Film Review: The Week Of

I liked the look of this Netflix Original and despite his hit-and-miss output, I still find Adam Sandler quite a funny on screen presence (Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer and The Longest Yard being favourites of mine). Throw in Chris Rock and the premise of a large, chaotic family wedding, and I thought this might be a decent watch.

weekof

The premise is simple, dealing with the week of the wedding of Kenny Lustig’s (Sandler) daughter to the son of Kirby Cordice (Rock). Kenny is financially strapped, but determined to deliver the best wedding he can for his daughter, what he sees as his last proper action as a parent and his responsibility. However, this causes problems such as the fact that the venue they have chosen is beset by problems due to the cost cutting decisions of the manager, who ignored all of Kenny’s recommendations when renovating.

This leads to Kenny having to put up a massive number of guests in his own house, which becomes full and cramped with a colourful, eccentric band of family members from both sides. Kenny is the patriarch of the family, and constantly having to put out fires and being asked to solve issues.

Kirby, meanwhile, is not the centre of his family, indeed he is slightly ostracised. A successful and ambitious surgeon, he sacrificed his family life for his career and was a poor husband and father in the past. He is clearly troubled by this and his relationship with his children is distant and awkward, despite his best efforts.

Where the film works is in ramping up the farcical elements, from a diabetes effected uncle who is mistaken for a war hero, to an unhinged nephew constantly at risk of snapping, to attempts to save money by ridiculous schemes, the overwhelming family is constructed well, with Kenny constantly under pressure. Sandler does very well here as the regular Joe and nice guy placed under massive stress, doing his shtick of barely suppressed rage rather well. Rock is likeable too, as the normal man thrust into this mad situation.

While there are plenty of decent lines and some big laughs, the whole movie feels lacking in some way. It took me a while to figure out why, but I finally put my finger on it. There’s a massive lack of conflict or resolution here.

Kenny’s rage, slowly bubbling away, never boils over. It deprives the film of a big emotional blow out, and some crowd pleasing ranting from Sandler. He doesn’t lose it with his irritating relatives, the hotel manager who jeopardises the wedding or anyone else along the way.

Similarly, while Kirby scores a minor victory over his judgemental former mother-in-law, the rest of the family are still dismissive of him and despite him loosening up we don’t see much sign of his relationship with his family softening. One dance with his estranged daughter doesn’t feel enough.

And there are other factors that never pay off- the maid of honour is painted as insecure and nervous, but doesn’t get a moment of triumph over the critical bridesmaids. The troubled teen doesn’t get any saving grace other than being shown dancing at the wedding.

One area that may have saved it is a bit more drama on the daughter front. While there are glimpses that Kenny’s daughter is angry at his refusal to allow Kirby to help or embarrassed by the wedding he is putting on it never comes to much. It means that when Kenny talks about his fear of losing her it feels less powerful than had it been delivered following a heated argument.

The central couple are massively forgettable. In fact, I can’t credit the actors here as I’ve forgotten their character names so don’t want to put the wrong people here. They get one scene alone together that I remember, which is rather sweet as they joke about barely seeing each other due to the manic preparations, and the groom is shown to be a decent chap in his interactions with other family members, but they barely feature. It’s a massive shame as this could have strengthened the film and provided a nice contrast to the unending farce and OTT-ness of the rest of the movie.

Chaos is fine, but better with small, sweeter moments to break it up. And also, had they been fleshed out more we may have cared more about how the wedding turned out. But of course, the story here is really about the fathers of the bride and groom.

It’ll make you laugh, but it won’t really stick with you and it feels like some zealous editing might have helped. In order to keep the laughs flowing, the filmmakers have sacrificed story and heart, which are the things which make the best comedies work. As it is, this is merely alright.

Verdict: It delivers on plenty of laughs, but lacks focus and chooses silliness over emotion far too often. This means the attempts to add feeling seem rushed and it doesn’t resonate as much as it should. It’ll pass the time, but it’s hit and miss. 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Film Review: Life of the Party

This was WoM’s pick as she’s a big fan of Melissa McCarthy, and I didn’t mind going as McCarthy has made some decent flicks, although the premise of a middle aged mother going back to university wasn’t that appealing.

Thankfully, the film is relentlessly funny and has a big heart. On the day that Deanna (McCarthy) drops off her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) at the start of her third year at university, her husband Dan (Matt Walsh) announces he wants a divorce and is in love with someone else.

Left reeling, especially as Dan plans to sell their house which is solely in his name, Deanna visits her parents where she decides to finish the degree Dan convinced her to drop out of when she got pregnant with Maddie. Maddie is happy with this decision but less so when she discovers it means her mother will be living on campus.

Back in school Deanna becomes friendly with some of Maddie’s sorority sisters and excels in class, increasing her confidence. Maddie’s initial misgivings abate as she starts seeing the positive effects and encourages her mother to go out and enjoy her life.

While the story of the daughter embracing and helping her mother have fun is a nice touch and avoids the conflict that seemed the easier route. But it does make for some rather odd scenes where the dialogue doesn’t feel like how a mother and daughter would talk, especially when things get a little raunchier, especially as Deanna is introduced as a rather quiet, old fashioned housewife.

This is a minor quibble in a film that gets a lot right, especially in terms of feelgood story. McCarthy is massively likeable as the cheerful, relentlessly optimistic Deanna and does a good job of looking after her new younger friends as they experience insecurity. The problem is that some of this bonding feels rushed and there’s a sense of subplots which have been dropped.

The ending as well falls flat, with no real sense of where Deanna is going next. It’s not the sort of movie that needs a sequel, so it’s disappointing that it doesn’t tell us how Deanna plans to use her new degree. Just

There are some big laughs and hilarious moments, mainly thanks to McCarthy but also in supporting roles like Maya Rudolph as her best friend. There’s also a nice twist halfway through which sets up one of the best scenes.

The poor ending and nagging sense of there being more depth on the cutting room floor. There’s a good thread of encouraging women to pursue their goals, stand up for themselves and not yield to insecurities, but it feels watered down. Maybe a secondary plot would have fleshed it out.

Verdict: Carried by McCarthy’s charm and comic skills this is a rather sweet comedy that delivers plenty of laughs. A shame it ends in such an unsatisfactory manner and the supporting players remain two dimensional and underdeveloped. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Pitch Perfect 2

The first Pitch Perfect was a massively entertaining comedy which included a career making turn from Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy. The story of the all female a capella group was well written, funny and featured a great ensemble cast, I’d loved it (it made #4 of my films of 2013 list) and so had MWG, so we were pretty keen to check out the sequel as part of my birthday weekend.

pitch perfect 2

The movie picks up the story of the Bellas two years later. They’re now three time national champions and there’s an end of an era vibe with many of the team including captain Beca (Anna Kendrick) and Fat Amy. They’re riding high until a disastrous performance for the President. The fall out leaves them banned from defending their title, auditioning new members and stripped of their national tour, which is given to world champions Das Sound Machine (DSM).

Das Sound Machine

Das Sound Machine

They decide to go to the world championships, despite being warned that no US team has ever won and gamble on winning in order to save the club. The only new Bella they can accept is Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), who’s the daughter of a former Bella and an awkward, nervous freshman who writes her own songs.

Beca’s focus is divided as she struggles to make an impact at her new internship at a record label and worries she isn’t talented enough to succeed. Meanwhile, the Bella’s problems are stressing out Chloe (Brittany Snow), who has deliberately failed graduating numerous times in order to stay in the club, and their attempts to outdo DSM cause more trouble, weakening the team unity and causing them to lose confidence.

Can the Bellas find their sound again? Will they be triumphant at the world championships? Will Emily ever feel like a true Bella and enjoy her time in the club? Does Beca have what it takes to succeed in the music industry?

The Bellas in action

The Bellas in action

I did enjoy this movie, and it does have several positives, but it falls far short of the original, which I feel maintains a more consistent gag-rate. The first movie also benefited from the relationship between Beca and Jesse (Skylar Astin), which was sweet and part of what helped Beca realize that she needed to open up and embrace the Bellas.

Luckily the filmmakers avoid the traditional sequel pitfall of throwing needless relationship drama into the mix, and Jesse is relegated to a minor, supporting and supportive character. This is quite refreshing as it allows the focus to remain on the ladies and I always find it annoying when a movie gets you to buy into a couple only to then mess with them in the sequel just for some drama.

With the ladies centre stage the major story is the Bellas and the friendship it creates. The team are breaking up as they all plan to go their separate ways after college and we also get to see it from a fresh perspective, with new character Emily arriving as things appear to be disintegrating and struggling to find her place in the group.

The movie is entertaining enough to keep it going and there are plenty of laugh out loud moments, but as is to be expected with a sequel it doesn’t feel quite as fresh as the original. The music is still good, full of catchy, toe-tapping versions of familiar songs and the villains, DSM, are a delight. Caricatures of ruthless German efficiency they’re not necessarily evil, just the Bellas’ rivals and it’s quite entertaining watching their ice queen leader Komissar (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) runs ring around the confused and intimidated Beca.

Anna Kendrick is on fine form, yet again, as the Bellas’ leader who’s still pursuing her dream of being a music producer, but who begins to struggle and worry about whether she’ll succeed. It’s an understated performance which captures the fears many people experience as they near the end of their time at university.

The rest of the Bellas do their jobs well, especially newcomer Steinfeld, who’s sweet and charming as the nervous new girl. Her budding romance with nerdy Benji (Ben Platt), is also rather adorable.

Emily with Benji

Emily with Benji

It’s also nice to have director Elizabeth Banks in front of the camera again as one half of the hilarious commentating duo, partnered with John Michael Higgins’ terribly un-PC chauvinist. This partnership gets some good laughs throughout the film as well, especially as Banks’ character Gail calls him on some of his comments.

