Keep Quiet (2016) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): The repentance of an anti-semite Jewish Hungarian

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Joseph Martin and Sam Blair’s documentary film “Keep Quiet” presents one extraordinary human story. Here is a man who has tried to reach for repentance and redemption since he confronted a hidden truth which shattered what he had fervently espoused for years, and the documentary gives us a number of quiet but powerful moments as calmly observing not only who he was but also whom he tries to be at present. While we cannot help but have some doubt on him for good reasons, the documentary is still a thought-provoking experience, and its main subject is surely relevant considering the recent political situation around the global community.

His name is Csanád Szegedi, and the early part of the documentary is mainly about his early years and his following rapid political rise during the 2000s. Considerably influenced by his father’s right-wing nationalistic view, Szegedi was ready to embrace nationalism during his college years, and he talks to us about how much he was drawn to far-right propagandas filled with crackpot ideas such as a global Jewish conspiracy. He eventually joined a radical nationalist party named Jobbik, and he quickly became quite prominent in public thanks to his wild, charismatic rhetoric.

As pointed out in the documentary, Szegedi and his party were at the right moment for aggressively expanding their political influence. As Hungary struggled with economic depression in 2006, many people in the country felt angry about the failure of their government, and Jobbik further propelled that volatile mood in a way not so far from how Hitler and his Nazi party did in Germany during the 1930s. Szegedi and other leading figures of Jobbik constantly propagated their messages full of xenophobia and anti-semitism in public, and he and his close associates even founded a paramilitary group called Magyar Gárda (Hungarian Guard), which was fortunately banned in 2009.

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As he began to serve in the European Parliament thanks to his party’s considerable political success in 2009, Szegedi was prepared to go higher, but then there came an unexpected disclosure. When one of party members disclosed to Szegedi and others that Szegedi’s maternal grandmother is actually Jewish, Szegedi could not believe it at first, but there was an undeniable evidence, and then it was confirmed to him by his maternal grandmother, who also revealed to her grandson that she was a survivor of Auschwitz concentration camp. Once this unbelievable fact was eventually exposed in public, everything in Szegedi’s public life instantly crumbled; he had no choice but to leave his party, and he confides to us that he even considered a suicide as feeling more morose and confused during that time.

While trying to deal with his confusion, Szegedi tried to find a way to restart his life and amend himself, and he found the way from an unlikely place. He went to a local synagogue in Budapest, and that was where he met Baruch Oberlander, who was understandably skeptical about Szegedi’s intention but decided to help Szegedi because that is what he should do as a compassionate religious man. Under Oberlander’s guidance, Szegedi slowly entered the world of Orthodox Judaism, and we watch him going through a number of rituals while accompanied with Oberlander and other rabbis.

Through Oberlander, Szegedi came to learn more about the Holocaust, which he and his former right-wing colleagues virtually derided and denied for years. At one point, we see him and Oberlander visiting a famous spot in Budapest where many Jewish people were killed during 1944-45, and Oberlander makes a sobering point on how many Hungarians were quite willing to assist Nazi Germany in murdering Jewish people. Szegedi also visited Auschwitz concentration camp along with an old lady who was sent there just like his grandmother, and he came to see that his grandmother did not exaggerate at all.

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As looking around the remains of the concentration camp along with Szegedi, the old lady tells him and us about what she experienced during that horrific time, and that is the most harrowing and haunting moment in the documentary. She still remembers well when she was sent to the concentration camp along with thousands of people including her families and friends, and we can feel her pain and sorrow as listening to her tragic story.

While getting himself closer to his Jewish root, Szegedi tried to present himself in public as a repentant man quite different from his former self, and Oberlander supported that as much as he could, but, of course, that turned out to be quite difficult. After Szegedi gave a speech at a meeting held in Germany, several people openly showed their skepticism on his changed status. During his visit to Canada, he was held by authorities for a while due to his political past, and he had to leave sooner than planned.

Is Szegedi really sincere in this rather dramatic personal transformation? And can he possibly attain what he supposedly hopes for? “Keep Quiet” wisely sticks to its calm, objective position, we come to wonder constantly about Szegedi and what will happen next in his uncertain life, and all I can tell you for now is that there is some tentative hope around the end of the documentary. Regardless of what you will think of him, this is one of the most fascinating documentaries of this year, and I am glad that it is widely available at present thanks to Netflix.

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The Running Actress (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): It’s hard out here for an actress…

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First, let me talk a bit about Moon So-ri, who has been one of the most prominent movie actresses in South Korea during last two decades. After drawing the attention of South Korean audiences in Lee Chang-dong’s “Peppermint Candy” (2000), she gave an unforgettable performance in Lee’s following work “Oasis” (2002), and then she entertained us with her stellar performances in a series of good films including “A Good Lawyer’s Wife” (2003), “The President’s Barber” (2004), “Family Ties” (2006), “Forever the Moment” (2008), and Hong Sang-soo’s several films such as “Hahaha” (2010) and “Hill of Freedom” (2014). Even when she only made a brief appearance in Park Chan-wook’s “The Handmaiden” (2016), she gave us something to remember, and I certainly enjoyed her spirited voice performance in animation feature film “Leafie, A Hen into the Wild” (2011).

During recent years, Moon also tried writing and directing. She previously wrote and directed three short films “The Actress” (2014), “The Running Actress” (2015), and “The Best Director” (2015), and these three short films are assembled here together in her first feature film “The Running Actress”. While the overall result may look modest on the surface, the movie is filled with small funny moments which constantly induced laughs and chuckles during the screening I attended during last Saturday evening, and I was certainly delighted by her interesting attempt in filmmaking.

In all of these three short films, Moon So-ri plays a fictional version of herself, and the first short film, “The Actress”, opens with Moon being about to go hiking along with her two female friends. As they talk with each other while climbing up a mountain outside Seoul, their conversation is naturally turned to Moon’s recent acting career which does not seem to be going nowhere due to the lack of good screenplay, and we get little good laughs as Moon and her friends talk more about that.

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The situation becomes funnier when Moon and her friends come across a movie production company guy and two other guys accompanying him. When they enjoy their drinking after climbing down the mountain, they meet these guys again, and that leads to a moment not so far from those drunken comic moments of Hong Sang-soo’s films. Quite more inebriated than Moon and her friends, these guys generate silly moments of embarrassment and rudeness, and you may simultaneously laugh and cringe as watching how much Moon feels insulted and exasperated by these drunken guys’ insolent remarks on her life and career.

Moon did a good job of accumulating comic momentum during this painfully funny scene, which is then followed by a couple of equally amusing scenes. Moon tries to get some consolation from one of her friends when they have a little talk outside later, but her friend does not help her much while keeping emphasizing what Moon should do as one of the best actresses in South Korea. When she is going back to home, Moon is understandably a bit harsh to her manager, and that leads to another funny moment in the film.

The second short film “The Running Actress”, which was shot in 2.35:1 ratio in contrast to the other two short films which were shot in 1.85:1 ratio, focuses on Moon’s one long, difficult day. We see her beginning the day at her home where she lives with her husband, her daughter, and her mother, who asks Moon to do some favor for her when Moon is about to leave their home. We see her trying to deal with a problem involved with a bank account belonging to her mother-in-law, who does not even seem to remember whether she has a bank account or not. And we see her having a rather awkward meeting with a middle-aged independent filmmaker, who wants her to make an appearance in his film without getting paid much.

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While this part feels merely episodic, it gradually conveys the sense of suffocation felt by Moon in the film. She wants to keep working as usual, but there are so many other things to be handled besides her little daughter, and her husband’s little sympathetic words do not make her situation look better. In the end, we come to emphasize with her a lot as watching her trying to ventilate her frustration, but we also cannot help but laugh thanks to Moon’s good comic timing.

The third short film “The Best Director” also provides plenty of laughs despite its supposedly solemn background. A director with whom Moon worked a long time ago recently died, so Moon comes to attend his wake, but there is no other visitor besides a washed-up actor who worked with Moon in the past. Quite drunken alone, this guy rudely suggests that Moon have a drink with him, and Moon reluctantly agrees to spend some time with him. The mood becomes more awkward as they talk more about the diseased director, and then there comes another visitor, who only makes the situation a lot more awkward.

I will not go further into details for not spoiling your fun, but I can tell you that I was impressed by how confidently Moon handles this scene. As the camera calmly watches the conversation between Moon and the other characters for a long time, the level of hilarity is increased to our amusement before the movie eventually punctuates the situation with a sudden moment you have to see for yourself, and I like how Moon finishes the story with an unexpected tender moment between Moon and one certain character.

While being an enjoyable summation of another side of Moon’s talent, “The Running Actress” also makes sharp points on how many talented South Korean actresses like Moon have been under-utilized during recent years, and that reminds me of how most of recent major South Korean films have been male-dominant despite the notable critical success of “The Handmaiden” and other South Korean films representing female perspectives. That biased trend is surely needed to be changed, and I sincerely hope there will be more chances for Moon as well as other talented women in South Korean movie business.

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Wind River (2017) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): A bleak, chilly procedural on the wilds of Wyoming

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While often quite stark in its gloomy tone, “Wind River” is a compelling procedural which gradually grabs our attention via its vivid atmosphere and deft storytelling. As it slowly builds up its story and characters, we become absorbed into its harsh, violent world where everyday is a struggle for survival, and there are several haunting moments which will linger on you for a long time after it is over.

After the chilly opening scene unfolded across a wide snowy field in the middle of one cold winter night, the movie introduces us to Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a tracker working for the US Fish and Wildlife Service around the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. When we see him for the first time, he is protecting a herd of goats in one local farm from a few wolves, and we observe how efficient he is as a professional while he shoots some of those wolves one by one.

On one day, Lambert happens to discover a frozen corpse while doing another tracking job near the farm belonging to his native ex-wife’s father. It is the body of the girl who was shown to us during the opening scene, and he knows who that girl is. Her name is Natalie (Kelsey Chow), and she was a close friend of his dead daughter, who died several years ago under a circumstance still remaining to be unclarified.

Because Natalie’s body is found within the reservation area, the case is going to be investigated by the local police of the reservation area, but FBI sends an agent to the area for confirming whether the case is serious enough for investigation. The agent in question is Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), and the movie gives us some amusement as she hurriedly comes from Las Vegas without enough preparation. Due to a sudden blizzard, she nearly loses her way even though her car is quite close to where Lambert and others are waiting for her, and then she has to borrow several winter gears for going to the crime scene along with others.

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Nevertheless, she knows not only what she should do but also what she needs for doing that. After seeing how Lambert clearly deduces what possibly happened from the trail around the crime scene, she instantly enlists him for her investigation, and he is willing to help her as a guy who knows well the area as well as its people. Still haunted by his daughter’s death, he wants a chance of redemption from this case, and that aspect is clearly shown from when he talks with Natalie’s grieving father in private.

The movie takes its time as immersing us into its moody wintry background, and we come to get accustomed to its bleak sense of life around Lambert and other characters living in and around the reservation area. Their life is full of despair and ennui without much hope, and that is particularly exemplified well by a bitter conversation scene between Lambert and a young native guy, who was once promising in the past but went down into the pit of addiction probably because of his frustration with racism.

And we get to know more about Lambert as he works more with Banner. As discerning that they must depend on each other for solving the case, Lambert and Banner come to respect each other as equal partners, and the movie wisely does not go for any possibility of romance between them – even when Lambert confides to Banner about that tragic night which changed his life forever.

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The mystery surrounding Natalie’s death turns out to be rather simple, but director/writer Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the screenplay for “Sicario” (2015) and was recently Oscar-nominated for his screenplay for “Hell or High Water” (2016), steadily increases narrative momentum as his main characters delve deeper into their case. As the movie approaches to its expected finale, we are already quite involved in what is in stake for them, and that is why a sudden narrative turn around that point works.

