Sunday 31 May 2020

Netflix And Chill: Coffee & Kareem (2020)

Is it just me or have there been a lot of comedies lately falling back into the well-worn tropes of the buddy cop genre without both leads being cops. There ARE movies with two mismatched cops (at least two of the better ones star Melissa McCarthy), but we now have cops dragging innocent civilians into their dangerous escapades (e.g. Central Intelligence, Stuber), couples trying to prove their innocence by diving into the underworld (e.g. Date Night, The Lovebirds), and adults teamed up with kids (My Spy, this). Of course, the familiar formula has been reworked with various combinations over the past few decades, nothing new there, but it feels as if there's been a recent resurgence, with it already becoming almost as tired and word as it was by the time Whoopi Goldber was partnered up with a talking dinosaur.

Ed Helms plays a police officer, Coffee, who doesn't seem to be too good at his job. He's enjoying his new relationship with Vanessa (Taraji P. Henson) though, although things may be a little tense with her son, Kareem (Terrence Little Gardenhigh). In fact, Kareem pretends to want some bonding time with Coffee, all to set a plan in motion that he hopes will get the man a beating. Things go wrong though, and Coffee and Kareem end up running for their lives. There are some dangerous baddies hot on their tale, and there may be some corrupt cops also involved.

The first feature from writer Shane Mack, this is very much a paint-by-numbers example of this kind of film, with the added "bonus" of one of the protagonists being a foul-mouthed kid. Mack sets everything up as you would expect. People being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the leads not getting on for the majority of the movie, but working together when necessary, and the obvious reveal of the main villain (revealed quite early on, to be fair, and not presented as a big "gotcha" moment). It's nothing special, but it's not bad, and there are a couple of good scenes making use of Helms being a desperate man while not wanting to be perceived as racist.

Director Michael Dowse (who also helmed Stuber, funnily enough) goes through the motions. He's not a director with any kind of voice, he just tends to work as well as the material that he's given. Coffee & Kareem is just okay, mainly because it is dragged down by the fact that Kareem isn't as hilarious a character as those making the movie think he is.

Gardenhigh isn't necessarily to blame for the way his character comes across, but it's easy to imagine things playing out a bit better with someone else in the role, perhaps someone who can better play up the attitude while also staying likeable enough to root for. Helms is doing the kind of stiff everyman he has done so many times before, and he's good at it, and Henson is disappointingly underused. Betty Gilpin takes on another movie role in her seemingly ongoing attempt to find something cinematically that will best showcase her talent, and she's definitely a highlight. It's just a shame that the middling nature of the rest of the movie means that this is another role that won't really stand out in her filmography.

Coffee & Kareem is okay, and that's all. You can watch it once and forget about it soon after, or you can avoid it completely without any fear of missing out. It's a shame that they decided to try and wring most of their laughs from Kareem being "hilariously profane". That's not where the better comedy lies, and it's only the other gags that help to make this average, as opposed to truly awful.


Saturday 30 May 2020

Shudder Saturday: Demonic (2015)

I think James Wan tends to get a bad rap nowadays, mainly for his part in creating the moneyspinning cinematic blend known as "the Wan-iverse". It is wildly inconsistent, as often happens when movie studios can sells something based on brand recognition rather than actual quality, but Wan himself remains a guy who seems to have taken all of his success with gratitude and an attempt to help lift others up as he continues to scale ever upwards.

He didn't direct Demonic, that job is given to Will Canon, who also co-wrote the script with Doug Simon and Max La Bella, but I have started with some praise of his work because his name looms large here (in a "James Wan presents" capacity). Or I should say that his name looms large here and Demonic is a bad film, the kind of film that represents what many horror fans view as symptomatic of the worst in modern horror movies.

The story is hard for me to convey while retaining any pretence of interest. Some young lad has been having dreams about his mother, who died in a strange way in an old house. And that lad is persuaded to go to that same house, in the hope of recording some supernatural activity. It didn't go to plan. We know this quite early on, because a cop (Frank Grillo) is called to investigate an incident at the house, an incident that resulted in a number of dead bodies, and he calls in a psychologist (Maria Bello) to assist him in his investigation. There are predictable twists and turns, all leading to an ending more tiresome than remotely terrifying.

As much as I like Wan, I like Frank Grillo even more, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that he was in this. The same goes for Maria Bello. Which should have made me suspicious from the very start, Demonic featuring both of them and yet not having appeared on my radar once over the past few years. They're both perfectly okay in their roles, and definitely help to make the film more watchable, but the rest of the cast are generally poor. They're so bland and interchangeable that I cannot single out everyone. Dustin Milligan is a rather horrible nominal lead, and Scott Mechlowicz and Cody Horn are the two main supporting actors who are roughly on a par with Milligan.

It's hard to be too critical of the cast though, who are all dragging around the dead weight of a script that somehow seems to think it is being entertaining and scary, when it is actually just packed full of jump scares, overdone tropes, and a plot twist that you will have seen in at least a dozen movies over the past few decades.

Canon doesn't help anything with his flat direction. It's unsurprising to see that this is only his second feature, and his first set squarely in the horror genre. He takes viewers through the very familiar territory with the strange confidence of someone who thinks they are showing you a whole new world of strange visions, not bothering to add any showmanship or real style, beyond what he's seen in a number of other poor horror movies in the 21st century.


Friday 29 May 2020

Onward (2020)

Here's the starting point for this review. Onward is a disappointing film from Pixar. The fact that it IS from Pixar means there is still a lot here to enjoy, but it's disappointing, even if the message about sibling love/care feels like a slight improvement on the neverending stream of movies aimed at kids with a message all about how the people who created them during the act of sex are the best, and most important, people in the universe, and to be loved by them is the cure for everything ever. 

I admit . . . that has been a bugbear of mine for many years. I have my reasons.

Tom Holland voices Ian Lightfoot, the younger brother of Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt). The brothers live in a magical world that has left a lot of the old ways behind, for more convenient methods. They live with their mother, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and the shadow cast by the death of their father. So it becomes an urgent matter when the brothers are given a gift from their late father, a magical staff and instructions on how to bring him back for one extra day with them. So begins a quest that will involve some erratic driving, some angry pixies, a number of death-defying moments, a manticore, and lessons about the people in your life who help bring out the best in you.

Visually, Onward is lovely. The quality of the animation is as you would expect from Pixar, although it's a shame that every scene isn't packed out with the usual selection of details and small gags that we've come to expect from them. Maybe they are now a victim of their own success, and there are certainly plenty of lovely touches to pick up on repeat viewings (while occasionally pausing the movie), but it definitely feels like this movie is set in a universe that was not as fully-formed as the environments in so many other Pixar movies.

Holland and Pratt are decent leads, and their vocal performances somehow emanate a nice helping of brotherly love, but the rest of the cast feels a bit . . . lacking. Louis-Dreyfus is a fine mom character, Octavia Spencer is wonderful as the Manticore, but they're the only ones who stand out. Mel Rodriguez gets a number of good lines, playing Colt Bronco, a centaur police officer dating Mrs Lightfoot (and let's not even start considering the ramifications of THAT relationship), but it would have been nice to have a more familiar voice in that role.

Director Dan Scanlon also co-created the story and screenplay with Keith Bunin and Jason Headley, and this feels like a film that may have been better handed over to someone a step removed from the story. Everyone involved treats it as something a bit too precious, which is why the better moments (the angry pixies being a highlight) are so few and far between. As sweet and predictable as the ending is, it also feels like the safest and dullest way to tie everything up in time for the pending end credits.

