19 August 2017

The Defenders

The Defenders was absolutely bingeable and entertaining. When the team-up occurred, it felt natural and the cast had a genuine chemistry. The series expects the audience to know the backstory and did the story dove straight into the lives of our heroes. Catching us up on what they had been since we last saw them, and not really bothering to explain who they are to newbies.

The Defenders also really benefited from the shorter-than-usual series length. At eight episodes, we had less filler moments and the story momentum was allowed to flow naturally. However, the downside of this team-up was that each of the heroes had to have sufficient screen time which led to a sacrifice in character developments for them, the secondary characters and unfortunately, for our villain as portrayed brilliantly by Sigourney Weaver.

No doubt about it, Weaver was great. She elevated the material and was easily the most enigmatic and magnetic personality on screen. But as a character, she was just not given enough screen time to be developed and understood, as unlike our previous Big Bads: like Vincent D'Onofrio's Kingpin, David Tennent's Killgrave, and even Mahershala Ali's and Alfred Woodards's Diamondback and Mariah, and even the Meachums. Her motivations were vague and her ambitions broadly sketched. With what little we knew about her, she could have been so fascinating. And with Weaver in the role, Alexandra Reid could have been more than just...that. A whole series could easily be devoted to her.

Then we have the other big drawback, and that was the decision to make The Hand the main antagonistic force. It was inevitable ever since The Hand was introduced in Season 2 of  Daredevil, but with The Hand came the mystical stuffs and unfortunately also a focus on what made Iron Fist the weakest story of our four heroes. Danny Rand remained the most undeveloped hero and having The Defenders lean more into his story was a shame. But at least we also had Matthew Murdock - tied to The Hand via Stick and Elektra - as the other arm of the story.

That, unfortunately, left Jessica Jones and Luke Cage as the outsiders, but at least we had some character growth for them. The acceptance of the fact that they are heroes and need to do the right thing.

Not so much for our favourite sidekicks who basically served as narrative tools and exposition dumps. Then again, this is The Defenders and not The Sidekicks.

Other minor points of improvement for Season 2, if it happens, will be to improve the fight scenes, relying less on frantic Michael Bay-like cuts and edits, and also better banter. Just can't help thinking, what if Joss Whedon was in-charge of The Defenders?

By the end of the series, I ended up still feeling the same as I went into it. Jessica Jones remained the most interesting character with Krysten Ritter the actor that most personified the character she is playing; Daredevil needs to go back to the simpler and more fun times of Season 1, let Charlie Cox smile more; Luke Cage's story needs to be more than just keeping Harlem safe and Mike Colter needs to be more than just an unbreakable hulk; and Iron Fist desperately needs to have Danny to grow up and lose all that petulant, child-like angst, especially since as charismatic as Finn Jones is, he, like Colter, is not exactly the most nuanced actor.

15 August 2017

The Big Sick

What a great movie. Sincere, honest, touching but yet never schmaltzy and oh so funny. The fact that it was based on the true story/romance between Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon (played here by Zoe Kazan) just made it all the more emotional and effective. Even knowing how it played out in real life did hardly impact the emotional investment of the audience, and that is the power of great storytelling by director Michael Showalter, co-writers Nanjiani and Gordon, and uber-producers Judd Apatow and Barry Mandel.

The biggest drawback to the film was the run time. Clocking in at 124 minutes, the film could have been even tighter if they had perhaps tighten it by 10 to 15 minutes. However, having said that, it must be said that the film itself was already very well paced with very, very few scenes that did not work, but then again some side plots could have been kept on the editing floor.

From drawback to strength, the five biggest strengths of The Big Sick was (one) the great chemistry between Nanjiani and Kazan; (two) Nanjiani's great comedic timing (so reminiscent of his character on Silicon Valley); (three) the script - honest and funny; (four) the inclusion of Nanjiani's Pakistani family and its traditional values; and (five) Holly Hunter.

Nanjiani and Gordon's love story must have been such a personal one for them both to tell, and Kazan managed to step into Gordon's shoes and helped to relay that connection to the audience. Although she played more the straight woman to Nanjiani's deadpanned, comedic talent, she still managed to score some good laughs. And for Nanjiani to try to emulate those complicated feelings he had for Gordon onto Kazan is surely no mean feat. Although it does help that most of the key emotional sequences were not opposite Gordon.

The inclusion of Nanjiani's Pakistani family was a brave choice and it mostly worked, although at times it did felt like watching two separate films. But it was only by telling that story then could most American audience appreciate the complexity of Nanjiani and Gordon's relationship. It also further added dimensions to Nanjiani's character and of course the inevitable conflict.

Hunter was the breakout star of the film if we could use that term on such an accomplished actress (where has she been all these years besides a brief stint on Jane Campion's fantastic The Girl on the Lake?). Hunter did all the heavy emotional lifting on her little shoulders. She was fantastic to watch, stealing every scene she was in. One particular silent moment near the end sealed her status as an enormously talented and underappreciated actress. She gave a look. A look filled with so much damn meaning.

Ray Romano co-starred as Gordon/Kazan's father, and although not exactly playing against type, Ramano still managed to bring some emotional heft into his i'm-funny-but-it's-not-intentional, bumbling-dad role.

Nanjiani's Pakistani family also brought the laughs, but as aforesaid, some of their scenes, as funny as they were, did stretched out too long.

The Big Sick was a great romantic comedy, so unlike your typical rom-coms, that deserved to be watched. Coming out in Summer surely will help it to draw in audience and the monies, but Hunter and the script should deserve some awards-chatter and love too.

Stephen King's Doctor Sleep

This was unexpectedly good. It was not Oscar-winning good, but it was a thoroughly entertaining horror-thriller. Kudos to writer/director...