comedy

REVIEW: Unicorn Store (2017)

Kit (Brie Larson) is trying, and in her eyes failing, to be an adult. Her passion for art and glitter is almost snuffed out as she gets a temp job and feels her parents are constantly comparing her to more successful people her age. But then she receives a mysterious invitation to The Store, where she meets The Salesman (Samuel L. Jackson) who gives her the chance to fulfil her childhood dreams.

Brie Larson’s directorial debut is assured, colourful and magical. From the very first scene, the way characters faces are framed give you no choice but to experience with them what they’re feeling. The use of colour and glitter throughout is wonderful and Kit’s wardrobe is just the right blend of childish and mature.

Because that’s where Kit is stuck. She’s an artist with dreams of magic and colour but the “real world” doesn’t see the value in such things. She’s a twenty-something that’s now having her coming-of-age story as she goes through that dilemma a lot of young people have – should she try and be a “proper grown up” or should she still try and follow her dreams, even if they seem out there.

The script is funny and genuine and it’s due to both the script and Larson’s performance that Kit never becomes unlikeable. She’s strong-willed and sometimes selfish, but she also apologies when she has a temper-tantrum and is friendly and kind. Kit can come across very naïve, firstly because of the promises the Salesman makes are truly fantastical, but also due to her low self-esteem and the fact she’s never been in the workplace before she can’t figure out if her boss is harassing her or not. A simple yet brilliant moment was when Virgil (Mamoudou Athie), a hardware store worker who Kit pays to help her achieve her dream, states that what her boss is doing is wrong. Virgil and Kit’s friendship is so sweet, and their conflict comes from Kit being obsessed with the seemingly impossible, and not appreciating what she has in her family and friends.

Kit is a messy human who’s trying to figure out what she wants from life, and when life gets hard, she reverts to chasing the dreams of her childhood. But it’s seeing how she starts to understand who she is and what she wants that’s truly touching.

The basis of Unicorn Store’s story is weird but the themes it has, figuring out who you are, learning to love oneself and let yourself be loved, keeping the sense of wonder in the world, are universal. Unicorn Store is whimsical and heartfelt and just delightful. It’s a proper laugh-out-loud funny film but then it will also make you cry a lot too. It’s sweet and touching without ever being cringey and Larson really captures all the different sides of someone who is trying to figure themselves out and to be OK with who they are. 5/5.

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REVIEW: Shazam! (2019)

After being chosen by a wizard, foster kid Billy Batson (Asher Angel) becomes an adult with superpowers whenever he says the word Shazam.

Shazam! is so much fun! It fully embraces the concept of a child who can suddenly be an adult with powers, because it’s still 14-year-old Billy even when he looks like a grown up. This means there’s a lot of joyful wish fulfilment but naturally, as he’s still a kid, he can use his powers irresponsibly or selfishly. The balance of Billy learning and maturing, while still being a kid at heart is done very well.

Zachary Levi is brilliant as adult Billy/Shazam. He’s got this enthusiastic and youthful charm that works with comedic moments and is very much a believable kid. Billy’s foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) is the only person who knows about Billy’s powers and, because he loves superheroes so much, helps him figure out what his powers are. The way Freddy and Billy’s friendship grows is great and while it should look weird this kid hanging out with an adult in a cape, Levi’s performance makes you see past his appearance, so it seems like two friends the same age are hanging out.

The first half of Shazam! is mostly the antics Billy and Freddy get up to once they discover Billy’s powers, but when the action and fight sequences really kick in, they’re dynamic and well shot. Having a hero that’s not particularly heroic, at least to begin with, provides some very fun fights.

There are so many surprises to be found in Shazam! with the third act being something different to what you tend to see in these big superhero films and it’s all the better for it. There are lots of laugh out loud moments in Shazam! and cheer-worthy moments too, but there’s equally lots of sincere and heart-warming moments about family, friends and figuring out who you are and where you belong.

For being a film that’s very much geared towards kids and feels like a good, family-friendly film 95% of the time, there are some surprisingly dark moments. When bad guy Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) gets his powers and seeks revenge on those who hurt him, it gets quiet dark and violent and there’s a character death that’s shockingly grim.