As mentioned at the very start of this review, however, there is still plenty to enjoy here. It's not as bad as The Good Dinosaur (which remains the worst of the many Pixar movies I have seen so far, although I have yet to watch the Cars movies, despite owning them). It's just not half as good as it could have been. It's Onward, but no step upward.


Thursday 28 May 2020

The Lodge (2019)

From Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, the people who co-directed and co-wrote Goodnight Mommy (joined this time by an extra writer, Sergio Casci), comes this tale of isolation, horror, and madness. And it all stems from a pair of kids upset by their parents divorcing.

Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh are Aiden and Mia, a brother and sister who are understandably upset when their mother reacts badly to news of divorce proceedings by killing herself. They blame the new woman (Grace, played by Riley Keough) who is due to marry their father (Richard Armitage). With that friction crackling away between them, the foursome head to an isolated holiday lodge. Maybe relations will improve. But strange things start to happen once their father is called away on business. Are they playing tricks on one another, or does it all have something to do with Grace's disturbing past spent within a strict and controlling cult?

Once again focusing on a pair of children who are acting oddly around a disturbed parental figure, Fiala and Franz certainly seem comfortable in their chosen niche. It's a shame that neither of their two main fictional features have so far been entirely successful. The Lodge works better than Goodnight Mommy, for the most part, because there is more interaction between the adult and the children, and there's a sense of tension that builds nicely, even if things fall apart once you start to think about them in more detail. The Lodge is actually quite ridiculous, but the final scenes at least make it worthwhile. This is a bleak film, and maybe not one to quickly reach for if you're currently experiencing a bit of the Lockdown madness most of us have had at one point or another this year.

The cast are pretty faultless though, with major props due to the talented young duo of Martell and McHugh. The script allows them to act in a way that is believably childish, emotional, and spiteful, and you're on their side from the earliest scenes. Keough has to be a bit twitchy and highly-strung for a lot of the runtime, but she does it all well. Armitage is absent for a large chunk of the movie, but is absolutely fine in his main scenes, and Alicia Silverstone puts in another of the wonderful little performances she has been accruing over the past few years.

Fiala and Franz have an impressive visual style, both this and Goodnight Mommy have a clean and cold look for many scenes (although The Lodge has a much colder environment being shown, literally), and I hope that they keep working hard on whatever might become the material that best matches up with their obvious talent. This is a step in the right direction, but still falls just a bit short of the mark to be really good.


Wednesday 27 May 2020

Prime Time: The Horror At Gallery Kay (2018)

Love is funny, eh. Find the right partner for you and you can become a little bit less of what you used to be and a little bit more of what you want to be. Which is all well and good, especially as you become better for yourself while also appreciating your loved ones, but can easily take one turn towards something very damaging and dangerous. There's a difference between spending your first date desperately holding in that fart that has been grumbling to be let out since you arrived at your meeting point and holding in parts of your personality that you decided to hide in order to make yourself seem like a much better person than you think you are. And I am going to bring this review to a grinding halt just now just to remind anyone reading this not to do that. I may not be any kind of expert on relationships nowadays, but I've enjoyed years of increased happiness by simply being honest about who I am, the good and the bad. And do you know how worrying it is to say to anyone on a date "well, I watch about 15 movies a week, do a podcast, and blog daily"? But fuck it.

Back to The Horror At Gallery Kay, which happens to be all about love, really. And happens to be about how we change while in a relationship, and how there sometimes comes a point when you have to decide if you're happy with the changes, happy with where you are at, and happy with what the future may hold. Maine Anders and Rosebud play Petra and Olive, respectively, and the two of them are attending a counselling session with a counsellor named Bozill (Brian Silliman). Various issues come up for discussion, but the big item on the agenda seems to be whatever may have happened at a certain gallery.

The debut feature from director Abe Goldfarb, as well as the first film from writer Mac Rogers, The Horror At Gallery Kay feels both wary of the path it wants to go along, yet also incredibly confident in the way it relentlessly keeps going along. The direction may not be all that stylish, and the black and white cinematography isn't used in a way that really improves the visuals, but it's competent enough, and Goldfarb keeps the focus on things that matter, whether it is the strain between the central couple or the little details becoming harder to overlook on the way to an ending that is quite . . . out there, to say the least. Rogers has come up with in intriguing idea, and a very unique way of using certain genre (or maybe I should say sub-genre) trappings to explore what it can mean to a relationship when someone is slipping away as the other person feels just as strongly as they always have.

The big plus here are the leads. Both Anders and Rosebud are very good in their roles, batting the dialogue back and forth between themselves and Silliman (who does well in a role that often feels like him simply being present as a witness, rather than an active counsellor). There are a few others who appear onscreen, but it's Anders, Rosebud, and Silliman who are front and centre.

Unfortunately, despite the best intentions and good work of everyone involved, this didn't work for me as well as I wanted it to. People had recommended it, I was in the right mood to sit back and take it in, and I was rooting for it to win me over. It did a good job, for what it was setting out to do, but it just didn't ever turn into something that I would love, or unreservedly recommend to others.

I do, however, recommend it. It's a good film. I just don't think it's anything great.


Tuesday 26 May 2020

Stuck On You (2003)

The Farrelly brothers had a reputation that they had to uphold at the turn of the 21st century. After scoring big with Dumb & Dumber and There's Something About Mary (and Kingpin should have been just as huge, but I don't recall it making much of an impact until discovered by fans in the comfort of their own homes), they were the ruling kings of bad taste comedy. If a set-piece could be planned around some body functions, they could make it the best possible. In fact, they seemed to falter when seeming to try being a bit gentler in their approach (as happened with  Shallow Hal). Which explains why they gave audiences Me, Myself & Irene (a film with a lead character who has a severe dissociative identity disorder) and this, a comedy that focuses on a set of conjoined twins.

Matt Damon is Bob Tenor, and Greg Kinnear is Walt Tenor. The twins are fairly beloved in their local community, and they can also make the burgers in their dining establishment so quickly that anyone challenging the timer to get a freebie is usually left most disappointed. Walt wants to be an actor though, while Bob is a bit more shy. Anyway, they end up heading to Hollywood, for Walt to take his chance, and that leads to Walt eventually landing a part in a TV drama opposite Cher (played by . . . Cher, of course). This leads to another conversation about the twins perhaps taking a chance on the operation that could separate them, but can they work as well apart as they do together?

There's enough here to keep comedy fans entertained, and the central premise (as is often the case with the Farrelly brothers, deceptive little rascals that they are) allows us to view the main characters as others around them do, good-hearted individuals who happen to be different from many others, but a lot of the fun this time around comes from the casting. The runtime is just under two hours, yet it just about manages not to overstay its welcome, thanks to the final scenes featuring some wonderful pay-offs.

Damon and Kinnear work really well together, chatting to one another like two best friends who just happen to be a lot physically closer than most, which is pretty much what they are. Cher is a lot of fun, initially viewing Walt/Bob as a way to ruin a TV show that she is contractually obliged to, and shows herself willing to play up various perceptions of her image (from man-eater to diva, from wanting to be taken seriously as an actress to wanting to be left alone by people). Eva Mendes is also wonderful here, giving the kind of comedic turn that makes you wish she did it more, and there are great supporting turns from Seymour Cassel, Griffin Dunne (playing Griffin Dunne), and even Meryl Streep, as well as numerous celebrity cameos, both credited and uncredited.

It may lack the big set-pieces that there more successful movies contain, which may partially explain why this seems to stay so overlooked, but Stuck On You keeps the chuckles coming fairly consistently from start to finish, with a large proportion of the jokes avoiding the pitfall of laughing AT the lead characters.

I am sure I will stay in the minority for being a fan of this one, but that won't stop me from trying to get others to give it their time. It's not an all-time great, and not even one of the top three from the Farrelly brothers, but it deserves to have a few more fans.


Monday 25 May 2020

Mubi Monday: Hoop Dreams (1994)

Some things are just much more inherently American than other things. Massive portions of food in their restaurants (pretty sure, from memory, that a standard burger over there is about the size of my head), the belief that guns will solve a lot of problems, despite guns arguably being THE biggest problem that they have had in the past decade (this is a sweeping generalisation to poke fun at the more extreme end of the spectrum, not every responsible gun-owner in America), and major sporting events. The UK may love football (soccer to our American friends), and somehow there are still people who enjoy the snorefest that is cricket (a sport designed to keep men busy on a Sunday afternoon in the days when all shops were closed and they only had access to one rock solid potato and the towels and spare furniture parts left in the spare room that nobody had set foot in since the great IKEA cot-building disaster of 1909), but it doesn't compare to the devotion to some big sporting events that Americans have. The Superbowl. A trip out to a baseball game. The wrestling stars who play to packed arenas. And the NBA.

Hoop Dreams is a documentary focusing on the lives of William Gates and Arthur Agee, two young African-Americans who may well find their futures greatly improved by their skill at basketball. They are given some more opportunity, and attention, at their school, comparatively speaking, and there's a lot of tension there, simply rooting for young men to handle some extreme pressure and make the most of an opportunity that may very well be a life-changing one for them.

Directed by Steve James, who also helped to write around the narrative with producer Frederick Marx, Hoop Dreams is one of many sports movies that should also appeal to people who don't really like sports. It's easy to remember the big money side of sports, and many of us will have heard about the enticements offered to students by universities with seemingly unlimited budgets to build up successful sport teams, but the best thing about this documentary is that it very much shows the real impact on the lives of young men faced with life choices put in front of them because of their sporting prowess. These are children who have found something they enjoy, something they end up being really good at, and the hard work that stems from that can be as depressing and damaging as it can be rewarding.

Gates and Agee are two different personality types, making it easier to highlight the differences and the commonalities in their stories. There's plenty of moments showing basketball being played, of course, but much more time showing how these boys/young men are affected by everything else in their lives, from the financial commitment required to keep them in a decent education to their friends and family, some of them being more supportive than others. Can they keep their heads in the game, or will they be swayed by the kind of problems that seem much larger when there's so much at stake?

I've already said a lot more than I thought I was going to say about this, which is a pleasant surprise. Although it is, essentially, a film about basketball, Hoop Dreams is about much more than that. It's about education, about class and social issues, and about the whole damn system, which is both highly problematic and yet also an essential way for many young men (no idea what, if any, opportunities are there for young women) to massively improve their lot in life.

Oh, the runtime is just under three hours. It doesn't feel that long, and it's very much worth the time investment.


Sunday 24 May 2020

Netflix And Chill: The Lovebirds (2020)

Director Michael Showalter reteams with star Kumail Nanjiani (after their success with The Big Sick) for this comedy thriller that concerns a couple (Nanjiani and Issa Rae) who have the potential end of their relationship interrupted by an untimely murder. Not that there's ever such a thing as a timely murder.

Rae and Nanjiani are two solid leads, even as we meet them in the midst of growing tension. While in their car, a stranger (Paul Sparks) commandeers their vehicle, using it to kill a man on a bicycle that he was chasing, and then flees. Leilani (Rae) and Jibran (Nanjiani) do not want to stick around at the crime scene. They know things look bad for them, which means they need to show some initiative and try to find the killer. This brings them into contact with other bad people (such as Edie, played by Anna Camp), forces them to make up a story as they get friends helping them, and obviously has them reappraising how they view one another.

Written by Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall, The Lovebirds is a film that doesn't do enough to help the talented leads. The main premise is very familiar, and could be used to add on a whole load of jokes, but it's all put together in a way that feels very paint-by-numbers. There's no tension here, which wouldn't be so bad if the laughs kept coming, but there's also not enough comedy, so little of it that the leads feel restricted by the way the script doesn't let them be as funny as fans know they can be.

Showalter goes through the motions with his direction, but he is equally responsible for failing his leads. Set-pieces are too low-key, the pacing feels off, despite the film coming in at just under the 90-minute mark, and the plot just feels like it's getting in the way of the characters being able to act in a way that could be much more entertaining.

I feel a bit patronising going on about how good both Rae and Najiani are, despite being hampered by the material, but they make the movie watchable. I have liked Nanjiani for a good few years now, but I wasn't familiar with Rae, who works wonderfully both on her own and alongside her co-star. Sparks is fine, with limited screentime, and Camp does her best to steal the scenes that she features in, and Andrene Ward-Hammond is a typically stolid cop trying to catch a criminal as some innocent people complicate the matter more than they should.

I did laugh, now and then, and there's a fun little punchline at the very end of the movie to pay off a small gag from earlier, but I spent most of the runtime just willing The Lovebirds to be better, for me and for the cast. It doesn't manage that. It just manages to be above average. Just. Not far enough above average to make it worth recommending though.


Saturday 23 May 2020

Shudder Saturday: Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon (2006)

A film that has always been viewed by many horror fans with a lot of affection, Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon is an enjoyable mockumentary that works with the familiar tropes of the slasher sub-genre and tries to give them some explanation.

Nathan Baesel is Leslie Vernon, a potential slasher icon looking to get himself ranked alongside all of the greats. To help his cause, he allows a documentary crew access to his life as he prepares for a night that should put his name in the history books. The crew find out lots about Leslie, find out about his potential victim(s), and also find out about a man hoping to put an end to his reign of terror (Doc Halloran, played by Robert Englund).

First-time director Scott Glosserman, who also co-wrote the screenplay with first-timer David J. Stieve, certainly seems familiar with the material that he's chosen to work with here. Having said that, very few people would watch this and NOT be familiar with the rules being followed/lightly mocked. Most people know what makes a standard "final girl", most people have seen clips of a stalking killer following someone who flees until they trip up, and the template of many a slasher movie includes the kind of third act planned for by Leslie, from the problems with home electrics to a collection of corpses primed to fall out on people discovering them while panicking and trying to stay away from the killer.

Baesel is excellent in the title role, he's the right mix of affability, when he wants the crew to stick with him and record his exploits, and menace, whenever he's about to stalk his prey. He also has a pretty good killer mask, which may seem like a silly thing to say, but is very important in these kinds of movies. Angela Goethals does a good job as Taylor, the leader of the documentary crew, and the one who tends to focus on completing their project, even as things become more and more serious for others. Englund tackles his role with gusto, clearly having fun as a Van Helsing type, and there are small roles that allow for great work from the likes of Scott Wilson, Bridgett Newton, and the irreplaceable Zelda Rubinstein.

It's strange that my main criticism of Behind The Mask is that, despite how much it attempts to show how things might work if a slasher icon was making himself a household name in a realistic and grounded way, it just never feels as grounded as it could be, and is therefore less enjoyable. Glosserman and Stieve seem to want to have their cake and eat it, while this kind of thing would have been much better served by the starker approach favoured by films such as Man Bites Dog and Diary Of A Bad Lad. You can have your killer have supernatural abilities, or you can have him working extra hard to make everything look effortless. Trying to have a mix of both is a bit less satisfying, although there's still plenty here for horror movie fans to enjoy.


Friday 22 May 2020

Little Fockers (2010)

The third, and final (and I assume it is going to stay that way), instalment in what we can now refer to as the Fockers trilogy, Little Fockers is a perfect example of something perfectly competent, yet also perfectly in line with the law of diminishing returns.

All of the main cast members return. Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) and Pam (Teri Polo), his wife, now have some children of their own, and father/grandfather Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) visits to discuss the potential of making Greg the next family patriarch. This comes about after Jack has had a "mild" heart attack, the timing is as bad as it can be, making things more stressful for Greg as he tries to juggle a number of different responsibilities.

Paul Weitz takes over the directing duties, a talented director in the field of comedy who I wish would recapture the touch he had when dealing with 3/4 of his first four movies, and he seems to be happy enough to go through the motions set out by the script, written by a returning John Hamburg, and Larry Stuckey (who was an associate producer on the previous instalment). That wouldn't be so bad if the script had any life to it, but it's almost as if everyone knows they used up all of the gags in the first two movies. All that is required is to get everyone into place, to set up a couple of comic misunderstandings, and to let the actors all do their thing. And that's what happens. It's not funny. It's not entertaining. It's just dull. Really dull. It's even worse when it sets up obvious strands that don't play out to anywhere near their full comic potential (such as potential chemistry between the lead and a character played by Jessica Alba).

What saves it from being completely unwatchable is the cast. Although the leads look like they could sleepwalk through the whole film, and some might say they do, there's still some fun to be had from just watching De Niro and Stiller play off one another. Polo and Danner are sidelined even more here than they were in the previous films, Hoffman and Streisand are also underused, and the same can be said for a returning Owen Wilson, as well as newcomer Alba. The second instalment in the series added more characters in the mix, but at least it had things for them to do. This one just hopes that having enough names in the cast list will distract from the . . . redundancy of it all.

Everybody knows how easily pleased I am, it's clear from most of my reviews, as well as the fact that I repeat that statement often enough, and I know that I enjoyed both Meet The Parents and Meet The Fockers more than most people. So you should probably bear that in mind when deciding whether or not to give your time to this, a relatively innocuous mainstream comedy that somehow made me determined not to seem too generous with my rating of it. It's the epitome of Hollywood laziness from start to finish.


Thursday 21 May 2020

Meet The Fockers (2004)

Having taken the lead characters on a full journey in the first movie, what would be the best way to craft another tale around Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) and his humourless new father-in-law (Robert De Niro)? Well, it's time to meet the other parents. Greg's parents, both of whom are about as far removed from his in-laws as it is possible to be. Of course.

That's the whole plot right there, basically. Greg and Pam (Teri Polo) travel with Jack (De Niro) and Dina (Blythe Danner) to meet Greg's parents. Bernie Focker (Dustin Hoffman) is a very open and caring male, and Rozalin Focker (Barbara Streisand) is a lively and sensuous woman who is used to batting embarrassment aside as she helps people in her role as a sex therapist. When these two worlds collide, hilarity is set to ensue.

Following an established formula for any successful sequel (take what people enjoyed the first time around, then try to add some more of it), Meet The Fockers is a lot of fun for anyone who is a fan of most of the cast members. And how can you not be a fan of most of the cast members? Stiller and De Niro work as well opposite one another as they did in the first movie, while both Hoffman and Streisand have an absolute blast with their effervescent characters. You also get some time for Owen Wilson, albeit little more than a cameo role this time around, Alanna Ubach as a housemaid who may or may not have given birth to a Focker child, and a running strand about the way Jack is trying to look after his grandson (who is also along for the journey, because it was necessary to add more disagreements and gags).

As well as those returning in front of the cameras, everyone also returns to their main roles behind the cameras. Director Jay Roach stays well within his comfort zone, working well enough with the script by Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg to create more laughs and add a new, but familiar, set of obstacles on the path to enduring happiness. While there's not as much subterfuge this time around, people are still trying to hide their true natures, with the Fockers being begged by their son just to rein things in slightly as their newest family members become accustomed to them.

If you liked the first film then you're probably going to like this. It's not setting out to push any boundaries or reinvent comedy. It's just trying to entertain viewers, and it succeeds in that regard. While that may be more down to the exuberance of the cast than the actual script, the end result is the same. You even get a similar end credit sequence, showing Jack reviewing some of his "secret" camera footage.

Successful enough to lead to a third instalment a few years further down the line, Meet The Fockers is easygoing mainstream entertainment. If that's not your thing, you can easily ignore it forever. But those who don't mind it, and I include myself there, will find this a suitable viewing choice when looking for some simplistic fun.


Wednesday 20 May 2020

Prime Time: Along Came Polly (2004)

In the rather small list of actresses who have more than once played characters evaluated by someone nerdy enough to use statistics and/or a list of good and bad qualities, Jennifer Aniston ends up at the very top. After being put through that particular humiliation once in Friends, she is here made to go through an all too similar experience here. All because she ends up dating someone who goes through life trying to minimise risk.

Ben Stiller is Reuben Feffer, a man who lives his life in much the same way he does his job, by analyzing risks. This leads to him being blindsided while his new wife (Debra Messing) cheats on him during their honeymoon. Heartbroken and out of sorts, he then meets up with Polly (Aniston), and the two soon attempt a few dates, none of which are as safe as Reuben would like them to be.

It's worth bearing in mind that Along Came Polly is about as safe a rom-com for everyone involved as it is possible to get. One or two seconds of bawdiness aside, it plays out exactly how you think it will, and every cast member is allowed to stay well within their comfort zone. Aniston is a beautiful woman who isn't always as organised and sensible about things as she could be (ring any bells?), Stiller is a fairly repressed man who starts to enjoy the process of loosening up slightly (yep, he's done that before), and Alec Baldwin is onscreen just long enough to remind you why a small role for Alec Baldwin is almost always a good thing. Even Philip Seymour Hoffman is very much at ease, having a lot of fun in one of his all-too-rare comedic turns (standard comedy, there are a lot of wonderful performances from Hoffman that use him well in darkly comedic ways).

Written and directed by John Hamburg, who had previously worked on the scripts for both Meet The Parents and Zoolander for Stiller (and would also work on the sequels to those movies), there's nothing here that shows any attempt to even push against the rom-com boundary lines. The infrequent moments of toilet humour and slapstick have been done better in other movies, the leads don't have any decent chemistry together (as much as I like him, Stiller is a difficult male lead for females to create chemistry with), and none of the set-pieces are that funny. It's also hard to care about the characters, nothing is really earned and it's just a case of waiting for the dominoes to knock each other over on the way to the ending.

It's passable entertainment if you don't mind Stiller and Aniston in the main roles, but the most pleasure comes from those providing support, be it a slick-as-ever Baldwin turn, a wonderfully selfish Hoffman, a daredevil tycoon played by Bryan Brown, and even a scuba-diving lothario played by Hank Azaria. Never one that will top any lists of firm favourites, Along Came Polly is the kind of film you end up watching in the afternoon while staying in bed during a sick day. Hardly a glowing recommendation, I know, but different movies can fulfil different needs when the time is right.


Tuesday 19 May 2020

Meet The Parents (2000)

Before he became just as easy to dislike as many of his peers, and I am not entirely sure when that happened (I'm still a fan anyway), Ben Stiller scored a big hit with this enjoyable comedy of errors that harvested comedy gold from the fertile territory of that most potentially nerve-wracking of experiences, the meeting of people you want to be your future in-laws.

Stiller is Greg Focker, a nurse planning to propose to his partner, Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo). His plans have to change when Pam tells him that her sister has just agreed to get married, which then leads to the pair heading to Pam's home for the big family event. Pam's mother, Dina (played by Blythe Danner) is lovely enough, but her father, Jack (Robert De Niro), has a past that makes it impossible for him to trust those he doesn't know. And all he knows about Greg is that the man has designs on his daughter.

Based on a little-known 1992 comedy with the same premise, and title, Meet The Parents is a fantastic combination of a great cast working with an excellent script, helmed by an experienced comedy director who knows exactly how to make the most of every moment, be it big or small. Jay Roach is the person in the big chair, coming off the great success of the first two Austin Powers movies (and he'd also made Mystery, Alaska just before this, but I haven't seen that one yet), and he has enough experience to let things build progressively towards a finale that throws the characters into a perfect thunderstorm.

Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg wrote the script, taking the main premise and ensuring that everything is more finely-tuned to make the most of the central cast, especially any moments featuring De Niro.

Stiller is perfect in the central role, focusing on being an unfortunate guy trying to do his best, with less of the angry outbursts that is such a firm part of his schtick in many other roles. Polo works well alongside him, with the two having enough natural rapport to make it believable enough that they might be able to maintain a serious relationship. Although not the focus of many scenes, Danner does well, but it's De Niro who gets most of the best moments, either on his own or directly opposite Stiller. His no-nonsense demeanour and lack of humour makes the comedic beats even funnier. You also get supporting turns from the likes of Jon Abrahams (a younger brother who causes trouble for our hero by hiding his weed in an unfortunate place), James Rebhorn, and Owen Wilson, great value as an ex-boyfriend who had nothing more than a very sexual and physical connection with Pam, as opposed to the stronger bond that she shares with Greg.

You also have a cat trained to use the toilet, a spycam or two dotted around to catch out liars, and a running joke about Greg not wanting to do a job more respectable than "just" being a nurse. It's all very safe and predictable, but that doesn't make it any less entertaining and funny.


Monday 18 May 2020

Mubi Monday: Ran (1985)

Ran is based on Shakespeare's King Lear (something I will have to take on good authority from others, having not yet read the play for myself). It's also a film that some claim is the best to come from legendary director Akira Kurosawa. I have to dispute that. Personally, I prefer both Seven Samurai and Throne Of Blood, but that's not to denigrate Ran in any way. It merely illustrates just how often Kurosawa was working at the peak of his powers.

The main story concerns an elderly warlord named Hidetora and the divide that he causes between his three sons, Taro, Jiro, and Saburo. He starts the movie by trying to teach them the importance of staying strong together, something that one of the sons immediately protests. There will always be the potential for forces to be broken, whether individually or together. The rest of the movie quickly ends up proving Saburo correct, for it was he rejecting the main lesson. There's scheming, treachery, insanity, and armed skirmishes on the way to a suitably grandiose finale.

Co-written by Kurosawa, working with Hideo Oguni and Masato Ide, Ran is an impressive and epic experience that really layers everything over a very simple message at its core (often the case with Shakespeare plays). There's a power struggle between a few different characters, but also an inevitable feeling of the sins of a father being passed on to his sons, despite his best efforts.

Tatsuya Nakadai is excellent as the old man who has been tired out from a life of warmongering and aggression, and the younger cast members all do great work as his three sons, with Daisuke Ryû a bit of a standout as the son rejected by his father while he tries to explain how things are likely to go wrong in the time ahead. The other standout is Mieko Harada as Lady Kaede, a manipulative woman who encourages her husband to go to any lengths to get more and more power, but I should also mention the jester character, Kyoami, played by Pîtâ, someone who loses their sense of silliness in the face of a constant barrage of strange unpleasantness and horrors.

As accomplished as he is at showing things on a grand scale, it's still impressive to see some of the spectacle Kurosawa puts on display here, especially in a final act that culminates with various forces about to face off against one another. And yet it's also these moments that show how this movie doesn't work quite as well as some of the other Kurosawa classics, which tended to, for me, better share out the moments of epic scope with the smaller character beats. Ran still does that, but it doesn't work as well for me here as it did in the other movies mentioned above.

I'm not an idiot though, this is still a near-perfect bit of cinema. And it's essential viewing.


Sunday 17 May 2020

Netflix And Chill: The Wrong Missy (2020)

Tyler Spindel is an actor who has recently built up his filmography with a number of directing jobs (including Father Of The Year, a film with the same lead). I don't think it's really fair to dismiss his potential talent just yet, because he at least shows a minimal degree of competency behind the camera, but it's fair to say that he needs to pick some better projects to work on if he wants to improve in his field.

The Wrong Missy is a star vehicle for David Spade. And I know that sentence is enough to scare away many sane movie fans. But it gets worse. The plot is all about how his character, Tim, somehow accidentally invites the wrong woman, Missy (Lauren Lapkus), along to a work retreat he is attending in Hawaii. Spade is trying to make a good impression, of course. He has an unbelievable attractive ex, of course. And if you are already starting to suspect that Missy may be annoying and disruptive in a way that leads to some valuable life lessons and potential resolutions for the characters then give yourself a cookie.

Unlike many people, I tend to enjoy the screen presence of people such as Spade. I still watch Adam Sandler movies (and not just Uncut Gems), I'll throw on some older Rob Schneider film if wanting something undemanding that will give me occasional chuckles, and Spade is part of that group. I can see why every single one of them would annoy people, but they frequently do enough to keep me moderately entertained. It's a low bar, I know, but it is what it is.

The Wrong Missy is pretty bad, even for a David Spade movie. He hasn't done anything solid in many years now (perhaps Joe Dirt being the last one that made me laugh enough to actually consider it one I enjoy, and own), and I have no reason to believe that he's suddenly going to start worrying about the quality of his output while being paid for crap like this. He's not helped by the weak script, from Chris Pappas and Kevin Barnett, and the film also suffers from the fact that it doesn't compensate for the leads, and material, with a better supporting cast. Schneider appears in a small role, Nick Swardson has a main role, and they're really the only ones worth mentioning. Oh, Sarah Chalke is the gorgeous ex, and always a welcome presence.

Although Spade is doing his usual stuff, it's all the more irritating when juxtaposed alongside the nonsense from Lapkus. I cannot recall seeing Lapkus in much, and this has not made me a fan. Her characters is made to be far too grating, unbalancing the whole film because you cannot believe that anyone would give her more than a minute of their time. By the time you get to the expected changes of heart in the third act, it's all just too hard to swallow.

If it wasn't clear enough already, I do not often have high standards when it comes to mainstream comedy movies. This film didn't even manage to meet those.


Saturday 16 May 2020

Shudder Saturday: Cursed Films (2020)

As I have very occasionally done before, this time on Shudder Saturday I am covering a show that they have provided on the streaming service, rather than any one movie. I was previously going to do this with Creepshow, their highly anticipated spin-off from the popular anthology movie, but I figured too many people would be upset if I just spent one blog post trying to find fifty different ways to say "lazy pile of shit".

Anyway, to Cursed Films, a 5-episode series (to date) that features, in order, The Exorcist, The Omen, Poltergeist, The Crow, and Twilight Zone: The Movie.

It's generally a bit weak, to put it mildly. What the show does best is show how people will interpret certain events because of their own views. It's almost an enjoyable study of confirmation bias, and if the makers of the show had decided to pick apart the theories with that in mind then I dare say that this could have been a much more interesting watch.