The true star of the show is still Rebel Wilson, who delivers several of the best lines and gives the impression of having made up lots of things on the fly. Fat Amy is a fabulous creation, all sass and confidence, and one of the film’s strength is her relationship with Bumper (Adam DeVine), as the two share fantastic chemistry and bounce off each other to great effect.

Fat Amy in action

Fat Amy in action

It’s a solid movie, and it will keep you entertained but it never quite matches the original and there are a few gags that feel played out by the end. It’s predictable as well, but so is the first and so it never causes to many problems knowing how it’s going to end. Fun, but suffers in comparison with its predecessor.

Verdict: It’s great fun and Wilson is on fine form again, but it falls short of the original and lacks some of the freshness and charm. Still, it will keep you entertained and chuckling, and the music is rather well done. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


My Favourite Films #34: Groundhog Day

Sometimes an idea is so simple you’re amazed nobody thought of it earlier, and this is one of those concepts. Thankfully the idea waited until 1993, which meant that it got to star Bill Murray, which is most definitely a good thing.

groundhog day

I’m a huge Bill Murray fan, and while the idea and script of this flick are wonderful, the film’s major strength is Murray doing his usual sarky, slightly sleazy schtik as Phil Connors, a TV weatherman who goes to view the groundhog day celebrations, only to find himself inexplicably reliving the same day over and over again. Phil can remember doing it all before, but when he falls asleep it all resets and he wakes up, once again at 6am to the sounds of Sonny and Cher, forced to go through it all again.

The idea of having to live the same day again and again is genius, and it’s a credit to Harold Ramis as the director that he choreographs everything that only Murray’s reactions to events around him differ. It’s also rather well done in the way that the movie handles Phil’s response to this bizarre turn of events.

At first he staggers through the day thoroughly confused, fearing that he’s going mad. Then he embraces the fact he has a life free of consequence and uses it for selfish reasons. Shortly after that he falls into a funk of depression and tries to kill himself to escape the repetition, only to always wake up at the start again. People often talk about edginess in comedy, but there are few things darker or braver to do than have your main character attempt suicide, repeatedly, halfway through a romantic comedy fantasy.

Things get kinda dark

Things get kinda dark

That’s what the movie morphs into, with Phil trying to manipulate events to woo his producer Rita, played by Andie MacDowell. He learns her likes and dislikes and repeatedly tries to build the perfect day to win her over, but something always goes wrong leading to a montage of slaps.

I’m gonna go off topic here and discuss MacDowell, who I find infuriating. She always seems to have been dubbed by another actress, and is just one of those actors who rubs me up the wrong way. Despite this, she stars in two movies I adore, this and Four Weddings and a Funeral. I can’t quite work out how an actress I dislike can still manage to crop up in two movies I genuinely love, even if she is one of the weaker elements of both movies.

She’s not terrible, it’s just, well, she’s kinda bland.

Kinda bland- Andie MacDowell as Rita, Phil's love interest.

Kinda bland- Andie MacDowell as Rita, Phil’s love interest.

After failing to win Rita over, Phil decides to try and use his knowledge of the day’s events to try and help as many people as possible. Using the opportunity to improve himself, through learning piano and working out where he has to be to help everyone.

Finally, after a perfect day he impresses Rita enough for her to bid for him at a charity auction and the two spend the night together, with Phil waking up the next day, finally free from February the 2nd.

I love this movie, because not only is it really funny, but it also has a solid message and moral core. Phil repeating the day over and over could be seen as an allegory for reincarnation, but it works in a wider sense, in that it proves what life is really about, it’s not about chasing individual happiness, but rather about trying to make life better for others, or as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it far more eloquently:

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.

I love that this isn’t about Phil just winning Rita, or proving himself worthy of her, but rather about the selfish Phil having to realize what’s really important in life. What makes this movie even better is that it manages to avoid schmaltz and remains funny throughout, even when the moral hits in. Ramis handles the shifts in tone magnificently and captures the frustration of the same day repeating (perhaps too well, I tried to get MWG to watch this at the weekend and she got annoyed by the repetition and kept wandering off or playing on her phone, the philistine!)

But as I’ve said, the real strength is Bill Murray who is just an utter delight in the lead role. He’s great at the sarky one-liners and manages to capture Phil’s reinvention and improvement in a way that feels natural and not too cliche or saccharine. Murray has perfect comic timing and a real knack for making his slightly roguish characters remain likable, when they could easily just come across as jerks.

It’s easily one of my favourite Murray movies, and I never get tired of watching it over and over.

groundhog day bill murray

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: 22 Jump Street

I was looking forward to watching this movie, because the first one was pretty funny and I’d missed it in the cinema. Luckily MWG was a fan too and she picked this up the other day, although I suspect a crush on one of the leads may have had something to do with it. Unlike many women who find Channing Tatum hot, MWG has a thing for Jonah Hill (one of her five) and so we checked this out the other day.

