The Big Sick: Movie Man Jackson

Love isn’t easy. That’s why they call it love. Pakistani immigrant turned American citizen Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself) is looking for his big break in comedy consistently doing stand-up at a Chicago club and making ends meet as an Uber driver. One night, he’s heckled—affectionately—during a comedy set by Emily (Zoe Kazan). The two hit it off instantaneously and begin a relationship.

It isn’t without troubles. Kumail’s traditional Pakistani parents want him to marry in preordained fashion, and would disown him if they found out he was dating an American woman. Not wanting to divulge his new relationship to his family frustrates Emily to the point of relationship dissolution, who has already informed her mother Beth and father Terry (Holly Hunter, Ray Romano) that she’s seeing someone seriously. A most unfortunate event occurs that forces Emily’s parents and Kumail to be together, learn from one another, and keep hope that things will get better for the person they love.

“Based on a true story” is something hardly ever prefaced or alluded to in romantic comedies. Maybe more rom-com flicks should seek to do so. The Big Sick markets itself as “an awkward true story.” While embellishments are present, the relative accuracy of it all makes for a fascinating view in a genre sometimes devoid of them.

Something special can be seen early on in The Big Sick. From the moment Zoe Kazan’s character heckles and teases Kumail, there’s an immediate and—for lack of a better word, lovable—chemistry that provides the romantic foundation for the entire movie. Hopefully this serves as a launching pad for both leads. Nanjiani particularly, known for Silicon Valley and various bit roles in mainstream comedy, possesses the talent to be successful in many genres. Director Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name Is Doris) is along for the ride, placing all of his focus on the characters, though he’s not without some nice back-and-forth over-the-shoulder camerawork in intimate scenes.

The first act is pretty straightforward, and if this ended up being a basic Jim-and-Pam “will they, won’t they?” affair, it would still be entertaining due to the aforementioned leads doing the work they do. But, the second act rolls around and makes an infectious love story much more. Writers Nanjiani along with his real-life wife Emily V. Gordon put focus on the culture clashes when introducing Ray Romano and Holly Hunter (strong work by both) into the film, which makes for early awkwardness which eventually transitions into acceptance and appreciation at a natural pace. The duo also goes deeper into the Pakistani culture, expectations, and self-identity placed on Nanjiani by his family. Some of it is amusing in its presentation, but some of it is equally emotional and very moving; a story that doesn’t need the romantic aspect for people to connect to it.

I’m all for improvisation in comedy, but not when it’s predominant and in place of an obviously weak or nonexistent script, which feels more like the norm nowadays in most mainstream comedy offerings. In The Big Sick, there’s no improvisation because the movie doesn’t need any. Jokes are well written, and there’s rarely a time in which something said or done by characters isn’t scoring laughs on a big level. Its comedy runs just about all of the gamut: dark, light, sweet, uncomfortable, you name it. If there were but one minor issue, the occasional transition from heavy drama to cutting it up in the comedy club backstage with hopeful up-and-coming comedians looking for their big breaks is a little clunky.

At the end of the day, The Big Sick drops by into the marketplace taking the mantle as the best comedy of the year to this point. But that would be selling short The Big Sick, which does a lot as an overall feature to put it on the list of 2017’s healthier quality viewing options.

A-

Photo credits go to abcnews.com, comingsoon.net, and burnsfilmcenter.org

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Fifty Shades Darker: Movie Man Jackson

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She’s just a sucker for pain. When the world last saw Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), she had had enough of billionaire Christian Grey’s (Jamie Dornan) penchant for pain during intercourse. Ana has left Christian behind, and started to focus on herself, acquiring a job as a secretary for one of Seattle’s biggest publishers, SIP.

Christian isn’t ready to leave Ana behind, though, and reappears in her life offering to change. No contracts, or nothing she isn’t comfortable with. As the two attempt to navigate a more “vanilla” relationship, Christian’s complicated past makes this endeavor difficult.

