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Sun08092020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

The Lovebirds—the latest Michael Showalter effort—caught my eye before it was originally scheduled to be released in theaters in April. The Wet Hot American Summer co-architect had made his best film as a director a couple years back, The Big Sick, and The Lovebirds has him re-teaming with that film’s star, Kumail Nanjiani.

The film wound up being sold to Netflix, and Showalter has taken the romantic-comedy to new, deranged levels here, pairing Nanjiani with Issa Rae—and the two have crazy chemistry. The plot has them as a married couple hitting the skids before being thrust into a nightmarish night after they hit a dude on his bicycle and subsequently witness that dude’s murder.

The plot mechanisms are fairly standard; what isn’t standard are the hilarious observations and dialogue that keep this consistently and undeniably funny. The two stars exude an anything-can-happen vibe, even when the script is following a typical rom-com road map. It’s actually fun to watch a talented team like this take a standard formula and own it.

Showalter’s deft touch is all over the place; the man is one of the planet’s funniest people, and that always shines through in his directorial efforts. (The Baxter, his 2005 film, is an egregiously underrated film.) The Lovebirds represents his ability to take a typical plot line, turn it inside out—and weave magic.

The Lovebirds is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Men in Black: International, the fourth film in the MIB franchise, is the second-worst of the group, after Men in Black II. The original and Men in Black 3 were good; International, meanwhile, is a wasted opportunity—an admirable attempt to restart things that doesn’t hit all its marks.

Replacing Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin are Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, as agents H and M. H is the bold, brash, super-hot dude of MIB; he saved the world years ago, with Agent High T (Liam Neeson) of the London MIB branch, from an evil alien force called the Hive.

M is the latest recruit, having found MIB’s secret headquarters after years of searching. As a child, M witnessed an alien encounter (and saw her parents getting their minds erased), starting a curiosity fire that doesn’t get put out until Agent O (Emma Thompson) gives her a chance to basically save the world as a probationary agent.

Tessa Thompson is great in anything she does, and she is great here. She brings a fun energy to the role, with a slight wiseass edge. Hemsworth is a performer who seems to like himself a little too much, yet he still manages to be likable. The two make a good pair, as they did in Thor: Ragnarok.

While it is fun to see Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson onscreen together again, the screenplay they’re following is a bit baffling. Matt Holloway and Art Marcum, two of the many writers on the original Iron Man, take a hack at sending the duo on a global adventure. The globetrotting, which includes Paris, Italy and Marrakesh, lacks a true sense of purpose—which is surprising, since the characters are trying to save the world.

After a fairly strong start, the action, presented by director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton), devolves into sloppy boredom. With each passing location, it seems as if the movie is directionless, merely picking new locales and switching up the scenery to disguise the fact that it is actually going nowhere.

A “mole in MIB” subplot doesn’t help matters much, with villain’s identity being ultra-guessable. A finale in Paris (after opening in Paris) offers few surprises and no thrills. The movie ends with a big old “Huh?”

The special effects are pretty good, with a few new aliens, most notably a little one named Pawny (the voice of Kumail Nanjiani), adding sporadic fun. I also got a kick out of a mini-alien posing as a beard on some dude’s face.

F. Gary Gray has another sequel on his resume, that being the lousy Be Cool, a sequel to Barry Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty. Sonnenfeld, of course, directed the other three MIB films. Conclusion: F. Gary Gray needs to cease and desist directing sequels to Barry Sonnenfeld films.

This project was originally supposed to be a crossover with the Jonah Hill 21 Jump Street franchise. I’m guessing Warner Bros. soured on the notion of turning MIB into a joke, figuring they could reboot and regenerate revenue on the franchise while staying within its own established universe. Given Gray’s failed film, they figured wrong. No doubt: A Men In Black comedy with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill would’ve been automatic box-office gold. This one is a dud.

The Godzilla film sort of sucked. The X-Men are bombing … and now this. This summer-movie season so far has been a cruel, unforgiving place for big movie franchises.

Men in Black: International is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

The Big Sick is a romantic comedy like no other. Yes, two people fall in love—but that’s about all The Big Sick has in common with your average romantic comedy. This film is an amazing beast off in its own category.

Real-life couple Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and Emily V. Gordon penned the script based on their own courtship. Nanjiani plays himself, while the eternally awesome Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks) steps into the role of Emily. Their story is incredible, and the way it is presented here—by a fine ensemble under the direction of the great Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name Is Doris, Wet Hot American Summer)—results in one of the year’s best films.

Kumail is a standup comedian trying to make it in Chicago when Emily takes in one of his sets. The two wind up in bed together, with Kumail actually being the Uber driver who has to take her home. They have a good time, but they vow to never see each other again.

That doesn’t last long, and the two wind up in a relationship—one that Kumail keeps secret from his Pakistani parents (Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff), who are trying to arrange a wife for him. Things get complicated, and the two of them split. Things get even more complicated when Emily winds up in the emergency room with flu-like symptoms, and Kumail is called upon by her friends to check on her.

After an awkward hospital visit, Emily winds up in an induced coma, with Kumail informing her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter). As Emily’s situation worsens, Kumail, technically her ex-boyfriend, spends a lot of time with her parents—and a lot of time coming to terms with his feelings for Emily.

Nothing you know about Ray Romano will prepare you for just how damn good he is as Terry, Emily’s sensitive dad. I mean, the man was funny on Everybody Loves Raymond, but who knew he could not only do drama, but more than hold his own with an epic Holly Hunter? He has a scene in Kumail’s apartment, where he reveals details of his marital tensions, that will stand as one of the year’s best-acted scenes. He’s a legitimate Best Supporting Actor Oscar contender.

Hunter is right there along with him when it comes to Oscar worthiness. Her Beth is a strong-willed person—so strong that she practically beats up a frat boy who is heckling Kumail at one of his gigs. Hunter is always good, but this role is her best in years. It’s also her funniest turn since playing Edwina in Raising Arizona 30 years ago. (Yes, Raising Arizona came out 30 years ago. Let that linger for a moment.)

Showalter—who actually spoofed romantic comedies when he co-wrote the script for 2014’s They Came Together starring Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler—rides the film’s shifting tones like an expert surfer. There are so many ways in which this movie could’ve gone wrong, but it’s never melodramatic or kitschy or cutesy. It deals with every relationship, cultural issue and family problem in an incisive way—all while making you laugh and cry. Hats off to Showalter.

Nanjiani, like Romano, has shown a stellar ability to make people laugh with past projects, but he delivers a range of emotions here that should lead him to dramatic roles for the foreseeable future, if he wants them. He is yet another Oscar contender—and even though her character spends a good chunk of this movie asleep, don’t count out Kazan, either, an actress of extreme power.

I don’t think I’ve ever before had to use my T-shirt sleeve to dab away tears from both laughing and crying while watching a movie in public. The Big Sick got me both ways—and it will get you, too.

The Big Sick is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews