comedy

Z is for Zookeeper (2011)

Kind-hearted zookeeper Griffin (Kevin James) is a much loved by his co-workers and the animals in his care. However, Griffin is unlucky in love so when he reconnects with ex-girlfriend Stephanie (Leslie Bibb), the animals in the zoo decide to break their code of silence in order to help him win her back.

Zookeeper is not good, and it also struggles to figure out what it is. The scenario of animals taking and helping out a zookeeper makes it targeted towards younger audiences. However, the humour is full of inuendo that children won’t understand or find it funny, and the adults who might find it funny, are unlikely to be watching this film in the first place.

The special effects for the animals aren’t terrible, however the choice of voice actors might well be. I’m not saying you expect a certain voice to come from a bear or a giraffe, but a lot of the voice cast didn’t suit the animal or give a good performance. So many of the animals sounded grumpy or were mean. They weren’t exactly friendly and if they’d been human with those attitudes, I doubt Griffin or anyone else would’ve been friends with them.

Kevin James gives a perfectly bland performance as nice guy Griffin. He has no chemistry with Bibb, or Rosario Dawson who plays a vet at the zoo, so one has to wonder how he is cast as a romantic comedy type lead. He is good at falling over and crashing into things though. So, there’s that.

I doubt anyone would consider this a spoiler, or care if it was, but I have to mention what happens during the end credits. All of the animals sing Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” and it’s one of the weirdest things I’ve seen and one of the worst things I’ve heard. Especially when Sylvester Stallone tries to harmonise with Cher. Yep, that is something that happens. No offence to Cher, she’s amazing, Stallone on the other hand, is not.

Zookeeper is unfunny, predictable, and somewhat unsuitable for the kids it’s aimed for. Just don’t waste your time. 1/5.

Y is for You Again (2010)

When Marni (Kristen Bell) realises her brother Will (James Wolk) is about to marry, Joanna (Odette Annable) the girl who bullied her in high school, she sets out to expose his fiancée’s true colours.

There are so many things that do not work in You Again but perhaps the main thing is that there’s more chemistry between Bell and Wolk who are playing siblings, than Wolk and Annable who he’s engaged to. From the opening scenes where you learn how terrible Marni’s high school life was, her brother Will is always there to jump to her defence and while sibling relationships like that are great, as the film goes on the dynamic between them feels far closer than two siblings should be. And as Marni’s vendetta against Joanna grows, it often feels like no one would be good enough for her brother, not just the fact that Joanna bullied her in school. It could well be Kristen Bell’s fault for being adorable and being able to bounce off just about anyone.

There’s some brilliant female talent in You Again but due to a poor script (people who are a part of the same family talk to each other like their just acquaintances a lot of the time) and a generic plot, they don’t really get to show off their comedic talents that well. Jamie Lee Curtis plays Marni and Will’s mother while Sigourney Weaver plays Joanna’s aunt. Turns out that they were friends in high school that drifted apart for some unknown reason, so there are two generations of feuding women here. Betty White is in it too and she has some of the funniest moments, and while Kristen Bell is charming she is not great here.

The central themes of this film are not handled well. The messages that everyone can change, people can deserve second chances, high school shouldn’t define the rest of your life – they’re all great but are bigger and more sensitive themes than this not that funny comedy can handle. The conflict between Weaver and Curtis’s characters was more interesting and neutral. This is because for a long time you don’t know why they fell out, and neither does Jamie Lee Curtis’s character, and when everything comes to ahead you can see both sides and no one was the out and out villain. Unlike the situation between Marni and Joanna where Marni suffered a lot at the hands of Joanna and her friends, and there’s no way anyone who was bullied would want the bully to be a part of their family.

I’m potentially going too deep in what’s supposed to be a fun comedy, and comedies can have serious messages or stories in them, but You Again just doesn’t do enough to make you feel sympathy for Joanna or forgive her.

You Again has a few funny moments, Curtis and Weaver’s characters and history are interesting, but on the whole You Again is just a mindless watch with nothing that memorable about it. 2/5.

P is for Playing It Cool (2014)

A screenwriter who doesn’t believe in love (Chris Evans) is tasked with writing a rom-com. As he struggles to put metaphorical pen to paper, he meets a woman (Michelle Monaghan) who he starts to have feelings for. It’s a pity she has a boyfriend but taking on the advice (both good and bad) from his eclectic group of writer friends, he tries to sort out his head and win her heart.

The two romantic leads in Playing It Cool are never actually give names so I’ll be referring to them by the actors’ surname to get through this review.

