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🎥 ESJ's Movie Project: A Star Is Born, The Big Sick, Caddyshack and more

Hey all — here are the films I've reviewed in the past week on my Instagram. If you feel strongly one

ESJ's Movie Project

October 4 · Issue #14 · View online
I'm reviewing every movie I watch, and watching every movie I own. Settle in, this is going to take a while.

Hey all — here are the films I’ve reviewed in the past week on my Instagram. If you feel strongly one way or the other, let me know: Do you prefer a longer digest like this, or the shorter emails that only focus on one movie? Just reply to this email with any thoughts!

Even on a repeat viewing, THE BIG SICK (2017) feels like a pleasant surprise. It turns the real-life story of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon into a stellar romantic dramedy and part of me doesn’t want to know how much was fictionalized. Both before and during the titular sickness, all the characters glide into the story with a charm that would be implausible in real life, but the movie makes it 100 percent believable. Without giving too much of the story away, I love the fact that this is a romcom without a villain — there’s no rival love interest who must be defeated, and the people who seem to be antagonizing Kumail at first are, in fact, deeply sympathetic. Most of the stars of this movie have faces and voices that I deeply associate with other roles; so, it’s a major credit to the script that the audience can watch this, forget all those other stories and just sink into this one.
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012) is so much fun that I saw it twice while it was still in theaters. With comedy-horror movies, there’s always the risk that one genre will overshadow the other but the balance here is impressive: The humor gets much darker as the film progresses, but the Cabin in the Woods never forgets to be funny and scary AND smart. Although I really like all five of the actors playing the cabin visitors, it’s really Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford who make this movie work — in more ways than one. Witnessing the sheer chaos of the final act in a crowded theater (twice) is one of my favorite moviegoing memories but of course, I don’t do spoilers in these IG reviews, so that’s as much as I’ll say about that. If you’ve seen the movie and want to hear me rhapsodize it WITH spoilers, go listen to my 2015 Geek vs. n00b podcast with Emily Jones.
CADDYSHACK (1980) does not hold up as well as I had hoped. On this viewing — my first in about 15 years — I was struck by how disjointed the movie is. Unlike Airplane or Animal House, which bounce from gag to gag with a steady drumbeat of story, this script is just littered with arcs that don’t go anywhere and seemingly important characters who disappear for huge chunks of the runtime. The scenes I remembered most fondly, most of them involving Bill Murray, mostly still hold up, but there’s a lot of laughless waiting between the Dalai Lama story and Chevy Chase “cannonballing” Carl’s custom-bred grass. And maybe I’m just grumpy but Rodney Dangerfield’s shtick in this film didn’t work for me at all. Modern comedy films (especially from Judd Apatow and friends) often get dinged for an over-reliance on funny actors improvising, but Dangerfield’s riffs here stick out like his rainbow-colored jackets.
I get why CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) isn’t most people’s favorite Marvel movie: The villain is silly, the action scenes’ special effects look plasticky and the hero isn’t as funny as, say, Iron Man. But I strongly prefer Steve Rogers to the parade of Tony Stark knockoffs that have flooded our screens in recent years, most of them supplied by Marvel itself. When every hero is a jerk that learns to be good (and/or the victim of some horrible trauma a la Batman), the implicit message is that doing good is a personal medicine. But Rogers isn’t like that — he starts the movie a selfless kid and ends it as a selfless hero, challenged by his mentor to retain his goodness even as the world seems to be tilting into cruelty and evil. With that in mind, this is a solid origin story that sets Cap apart from the other Avengers, and also gives us one of the more memorable love interests in the MCU, Peggy Carter. Even though some of the wilder special effects don’t hold up, the squeezing of Chris Evans into his pre-Cap body is very effective and I love the overall look of this movie, from the sets to the retro-futuristic technology. And now, I think I’ve talked myself into watching “Agent Carter,” the spinoff series that I never finished. Bye!
I see a lot of movies, which means I’ve seen the trailer for A STAR IS BORN (2018) a lot. A LOT. Watching the actual film, I couldn’t help but recognize certain sections as being “from the trailer,” but fortunately, there’s plenty of good material that hasn’t already been screened ad nauseam. The songs are great, the story is predictable but well-told and there’s no doubt by the time the credits roll that Lady Gaga deserves top billing. Bradley Cooper’s performance is fine, but I wonder how intentionally meta it is that Gaga gets a way more interesting character to work with. On a more nitpicky note, this movie needed either more Dave Chappelle or none at all. His character pops up so briefly, in a role that could’ve been filled by the Sam Elliott character, that I kept waiting for him to come back later in the movie. Overall, am I rooting for this to win the Best Picture award that some seem to think it has already captured? No. But would I see it again? Probably. Will I buy the soundtrack? Definitely.
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