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Call me an idiot or just too nice, but I was one of the people who didn’t believe that Fifty Shades of Gray was the worst thing modern cinema ever created. That’ s not certainly not to say it was a good or even passable movie, but it was watchable enough in stretches to go into the sequel, Fifty Shades Darker, with a relatively open mind. That didn’t last long. Working with a bigger budget, Fifty Shades Darker ends up being a much smaller and flaccid movie package.

One thing the first Fifty Shades of Grey possessed was fairly good cinematography and direction from Sam Taylor-Johnson, and a decent score and solid original music tracks. The actual production wasn’t that bad. But this go-around, “FSD,” directed by James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross), doesn’t stand out much from the average ABC Family or Oxygen film, minus the subject matter. It’s a very lifeless looking production that does nothing to titillate or stimulate, and the music chosen to accompany these “sexy” scenes ranges from corny to cringey. It’s bad the first time, by the 6th time, you’ll feel violated.

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The two lovebirds in Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan return, with passable chemistry, but not the white hot chemistry this movie needs to be effective. As in the previous movie, Dakota Johnson is by far and away the braver of the two stars once again, putting her entire body out to bare in embarrassing situations. If only her character was as strong as Dakota claims her to be, Fifty Shades Darker may have something.

Dornan bares a little more this go-around, and is a tad better than before with some more character meat. Unfortunately, his American accent slips pretty noticeably here and there, to the point where that’s all I was looking for. With that said (for better or worse), they are the best things about this sequel. Everyone else looks bored to be there (Bella Heathcote, Kim Basinger), or a little over-the-top (Eric Johhson). His role into the story is seen from a mile away; not sure if it is supposed to be.

One can get on the stars and the cast for lackluster acting, but the realization is, these aren’t talentless thespians. Two films deep now, probably not much of a stretch to say that the source material for the Fifty Shades novels is extremely shoddy. Some stories are better left in the book. The dialogue is almost always agonizing to listen to. I simply don’t believe there’s someone out there to make this sound even average, but couldn’t someone else be allowed to take a stab at the screenplay who wasn’t the author’s husband? One thing to exercise artistic control, another to not want to take any suggestions from other, possibly more experienced, people.

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As yours truly pressed on through Fifty Shades Darker, there was one thought that went through the mind: The emotional and physical pain that Ana experiences from Christian’s unconventional desires are nowhere near the levels of pain I experienced watching it unfold.

D-

Photo credits go to variety.com, eonline.com, and yahoo.com.

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La La Land: Movie Man Jackson

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Dreams, dreams, dreams. Los Angeles, California is the place people go to achieve their dreams. However, it is also the place where many a dream unfortunately go to die. For aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone), and old-school jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), only failed auditions and small-bit gigs have come from their hard work. Both do not have much more effort to give to their aspirations.

But, their batteries are recharged after chance run-ins continue to bring them together. Romance arises out of it. And luck actually begins to change for both of them. Their careers appear ready to take off, but the relationship they’ve built together could be undone if so.

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Much like Hail, Caesar!, La Land Land is a love letter to something particular. Whereas the former film was a love letter to old Hollywood, the latter film is much more specific in its scope, writing a letter to a particular genre of film. That genre of film being the musical. Its simplicity and uncommon-ness in today’s day and movie age makes for a fascinating and fresh watch.

Yours truly never looks forward to watching a musical, and I was a little skeptical of La La Land for this very reason initially. My skepticism was put to bed rather quickly, as director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) opens the movie with an astonishing set piece on the actual LA freeway. What Chazelle does here is simply amazing. The music happens rather organically, rather than overly manufactured. Though the pieces become significantly smaller scale-wise as the film progresses, that doesn’t make them any less impressive. In fact, it allows the cinematography to shine brighter, making for a beautiful-looking movie. This obviously isn’t a three-dimensional feature, but it pops a lot more than most do. It’s impossible not to appreciate all of the technical hard work and cinematic skill that’s on display. Underrated aspect of the movie? Cool to see the City of Angels not as a dunghole of despair, but—ahem—a beacon of hope and opportunity.

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But, La La Land isn’t purely a musical. It is basic romance between two characters that initially start at odds, the common backbone for many a film. He also takes stabs at a few themes that hit emotionally, mainly the idea of taking destiny in one’s own hands and the internal fight an individual has with remaining true to their artistic values, versus cashing in and providing stability.

