The Big Sick
Struggling Chicago comedian Kumail falls in love with Emily. That’s fine, except that she’s white, and his devout Pakistani Muslim family expect him to marry a nice Pakistani girl and become a lawyer. Their differences, and his priorities, come to a head when Emily falls seriously ill. The Big Sick is like a lot of other films with producer Judd Apatow’s name attached. It’s a smart, funny, heartfelt romantic comedy, perhaps a little bit too long and a little too in love with itself, but those flaws are more than matched by sharp writing and terrific acting. It’s a romantic comedy that’s actually moving, sweet and laugh-out-loud funny. It also comes from a genuine place: the film is autobiographical, written by husband-and-wife Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon about their own meet-cute. Nanjiani plays himself alongside Zoe Kazan as Emily, with a uniformly excellent supporting cast including Holly Hunter, Ray Romano and Aidy Bryant. With the added layers of being an American film with a Pakistani romantic lead, and featuring implicit commentary on American healthcare, it’s a rom-com with real contemporary relevance.

The Big Sick is released on August 3.
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The Beguiled
It’s the American Civil War: an injured Union soldier (played by Colin Farrell) is saved from capture by the few remaining students at a nearby girls’ school, who nurse him back to health. He’s a charming, dangerous man. They’re isolated women. Sexual tension runneth over. The Beguiled plays to director Sofia Coppola’s best instincts: it’s slow, lean and restrained, a tightly wound, off-kilter Southern Gothic daydream. Like The Virgin Suicides, it draws on the tensions of female adolescence, and like Marie Antoinette, it’s gorgeously turned out. The school, surrounded by overgrown gardens, is an eerily beautiful haven from the war, which can be heard in the background constantly. Our heroines, including Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning and Angourie Rice, make a great ensemble.

The Beguiled is playing at Palace Nova Eastend.
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It Comes at Night
In the wake of a deadly plague, a family holes up in a house in the woods. There's no glib way to sum up It Comes at Night without giving too much away. It breathes like a horror film and moves like a thriller, but it quickly slips the shackles of any one genre and becomes something unpredictable and uncomfortable, putting its small cast (including an alpha male Joel Edgerton and a star turn from Kelvin Harrison Jr.) through paces of fear and paranoia. It plays with ideas from zombie films – its closest relative is probably the original Night of the Living Dead – but director Trey Edward Shults, who previously worked under Terrence Malick, is more interested in the human cost than gore and shock. Think of it as part of a new wave of unconventional horror films – like It Follows and The Witch – that dig deeper than most, looking for something primal and untapped. Slip under the surface and be asphyxiated.

It Comes at Night is playing at Palace Nova Eastend.
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The Trip to Spain
Two well-off middle-aged men banter and bicker their way through a tour of Spain's best restaurants. Can you think of a more vile-sounding premise than this? It sounds like Top Gear if they had their drivers' licenses revoked. And yet, it works so well. This is the third film in the hilarious Trip series. With director Michael Winterbottom, comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon have been playing these fictionalised (I hope) versions of themselves for more than a decade, wherein they’re commissioned to write restaurant reviews but mainly just doing increasingly ridiculous Roger Moore impersonations on sunny terraces. Coogan is an insecure know-all and Brydon is loud and grating, and their animosity-fuelled friendship is more toxic here than ever, their mid-life crises pushing them into some despicable pissing contests. Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People, 9 Songs, A Cock and Bull Story) is a master of understated direction, letting the pair’s improvisational instincts take the lead.

The Trip to Spain is released on August 3.
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A Ghost Story
A woman grieves her deceased husband but, unbeknownst to her, he hasn’t gone anywhere. He loiters in the house while she grieves, invisible to her, but to us he’s a children’s storybook idea of a ghost – hidden beneath a white sheet with eyeholes, powerless to do much more than stare, long for her, make the lights flicker, or make the furniture creak. It’s an absurd image, but it works, in no small part because director David Lowery knowingly winks at the charming naivety of it, and then disarms you by playing it completely straight. This is an ambitious, audacious and intensely moving meditation on grief and time, drifting along on its own dream logic, to its own slow rhythm. It’s largely free of dialogue too, leaving room for the cast, led by Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck (at least I assume it’s him under that bedsheet), to depict a far more emotive form of grief than we’re used to on the big screen. Watch out for weird cameos from Will Oldham (aka Bonnie Prince Billy) and Kesha.

A Ghost Story is playing at Nova Eastend.
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