If you are familiar with The Exorcist then you probably know everything that crops up in the first episode. It's easy to see why the movie was chosen as the first title to be looked at. It's also arguably the biggest disappointment of the whole series, with the content displayed being a mix of something covered much more effectively in many other discussions (including the excellent documentary from Mark Kermode) and some absolute balderdash that shows someone offering exorcisms to a couple of people who seem clearly in need of some extra care from their fellow humans.

The Omen is similar, a regurgitation of many stories that have been told many times before. Yet, because more of The Omen stories are near-misses and could-have-beens, it feels much more tenuous. Something less powerful turned into something marketable by those who were involved in the making of the movie.

Things pick up with the episode on the Poltergeist movies, thanks to the involvement of many people who speak honestly about their own emotional pain after the premature death of young Heather O'Rourke and some wonderfully candid clips (including an archival interview with Zelda Rubinstein) calling bullshit on the whole idea of a curse, and claiming it to be quite disrespectful to those who were more immediately impacted by the loss of loved ones. It's a shame you also get a tangent with some location-hunters finding the house used for filming, and an amateur interview conducted with a neighbour who appears to give some needless "scoop" on the filming of the movie, but the good stuff here is better than anything in the first two episodes.

The Crow keeps things moving in the right direction. A lot of people know the story by now, and the parallels between Brandon Lee and his famous father, Bruce, but this takes you clearly through the chain of events, and explains how the film ended up being completed due to the wishes of those who knew that Brandon Lee was so pleased with his work in the movie. It's a shame that there wasn't a bit more time detailing the huge impact this had on the life of actor Michael Massee (the man who shot the gun, assuming it was all correct and as safe as these things are required to be on any movie set), but it generally gives you the familiar with an added personal connection from people who were directly involved with the movie.

Last, and by no means least, we get to Twilight Zone: The Movie. Be warned, there is footage here of the incident that led to the death of actor Vic Morrow and two young children that is up there with some of the most distressing content I have ever seen. It's real, it happens quickly, it's hard to believe it happened that way, and hard to believe they show it in this show. This is, however, the best episode in the whole series, because of the full picture built up by the many talking heads, and because of the raw nature of a number of archival clips. It's also a huge reminder that (and I LOVE his movies, met the guy, got a bluray signed, and got a pic) John Landis is a massive shit, who should have at least been found guilty of some manslaughter charge. He was a reckless asshole, and his career should have been over after this movie. The documentary doesn't quite cover things here as in-depth as it could (such as a certain rumour about important figures being quickly whisked away from the vicinity, or the way in which the jury on the main court case could have been . . . influenced), but it makes clear, despite the statements from one or two people, that Landis made the bad decisions that led to this tragedy. But, hey, he attended all three funerals, and actually got up to speak at Vic Morrow's funeral, rambling about the immortality Morrow had onscreen. He's clearly upset, which is at least something, but that takes some level of nerve, considering the fact that people state Morrow wasn't really enamoured by Landis, and took the gig because of the involvement of Spielberg.

Each episode is just under half an hour, so I WOULD recommend watching the whole thing (especially if you are a younger horror fan, or a newcomer to the genre), but it's a shame that the quality only picks up in the second half. Although it's still a damn sight better than Creepshow (the series).


Friday 15 May 2020

A Good Woman Is Hard To Find (2019)

Director Abner Pastoll didn't really impress me as much as he seemed to impress others with his 2015 feature, Road Games. It was a film with some decent moments, but dragged down by predictability and implausibility. It's hard to think that this tense thriller is directed by the same person who made that movie. A Good Woman Is Hard To Find is a near-perfect piece of work, and I HIGHLY recommend you check it out as soon as you can.

Sarah Bolger stars as Sarah, a young widow who is still trying to figure out just who killed her husband. Other people have their theories, and the police seem to have much more on their plate to deal with. It looks like she may never get any answers, although that changes when a young crook named Tito (Andrew Simpson) bursts into her home. He has stolen some drugs from some very bad men, and wants somewhere to hide out. Seeing Sarah, and her two young children, Tito realises it could be the perfect place to stash his goods, and he'll give her a cut of the money. But Sarah wants nothing to do with the situation. Leo Miller (played by Edward Hogg) is the local crime boss who sends his henchmen out to retrieve the drugs they lost, and it turns out that he MIGHT have something to do with the death of Sarah's husband.

Everyone is working at the top of their game here, and I suspect that they're responding positively to the script, by Ronan Blaney, and the effort made by Pastoll to craft something excruciatingly tense around a fantastic lead character. Sarah is shown, from the very start, to be someone who is trying her best under extremely difficult circumstances, and there's a strength visible there, even in her weakest and most fragile moments. If she seems too timid or passive, it's only to protect her children, or to be on her best behaviour in front of them.

Bolger is so good in the main role that I cannot find enough superlatives to throw around here. She's been working hard for many years now, and in a fair world this would be the role to take her career to some higher level. This isn't a fair world though, so I can only hope that the right people see her performance here, and are suitably blown away. Simpson does very well in his role, a lot better here in his sorta-natural habitat than he was in Road Games. The only real weak link is Hogg, who plays his villain in a way that feels like he wants to be Sean Harris, and making you wish someone had just thought of hiring Sean Harris. I did quite enjoy his turn here, but I seem to be very much in the minority, and I can see why.

Pastoll and Blaney seem to complement one another perfectly, leading to a film that maintains an entertainment factor even as it wanders from one almost-unbearably tense moment to the next, and I would definitely watch another collaboration between the two of them to see if they can succeed again. And if they once again give Bolger the material to dazzle in a lead role, all the better.


Thursday 14 May 2020

Æon Flux (2005)

There's a small part of me that is glad that Æon Flux isn't all that good, because otherwise I would have to spend a lot more time on the internet shouting (metaphorically) at people who have yet to recognise the greatness of Karyn Kusama. She's the director here, and this is the only movie I have seen from her that I haven't liked. And even with it being such a messy failure, I cannot bring myself to truly hate it.

Charlize Theron is the lead, playing the titular character. It's the future. People tend to generally be happy. But there's something amiss, which is why a group of rebels are trying to overthrow the government. Flux is an assassin in that group of rebels, and she may be the one person with the key to unlock everything. Obviously.

Only the second feature film from Kusama, working with writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (who would both do much better work collaborating on her later movies), Æon Flux feels very much like what it is, a strange vision from a talented artist who then had that vision meddled with by people who had no idea what to really do with it. The main plot is simple enough to allow Kusama to take pleasure in the small details of the world depicted onscreen, but all of that potential pleasure is ruined by the absolute mess elsewhere. It's hard to care about any of the main characters, most of the action scenes are edited clumsily, at best, and none of the quirky humour can land while viewers are distracted by, well, everything else.

Theron is as good here, overall, as she usually is. I mean she's definitely a movie star, and this is a star vehicle, but it's hard to judge her performance while also considering what she's given to work with, and how everything was then edited. Marton Csokas and Jonny Lee Miller are key figures in the government, and Miller at least gets to have some more fun than the majority of the cast. Sophie Okonedo has to stay pretty straight-faced while portraying another rebel who has had hands grafted on to where her feet used to be, and both Frances McDormand and Pete Postlethwaite are given roles that very much waste their talents. Nobody else is worth mentioning, apart from Paterson Joseph, but that's only because I like Paterson Joseph so much.

Having not seen any of the original animated series that first introduced viewers to this character, I cannot say how this compares to that (although I am going to assume that it wouldn't be a favourable comparison). All I can go on is the final result, what we got on our screens. If it wasn't for Theron, it's hard to see how this would appeal to anyone. Look a bit harder, however, and there are fleeting moments that can help to make this more bearable. And it's definitely a film I would love to see in a director's cut form.

