comedy

REVIEW: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

Buffy (Kristy Swanson) is a typical popular cheerleader, oblivious to the strange things happening in her town. That is until a strange man called Merrick (Donald Sutherland) enters her life and tells her she’s the chosen one and is destined to battle vampires.

Confession time, I have never watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I think I was too young for it when it starting showing in the UK and the few bits I do remember catching on TV scared me as I have always been a wuss. Side note, I remember catching bits of Roswell around the same time and that also freaked me out. Anyway. Though I’ve never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer the show, I do know some of the basics thanks to pop culture osmosis, mainly character names, but I’m definitely aware of the show and the phenomenon it was.

So though I’ve never watched the show it was still a bit weird watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer the movie as I’m so used to Sarah Michelle Gellar as the titular character and a bunch of other faces/names that don’t appear in this film. There’s still a lot of familiar faces in this film though like Hilary Swank, David Arquette, Thomas Jane and even Ben Affleck is a high school basketball player which was very jarring.

I feel like for a film that has a runtime of less than 90 minutes, the pacing of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is somehow simultaneously too fast and too slow. Relationships that you’re clearly supposed to care about like Buffy and Merrick aren’t given enough time to really feel anything for, and the constant back and forth Buffy goes through of being a vampire hunter and wanting to be a normal teenage girl is, while understandable not that interesting after a while. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is written but Joss Whedon, who would go on to create the show, and there’s hints of the kind of humour he’s known for sprinkled throughout the film but the script is never funny enough, tight enough, or dramatic enough to make its big ideas work.

To be honest, it’s as if Whedon didn’t know what he wanted Buffy the Vampire Slayer to be. Sometimes it’s a campy comedy, sometimes it tries to be horror movie, and then it’s also a coming-of-age story and a teen girl trying to find her own path – is it her “destiny” and everything Merrick says, or is it what her friends think she should be interested in? It veers wildly between each tone and none of them work together or separately.

Kristy Swanson is pretty good as Buffy; she’s got the physicality and a charm to her that eventually starts to shine through. Though I wish she and her friends weren’t the typical mean girls. Sure, Buffy goes through a character arc but it is hard to really root for her to begin with when she is so materialistic and is very much a dumb popular blonde stereotype.

Honestly, I think my favourite thing about Buffy the Vampire Slayer was Pike (Luke Perry). It’s always fun having a guy as the damsel in distress type role and Pike was great at being a supportive friend to Buffy and just generally rolling with all the weirdness he encounters. He’s not useless but it’s also clear that Buffy is more skilled than him when it comes to fighting the undead which was good.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t a great film but I think it’s an interesting jumping off point for what became a hugely successful TV show. 2/5.

REVIEW: Language Lessons (2021)

After his husband gifts him 100 Spanish lessons, Adam (Mark Duplass) and his teacher Cariño (Natalie Morales) form an unexpected friendship.

Gosh I love this film. I watched and loved half of it online at London Film Festival last year but missed the latter half due to a power cut so it’s been a long time coming for me to finally see the complete film and see if it was as good as I remembered. I’m very happy to find that it is indeed as sweet, funny, and touching as a remembered and seeing how Adam and Cariño’s relationship panned out was a joy.

During the pandemic there’s been a fair few “lockdown movies” whether that’s films where a group of people are stuck in the same place together for an extended period of time or it’s a story told via Zoom calls. Language Lessons fits into the second version but at the same time, it’s a story that never mentions the pandemic and it could’ve happened anytime as Adam lives in America while Cariño is in Costa Rica and they find connection via the Spanish lessons.

Language Lessons is shot entirely as if the characters are either on a Zoom call or are sending each other video messages and it’s a gimmick that really works. There are moments where the video quality isn’t great or it jumps a bit and that along with the script, co-written by the two stars, makes everything feel so natural. Considering you only see Adam and Cariño during these calls or messages, like the characters you’re left filling in the gaps of their lives and making assumptions based on the limited information given to you. With that, there’s a lot of surprises but none of them feel cheap or farfetched and instead you see different sides to the characters. Cariño especially is interesting as she struggles to keep the student/teacher boundary and when she does start to put that barrier back up, Adam starts to see through it.

Language Lessons is a film about platonic love and there are so few films that put the importance of friendship on an almost pedestal like this. Sure, there’s the teen films where there’s ride or die best friends but films about adults, and adults of different genders especially, and how their friendship works and matters to them aren’t that common.

At a swift 90 minutes, Language Lessons is a film that covers just about every facet of human emotion. It’s an incredibly poignant film and it’s the kind of film that mad me laugh and made me cry. It really is just a perfect gem of a movie. It’s both heart-breaking and heart-warming and both actors do a fantastic job at portraying this unconventional friendship. It’s one of those films I’ll be recommending to everyone and though it was sad at times, it also felt like a comforting hug because throughout it all both Adam and Cariño are both so incredibly kind and it’s the kind of story that gives you faith in human connection. 5/5.

Side note: With all the discussions about how no media is safe when it’s just available online and that physical media is the only way to make sure you have your favourite films, I wish I could get a physical copy of Language Lessons here in the UK. At the moment I’ll have to do with a digital copy as there doesn’t appear to be DVD/Blu-Ray available here and this is a film I will be revisiting.

REVIEW: Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)

Unsure of his life and what he wants from it, Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) mid-life crisis is interrupted by Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), a galactic killer who seeks the extinction of the gods. Thor enlists the help of King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Taika Waititi) and his ex-girlfriend Dr Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who is now the Mighty Thor and wields Mjolnir, to stop the God Butcher.

Thor: Love and Thunder is style over substance. I feel at one time I may have had that criticism for Thor: Ragnarok but at least there the tone was mostly balanced and there was still a decent plot and character work. In Love and Thunder it’s all bright colours (except in the Shadow Realm which is the one stylistic thing and sequence I found interesting) and rock music and it’s so tonally inconsistent and the jokes are juvenile and grating. There’s running gags in Love and Thunder that may have been a bit cringey but generally OK the first time but the fact that they just keep going with that joke it feels like it’s flogging a dead horse and even if it was a little funny to begin with, in the end it becomes so unfunny that it’s painful. The jokes also often come at the expense of the drama and supposedly more emotional, hard-hitting moments which is annoying. Also, if you’re like me and only really like Korg in small doses, then Love and Thunder may be grating at times as that is a “funny” character I do not find amusing.

The tonal inconsistences aren’t just the humour undercutting dramatic moments, but how in some ways Gorr feels completely out of place to the rest of the film. Christian Bale is great in the role and is creepy and gives a great performance. Gorr is so serious, and perhaps a little mad, so when he comes up against a God that’s self-indulgent and arrogant it’s kind of jarring. You could say this is on purpose – showing how the Gods don’t care about the people that worship them and how they just want to live in opulence and have all the food, wine, and sex that they could ask for – thus giving Gorr all the more reason to kill the Gods. However as elsewhere in Love and Thunder there’s humour undercutting dramatic moments and drastic tonal shifts it feels like it’s part of a wider issue.

One of my biggest problems with Thor: Love and Thunder is Thor as a character. In films of all genres, I can kind of forgive a weaker plot if the character work is good. Especially in franchise films, if I like a character, I just enjoy seeing them and how they’ve grown and adapted to whatever situation they’re in and what’s going on around them isn’t such a big deal for me. With Thor: Love and Thunder the plot isn’t great and neither is the character work. Thor seems like he has regressed as a character and is back to being the arrogant man-child he was at the start of Thor. The whole point of the first film his him learning some humility, that actions have consequences and you can’t always go charging in like a bull in a China shop. Over the past however many Thor and Avengers movies Thor has learnt the smashing things without first attempting diplomacy isn’t the answer. In Love and Thunder, he doesn’t seem to care about anyone, including the Asgardian people he’s supposed to love and protect; summoning the Bifrost in buildings, destroying sacred temples as he stops bad guys, and just generally acting like an irresponsible buffoon.

Though she’s now King, Valkyrie gets no real development, any hints at a genuine friendship between her and Jane are few and far between and she is regulated to Thor’s sidekick once again. Jane and her heavy origin story and rise as the Mighty Thor feels shafted due to it being surrounded by flat jokes doing wrong by her as a character and what she’s going through. Plus, as it’s been a while since we’ve seen the character, the Jane/Thor romance feels underdeveloped even as the film gives a copious number of flashbacks to try and make you care about it.

Thor: Love and Thunder relies on the (unfunny) banter between characters rather than any real meaningful dialogue or emotion and does a disservice to all of its character. It definitely feels like Thor: Love and Thunder didn’t work when the thing that got the biggest reaction from me was an actor’s appearance in the midcredits scene. The rest of the film didn’t particularly make me feel happy or sad and I may have smiled a couple of times or chuckled but never full on laughed at anything that happened on screen. 2/5.

Perhaps I’m being generous with a 2/5 rating but that’s what I’ve settled on. I liked Gorr and the Shadow Realm sequence but everything else, not so much. As someone who tends to have mixed to positive feelings about Thor: Ragnarok, Thor: Love and Thunder is a serious step down.

REVIEW: Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (2022)

Two years after her husband’s death, Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson), a 55-year-old retired religious studies teacher, makes a plan. She books a hotel room and hires young sex worker Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) in the hope to finally experience some good sex.

This is one of those films I went into blind and wanted to watch it purely because there was an actor I liked in it. In this case that’s Emma Thompson but I have to say I’ll be checking out Daryl McCormack’s filmography after this because he was utterly charming and charismatic. Thompson though is a tour deforce. Emma Thompson is generally great, she’s funny and quick and nails those dramatic moments, but in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande it’s like you get to see another new side to her. Nancy is scared and vulnerable while also being incredibly opinionated and sure about the things she does know about. Sex is something she’s unsure about having only slept with one man her entire life and having never had any pleasure from it. But her life and her thoughts on society are things she is sure about as she’s a planner and thinks through every possible scenario.

The conflicts that arise in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande are often personal and internal ones. Nancy is conflicted by what she’s doing. Hiring a sex worker is so out of her realm of normality that she second guesses herself almost constantly. Then there’s the boundaries both she and Leo put for their own peace of mind and how things deteriorate when those boundaries are crossed.

The fact that Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is pretty much just set in a hotel room is great too as I’m a big fan of single-location films. How Leo and Nancy move around the space is interesting and when tensions boil over, they feel so far apart even though they’re in the same room and are still as physically close to one another as they have been before.

The discussions Nancy and Leo have before, during and after sex are both funny and interesting. Their ideas of what sex work is and its value differ greatly and some of that can be put down to a generational divide. To begin with Nancy thinks there must be “something wrong” with Leo or he must have some huge trauma to do what he does but for him it’s a job he enjoys doing. He enjoys giving others pleasure and there’s the clients that don’t want anything from him but some company. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is probably one of the most nuanced and positive depictions of sex work I’ve seen in a film. Leo is never guilty about his job and he is kind enough to explain to Nancy what he gets out of it.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is funny, cringey, sexy, and a touching film about human connection – sexual or otherwise. The fact that it’s pretty much just set in a hotel room is great too as I’m a big fan of single-location films. The humour cannot be overstated and with a clever script and brilliant performances Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a delight! 4/5.

REVIEW: Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is just trying to get her taxes sorted while running her laundrette business with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) when she’s informed of a threat to her world and the multiverse and is told that she might be the only one who can stop it.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is one of those films that’s completely barmy but brilliant. It’s a film I knew little about before watching it (I hadn’t even watched the trailer) and had just heard positive things via social media though had seen no spoilers or had any real idea of the plot. I think that might be the best way to see this film as it’s such a surprise at times as it veers off into different themes or genres that I never expected.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is a lot of movie. So much so, it can be almost overwhelming at times but by no means is that a bad thing. It suits the tone and the story perfectly but how the plot moves with the sounds and visuals can feel chaotic. However, you never feel lost in what’s happening. What Evelyn is going through is overwhelming to her, so to make the audience feels like that too. It helps make Everything Everywhere All at Once feel different and as it bounces between ideas, time, and universes, there’s a beauty to it too.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is impressive for many reasons but something that surprised me was how in one scene I could be laughing and in the next I’m tearing up. How the writers and directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan (known as the Daniels) handled the different tones of this film, balancing the emotional payoff with inventive and fun action sequences is impressive. Though the story feels chaotic and weird at times, I never felt that the film was getting away from its directors. All the weirdness and chaos was just what was needed as a story about the multiverse and an older woman having to learn how to save the day is a bit unusual and unexpected.

Michelle Yeoh is just fantastic as Evelyn. She is funny and relatable and she’s both strict and caring. Evelyn has a lot on her mind with the responsibilities of running a business and looking after her ailing father (James Hong) that she neglects both her husband and her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), however unintentionally. The action sequences with Yeoh showcase her talents but equally, the big emotive moments do as well.

Honestly, the whole cast is outstanding and the trio of the family; Evelyn, Waymond and Joy is wonderful. All three actors bring their A game and elevate each other with their performances. Each character is allowed to be well-rounded and a real person. They can be scared, strong, kind, mean, funny, stressed, or apathetic and it’s all fine – especially as some characters learn from others about how to be better people or how to go through life with a better attitude.

There are so many layers to Everything Everywhere All at Once and it’s one of those films where I’m enjoying reading everyone else’s thoughts on it – especially Asian Americans. Because Everything Everywhere All at Once is an immigrant story, it’s a story about family, love, and kindness, it’s a story about second chances and togetherness. It’s one of those stories that’s so specific that it becomes universal.

I don’t even really know if I have the words to properly describe Everything Everywhere All at Once but it’s funny, action-packed, heartfelt, and beautiful. It’s weird and wonderful and it’s a film that I’ll be thinking about for a long time. 5/5.

T is for The Trouble with Harry (1955)

The trouble with Harry is that he is dead and, while no one really minds, everyone feels responsible. After Harry’s body is found in the woods, several locals must determine not only how and why he was killed but what to do with the body.

Because some of Alfred Hitchcock’s most well know films like Psycho, The Birds, and Rear Window (only one of which I’ve seen but their reputations precede them) are horror or thriller films, I always get a bit surprised when I watch one of his films and find it’s a comedy. There’s still a dead body and the mystery of who killed him, but The Trouble with Harry is a much more light hearted film than I expected.

While everything does revolve around a murder the dialogue is often quite witty. As the characters try and figure out what happened to Harry and who was really to blame, the situation surrounding Harry’s body gets more absurd as by trying to save themselves, they might actually be making themselves look more and more guilty.

The Trouble with Harry is Shirley MacLaine’s first feature film and it’s so interesting to see her in a role like this when all the films I’ve previously seen her in she’s been a cranky and/of humorous older lady, granting wisdom or causing mischief. It’s clear she had her comic timing from the beginning and she has good chemistry with John Forsythe – even if their characters romance seemed a bit rushed. Though that’s probably because the events of The Trouble with Harry all take place across just a couple of days, meaning any reveals or blossoming romance between characters does feel a bit quick.

Even though there’s a corpse at the centre of The Trouble with Harry, thanks to where it’s set and all the scenes outside, it feels like a very autumnal film. It has a charm to it that I wasn’t expecting and is a very family friendly murder mystery. 3/5.

S is for Space Cowboys (2000)

When an aging Russian satellite suffers a system failure that could set it on a collision course for Earth, retired engineer Frank Corvin (Clint Eastwood) is called into help as his now outdated guidance system is what the satellite runs on. He blackmails his former boss Bob Gerson (James Cromwell) in order to get his old team back together to complete the mission, and soon Frank, pilot William “Hawk” Hawkings (Tommy Lee Jones), flight engineer Jerry O’Neill (Donald Sutherland) and navigator Tank Sullivan (James Garner) are all going through training at NASA to prove their fitness for the mission.

I love a good space movie, especially ones that focus on the technical aspects of space travel and have all the usual tropes with interesting characters in ground control as well as in space, office politics, and things not going to plan – Apollo 13 and The Martian are my favourite space films. Space Cowboys ticks all those boxes so I had a great time with this film.

The friendship between the old teammates is what really made Space Cowboys for me. So many of the scenes when they’re all together, just chatting, or messing around during their training were fun to watch. It all seemed so natural as they took the mick out of one another but also clearly cared about one another. Some of them hadn’t seen each other for years but the sign of a good friendship is being able to easily fall back into the old rhythms of a friendship like no time had passed at all.

The first two acts of Space Cowboys are Frank getting the team back together and them going through training together. There are the usual clichés of clashes between the old, would-be astronauts and the young, trained professionals but things never turn too nasty and as their training progresses you can see there’s a grudging respect between the two generations. The third act is the mission into space and naturally just about everything that could go wrong, does. There’s a bit of a farfetched reveal about the satellite but besides from that the mission in space is tense and action-packed.

As someone who grew up watching James Cromwell as the nice and gentle farmer in Babe, it’s been a weird experience watching the rest of his filmography as I get older, especially when he plays characters who aren’t that nice at all. Whenever he and Eastwood butt heads it’s fun to see but Cromwell’s character has such a shifty undertone to him it’s a bit disconcerting.

Have to mention the needle drop of *NSYNC’s Space Cowboy which was not a song I’d ever think would be in a Clint Eastwood movie but when the title works, it’d be a crime not to use it.

Overall Space Cowboys is a fun film with engaging characters. Sure, the main plot is saving a failing satellite but really it’s a film about friendship, loyalty, and trust and it has one of the most believable group of friends I’ve seen in film in a while. 4/5.

O is for One for the Money (2012)

Stephanie Plum (Katherine Heigl) is down on her luck when she gets a job at her cousin’s bail-bond business. Her first assignment is to bring in wanted local cop and guy from her past Joseph Morelli (Jason O’Mara), but as she chases him, she finds herself attempting to unravel the crime he’s accused of.

Based on a book series, One for the Money attempts to combine a chick flick with an action film to mixed results. It is perhaps more of the former than the later but thanks to Heigl’s easy charm and decent chemistry with O’Mara, their characters’ game of cat and mouse is an entertaining one.

There’s everything you’d expect from a film about a character who’s almost a wannabe detective. Stephanie goes around asking questions, makes friends with the local prostitutes including Lula (Sherri Shepherd) who helps her out and is funny, and has help from hot and experienced bounty hunter Ranger (Daniel Sunjata). It’s always nice to see a character who is fed up with their mother trying to find them a husband and who feels a bit aimless, actually find something she’s good at and enjoys.

One for the Money does lack a bit of threat and excitement though. While it does appear that Stephanie is being targeted due to her line of questioning, there’s no chases or particularly tense moments. The times where Stephanie is threatened by a big dude are resolved very quickly, not really allowing you to feel that she is truly in danger.

With a 90-minute runtime, One for the Money is a fun, breezy kind of film. Heigl is pretty great as Stephanie, though her voice over narration in the likes of noir thrillers doesn’t always work. However, Debbie Reynolds as Stephanie’s grandmother is a hoot and steals every scene she’s in. 3/5.

M is for Matchstick Men (2003)

Phobia-addled and compulsive con artist Roy (Nicolas Cage and his protégé Frank (Sam Rockwell) are on the verge of pulling off a lucrative con when Roy’s teenage daughter Angela (Alison Lohman) shows up on his doorstep.

Matchstick Men is one of those films I’d heard of but knew nothing about the actual plot. I’d heard of it in the sense I’d seen it be mentioned as an underappreciated Nicolas Cage movie, and having now watched it I kind of agree. It’s really a hidden gem of a film when it comes to Cage and Rockwell and their performances.

But the real standout is Lohman. Gosh, she’s incredible and really holds her own up against Cage who she shares just about every one of her scenes. The relationship between Angela and Roy is so sweet and awkward as he is completely out of his depth talking to a teenage girl. He suddenly has someone else in his home, making a mess when he has everything clean and orderly, and it is clearly a struggle for him. They both have their issues with trust and letting each other in, but it’s clear from pretty much the outset that they care about one another.

While Matchstick Men is a sort of heist film and features a few different cons as well as the long con Frank and Roy are working on, it’s more about the relationships between the characters. The cons, while interesting and at times fun, take a backseat so the characters become what you’re invested in more than the con.

Like any good film with a con, Matchstick Men surprised me. It’s funny and weird at times thanks to Cage’s eccentric but never over the top performance, but it’s also sweet and kind of sad too. All the characters are looking for some sort of connection while also trying to keep their heads above water.

So yes, I join the ranks of calling Matchstick Men an underappreciated film. Whether you’re a Nicolas Cage fan, a Sam Rockwell fan, or a Ridley Scott fan because that’s who directed this odd but great film, there’s probably going to be something for you to enjoy here. 4/5.

REVIEW: Dog (2022)

Desperate to get back onto active duty, ex-marine ranger Jackson Briggs (Channing Tatum) agrees to embark on a road trip to take Lulu, a Belgian Malinois and former war dog with issues, to her handlers’ funeral.

Dog is a pretty standard buddy-road movie with the added becoming-attached-to-a-problematic pet trop. That’s not to say it’s bad, the fact that it hits a lot of the typical narrative beats while being anchored by a solid performance by Tatum makes it enjoyable. It’s almost an easy-watch in the best way because you know how things have to turn out, but like Briggs and Lulu’s road trip, it’s the journey there that makes its rewarding.

A lot of the themes and issues presented in Dog are done so in broad strokes. Briggs has been discharged due to his multiple injuries when he was a marine ranger, including brain injuries, and he’s alone. It’s easy to see why he’s desperate to get back in the field when he lives alone with scattered bottles on his bedroom floor and the only time he seems to be around fellow soldiers is when they’re at a wake for a fallen comrade.

There’s both criticism and praise of the US military system – though the praise is mostly of the individuals who went to war and the sacrifices they made rather than of the institution as a whole. It’s easy to see Briggs, and other military veterans like him as abandoned by the system they put so much time, effort and their lives into. Like Lulu, he has no support system and they are both going through the after affects of their trauma. Lulu can be vicious and but she’s also scared of thunder storms while Briggs has migraines and sometimes can’t see straight.

Channing Tatum and his charisma and likeability, along with the great relationship he has with Lulu (played by three different dogs) makes Dog a fun and pleasant way to spend 90 minutes. That being said, as Lulu has been trained to attack anyone in middle eastern clothing or who makes her feel threatened, there’s an underlying sense of foreboding anytime she and Briggs are near other people. She’s like a ticking time bomb waiting to go off and while we can understand that, the person she may attacks certainly won’t.

Dog is a film that’s likely to make you laugh and tear up as these two broken characters can maybe help each other to heal. It’s sweet without getting overly sentimental and overall it’s just a nice film. 3/5.