The movie is supported well by a bunch of good performers. Since his electrifying Oscar-nominated performance in “The Hurt Locker” (2008), Jeremy Renner has impressed us with a number of notable performances which are more interesting than his obligatory acting in the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, and he gives another excellent performance here in this film. Elizabeth Olsen, who drew my attention via her breakthrough performance in “Martha Marcy May Marlene” (2011), is equally fine as demonstrating well her considerable acting talent, and I enjoyed a good professional chemistry between her and her co-star. In case of supporting performers, Graham Greene, whom you may remember for his Oscar-nominated supporting turn in “Dance with the Wolves” (1990), is wonderful as the no-nonsense sheriff of the reservation area, and Gil Birmingham, who was one of crucial supporting characters in “Hell or High Water”, is poignant when his character reveals the deep grief behind his stoic façade.

“Wind River”, which received the Director award in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival early in this year, is the second feature film directed by Sheridan, and what is achieved here shows that he is a competent filmmaker to watch. While I was entertained by a number of well-written scenes in the film, I was impressed a lot by its mood and performance, and I came to observe its world with considerable interest. That is what a good movie can do, you know.

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Baby Driver (2017) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): A slick, efficient jukebox action movie

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“Baby Driver” delighted and excited me. Here is a slick, efficient jukebox action movie which mixes familiar genre elements in a way a lot more refreshing and thrilling than expected, and it is electrifying to watch how it deftly and smoothly drives along its course as doling out a number of superlative action sequences which will linger on you along with its terrific soundtrack.

From the beginning, the movie clearly recognizes its source of inspiration. Its hero is a young taciturn man nicknamed ‘Baby’ (Ansel Elgort), and he is a getaway driver as skillful as Ryan Gosling’s character in “Drive” (2011) or Ryan O’Neal’s in “The Driver” (1978). During the opening sequence, we see him working with a trio of bank robbers, and he certainly demonstrates his exceptional driving technique when they need to get away from the crime scene as quickly as possible.

Because of his tinnitus caused by a tragic accident which happened when he was very young, Baby usually listens to the music played on his iPods, and that even applies to when he works. Yes, we have already seen countless cases of vehicle action sequence mixed with music, but director/writer Edgar Wright and his editors Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos push that cliché further, and it is a sheer pleasure to watch how dexterously music and action is mixed together for our entertainment.

After this impressive opening sequence, the movie establishes Baby’s relationships with various characters surrounding him. His boss is a criminal mastermind called Doc (Kevin Spacey), and we come to learn that Baby has worked for Doc since he happened to steal Doc’s car full of stolen goods several years ago. So far, Baby has been impeccable as gradually paying off his debt to Doc, and Doc personally promises to him that he will soon be clean and free after one last job.

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Of course, we all know that is not possible, and we already see the trouble when Doc assembles another trio of criminals for his latest heist plan. One of them is a guy nicknamed Bats (Jamie Foxx), and this pugnacious guy instantly becomes hostile toward Baby right from when he and others gather together for preparing for their heist. At first, Bats seems to be merely threatening, but there comes a darkly amusing moment where he casually justifies what he and his accomplices are going to do, and this is later followed by a brief but chilling moment which implies how ruthless he can be.

Meanwhile, the movie pays some attention to Baby’s private life. He has lived with his deaf foster father Joseph (CJ Jones), and it is evident from their affectionate interactions that they genuinely care about each other. In his room, Baby often has his solitary fun with making mix tapes based on the snippets of the conversations he privately records, and that gives us another nice musical moment to be appreciated.

And there is a young girl named Debora (Lily James), who works as a waitress at a local cafeteria. When she and Baby happen to meet each other on one day, they instantly become attracted to each other, and they come to share their mutual dream of getting out of their world someday, though Baby does not tell her much about his current occupation.