There's a disc available here.
Americans can buy it here.

Wednesday 13 May 2020

Prime Time: Angel Has Fallen (2019)

Gerard Butler returns to the role of Secret Service agent Mike Banning in this third in the "Fallen" action series, and you could do a lot worse if you're after a decent action thriller with some fun set-pieces throughout.

Banning seems to be, to put it bluntly, getting a bit too old for this shit. Which isn't a problem, because the President (Morgan Freeman) wants to promote him. A nice job with less chance of people trying to shoot him and blow him up. That's not an automatic yes for Mike though, having spent his life in the middle of the action. He's right back in it when an attempt is made on the President's life, framing him as the main suspect.

Yes, Angel Has Fallen is basically The Fugitive with Gerard Butler in the main role, which means more brutal violence and swearing than you got from Harrison Ford. And more Scottishness. I wish there had been an equivalent to Butler in his band of pursuers, just for us to get the glorious "right, all a yous lot git tae work noo, I want you to check every coffee hoose, dug hoose, oot hoose, doss hoose, Muirhoose, Broomhoose until we catch this bam."

If you have seen the previous two movies then there will be no doubt in your mind how this turns out. Banning is always the smartest and toughest guy in any scenario, so it's just a matter of time until he gets himself in the right place at the right time to take down the main villain. And speaking of main villain, if it isn't obvious to you as soon as they appear onscreen then you've never seen ANY movie before.

Ric Roman Waugh does a decent enough job with the direction, working from a screenplay he helped shape with Robert Mark Kamen and Matt Cook. You're not getting any particularly memorable dialogue, but the plotting and pacing both work quite well, and the assortment of characters help to make a fun mix.

Butler is once again having a lot of fun in the lead role, which is slightly infectious. You can happily start laughing as soon as someone threatens him with harm. Freeman is very Presidential, although he has a bit less to do when he ends up incapacitated for a lot of the runtime. Piper Perabo is at the stage of her career now where she plays "loving wife to the hero", she does fine with what she's given, and Lance Reddick is his usual dependable self as David Gentry, the director of the Secret Service. You also get Danny Huston as Wade Jennings, an old friend of our hero who immediately makes you suspicious of him by the fact that he's Danny Huston, and Nick Nolte steals a few scenes as Clay Banning, the absent father who has spent years living off the grid.

Not setting out to be subversive or clever, Angel Has Fallen is simply an entertaining action flick with moments of satisfyingly cathartic violence against nasty villains. Butler, and others carrying weapons, can carry off the look and feel of it all convincingly enough, making it easier to digest all of the nonsense without being overly critical of it all.


Get a triple-bill here.
Americans can get that same set here.

Tuesday 12 May 2020

Birds Of Prey (2020)

AKA Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.

I may have been acting ever so slightly provocative when I proclaimed on social media that Margot Robbie was a better Harley Quinn than Joaquin Phoenix was a version of the Joker, but that doesn't mean I was making a false statement. Phoenix delivers an amazing performance in Joker, he just doesn't feel like the character I have known in a variety of incarnations over the years. Robbie, on the other hand, is less consistent in her performance, but for at least 75% of the time feels absolutely like the character she has been tasked with portraying.

It's the performance from Robbie that goes a long way to making this film such a good time, although she's given great support from her female co-stars, and there's also a fun villainous turn from Ewan McGregor that makes you wish he would tap into his bad side more often.

The plot is fairly simple. Harley Quinn has recently been ditched by the Joker. That means that everyone who ever had a grievance against her, and there are many, can now have a go. She is no longer protected. What people take too long to realise is that Harley doesn't need to be protected. She can handle herself, although it is difficult when up against the powerful Roman Sionis (McGregor). That particular challenge is what leads to her eventually trying to play nice with Black Canary, The Huntress, a cop named Renee Montoya, and a young thief, Cassandra Cain.

Much like the central character, Birds Of Prey is an energetic, erratic, and colourful mess. The script from Christina Hodson is playful and full of reminders that this is not necessarily the most family-friendly character to spend some time with, although she IS worth appreciating for her fearless attitude, and the direction from Cathy Yan, working on what is only her second feature, is perfectly in line with the material. It's a shame that there weren't a few more action set-pieces scattered throughout, but what you get is pretty damn great, including moments such as Harley bursting in to a police station and shooting people with bursts of colour and a fight in which she manages to "level up" thanks to a face full of cocaine. As for the finale, it feels very much like something that could have been ripped from the pages of any Harley Quinn tale.

Going on and on about how good Robbie is feels redundant now. She really IS a live-action Harley, even if her performance has imperfect moments. The other female stars - Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Rosie Perez - all feel perfectly suited to their roles, with Winstead providing a surprising number of laughs during her fairly small amount of time onscreen. Ella Jay Basco also does well as young Cassandra Cain, managing not to be too irritating while showing that she's a talented young woman who has inadvertently got herself into some very hot water. McGregor is a suitably nasty git, and he's assisted by a typically brutal henchman, Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina).

There's a great soundtrack, with the emphasis on female vocalists, although I would have liked room for even more choice tracks in there, a solid score by Daniel Pemberton, and plenty of choices throughout, from the editing to the production design, to the costumes and make up, and beyond, that reassure you that this vision was provided by a lot of people who were all on the same page.

It's funny, it's enjoyably anarchic, it has a 109-minute runtime (which is surprisingly short for a recent DC movie), and it introduces a group of characters I would happily watch in a number of other adventures.


You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.

Monday 11 May 2020

Mubi Monday: Romantic Comedy (2019)

A visual essay on the rom-com from writer-director Elizabeth Sankey, Romantic Comedy is both a celebration and condemnation of the sub-genre that has been giving people unrealistic ideas for many decades now.

All of the big hitters are namechecked, with some being used repeatedly to show examples of the tropes that we've all become very familiar with, and a few titles that stray further from the beaten path are given their due within the last act, a section that shows how not ALL of these movies are made for middle-class white people, it just seems that way when those are the ones given the biggest push.

I love a good rom-com. I am comforted by the predictable story beats, the standard assembled cast, and the way most of them provide a happy ending. Yes, the happy ending is traditional, probably annoying for many, and very often quite unbelievable (there's the big gesture, or the big change, or a contrived situation to make the leads realise their true feelings for one another), but it's still effective in making me smile.

What I never used to consider, although it's easier to spot as an adult, is the way in which the romantic comedy has over the years influenced girls and women, in a negative and potentially damaging way. You can have the successful woman who cannot balance career and love, the professional woman with moments of clutziness, the "manic dream pixie girl", the girl who is cool because she acts like one of the guys, and many more examples.

And considering how these films have affected women over the years, from how they consider their eating habits to what they think they have to be looking to achieve as a life goal, it also leads to some consideration of how these films have also affected men. Rom-coms can often celebrate horribly toxic behaviour, excuse the worst kind of patronising attitude, and leave most of us trying to be more like John Cusack when, well, John Cusack often played men who were pretty childish assholes when it came to relationships.

My first thought as I enjoyed the pick 'n' mix approach to this sub-genre was that it reminded me of Beyond Clueless. This has a bit more to say than that film, mainly due to the rom-com being a slightly bigger umbrella and having a lengthier history throughout the many past decades of cinema, but it's interesting to see that Sankey also worked on that film, as a composer.

Overall, this is an incisive and interesting look at a type of film often dismissed as being of no real value. It has value, even if that value just lies within observing how it pushes certain values into the minds of its target demographic.


