Film Review – Comedy

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Back in 2014, Matthew Vaughn and Taron Egerton effectively blew up the action comedy genre with Kingsman: The Secret Service with it’s effective chalk and cheese stylistic approach to the Spy genre. It successfully managed to leave a lasting impression, as Taron Egerton in his first role coupled with Colin Firth (rather brilliantly) made the Spy genre funny without being too cheesy.

It was only a matter of time before the sequel occurred due to the relative success of director Matthew Vaughn’s feature. And it had the early looks of trying to bigger and better than it’s predecessor. With the likes of Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum and Halle Berry joining the cast, the film looked like it was going to go whole hog with the action spy-genre.

However, Kingsman: The Golden Circle does enlist the same sort of formula held that made the film enjoyable, as a benevolent antagonist holds the world at ransom. This time it is in the form of Poppy (Julianne Moore) a woman living in isolation and running the most successful drug cartel in the world. She brings the Kingsman to their knees by managing to bomb every agents in spectacular fashion with the help of Charlie (Edward Holcroft) a failed Kingsman recruit.

This whirlwind opening sets up the film within around half hour, but considering the film is a lengthy 140 minutes, it does begin to falter it’s way through the next hour or so, as it builds to the eventual guns a-blazing climax. But that’s where the action and comedy come into the play to keep the film ticking over as it continues it’s building.

I found Kingsman: The Golden Circle troubling in parts though, mostly due to the throwaway nature that Matthew Vaughn used throughout the film towards it’s narrative. The lewd behaviour that the first instalment finished on does continue into this film, which really wasn’t necessary, but also the bit part references to The Secret Service instalment.

Vaughn managed to keep my attention for the large part of the 140 minutes, with the stylistic approach to the action sequences and incredibly imaginative scenes, including Harry getting his memory back. (however, we’re not going to talk about the whole Harry coming back thing – ridiculous) And of course, the film is layered with the fly tailored suits and the music that screams James Bond in places, but also the American ties for the Statesman scenes.

But, on the other hand, the film does have a terrible moral code that seeps into the film, which really loses my attention. With the echo of potential spoilers, I won’t discuss the narrative’s moral code too much, but believe me it’s horrendous. The narrative does take Merlin (Mark Strong) and Eggsy to America to meet with their sister organisation the Statesman, headed by agents named after alcohol, including Champagne (Jeff Bridges) and Tequila, (Channing Tatum) after enabling the Kingsman doomsday protocol.

The only reasoning behind their inclusion I can think of is the continuation of the chalk-and-cheese characterisations that occurred in the first instalment. Also the continuation of the stereotyped version of Americans from the South, that is incredibly overplayed. Vaughn seems to enjoy the continuation element of the Kingsman, echoing scenes throughout the film that are almost lifts from The Secret Service.

Many of the action sequences seem to echo the moves Eggsy used during his training and the toppling of Valentine’s plan. But probably the most iconic Manners Maketh Man, with Pedro Pascal’s Whiskey taking the role of Harry this time and armed with a whip, instead of a brolly.

This necessarily isn’t a bad thing, but not a good thing either. As it reminds one of the enjoyment taken from the first one as Kingsman: The Golden Circle begins to plod through the misshapen narrative and racing toward the climax that is relatively short-lived and quite frankly felt a bit rushed.

But that being said, I still laughed during the film, with Taron’s Scottish impression of Merlin’s “that was fucking spectacular” remaining hilarious even now. But it wasn’t just the comedy used throughout, as the film still showed that it had a beating heart rather than falling victim to the machine as it has emotions between the characters really shining through crowned by the relationship instilled by Eggsy and Princess Tilde.

With a bit of shaping up, Kingsman: The Golden Circle could’ve been great. Between the morally misshapen narrative and some decent editing the film could’ve proudly bore the heart it instils on it’s sleeve and seemed a much crispy film. But unfortunately the edit that was shown, just did not cut it for me.

Advertisements

Patti Cake$ (2017)

Never meet your idols.

There’s a certain allure about a underdog story, someone that you can root for. In the case of Patti Cake$ Patricia Dumbrowski is the underdog. Often when films concern rap music and underdogs, their stories usual hail from Los Angeles, Detroit or Chicago.

Patti Cake$ decides to put New Jersey on the map, with the rapping skills provided by Patti ‘Killa P’ Dumbrowski featuring her friend and MC, Jheri. And this is also the feature debut of director Jeremy Gasper and immediately caught my attention with the green glow that Patti finds herself bathed in as she dreams about meeting her idol, but then when she leaves and almost floats down the street listening to her music. Until she is brought back down to the ground by being called Dumbo. A name that continually haunts her.

Usually films with this underdog element are usually centred on the characters biding their time and waiting for their opportunity, but Patti Cake$ used a different formula. The central character, played brilliantly by Danielle Macdonald, struggles to find her voice to begin with, as she finds herself caring for not only her nana, but also her mother as she gets drunk at the bar she tends.