Chazelle also wisely veers away from falling into overly cheesy mode or the happy Hollywood ending, and it gives more credence to the story. Perhaps 10-15 minutes could have been trimmed off in the middle, but otherwise, the film moves at a brisk pace, and an engaging musical number is seemingly right around the corner when things ever so slightly bog down.

I like to believe that the strongest romantic on-screen chemistry between stars makes a viewer believe that off-screen, the two could easily be an item that plasters the front pages of the tabloids and leads the E! nightly news. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have that kind of chemistry, surely cultivated from previous movies, scintillating from the initial crude beginning on the freeway to the touching ending. Neither is classically trained in the art of song and dance, but their commitment is evident. These aren’t easy roles to nail even with extensive research or hours upon hours of practice. It speaks to the raw skill that each person has that their performances come off pretty effortless.

Sound and unmemorable work is turned in by supporting castmates John Legend, J.K. Simmons (pretty much a cameo), and Rosemarie DeWitt, but they do their jobs. Their roles aren’t written to be meaty, just to provide more meat to the characters Gosling and Stone occupy. Outside of Stone, Gosling, and Chazelle, the biggest star of the film is the unseen choreographer Mandy Moore (to my surprise not the singer). If Chazelle wins Best Director, Moore’s got to be right beside him or mentioned at the top of the acceptance speech.

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Liking the musical genre does not need to be a prerequisite for appreciating La La Land. To qualify it as only a musical would be a disservice to it. There’s more than enough in this particular number for anyone who just likes film.

A-

Photo credits go to reddit.com, ew.com, comingsoon.net, and popsugar.com.

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Hello, My Name is Doris: Movie Man Jackson

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How Stella Got Her Groove Back, without the exotic locale. Doris (Sally Field) is a sixty-something women who has just lost her mom. Her mother is really all she’s ever had; she’s never been married, or had a place of her own. She’s a holdover at the place she works at, overrun by millennials who hardly know she exists.

By chance one day in the elevator, Doris runs into the new director for her company, John (Max Greenfield), at most half her age. She develops a strong affinity for him, but is afraid to act on it, until she hears some self-help that gives her the motivation that she needs to pursue. Is she just crazy, or does she actually have a shot?

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Hello, My Name is Doris is a pleasantly likable, sometimes pretty hilarious, romantic comedy. Directed and co-written by Michael Showalter, at its core, the movie is about letting go of barriers that impede progress, both physically and mentally. At times, it can even be a little off-putting, but it definitely means well.

The film assembles an entertaining cast, with the likes of Stephen Root, Peter Gallagher (playing the funny self-help guru), Tyne Daly, Kumali Nanjiani, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Beth Behrs, and Max Greenfield, with Greenfield having a tad bit of noticeable character and friendly chemistry with Field. Perhaps it is no surprise then that Hello, My Name is Doris has a very pronounced sitcom feel, with so many of the main cast stars being well-known for television. That’s not a bad thing here, as this movie benefits from being very “cozy.” Go ahead and imagine a laugh track in spots, not that hard to see.

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But it is the now 70 year-old Sally Field who provides the film with all of the charm, awkwardness, and hilarity. She’s not afraid to make a fool of herself, whether it be in the physical sense (one scene in particular is easily one of the funniest moments that I’ve personally seen in the 2016 calendar year), or the simple reactionary sense. Though her character can sometimes skirt the line of craziness and over-zealousness, Field still manages to make her endearing, heartfelt, and tragic. Not an easy task, and many an actress would probably fail to imbue Doris with this versatility.

If yours truly has one semi-major issue with the production, its the ending. While there is some finality to Doris’ escapade, there are a few loose ends that don’t get tied. I’m all for open-endedness, but in the right movie. Hello, My Name is Doris would benefit from some hardcore resolute finality in my opinion, as how it ends really does make one wonder about the lead character, where she goes next, etc. It feels like it is supposed to be uplifting, but it is actually equal parts depressing and optimistic, which in the end makes it sort of a push.

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Hello, My Name is Doris is a cute and breezy watch, more fun than one may initially anticipate. Should you explore this? Absolutely.

B

Photo credits go to usatoday.com, ew.com, dvd.netflix.com, and flavorwire.com.

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Hacksaw Ridge: Movie Man Jackson

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Going to need a strong drink after this one. Maybe four or five. Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) has long been a God-fearing Christian, and all-around good guy, who’s seen a few things growing up that has shaped him to be who he is. Who he is happens to be a pacifist; he doesn’t believe in killing people or even handling a firearm.

Being a pacifist isn’t an issue…except when Doss decides to join the Army as a medic in an effort to serve his country during its most important time in World War II. Even carrying the status of a conscientious objector, many in his squadron don’t believe Doss will be there when the chips are down and bully him into quitting. But a man of such strong conviction is one people should want on their side when the going gets tough, and it gets no tougher than Hacksaw Ridge, a battleground on the island of Okinawa that could turn the tide of the war if won.

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There’s really no point in comparing the two, but I can’t help it, as it is something that has stuck with me since early in the movie. Isn’t Hacksaw Ridge sort of like The Birth of a Nation? Not story-wise or anything, but both movies arrived in theaters with biographical subject matter, as well as controversial actions done by their directors. It can be argued (even likely) that Mel Gibson, director of Hacksaw Ridge, is much more controversial than director Nat Turner, for the simple fact that he’s been in the limelight longer for his actions to be unfurled. But like many things in life, winning cures a lot of ill will, and the same goes in cinema. Mel Gibson has a winner in Hacksaw Ridge.

How does he do it? A multitude of ways, but it starts with the writing. Gibson’s not a writer in this, but co-writers Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan are. Together, they pen a compelling story about being convicted in one’s beliefs. Though Christianity is an important characteristic of the main character Desmond, this isn’t a film that pushes that, it pushes more the strength of the human spirit, and how anything can be done with the right determination. Granted, it isn’t a groundbreaking story, but it feels very authentic. Know how true stories and stories about biographical historical figures can be very Hollywoodized? Hacksaw Ridge doesn’t really feel as such, maybe because for all intents and purposes, this is a screenplay that is not exactly original, but by no means adapted, either.

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This does not mean that Hacksaw Ridge‘s screenplay is perfect, however. Some of the first third of the movie is a little too clunky for my personal liking. And though this is clearly a story about Doss, the second act of the movie (if ever so briefly but still) seems to want to explore a few other characters in the squadron, but the third act comes and hardly anything is known about any of them aside from some endearing nicknames. Otherwise, they are somewhat faceless entities.

So not every character gets a lot of meat. But character shortcomings are not due to any fault of the cast. As Desmond Doss, Andrew Garfield turns in the work of his career, and it comes across so effortless. Okay, his accent isn’t completely on point, but it is more than passable and after a while, you stop listening to vocal oddities because he just sinks into the role. Every other actor/actress around him is firmly of the support fashion, but all stand out in whatever screentime they possess. Teresa Palmer can do so much more, yet she very captivating the moment she steps on screen, and Hugo Weaving could have an entire film anchored by his character, he’s that good here.

One has to give it to Gibson to coaxing great performances from guys who aren’t known for dramatic work. The troika of Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, and Luke Bracey all fit in perfectly. Out of the three, Bracey is the only other character in the entire feature who gets somewhat solid development.

But being honest here, as great as the acting and as good as the overall story is, Hacksaw Ridge is going to be remembered for its unrelenting war action ultraviolence that dominates the 3rd act. It comes so sudden and doesn’t let up once it does. The Hacksaw Ridge battleground itself is extremely frightening, a mix of uneven geography, perpetual haze, and depressing grey. Gibson gets a little too slo-mo happy in the final moments, but otherwise, the comparisons to Saving Private Ryan are warranted.

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10 years is a long time to be away from the directing chair, but it’s clear Gibson hasn’t lost much, if anything. Succeeding as first a stirring drama and then a visceral wartime action, Hacksaw Ridge isn’t likely to be forgotten anytime soon.

