Barry Mendel

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The Big Sick Review

Excellent

It may be rather long for a romantic comedy, but this film has such a strikingly original script that it grabs hold and never lets go. Based on the real-life story of actor-writer Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and his cowriter wife Emily Gordon, the movie is packed with engaging characters who each take their own journey through a series of unexpected events. In other words, it's a clever screenplay that's beautifully played and often very, very funny.

Playing an only slightly fictionalised version of himself, Kumail is a stand-up comic in Chicago when he meets Emily (Zoe Kazan), who heckles him at one of his gigs. Their banter quickly turns to flirtation and then love. But there's a hitch in the fact that Kumail's parents (Anupan Kher and Zenobia Sfiroff) expect him to marry a nice Pakistani Muslim girl, and he doesn't want to let them down. He's even reluctant to reveal Emily to his slightly more open-minded brother (Adeel Akhtar). This strains the burgeoning romance, which takes a turn when Emily is put into an induced coma in hospital. It also forces Kumail to get to know Emily's parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano), who turn up to sit with him as they wait for her condition to improve.

It's rare for a rom-com to take such a serious turn, and this film plays the situation with a proper sense of dramatic tension while maintaining an awkwardly edgy comical sensibility. All of this allows characters to come to vivid life, each with his or her own big issues that need to be dealt with as they interact with other people. The network of relationships reflect real life better than most movies, exploring Kumail's professional life and his camaraderie with his fellow comics as well as the layered family bonds and his developing connection with Emily and her parents. It's also a refreshingly realistic depiction of multi-cultural society.

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Trainwreck Review

Good

Amy Schumer makes her big screen debut with a script that feels like a much-extended sketch from her TV series. It's hilariously observant and refreshingly grown-up about sex, but the plot falls back on the usual cliches. Even with some clever twists and turns, the structure is oddly predictable. But the biggest surprise is that Schumer and director Judd Apatow ultimately cave in and take a traditional approach to romance.

As she does on her show, Schumer plays a sexually frank woman called Amy. Taught by her father (Colin Quinn) to distrust monogamy, she has indulged in a commitment-free life, rarely seeing a man more than once. And her one repeat male partner (John Cena) is a rather too self-obsessed bodybuilder. Then her boss, blithely demanding magazine editor Diana (Tilda Swinton), assigns her to interview Aaron (Bill Hader), a doctor who specialises in sports injuries. Amy can't help but seduce him; it's what she does! But in the process she realises that she actually quite likes him. This idea so rattles her that she sabotages her close relationship with her sister Kim (Brie Larson), who is expecting a child with husband Tom (Mike Birbiglia).

Schumer has impeccable comic timing, and she's hilarious all the way through this film, playing on her character's riotous way of being shockingly honest at all the wrong times. In other words, the character is entertaining but never very likeable because of the thoughtless things she does and says. So our sympathies lie with Hader, who gives an unusually layered turn as a smart, sensitive and very funny guy who just might be too good for Amy. Other characters are either here to provide emotion (Larson and Quinn) or to shamelessly steal scenes (Swinton). And Apatow brings in a usual stream of big-name cameos, including Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei in a clever pastiche of a New York indie movie.

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God Help The Girl Review


Excellent

With bouncy pop tunes and a breezy tone, this Scottish musical sometimes feels so weightless that it seems to float right out of existence. At other times it's startlingly dark and moving, touching on earthy emotions and important themes. The tonal shifts may be rather jarring, but the film as a whole is a joy to watch, especially as it makes some pointed comments on both mental illness and nature of artistic creation.

Set in Glasgow, the story centres on Eve (Emily Browning), who is so obsessed with composing music that she's being treated in a mental hospital. After she escapes she meets James (Olly Alexander), a young singer-guitarist who is a bit unnerved when she follows him home, worms her way into his life and spurs him to start a band with music student Cassie (Hannah Murray). James falls for Eve, but she's clearly only interested in being friends, especially since she has a crush on cool bad-boy Anton (Pierre Boulanger), the lead singer of a rival band. And even Cassie seems out of reach, since she flirts with every man she meets. But neither James nor Cassie knows the truth about Eve's mental state.