22 jump street pos

What I dug about the first movie was the fact that early on they referenced the fact that it was based on an old TV by having a character openly state that they’d run out of ideas so were just doing what they’d done in the ’80s. Here they make lots of sequel jokes, with the same character (played by Nick Offerman) stating that they were to go back undercover this time as college students and do “exactly the same thing”, only with more budget this time. This postmodern touch is done rather well and referenced throughout as the characters have better offices and the set pieces get bigger.

While the joke is a little laboured after a while the movie totally works and a lot of that is down to the two leads, Tatum and Hill, who have amazing chemistry on screen as Jenko and Schmidt respectively. Hill is a fantastic comedy performer and makes the awkward, clumsy Schmidt a likable character but once again Tatum is impressive, showing some fine comedy chops as the dumber, more gung-ho half of the partnership.

Amazing chemistry- Hill and Tatum undercover as Schmidt and Jenko

Amazing chemistry- Hill and Tatum undercover as Schmidt and Jenko

Posing as uni students to track down a new drug on the market, this time it’s Jenko who excels, finding a place at a frat and as a football player and quickly establishing a bromance with quarterback and possible suspect Zook (Wyatt Russell).

Jenko fitting in well at uni, Schmidt not quite as much

Jenko fitting in well at uni, Schmidt not quite as much

This leaves Schmidt feeling sidelined and he struggles to fit in, apart from with art student Maya (Amber Stevens) who he hooks up with. Schmidt and Jenko clash and their friendship frays. They clash over how to pursue the case and also

Can they remain friends and crack the case? Has Jenko found somewhere better than the force? And should they really just try and do everything the same as before?

I loved this movie, it’s lovably daft and tongue in cheek, and contains several big laughs. I chuckled and giggled my way through the whole thing and while it’s extremely dumb in places, it remains a solid sequel and a well crafted action comedy.

As I mentioned the leads are sensational and play off each other to great effect. Hill gets some of the best lines, and some of it feels ad-libbed, but Tatum is also shown to be a strong comic performer and his bromance with Zook is well handled, being quite fun. They also manage to make both characters believable, likable and engage the audience in their partnership, and films, even comedies always work best when the audience buys into the characters and Hill and Tatum ensure this is the case here.

The action sequences are well done and manage to keep the balance between action and comedy just right. Not too vicious to sour the laughs, but not too silly to spoil the adrenaline rush. That being said the fight between Schmidt and a female villain is comedy gold.

The supporting cast do a good job too, Nick Offerman’s cameo gets a few laughs and sets out the movie’s tongue in cheek tone. Amber Stevens, who impressed me in the show Greek is a little underused, but still works well with Hill, and Jillian Bell as Maya’s sarky, bitter roommate gets some fantastic insults in.

Peter Stormare seems to have a ball in the kind of role he seems able to do in his sleep, but the strongest supporting player is Ice Cube as Dickson, the heroes’ boss. Playing up the “angry black captain” stereotype once more Ice Cube is hilarious as the foul-mouthed captain, yelling down those in his command and barking out insults. Cube gets some of the film’s biggest laughs and reminds you of how good he can be on his day.

Ice Cube on scene-stealing form

Ice Cube on scene-stealing form

The end credits are quite fun too, continuing the postmodern, mocking tone by including clips and posters for further Jump Street installments, which sees Jenko and Schmidt take on assignments in culinary school, scuba school and several other daft assignments. It goes on a little bit too long, but is worth it just for 29 Jump Street, which sees Hill replaced by Seth Rogen (another of MWG’s five) and I would probably actually pay to watch the spoof movie.

Shut up and take my money

Shut up and take my money

Verdict; Daft and fun, it’s not quite as good as the first but Hill and Tatum continue to work well together and there are plenty of laughs along the way. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Sex Tape

When the pictures of Jennifer Lawrence, Rihanna et al. were snatched from the Cloud, at least the makers of this movie were happy. The story of a suburban couple who’s homemade porn makes it onto the Cloud to be shared among their friends and acquaintances suddenly had fresh relevancy.

sex tape poster

The problem is that the whole movie doesn’t make a lot of sense. The backstory to the making of the eponymous tape is that Annie (Cameron Diaz) and husband Jay (Jason Segel) are in a bit of a rut. In their early relationship they appear have to gone at it like rabbits, but with two kids and work their lovemaking has become infrequent.

On a date night they struggle until Annie suggests making a tape, and so armed with tequila and a copy of The Joy of Sex, they record themselves performing every position.

sex tape segel diaz

Annie asks Jay to delete it, but he doesn’t and the next day receives mysterious texts about the tape. It transpires that having used his new iPad to record it the video has gone up into the Cloud and synced with all of Jay’s old iPads which he’s given to various people as gifts.

Here’s the first sticking point, it doesn’t hang together that (a) Jay would need a new iPad that often (b) that he would randomly give those old ones away while still syncing them all together (there is some guff about him wanting to share his music mixes, but that seems forced given who he passes the pads to) and (c) that somebody who used the gear that often would be so totally ignorant of how it all works.

Anyway, they then have to track down the pads they’ve given away (to their son, their friends, Annie’s mother, Annie’s boss and the mailman, a point which again stretches your disbelief). They’ll track them down, delete the videos and all will be fine.

Cue the duo rushing around, assisted by their friends (underused Rob Corddry and Ellie Camper) and forced to go to Annie’s boss’ house where Jay snoops around and battles a dog, while Annie does coke with her seemingly strait-laced boss. Said boss is played by Rob Lowe, which may be a nod to Lowe’s own sex tape scandal, but is a reference so old it’ll fly over the heads of many.

Lowe’s game for a laugh, and there’s an enjoyably surreal running gag of him having had custom made paintings of himself inserted into Disney movies, but it feels lazy and Lowe is better than this.

sex tape diaz lowe

This is the sense that runs through the whole film. It just feels a little lazy and not thought out properly. I’m a massive Jason Segel fan and his comedy skills are well used, with him getting most of the laughs, but it’s far from his best. He also serves as writer on the movie but this is nowhere near as good as his work on Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Muppets or The Five Year Engagement.

Diaz is funny enough in her role, but the script doesn’t really give either of them a chance to build their relationship. Jack Black, who appears as the owner of a porn site the video winds up on states that nobody makes a porn tape while things are going well. This is not only a bit insulting to those who just have an exhibitionist streak but it fails, the only problem in their relationship is that they’re busy and don’t communicate well enough.

Any chance of there being a deeper problem between them is never explored as the movie travels towards it’s predictably happy ending.
I know I’m sounding incredibly down on this flick, but I’ve seen worse and it’s a perfectly fine way to spend an hour and a half and there are enough laughs along the way, but it’s riddled with flaws and feels rushed. Perhaps another run at the script might have helped shore it up a bit.

Also, the Cloud story is daft. A better story would revolve around a couple having to track down the single hard copy of a tape, upping the farce aspects but playing it more realistically. The problem is that it feels like the Cloud is there just so that Apple can show off it’s gear (at one point a character actually comments on the sturdiness and good design of an iPad, a moment so forced and ad heavy I felt that Segel was about to turn to camera and wink).

All in all this is a lacklustre comedy that wastes some good performers and never quite does enough to get completely over. Funny in places, but forgettable and lazy.

Verdict: There are a few laughs along the way and Segel is entertaining as usual, but this is a step down for all concerned and the plot feels lazy and laboured. A missed opportunity. 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


My Favourite Films #27: The Blues Brothers

Comedy is harder than it looks. A lot of folks think that when a serious actor does a comedy its because they want an easy time. But that’s not true, because while improv and riffing results in a few decent gags, the best comedies tend to be the ones meticulously written and thought out. Timing is everything, and there’s a brilliant precision at work in most great comedies to assure they get the biggest laughs possible.

Of course, there are exceptions and this is one. The Blues Brothers is many things as a film, but precise and disciplined are not two of those, as the whole film has this crazy, anarchic feel to it. In places it’s baggy, overdone and even self indulgent, but it powers through on charm, humour and, of course, music.

blues bros pos

Written by Dan Aykroyd and director John Landis the premise is simple- two musical, criminal brothers must raise money to save their old orphanage. To do so they put their band back together and perform a big show.

But then a bunch of stuff is thrown in and the brothers are pursued by various people they’ve annoyed- the police, a psychotic ex, neo-Nazis and a country band. Cue tons of over the top car chases where cop cars fly across the screen, piling up all over Illinois. It should feel aimless and stupid, but pulling it through are two wonderfully deadpan performances by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as Elwood and Jake Blues.

The characters were born out of SNL sketches and the movie works well as a series of “bits”- the blues band having to perform at a rowdy country bar, causing a scene at the posh restaurant an ex-band member works at (including the memorable, but never appropriate quote “How much for the little girl?”), the brothers commenting on the mall as they speed through chased by police etc.

Among my favourites is the brothers’ visit to “the Penguin” the mother superior of the orphanage they were raised in, played with stone faced toughness by Kathleen Freeman, it’s a hilarious scene as she scolds the two grown men, thwacking them with a wooden ruler when they swear, which only provokes more expletives. It might be where my fear of nuns began.

blues bros penguin

Aykroyd and Belushi work brilliantly off each other, bickering like real brothers and remaining deadpan as explosions, car chases and general madness ensues around them. Belushi in particular is sensational, especially in moments like his stone faced performance of the theme song of Rawhide, where he stands stock still before crossing the stage to pick up a bullwhip to crack for the finale.