A-

Photo credits go to metro.co.uk, theplaylist.net, and screencrush.com

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The Lobster: Movie Man Jackson

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If you could be any animal in the world, what would you be? It’s often a question used to break the ice in a first date, or a personality question hiring managers use on prospective interviewees, but in The Lobster, it is a question that turns into a reality. In “The City,” single people are taken to a hotel to find love.

Great, right? Well, not really. They have only 45 days to find a partner, or they get turned into an animal of their choosing. For David (Colin Farrell), he’s chosen to become a lobster should he fail. As he gets closer to the deadline, he finds that being a crustacean is not something he wants to become, neither is love something he wants to be forced to find. But what else is out there beyond the hotel walls? And if he does find love, will everyone be so accepting of it?

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Both about love and the absence of it, director Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster may be dealing with conventional themes befitting of a conventional romance, but this isn’t a conventional film. Honestly, this is reason alone to spend time at this bizarre hotel, even if the stay isn’t without some personal troubles.

Working with one of the more unique premises seen in quite some time for a romance, The Lobster draws the viewer in with the being turned into an animal bit, but really, that doesn’t play as much into the proceedings as expected. Not ready to say that is a bad thing; it just feels that aside from one midway moment in the movie (and perhaps, that was the reason why that part of the plot exists), the transformation and/or its importance is never examined.

Still, the happenings at this city hotel in the first half of the film are delightfully bonkers. The rules and seminars are unbelievable, to spoil any would be a shame on yours truly to do so. The narration by what turns out to be an unreliable narrator is great. It is here that Lanthimos’ satire of 21st century romance clicks the best, from common interests to the simple act of not wanting to be alone. Furthermore, the orchestral pieces by Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Shostakovich add to the film’s overall minimalism, dark humor, and coldness.

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Lanthimos’ first half of The Lobster is simply bizarre, and possibly too bizarre for some viewers. But, the allure of all that goes on during it is unforgettable. It is the second half that is surprisingly dull once the hotel falls into the background of the plot. By no means is this an energetic piece, but the pace absolutely, for my money at least, slows down significantly to the point of lost interest. Any statement about romance feels lost during this point in the runtime. It does rally near the end, and Yorgos ends the film with a beautiful shot that leaves the viewer deciding the fate of the main characters.

Colin Farrell rarely, if ever, disappoints in movies he appears in, but at this point in his career, he talents seem best suited in quirky and offbeat productions such as In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. The Lobster is along those lines. Farrell just has this look about him as a bespectacled mustachioed person who just screams pathetic with his passiveness and somewhat self-inflicted malaise, but he’s still a guy that one wants to see do well.  His chemistry with Rachel Weitz, also great here, is noticeable, and gets movie through its meandering phase. Others, like John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, and Léa Seydoux round out the cast. They don’t necessarily have well-rounded characters (Reilly & Whishaw are more representations than anything), but they do fit into the movie’s strangeness.

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The Lobster doesn’t seem concerned with being a satisfying watch. But, it does have a unique taste. A taste that may linger for a while, others not so much.

C+

Photo credits go to YouTube.com and rottentomatoes.com.

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She’s Gotta Have It: Movie Man Jackson

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(Originally posted as part of the Decades Blogathon 2016, hosted by Tom at digitalshortbread.com, and Mark at threerowsback.com. Another thanks for those two wonderful bloggers for having me!)

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When you’ve gotta have it, you’ve gotta have it. For young Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns), She’s Gotta Have It. It, for her, means sex. And not just sex with one guy. In Nola’s case, she’s having it with three guys: The rigid but good-natured Jamie (Tommy Redmond Hicks), the conceited yet cultured Greer (John Canada Terrell), and the pint-sized yet hilarious Mars (Spike Lee).

Each man offers something different, which is why she is unable to commit to only one. Eventually, each guy gets tired of being a spoke in the wheel, and each man is ready for Nora to be his sole queen. But is Nola ready?

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Now days, hearing the name Spike Lee doesn’t exactly inspire the best of thoughts, at least for yours truly. That’s not to say that he’s a bad guy, or terrible at his craft. I just feel like now, in the 21st century, one doesn’t necessarily think of his films, but rather, the individual. I’d be willing to bet that most people today, this blogger included, think about Spike Lee the New York Knicks fan, or outspoken political—sometimes to a fault—activist, rather than director.

She’s Gotta Have It is a reminder that Spike Lee, the director before all of the excess, was just a director cutting his teeth for the first time in a feature, putting his imprint on a movie. She’s Gotta Have It is permeated with an avant-garde style from the first moment on, unabashedly different from the rest in its style, approach, and storytelling.

Aside from an obvious reference to another movie in which leads to a transition in color, it is filmed primarily in black-and-white with what appears like a decision based purely on cost (reportedly $185,000). But, the aesthetic decision adds to the film’s style, as well as the jazzy soundtrack, and it being actually shot in Brooklyn. Even the sex scenes are shot with so much precision and care, and help to see how the main character can find so much pleasure in the act.

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Even though 1986 was a few years removed from the inundation of blaxploitation movies on the market, it was still a fairly big surprise to see a movie featuring nothing but black individuals in a setting that wasn’t a plantation or a ghetto. Lee’s characters, while not necessarily of great depth, are not entirely one-note, either. Through a documentary setup used at choice times, Spike allows the main characters to reveal a bit more about themselves than what would be afforded if it weren’t used. While this choice isn’t flawless in execution, and sometimes looks as if the actors are reading off of cue cards, this does forward the story enough and provides context to what is happening on screen. As another aside, it does leave to some humorous moments especially with Mars, played by Spike himself, who provides laughs at the right times in what could be a dull affair without it.

Written by Lee himself, the screenplay dealing with the essential themes of love versus lust and by extension, monogamy versus polygamy (minus the marriage) is simple, but fairly profound. Are humans designed to be with only one mate? Is it a bad thing for a woman to be with multiple partners? Why is it that males are thought of as studs and women whores when the situations are exactly the same? Perhaps the strongest aspect of Spike’s screenplay is his neutrality, as his final shot leaves it up to the viewer to determine if Nola is in the right or wrong, content or dissatisfied with her decision.

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Please baby, please baby, please baby, baby baby please!  She’s Gotta Have It may not be quintessential Spike Lee (depending on your viewpoint of the director, that may be a good thing, though) but it is one of his more accessible films. Still relevant, as well.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to huffingtonpost.com, filmlinc.org, and screenrant.com.

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How to be Single: Movie Man Jackson

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Did Hollywood really need to make a movie about How to Be Single? They could have just came to me! In modern day New York City, finding companionship is hard. After four years of being in a college relationship, Alice (Dakota Johnson) feels the need to break up with her boyfriend, Josh (Nicholas Braun) upon graduation—temporarily. Her reason, being, that she needs to figure out some things in the Big Apple. Her paralegal job introduces her to a new friend named Robin (Rebel Wilson), who has no problems being a single lady.

Alice’s older sister Meg (Leslie Mann), also single, is all about her career as a doctor, having no desire to conform to society’s idea of having offspring at a certain age. But, she does begin to get an itch to have a baby after a routine patient delivery. And even Lucy (Alison Brie), a person who makes dating apps, has issues with finding a companion. Being single can be tough, but it also can be very eye-opening.

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Yours truly probably isn’t in the target demographic that How to Be Single, a film based off of a novel with the same name, is aiming to hit. It kind of feels like a prolonged episode of Sex in the City. Its release comes at a good time, with it being Valentine’s Day weekend, drawing in people that might latch on to it who are single simply because of its title. It’s an average ensemble piece rom-com that has similar issues to most rom-coms, with the occasional solid positive here and there.

Let’s start with some of the positives. It really isn’t saying much, but How to Be Single does feature a little more substance than many other ensemble romance-comedies. A high-brow analysis this isn’t, but it is a fairly interesting look at being single featuring a whole cast of characters who are single, instead of just the one story thread that often appears in these types of movies amid others. Although featuring many characters, the story connector is the same and makes it easy to follow along. Also, though an African-American male and not a Caucasian female (last time checked at least), still being currently single and around the general age of the lead characters, I can connect somewhat to what the main characters experience. Very possible that point alone plays into the fact of me finding some enjoyment in this.