Writer-director Stuart Murdoch is the lead singer of the Glasgow band Belle and Sebastian, and the film is peppered with songs written for their album but sung live on-camera by the cast members. As a filmmaker, Murdoch has a remarkably light touch, as well as a gift for weaving the music right into the fabric of the movie. This is certainly not the usual rom-com: the characters have unsuspected depth that's beautifully tapped by the sharp young cast members. The bravely immersive Browning and charming Alexander are a terrific double-act, with very different musical styles that gel together cleverly - think Ellie Goulding and Ed Sheeran. And the addition of Murray's lively Cassie to the equation adds a superb dynamic.

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This Is 40 Review


Very Good

This overlong comedy is so episodic that watching it is exactly like sitting through five episodes of a sitcom back-to-back. It's funny and enjoyable, with characters we enjoy watching, but they continually spiral back to where they started, and in the end we feel like there's been a lot of fuss about nothing. Even so, the script offers plenty of hilarious observational humour, and the cast is thoroughly entertaining.

Reprising their roles from Knocked Up, Rudd and Mann play Debbie and Pete, who turn 40 within a week of each other. But Debbie isn't coping very well with it, and her emotions swing wildly from steamy lust to fiery rage while Pete just tries to hang on. Their daughters (played by Apatow and Mann's real daughters Maude and Iris) each have their own issues to stir into the mix. And then Pete's needy father (Brooks) turns up with problems of his own, forcing Debbie to think about her own distant father (Lithgow). Meanwhile, the economic crunch is causing problems for both of their businesses.

Yes, both of them own businesses. This is not the typical struggling 40-something couple, so it's not easy to sympathise with many of their issues. Fortunately, Apatow's dialog is packed with brazen honesty and an appreciation for rude gags that keep us laughing even in the absence of an actual storyline we can get involved in (although there's one major plot point along the way). Rudd and Mann were arguably the best thing in Knocked Up, so it's great to let them take the spotlight here, making the most of their sparky interaction. And aside from experts like Brooks and Lithgow, there is a continual stream of superb side roles, including Fox as Debbie's oversexed and possibly embezzling employee and McCarthy as a furious school parent (her big scene is expanded into a brilliantly improvised outtake riff in the closing credits).

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The Royal Tenenbaums Review


Essential
Family isn't based on sweet kisses on the cheek. Affection between parent and child is not established by saying the magical phrase "I love you." Instead, the strongest conversations often come through in stares and sarcastic remarks. As the old saying goes, you only hurt the ones you love, and family members are usually first in line.

This adage is wholly true for the Tenenbaums, a charismatic dysfunctional family set in a slightly surreal New York City. With an all-star cast and crisp dialogue, this film does what many other films of its genre lack -- it creates a family environment that is entertaining as well as easy to relate to.

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Unbreakable Review


Good
With the long-awaited release of M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable, the moviegoing world has one question on its mind: will it be unexpectedly great like his last film The Sixth Sense, or will it unexpectedly suck eggs like his first film Wide Awake?

Sadly, the answer is neither, though an overexcited populace spoon-fed on a year's worth of hype is likely to lean toward the latter owing to severe disappointment. It's hard to blame them.

Continue reading: Unbreakable Review

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Barry Mendel Movies

The Big Sick Movie Review

The Big Sick Movie Review

It may be rather long for a romantic comedy, but this film has such a...

Trainwreck Movie Review

Trainwreck Movie Review

Amy Schumer makes her big screen debut with a script that feels like a much-extended...

God Help the Girl Movie Review

God Help the Girl Movie Review

With bouncy pop tunes and a breezy tone, this Scottish musical sometimes feels so weightless...

Advertisement
This Is 40 Movie Review

This Is 40 Movie Review

This overlong comedy is so episodic that watching it is exactly like sitting through five...

The Royal Tenenbaums Movie Review

The Royal Tenenbaums Movie Review

Family isn't based on sweet kisses on the cheek. Affection between parent and child...

Unbreakable Movie Review

Unbreakable Movie Review

With the long-awaited release of M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable, the moviegoing world has one question...

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