As these story elements are assembled in each own place, the movie readies itself for a full-throttle mode. While it is surely expected that our young hero is pulled into his criminal world again, we get some unexpected moments of thrill and surprise, and there is a very tense mode when Baby and his criminal associates confront a group of guys who may not be what they seem on the surface. The climactic action sequence does not disappoint us at all with its nice payback moment, and you will certainly appreciate how Queen’s “Brighton Rock” is used during the finale.

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The cast members are all excellent in their respective roles. Ansel Elgort, who previously drew our attention via his earnest performance in “The Fault in Our Stars” (2014), gives a likable performance, and he and Lily James play well with each other in their warm, intimate scenes. Kevin Spacey shows that he is always compelling whenever he plays the smartest person in the room, and there is a little poignant moment when his character shows some generosity to Baby later in the story. While John Hamm, Jon Bernthal, and Eiza González imbues their criminal characters with life and personality, Jamie Foxx is effectively menacing, and CJ Jones and Paul Williams are also solid in their small supporting roles.

Since “The Shaun of the Dead” (2004), Wright has shown his considerable talent through a number of various comedy films. While “The Shaun of the Dead” was a funny zombie comedy film which amused me a lot for its gory but witty moments, “Hot Fuzz” (2007) was a violent but exhilarating parody of action flicks, and I still remember well how I laughed hard during one scene which hilariously parodied one certain scene from “Point Break” (1991). In case of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (2010), I was entertained by its playful handling of a video game world inhabited by Michael Cera’s nerdy hero, and “The World’s End” (2013) was another fun movie with lots of goodies to savor.

In “Baby Driver”, Wright tops himself while being a little more serious than before, and the result is one of the best action movies of this year. It may be all about style, but it is presented with admirable skill and exuberant energy, and I found myself energized by its many exciting moments during a night screening I attended on this Thursday. This is one hell of joy ride, folks.

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American Made (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): Cruise back in his element

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Based on an absurd real-life story involved with CIA, a drug cartel, and the White House, “American Made” gives us some funny moments to savor as cheerfully flying up and down along with its sleazy opportunistic hero. Although it often feels like juggling too many things and then comes to lose some of its comic momentum during its second half, the movie is kept held together by its broad but engaging lead performance at least, and I enjoyed its zany satiric spirit despite its several weak points to notice.

The movie is about the rises and falls of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), and the opening part effectively sets the tone while showing us his life and career in 1978. As a hotshot pilot of TWA, Seal surely gets some fun and excitement as flying around here and there, but he still wants more fun while feeling bored with his repetitive work routine, and that is reflected well by when he wakes up his co-pilot with an ‘unexpected turbulence’ in the middle of their flight – or when he smuggles boxes of Cuban cigars and then gets some extra cash for that.

Shortly after that illegal act of his, Seal is approached by a CIA agent who introduces himself as Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson), and he wants to use Seal’s exceptional flying skills for his covert operation in Central South America. All Seal needs to do is flying an airplane close over some communist militia camps for photographing them, and he does not hesitate to accept Schafer’s offer at all once he beholds a top-notch airplane to be given to him for the mission. While there is always the chance of being shot down during his perilous flight, he cannot refuse the thrill and excitement from that, and he even comes to quit his TWA job for working more for Schafer, who is certainly pleased as his direct superior is quite impressed by the high quality of those photographs shot from Seal’s airplane.

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Of course, Seal’s frequent flights on Central South America come to draw notices, and that is how the leaders of the Madellin cartel including Pablo Escobar approach to Seal on one day. They want to use Seal’s airplane for smuggling their drug into US, and Seal cannot resist this risky but lucrative opportunity. Once he succeeds in delivering the cartel’s drug to US, he gets paid well as promised, and Schafer does not mind this at all because he still needs Seal’s service.

The movie gets funnier as this absurd relationship among Seal, CIA, and the Madellin cartel becomes more expanded during the 1980s. For overthrowing the communist government of Nicaragua, the US government is ready to give any support to the rebel militias in that county, so Seal secretly delivers weapons to Nicaraguan rebels as instructed by Schafer, but some of those weapons are sent to the cartel during this shady delivery process. In the meantime, the cartel’s drug is safely smuggled into US via the opposite route, and Schafer keeps turning a blind eye to what is going on behind Seal’s back. As a matter of fact, he even provides Seal a big piece of land in Arkansas, where Seal can expand his aviation business.

Because the story is often intercut with the video footage scenes of Seal being mired in agitation and desperation, we already know from the start that things will eventually not go well for him, but the screenplay by Gary Spinelli bounces from one absurd moment to another as wielding several moments of black humor. Suddenly moved from their cozy home in Louisiana to a shabby house outside a small town in Arkansas, his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) and their children are not that pleased to say the least, but their new home is soon filled with lots of cash besides being considerably refurbished, and everyone is happy for that. As his aviation business is expanded further, Seal buys more planes and enlists several pilots willing to work for him, and we get an amusing moment when one of them happens to be asleep on their way back to US (Fortunately for him, his plane is on autopilot).

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As the amoral center of the movie, Tom Cruise is a lot more interesting to watch compared to his disastrously bland performance in “The Mummy” (2017). Although it has been more than 30 years since he rose to his stardom via “Risky Business” (1983) and “Top Gun” (1986), Cruise’s own star quality is not diminished at all, and it is utilized well for comic effects here in this film. Seal is not exactly a likable guy, but Cruise constantly holds our attention as his character tries to deal with troubles way over his head, and we come to enjoy his character’s bumpy ride even though we do not care a lot about him.

The movie is directed by Doug Liman, who previously collaborated with Cruise in “Edge of Tomorrow” (2014). He and his crew did a good job of establishing the authentic period atmosphere of the 1970-80s, and the soundtrack is filled with various pieces of music including “Hooked on Classics”, which is prominently used during one sequence. The cinematography by César Charlone, who was Oscar-nominated for “City of God” (2002), is also solid on the whole, and his effortless handheld camerawork brings considerable verisimilitude to the movie.

The main weak point of the movie is the under-utilization of its supporting performers, who have to fill their roles as much as they can. While Domhnall Gleeson is mostly stuck in his thankless role, Sarah Wright manages to leave some impression despite her underdeveloped character, and Jesse Plemons is totally wasted as a town sheriff who belatedly becomes suspicious about the new resident of his town. In case of Caleb Landry Jones, he is effectively pathetic as Lucy’s dopey brother, but then the movie simply uses his caricature character for cheap laughs.

On the whole, “American Made” is an entertaining film despite its flaws, so I gave it three stars, but I want to emphasize that there are better films out there. Compared to “American Hustle” (2013) and “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013), the movie is less energetic and pungent, and I think the movie could benefit from more focused and coherent storytelling. Anyway, it is nice to see Cruise back in his element, and I will not deny that I got good chuckles from that.

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The Big Sick (2017) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): While she is in coma…

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Not only smart and thoughtful but also funny and heartfelt, “The Big Sick” brings some fresh air to its genre. Yes, it is basically another story of two different people getting romantically involved with each other, but this small but fabulous movie is imbued with lots of life and personality thanks to its witty screenplay and likable performances, and it will instantly charm you and then grow on you after it is over.

Inspired by a dramatic true story between its two screenplay writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, the movie begins with the introduction of its young Pakistani American hero Kumail, who is surely the fictional version of Nanjiani and is naturally played by Nanjiani himself. While his traditional Pakistani parents want him to be a lawyer, Kumail has pursued the career of a stand-up comedian instead, and one early scene in the movie shows him and his colleagues preparing themselves for their another night of performance. Besides working at a comedy club in Chicago, he also works as an Uber driver, and we later see his small apartment where he has lived with his roommate Chris (Kurt Braunohler), who is also an aspiring comedian but is not that funny as shown from his below-average performance on the stage.