The dark glasses help them and provide the film’s iconic look, but they’re still fantastic performances.

blues bros

The supporting cast, like John Candy, Charles Napier and Carrie Fisher all do their jobs perfectly well

But the movie’s real strength is the music. John Landis would go on to direct “Thriller” probably the greatest music video of all time, and he shows his chops here with fantastic choreographed pieces to “Think”, “Shake A Tail Feather” and “Minnie The Moocher”. The Blues Brothers band might not be the best actors, but they play wonderfully and convince as an infectious, fun live lounge and a string of cameos from music greats ensure that there are some belters on the soundtrack.

blues bros shake

In the end its the film’s crazy excess that make it stand out as one of the coolest, most bizarre movie musicals. Its easy to see why the movie has built up a cult following and its a movie that for me never fails to make me smile and want to shake a tail feather.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: Identity Thief

After her scene stealing turn in Bridesmaids it was only a matter of time before Melissa McCarthy got a lead role in a movie, and this is her first starring role, where she plays opposite Jason Bateman.

idpos

The film follows nice guy Sandy Patterson (Bateman), who hard at his office job in Denver, but is struggling financially to support his family, a situation made worse by the fact that his wife Trish (Amanda Peet) is expecting their third child. Making matters worse is that a bonus that he’s been expecting has failed to materialize after 3 years.

Sandy is contacted by an identity protection company because someone has tried stealing his identity and gives various personal information over the phone. The problem is that the woman at the other end of the phone is actually Diana (McCarthy) a con artist from Florida, who proceeds to go on a spending spree with faked cards in Sandy’s name, capitalizing on his feminine sounding name.

Sandy is contacted about a salon appointment in Florida, but shrugs it off as an error. Tired of his unpleasant boss, Harold Cornish (Jon Favreau) and disgusted that the bosses of the company are getting paid massive bonuses while the lower levels like himself are being passed over, Sandy joins with colleagues in setting up a new company where he will be vice president and highly paid.

It’s at this point that things start to unravel for Sandy, with his cards being declined and arrested for not appearing in court. At the station the identity theft is discovered but local cops explain they can’t do anything about it. The fallout for all this scandal threatens Sandy’s new job, and he is frustrated by the fact it may take months to sort out.

Armed with a photo of Diana he asks for a week from his new boss to go get her, have her explain the situation and clear his name. Sandy heads for Florida where he tracks down Diana and attempts to explain the situation.

It turns out that he’s not the only person after Diana and soon they’re chased by a pair of angry criminals working for a gangster Diana conned (musician T.I. and Genesis Rodriguez). Unable to get a plane because they have the same name on their IDs, Sandy decides to drive her cross country, promising there will be no police involvement and offering an escape from her local problems.

They set off with the gangsters in pursuit, along with a redneck bounty hunter (Robert Patrick). Can Sandy get her to Denver in time and foil her frequent attempts to escape? And what effect will the other have on their own lives and behaviour?

The film treads familiar ground of a mismatched duo forced into close proximity by a cross country road trip, we’ve seen it before, and in all honestly we’ve seen it better (Midnight Run, Due Date and Planes, Trains and Automobiles). And of course as they spend time a bond starts to form despite initial reluctance and dislike.

That’s not to say it’s not entertaining, largely down to the two leads who are great comedic performers. McCarthy really sinks her teeth into her role as a white trash con artist, and is a delight, delivering a plethora of crude, foul mouthed one liners. A pathological liar, Diana repeatedly crafts convoluted back stories for herself, which are shocking and entertaining. It’s a powerhouse of a comic performance.

Diana (McCarthy) tries to make a break for it.

Diana (McCarthy) tries to make a break for it.

 

She’s a madcap whirlwind at the centre of the film, and in between the profanity and pratfalls she actually gets the audience to warm to her, due to her slightly goofy enthusiasm and manic actions, and the sense that underneath her tough exterior she’s actually a rather damaged individual, and not totally devoid of conscience.

The film benefits from having Bateman on board, as he is one of the best straight men around at the moment. He’s the rational, everyday guy at the heart of the film who’s dragged into various crazy situations on the road and out of his depth in the world of criminals and scammers.

Straight man- Bateman as the out his depth Sandy

Straight man- Bateman as the out his depth Sandy

He’s endearingly average and nice at the start, and does a great job of capturing the increasingly frustrated mindset of the character, with his nice guy character displaying a good line in sarky, caustic remarks. This edge to his character makes him more human and admirable as he retains a sense of compassion and decency throughout the movie. It’s not as showy as McCarthy’s role but playing the straight man requires its own set of skills and Bateman has them in spades.

Central duo aside the rest of the cast don’t have much to do, but do good with their minor parts, in particular Jon Favreau who is sleazy and infuriating as Sandy’s douchebag boss and Robert Patrick, who hams it up as the grizzled private eye but still exudes a sense of menace and badassery.

Some of the jokes are a bit forced, and there’s a bit too much reliance on gross out and profanity, but on the whole it’s a perfectly fun movie, and had me laughing throughout. It’s a solid first lead role for McCarthy, but you can’t help feeling she has more to offer.

