Don't be put off by my title: there is nothing sinister here chaps!! Indeed, with my general 'bloggings' I shall attempt to delight and astound you out of the mundaneness of a middle class suburban life, into the magical world of the Sophster!! Mystical...

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Sophie's Film Choice #23: THE BIG SICK

Continuing my new found zest for the silver screen this summer, I took 'bae' along to a viewing of The Big Sick at our local 'cinema with a bar' last Thursday. As expected, the auditorium was full of 20 and 30 something couples ordering cheese plates (yes, with grapes and everything) and preparing for a suitably 'indie' romantic comedy.

In case you haven't heard much about this film (it didn't have a HUGE buzz around it), it follows the first few months of the relationship between Pakistani comedian Kumail Nanjiani (played by the real-life Kumail, who you might know as Dilpesh from Silicon Valley) and his now wife, Emily V. Gordon. The barriers in their way? 1) His parents are strict Muslims which means that Kumail must have an arranged marriage (Emily is a white non-Muslim) 2) Emily gets VERY ill. Like, 'goes into a medically induced coma' ill. That's not a spoiler btw, it's in the trailer.

Actual image of me trying to block out a woman's GLARING PHONE SCREEN. Srsly ppl.

Talking of the trailer, there's one thing I want to get out of the way: all the best jokes are in there. For a film marketed as 'gut-bustingly funny', there are actually very few laugh out loud moments (I counted about 4), which puzzled me at first. However, after a less than promising start - watching stand up comedians doing comedy that isn't very funny, and then watching their 'banter' as they laugh at how funny each other are - the film thankfully takes a turn into something much more bearable. With the arrival of Emily, we soon start to realise that The Big Sick isn't a raucous, 40 Year Old Virgin type comedy that we might expect from producer Judd Apatow - it's a romantic indie drama with funny moments.

The chemistry between Kumail and Emily (played with nuance and charm by Zoe Kazan) feels authentic from the beginning. Their one-on-one scenes seem like they could have been (at least partially) improvised, their awkwardness giving way to a genuine fondness for one another. The whole story, based on true events and co-written by the real Emily, feels deeply personal. Whilst Kumail's 'comedy skit' moments come across as a tad self-indulgent, he is pulled back with a swift one liner every time. When Emily discovers his family's plans for his future (remember, the whole arrange marriage thing?), her reaction is believably shocked and embarrassed. And then she gets very, VERY ill.

"Umm, who invited Paul Hollywood? Turn around and see what he's WEARING (but be subtle)"

The next section of the film centres around Emily's parents (played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) and Kumail, as they come together unexpectedly at Emily's bedside. Having been fully briefed on the ups (and downs) of their daughters relationship with him, they are decidedly cagey at first. However, some of the funniest scenes in the film explore how these three work out their differences and get to know one another, whilst occasionally cracking under the pressure of having a loved one's fate in the hands of doctors. Romano doesn't overplay his role and fits perfectly as Emily's slightly socially awkward, wise-cracking New York dad with his heart firmly in the right place. I mean, everybody loves him, right?... Hunter is equally likeable as Emily's mother, a tough mid-westerner who doesn't mince her words (even though she sounds like she's gnawing on something most of the time).

Whist Romano and Hunter deliver a masterclass in portraying the complex emotions of marriage, Nanjiani doesn't do quite as good a job. It might just be something to do with his face, but every time he is supposedly 'breaking down with emotion', he looks like he wants to laugh. This is particularly uncomfortable in the bizarre scene where he decides to go on stage at a stand up gig and just start telling the audience about Emily's illness and how the infection is spreading whilst fighting back 'tears'. I mean, if you feel that terrible, you wouldn't do the gig. This is a shame, as a story that has real emotional resonance soon starts feeling overly sentimental due to this forced performance.

Waiting for Season 8 of Game of Thrones like... 

However, what the film gets right is balancing these overly emotional moments with some truly wry comedy; which takes me to Kumail's very 'traditional' family. His mother's matchmaking as she invites a line up of single Pakistani women to just 'drop in' on family meals is a genuinely funny trope, and many of the film's laughs stem from the family's straight faces as Kumail tries to crack jokes ('always with the comedy' is his mum's long suffering catch phrase). The 'culture clash' gag which runs through the film is well judged; a scene in which Kumail is heckled by a racist bigot and defended by Emily's parents is both excruciating and moving to watch.

All in all, The Big Sick tells a worthy story with wit and charm. However, whilst it tries to be a modern day Annie Hall, it doesn't QUITE match up to this classic comedy status. With some overly cheesy screenplay and a little smugness, it nearly tips over the 'quirky for no reason' edge, but saves itself with a real heart and some strong performances from most of the leads. Definitely worth seeking out as a date night film when it comes to Netflix / some other streaming service.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

The Cinema Lover's Workday Soundtrack (hour by hour)

If, like me, you spend most of your days with your headphones firmly attached to your head (whether to drown out commuters / drills / bad chart music etc.), you're probably quite selective in how your music choices shape your day. With that in mind, I've put together a suggested soundtrack for the typical office worker, based entirely on film scores! Let's jump out of bed and get started (warning: as is usual from me, there is plenty of Disney and Pixar to be found)...


What's going on:

Music choice: The Lion King 

Who wouldn't rise out of bed like a lion to the majestic sounds of "NANTS INGONYAMA BAGITHI BABA!!" and accompanying African drums? Make sure to only select the Hans Zimmer parts of the soundtrack though, not the character led songs (unless you want your morning ruined by the ironically named "Morning Report").


What's going on: 

Music choice: Monsters Inc / A Bug's Life / Toy Story 

Find a spring in your step with one of Randy Newman's rousing title scores. These are guaranteed to give you a sense of purpose as you power through train stations and tick off your mental to-do list (effects may be boosted by a coffee and/or pastry based snack). 


What's going on:

Music choice: A Superhero soundtrack

This is the first half hour at your desk, so you'll need something urgent and awesome to power you through. Feel like every email is a life or death situation, with a kick-ass superhero soundtrack. I would recommend Tim Burton's deliciously dark Batman score, or perhaps the sleekness of the original Iron Man soundtrack. Whichever superhero you envision yourself as, pick a score to match!

9:30 - 1PM 

What's going on:

Music choice: Chocolat / The Imitation Game / Lion

Depending on your mood, the weather, and whether you had that 'on the way to work' coffee, you can select from these soundtracks. I've picked Chocolat for when you need a gentle morning 'pick me up', The Imitation Game for when you have to tackle hard intellectual problems (which you clearly do first thing, right?) and Lion for when you're just in the flow and want to envelop yourself with beautiful music.

1 - 2PM 

What's going on:

Music choice: (500) Days of Summer

You've been working super hard all morning, so it's time to treat yourself to... some lyrics! It's important to have a proper break at lunchtime, so take yourself on a walk, meet a friend or play a game of cards with the wonderfully inoffensive and timeless indie soundtrack that is (500) Days of Summer: Feist, The Smiths and Hall & Oates? There's something for everyone. Can be substituted with the original Shrek soundtrack if it's a Friday and you're feeling fruity.

2PM - 4PM 

What's going on:

Music choice: Anything John Williams (E.T, Star Wars, Indiana Jones etc)

We're back to wordless tunes to keep you focussed in the afternoon, but that doesn't mean you can't treat yourself. Bask in the guaranteed epic-ness of a John Williams soundtrack, be it Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, Star Wars, E.T, Indiana Jones or many, MANY more. There are enough nostalgic soaring violins and timpani to see you right through the afternoon slump and out the other side.


What's going on:

Music choice: Dreamgirls / Pitch Perfect

You're leaving work after a pretty friggin productive day. Get your sass on with a musical soundtrack! I've picked Dreamgirls for a bit of Mo Town / soul flavour, or Pitch Perfect if you're ready to serenade your fellow passengers on the train. Other musicals would also work, but please, PLEASE: no Les Miserables right now. There's a time and a place.


What's going on:

Music choice: Sing Street / Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Mix

You've just got back from work, so it's probably time to have a quick chill out (Simpsons fans, I'm with ya) and then... get some dins on! If you're anything like me, eating is a cause for celebration, so put on some music you can dance / sing to. I've picked Sing Street for a feel-good 80s inflected feel, or Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Mix if you want to get even more cray cray.


What's going on:

Music choice: Ratatouille / Midnight in Paris

You made it to DINNER TIME! If you have a significant other, or if you just fancy a cosy restaurant-like feel while you are stuffing your face with carbs, I'd recommend the Parisian sounds of Ratatouille (gypsy swing with some romantic ballads) or Midnight in Paris (cool 1920s jazz and swing with a French flavour). Bon appetit!

8 - 10PM 

What's going on:

Music choice: Finding Nemo / Pride & Prejudice / Moonlight

You've done everything you need to do for the day - now it's YOU time. Whether that's taking a long soak, doing some home yoga or reading, these soundtracks will peacefully round off your day (there are a few scary shark bits in Finding Nemo so you might want to check those tracks first).

There are thousands of equally epic soundtracks out there to choose from, so if you have any suggestions for scores that get you through the day, comment below. Happy listening!