Out on Friday July 28
Kumail Nanjiani adds a rom-coma to a romcom. Ben Young delivers a kidnap-thriller with depth and dread.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of The Big Sick, Hounds of Love, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, 47 Meters Down, Howards End, The Wall, Wish Upon, and Girls Trip.
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The Big Sick
Warm, funny and quietly risk-taking, this autobiographical love-story starring Silicon Valley stalwart Kumail Nanjiani gives the ailing romcom genre a topical shot in the arm. Wry rather than wacky, like Nanjiani’s self-deprecating stage act, it’s an intimate, character-based comedy with an improvisational feel.
Based on his fate-swiped real-life romance with wife Emily Gordon (his co-writer here), this Sundance Festival smash about a culture-clash Chicago courtship starts out full of low-key charm. Up-and-coming stand-up Kumail (Nanjiani) can’t commit to quirky psychology student Emily (a feisty Zoe Kazan), despite their great rapport. Bombarded with potential brides for an arranged marriage by his traditional Muslim family, he’s torn between family loyalty, his longing for stand-up success, and a love match.
Like a hipster My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the film mines his parents’ relentless interference (his mother’s endless chain of ‘just dropped in’ eligible Pakistani girls is a running gag). Yet it’s affectionate rather than snarky. Acute about the problems of being a present-day American Muslim, the script is thoughtful but not earnest, and gutsy enough to drop a deadpan 9/11 joke that’ll get you gasping.
However, just when you think we’re in producer Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up territory (man-child hero, wisecracking pals, emotional dilemma), the story swerves bravely into unexpected trauma. A mystery illness slams Kazan’s Emily into a medically induced coma, and Kumail into turmoil. This sudden burst of drama gives the film backbone and real jeopardy, as Emily’s parents Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) start a bedside vigil, where Kumail must earn his place.
Here’s when director Michael Showalter’s straightforward style comes into its own. Rather than While You Were Sleeping-ish screwball stylings, the film finds laughs in the awkwardness of the trio coming together. Nanjiani, his stage act morphing from one-man shows about Pakistani politics and cricket rules into a career-threatening confessional meltdown, shows a new range.
Hunter, who can slide from frail to fierce in a glance, is a delight, launching herself at a comedy-club heckler ordering Nanjiani to “Go back to Isis”. But Romano’s laconic, gaffe-prone Terry is the revelation, showing off the film’s careful, rounded characterisation with brio.
Injecting tension and tear-jerking moments among its gags, the film still manages to dodge both sickbed sentimentality and romcom predictability. Honest as well as hilarious, it deserves to propel the talented Nanjiani to the headliner status that Apatow-assisted comics such as Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer have claimed.
THE VERDICT: Mixing a rom-coma into the romcom, this smart, sweet and highly personal love story finds a winning formula.
Director: Michael Showalter; Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter; Theatrical release: July 28, 2017
Hounds of Love
Pop watchers, beware. Aussie writer/director Ben Young’s tough, terrifying and terrifically played kidnap thriller-as-character study shares about as much with Kate Bush as a rottweiler does with a rabbit.
Vice-tight and part-drawn from grim truth, Young’s mid-’80s-set debut pulls us unnervingly close to serial-killing spouses John (Stephen Curry) and Evelyn (Emma Booth), whose home life in Perth takes all the fun out of dysfunctional. And it looks even worse when they kidnap 17-year-old rebel Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings), whose eyes become our POV for the unfolding horrors.
Hounds is hard viewing. Yet Young dodges gratuitousness, instead drawing a distressed intensity from Dan Luscombe’s harrowed score, DoP Michael McDermott’s washed-out images and three electric lead turns.
If comic actor Curry’s transformation into a sleaze’tached wife-beater startles, Booth is more staggering still, especially when Evie’s tragic/terrifying inner fissures become exposed. Susie Porter offers small relief as Vicki’s dogged mum, but don’t get comfy: you’ll gnaw your knuckles to the bone before Young offers a sniff of catharsis.
THE VERDICT: A ferocious debut, charged with depth and dread. Set alongside Snowtown as a must-watch you can barely watch.
Director: Ben Young; Starring: Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry; Theatrical release: July 28, 2017
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
DreamWorks’ adap of the wildly popular children’s books makes a successful stab at that elusive treat: the kid-flick that entertains parents.
Two pals (voiced by Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch) hypnotise their headmaster (Ed Helms) into thinking he’s the titular hero. Funny, absurd and smart-stupid enough to keep everyone happy.
Director: David Soren; Starring: Kevin Hart, Thomas Middleditch, Ed Helms; Theatrical release: July 24, 2017
47 Meters Down
Set in Mexico though largely shot in underwater tanks in Basildon, this tale of two sisters trapped in a shark cage on the ocean floor serves up some undeniably tense moments that easily rival The Shallows.
Yet it also boasts some unintentionally funny ones, such as one of the sibs promising “I’ll be right back!” or Captain Matthew Modine halting the rescue effort to explain nitrogen narcosis.
Director: Johannes Roberts; Starring: Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine; Theatrical release: July 26, 2017
A 4K restoration marking the 25th anniversary of this ‘heritage’ drama (nine Oscar noms!), adapted from E.M. Forster’s novel. Centred on the titular country house, the story follows two upper-class families in Edwardian England.
Choice performances from Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, but any social criticism is weakened by the veneration of the privileged milieu.
Director: James Ivory; Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Vanessa Redgrave; Theatrical release: July 28, 2017
American snipers John Cena and Aaron Taylor-Johnson are caught in the crosshairs of their Iraqi opposite number in a relentlessly taut thriller, a cautionary tale on the folly of starting wars you can’t finish.
Director Doug Liman pares the action down to its elemental essence, while Laith Nakli, only heard as lethal sharpshooter Juba, provides the best unseen antagonist since Kiefer Sutherland in Phone Booth.
Director: Doug Liman; Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena, Laith Nakli; Theatrical release: July 28, 2017
A brisk riff on the old Monkey’s Paw cautionary tale, this slight teen horror by John R. Leonetti gives schoolgirl Clare (Joey King) seven wishes – via a cursed Chinese box – each incurring a “blood sacrifice”.
Fun when it nods to Final Destination’s ghoulish pleasures, it descends into illogic and cringey teenspeak; all but the least demanding viewers will end up wishing they were watching a slightly better film.
Director: John R. Leonetti; Starring: Joey King, Ryan Phillippe, Ki Hong Lee; Theatrical release: July 28, 2017
Four pals head to a New Orleans music festival to relive their ‘Flossy Posse’ heyday in a raunchy comedy that aims to show ladies can have as much ribald fun as any dude with a hangover.
Regina Hall, Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett Smith are the nominal stars, but it’s Keanu’s Tiffany Haddish who steals the show... even when she’s not peeing on people from a Bourbon Street zip line.
Director: Malcolm D. Lee; Starring: Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith; Theatrical release: July 26, 2017