comedy

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.

REIVEW: Scrooged (1988)

In this retelling of A Christmas Carol, Frank Cross (Bill Murray), a selfish, cynical television executive, is haunted by three spirits bearing lessons on Christmas Eve.

This is one of those classic Christmas films that I had never seen before so watching it as an adult without the nostalgia factor is probably a different experience to those who’ve watched it for years. I will say, if I had watched Scrooged as a child, it would have really freaked me out and scared me at some points.

There’s the ghost of Frank’s former boss Lew Hayward (John Forsythe) who warns Frank that he’s about to be visited by three ghosts. The make up and prosthetics are great as he really does look like a rotting corpse, with a mouse in his head and everything. Then there’s the Ghost of Christmas Future which was dressed like the Grim Reaper but again had freaky prosthetics going on. The future it shows Frank is also kind of horrifying and one scene would definitely have given child-me nightmares.

I think that’s one of the things I found so odd about Scrooged. It’s supposed to be a comedy and with Bill Murray in the lead there is certainly a lot of funny moments, but the tone when it comes to some of the ghosts and what one of Frank’s fired employees goes through is a lot darker. It really pushes some characters to their limit and the humour is also often dark and weird and the whole thing just feels a bit disconcerting. That’s not to say Scrooged is bad or this hybrid of tone doesn’t work, strangely it does and how chaotic it is works in its favour.

Having Bill Murray as the lead and in the Ebeneezer Scrooge role works as he has a dry sense of humour but still manages to play Frank as someone you might not hate to be around due to his offbeat vibe, even when Frank is at his cruellest.

I can see why Scrooged is a Christmas film that people routinely watch. It has the happy ever after and is based off of a classic Christmas story, but it’s also weird and has a darker undertone that doesn’t make it cheesy. 3/5.

REVIEW: A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish (2019)

Kat (Laura Marano) dreams of becoming a famous singer-songwriter but it’s hard to imagine her dreams coming true thanks to her cruel stepfamily.

Not only does Kat have to clean and tidy their home but any money she earns from her job as a singing elf at Santa Land goes straight to her stepmother Deirdra (Johannah Newmarch). While naturally the evil step sisters and stepmother act can be repetitive (and the actors perhaps overact a tad), Deirdra does say some cutting things to Kat. They strike a chord but the moment is never left to be fully impactful before there is a joke or the plot moves swiftly on.

Kat’s best friend and fellow elf Isla (Isabella Gomez) fits in the fairy Godmother role and to be honest she’s more charismatic and charming than the lead which is good for her but not for Marano. Isla really is a great friend. She’s supportive and is always willing to listen to Kat moan about her family and the two of have great chemistry. The same can’t be said for Marano and Gregg Sulkin who plays her prince Charming in this scenario, Dominic the son of a billionaire who’s working as Santa so he learns what hard work and responsibilities are. They aren’t terrible together but there isn’t some great spark either.

Going into A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish you know exactly what to expect and it certainly does hit all those Cinderella plot beats which does make it pretty predictable. There are some unbelievable moments, like how can Dominic not recognise Kat just because she’s got a pink wig and an elf hat on, but overall, it’s a pretty harmless adaptation of the well-known story. Though it is supposed to be a comedy and the jokes and slapstick humour didn’t work for me. However, it’s also a musical so there’s some cutesy pop songs about Christmas and falling in love in it too that aren’t too bad. So swings and roundabouts really. 2/5.

Part of me wonders how all the A Cinderella Story films compare to the original with Hillary Duff. I doubt any of them will be as good as the original, I do have a soft spot for it, but Christmas Wish is the fourth out of five “sequels” so there must be something to them in order for them to keep being made.

REVIEW: A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas (2011)

Six years after their Guantanamo Bay adventure, stoner buds Harold Lee (John Cho) and Kumar Patel (Kal Penn) reunite as they cause holiday chaos by inadvertently burning down Harold’s father-in-law’s prize Christmas tree.

After reading Kal Penn’s autobiography and then watching and very much enjoying Harold and Kumar go to White Castle I thought I might as well continue with series. None of the sequels live up to the heights of the first film with their Christmas film it felt more on track. While Harold and Kumar are best friends it’s easy to see how they could drift apart due to personality differences but equally it’s easy to see them come back together.

A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas was originally released in 3D so watching at home without that aspect was still surprisingly enjoyable. The 3D is glaringly obvious – its peak early 2010s 3D but it also kind of has some charm to it. In other films where there’s been a 3D aspect it is kind of eye-roll-inducing but here because it’s so obvious and it even makes references to the fact that characters are doing something specifically to be seen in 3D by audiences, it just works in a way I wasn’t expecting.

Throughout all three films the chemistry between Kal Penn and John Cho has always been there and it’s nice to see them pay these characters as older versions but still capture the heart or the essence of the two of them and how they connect to one another. They are the kind of characters that are two sides of the same coin. They really do balance each other out and when they’re a part Harold is more uptight and stuffy while Kumar is left to being high and not working towards anything. When they’re together Harold is freer and Kumar has a bit more motivation.

Neil Patrick Harris once again makes an appearance in this film and how he does so is not what I was expecting but it was very funny and weird and it works.

I think A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas works especially well after having seen the previous two films as you seen these characters not necessarily grow but you understand they’re dynamic, but also it stands on its own as a surprisingly charming and sweet film about friends reconnecting at Christmas. It also has love and family and all those themes Christmas has while also featuring drugs, a baby getting high and characters getting injured in car accidents and a variety of other escapades. 3/5.