Sunday 10 May 2020

Netflix And Chill: Disturbia (2007)

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best, and Disturbia can be summed up in one great pitch. It's a teen riff on Rear Window. There you go. It doesn't try to outdo that classic, an aim I think many of us agree would be nigh on impossible, but it very overtly works with the premise, making use of many modern gadgets that can add some extra thrills.

Shia LaBeouf plays Kale, a young man placed under house arrest after punching his Spanish teacher in the face. The main officer who helps to monitor the fitting of his electronic ankle bracelet is Officer Gutierrez (Jose Pablo Cantillo), a relative of the aforementioned teacher. Carrie-Anne Moss is Julie, the exasperated mother who tries to ensure house arrest isn't spent with videogames and iTunes, and Kale's best friend is a young man named Ronnie (Aaron Yoo). There are two neighbours who Kale takes an interest in. One is new, and her name is Ashley (Sarah Roemer). The other is Mr. Turner (David Morse), a man who seems to match a few of the details being read out on the news regarding a killer in the city. It's not long until Kale, Ronnie, and Ashley are working together to observe Mr. Turner with much more scrutiny.

Everyone here has done work that I have enjoyed, for the most part. Director D. J. Caruso tends to make solid entertainment, although this is one of his better films, and writers Christopher Landon and Carl Ellsworth have a filmography that mixes in a number of horror franchise instalments and some fun teen fare. Again, this is one of their better films, but there is more competition over which one would be considered their very best.

LaBeouf does very well in the lead role, he's just the right mix of angry teen and good kid. Roemer is a winning female co-star, although I am not surprised that she didn't go on from this to bag any major roles because she doesn't quite have enough of IT, whatever it is. Yoo is, like LaBeouf, pretty perfect at being an ass at times without making you hate him. But if this was just a teen film with the teens doing decent work it would be okay. The adult stars take it up a level. Moss is great in the mom role, one that could have easily been completely thankless, but Landon and Ellsworth write her a bit better than that. Cantillo does well in his small role, personally interested in the "criminal" kid, but also doing his job with due care and diligence. And then you get Morse. Morse is one of the best actors of his generation, a deceptively low-key performer who can take on a wide variety of roles. This is arguably one of his most fun turns, and he maintains a small, Andy Dufresne-like, smirk throughout much of the runtime.

Some of the plot devices are a bit silly, and there's one extended sequence featuring Yoo in the second half of the movie that really falls flat when it is intended to be a strange extra thrilling set-piece, but the energy, the obvious love for the central idea, and the collection of enjoyable performances all make this one of the best teen thrillers of the past few decades.


You can buy the disc here.
Americans can buy it here.

Saturday 9 May 2020

Shudder Saturday: Z (2019)

The second main feature from director Brandon Christensen, who once again shares the writing duties with Colin Minihan, Z is a slick horror movie that has some enjoyable twists and turns on the way to a surprisingly dark final act.

Keegan Connor Tracy plays Elizabeth Parsons, a fairly one-dimensional female character defined by the fact that she's a wife and mother. It's the latter that's the focus here, because the film centres on her young son, Joshua (Jett Klyne), and the changes in his behaviour as he starts to spend more time with his imaginary friend, Z.

I think many horror fans can see where Z is going from that plot summary. If not, the film quickly sets up a premise very familiar to many. Joshua is a sweet kid, of course, and then starts to soon show signs of become less sweet, but still with that air of childish innocence, unaware of how his actions may be impacting on those around him. There are discussions between Elizabeth and her husband, Kevin (Sean Rogerson), discussions between the two of them and a psychiatrist, Dr. Seager (Stephen McHattie), and a general rise in tension as things become more worrying and hard to explain.

This is a slight step up from the previous film that Christensen and Minihan gave us, Still/Born (2017), although it's one that utilises a very similar approach. They're not out to reinvent the wheel, but they're intent on providing some nice moments of creepiness in between one or two VERY good jump scares. There's a moment in Z that made me both jump and also rethink how the rest of the film might play out, it's a line in the sand that is crossed over to show that, despite the polished style and familiar terrain, this isn't a film that is necessarily going to play things safe for the entire runtime. That's not to sell this as something shocking and transgressive, it isn't, but it certainly becomes something much more impressive than those early scenes indicate.

Tracy is very good in the lead role, she's an actress I have enjoyed in pretty much every role I have seen her take on, although I think this is the first time I have seen her in a good lead role (I cannot recall how big her part was in the Dead Rising movies, and most people will remember her from Final Destination 2). Klyne plays his part well, managing to act like the innocent kid he is, and thankfully Christensen never has him going through the all-too-obvious bag of tricks that could be on display if he was being depicted as "evil movie kid". Rogerson does okay, McHattie is always a welcome presence, and Sara Canning, Chandra West, and Ali Webb do well in supporting roles.

The budget can't quite allow Christensen the FX budget required for one or two main shots, although the practical side of things is impressively done, and I'm not entirely sure how well the very end of the movie works (well, I guess I should say that I don't think the very last scenes work at all), but this is another good horror movie from a duo who I hope to see continuing to work together, and continuing to improve incrementally with each project.


Friday 8 May 2020

Adventures Of A Plumber's Mate (1978)

The last in the "Adventures" movie series, this ends up actually being a bit of a step up from the other two movies, in a number of ways. It's just a shame that Christopher Neil, while not being terrible in the lead performance, isn't quite up to the task of seeming worthy enough of the film being resting on his shoulders.

Neil plays a plumber named Sid, and Sid has some money worries. He has days to repay a lump sum to some heavies, or they are going to put him in hospital. He also gets himself in a spot of brother when he ends up doing a job for Janice (Prudence Drage), a woman who wants to seduce him, leading to a situation that grows more tense when handcuffs are used without the key close enough to hand, the gangster boyfriend of Janice is heading home, and a toilet seat is removed that is, unknown to our lead, actually a disguised chunk of gold. If he can stay alive long enough, maybe he can get things sorted AND enjoy some happiness with a woman named Daisy (Elaine Paige . . . yes, THAT Elaine Paige).

It's Stanley A. Long in the director's chair once again, and he continues to show a lack of interest in anything remotely resembling cinematic style or polish, but the script this time around is in the hands of Stephen D. Frances and Aubrey Cash, and these two actually manage to put together something that feels like it's plotted with a bit of care. You still get some amusing diversions here and there, but this film moves from start to finish more satisfyingly than either of the previous two instalments in the short series.

Neil is okay, as mentioned. He's just not quite as appealing as some other choices could have been, although he fares better here than he did last time. Paige makes a better impression, being a sweet and supportive woman, arguably a much better relationship prospect for the main character than he deserves. Arthur Mullard is a lot of fun as the main heavy, managing to be both slightly comedic and a genuine threat, and it's good to see a slightly bigger role for Willie Rushton (who was there and gone all too quickly in the previous Adventure, he's in a different role here). There aren't as many familiar faces in the supporting cast, but you get Anna Quayle (also returning in a different role), Christopher Biggins popping up, and a fun, small, role for Stephen Lewis (best known to British TV comedy fans as 'Blakey' from On The Buses).

There's still not enough to help this become an actual good movie, because it's not given quite enough care and attention when it comes to the technical side of things (everything is competent enough, nothing feels truly cared for though). All three "Adventures" movies are dated relics from the seventies, but I still find them fascinating to view in terms of where British cinema found great success as attitudes moved from cheeky sauciness to more explicit, lewd and lascivious, content. And why did I feel like Mary Whitehouse as I wrote "lewd and lascivious"? That was only meant to be a description, not necessarily a judgement.