comedy

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.

REVIEW: The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021)

In the 1970s and ‘80s, Tammy Faye Bakker (Jessica Chastain) and her husband Jim (Andrew Garfield), rise from humble beginnings to create the world’s largest religious broadcasting network and theme park. However, financial improprieties, scheming rivals and a scandal soon threaten to topple their carefully constructed empire.

Personally, I had never heard of evangelicals Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker before hearing about this film. It is about people and events that were before my time and I’m pretty sure we didn’t have any kind of religious broadcasting channels here in the UK – personally my family didn’t get Sky and therefore more than the standard four channels until I was about fourteen and that was in the mid-2000s. But I like Jessica Chastain a lot and got the chance to see The Eyes of Tammy Faye at a local film festival months before it’s released in the UK so thought why not.

I’m very glad I gave this film ago. It is a bit unsure at times whether it wants to be a standard biopic or lean into the over-the-top almost satire of these people’s situation but Chastain’s performance guides you through any shaky moments. It also works best when it leans into the absurdity.

The costumes are stunning and are so very ‘80s and it’s hard not to get swept up in the glamour of it all. The religious songs Chastain sings are also super catchy as well and the whole package that Tammy Faye presents to their audience is bold and energetic. How this then contrasts to her at home, when she feels neglected by her husband makes events even more affecting.

Truly Chastain is fantastic in The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Often, she’s unrecognisable thanks to the hair, makeup and prosthetic work she has going on but equally her performance is stunning too. Over the course of the film, she goes from being bubbly and full of life to disconnected and close to depressed as all her hopes and dreams come crashing down around her. She plays all the aspects of Tammy’s personality so well and it’s kind of sad sometimes because Tammy appears to be a woman who loves people, loves God, and to her detriment, loves her husband. She is full of love and is far more accepting than any other evangelical preacher seen in The Eyes of Tammy Faye – Vincent D’Onofrio plays Pastor Jerry Falwell who is the most pious of the religious figures that surround her.

While Chastain and Garfield are both great, Cherry Jones who plays Tammy’s mother Rachel steals just about every scene she’s in. Her scathing line delivery is hilarious and her presence is felt even when she’s not on screen. She’s the one person Tammy wants to impress and be proud of her, while Rachel is more suspicious of her daughter and son-in-law’s careers. Rachel is a religious woman but doesn’t see how people sending their money to the network is something God would condone.

Honestly Andrew Garfield is great as the weaselly Jim Bakker. He can be both cruel and charismatic and as the viewer you can see the things that Tammy is oblivious to and how while she did things with often the best intentions, he did them to further his life. Like honestly, the man was awful and both Garfield and Chastain did such good jobs in their roles that I was mad at him for hurting her – even though if she’d been a little more present in the running of the network, she wouldn’t have been so blindsided by her husband’s lies.

Speaking of Garfield, at the beginning in the 1960s when Jim and Tammy meet at college there is some weirdness going on with Andrew Garfield’s face. I’m not sure if it is the de-aging CGI that we’re often seeing in films nowadays, the makeup or a combination of the two but I’ve never seen a man with such a smooth face. He looked like a Ken doll in those scenes. Once the narrative had moved on so he was playing a Jim that was closer to his age (Garfield is 38) this stopped and he looked a lot more normal.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a funny and at times almost surreal biopic. The performances are all fantastic and it’s hard not to feel sympathy for Tammy Faye as it really does seem like she was an enthusiastic and caring woman. But, due to her trusting nature and her faith she was easily led and betrayed. 4/5.

REVIEW: Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)

After getting high together, best friends Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) embark on an epic quest to satisfy their desire for White Castle burgers.

I always thought that the Harold & Kumar films wouldn’t be for me as that kind of stoner American humour has never been my kind of thing. But I’ve been listening to You Can’t Be Serious, Kal Penn’s memoir, and the way he talks about these films, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle especially, made me want to check them out. Sure, I had Penn’s love for them and his fun anecdotes about filming in mind when pressing play but he was right; Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is something special and he has every right to be proud of it.

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is very funny. There are the stupid jokes that you can see coming from miles away but they still mostly land thanks to the two leads, but there are also jokes that play with racial stereotypes in a really fun and clever way. Even though Penn had talked about how much he liked the script and how it wasn’t anything he’d experienced before as an Asian American actor, I still wasn’t expecting the racial politics of a stoner comedy to be so perceptive and for it to still, for the most part, hold up seventeen years later.

