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comedy-drama

Knives Out (2019)

DIRECTOR: Rian Johnson

CAST: Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Lakeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer

REVIEW:

With Knives Out, writer-director Rian Johnson has wholly redeemed himself for his disappointing Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Johnson and Star Wars were not a good fit, but he has returned here from playing in another’s sandbox to writing and directing his own material where he has been consistently intriguing (I’m a big fan of his 2012 time travel thriller Looper, for example) and churned out something we don’t see often, an original murder mystery of the type that Agatha Christie might have written (plus some modern sensibilities). Boasting a star-studded ensemble cast obviously enjoying itself, a slickly “keep you guessing” screenplay, and a quirky sense of humor, Knives Out is a deliciously twisty-turny and hugely entertaining morsel for anyone who appreciates a good whodunit. Johnson and his cast obviously relished making this movie, and they’ve given us something to relish eating up in turn.

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Vice (2018)

DIRECTOR: Adam McKay

CAST: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Jesse Plemons

REVIEW:

Vice might be billed as a dark comedy, but the occasional absurdist flair only slightly softens the blow of what is essentially a political horror movie. As he did with 2015’s The Big Short—also starring Christian Bale and Steve Carell—Adam McKay uses a comedy-drama approach to bring flair and panache to what on paper sounds like a dry, dull subject for a movie (in The Big Short, the 2007-2008 financial crisis, here the distinctly uncharismatic former Vice President Dick Cheney). In this regard, there’s a little resemblance to what David Fincher/Aaron Sorkin and later Danny Boyle/Aaron Sorkin did with The Social Network—about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg—and Steve Jobs—about the late Apple CEO—but suffice to say McKay again puts his own offbeat fingerprints on the proceedings.

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I, Tonya (2017)

DIRECTOR: Craig Gillespie

CAST: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Alison Janney, Paul Walter Hauser, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, McKenna Grace

REVIEW:

I, Tonya is not a straightforward docudrama of the infamous 1994 assault on figure skater Nancy Kerrigan that implicated her rival Tonya Harding, Harding’s husband Jeff Gilooly, and other associates.  Rather, director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Steven Rogers have tackled the material as a dark comedy which in the third act has tinges of something the Coen Brothers might have come up with (given the amount of criminal bumbling that takes place, that’s a not altogether inappropriate approach to take).  The movie takes its material from the sometimes completely contradictory interviews of Harding, Gilooly, and others, giving us multiple unreliable narrators, and also asks us to, if not necessarily condone or exonerate Harding, to come to at least some measure of understanding of what led up to the moment that, fairly or unfairly, would define her. Continue reading

Me Before You (2016)

DIRECTOR: Thea Sharrock

CAST: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Janet McTeer, Charles Dance, Matthew Lewis, Jenna Coleman

REVIEW:

There’s a difficult balance to handling this kind of medical-based “tearjerker” romance that walks a tightrope between moving and mawkish. For the most part, Me Before You by first-time director Thea Sharrock and adapted by Jojo Moyes from her own novel navigates this tricky act successfully, serving up a lighter touch and avoiding pitfalls of excessive mawkishness. It’s not a great film, but it’s a pleasant enough confection that serves up a little humor, romance, and tears.

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The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015)

DIRECTOR: John Madden

CAST: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Dev Patel, Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie, Penelope Wilton, Diana Hardcastle, Tina Desai, Lillete Dubey, Richard Gere, David Strathairn

REVIEW:

2012’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was a pleasant, unchallenging little morsel, but nothing about its modest charms cried out for a sequel, yet here we are. Unsurprisingly, like many an unnecessary sequel, the follow-up wears out the original’s limited welcome and, despite writer-director John Madden returning, hackneyed try-hard attempts at stirring up contrived plot complications and overly frantic wannabe comedy replaces the first movie’s gentle simple charms. It’s not worth checking back into the hotel to watch the somewhat sad sight of a cast of distinguished elder British thespians gamely going through the motions of material that’s beneath them.