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Directing-wise, this isn’t too bad either.  Christian Ditter brings some energy and some mild flair behind the camera with some nice lighting and solid song choices that match the story. Generally, he’s able to keep the movie moving at a solid pace, though at times, his reliance to jump ahead in time for a few months comes at the expense of character and true relationship development.

And honestly, it is the characters that How to Be Single gets mostly wrong. For a movie whose story seems to be pretty focused on reality and finding love in the 21st century, it’s odd as to why the characters could not be written with more layers. The obvious person that comes to mind first is Rebel Wilson, basically being Rebel Wilson throughout. If you find her funny, HtBS is going to be a riot. If not (like yours truly), this can be a chore sometimes as the comedy with her at the forefront never really lands.

Dakota Johnson is a fine actress, but it is hard to really feel anything for her Alice as she repeatedly makes the same mistakes. I understand that that is sort of the point, but her eventual awakening feels more predetermined, rather than earned. It sort of works, but it doesn’t hit emotionally as intended. The women aren’t the only ones who can feel fake. The lead male, Tom, played by Anders Holm, is just way too cartoonish to take seriously.

There’s a missed opportunity for Alison Brie, who appears in the marketing substantially but is clearly the fourth wheel after things get going. She’s off her kilter a tad too much and not exactly grounded, but kind of representative of some people finding love online nowadays. Leslie Mann’s character storyline is probably the most fulfilling, though her character can be a bit much with her “freneticness” and such.

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Credit where credit’s due. How to Be Single gets a rose or two for not being completely predictable, having a semi-interesting story about the difficulties of love, and subverting a few rom-com staples. However, it falls short of getting a full bouquet due to a majority of the cast of of characters showing why they deserve to be single.

Grade: C

Photo credits go to moviefone.com, YouTube.com, and aroundmovies.com.

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Carol: Movie Man Jackson

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Sparks always fly at the toy store. Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) is a young department store clerk, working in 1950’s Manhattan, New York. She has a steady boyfriend, Richard (Jake Lacy), who so desperately wants to vacation out to Europe and make Therese his wife. While flattered, Therese desires more and isn’t ready to commit to Rich yet, and still harbors dreams of being a photographer.

One day at the store, she meets Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), a well-off and elegant woman who has an aura about her that is impossible to resist. Immediately, a connection is born, and the two become inseparable. Complicating matters are Carol’s husband and reluctant divorcee Harge (Kyle Chandler), and their battle over custody of their child. But, love finds a way, right?

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As Keith over at Keith & the Movies opined, from the get-go, Carol is a movie that simply looks polished and primed for awards time. Obviously, this piece is coming days after Carol was shut out of the Golden Globes, but five nominations, even without one win, still means that Carol did its job. Did it do its job in making yours truly care about it? I wish I could say yes.

At the very least, Carol comes outfitted with great and workmanlike acting from the two co-leads, which is to be expected with Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett. The two play well off of each other, feel believable as character polar opposites, and are extremely brave and fully committed to their roles. It’s hard to find anything to have real gripes with, and if either receive Oscar noms (Editor’s note: Both have), they would be earned.

If one looked to be a stronger lock than the other for their nominated category, I’d say Blanchett has the stronger case. Her character is not only the obvious title of the movie, but she does bring a mysterious magnetism to her that makes Mara dull by comparison. But I suppose that is the point, though I believe Cate would be harder to replace in her role than Rooney. Sarah Paulson also does well, and though Kyle Chandler is awfully one-note, he does the best he can with what is given. The only weak link happens to be Jake Lacy. For some reason, it is hard for me not to see him still as Plop from season nine of The Office.

 chandler

Carol does have good, but unmemorable directorial style. Directed by Todd Haynes (I’m Not There), it certainly resembles the early 50’s, from dress to the way subjects look in lighting, as the movie has got that 50’s light jazz club fuzzy haze throughout. Sadly, what it doesn’t have is a story that yours truly ever really cared about.