Playing It Cool is a rom com that likes to think it’s an anti-rom com but by the end it embraces a lot of the tropes, but it feels as if it is forced to do it rather than embracing it tongue and cheek. In some ways it reminded me of Isn’t It Romantic which poked fun at the tropes of rom coms, however unlike Isn’t It Romantic, Playing It Cool is often outright mean and treat the tropes and romance in general as something to be scorned. This comes from being told from Evans’ perspective and he’s jaded and shut off from romantic relationships. His actions come across quite bitter and having a lead that’s so self-centred doesn’t really make you root for him.

His best friend Scott (Topher Grace) loves romance. He’s an old fashioned romantic, a much nicer person and someone who is much more engaging on their quest for love. In fact, the glimpses we get of Evans’ writer friends make them seem all the more real and relatable than the main character.

Evans and Monaghan do have chemistry and it’s easy to be caught up in that when they’re on screen together. However, both of their characters are not good people and are frustrating to watch. He chases her when he knows she has a boyfriend; she is happy to cheat on her boyfriend and they both lie. It’s not really the basis of a healthy relationship.

By the end there’s the big rush to declare your feelings sequence, with a feel-good song and an attempt at a big romantic gesture but it feels conceited. There’s a 99% chance these two people will not live happily ever after, so the ending doesn’t feel like the triumph for love it’s framed as. While only being six years old, Playing It Cool is a rom com that feels far older with its attitude that men and women can’t just be friends, and some jokes that really fall flat due to their inappropriateness. 1/5.

H is for House of D (2004)

Tom Warshaw (David Duchovny), an American artist living in Paris, looks back on when he was a teenager and the friends he had and begins to discover who he really is.

The vast majority of House of D is set in New York in 1973, and follows Tom as a teenager, played by Anton Yelchin, and his friendship with Pappass (Robin Williams), a mentally handicapped man who is often called a retard, his relationship with his mother (Téa Leoni) who relies of pills and is paranoid about keeping her son safe, and the quasi-friendship he was with an unseen woman (Erykah Badu) who is locked up in the Women’s House of Detention.

There is a lot going on in House of D in terms of themes and plot lines and the various relationships Tom has – there’s also the start of a romance with a girl at his school. Just one of these aspects could’ve made a decent film if it was the primary focus, but having to juggle so many different things means none of them are ever truly developed.

Based on the plot summary and even the trailer, you are left expecting more than what the film gives you. There’s a lot of set up for what could be a big, emotional and dramatic payoff but it ends up being more of a whimper. There’s no real satisfying conclusion to Tom airing his secrets and trying to atone for past mistakes as the payoff isn’t as emotionally satisfying as the lead up promised.

Really the thing that makes you most emotional watching House of D isn’t the story, but the fact you’re watching Anton Yelchin and Robin Williams together on screen and after both of their untimely deaths. While the story leaves a lot to be desired, their performances don’t – especially Yelchin. Even in a film that’s not that great you’re reminded of what an incredibly young talent he was as you see him hold his own against the likes of Williams and Leoni.

The tone of House of D is a weird one. It’s a story that is often very depressing, but it also has scenarios where you’re not sure if you’re supposed to be laughing or not. A lot of this comes from Williams’ Pappass. Thanks to Williams’ comic timing and visual comedy, he is funny, but because his character is mentally disabled, there’s that conflict of are you supposed to be laughing with him or at him.

House of D is a sad drama and it’s one that isn’t particularly memorable. It’s messy and somewhat insulting and insensitive at times, and really Anton Yelchin is the standout and only diehard fans of him should seek out House of D. 2/5.

G is for Good Bye Lenin! (2003)

When his mother Christiane (Katrin Saß) wakes from an eighth month coma, Alex (Daniel Brühl) does everything he can to keep her from learning that her beloved nation of East Germany as she knew it has disappeared, because a sudden shock may kill her.

The premise of Good Bye Lenin! sounds farcical but it works. Alex’s mother falls into a coma before the Berlin Wall came down and the unification of Germany. Alex, his sister Ariane (Maria Simon} and the rest of the population of what was East Germany has had months to get used to the changes – the good and the bad. So, when their mother wakes up and Alex comes up with the scheme, their friends and neighbours get in on the act of keeping up the charade.

Being set in 1990, it’s interesting to see how such a change in society and politics can happen so quickly, and how people can get used to the new normal relatively easy too. It’s the little details like how Alex has to re-jar all the food that’s now from international producers into jars with labels that his mother would know.

Saß and Brühl have a believable mother/son relationship and Daniel Brühl gives a great performance (when doesn’t he?), especially when things start to get out of hand, and he struggles to hold everything together.

Good Bye Lenin! is a sweet and funny family drama. The humour of the situation works well, and the comedic moments never takes away from the more quieter, dramatic moments. It has a real sense of community as neighbours help Christiane live out the past. But really, it’s a film about the love a son has for his mother, and how he will tell the most elaborate lie to keep her safe. 3/5.

F is for Family Plot (1976)

When Blanche Tyler (Barbara Harris), a phoney psychic, and her taxi driver/private investigator boyfriend George Lumley (Bruce Dern) are trying to track down a missing heir, they cross paths with a pair of serial kidnappers.

Family Plot is the first Alfred Hitchcock film I watched (I’m a terrible film fan I know) and it turns out, it was his last film. I find some sort of symmetry in that.

Family Plot is a fun thriller that’s more comedic than I thought it’d be, considering the director and the preconception I had of him and his films. The humour is very wry and often dark as people are kidnapped, there’s attempted murder, and Balance and George are trying to con a wealthy old lady out of her money.

The duos of Harris and Dern, and Karen Black and William Devane who play the kidnappers, are great to watch. Each pair have a very different relationship, but they all bounce off one another well and they play interesting characters.

There are some really fun filming devices in Family Plot, like an overhead shot of a graveyard where George follows someone on parallel paths. It’s funny because as the viewer you can pick put both characters routes and you know they can’t avoid George, but their efforts to do so make it all the more entertaining.

I found the score, composed by John Williams, really interesting especially in the sense of how and when it was used. It made great use of silence and showed how it could increase the tension more than a big soundtrack could.

Family Plot is perhaps a little long and certain events could’ve been tighter, but it’s still an engaging film with an interesting mystery at its core. 3/5.

REVIEW: Troop Zero (2020)

In rural 1977 Georgia, misfit Christmas Flint (Mckenna Grace) dreams of life in outer space. When a competition offers her a chance to be recorded on NASA’s Golden Record, she recruits a makeshift troop of Birdie Scouts, forging friendships that last a lifetime.

Christmas isn’t exactly happy; her mother has recently died, and she doesn’t really have any friends besides her neighbour Joseph (Charlie Shotwell) and Miss Rayleen (Viola Davis) who works with her dad, but she is a remarkably positive child. She likes to stare at the stars and is obsessed with space, so when she hears that a troop of Birdie Scouts will be able to send their voices into space, she will do anything to get to the jamboree and win the competition. Anything turns out to be recruiting Miss Rayleen as her troop mama and finding the most unlikely kids to be in her troop.

The Birdie Scouts of Troop Zero are some of the oddest misfits you might ever meet, but they also feel so very real. They’re kids that continue to be who they are, even when other people may laugh at them and call them names. They are unlikely friends but seeing how they each slowly let their guard down and start to reach out to one another is the sweetest thing, even if there’s some bumps along the way.

Troop Zero follows almost every cliché in the book (bullies, the popular team brining up every rule in the book to get in the heroes way, the community coming together) but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an enjoyable film and just about the most wholesome thing I’ve seen in ages. It tackles themes of grief, friendship, family and finding you voice and standing up for yourself and those you care about. Plus, it does all this in a funny and charming way and has some great performances from the young cast.

Mckenna Grace really is one to watch and with the supporting cast of the likes of Allison Janney, who plays headteacher Miss Massey who is equal parts funny and mean, and Viola Davis who does what Viola Davis does best, the characters in Troop Zero truly come alive and you can’t help but root for these ragtag bunch of misfits who find somewhere they really do fit. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)

Set in the 1840s, David Copperfield (Dev Patel) attempts to navigate a chaotic world to find his place in it. From his unhappy childhood to his discovery of his gift for storytelling, he meets many eccentric people on his travels, and through them finds somewhere to belong.

Personally I’ve neither read the novel by Charles Dickens that The Personal History of David Copperfield is based on nor seen any of adaptations that have come before this one, so watching this film meant I was experiencing this classic story for the first time.

The Personal History of David Copperfield is directed and co-written by Armando Iannucci, a man best known for political satire and comedy like The Thick of It and The Death of Stalin. Having him then go make an adaptation of a classic story that’s over 150 years old was a bit of a surprise but it worked! The Personal History of David Copperfield is still very funny and it’s witty and clever like Iannucci’s previous endeavours but it’s also full of so much charm and heart that it’s just lovely.

The whole cast is brilliant, and what an ensemble it is. From Tilda Swinton as Aunt Betsey chasing donkeys, to Hugh Laurie as the good-natured but slightly odd Mr Dick, everyone is wonderful in their roles and there’s great chemistry between the all. They also wholeheartedly commit to the comedy, whether it’s a witty one-liner or clownish physical comedy, and while naturally it is a period piece their performances give this classic story a modern flair.

Dev Patel is the one who truly shines in the titular role. He has the perfect mixture of charm, bewilderment and earnestness for a lead character who is trying his best to fit in with whatever crowd he ends up in. The story of David Copperfield and the people he meets who have an impact on his life, shows the good in people; some may not be decent, but the majority will help those who need it. Having David start with nothing and strive for a better life, means he experiences all sorts of trials and tribulations, but he retains his kind heart.

The Personal History of David Copperfield flies by, so much so that some events and resolutions feel a bit glossed over, but it is still funny, wholesome and whimsical. It is truly a wonderful film and one that in the end feels like a warm hug due to the larger than life, but on the whole sincere, characters you meet along David Copperfield’s journey. 4/5.

REVIEW: Unlikely Angel (1996)

When performer Ruby Diamond (Dolly Parton) meets an untimely demise, she finds she hasn’t done enough to get straight into heaven. Saint Peter (Roddy McDowall) says she has one chance, she needs to reunite a workaholic widower father (Brian Kerwin) and his two children, rebellious teenager Sarah (Alison Mack) and quiet Matthew (Eli Marienthal) before midnight on Christmas Eve.

Everything about Unlikely Angel is cliché and easy to predict but that’s part of its charm. It’s sometimes nice to watch a film where you have a pretty good idea of what all the moments of conflict will be about, and you know everything will turn out alright in the end.

There are all the usual tropes, Sarah acts out wanting attention from her dad, while Matthew is scared his father is going to forget about his mum if they move on, and it’s up to Ruby to smooth things out. Then there’s the time limit element, as Ruby must reunite this feuding family and bring Christmas back to their lives before it’s too late for her.

The interactions between Peter and Ruby were equal parts sweet and amusing. They’re two very different characters but they bounce off each other well as either Ruby pesters Peter for advice, or Peter does something to stop her having “impure thoughts” about the men she might meet.

What I liked about Unlikely Angel was how Ruby grew as a person over the course of the film. She was always likeable (being played by Dolly Parton certainly helps with that) but she always looked out for number one before she died, but she grew to care so much about this family that she puts her potential future in Heaven on the line to see them happy.

There’s a couple of original songs written and sung by Dolly Parton in Unlikely Angel that will either make you get up and dance or profess your love to someone. “Unlikely Angel” (the song not the movie) is actually quite lovely and Dolly Parton’s voice is always beautiful.

Unlikely Angel is peak Christmas TV movie but with added Dolly Parton it means it isn’t quite as grating as it could be. 3/5.

REVIEW: Arthur Christmas (2011)

When a child is missed on Christmas Eve, Arthur (James McAvoy) the clumsy youngest son of Santa (Jim Broadbent), races against time to deliver her present with the help of elf Bryony (Ashley Jensen) and his grandfather (Bill Nighy), much to the dismay of his older brother Steve (Hugh Laurie) who runs a tight ship at Christmas and isn’t impressed with Arthur putting the whole operation at risk.

Arthur Christmas is a lot of fun and a great adventure. It pokes fun on how Christmas is so commercialised nowadays and it’s almost a military operation to get all the presents and organise everything when the shops are heaving with people. At the North Pole Santa is more of a figure head of Christmas, and instead it’s his son Steve, along with millions of elves, that run the show. The sequences of the elves dropping off presents in dozens of homes in seconds are entertaining and inventive and they contrast nicely with the picture of Santa and his helpers that we generally have. That kind of typical Christmas is what Grandsanta reminisces about, when he used a wooden sleigh and a dozen reindeer to deliver presents.

Arthur loves Christmas. He believes whole heartedly in what his father does, the magic of Christmas and that every child matters. He’s almost naïve in his enthusiastic optimism, especially next to Steve’s stoic pragmaticism, but it’s charming too as he wants everyone’s Christmas to be special.

The dialogue is hilarious, and the writing is so sharp that the family arguments feel real. While Mrs Santa (voiced by Imelda Staunton) doesn’t have as large a role, she’s a soothing presence over tense family dinners and a the most practical out of all her family members. There’s a lot of great sight gags too, many of them courtesy of the countless elves running around the place.

The animation is beautiful and impressive. From how the operations centre at the North Pole is shown off in all it’s glory with all the screens and high-tech gadgetry to then how Arthur, his family and the elves feel so warm and alive. The North Pole is all icy blues but the colourful Christmassy jumpers and clothes that Arthur and his family wears brighten up the place and makes it feel lived in.

Arthur Christmas isn’t just a funny film, it’s also one filled with heart and sentimentality without being too twee. It does such a good job at offering a new and imaginative take on how Santa could possibly deliver presents to every child around the world, while never losing the spirit of Christmas. Arthur Christmas is a proper old-fashioned family film that everyone, no matter their age or whether or not they believe in Santa, can enjoy. 5/5.