comedy

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.

REVIEW: The Night Before (2015)

Every year for the past fourteen years best friends Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have gone out in New York City together on Christmas Eve. But now they’re getting older and are getting more responsibilities, this year the Christmas tradition is coming to an end and to end on a high they’re finally going to attend the Holy Grail of Christmas parties – the Nutcracka Ball.

The Night Before is very funny. It’s kind of a stoner comedy in the sense that the three friends spend a good chunk of time searching for weed but it is only Seth Rogen’s character that gets high on just about every type of drug imaginable. Cue silly antics as he starts panicking about being a father, loses his phone and is generally not able to function. There are some great cameos in The Night Before, some of them are truly unexpected yet brilliant, and the supporting cast is a lot of fun too with Mindy Kaling being a highlight. Then there’s Michael Shannon who plays Mr. Green the intense yet strangely wise drug dealer. His scenes are some of the funniest while also being oddly Christmassy as he often makes one of the trio of leads think about their lives and what’s important to them. He’s kind of like a stoned version of Clarence from It’s a Wonderful Life, and amazingly it works and adds to the Christmas feels that are there beneath the cursing and dick jokes.

In amongst all the drugs and swearing, the main theme of The Night Before is surprisingly sweet and heartfelt. Gordon-Levitt, Rogen and Mackie all have great chemistry and they really feel like lifelong friends. They are each at different stages of their lives, Isaac is about to be a father, Chris is a famous football player, while Ethan is feeling a bit lost as he’s no longer with his girlfriend and his career isn’t going anywhere. At its heart this film is about the trio of best friends and how friendships evolve as people grow up but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be friends and grow up together.

The Night Before is funny and often silly and ridiculous, but with the three leads having such great chemistry and New York City feeling so Christmassy, it unexpectedly feels like a true Christmas movie in the sense anything can happen, and it’ll be in the spirit of Christmas. 4/5.

REVIEW: Charlie’s Angels (2019)

When systems engineer Elena (Naomi Scott) blows the whistle on her employer misusing a dangerous technology, Charlie’s Angels Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska) are called into action to save Elena and to stop the technology from getting into the wrong hands.

It seems that Charlie’s Angels has been predominately slated before it was even released here in the UK and, after seeing it, it definitely doesn’t deserve all the hate. That being said, while Charlie’s Angels is more entertaining than you might’ve heard, it’s not without its problems.

For almost every fast-paced and exciting action sequence, there’s one that is just a little dull. The same can be said for the comedy, some one-liners really work, while others really don’t. But, it’s the cast, who all look like they’re having a lot of fun, that make this film.

Kristen Stewart gets the chance to show off her comedic chops and steals just about every scene she’s in as the sarcastic and motormouth Sabina. Naomi Scott does well as the fish out of water Elena while still almost seamlessly finding a place amongst the super spies, while Ella Balinska gives a star-making turn as the serious Jane. All three of them have their “hero moments” and they are all really satisfying.

The supporting cast are all good too. The title of Bosley is now what all the Angels’ handlers are known as and Djimon Hounsou, Patrick Stewart and Elizabeth Banks all put their own spin on what a mentor-type character should be like. Sam Claflin plays Elena’s power-hungry boss and while he’s no in the film a lot, his scenes when he’s scared for his life are hilarious thanks to the expressions on his face.

The third and final act of Charlie’s Angels is when the film really comes into its own. Once the trio of heroines are more of a cohesive unit and all the motives and bad guys have been revealed, that’s when everything comes together. This is when you truly see what a Charlie’s Angels film with these three characters could be like and it’s so fun and entertaining that you wish the film had found its groove sooner. Seeing Elena, Sabina and Jane be proper action/spy heroines makes me hope that this film somehow gets a sequel because now this trio is a solid team, I want to see them save the world again.

Charlie’s Angels is fun. The humour doesn’t always land but the charm of the three leads pulls it through. The final thing I have to quickly mention is the costuming in Charlie’s Angels as it is brilliant. It’s so nice to see female characters in outfits that are practical but look good and show off each character’s personality. 3/5.

REVIEW: Let It Snow (2019)

When a snowstorm hits a small town on Christmas Eve, a group of high school seniors finds their friendships and love lives unexpectedly colliding.

Let It Snow is Netflix’s latest foray into YA book adaptations. The book with the same name was written by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle and was three interconnected stories about teenagers finding romance in the snow. I can’t comment on how it was as an adaptation as I haven’t read the source material, but as a film it was really good.

The young cast are so great in their roles that it’s very easy to be charmed by them and quickly get invested in their relationships. There’s Julie (Isabela Moner) who accidentally runs into pop star Stuart (Shameik Moore), there’s Tobin (Mitchell Hope) who finally plucks up the courage to tell his best friend Angie (Kiernan Shipka) how he feels about her when JP (Matthew Noszka) comes into their lives, and Dorrie (Liv Hewson) is not only head over heels for a cheerleader but she’s also getting frustrated with her best friend Addie (Odeya Rush) who doesn’t see how great she is. There are even more characters than that and different relationships and friendships but those are the main ones that run through the film.

The relationship between Julie and Stuart could’ve felt very instalove but thanks to Moner and Moore’s great chemistry it doesn’t, and you find yourself rooting for these two very different people meet and form an unlikely connection.

While Let It Snow does follow a lot of the usual romance or teen movie tropes, it does have a different take on a couple. JP, for instance, is supposed to be the guy you hate as he’s getting in the way of a potential romance between Tobin and Angie, but because he’s such a nice guy (but not a Nice Guy™) you don’t, and neither does Tobin. It’s also lovely to see the friendship between two teenage girls getting such prominence and the two of them trying to help one another even when the truth hurts.

The film does a good job at juggling all the storylines and interweaving them and the characters in a way that feels natural. One storyline never feels like it’s getting more attention than another and having the film take place over one day is great as it’s like peaking through a window into these characters lives.

Let It Snow is just so sweet and fluffy! It’s the right balance of funny and sad, and with its snowy setting, which does look like a picture-postcard, Let It Snow feels like a warm Christmassy hug – which is exactly what you want from a Christmas movie. 4/5.