When Kumail is doing his performance on the stage during one evening, someone inadvertently heckles him, and that is how he meets Emily (Zoe Kazan), a young graduate student studying psychology in the University of Chicago. After this amusing Meet Cute moment, they meet each other again at a nearby bar, and something instantly clicks between them as they talk more with each other, so they eventually go to Kumail’s apartment for spending the night together.

It initially looks like a simple one-night encounter, but then they soon become more serious about their relationship, and the movie gives us a number of humorous moments as their relationship is developed further with growing mutual attraction. There is a small but hilarious moment when Kumail comes handy as someone to drive Emily back to her place, and I also like a sweet scene where he tries to show one of his favorite old horror films to her. As a longtime movie fan, I understand well how eager he is to share his personal passion with her; I will certainly try the same thing if I ever happen to meet someone I really like.

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While Emily wants him to meet her parents living in South Carolina, Kumail is reluctant about having her meet his parents. As a matter of fact, he never tells his family about her because he knows too well that his parents Azmat (Anupam Kher) and Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff) will never approve of their son dating a white girl like Emily. They wholeheartedly want Kumail to marry a Pakistani woman just like Kumail’s brother Naveed (Adeel Akhtar) did, and there is a running gag involved with Sharmeen’s incessant attempt to introduce her dear son to any suitable woman for marriage.

Of course, Emily eventually comes to find what Kumail has been hiding from her behind his back, and that leads to their breakup, but then there comes an unexpected happening. A few days after their breakup, Kumail hears from one of Emily’s friends that Emily is sent to a hospital for an unidentified lung infection problem, and she is put into a medically induced coma for her treatment shortly after Kumail hurriedly arrives in the hospital.

When Emily’s parents Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Ramano) come from South Carolina, the situation is awkward for Kumail to say the least. They already know that he broke up with their dear daughter, but he continues to come to the hospital, and he accordingly spends lots of time with Emily’s parents while getting to know them more.

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Never overlooking the serious aspects of its main characters’ circumstance, Nanjiani and Gordon’s screenplay smoothly moves back and forth between drama and comedy. While the scenes involved with Emily’s increasingly severe medical condition are depicted with honesty and sincerity, the awkward interactions between Emily’s parents and Kumail generate several entertaining moments of edgy humor, and one of the funniest moments in the film comes from when Terry clumsily attempts to start a conversation with Kumail at a hospital cafeteria. When Terry happens to mention 9/11, Kumail phlegmatically gives an acerbic reply, and that brief but priceless moment is effortlessly handled thanks to the performers’ precise comic timing.

Under director Michael Showalter’s skillful direction, the main cast members are uniformly good in their comic performances. Nanjiani, who has mainly been known for TV series “Silicon Valley”, is instantly amiable, and it certainly helps that he and his co-star Zoe Kazan have a good chemistry on the screen. While Ray Romano is surprisingly effective in his low-key role, Holly Hunter brings considerable spunk and humanity to her colorful Southern character, and she is simply terrific when her character confronts a guy who rudely heckles Kumail with racist insults. On the opposite, Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff, and Adeel Akhtar are excellent as Kumail’s family members, and Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, and Kurt Braunohler are also solid in their small supporting roles while providing some extra fun.

“The Big Sick” is produced by Judd Apatow, who made a number of very funny comedy films including “The 40-year-old Virgin” (2005), “Knocked Up” (2007), “Funny People” (2009), and “Trainwreck” (2015). Like these films, “The Big Sick” shines with its sharp wits while openly showing its sincere heart, and it is alternatively funny and touching its deft mix of comedy and drama. As many people already said, this is indeed the crowd-pleasing movie of this year.

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A Monster Calls (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): A typical but solid fairy tale of grief and anger

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“A Monster Calls” is a fairy tale which knows how to engage and enchant its audiences. While its story may be typical and predictable in terms of narrative and characterization, it impresses us with a number of nice fantasy elements and then touches us with a solid human base below them, and we come to care about its young hero’s difficult emotional struggle in the story.

For Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall), life has been quite difficult inside and outside his home. His dear mother Elizabeth (Felicity Jones) has been suffering from her cancer, and she keeps saying to her son that things will be all right in the end, but it is apparent that she does not have much time left for her and Conor. That means he will soon have to live with his grandmother, but he does not her like at all due to her rather strict attitude, which is not mellowed much even when her daughter is later sent to a hospital for a more intensive treatment.

In his school, Conor has been tormented by several bullies just because he looks like someone to be bullied, and one of these bullies is particularly cruel to him. Whenever that boy looks back at him in their classroom, Conor knows that he will be cornered and beaten as usual, and it seems there is nothing he can do about that.

As his mind is boiling with anger and grief, he comes to experience a strange happening at one night. There is an old yew tree in a decrepit church cemetery not so far from his home, and it is suddenly transformed into a gigantic monster which looks like a cross between a robot in the Transformer movies and that wooden alien in “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014). As Conor looking at it with horror and fascination, the monster, which is voiced by Liam Neeson, soon comes to Conor, and it offers a sort of deal to him; it will tell three stories one by one during its visits to Conor, and Conor must tell his own truthful story in exchange for that later.

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The first story, which is presented via a broad but striking animation sequence, seems to be a simple tale of good and evil at first but turns out to be a little more complex than expected. As it goes through several narrative turns, the story indirectly teaches Conor that no one is wholly good or bad, and Conor accordingly comes to realize that his life is not as simple as he once thought. His grandmother may be too frigid in his view, but one brief scene implies that she has struggled with her own grief and torment just like him. His father, who divorced her mother some years ago and moved to LA since that, cannot always be near Conor, and his current job and family come first for him now, but that does not mean that he does not love his son.

While Conor has to stay in his grandmother’s house for a few days, the monster visits him again for giving him the second story, which is also presented via an animation sequence. While it is about retaining hope and faith in front of despair and sadness on the surface, it also reflects the deep anger and frustration growing inside Conor, and that eventually leads to a harrowing moment of devastation after Conor loses himself in anger along with the monster.

In case of the third story, it is far simpler than the other two stories, and I am not so sure about whether it delivers any particular good lesson. As Conor is tormented again by his school bullies, the monster comes to him, and it tells him about an invisible man who finally came to decide to do something about his miserable status which has been ignored by many others around him. Prompted by this last story, Conor surely demonstrates to not only his bullies and but also many other students that he will not be ignored at all, and that leads to a brief scene with the school principle played by Geraldine Chaplin (Yes, she is the daughter of that legendary silent movie star).

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While it looks like the monster and his three tales are more or less than the imaginative reflections of Conor’s inner struggle, the movie constantly keeps its story grounded in reality, and the screenplay by Patrick Ness, which is adapted from his book of the same name, establishes well the strong relationship between Conor and Elizabeth during its early part. During a sweet, intimate scene where they watch “King Kong” (1933) together, we can clearly feel the affection between them, and that is the main reason why later scenes between them are genuinely sad and poignant.

The main characters in the movie initially look simple, but they gradually come to us as real characters thanks to its good main cast members. Young actor Lewis MacDougall is heartbreaking at times in his unadorned performance, and he is also supported well by several reliable veteran performers. While Felicity Jones, who has been more notable since her Oscar-nominated performance in “The Theory of Everything” (2014), brings warmth and gentleness to her character, Sigourney Weaver is commendable especially when her character expresses her feelings to her grandson later in the story, and Liam Neeson, who indirectly appears in the film via one small detail, is perfectly cast as the authoritative voice of wisdom to our young hero.

“A Monster Calls” is directed by J.A. Bayona, who previously directed “The Orphanage” (2007) and “The Impossible” (2012). While these three movies are quite different from each other in many aspects, they are all competent pieces of work thanks to deft storytelling and skillful filmmaking. According to IMDB, Bayona is going to direct the fifth installment of the Jurassic Park franchise, and I think we can have a little expectation considering the solid achievements in his three films.

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