Those films of the past had magic. Yes, they were earnest and wore their heart on their sleeve, but can anything convey like a song that heavenly feeling of falling in love? Musicals have fallen out of fashion in cynical Hollywood as of late. They are rare or you have to watch a Disney animated film to see one. I have turned to Indian films to get my musical fix.
Today, in the theater, Damien Chazelle gave me the most precious gift. He gave me a Hollywood musical, steeped in the traditions and with a love for Hollywood musicals of the past, and also fresh and adult and modern. The movie made me smile from the first frames as an LA traffic jam leads to people getting out of their cars to dance and sing.
Then we meet Emma Stone’s Mia, a struggling actress and Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian, a struggling Jazz piano player. They run into each other a few times and banter before this glorious spontaneous dance:
How gorgeous is that shot?! The sunset on the hills, her yellow dress and red hair. How they have those matching shoes.
There are bumps along the way, but one night they go to the Griffith Observatory after seeing Rebel With A Cause. And then they fall in love, and the music takes them up into the stars. I seriously started crying tears of joy at this. I didn’t just choke up. Tears were running down my face I was so happy.
I loved all the camera tricks that Chazelle uses. He’s studied the masters and gone even a step further. This is a film where Damien Chazelle takes the every day and makes it part of a musical number. We meet Mia’s roommates and a blow dryer gives Mia a moment worthy of a Bollywood number:
People don’t just walk down the street to a party – they do this:
I was only hoping for a few big musical dance numbers, but this a full fledged musical film with songs and dances throughout from start to finish. The music is all original by Justin Hurwitz who also provided the score for Whiplash. Ryan Gosling’s character is a jazz musician who is always composing and working on his music, so it makes sense in the film for moments like this one:
This is hands down my favorite film of the year. It’s about a guy and a gal falling in love and struggling to make their dreams come true. Maybe it doesn’t have the weight of Manchester by the Sea, or the important issues of a film like Moonlight. But I cried more than once — for joy and for the beauty of it all. That final sequence just left me again in tears it was so perfect. So beautiful. So bittersweet. This is not a saccharine sappy film.
Chazelle fought hard to get this cast. He had to really convince Emma Stone to make the leap and she didn’t make it easy. Ryan Gosling took piano lessons for months so that he could convincingly play the piano in the film without editing cheats. Gosling and Stone have shown in films like Crazy, Stupid Love that they have that X factor chemistry between them. This film was almost cast with Miles Teller and Emma Watson. Thank God Stone and Gosling became available — Emma Stone is likely to win an Oscar nomination for this film.
La La Land is romance at its best. Damien Chazelle has captured magic in bottle. I plan to partake again and again.
Moonlight – Like Watching Beautiful Poetry Come To Life
I had heard a growing chorus about the greatness of Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight from the festival circuit, and it is now gracing the number one spot on many critics’ Top 10 films of the year. It’s a three-way Oscar race at this point, with Manchester By The Sea, and La La Land.
Before I saw the film, I did not understand the movie poster for Moonlight, but it is actually perfection. The film is split in three parts showing 10 year old “Little”, a young teen and then a young adult Chiron. The poster shows all three actors split in thirds, and how they together make the whole person that is Chiron.
The film Moonlight is based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue which was written by Chicago Steppenwolf playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney. Little/Charon is a young taciturn 10 year old in the first segment. Chased by bullies who taunt him for being a “faggot”. He hides out in a crackhouse, and is improbably rescued by the local drug dealer gang leader, Juan (Mahershala Ali in a tour de force). Mahershala Ali I was mainly familiar with from his excellent work as the lobbyist Remy in House of Cards, but he’s one of those faces who has been in several TV series and movies like Hunger Games Mockingjay. I’ve never seen him like this. He was quite simply amazing. He will be nominated for just about every supporting actor nomination available this awards cycle.
He takes young Little back home to his wife Teresa because Little won’t talk and say where he lives. After Little spends the night, Juan takes him under his wing, and you fear what he might be grooming Little for. But there is just this luminous scene where he teaches Little to Swim on a Miami beach. Juan is the one who tells him about black boys looking blue in the Moonlight. Little lives alone with his single mother nurse, and you can see in his big eyes how he craves a father figure. He even asks Juan and Teresa, “What does ‘faggot’ mean?” and your heart stops. Juan and Teresa explain, but also are accepting and tender. Every character in this film has layers and complexities — the local drug lord, is the caring father figure, full of acceptance.
The second segment shows lanky Chiron (Ashton Sanders) still being bullied at school. He has one consistent friend, Kevin, who was his best pal in the first segment, too. There is an incredible tender scene between Kevin and Chiron alone on the beach one night. But then afterwards, he is betrayed. This moment in the still above is when Chiron looks at his beaten face in the mirror, and you can just see him girding himself, and saying, “No. More.” He explodes, and it had my heart in my throat just like the ending of FandryFandry. You’ve seen this poor kid, now with a crack addicted neglectful mother, just endure and endure and he just can’t any more. Many movies would end there.
But the final segment shows what Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) has become as an adult. He’s now a drug dealer with gold teeth and macho attitude. The way he dresses, and his car all show how he’s trying to live up to what Juan was. He gets a call from Kevin (André Holland) out of the blue, and that sends him driving hours through the night back to Miami to see Kevin again. The film ends so tenderly and with such a sense of hope. My heart was just so full.
This is an incredible film. Groundbreaking in its structure. It examines the life of a young gay black man, and examines the toxicity of the roles of masculinity. It’s complex, and it’s also just so luminously filmed. It is a gorgeous film to watch.
2016 may suck in general, but we’ve been given such a gift this year with great films. Don’t miss Moonlight. It’s still playing in theaters.
David Ehrlich’s Top 25 Films of 2016
David Ehrlich (@davidehrlich) is the Rolling Stone Movie Critic. We met him briefly this last Sundance in line for a movie, but I didn’t realize he was the one who makes these videos every year that I adore. I just love the music choices and his editing.
Manchester By The Sea – Casey Affleck is superb in Lonergan’s masterpiece
Manchester By The Sea is out right now in limited release. If you can find it, I urge you to go see this incredible film. I saw this film in January at Sundance going in knowing next to nothing. All there was in the program was this picture of Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck who play brothers in the film. And the name Kenneth Lonergan, the writer director. That’s the name that made this film a must see for me. He has only written and directed three films. His first feature, You Can Count On Me gave us an incredible debut by Mark Ruffalo as Laura Linney’s ne’er do well brother. His second film, Margaret, starring Anna Paquin, was finally released on DVD recently.
This is the short review of Manchester By The Sea I wrote on Letterboxd after I returned from Sundance:
Casey Affleck plays a janitor who has to return to his hometown when his brother (Kyle Chandler) suddenly dies of a heart attack. He’s named guardian for his teenage nephew, and you come to understand through flashbacks why he is so reluctant to assume that role. Michelle Williams plays his ex-wife, in a fantastic supporting role. Lucas Hedges is the 16 year old nephew, and he is amazing. This is a break out role for this young actor.
But Casey Affleck’s melancholy superb acting had me sobbing, not just tears down my face but holding my hand over my mouth to keep quiet in the theater sobbing. This is a masterful movie about real people and their grief.
If you can, go see this film without watching the trailer, because the trailer shows part of a key scene between Casey Affleck and his ex-wife, Michelle Williams. I think it has more impact if you don’t know what’s coming.
Casey Affleck is a lock for a best actor Oscar nomination, and Manchester By The Sea is at the top of best of 2016 film lists, right after La La Land. I haven’t seen La La Land yet (Dec. 9th can’t come fast enough), but Manchester By The Sea is the best film I’ve seen so far this year.