comedy

REVIEW: Violent Night (2022)

When a team of mercenaries, led by a man with the codename Scrooge (John Leguizamo), take a wealthy family hostage with plans to steal the fortune from their vault, they encounter unexpected resistance from Santa Claus (David Harbour) who was making his rounds when the family mansion came under attack.

Violent Night is kind of exactly what you’d expect and it does what it sets out to do and does it well. A Santa who’s disillusioned by Christmas and how children just seem to want money or video games, gets caught up in a home invasion and fights to take down the bad guys and save the family – some members of which you wouldn’t necessarily mind if they didn’t make it out of this situation alive.

Violent Night does the feuding/dysfunctional family thing really well. The majority of the family members are self-absorbed and bordering on narcissistic and the saving grace is young Trudy (Leah Brady) and her mother Linda (Alexis Louder). It’s Trudy’s connection to Santa that brings a surprisingly emotional heart to the film as she’s the only one who still believes in him and her being so nice and caring starts to make him believe in the good of others again.

The Father Christmas lore in Violent Night is pretty cool. His naughty or nice list and his sack full of presents are both inventive and how he gets up and down a chimney is especially cool. While Violent Night is obviously a Santa takes down bad guys film, it’s nice to see that the charm or magic of Father Christmas isn’t lost.

David Harbour is great as a jaded Santa who starts taking down bad guys almost by accident. The fight sequences are well-shot, innovative and fun, and the violence is pretty bloody and gory at times too. Definitely the kind of stuff that makes you grimace even when you’re also laughing at the mercenaries misfortunes. The action and comedy balance well and there’s some wonderfully dark Christmas-related puns.

With brutal fights, some fun booby traps, and the fact that throughout all the carnage Violent Night still manages to retain the general spirit of Christmas, it could well go on to become a Christmas cult classic as it executes its simple premise well. 3/5.

REVIEW: Confess, Fletch (2022)

After arriving in Boston to try and find stolen paintings belonging to his Italian girlfriend’s rich father, Fletch (John Hamm) encounters problems straightaway when he finds a murdered young woman in the house he’s renting. With the police convinced he’s the murderer, former-investigative reporter Fletch strives to prove his innocence while simultaneously searching for the missing paintings.

Confess, Fletch is a reboot/adaptation but as I’d never seen, read, or even had heard of the books/films before I saw the trailer for this film, it’s safe to say I took this film on its own merit and have no reference point for it. I think that’s a good thing as Confess, Fletch is an old-school mystery in the best possible way and I had a thoroughly good time with it.

It’s the dry wit and sharp script that makes Confess, Fletch so much fun. There’s so many quips but they never undercut any drama of the moment and Confess, Fletch is the sort of film that rewards you when you give it your full attention. Fletch, as a character, is brilliant. He’s charming, quick-witted and can talk himself out of (or into) just about anything. He’s almost annoying with how smooth and confident he is, but he does it all with a smile so you can’t stay mad at him. It’s easy to see why the two detectives on his case (played by Roy Wood Jr. and Ayden Mayeri) get so frustrated nearly every time they talk to him.

The mystery has a lot of avenues and it’s fun to see how it all plays out and if and how all these eccentric people Fletch encounters are connected at all. John Hamm has great comedic timing and is a brilliant lead here but Confess, Fletch thrives because the supporting cast is just as good. Fletch’s girlfriend Angela (Lorenza Izzo) has a rivalry with her father’s wife (Marcia Gay Harden), then there’s John Slattery playing Fletch’s old boss and Kyle MacLachlan as an art dealer. Everyone has their own eccentricities and agenda and the dialogue between them and Fletch is often top-notch.