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About Time (2013)

DIRECTOR: Richard Curtis

CAST: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy

REVIEW:

Writer-director Richard Curtis might not stray out of his romantic comedy comfort zone (he was previously the screenwriter of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones’ Diary, and the writer-director of Love Actually), but for his latest installment, he’s souped it up with a time travel twist.  Actually, given how the premise hinges on it, how fast and loose Curtis plays with his own established time travel rules might annoy some sticklers for consistency too much to appreciate the film’s charms, but while riddled with topsy turvy internal logic, About Time is a pleasant, sentimental little romantic comedy-drama that offers an enjoyable diversion for those who appreciate this sort of thing. Continue reading

Don Jon (2013)

don-jon-fathers-day-clip-061613DIRECTOR: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

CAST: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, Brie Larson, Rob Brown, Jeremy Luc

REVIEW:

For his feature film directorial debut (though he had earlier dabbled in making short films through his online production company Hit Record), Joseph Gordon-Levitt wears three hats here as writer, director, and star, and has chosen to tackle such potentially dark issues as sex and porn addiction.  But in sharp contrast to something as bleak as the Steve McQueen-Michael Fassbender drama Shame, Gordon-Levitt goes the comedy-drama route.  There’s a little synergy with Gordon-Levitt’s 2011 cancer comedy-drama 50/50—though he only starred in that one, and did not write or direct—both in its raunchiness, and in the way it uses irreverent humor to tackle a difficult subject.  The result is a flawed directorial debut, but also shows enough promise to make a case that Gordon-Levitt’s talents do not only lie in front of the camera. Continue reading

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

DIRECTOR: David O. Russell

CAST: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Julia Stiles, John Ortiz, Dash Mihok, Anupam Kher

REVIEW:

Silver Linings Playbook technically falls into the romantic comedy genre, but it’s a less rosy, edgier, more adult version without completely abandoning the tropes fans come to see.  As unlikely as it might sound, director David O. Russell (not one to shy away from quirky material) uses mental illness as a catalyst for humor and romance.  To that end, Silver Linings Playbook is a quirky, frothy romantic comedy-drama bolstered by solid acting and a more in-depth treatment of mental illness than one might expect. Continue reading

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)

DIRECTOR: John Madden

CAST: Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Dev Patel, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Tina Desai, Diana Hardcastle, Lillete Dubey

REVIEW:

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is one of those low-key, quiet and inoffensive little comedy-dramas (steeped in oh-so-British reserve) that serve as counter-programming to the big summer action movies.  To that end, it’s not anything unpredictable or edgy, and doesn’t really venture out of its safe zone, but it serves up enough sweetness with dashes of romance and just a drop of poignancy to make it an enjoyable experience that goes down easily, even if it doesn’t necessarily leave the biggest lasting impression.  Those who have a soft spot for lighthearted predictable drama (boosted by a distinguished ensemble cast of respected elder British thespians) might enjoy (one wonders if the movie might play better with those who have more in common, in age and perhaps nationality, with the main characters, than with younger viewers who might want a little more “pep”).   Continue reading

50/50 (2011)

50 50DIRECTOR: Jonathan Levine

CAST: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston, Philip Baker Hall, Matt Frewer

REVIEW:

Movies about characters with cancer are a dime a dozen, but what gives 50/50 a little distinction is its approach.  At least for the majority of its running time, this is not a tearjerker; in fact, as unlikely as this might sound, it’s in full comedy-drama mode.  Inspired by the real-life experiences of screenwriter and producer Will Reiser, who wrote the script after his own battle with cancer, 50/50 manages—for the most part—to find an effective tricky balance in a middle ground between disrespectfully flippant and overly sappy.  The result is far from perfect, but Reiser’s sense of humor about his ordeal makes for a refreshingly irreverent take on a difficult subject that’s far more watchable—and still occasionally touching without being overbearing about it—than some Lifetime melodramatic weepfest. Continue reading

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