Movie Review – Obvious Child

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Obvious Child (2014)
Written by Anna Bean, Karen Maine, & Gillian Robespierre
Directed by Gillian Robespierre

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Donna Stern is an amateur stand-up comedian in New York City whose life, while not the greatest of successes, is comfortable and stable. Then her boyfriend breaks up with her admitting he was cheating with one of her friends. The bookstore that provides her primary source of income announces it is closing. And then she meets Max, a young businessman who happens to stop by the bar/club where she performs stand up. After a night of drunken fun, she parts ways with Max and begins to move on with her life. The bombshell that hits Donna is that she is pregnant. Right away she knows she has to have an abortion, her life is in no way prepared for a child. However, Max keeps walking into her life, and Donna feels like she has to break this news to him.

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Movie Review – Call Me By Your Name

Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Written by James Ivory
Directed by Luca Guadagnino

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Elio is the son of academics living in northern Italy. He spends his days consuming books and composing piano pieces. He is also in friendship with local girl Marzia where the beginnings of attraction are forming. Summer looks to be a monotonous season until Oliver arrives. Oliver is an American doctoral student who has come to get the aid of Elio’s father in revising his dissertation. Elio finds himself drawn to Oliver and even feeling pangs of jealousy when it appears the older man fancies a woman in town. As Elio explores and discovers himself in this formative year, he becomes aware of his feelings for Oliver. First, with some anger, he tries to push them aside, and finally, he confesses all of this to Oliver who reciprocates.

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Movie Review – The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water (2017)
Written by Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor
Directed by Guillermo del Toro

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Elisa Esposito lives in Baltimore circa the early 1960s. She is mute since birth and works as a cleaning woman at a government laboratory. Her only friends are Zelda, a fellow cleaner, and Giles, her neighbor who is a closeted gay man. One night while working, a new specimen is brought into the lab by Colonel Strickland. The creature was discovered in the South American rainforest and is a humanoid fish person. Elisa feels a connection to this poor animal and worries as Strickland oversees his torture. A plan begins to develop, and Elisa becomes determined to help her new friend escape this nightmare existence.

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Movie Review – The Big Sick

The Big Sick (2017)
Written by Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
Directed by Michael Showalter

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Kumail is an aspiring stand up comedian in Chicago who is under the constant shadow of his mother’s search for a wife. While he manages to avoid the expectations of his Pakistani heritage while keeping his family happy, Kumail chances to meet Emily. She’s just a woman at a set he’s doing, but the two click and immediately rush into a relationship. Things go wrong when Emily finds out he’s never mentioned her to his family and the reality of their situation sets in. However, the relationship takes an unexpected turn when Emily suddenly contracts an unknown disease, forced to go into a medically induced coma. Kumail is left to get to know her parents while coming to terms with his own parents in regards to Emily.

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Movie Review – Spring

Spring (2014, dir. Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson)

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I began the filming expecting one thing but ended up delighted and surprised with what I got. Evan’s mother dies in front of him, succumbing to a two-year battle with cancer. He feels lost and without purpose, so this leads to a spontaneous trip to Italy, the place his parents wanted to take him before they died. Evan wanders to a small town on the coast where he meets Louise, a young student. The two click right away but there is something mysterious about her, for all her charm and wit she remains cagey about certain parts of her life.

I remember seeing the trailer for Spring before its release and got the sense it would be a dark, horror film. However, it ends up becoming a romance story without any traces of cynicism. It is a dark film, but there is an emotional truth underneath the surface. Early in the first act, after Evan first arrives in Italy there is a sense of Eli Roth’s horrid Hostel films, that creeping sense of dread. We worry Evan is winding his way down into a trap. The filmmakers establish a very gloomy mood. However, I find the film has more in common with Linklater’s Before Sunset. It ends up being lots of conversations about relationships and the nature of love between Evan and Louise. Yes, there is gore and violence, but it never overtakes the film and become the focus. Instead, character work is the meat, with violence punctuating dramatic moments.

Spring is a gorgeous looking film. Directors Moorhead and Benson previously worked on Resolution, a small indie horror flick that did similar genre play. It’s very clear they have developed their technique with some truly beautiful and well-choreographed shots. There is an explosive argument in the streets of the small village after Evan discovers Louise’s secret. It is a single take, but it is a dizzying race through the back alleys and narrow streets. They also make use of drones to produce some stunning, sweeping shots of the coastal town that stand up to an expensive crane and helicopter shots.

