Movie Reviews:  The Big Sick and War for the Planet of the Apes

by Paulist Father James DiLuzio www.lukelive.com

THE BIG STICK is a film about individuation: what it takes to define the true self as it wrestles with expectations of family, culture, religion and their associated guilts. It boasts a semi-autobiographical script and stars its author Kumail Nanjiani, a prolific and talented stand-up comedian / actor / writer best known for the HBO series SILICON VALLEY.  Here, we meet Kumail as an almost-no-longer young adult thrust into discernment about life and love. He still treads lightly, however, vying to honor his role as the younger son of a Pakistani Muslim family. They moved to Chicago as he’s been told “for your sake” during his childhood.

THE BIG STICK also addresses critical illness and how the reality of death / possibility of impending death forces us to face ourselves and, hopefully, if we let it, make life-giving choices.  The movie is a welcomed change to the current film offerings and a bit retro, offering the familiar but with some novel twists and perspectives. Ultimately, THE BIG STICK is a serious comedy, offering chuckles and giggles, appropriately lacking in hilarity to pursue its important, universal themes.

The film is poignant, touching and entertainingly aggravating as we witness the foibles and comedic dynamics of family, friendship and romance. Nearly everything about the characters and their responses to their predicaments rings true. Each one, in his or her own way, tackles to claim personal TRUTH.[1] That’s a topic any priest would applaud, and, as scripted by Kumail and his wife Emily Gordon, the film succeeds on, oh, so many levels.  THE BIG STICK offers honesty and tenderness that is truly refreshing in our cynical age.

And what a wonderful roster of actors has assembled for this enterprise: Nanjiani may be a bit too dead-pan-to-a-fault in this role, but he has a fine screen presence and holds his own with veterans Holly Hunter (captivating), Ray Morano (strong and appealing), Zenobia Shroff (wonderful!) and the charming Zoe Kazan (granddaughter of legendary director Elia Kazan). Kazan plays Kumail’s love interest and her character’s complexities offer a wide range of emotions that she delivers with aplomb.  I recommend THE BIG SICK to you when you find yourself in one of those wonderful “down-to-earth moods,” ready to eschew the need for thrills, grand violence, murder and mayhem, and enjoy being a member of the human race. .

Now, you may expect that WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES will offer you plenty of the thrills and chills.  Surprise!  There is war and violence at the onset, but, all the same, a better title might be: ACCESSION TO THE PLANET OF THE APES. There’s a great battle at the end, but our title characters do not participate. For the thrust of the plot echoes the Biblical Vision of Isaiah 2: “He shall judge between the nations, and set terms for many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” A most honorable and inspiring theme, an essential Hope for this age as for any other.  And, humbling, too, to see it accomplished by what we consider the lesser of the species. To those familiar with the franchise, these apes embody a deeper humanity than many who claim the classification of human, and, in what may be the final chapter of the series, they supersede us completely. But this fable has, from its inception in 1968 and into its re-boot that began in 2011 warned of humanity’s capacity for self-destruction, and has always focused on our need for humility –to learn from nature and all of nature’s creatures, insisting that we attend to our essential common bond. Here, humanity loses its power of speech as the apes learn to use language to cultivate HOPE — the reason it was bestowed upon humankind in the first place. Along with the gift of free will and the capacity to love fully, language is the third aspect that made us in the biblical “image of God.”

In addition to plot, character and theme, you’ll find the special effects most rewarding and the digital motion-captured acting of Andy Serkis memorable. He’s assisted by many others but the most notable: Karin Konoval as the wise orangutan Maurice, and Steve Zahn, as a sad-clown sidekick named Bad Ape who ushers in some welcomed comic relief in the second act and beyond.  Director Matt Reeves keeps the plot moving at an enjoyable pace and some of the visuals—especially the winter scenes can take your breath away along with the natural look and feel of each and very ape. NYTIMES film critic A.O Scott noted in his review “There is a scene toward the end of “War for the Planet of the Apes” that is as vivid and haunting as anything I’ve seen in a Hollywood blockbuster in ages, a moment of rousing and dreadful cinematic clarity that I don’t expect to shake off any time soon.”[2]  I urge families with kids 12 and older to venture forth to your local Cineplex for this one. Your experience will give you some wonderful conversations in many-a-family-meal to come!

[1] John 8: 32: and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+8%3A32&version=NABRE Also Psalm 15: “Who may dwell on your holy mountain? Whoever walks without blame, doing what is right, speaking truth from the heart;” https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+15&version=NABRE/  And from the Islam quotes website I found this: ‘“Always Speak the Truth, even if there is fear in speaking the Truth. Remember there is Freedom in speaking the Truth” – Prophet Muhammad (saw) https://islamiquotes.wordpress.com/category/truth/

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/12/movies/war-for-the-planet-of-the-apes-review.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fmovies&action=click&contentCollection=movies&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=8&pgtype=sectionfront

 

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