The humour in Confess, Fletch comes from the characters and it it’s really a funny and charming film. I’d love to watch many sequels with John Hamm in the lead role as these sort of clever but fun mysteries are truly timeless. I hope I’m wrong but due to the release and lack of promotion I can see Confess, Fletch going the same way as The Nice Guys – a funny mystery that’s ripe for sequels never getting them as it doesn’t find the audience when it’s first released. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Haunted Mansion (2003)

When workaholic realtor Jim (Eddie Murphy) and his wife/business partner Sara (Marsha Thomason) get a call to view a mansion, they and their kids soon find things aren’t what they seem when they get stranded in the old mansion overnight.

The Haunted Mansion is one of those Disney movies I missed as a child. I definitely went through a phase of considering myself too old for Disney movies – even the live-action ones – but as it’s Spooky Season I thought I’d watch a family friendly horror film because I didn’t want to get too scared or have to pay too much attention. Considering that was where my mind was at when I chose to watch this film, I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed The Haunted Mansion.

The scariness and laughs are well balanced and the atmosphere is perfection. The mansion itself is gorgeous and suitably creepy with its creaky lifts, secret passage ways, and a huge graveyard with a fair amount of ghosts. The set design is just fantastic and the mansion becomes its own character – as it should be. The way lighting is used throughout, whether that’s candlelight or flashes of lightning, adds to the atmosphere and tension and provides some good scares too.

Eddie Murphy is pretty great here and his brand of sometimes over the top comedy works well to lighten things up when things are getting a little too serious or scary. Because that’s something The Haunted Mansion does really well, it balances the comedy and the horror to make scary stuff that walks that fine line of fun and terrifying for kids.

Terence Stamp as the creepy butler Ramsley is perfect. He’s unnerving and intimidating in equal measure while being delightfully polite. Potential vague spoiler alert but this needs to be said; perhaps it’s how I watched this as an adult but the real villain of The Haunted Mansion is racism, it may be implied but I’m pretty sure that’s where they were going with Stamp’s character and I find that surprisingly interesting for a Disney horror film. Though, all horror films have layers and are often about other things.

The Haunted Mansion is a good, fun, spooky, family horror film. A lot of the special effects still hold up which is always a nice surprise and the sequence with the skeletons was a real highlight. 3/5.

REVIEW: Cherry (2022)

After discovering she’s almost 11 weeks pregnant, Cherry (Alexandria Threwhitt) has a big decision to make in just 24 hours, whether or not to keep this unplanned pregnancy.

Films about women’s access (or lack thereof) to essential healthcare like abortions and the morning after pill are becoming more common nowadays as women’s right to choose is still being debated – and in some places being outright denied. Personally, I’m a fan of this timely sub-genre, whether it’s a dramatic period piece or a teen road trip comedy as no matter what the central characters decide it’s a huge decision and the circumstances of their pregnancy can be so different.

Cherry is in her early twenties and has had a load of dead-end jobs, is still mostly living with her mother and has no real direction in her life. Her life is a bit of a mess and while some of this is down to her, it’s also obvious that everyone has their own things they’re going through and when people are absent it’s sometimes not because of maliciousness. Alexandria Threwhitt gives a great and compelling performance as Cherry. She bounces between her family, her friends who she sort of ditched and her not so serious boyfriend/the would-be baby’s father a she tries to figure out if motherhood right now is for her while finding it increasingly difficult to talk to the people in her life about what’s going on with her.

As Cherry tries to decide what to do, she talks to her parents about parenthood in a roundabout way, trying to get their advice and guidance without telling them why she’s suddenly so interested in about the circumstances of her own conception and birth. The scenes with her dad (Charlie S. Jensen) are especially good as it’s clear they both have different ideas of what it is to be a parent and support their family. Her father said he was a good father because he worked all the time so they could be secure but to Cherry that meant he was never around and their awkward relationship is testament to that.

I want to mention the doctor Cherry sees, played by Sandy Duarte, quickly. Perhaps it’s because some of the films I’ve watched recently that deal with this topic have had doctors that have been judgmental or unhelpful, but it was so refreshing to see this doctor – who herself was clearly very pregnant, be kind and non-judgemental towards Cherry. She gave her all the information she needed, talked her through all her options and refused to judge her no matter what decision she made but was still firm that Cherry needed to decide one way or another as there was no ignoring what was happening to her body.

Cherry is one of those wonderfully short (its runtime is less than 75 minutes) but poignant and funny indie dramas. It has a great soundtrack and the sunny streets of LA and Cherry’s shiny red roller-skates help give this film almost a sense of whimsy even though Cherry has big choices ahead of her. 4/5.

REVIEW: Werewolves Within (2021)

After a snowstorm traps a group of eccentric townspeople in the local, secluded inn, new ranger Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) tries to keep everyone calm as he looks for the mysterious creature threatening the community

Werewolves Within is based on a videogame but it’s not a game I’ve played, or had even heard of before I heard about this film, so I can’t comment on how well it works as video game/movie adaptation though historically they’ve been kind of hit and miss (and mostly miss). Werewolves Within as film though, is definitely a hit.

Finn is the new guy to town and with postal worker Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) acting as his guide to the town and its people, he soon learns that everyone has their own quirks and there’s bubbling tension as developer Sam Parker (Wayne Duvall) wants to knock down homes and businesses to put down a gas pipeline and the town is divided between those who want to sell their homes to make it happen, and those who don’t. So naturally, when something appears to be stalking the town the people are quick to point fingers and tempers fray.

Werewolves Within is a horror/comedy but it mostly feels like a really fun whodunit! There are some scares, including some pretty funny ones, but it’s the mystery and the characters that made Werewolves Within really work for me. There’s a lot of interesting characters and the script is great as a lot of the time, things that are mentioned in passing at the beginning have an alternate meaning as the film progresses. It’s fun to try and figure things out alongside Finn as he’s the perfect person to take on this case as an outsider – however, being an outsider can also be to his detriment as these people have known each other for a lot longer.

Werewolves Within is just a lot of fun. It has a great script along with great performances – the whole cast are perfect for their roles but it’s Richardson who is a solid lead performance, grounding any and all of the absurdity that ensues – and with a 90-minute runtime, Werewolves Within is an entertaining horror/comedy/mystery hybrid. 4/5.

REVIEW: Jennifer’s Body (2009)

High school cheerleader Jennifer (Megan Fox) starts killing and eating her male classmates after she’s possessed by a hungry demon and her best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried) is the only one that can see something’s not right.

Jennifer’s Body is one of those films that seem to have gained cult status over the years and while it wasn’t particularly well received upon release, it’s now often used in feminist analysis and is deemed ahead of its time. For a film nearly 15 years old it hasn’t aged too badly and only has the odd inappropriate gay joke and the use of the word “retard” semi-frequently isn’t great.

Considering Needy and Jennifer’s friendship is at the core of this film, it never really feels truly fleshed out and believable. There’s the usual trope of the popular, pretty cheerleader having a best friend who is just pretty average and while there’s flashbacks to the two of them as little kids to try and show how and why they’ve been friends for so long it doesn’t feel like enough. You don’t get to see them as friends when they’re teens before everything goes weird for them both. Plus, the moments you do see, Jennifer is pushy and kind of mean towards Needy’s boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons), not making it that easy to like her or her friendship with Needy.

There are a few stylistic moments in Jennifer’s Body and one that really sticks out is when Needy is running through the woods in her prom dress to stop Jennifer. The imagery is perfectly gothic and is something that feels familiar in how often it’s used in horror films but it still works really well in the moment.

I have to say the music in Jennifer’s Body is great. As the film progresses the music and choice of bands and songs – both real and fictional – add to the tone of the film and makes it feel of its time in a good way.

I think Jennifer’s Body is never quite as funny or as scary as it tries to be so it’s not a truly excellent horror-comedy. Needy is a pretty good hero and the bookends of the film surprised me, giving me the answer to “what happens after the horror madness stops” that I often wonder about when I do watch a horror movie. I liked that aspect a lot. Overall, I’m pleased I’ve finally watched Jennifer’s Body and I can see why it’s so loved by certain audiences but there wasn’t enough in it to make it a personal favourite. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Middle Ages (2022)

Life under lockdown for a well-to-do yet dysfunctional Argentinian family leads to the parents struggling to maintain their creativity while their eight-year-old daughter Cleo (Cleo Moguillansky) plans to sell household items in order to buy herself a telescope.

Pandemic-set films can be hit or miss and while covid is certainly still a thing, there’s at least some distance now from when the outbreak began and all the fear, confusion, and uncertainty was almost all consuming. The fact that The Middle Ages semi-autobiographical makes the depictions of lockdowns and a family in close confinement a bit more relatable and less

The Middle Ages is written and directed by Alejo Moguillansky and Luciana Acuña who play versions of themselves, as does their daughter Cleo. It’s an interesting premise and as Alejo attempts to direct a Samuel Beckett play over Zoom and Luciana tries to teach online dance classes one has to wonder if this was what lockdown was really like for this family. The chaos of multiple family members being on Zoom calls, either trying to work or in Cleo’s case trying to get through her school lessons is relatable and it is a realistic dynamic as these three people begin to feel suffocated by each other’s presence.

Personally, I preferred the first half of The Middle Ages as it was a humorous take on life in lockdown as family members got annoyed with one another, or they struggled to earn money or keep their sanity as their usual jobs could no longer be done due to everything shutting down. The little moments of humanity and relatability were often the funniest.

When things got a bit surreal in the second half of the film, that’s when it lost me a bit. For instance, there’s a sequence of Clara shooting her mother with a toy gun and her mother than getting blood stains on her shirt as she dramatically flails around the house, is this in either of their imaginations? Are they play acting? What is going on?

The Middle Ages has an interesting concept and a strong start but as things take on an almost dreamlike quality in their home, the characters become less interesting and the film loses what relatable charm it had. 2/5.

REVIEW: Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)

Directed by Wes Craven, Caribbean vampire Maximillian (Eddie Murphy) arrives in Brooklyn looking for a specific woman who is the key to his survival – a half-human, half-vampire. NYPD detective Rita Veder (Angela Bassett) is that woman and she and her partner Detective Justice (Allen Payne) are investigating the many killings that have suddenly started in Brooklyn.

Tonally, Vampire in Brooklyn is all over the place. It’s billed as a horror comedy but it’s also pretty heavy on the gothic and the romance once Maximillian and Rita start circling one another. The jokes don’t always land though Silas Green (John Witherspoon) and his nephew Julius (Kadeem Hardison) were the ones who could consistently get a smile out of me. Personally, was a big fan of how Witherspoon said the word “wolf”. Considering Eddie Murphy is the star of Vampire in Brooklyn and played a couple of characters in this (the hair and makeup work for one in particular was excellent) it’s a shame I didn’t find his performance particularly amusing.

Angela Bassett though was brilliant as always – and stunningly beautiful too. Rita has nightmares she doesn’t understand, and sees things she can’t explain, but she’s also headstrong and capable. Her relationship with Justice is great as the chemistry is there and there’s a real will-they-won’t-they vibe to it all, especially when Maximillian arrives and starts messing with both of them.

The aesthetics of Vampire in Brooklyn was also pretty great. Some of the makeup work on Julius as he slowly starts to decompose is suitably disgusting, and the scenes where Maximillian is trying to enchant Rita with how the camera spins around them adds to the drama of it all.

Really Vampire in Brooklyn isn’t the worst Eddie Murphy film but it isn’t the best. It tries to bring his style of humour into a Wes Craven horror movie and they don’t really mesh that well. It’s never very funny or very scary but with its 90-minute runtime, it’s a film that’s never grating and it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. 2/5.

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.