The bulk of the film rests on the shoulders of the two lead actors, Lou Taylor Pucci and Nadia Hilker. I have never been overly impressed by Pucci. I’d seen him in his early work (Thumbsucker, The Chumscrubber, Southland Tales) and felt he was fairly flat and have noticed him popping up from time to time. Here he reaches depths in his character I wasn’t expecting. Hilker was a discovery for me and is a perfect match for Pucci. You get caught up in the chemistry these two genuinely have. That chemistry, more than the horror elements, is what makes the film. While Spring is a definite play on genres, it teaches a valuable lesson that horror is stronger when it relies on the more human and character-focused elements of storytelling.

Spring is a film that benefits from mystery. I would highly encourage you to read as little about it as possible and just know that it’s a movie that is body horror, but also something more. It’s a film about a young man working past grief and aimlessness and the risk of love. Its whole concept is a metaphor about what we give up when we allow ourselves to fall in love, and weighing if that is worth the risk.

Movie Review – My Beautiful Laundrette

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985, dir. Stephen Frears)

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Omar Ali (Gordon Warnecke) is a young Londoner adrift. He’s dropped out of school and spends his time caring for his father Hussein, bed-ridden and increasingly inclined to drink since the suicide of his wife the previous year. Hussein realizes his son needs to expand his horizons, so he sends Omar to Uncle Nasser who sets him to work washing cars in a parking garage before handing over his failing laundrette. Omar envisions this facility becoming a place the reinvigorates the neighborhood and beginning his fortune. Through circumstance, he reunites with Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis), an old schoolmate who got caught up in the right-wing nationalist movement. Johnny breaks away from his mates but struggles. He and Omar have romantic feelings for each other but exist in two very different communities in their city.

Laundrette is a film very much of its time. Within minutes, the hardships brought by Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister are felt. London is run down, slum lords rule the roost, and anyone who can’t find a job is tossed out on their ass. The Pakistani community is not feeling the purse strings tighten as much and are seeking out fairly non-glamorous avenues to keep the money rolling in. Omar’s father is a socialist and journalist, two things that stand in contrast to the other highlighted members of his community’s ideals. While Hussein rails against Thatcher to Omar, Nasser talks with delight about how he has benefitted from her policies. Many Pakistani characters admit they feel torn between two homes, but Nasser bluntly states that as Pakistan became increasingly theocratic, it was obvious that people like him who enjoyed Western values had to leave.

However, these ideas are never really explored in depth. This is because Laundrette is a film so stuffed with ideas and wanting to say so much about them it never gets the opportunity to say much about anything. It intends to be a slightly light slice of life type film, but also a commentary on contemporary politics, but also a love story, but also a movie about Anglo-Pakistani identity. I kept thinking the picture had all the potential to be a fantastic mini-series, a Pakistani Shameless, about communities in the poor neighborhood in conflict. The romance between Omar and Johnny is meant to be the core of the film based on promotions but I felt it was secondary to the exploration of racial identity in Thatcher’s England.

When the film comes up in conversation, it is often to highlight the breakout performance of Daniel Day Lewis. I found him to be a little dull and nothing spectacular. He wasn’t terrible, the film just didn’t have the time to develop his character to become anything interesting. Omar, the protagonist of the movie, is more interesting but I never felt the deep struggle between his love for Johnny and his community in the way I believe Frears intended. The romance is never something the characters suddenly begin confronting their family about. It’s left a little ambiguous as to where they go from here. The third act shows that life isn’t going to run smoothly for the couple. When the film ends the story doesn’t. You can feel that life will continue for these people and it won’t go smoothly. But in times of government austerity life is a struggle that only those we love can help us through.

Movie Review – One From the Heart

One From the Heart (1982, dir. Francis Ford Coppola)

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Ambition in filmmaking is a dangerous tightrope. In the 1970s, there was a cascade of filmmakers who were highly ambitious and succeeded. Many of them (Spielberg, Lucas, Scorsese) continued their successes into the 1980s. Others were not so successful. Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude, Shampoo) became increasingly addicted to drugs and faded away. Michael Cimino translated his enormous success with The Deer Hunter into the bloated critical and box office failure of Heaven’s Gate. And there’s Francis Ford Coppola. The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II are held is such high esteem and Apocalypse Now has garnered a similar appreciation in the decades that followed its release. But something happened in the 1980s that caused Coppola’s star to dissipate. One From the Heart is widely considered the moment everything collapsed, but it’s more complicated than just one movie.

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