With a tight 90-minute runtime, the jokes and the escapades never stop coming. Honestly, it’s impressive how there is never a dull moment. Things just keep happening to Harold and Kumar that stops them from getting to White Castle, instead they get a flat tyre or get carjacked or end up in hospital. Anything that could go wrong for them does and it manages to be funny and unrepetitive.

The chemistry between Cho and Penn is what helps elevate what could’ve been a generic stoner movie. The two of them bounce off one another perfectly, feel like real friends and the juxtaposition between straightlaced officer worker Harold and slacker Kumar works because it never goes too far in either direction. They both are funny and neither are vilified for caring about work or not caring about work.

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle really was an unexpected delight. It’s laugh out loud funny and even when a joke doesn’t land or is too cringey for today’s standards, something else soon happens to make you forget any misfires. 4/5.

REVIEW: Little Monsters (2019)

When washed-up musician Dave (Alexander England) volunteers to accompany his nephew Felix’s (Diesel La Torraca) kindergarten class on a school trip, he doesn’t expect to have to team up with the teacher Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o) and kids TV presenter Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad) to protect the children from zombies.

Going into this film all I knew of it was that Lupita Nyong’o goes up against zombies, so the fact this film starts with a couple continuously arguing in public whether it’s in a supermarket or at a restaurant with friends did make me wonder how it got to the hook I knew of. One half of that arguing couple is Dave and while the third act does try and redeem him and make him a less selfish character it’s almost too late as he’s such an insufferable, self-obsessed guy for the majority of the film that it’s difficult to actually care about him. His relationship with his nephew does work (even though he’s definitely not a responsible adult or decent role model a lot of the time) though that’s mostly down to how sweet the young actor playing Felix is.

In fact, all the young actors are great and it’s the juxtaposition of their cuteness and innocence with the bloody zombies that makes Little Monsters work. Once the story brings Dave and Miss Caroline together, and in fact gives her a more prominent role, the film works a lot better for me. Nyong’o is fantastic as the teacher who will do anything in her power to protect her children and to make sure they aren’t scared.

Little Monsters is a horror comedy and while personally the comedy side of things wasn’t particularly laugh out loud funny, the way Miss Caroline protects the children by pretending everything is a game is sweet and amusing. Her interactions with Teddy McGiggle are a highlight as you get to see the soft, kind teacher become no nonsense and firm in a whole different way. In fact, having Gad playing against type works pretty well here as this is a children’s TV presenter who does not like children and does not do well in a crisis.

If you’re looking for a more light-hearted horror film then Little Monsters might work for you. The zombies look suitably bloody and gruesome and but having the focus being on a kindergarten class almost adds an air of safety to proceedings – because would they really allow zombies to maul some adorable little kids? 3/5.

REVIEW: The Suicide Squad (2021)

Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) sends the latest criminal recruits to Task Force X including Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Bloodsport (Idris Elba), and Peacemaker (John Cena) to the enemy-infused island of Corto Maltese to complete a mission that no one must know about.

The Suicide Squad is the sort of sequel/reboot of 2016’s Suicide Squad. There are a few characters from the last film in this one, namely Harley Quinn, Amanda Waller, Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), but you really don’t need to have seen the previous film in order to watch this one, as while they both have the general premise of a bunch of deadly convicts/supervillains getting sent on a secret mission that’s likely to get a lot of them killed it’s a whole new story.

From the outset it’s clear that the violence in The Suicide Squad is going to be very bloody and gratuitous. The violence is often used to humorous effect but depending on your sense of humour it’ll either get old very quickly or will work for you. The Suicide Squad is a very sweary comedy however personally the jokes didn’t often land, and those that did might’ve elicited a smile rather than a full on laugh out loud moment. The humour is vulgar and weird and sometimes juvenile. It’s also often full of in-jokes and references so if the likes of Deadpool don’t work for you, The Suicide Squad might not either.

The action sequences are often entertaining, especially the one-on-one fights. Harley Quinn rescuing herself is a real highlight and Bloodsport and Peacemaker one-upping each other with kills and quips shows off both Elba’s and Cena’s comedic timing.

What The Suicide Squad does better than its predecessor is making you care about a good proportion of these characters, especially the ones we’ve never seen before, and make you believe that these antisocial characters can actually care about one another in their own ways. A big element of Suicide Squad was when a character suddenly said this “team” was his family – something there had never been any sign of before he actually said it. In The Suicide Squad while it’s hard to say these characters are a family, there are the beginnings of bonds of friendship between certain characters thanks to the dialogue and chemistry between certain actors.

Daniela Melchoir as Ratcatcher 2 is brilliant and she and her pet rat Sebastian almost stole the whole film. They are the softer core of this film and her dynamics with both Bloodsport and Rick Flag are great to watch. Naturally with such a sprawling cast some characters don’t stay around for very long and through them you see just how deadly their mission is. On the flipside of that though, with so many characters with no real introduction as to who they are or even what their skills are, when they do die it’s sometimes hard to care.

The Suicide Squad certainly starts with a bang but that intensity and surprises doesn’t quite last the full runtime. The comedic bits can become grating and while most of the action sequences are entertaining, there’s not enough narrative focus to The Suicide Squad to make it truly memorable and the final showdown just feels rather absurd. Director and writer James Gunn’s signature style of needle drops, witty one-liners and some interesting visuals are all over this film but that does make The Suicide Squad feel like it’s more style over substance. 3/5.

REVIEW: Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (2021)

Bodyguard Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is trying to put his life together when Sonia Kincaid (Salma Hayek) arrives guns blazing, saying her husband hitman Darius (Samuel L. Jackson) has been kidnapped by the Mafia and she needs Michael’s help to get him back. Naturally, chaos ensues.

I very much enjoyed The Hitman’s Bodyguard so I was looking forward to the sequel. Unfortunately, it doesn’t reach the heights of its predecessor. They’re both loud and brash and stupid but the sequel just isn’t as funny (maybe it was the unexpectedness of the first one that worked more) and it mistakes over use of vulgarity for humour and that gets old quickly.

Let’s talk about the trio of leads. Ryan Reynolds’ Michael Bryce is that quintessential Ryan Reynolds character and boy does he get beat up in this movie. While it is an action comedy and violence/injury is often used for laughs, it gets to a point where this man should not be able to stand let alone run, fight and shoot bad guys. Samuel L. Jackson’s Kincaid is the act-first-think-later kind of guy and while he is impulsive and violent it turns out, he’s nothing compared to his wife. Salma Hayek gets a lot more to do as unhinged con artist Sonia. Practically every other word out of Sonia’s mouth is an insult or a swear word and while how she clashes with Michael is amusing to begin with, it soon becomes repetitive and almost grating. She is far more of a loose cannon than her husband though and the dynamic between them and Michael is one of the things going for this film.

Antonio Banderas plays the big bad villain and the gaudy costumes and makeup he has makes him appear like a knock-off Bond villain. That’s not entirely an insult as he makes it work for the most part and it suits the unrealistic nature of Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard. Frank Grillo is also in this and as someone who likes Frank Grillo it’s always nice to see him pop up in films but his character is pretty nothingy and anyone could’ve been in that role and it wouldn’t have changed anything.

Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard just doesn’t know when to let moments rest. While it is an action/comedy there are a few dramatic moments that could’ve been affecting if they’d left the comedy alone for a moment to let the scene and actor’s performances breathe. Also, the editing in the vast majority of the action sequences is incredibly quick and it can be hard to follow what’s going on, especially in car chase sequences.

Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard has mindless action and violence and the comedy just doesn’t land – I think I smiled a couple of times and maybe chuckled once. A lot of the attempts at humour is derived from the same things, Ryan Reynold’s being long-suffering, Salma Hayek being crude and unpredictable, and Samuel L. Jackson being violent, it gets predictable and boring fairly quickly. 2/5.

Possibly a lot of the same criticisms can be levelled at the first film, but for some reason that one worked for me, and even held up upon rewatch. If anything, I think that I’d like Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard even less a second time around.

REVIEW: Deadpool 2 (2018)

My original Deadpool 2 review from when it was first released.

Wade Wilson aka Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) puts together a superhero team to protect mutant kid Russell (Julian Dennison) from time travelling cyborg Cable (Josh Brolin) who is out for vengeance.

Considering how the first Deadpool film really didn’t work for me on rewatch, I was a bit apprehensive going into the sequel, but I was pleased to find that Deadpool 2 actually held up! Think this was mainly down to the new characters who were mostly played straight to Deadpool’s off the wall comedy and references. There are still a lot of references (some of the X-Men ones are especially good), crude humour and jokes but more consistently land this time. Plus it does help that they try and give Wade some more serious and emotional development for Reynolds to sink his teeth into, so Deadpool isn’t just a joke machine.

Director David Leitch (of John Wick fame) really ups the game with the action in Deadpool 2. It’s clear from his stunt background that Leitch knows how to film fights that are innovative and well shot, as well as how to show character through their fighting styles. It’s like everyone involved with Deadpool 2 just fully embraces the silliness of the film and its characters, which makes both fights and character beats just work so much better.

Most of Deadpool’s superhero team aren’t around long to make much of an impression but the sequence they are in is so unexpected and hilarious that it’s not really a shame they’re not in it much. Domino (Zazie Beetz) is the one member of Deadpool’s team that sticks around and she’s fantastic. Her superpower is being lucky and how that’s show on screen is very cinematic (no matter what Deadpool might say) and it’s just fun!

Josh Brolin as Cable is pretty brilliant too. The prosthetics and special effects work on his cyborg body and how that’s integrated with his human one looks impressive anyway and with that and the costuming, Cable is an intimidating presence. He’s almost unstoppable and how he and Deadpool work against one another (before naturally finding some common ground) is a great dynamic, with one being stoic and the other never shutting up.

That’s not to say Deadpool 2 doesn’t have its flaws. Julian Dennison’s performance as Russell doesn’t always work, it’s hard to take his anger seriously at times and equally the quieter, emotional moments don’t always land either. Then there’s the treatment of Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), the love of Wade’s life, it feels cheap and so cliché and while Wade often comments on narrative stereotypes, this one is treated so seriously. It’s there to just add emotional weight to Wade’s character and it’s a disservice to Vanessa as her own character.

Deadpool 2 is funny, action-packed and just good fun. The new characters work well with ones we’ve previously met – Karan Soni’s psycho killer Dopinder is an unexpected highlight – and while the first Deadpool movie worked for having a simple plot, Deadpool 2 flourishes for having more action, more characters and more emotional moments – though some don’t always hit the mark, at least the attempt was made. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Moldova: The Good Life Elsewhere by Vladimir Lorchenkov

Translated by Ross Ufberg. Narrated by Daniel Thomas May.

Trigger warnings for rape, child trafficking and suicide.

Set in the early 2000s, a group of villagers in Moldova dream of a new life in Italy. They live an impoverished life in Moldova and through any methods they can think of they try to get to Italy where they’ve been told you get paid thousands of euros for just washing dishes.

The Good Life Elsewhere is a strange and funny story. The ways these people attempt to get to Italy become more and more absurd. To begin with there’s the understandable and realistic attempt to cross by paying smugglers who promise to get them across the Italian border and con them out of €4,000 each as it’s revealed that they never left Moldova. From there the attempts get more outrageous and include building both an aeroplane and a submarine out of a tractor.

I think listening to the audiobook helped me take in and understand this story. The narrator does a good job at distinguishing the many characters voices and I think the humour of the various situations came across a lot better than if I was just reading it. Hearing someone tell a funny story is often more entertaining than reading the funny story yourself.

The Good Life Elsewhere follows multiple characters including a man who has been obsessed with Italy since he was a child and has spent years learning the language and a priest who accidentally starts a couple of crusades leading hundreds of people to Italy on foot. There’s also a number of politicians who seem the most realistic out of them all aka could be from a Moldovan version of The Thick of It.

You can almost get emotional whiplash from The Good Life Elsewhere. The antics these villagers get into to try and get to Italy are often ridiculous and amusing but, as the trigger warnings suggest, there’s also a dark underbelly to it all. People who lose everything in their quest to get to Italy take their own lives, and when a woman is repeatedly raped over the course of years, it’s almost like a footnote and there isn’t time to linger on it before the next strange event is discussed. Besides the triggering content, often just after an amusing escapade or attempt to conduct a plan to get to Italy, something suddenly happens that turns to comedic into a tragedy.

The Good Life Elsewhere is an interesting story to consider in terms of European politics and the extreme lengths people will go to, to try and get somewhere they believe will give them a better life. The “fear” of immigrants Italy and Romania seem to have, the way Moldovans have to pay bribes to the police or other officials in order to keep travelling, how people are detained for no reason and have no idea if or when they can continue. It’s all very sad. Moldova joined the EU in 2016, as The Good Life Elsewhere is set in the early 2000s there’s often discussions of the EU, Moldova potentially joining it and what that could mean for the people. Especially as Moldova was once a part of the Soviet Union so there is the stark contrast between what was once a pro-Soviet country and how they almost idealise the West – in this case Italy. It really is weird but interesting how Italy becomes the almost promised land to these people, and how a whole village becomes enamoured with it.

The Good Life Elsewhere is equal parts tragedy and comedy. It’s satirical and odd and often unbelievable, but even today thousands of people travel from their homeland, risking death in the hope of where they end up might provide a better life for them and their loved ones, so it’s not totally unbelievable. It just pushes everything to the extreme.