Verdict: We’re on familiar ground, but in the company of two brilliant performers in McCarthy and Bateman. Goes for the easy option at times and is a little predictable, but keeps the laughs coming. 7/10.

It’s also nice to see Amanda Peet again, because she’s been quiet of late after being extremely busy back in the early ’00s (6 movies in 2002-03) and having had the Colin Farrell Effect for a time. This is when scheduling means that an actor has a ton of films released in quick succession, meaning that it seems they have a film out all the time and become a little overexposed, named after Colin Farrell because of his run between 2002 and 2004 where he appeared in 10 movies (Hart’s War, Minority Report, Phone Booth, The Recruit, Daredevil, Veronica Guerin, SWAT, Intermission, A Home at the End of the World and Alexander).

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


My Favourite Films #12: Ghost Busters

I loved the Ghost Busters even before I saw the movie thanks to the cartoon series The Real Ghostbusters, which as a kid was one of my favourites.

The cartoon version of the team I grew up with

The cartoon version of the team I grew up with

Seriously, I loved that show. I got Ecto 1 for Christmas one year and playing with it during the morning service is one of my clearest childhood memories (we used to open one gift before church and take it with us to church, my parents probably should have thought this one through more as it had a siren) and I think my Dad made me a ghost catching trap out of a tissue box or something. Winston was my favourite character in the cartoon and part of the list of heroes who made me respond to the “what do you want to be when you grow up?” question with “Black”.

I was also incredibly jealous of my best friend at the time, Dai, because he had the fire house toy thing which 1991 Chris probably would have killed for.

gbfirehouse

I can’t remember when I saw the film for the first time, I think I was quite young but my memories are hazy and most of it probably went over my head, and it was years before I saw it again in my teens.

ghostbusters

As a teen I fell in love with the movie, it may have been very different from what I could remember from my childhood cartoon viewing, but the movie was brilliant in a different way. Mostly down to one thing-

Bill Murray.

Murray as Peter- Legend

Murray as Peter- Legend

They might be a ghost fighting team, but Murray is undeniably the star and nicks the entire movie, he gets almost all the best lines and his funny, irreverant if slightly sleazy Peter Venkman is a delight. He’s described as being “like a game show host” by another character, but he’s far cooler than that, and Murray’s sarky, charismatic performance is like a masterclass in comic performance.

Unlike his colleagues Ray and Egon (Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis respectively), he doesn’t seem to be someone who’s dedicated to science, just a smart guy who’s fallen into the job and messes about in it. When they discover that ghosts are real and how to trap them you can see the lightbulb going off as he figures out they can make money off it even before the university fires them.

Soon the three hopelessly clueless and out of their depth ectoplasmic exterminators are in business, their first case is a great chaotic sequence as they take on familiar face Slimer, and there are great moments throughout this bit, especially the awkward backing up in the lift when they turn on their nuclear powered gear for the first time and the glee they have in smashing up a fancy hotel dining room (“The flowers are still standing!” is a personal favourite moment and something I really want to do sometime).

Venkman is smitten with one of their first clients, Dana (Sigourney Weaver) and his attempts to chat her up are a good mix of overconfidence and jokey humour. When they discover how serious things are at her building they face a massive challenge, exacerbated by a petty, interfering bureaucrat. The trio, with new member Winston (Ernie Hudson) must face an ancient foe which leads to a show down with a giant marshmallow sailor.

The film is distinctly 80s, but that’s not a bad thing, because let’s face it in terms of fun, crowd pleasing flicks, the 80s had a pretty high success rate, and quite a few still stand up, and this flick definitely does.

The script, written by Aykroyd and Ramis is loaded with quality lines and nice little touches and it’s one of those movies that I can quote quite a bit of. There’s a goofy streak of humour throughout and some wonderfully crafted gags and moments.

The ghost aspect is handled well and the plot is simple, but well done. There’s humour in the way they tackle the ghosts, but the film gets one thing right- it makes jokes with the ghosts and nasties, but never makes them the joke. Once you start mocking your critters the whole exercise falls apart, and any threat evaporates. That’s not to say it’s a creepy flick, because it’s all rather too goofy to scare, which is fair enough as it’s definitely a comedy first and a supernatural flick second.

The effects may have dated, but due to their 80s simplicity there’s something engaging about them and the design gives the critters a real sense of character, which later, slicker CG effects often struggle to achieve.

But the writers deserve a lot of respect for not hogging the limelight, despite being skilled performers in their own right and letting Murray really let loose as the lead.

The cast are great across the board, with Aykroyd making Ray the likable, dopey heart of the unit and an underused Hudson doing quite well as Winston, the last to join the team who is thrown into a world he knows nothing about, and copes with it remarkably well. He’s the regular blue collar guy and balances out the other characters’ brainy side, and his street smarts means that he actually talks more sense than the others at times.

The best thing is the chemistry they all share, with all four playing off each other brilliantly and all getting some great lines along the way. It’s a very solid, well done comic ensemble.

The team in action- (l-r) Ramis as Egon, Aykroyd as Ray, Murray as Peter and Hudson as Winston

The team in action- (l-r) Ramis as Egon, Aykroyd as Ray, Murray as Peter and Hudson as Winston

As the female lead Sigourney Weaver is delightful, she’s strikingly beautiful which explains why Venkman falls for her and also does a great job in her scenes with Murray, showing a real knack for comedy, which at the time was something she wasn’t known for. Weaver also seems to be having fun in the role, especially when she plays the weirdly sexy possessed Dana.

gbsig

But it all comes back to Murray, and he’s why I’d recommend everyone check this flick out. He’s sensationally, laugh-out-loud funny and his deadpan, slobby Venkman is one of the best comedy characters of all time.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


My Favourite Films #7: Airplane!

“Surely there must be something you can do.”
“I’m doing everything I can….and stop calling me Shirley”

That simple, daft gag is one of the most famous moments from Airplane! and is possibly one of the most well known comedy lines in cinema history. Its also an example of what makes this film so brilliant, yes the jokes might be daft, even childish at times, but its a film that can make you laugh on repeat viewings and deserves its reputation as a comedy classic.

Spoofing the 1970s disaster movie cycle it concerns an LA to Chicago flight which runs into problems when the crew are struck down with food poisoning. The only hope is Ted (Robert Hays) an ex air force pilot who’s confidence has been shattered by his experiences during “the war”. He’s onboard to try and win back his love, Elaine (Julie Hagerty), an air stewardess. Can Ted overcome his demons and land the plane safely?

The plot is basically just there to allow them to poke fun at genre conventions and link all the scattershot gags, but as opposed to the 2000 spoof cycle (Scary Movie etc.) the film works because it sticks to one major plot which is the framework for all of the jokes, rather than just stringing together a sequence of nods to other movies. Its a much better way of doing things as despite the relentless speed of the jokes being thrown at the audience there is still a structure to follow and it makes sense.

The narrative also follows the genre its spoofing, the ensemble disaster flicks which were booming in the 70s (Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake, The Towering Inferno). In fact, the film is loosely a remake of the 1957 flick Zero Hour! only turned into a comedy, and uses the traditional genre conventions like the hero overcoming personal demons (it also lifts dialogue from the film, with the “The life of everyone on board depends upon just one thing: finding someone back there who can not only fly this plane, but who didn’t have fish for dinner.” line being scarily close to a proper line).

One of the film’s major strengths is its elder statesmen cast- Robert Stack, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges and Leslie Nielsen, who were mainly known for their serious, mainstream roles (Graves was the lead in the Mission: Impossible TV series, Stack was Eliot Ness in The Untouchables TV show). I’ve read differing accounts that say not all of the cast got what the makers were going for, but if they didn’t their ultra serious deadpan delivery of much of the dialogue only serves to make the film even funnier.

Bridges and Stack

Nielsen and Bridges both came from serious old school Hollywood backgrounds (between them they appeared in films like The Poseidon Adventure, High Noon and The Forbidden Planet) but seemed to easily get to grips with the film’s ridiculousness and would continue to work in the spoof genre, with Bridges appearing in Hot Shots! while Nielsen would become king of the genre, appearing in the Naked Gun series along with several other spoofs.

The late, great Leslie Nielsen, king of the spoofs.

Another great piece of casting was LA Lakers basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the co-pilot, which could be seen as a nod sportsmen like OJ Simpson, Jim Brown and Fred Williamson appearing in films, and results in one of the movie’s funniest scenes where Abdul-Jabbar, having been criticized by a young boy breaks character and angrily justifies his sporting performances. Its a funny moment because of the sheer randomness and the kid’s reaction to Abdul-Jabbar’s rage is brilliant, like much of the humour in the film it doesn’t make any kind of sense.

The real gift of the film is the script, which whips along at a hell of a clip and keeps up a steady stream of gags, there’s a kind of “Didn’t like that joke, don’t worry, there are 3 more on the way” approach and it mixes delightfully daft puns and wordplay in with slapstick and bizarre visual gags. There are odd little throw away gags along with some nice running jokes (Lloyd Bridges’ “Looks like I picked the wrong week to…” and the jive talking passengers spring to mind). The deadpan deliveries also take their place along some quality OTT comedy acting.

There’s also an undercurrent of darker, more grown up humour including children delivering adult dialogue (“No thank you, I take it black, like my men”) or the uneasy questions that Captain Oveur (Graves) asks the young boy who visits the cockpit.

Its one of those films where its hard to select good moments to discuss because there are so many you’d wind up just writing an extremely long list.

Its rightfully regarded as a classic movie and routinely ranks highly on lists and polls to find the funniest films, and it deserves all those plaudits. If you’ve never seen it before I urge you to check it out because it’ll have you crying with laughter, and if you have seen it before watch it again because it definitely stands up to repeat viewings.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.