About 20 minutes in, I couldn’t stop thinking about Brooklyn when watching Carol. Both rely on simplicity and elegance, but only the former also achieves with actual story drama and tension, to go with characters who are written well. As well as Mara and Blanchett are, there’s little desire to see where their connection goes, or even if it will remain. Their stakes never feel that high, and something tangible never truly felt like it was on the line. The B (not so much side) stories with the custody, aunt, etc., unfortunately did little to capture the attention, or round out the leading ladies.

rooney

I really did want to like Carol, and there are pieces of it that absolutely work, namely, the performances. But, as runtime wore on, it became a exercise in viewing nothingness, one that I struggle to find the words for and care less about doing so.

Grade: C-

Photo credits go to hypable.com, fashiongonerogue.com, and elle.com.

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Brooklyn: Movie Man Jackson

brooklynstub

It’ll make you feel wretched, and then move on to somebody else.”

This isn’t Jay-Z’s Brooklyn, but it is still Brooklyn. In 1952, Ellis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), lives in a small town in the country of Ireland with mother and sister, Rose (Fiona Glascott). While she isn’t “wasting away” in Ireland, she gets the feeling she could be doing more with her life, and so does Rose, which is why she has met worked with a priest in the United States to bring Ellis to Brooklyn. New York.

Homesickness and literal sickness arrive the minute Ellis sets sail to America. It’s a rough start, and she does question early whether the right decision was made. But, in the form of Italian immigrant Tony (Emory Cohen), her situation begins to become better. But, home is always where the heart remains, even as things improve.

ireland

While the adaptation of novels can and have been transferred with success to the silver screen experience, a lot of times, they can be some combination of lazy, incoherent, dull, and overall missing some key elements that made the novel a good piece of literature. Not so with Brooklyn. Like most of the adapted films yours truly has watched, I haven’t the opportunity, (read: desire), to read the original source material, but I don’t think it matters here. Brooklyn is a wonderful film, adaptation or otherwise.

The magic in Brooklyn starts with the screenplay, written by Nick Hornby. Simultaneously, it is both simple in nature and fairly layered and complex, with the only issue had on this end being the dinner table humor, which just didn’t always hit for me. The story is a romance, both of the traditional, micro level, and the non-traditional, macro level. Both aspects are written soundly, but its the story of the homeland vs the “newland” that really pulls everything together, It works, because there is real conflict!

The city of Brooklyn is shown to be a place of great opportunity, but Hornby and director John Crowley (True Detective season 2) also make it clear that there is much to be lost in Ireland as well. It’s not some slummy, insufferable place that Ellis has to get out from; its a rather beautiful place that has its pluses and minuses, just like Brooklyn. It’s simple, but showing that no one city/life is indisputably better than the other really builds the emotional drama that drives the last half to third of Brooklyn.

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Again, this worldly romance between Ireland and Brooklyn is wonderful and fits in with the traditional romance, but it is the traditional romance that serves as the internal core of Brooklyn. This is where the movie could have become extremely sappy and soapy, but credit to writer, director, and acting cast for refusing to let this happen. Hornby and Crowley do put their actors in great positions to succeed, but ultimately, those actors and actresses have to deliver…and they all do, but no one more so than Saoirse Ronan. Ronan is able to says a lot without every saying a peep sometimes. She has this face that is both expressionless and full of expression at the same time. For lack of better description, she’s mesmerizing, and gives her Ellis character that much more in the way of feeling like a real person.

She also possesses amazing chemistry with everyone in the movie, and seems to develop it within seconds. Her scenes with Emory Cohen are touching, as are those with Domhall Gleeson. Both of these guys, along with others, are great additions to Brooklyn who bring talent, but Ronan is the focal point. And she should be here. Hard not to see major nominations coming her way.

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Straightforward, yet elegant and authentic, Brooklyn is a great watch that, despite its obvious wide release timeframe, doesn’t feel award-bating or overly dramatic at all. The voyage to Brooklyn is one that absolutely should be taken.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to theguardian.com, citybeat.com, and entertainmentweekly.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson