Friday, September 01, 2017

THE TRIP TO SPAIN: Third Time Is Not The Charm

Opening today at an indie art house near me:

THE TRIP TO SPAIN (Dir. Michael Winterbottom, 2017)



So, just like in the first two TRIP films (THE TRIP and THE TRIP TO ITALY), it begins with a phone call between Welsh comedian/T.V. personality Rob Brydon and the much better known British actor/writer/producer Steve Coogan.

“Let’s do a series of restaurant reviews - this time, a trip to Spain for the New York Times,” Coogan suggests to Brydon and off we go for another round of immaculate meals at posh restaurants, where the dinner conversation consists of dueling celebrity impressions.

The traveling fine dining duo trot out their comical takes on the voices of Michael Caine (one of their specialties), Mick Jagger, John Hurt, Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Sean Connery, and Roger Moore, among others (this film is heavy on the Moore mimicry, which is interesting because it was shot in 2016, way ahead of the James Bond actor’s death in May of this year).

They take a road trip along the coast of Spain, stopping in villages and towns such as Getaria, Hondarribia, Santiago de Compostela, Sos del Rey Católico, Prejano, and Cuenca, Almagro, and Granada.

Now I had to look those places up (thanks to The Telegraph’s The stunning filming locations from the Trip to Spain), because they aren’t identified in the movie. Neither are the names of the restaurants they visit, which is odd because they are supposedly reviewing them, and they frequently cut to shots of the chefs preparing their food in the kitchen. Apart from that, there’s not many shots of the food either.

No, the scenery and foodie theme is just a backdrop to the impressions with each droll broke improving bits and skits with their exaggerated characterizations.

This can get pretty annoying especially when the impressions falter. We learn that Coogan does a better Jagger than Brydon (Brydon even does Jagger doing Michael Caine at one point), Brydon does a better Sean Connery than Coogan, but neither of their Roger Moore voices is spot on, though Brydon’s comes the closest.

This makes for most cringeworthy scene in the movie, where Brydon rambles on and on as Moore while Coogan, and their lovely lady guests (Claire Keelen, Marta Barrio) sit by awkwardly trying to converse.

They have these meals, then retire to their hotel rooms and have phone conversations – Coogan with his agency, son, and girlfriend; Brydon with his wife and an agent claiming he can make him a big star. These suggest conflicts and some sort of plot development but not much comes from them, it’s always back to the impressions.

This is frustrating because Coogan has a possibly juicy storyline about a project he’s working on – a follow-up to PHILOMENA, which he starred, co-wrote, and produced – getting green lit, but they want to bring in another writer. Coogan starts off the film on a high from his success with PHILOMENA (something that he brings up often), but there are hints that his star isn’t on the rise anymore, while Brydon, happily married with kids, may be on the verge of a breakthrough but these ideas never go anywhere.

Instead we get scenes of these guys dressing up like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza for a photo shoot, and making a stop at the Monastery of San Juan de la Peña in Jaca, Spain, which is fabled to be the resting place of the Holy Grail - something they, of course, riff on.

As with the previous films, THE TRIP TO SPAIN is the result of six episodes of the BBC TV series of the same name being edited together into a feature film. This makes me wonder if this material might be less tedious in its original format.

What we have here is a aimlessly talky travelogue, with these sad blokes doing endless impressions for an overlong running time (the film is one hour, 47 min). Despite some funny moments, such as Brydon’s Brando reciting Monty Python’s “The Spanish Inquisition” sketch, and incredible looking locations, this third time is not the charm.


More later...

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Summing Up The Cinematic Summer Of 2017


Reportedly this summer was the lowest grossing at the box office in many years. The low turnout can be blamed on franchise fatigue (more ALIENS, APES, CARS, TRANSFORMERS, and PIRATES, anybody?), the abundance of big budget bombs (THE MUMMY, KING ARTHUR: THE LEGEND OF THE SWORD, DARK TOWER, VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS), and all the good TV shows like The Handmaid’s Tale, Twin Peaks: The Return, Game of Thrones, and Glow competing for people’s attention. But whatever the case, despite several gems, it’s been an abysmal season crowded with bland blockbuster wannabes.

It started off promising last May with James Gunn’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, a solid sequel to the big Marvel hit from three summers ago. GOTGV2 had a juicy role for Kurt Russell as the father of Chris Pratt’s character, Peter Quill (or Star Lord, if you prefer), a bunch of amusing action sequences and gags, and a stellar soundtrack going for it, and audiences responded by making it the third top grossing movie of the year. Read my review.


The next few sequels that followed - Ridley Scott’s ALIEN: COVENANT, David Bower’s DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: THE LONG HAUL, and Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg’s PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES came and went quickly, with only PIRATES turning a profit despite bad reviews (it’s at 30% on the Rottentomatometer). I only saw PIRATES of these three, and I'm pretty tired of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack schtick so I didn’t care for it (read my review: PIRATES 5: DEAD MEN TELL NO NEW TALES), but at least I enjoyed the Paul McCartney cameo.

I wanted to see the latest ALIEN sequel on the big screen, but didn’t get around to it. I’ll probably catch it someday on Blu ray or streaming, but I’m not really dying to.

Early June, the summer was shaken up by the major success of Patty Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN, the first actually good movie of the new DC Extended Universe. 

The gorgeous Gal Gadot portrays the iconic superheroine in the WWI era adventure, and with the help of Chris Pine, and a supporting cast including Robin Wright, Danny Huston, and David Thewlis, she lassoed up a satisfying piece of entertainment (read my review). Now, I’m just waiting for Zack Snyder to get the franchise back off track with JUSTICE LEAGUE (also featuring Gadot) this November. 

Another superhero favorite, Spider-Man, returned the next month, and restored the character to his former glory after Marc Webb’s forgettable THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN movies with Andrew Garfield. Featuring a likable kid in the form of Tom Holland, who was introduced in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, the extremely fun (and funny) experience of John Watts
 SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING was embraced by moviegoers to the tune of over $300 million, and critics to the tune of a 92 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. Read my review.

Another sequel that did well at the box office was Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin, and Eric Guillon
’s DESPICABLE ME 3 (though not great critically – 61% on Rotten Tomatoes), but not being a fan of the series or the whole Minions thing for that matter, I opted out.

Of the other summer sequels, I took a hard pass on CARS 3 as the CARS series is my least favorite Pixar franchise, but I took in Matt Reeves THE WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, and found it to be a good not great entry in the rebooted series. It contains some powerful visuals, the enjoyable comic relief of Steve Zahn voicing one of the few talking apes who calls himself “Bad Ape,” and Woody Harrelson as the villain, a sinister Colonel who wants to kill off Andy Serkis’ ape leader Caesar and his army, but it’s never been one of my favorite franchises, and I’m not really itching to see more APES movies after it. 

As for the fifth TRANSFORMERS movie, which made over $600 million yet is still considered to be an underperformer - I have never seen one of the TRANSFORMERS movies all the way through, and Im not considering changing that.

One of the worst, if not the worst, movies of the summer was Alex Kurtzman’s THE MUMMY, which was primed to kick off Universal’s Dark Universe series, but its commercial and critical failure (here
s my pan) may cause the powers that be to reconsider things. Tom Cruise is bound to do much better in the Doug Liman
’s upcoming AMERICAN MADE, which is getting some early buzz, so don’t worry about him - he’ll be just fine.

The comedy genre fared horribly during the summer months with flops such as Lucia Aniellos ROUGH NIGHT (saw it - lame waste of a talented cast headed by Scarlett Johansson and Kate McKinnon), Jonathan Levines SNATCHED (didn’t see it, but it looked lame - sorry, Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn), Seth Gordons BAYWATCH (another I skipped for what should be an obvious reason), and Andrew Jay Cohens THE HOUSE (also didn’t see despite being a fan of both Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) which was savaged by critics and ignored by audiences.

However, in the world of independent film, there was a comedy this summer, a rom com no less, that did great business, and got critical acclaim to boot: Michael Showalters THE BIG SICK. The film, starring Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan is the story of how Nanjiani met his later wife, and stuck with her while she was in a coma, while dealing with her worried parents played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. It’s a real witty charmer that has now played for over eight weeks at the Rialto Theater in Raleigh where I work part time. I haven’t seen a movie connect with audiences at our local indie arthouse like it has in a long time. My review.

A few other indies that didn’t connect as well: Trey Edward Shults’ IT CAME AT NIGHT and David Lowery’s A GHOST STORY. Of these, the former, starring Joel Edgerton as a man whose family is holed up in a house in the country while a plague ravages the land, had its edgy moments but was far from fully fleshed out, while the later, featuring Casey Affleck as a ghost - in a white sheet with eye holes, mind you – was just plain weird as I wrote in my review.

In the non franchise department, there’s Edgar Wright’s BABY DRIVER, a crackling crime thriller, with a great cast including Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Hamm, and Jamie Foxx, and an even better soundtrack. It wowed crowds and critics, including me as I declared in my review that it was the best film of the summer.

Another non sequel that I enjoyed was David Leitch’s ATOMIC BLONDE, starring Charlize Theron as a kick ass MI6 field agent on a mission in West Berlin during the waning days of the cold war. It’s a bit uneven and wonky at times, but has some excellent set pieces including a stunning fight in a stairwell, a sharp lead performance by Theron, and a well chosen ‘80s soundtrack. Hmm, that’s three films this summer with great soundtracks – not bad.

Up there with BABY DRIVER in quality is Christopher Nolan’s DUNKIRK, an immersive war epic that I’m glad I saw in 70 mm. I had a few issues with its structure, which I discussed in my post, Notes on DUNKIRK, but was overall impressed by Nolan’s work, his best since INCEPTION. I bet we’re going to hear a lot more about it come Oscar season.

Lastly, I hate to say I was disappointed in Steven Soderbergh’s late summer entry, LOGAN LUCKY, which many critics have praised.

I loved its premise – a hillbilly heist centered around robbing the Charlotte Motor Speedway in my homestate of N.C. – and its cast including Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and especially a bleach blond Daniel Craig – but the job is pulled off with very little conflict, the stakes don’t feel very high as folks can be broken out of and back into jail for the caper with ease, and none of these people are believably related to each other – Driver and Tatum sure don’t look or act like brothers, nor do Craig and the two hayseeds (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid) who are supposed to be his kin. Still, there were some amusing moments, and I appreciate the effort by Soderbergh to do a variation on his OCEAN’S ELEVEN movies, even if I’m not a fan of those either.

So that’s the summer of 2017 at the movies. One could argue that a season that boasts the likes of BABY DRIVER, DUNKIRK, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, WONDER WOMAN, and THE BIG SICK can’t be completely written off, but that’s only six films out of over 40, so sadly they weren’t enough to save the summer from sucking. The fall, where historically the films get better, can’t come soon enough.


More later...

Thursday, August 24, 2017

And Now, The Top 10 Celebrity Diets Throughout History

Editor's note: This is a sponsored guest post by pop culture maniac Allan Dayfold:

The Top 10 Celebrity Diets Throughout History


A
s long as there have been celebrities, there have been diets. Whether it's for a movie role or simply to look good in the public eye, these ten celebrities have all taken different paths to take the weight off and keep it off.

10. Beyonce: The "Queen Bee" herself has recently taken to social media to proclaim herself (and her husband Jay-Z) a newly-born vegetarian, but that's hardly been the only diet she has gone on throughout the years. To prepare for her starring role in the 2006 hit film DREAMGIRLS, Beyonce famously went on a "Master Cleanse" diet, drinking an all-liquid diet of water flavored with cayenne pepper, with a cheat day of pizza and wine thrown in occasionally as well.

9. Marilyn Monroe: The curvaceous blonde bombshell that dazzled the media throughout the 1950s absolutely hated lunches. So much so, in fact, that she skipped it entirely. Her diet regularly consisted of two raw eggs in warm milk for breakfast, followed by a dinner of broiled liver, steak, or lamb plus five carrots. Monroe loved her desserts, however, usually polishing off a scrumptious hot-fudge sundae to finish her night.

8. Elizabeth Taylor: Famously called, "the most beautiful woman in the world," Liz Taylor certainly had a unique approach to diet. She regularly dined on things like cottage cheese with sour cream over fruit, or a peanut-butter smothered steak sandwich, to name a few. She even reportedly had what she called "controlled pig-outs," where she once consumed an entire pizza and hot-fudge sundae by herself.

7. Sarah Michelle Gellar: Talk about self-control! To keep her physique, Sarah Michelle Gellar went on an extreme diet that restricted most foods except cabbage soup. Sound bland? Not to worry, she made sure to spice it up with vegetables, fruit, milk, and yogurt, and even added lean meats and brown rice towards the end of the week. Yum?

6. Kate Middleton: To get ready for the royal wedding, Kate Middleton employed the Dukan Diet, a plan modeled by the French that incorporates straight protein and vegetables at the beginning, and then slowly gets less strict in the following weeks. Fortunately, the Dukan Diet allows you to customize your diet based on how many pounds you would like to shed.

5. Lady Gaga: If fad diets don't work, you can always return to your roots. I mean, way back to your roots, like pureed peas and carrots. Lady Gaga allegedly eats baby food for her first two meals of the day, followed by a health-conscious dinner. Originally developed by Tracy Anderson, other adherents include Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

4. Madonna: You might not be able to afford it, but for the "Material Girl" herself, eating a strenuous macrobiotic diet may just be the key to the fountain of youth. Good luck trying to afford it, much less hold to it, as the macrobiotic diet consists of eliminating all wheat, eggs, meats, and dairy completely, and only consuming "sea vegetables." I can only assume those don't come cheap.

3. Gwyneth Paltrow: After struggling with food allergies earlier in life, Gwyneth Paltrow has decided to eliminate everything "bad" such as bread, red meat, cow's milk, eggplants, and even tomatoes from her diet. To compensate, she starts every day with a green juice and eats a gluten-free, somewhat vegan diet.

2. Megan Fox: After exploding onto the scene in 2007's Transformers, Megan Fox has remained in the spotlight ever since, in part due to her athletic physique and chiseled body. She credits drinking copious amounts of apple cider vinegar for keeping her fit, but also leans heavily on The Five-Factor Diet, pioneered by Harley Pasternak. In case you haven't heard of it, the diet consists of making five-ingredient meals in less than five minutes. Perfect for the health-conscious, time-sensitive movie star.

1. Victoria Beckham: Leave it to Posh Spice to leave dieting up to science. Beckham is a fierce proponent of the alkaline diet, which aims to keep the body at an ideal pH level: somewhere between 7.35 and 7.45. Beckham claims it's not that difficult, and that by following a simple 80/20 rule of more vegetables and less grains and proteins. Although, if you really want to go full-on alkaline, it's best to get a urine test to check your optimal pH balance first. Hey, it seems to be working for her.

Of course to avoid the fad diets, a lot of people are turning to pre prepared meals. Services like Blue Apron are becoming more popular, as well as their diet variants like Nutrisystem for men which Pure Healthy Living breaks down here.


More later...

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Elvis & STAR WARS: 40 Years Ago Today


Elvis Presley died on this date in 1977. STAR WARS was released earlier that summer. 

So the big pop culture question is: did Elvis see STAR WARS? 

Sadly, the answer from every source is no, he didn’t, but he wanted to. The day before he passed he was trying to obtain a print of the movie so he could watch it with his daughter, Lisa Marie. Three days before that, he had taken her, and his girlfriend Ginger Alden to see the then latest James Bond movie, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, the last film he saw at the cinema (the picture above is of them in his 1973 Stutz Blackhawk III coming back from the movie).

I posted the above blurb a year ago today on Facebook - the 39th anniversary of the Kings death - and doing new research now I see that I wasn't alone in wondering about whether he say the hugely popular space epic. The STAR WARS blog, Episode Nothing, had a very similar post entitled Did Elvis see Star Wars?, and in 2014 the Elvis blog, elvispresleyexpert.wordpress.com, even asked “Could Star Wars have saved the life of Elvis Presley?”

As far back as 2005, the site everything2.com, also speculated about it, and pondered if the movie's director, George Lucas, ever saw Presley in concert.

It’s too bad that one of the biggest films of all time wasn’t seen by one of the biggest performers of all time. I, of course, can’t (or don’t want to) speculate on whether if it wouldve saved him, but I bet he wouldve loved it.

More later...

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Notes On DUNKIRK (Three Weeks Into Its Run)



I
t’s been three weeks since I first saw Christopher Nolan’s WWII epic DUNKIRK, but I wasn’t in a good headspace then. My wife and I were having some major work done on our house involving installing hardwood floors so I was exhausted from moving tons of books, CDs, DVDs, records, etc.

I had mixed feelings about the movie, but I recognized some greatness there so I decided to see it a second time. But this time was in the way Nolan intended it to be seen - in IMAX 70 mm. The visuals were indeed impressive and the story threads came together better than my previous viewing, but I still felt a disconnect.

The film, which Nolan wrote and co-produced in addition to directing, follows three narratives – “The Mole,” about the thousands of soldiers stranded on the beach of Dunkirk, France over the course of a week waiting for rescue boats over the course of a week; “The Sea,” concerning a civilian (Mark Rylance) sailing his boat with his son (Tom Glynn-Carney), and his friend (Barry Keoghan) to help with the rescue effort over the course of a day; and “The Air,” which involves three Spitfires piloted by members of the Royal Air Force engaged in dogfights over the course of an hour.

Nolan’s attention to detail in recreating the Dunkirk evacuation of 1940 is immaculate via the usage of restored boats and planes from the actual event, practical effects, and a minimum of CGI.

I’ve heard many folks complain that in the “The Mole” storyline the characters are hard to tell apart. Fionn Whitehead as a private named Tommy, who is pretty much the protagonist of the thread, and a fellow soldier played by pop singer Harry Styles do blend in with the masses on the docks, but perhaps that’s the point.

“The Air” narrative which has Tom Hardy, and Jack Lowden on a mission to take down German dive bombers over the infinite ocean may be the most exciting of the three intertwined scenarios, but several times Nolan cuts away right as the scenes are getting the most compelling. Lowden almost drowning because he can’t get his cockpit open after crash landing in the sea deserves to be seen in full, but Nolan can’t help but dive back into another thread, and the momentum gets lost.

The most emotionally grounded storyline is “The Sea” as a stoic Rylance holds steady to his goal to save as many men as possible, even when a shell-shocked soldier played by Cillian Murphy that his boat picks up violently tries to get him to turn his boat around. Murphy, a veteran of a few Nolan films (BATMAN BEGINS, INCEPTION), is only credited as “shivering soldier,” and that about sums up his role.

Kenneth Branagh, as a British Naval Commander, brings a touch of dignified gravitas to his part, but mainly just stands around on the pier watching what’s happening around him.

So basically, don’t go in expecting fully fleshed out characters. There may be precious little dialogue, but there’s plenty of genuine suspense, gripping action, and incredibly vivid cinematography (thanks to Hoyte van Hoytema’s 54-Pound IMAX Camera) to make up for it, and to make up for the failings of Nolan’s previous film, INTERSTELLAR.

DUNKIRK is engaging to a considerable degree, but not as immersive an experience as it could’ve been as its fractured narratives bog it down. Hans Zimmer’s intense score, which at times beautifully blends with the scary sound of attacking dive bombers, does a lot to tie together the three strands, but they still clash in ways that was at times frustrating.

I still would recommend Nolan’s work here because there is a lot of power in the imagery and the depiction of touching humanity, which, as I said before, is most present in Rylance’s storyline.


It may fall short of being a masterpiece, but it comes close – especially when seeing it a second time in IMAX 70 mm. Maybe the third time will be the charm?

More later...

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Lot Of A GHOST, Not Much STORY

Opening today at a few theaters near me:

A GHOST STORY
(Dir. David Lowery, 2017)


I walked out of this extremely weird movie in a daze. I wasn’t sure what the hell it was that I just watched. I mean it’s a movie about a ghost who appears as a guy in a children’s Halloween costume - that is, seriously, a white bed sheet with eye holes.

Let me backtrack - the film begins with Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara as a couple living in a house in semi-rural Texas who appear to be preparing to move. Affleck gets killed in an automobile accident and we cut to Mara identifying his body at the hospital. After she places the sheet back over his head and leaves, Affleck sits up and then walks through the building’s halls unseen by anybody because, you know, he’s a ghost now.

He makes the journey back to their house and stands there motionless watching Mara as she mourns. He watches her eat a pie. A whole pie. This scene feels like it goes on forever. Mara eats until she goes to the bathroom to throw up in the background.

Time passes and the ghost stands motionless watching Mara pack up and move away. A new family made up of a single mother and her two kids move in and he watches them. One night in a fit of anger (I guess) he throws and smashes dishes in the kitchen which scares them and they move out shortly after.

Then the house appears to be taken over by hipsters who have impromptu parties with pretentious discussions. Singer/songwriter, and friend of director Lowery, Will Oldham delivers a speech about mortality and the futility of time (I think) that perhaps spells out the movie’s meaning but I dunno.

At some point, the ghost waves to another ghost (identical bed sheet situation) through the window of the house next door and they speak in subtitles with no sound (the ghosts get subtitles but the Spanish-speaking mother and her kids don’t). The other ghost says he’s waiting for someone, but he forgets who. All through this, Affleck’s ghost scratches at one of the walls trying to retrieve a tiny note that Mara’s character wrote and left in a crack.

More time passes, and the house gets demolished by bulldozers, and a shiny, modern building is built in its place where the ghost stalks the glass halls. Then we go back in time two hundred years to when European settlers were taking over the land. He stands and watches as history repeats and ends up watching Affleck and Mara again, then he watches as Affleck becomes a ghost, who he watches from behind.

I wonder how much Affleck actually visited the set because for the bulk of the movie it could’ve been anybody under that sheet. Especially since you can’t see eyes behind the holes – just darkness.

The self conscious artsiness of this film, which is all told in long, stationary shots in a square aspect ratio, makes me think that Lowery is trying to get as far away from the commerciality of his last project, PETE’S DRAGON, as he possibly can. Horror fans will likely be baffled by it because, except for the moment the bulldozer comes crashing through the wall, it’s not a scary experience. Haunting is more what Lowery was going for, but while it does indeed have some effective eeriness, it just goes on and on without a truly meaningful point to be made.

There’s maybe a good 20-minute or so short film that could’ve been made with these elements that would spare us all the existential tedium. The only story here is the passing of time, and that was
nt enough to keep me engaged.

But it is a gutsy move for A24 to release a film such as A GHOST STORY during the overcrowded dog days of summer - I admire that - but I can only recommend this picture to people who like being weirded out – very slowly.

More later...

Thursday, July 13, 2017

THE BIG SICK: A Delight Through And Through

Now playing at many indie art houses, and opens wide Friday at many multiplexes:

THE BIG SICK (Dir. Michael Showalter, 2017)



This is one of the most buzzed about independent movies this summer, and it’s for good reason because it’s a real charmer.

It’s not your typical rom com as it’s a love story with an autobiographical bent, and it mixes in a considerable amount of emotional drama between its abundance of laughs.

The film concerns Pakistani Kumail Nanjiani, best known for his role as acerbic programmer Dinesh on HBO’s Silicon Valley, as a stand-up comedian/Uber driver who falls for Zoe Kazan as a woman based on Nanjiani’s wife, Emily V. Gordon.

Gordon, who hails from Winton Salem in my home state, North Carolina, and Nanjiani co-wrote the screenplay which depicts their early relationship when begins when Kazan’s Emily heckles Kumail during his act at a small Chicago comedy club. Actually she yells “Whoo!” but, as Kumail explains to her at the bar later, “heckling doesn’t have to be a negative.”

The two hit it off and hook up that night while watching THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD back at his place that he shares with fellow comedian Kurt Braunohler. Emily and Kumail, despite that she says she’s too busy studying to be a therapist, begin dating, while his parents (Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff) try to set him up in an arranged marriage.

Emily discovers this when she comes upon a cigar box of headshots of the many Muslim women that are vying for his hand (“Are you judging Pakistan’s ‘Next Hot Model?
), and after an emotional argument they break up. 

Shorty after, Kumail learns that Emily is in the hospital and has to be put into a medically induced coma, and he waits with her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) who he’s never met before, and who know that the couple is broken up. Awkward!

Gradually Kumail and Emily’s folks bond with them even attending one of his stand-up slots. The scene turns ugly when a frat boy douche yells “go back to Isis” at Kumail, and Hunter’s character Beth goes off on him.

Since we know that in real life Emily came out of the coma, it’s no spoiler to say that that’s what happens here, but I’ll refrain from going further about the plot.

Nanjiani makes for a witty, likable lead who can hold his own in the well executed dramatic moments that dominate the second half of the film. Kazan is equally appealing, quickly quipping through the couple’s courting and effectively exhibiting more layers during her recovery. Although she spends the bulk of the film motionless in a hospital bed, Kazan shows in her awake scenes that she’s no “manic pixie dream girl” (Nathan Rabin™), and the chemistry between her and Nanjiani is palpable.

Hunter and Ramano nail their parts as Emily’s concerned parents, and there are short but sweet turns by the supporting cast including SNL’s Aidy Bryant, Bo Burnham, and Braunohler as Kumail’s fellow comedian friends, and Kher (a Bollywood legend who’s been in 500 films) Shroff, and Adeel Akhtar as Kumail’s brother.

THE BIG SICK is a very amusing and heartwarming love story that proves that there’s life left in rom coms. The genre appears to have died out at the multiplexes, but with help from producer Judd Apatow, this indie refreshens the formula. As I’ve written on this blog before, director Michael Showalter in such films as THE BAXTER and THEY CAME TOGETHER, seems to have a thing about deconstructing rom com tropes, but it appears that he’s best here and in his last film, HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS, when he keeps the narrative grounded in relatable reality.

This is Showalter’s best film, the best comedy I’ve seen this year, and a winner all around for Nanjiani and Gordon and everyone involved. It’s a big success at my local indie art house, the Rialto, where I work part time, as I’ve heard a lot of loud laughter from the crowded theater every time it screens. A delight through and through.

More later...

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

SPIDER-MAN Brings It All Back Home

Now playing at a multiplex near us all:

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

(Jon Watts, 2017)



So I guess we’re supposed to pretend that those two Andrew Garfield AMAZING SPIDER-MAN movies never happened, right? Well, with this shiny new reboot that establishes the character as a player in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) that’s incredibly easy to do.

We were introduced to the new web-slinging kid, Tom Holland, in the superhero-studded CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR last summer, and this film recounts that event from a different perspective via Peter Parker’s video diary of the event.

So we get to see just how Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr. in his eighth appearance as IRON MAN) got Peter to Leipzig/Halle Airport in Germany, outfitted him in a cool new suit, and put him in place to steal Captain America’s shield at just the right moment.

But Tony doesn’t think that Peter is ready to be an Avenger yet, but our boy can’t wait to prove himself. He constantly calls Tony’s driver/bodyguard Happy (Jon Favreau in his fourth film in the part), hoping that he can get in on some world-saving action but to no avail.

Meanwhile, the film’s villain, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is building weaponary, including a mechanized flight suit that turns him into The Vulture (a character that dates back to 1963), out of the ruins of the alien tech from the attack on New York in the first AVENGERS movie.

Peter/Spidey comes across Toomes’ men robbing an ATM (all wearing Avengers masks) and in a gripping fight scene he is able to take them out, that is, until they start battling him with their alien laser gear. Despite this occurrence, Peter still can’t get Happy to return his calls so he sets off on his own to stop the Vulture’s evil doings.

Now that’s the superhero stuff, but there’s another movie here – a teen coming-of-age high school rom com in which Peter falls for one of his classmates, M.J. (Zendaya), and pals around with his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), who finds out his secret identity early on.

These genres smoothly intertwine with a lot of thrills and laughs throughout, and a some stellar action sequences including a Washington Monument set-piece that’s up there with the best scenes from the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire SPIDER-MAN movies from well over a decade ago. This is indeed the best movie featuring the iconic comic book legend since 2004’s SPIDER-MAN 2, and maybe the funniest MCU movie since ANT-MAN.

Holland makes a likably angsty mark as Peter/Spidey, carrying the movie through both its high octane spectacle and its adolescent hi jinks with relatable charm. Keaton chews through scenery with a fever that will make you forget BATMAN and BIRDMAN (well, actually it’s hard not to think of BIRDMAN as the costume looks like a metal version of his attire in that excellent Oscar-winner).

As much as he brings star power and his patented charm to the project, I’m not sure it was really necessary to have Downey Jr.’s IRON MAN around for this film, but as there’s no Uncle Ben, it seems the kid does need a mentor/father figure around and Tony fulfills that role fine. I was hoping for more of Tony flirting with Peter’s Aunt May (Marissa Tomei), who seems to have been cast to make the character a MILF.


It's also kind of funny to see Donald Glover in a small part as a criminal involved with Toomes as he was once rumored to take on the role of Spidey himself at one point.

Director Watts, whose third film this is after CLOWN and the Kevin Bacon thriller COP CAR keeps the pacing from dragging, working from a screenplay he co-wrote with a veritable committee made up of Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley (Sam from Freaks and Geeks!), Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, and Erik Sommers.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING won’t win over folks who hate superhero movies (or can't stand tons of CGI, no matter how flawless it is), but fans of the genre will eat it up. It’s a fun, and very funny piece of pure escapism that lovingly re-ignites the exciting spark that was missing from the last few entries, which, I’m sorry, I meant not to mention again.

Now that Sony, Marvel Studios and Disney are in bed together for this new run of Holland-starring SPIDER-MAN movies (including sequels and appearances in the AVENGERS series), it’s great to see that they’ve successfully brought it all back home.

As usual - stay for the after credits stinger (one of the funniest so far), and look out for the Stan Lee cameo - as for the other MCU callbacks, you are on your own.

More later...

Monday, July 03, 2017

BABY DRIVER: The Best Movie Of The Summer Is Here

Now playing at a multiplex near you, the much buzzed about movie that’s #2 at the box office (sadly following DESPICABLE ME 3):

BABY DRIVER
(Dir. Edgar Wright, 2017)


Edgar Wright’s first film since 2013’s hilarious conclusion to the Cornetto trilogy, THE WORLD’S END, is the summer’s best film so far. It’s a wild ride concerning young newcomer Ansel Elgort as Baby, a getaway driver for a series of heists planned by Kevin Spacey as a slick, sinister crime kingpin named Doc. And the icing on the cake is that the nonstop action is fueled by a hip, hot nonstop soundtrack.

We meet Elgort’s Baby, who’s constantly plugged into one of his many iPods (“I’ve got iPods for different days, and moods” he explains), in the middle of a bank robbery with fellow felons played by Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, and Eiza González, synched to “Bellbottoms” by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. A chaotic car chase through downtown Atlanta follows in which Baby’s extremely fast-minded expert evading of the police makes Ryan Gosling in DRIVE look like an f-in’ amateur.

Baby continuously listens to music to drown out his tinnitus which was the result of a car accident that killed his parents when he was a kid. He lives in a shabby apartment with his foster father (CJ Jones), and makes mixes of sound bites he records daily adding beats and turn table effects.

Spacey’s Doc tells Baby that after one more job his debt will be paid off so he join a different crew made up of Jamie Foxx, Flea, and Lanny Goon for the robbery of an armored car.

The job doesn’t go as smoothly as before (meaning that there are casualties), but Baby is out of the game and goes legit taking a job as pizza delivery man. On a date with a cute waitress named Debora (cue: Beck’s “Debra”) he met earlier in the movie, he runs into Doc, who, of course, wants him to do one last job.

Wright’s film, which he’s had on the back burner since 1994, is full of kinetic energy with quick cuts, jolting thrills, and stunning visuals flashing by in intoxicating sequence after sequence. It recalls the exciting spark of Tarantino’s best work while being very much its own thing. It’s a shame that Wright’s ANT-MAN didn’t come to fruition (he was replaced by Peyton Reed as director due to artistic differences) but if that helped make this happen he still came out on top.

Elgort, best known for the DIVERGENT series and THE FAULT BEHIND THE STARS (though not by me as I haven't seen any of those movies), puts in an incredibly focused star-making turn in the title role. There were times that I wished he were cast as the young Han Solo in the upcoming STAR WARS spin-off. Especially since I hear that an acting coach had to be called in for Alden Ehrenreich.

My only complaint is that much of the cast gets lost in the mix. Although Bernthal makes a gruff, threatening mark in an early scene, he disappears for the rest of the movie (granted he does say “If you don’t see me again, it’s because Im dead but I wanted at least a call back). Hamm and González are very appealing in their sideline roles but don't really get much of a chance to make their characters very memorable.

However, Foxx does, ferociously sinking his teeth into his part as Leon Bats Jefferson III, who is deliciously trigger happy and quick to question Babys meticulous methods. Spacey does good work in his meaty roll as Doc, but its a part he could play in his sleep.

BABY DRIVER is so much fun that I’m really looking forward to seeing it again. Much of its well shot shoot-outs and crazy car stunt action goes by in such an ultra stylish blur (even including a song by the British band Blur) that I’m sure there’s a lot I missed.

And its rewatchability is also heightened by its amazing soundtrack, which will surely become a classic. Unlike, say, the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY series’ musical platters, it’s dominated by largely obscure artists like the Damned, Googie René, Danger Mouse, Big Boi, Carla Thomas, Run The Jewels, and Bob & Earl. Even the songs by the better known artists like Commodores, T. Rex, Simon & Garfunkel, and the Beach Boys are deep cuts that are unfamiliar on film.

So take a break from all the summer superhero sequels and jump aboard the BABY DRIVER bandwagon. I seriously doubt that something better will come along this season.

More later...

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

BEATRIZ AT DINNER: A Meager, Meaningless Meal

Now playing at an arthouse or multiplex that shows a few art films near you:

BEATRIZ AT DINNER

(Dir. Miguel Arteta, 2016)


I left the theater after this film in a state of bewilderment. For it has such a promising premise involving a working class member of the 99% confronting one of the most corrupt bigwig one percenters at a dinner party, but it doesn't know at all what to do with this narrative, and in the end it just gives up in way that seems designed to rub people wrong, and make them shake their heads.

A stoic Selma Hayak plays Beatriz, a masseuse who finds herself stranded at one of her rich client’s (Connie Britton) house, a McMansion in a gated community because her car won’t start after their session. Britton’s Kathy, an aging trophy wife, invites Beatriz to stay for dinner, despite her husband’s (David Warshofsky) objections.

Beatriz meets the snooty other guests including Jay Duplass and Chloë Sevigny as Warshofsky’s business partner and wife, who are celebrating a big real estate deal with John Lithgow as a wicked Trump-like tycoon, who initially mistakes Beatriz for the help. Beatriz says she recognizes Lithgow’s character, whose name is Doug Strutt (he’s the only one in the film who has a last name) from somewhere, so she keeps trying to place him.

The tension escalates at dinner with Beatriz getting more and more offended at all of the glib, self-congratulatory chit-chat that Strutt and his fawning sycophants are continuously spouting while condescending to her. It comes to a head when Strutt shows off a cellphone picture of a rhinoceros he shot and killed on a hunting expedition in Africa. Beatriz throws his phone at Strutt and calls him “sick!”

There is some juicy material here but screenwriter Mike White’s dialogue just skates across the icy surface of possibilities. I kept preparing myself to enjoyably cringe during several edgy scenes, but kept being let down at how the film doesn’t dig deep into these people’s opposing philosophies. 
All of these characters, even Beatriz, are caricatures so there’s no real meat to the matter. No stirring arguments are presented, no revelations are exposed, nothing really interesting happens. 

And the ending is baffling. No spoilers but it caps off an unpleasant experience in a dreary manner that I bet most people will find to be extremely unsatisfying. BEATRIZ AT DINNER is a wasted opportunity to say something profound about class distinctions, race relations, and human nature. It promises dinner but all it can gather is a meager, meaningless meal.

More later...

Friday, June 09, 2017

The Dark Universe Franchise Kicks Off With THE MUMMY, Which Isn't Even Matinee Worthy

Now playing at a multiplex near everybody:

THE MUMMY (Dir. Alex Kurtzman, 2017)



Until recently, I was unaware that there is a new cinematic franchise in the works involving rebooting the Universal Monsters. A massive interlocking series featuring movies starring Dracula, The Invisible Man, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon is planned under the name “Dark Universe,” as in, ‘look out, Marvel! Dark Universe is coming to overshadow you big-time!’

Not so fast, DU, as your inaugural release, THE MUMMY is a dud on arrival. Without a single scare, it fails at horror; without any genuine thrills or excitement, it fails at suspense; without any charm or depth, it fails at romance and drama; and with very few laughs, it fails at comedy too. There’s no genre it succeeds in! Even its visual imagery, which looks washed out and flat (and I saw it in 3D), is dreary, with no oomph.

I kept wishing that Tom Cruise had just made another MISSION IMPOSSIBLE movie instead, as just about everything he does in this film – death defying airplane acrobatics, outrunning sand storms, dodging gunfire through chaotic chase sequences – he’s done so much better in that series.

So this film, which is so not connected to the Brendan Fraser MUMMY franchise (R.I.P. 1999-2008), concerns an Egyptian goddess named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella, giving it her all but still not very scary) cursing Cruise as a brash graverobber, who along with his army buddy Jake Johnson, just happened to come across her tomb in modern day Iraq. After his wise-cracking role in JURASSIC WORLD and now this, maybe Johnson’s forte will be to be the comic relief on the sidelines in big ass fantasy action movies.

The cast is rounded out by Annabelle Wallis as an exposition-spouting archeologist, and possible love interest for Cruise, and, more importantly, a low key Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll, who my friend Fonvielle of Filmvielle told me will be like the Nick Fury character in the Marvel movies – the connective tissue between all the projected entries.

Thing is, Marvel built their cinematic universe bit by bit, movie by movie, before branding itself so blatantly. Samuel L. Jackson’s Fury appeared for the first time in an after credits scene (something that Marvel might as well trademark) to hint at a future framework involving the Avengers, etc, but THE MUMMY begins with a “Dark Universe” title that hasn’t been earned. They’re trying too hard to make an all-new Universal Monsters series immediately happen, but it’s way too soon for it to really be “a thing” yet.

Especially as I predict that WONDER WOMAN, in its second week of release, is going to kick its ass. Hell, the much buzzed about horror indie IT COMES AT NIGHT might even trounce it. I bet that one has legitimate scares in it too.

So, in conclusion – Dark Universe, keep your pants on! You’re getting way ahead of yourself says this lowly blogger. And Cruise – make another MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, EDGE OF TOMORROW, or even a JACK REACHER movie instead of getting aboard this silly franchise wannabe. Even the TOP GUN sequel that he’s talked about recently is a more appealing prospect than another entry in this convoluted mess of monster movies that Universal is cooking up (or re-heating).

THE MUMMY isn’t even worth the price of a matinee or the admission for a second run screening. Wait for it to come to Redbox or Netflix, then skip it there too.


More later...

Friday, June 02, 2017

WONDER WOMAN Does The Iconic Superheroine Justice

Now playing at multiplexes everywhere:

WONDER WOMAN (Dir. Patty Jenkins, 2017)


It’s no secret that the implementation of the DC Extended Universe hasn’t been a critical success so far. The first three entries – MAN OF STEEL, BATMAN V. SUPERMAN, and SUICIDE SQUAD – have been chaotic fiascos with cluttered storylines, mishandled mythology, and poorly drawn characters that it was near impossible to care about.

But there was the glimmer of light that was the introduction of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in B V S, and that gave hope that her solo movie, opening today, would be the first actually good movie of the DCEU.

Well, that hope has been satisfied as WONDER WOMAN is a wonderful (sorry, couldn’t resist) crowd pleaser that breathes new life into the franchise. A radiant Gadot owns the screen as the iconic superhero, bringing kick-ass charisma, fearless finesse, and a knowing wit to her role. She’s joined by Chris Pine, trading his Starfleet Captain attire for a U.S. Army Air Force Captain uniform, as Steve Trevor, who crashes his plane near the island of Themyscira, the land of the Amazons, while being chased by German soldiers.

Before this, we see little Diana (as played at different ages by Lilly Aspell and Emily Carey) training with her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright, who’s having a great week with this and season five of House of Cards dropping on Netflix), in secret as her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Neilsen) disapproves.

Fully grown and ready to rumble, Diana rescues Steve from drowning, fights the attacking Germans, then travels with Steve to find Ares the Greek god of War, who she thinks is responsible for World War I.

Diana and Steve travel to London, where he gives the film’s McGuffin – a notebook which he stole from German chemist Dr. Maru aka Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), which has chemical formulas for gasses powerful enough to destroy gas masks – to Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis) of the Imperial War Cabinet.

After getting outfitted in proper period dress with the help of Steve’s secretary (the British Office’s Lucy Davis making the comic most of her limited screentime) the duo travel to the frontline with a ragtag crew, including Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, and Eugene Brave Rock, that reminded me of the scrappy rebel team that was assembled for the heist in ROGUE ONE.

Diana believes that the sinister General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) is Ares so she aims to kill him, but she doesn’t realize that this is one of those movies that has a secret bad guy in it to provide a third act twist.

With her 
shield, bullet-proof bracelets, and lasso of truth (not to mention her “God Killer” sword), Wonder Woman fights her way through gunfire, explosions, and all the spectacle that you’d come to expect from a summer blockbuster, but with an energy and gusto that stands up to some of Marvel’s best action sequences. The dark, gritty textures of the film’s look (courtesy of cinematographer Matthew Jensen), also give the proceedings gravitas that compares favorably with their comic book movie competitors.

One of my only complaints is that at two hours and 20 minutes is a bit too long. A few scenes drag and couldve been cut down with no loss of narrative, but as it is an origin story, I bet the filmmakers thought its epic length was justified.

But Gadot and Pine’s palpable chemistry, which has an element of screwball in their between action set-piece banter, keeps the film's formula flowing for the most part. 

Its great that WONDER WOMAN was directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins, partly because it would just feel wrong if it wasn’t, but really because judging by her filmography (MONSTER, episodes of Arrested Development, The Killing) she’s much more talented than Zach Snyder, who’s to blame for two of the aforementioned epic fails of the DCEU, but to be fair, Snyder did co-contribute to this films story. 

Wonder Woman will return in the next DC entry, JUSTICE LEAGUE, due out later this year, but since Snyder is helming that, my expectations are very low. I’m betting that Jenkins does the iconic superheroine a lot better 
justice here.

More later...

Friday, May 26, 2017

PIRATES 5: DEAD MEN TELL NO NEW TALES

Now playing at a multiplex near us all:

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES

(Dirs. Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg, 2017)


After a string of major misfires, including ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, THE LONE RANGER, MORTDECAI (forgot about that one!), TRANSCENDENCE, and DARK SHADOWS, Johnny Depp once again dusts off his Keith Richards impression, dons an X-marked pirate hat, do-rag, black eye makeup, earrings, and the rest of his familiar ratty attire (not dissimilar to what Depp wears in real life) to resurrect the character of Jack Sparrow for the fifth film of Disneys highly lucrative PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise.

As his last big hit was the last PIRATES movie, ON STRANGER TIDES, this makes financial sense for the actor, but for folks (like me) who are tired of the increasingly redundant series, it’s not a very appealing prospect.

But, hey, I try to give every movie the benefit of the doubt - even when it comes to the slew of seemingly unnecessary sequels that clog up the multiplexes every summer. So I’ll say this - DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES is better than the previous PIRATES entry, Rob Marshall’s ON STRANGER TIDES (2011), but, and I know you can see this coming, that’s really not saying much.

This time around, the premise concerns Brenton Thwaites as the son of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly’s characters from the first several movies, who seeks out Depp’s Sparrow to help him find the film’s McGuffin - a magical compass thingie called the Trident of Poseidon - so that he can free his father from a curse keeping him forever undersea aboard his sunken ship.

Also wanting to find Sparrow and break their curse, is a group of undead sailors led by the sinister Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem, who's a little scary at first but that dies off rapidly), who were trapped in the Devil’s Triangle by Sparrow (in a flashback where we see a young Depp courtesy of digital trickery). Oh yeah, there’s also actually a female lead along for the ride played by Kaya Scodelario, whose character Carina Smyth is an astronomer, which makes people think she’s a witch.

Add Geoffrey Rush reprising his role as Captain Hector Barbossa for the fifth time to the mix, and we’re off into another amped up series of over-the-top sequences in which our heroes seamlessly dodge digital dangers in battles at sea and on land with all of them blending together into a tedious run through done-to-death plot mechanics.

Even bits that I enjoyed such as an action set piece involving a botched bank robbery in which the actual bank building is pulled around a village by a team of horses, felt like a variation on any number of comical chases in the previous entries, and Depp’s swishy Sparrow schtick, which was past its sell-by date a few films ago is just another predictable, uninspired element on display here.

On the plus side, the visual imagery, aided by tons of CGI, is stunning with oceans that glitter to the horizon dominated by intricately detailed battle ships and cool looking ghost sharks (that’s right). It proves that these days even mediocre movies can look immaculate.

Despite this appraisal, I wouldn’t recommend seeing it in IMAX 3D like I did - the effect wears off pretty quickly.

I predict that PIRATES fans will be pleased by this entry - I say that because my wife likes them and she liked this one - but while I thought there was a reasonable amount of fun onscreen for at least a matinee price, I grow tired at seeing this series endlessly repeat itself. 

This film seems to have two major purposes as a piece of pop culture - keep the franchise afloat for more follow-ups, and end Depp’s career slump. As its biggest competition this Memorial Day weekend is BAYWATCH, I’m betting it will have no trouble reaching those goals.

For those who are curious - yes, there is an after credits stinger to set up a yet another sequel. Like every single thing else here, that’s a given.

More later...

Friday, May 19, 2017

Richard Gere Fakes His Way Through Being A Fixer in NORMAN

Now playing at an indie arthouse near me (the Rialto in Raleigh being the closest):

NORMAN (Dir. Joseph Cedar, 2016)



In Israeli writer/director’s first English language film NORMAN (aka NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER), Richard Gere schleps around Manhattan stalking powerful people who he promises to introduce to other powerful people.

Gere’s Norman Oppenheimer constantly networks, trying to make political connections, handing out his business card for “Oppenheimer Strategies,” faking his way through being a fixer with most of his prey knowing, or sensing that he’s just a small time operator with no real clout.

That is until one day when he meets Micha Eshel (a smooth, charming Lior Ashkenazi), the deputy Israeli minister of trade and labor, outside a high end clothing store (Norman was staking him, of course), and the two establish a friendship - mostly because Norman buys Micha an outrageously expensive pair of shoes.

Three years later, Eshel is made Prime Minister of Israel, and Norman aims to rekindle their relationship as it appears that he finally has an “in.” Norman is subsequently sought after, while his past is scrutinized, and he finds he’s being followed. Then Eshel gets caught in a scandal involving bribes and corruption, and Norman may be in hot water as the unnamed businessman that Eshel will have to use as a scapegoat in order to escape prosecution.

Gere, while neither Jewish or a schlub (albeit a well dressed one with a cashmere coat and nice suits), is terrific as Norman, who at times appears to stare into the abyss as we see looking through his eyes at unforgiving surroundings.

Utterly believable as this pathetic, delusional loser who believes he’s a winner and fancies himself a macher (Yiddish for an important or influential person), Gere’s interacts with the rest of the cast in sometimes amusing, sometimes cringe-worthy ways.

The rest of the cast includes Michael Sheen as Norman’s skeptical nephew, Steve Buscemi as a Rabbi who stupidly trusts Norman to find an investor so he can save his synagogue, Hank Azaria as the guy following Norman who turns out to be a “Norman” himself with a similar business card for a non-existent company, and pitches that he can connect powerful people with one another; and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a woman who Norman blabs to on a train, who turns out to be an Israeli prosecutor.

It’s billed as a thriller, but Director Cedar, working from his own screenplay, plays a lot of this material in a comedic fashion by populating the film with doublespeak dialogue and a sometimes silly score by Japanese composer Jun Miyake which is dominated by a bouncy brass section.

NORMAN may take a bit to get going, but once it does it’s a wicked delight. It could be seen as a companion piece to Oren Moverman’s TIME OUT OF MIND, which starred Gere as a delusional homeless man wandering the streets of New York, hoping to re-connect with his daughter.

Gere’s Norman may be homeless himself as while a rent-controlled apartment that he inherited is mentioned, we never see it. He also says he has a daughter, but we’re not sure we believe him. The man who once starred in a movie called POWER, and has made a career out of playing slick affluent men, is now excelling at playing scruffy people who have no power.

Gere used to be an actor that didn’t appeal to me back in the day, but now having seen how f-in’ good he is at slumming it, he’s more than earned my respect.

More later...