Besides from those darker tonal shifts, on the whole Shazam! is fun film with a lot of heart. The entire cast are great, the characters are realistic and relatable, and it’s just funny and charming. It’s a superhero film that’s full of childlike wonder and it’s just a very entertaining film. 4/5.

REVIEW: Instant Family (2018)

Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie Wagner (Rose Byrne) find themselves in over their heads after they decide to foster tough teenager Lizzy (Isabela Moner) and her two younger siblings, anxious and accident-prone Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and volatile Lita (Julianna Gamiz).

Instant Family was an unexpected delight. It’s marketed as a straight up comedy, and while it still is very funny, it’s actually got a lot of heart to it as it portrays all the highs and lows of foster care. Pete and Ellie are reasonably well off, they have a thriving home renovation business and are content in their lives until a family member makes a comment about them never having kids. It gets them thinking and they sign up for a foster parent course where there’s the usual stereotypes like the gay couple and the deeply Christian couple, but there they all find a sense of support and belonging to get them through the complexities of fostering children who, in many cases, believe they aren’t worth anything.

Both Wahlberg’s and Byrne show off their comedic chops but they both handle the dramatic moments just as well. The young cast is great but it’s Isabela Moner that really shines as Lizzy. Lizzy’s someone who has practically raised her siblings herself so finds it difficult to both relinquish control to Pete and Ellie, and to trust them both. All three kids have had a tough life but being the oldest Lizzy has more of an understanding of what’s going on. Moner does a great job gradually showing Lizzy’s vulnerabilities as she learns to trust and open up to Pete and Ellie, but still never loses her independence or strength.

There are the usual family hijinks of temper tantrums over food, inappropriate boyfriends, and screaming arguments over toys, but when there’s the more serious and emotional moments (of which there are more than one might think based on the marketing) the film handles them well and doesn’t use any cheap joke to lessen the moment. The emotional scenes pack a punch and you’ll have to be tough not to tear up at least once.

Instant Family is a film about love, family and trust. It’s funny but it’s also a tear-jerker both when there’s something sad and when there’s something happy as this unusual family makes a breakthrough. It’s a feel-good dramedy that also never shies away from the difficulties these children and the people who foster them can face. Instant Family really was a surprise in the best possible way. 5/5.

REVIEW: Stan & Ollie (2018)

Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly) attempt to reignite their film career as they embark on a gruelling theatre tour of post-war Britain.

Stan & Ollie opens with a four or five-minute-long tracking shot of Laurel and Hardy as they make their way through a film studio, passing cowboys, Roman soldiers and crew members, as they discuss their marital situations and their next move career-wise. This was a great way to introduce these two men and show off how films were made, and the stars were controlled in the Classical Hollywood era.

Soon after that though it’s 1957 and Laurel and Hardy aren’t as young or as famous as they used to be. Coogan and Reilly both do a great job in their roles. They’re clearly having a lot of fun with the slapstick sketches, which are fun to watch too, but they both are well-suited to the more dramatic and emotional moments too. There’s a lot of history between the Laurel and Hardy we follow here, but there’s a deep friendship too. Great performances and cracking chemistry make them a compelling duo.

The supporting cast are great too and the whole film is almost stolen by Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson, playing Ida and Lucille, Laurel and Hardy’s wives respectively. The majority of the laughs come from these two. Their interactions with each other are often scathing and witty, while their interactions with their husbands are equal parts caring and amusing.

Stan & Ollie is lovely and charming. As someone who knew little to nothing about Laurel and Hardy before seeing this film, I found it accessible, engaging and fun. It’s not exactly ground-breaking in terms of what a biopic can be, but the performances make this film more than worth the price of admission. 4/5.

REVIEW: Christmas with the Coopers (2015)

The intertwined stories of four generations of the Cooper family as they come together for their annual gathering on Christmas Eve.

Christmas with the Coopers is one of those perfectly fine Christmas films. As with many films set around the holidays where a large, extended family get together, there’s arguments, secrets and misunderstandings.

There’s a lot of plot threads about the different characters, potentially a few too many but on the whole, it works and that’s due to the cast all giving good performances. My favourite plot was Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) finding a fake boyfriend at the airport so she doesn’t have to go home single. Her relationship with Joe is lovely as she slowly starts to open up to him, and they end up being a couple you root for. The friendship between Ruby (Amanda Seyfried) and Bucky (Alan Arkin) is sweet and does a good job at not veering into being uncomfortable.

I have to mention the ages of the various actors and how as a fictional family, they make no sense. I’m not usually that fussed about actors ages, but in Christmas with the Coopers I did find it difficult to realise who was related to who and how because some people looked too similar our different in age. For instance, Diane Keaton and Marisa Tomei are supposed to be sisters with not much more than a five-year age difference. When Tomei’s character was mentioning a sister, I could not figure out which character out of the rest of the cast she could mean until the very end of the film.

Christmas with the Coopers is sweet, funny and it’s an easy watch kind of Christmas film that’s all about the highs and lows of a big family. 3/5.

REVIEW: Support the Girls (2018)

Lisa (Regina Hall) is the general manager at a Texas highway-side sports bar and grill where the waitresses wear short shorts and crop tops. Lisa’s endless optimism and her faith in her girls, her customers and herself is tested over the course of one long, strange day.

Support the Girls is a very funny workplace dramatic-comedy. The majority of the film is set in the bar as Lisa puts new waitresses through their paces with Maci, one of the current waitresses, (Haley Lu Richardson) giving them lots of advice. Danyelle (Shayna McHayle) is another old-hand at the job and her dry wit balances out Maci’s bubbliness perfectly. Maci could quiet easily be an annoying character with her enthusiasm and optimism, but Richardson’s performance makes her endearing.

For a 90-minute film it does such a great job of fleshing out these characters, both Lisa, her co-worker’s, and their customers. There’s so many little moments or throwaway lines where you get a glimpse of these people’s lives. There are a few sub-plots that slowly grow over the course of the film, and others that are only hinted at, making Support the Girls truly feel like a slice-of-life kind of film. Really, the script is brilliant with so many conversations sounding so realistic, it’s hard to believe it’s not improvised.

Regina Hall is brilliant as Lisa, she’s funny, caring, but she’s also trying to keep her own life in control as well. Lisa’s relationship with her staff is almost like a mother-figure, she helps them sort out childcare, gives relationship advice, and is generally always there for them to talk to. Pretty much everything that can go wrong, does go wrong for Lisa, but it’s how she keeps moving forward that makes her such a compelling character.

Support the Girls is funny, sweet and heart-warming. It’s about the friendship and camaraderie between women and, to a lesser extent, anyone who works in hospitality. It’s a feel-good film and the central performances and chemistry between Hall, Richardson and McHayle are wonderful to watch. 4/5.

REVIEW: Johnny English Strikes Again (2018)

When all the identities of MI7 Agents are revealed in a cyber-attack, the government is forced to recall retied agent Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson), who is the only agent left that might be able to find the hacker.

This is the third Johnny English film and to be honest I have a bit of a soft spot for the series, mainly because of the memories I have of who I was with when I saw each film.

The plot is simple, future events are signposted incredibly obviously, and the villain is so obvious it’s almost painful, but a convoluted plot is not what you get with these movies. There is fun to be had though – a virtual-reality-induced escapade across London is innovative and funny.

It’s Rowan Atkinson’s physical humour that is the best thing about this film and the character, it’s just a shame there wasn’t more of it. there’s a scene where English has taken some adrenalin drugs and Atkinson’s body movements, alongside the different songs playing was brilliant. English’s incompetence that verges on accidentally brilliance is charming albeit predictable, but Atkinson makes it fun.

Johnny English Strikes Again is family fun for all ages. The showing at the cinema I was at had grandparents with young grandkids, and people of all ages between. It’s nice to watch a film that’s silly and fun without violence and sex-references (thankfully the mysterious Ophelia played by Olga Kurylenko is not set up as a love interest at all) and it’s an easy-watch with its less than 90 minutes runtime. 3/5.