Unfortunately, this is where the fresh take stops, as the film suddenly does fall into the run-of-the-mill waiting for a big break story as the film begins to pick up it’s pace. But don’t get me wrong, I was still enjoying the refreshing stance, as instead of a overly-masculine repressed male, it was a confident-in-her-own-way woman. And Danielle Macdonald lapped this role up every step of the way.

And their opportunity is given to them, when they meet Bastard (Mamoudou Athie) who is able to create mixes for Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) and Patti. But instead of just using him, they incorporate him into their master plan of the big time and create PBNJ. Their montage of creating the EP was really enjoyable and fairly believable as they huddle in a shack creating beats and lyrics.

But of course, with these formulas, there is that stage where their dream is shook, but I won’t divulge due to potential spoilers. My only issue with Patti Cake$ is that is it effectively a female 8-Mile. Although it is considerably funnier and has a bigger heart than 8-Mile it doesn’t divert away from the narrative structure all that well.

The comedy is one of the biggest hits in the film, but Jeremy Gasper understands when to add in the perfect amount of comedy. Usually through Jheri as he interjects. Potentially one of the best moments is Jheri’s deadpan boss, stating it is not ‘showtime at the apollo’. Naturally, Patti does take majority for the screen time, but each of the characters use their time perfectly and create genuine characters in a relatively short space of time. Again, Gasper understands this and creates a great environment for these underdogs to thrive in.

I did enjoy the film for the 100+ minute runtime, but that being said, it’s not left a memorable print in my mind. The performances are fun and believable with Patti (Danielle Macdonald) and Barb (Bridget Everett) stealing the show and creating that authentic underdog story that everyone can get on board with. Considering that this is a directorial debut from Jeremy Gasper, it’s quite interesting to see what he can do with bigger stars and bigger budgets. Patti Cake$ isn’t exactly ground breaking for the film, but it is certainly funny with what it achieves over the runtime.

Having an interest in rap music, it was enjoyable listening to soundtrack and the music being produced, but I think the key to this film is not the music, but rather that connection with the characters. The performances really accentuate this element and really help Patti Cake$ a good and enjoyable watch.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017)

I remember the Captain Underpants books being one of the more inventive ways to get children into reading, with it’s toilet humour, fun ‘flip-o-ramas’ and of course George and Harold’s endless line of pranks on their principal.

And all I heard about Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie was positive thing, that it still continued this trend of toilet humour and dumb pranks enacted by the elementary schooled-duo. So why not see what Dav Pilkey’s creation looked like on the big screen?

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie does follow the trend of the source material, having the duo cause havoc to their principal Mr. Krupp (Ed Helm) and push him to the point where they are threatened with being separated. But what David Soren brilliantly captured, was that for children, this meant the literal end of their friendship. (even though they did live next door to each other).

But whilst rooting through a cabinet of their confiscated stuff, George (Kevin Hart) finds a hypnotising ring from a cereal box. Struggling with how to stop the threat of separation, George tries to hypnotise Mr. Krupp. Somehow, this works. And George and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) tell Mr. Krupp to become their famous comic book creation, the amazing Captain Underpants.

Due to the intended audience of the film, the narrative was never going to be complex, but keeping it this simplistic works and creates that perfect structure for the hour and a half runtime. There is enough in between the narrative from comedic gestures and the toilet gags, that the film runs smoothly.

There was a stage, where I thought the gags had run dry as it was often very cut-and-paste for the humour, but the introduction of Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll) just created a barrel of laughs. The antagonist introduction was brilliant, as it does get the film into and over the final third of the film.

I think one of the biggest joys about the film is the deliverance of George and Harold. They continually break the fourth wall throughout the film, with their freeze-frames and catch-ups, but it isn’t an annoyance, if anything it keeps the film fresh and fun. They even poke fun at budget restrictions and include a animated version of the flip-o-ramas that are lifted from the novels.

Between all the toilet humour and the slapstick comedy that is one screen, Captain Underpants is layered with other comedic gestures, especially the students moving into the mandatory Invention Convention. And the comedy is just easy to get along with and because there is no thought to it, it becomes really enjoyable.

Of course, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie was never going to be stealing awards for best film, but it is perhaps one of the better films for children in recent memory. It’s not exactly the worst way to spend 90 or so minutes, because it is full of laughs and animated brilliantly. It’s narrative works with clear direction and doesn’t get tangled up in itself, but then again you do have to remember it is a kids film.

Unless you have the humour of Melvin, I’d be amazed if you didn’t laugh at least twice during this film.

The Big Sick (2017)

Having Judd Apatow’s name appear next to a comedy, the likelihood is that it’s going to be quite good. His name features against some of the better comedies in recent memory, including Anchorman, Superbad and Step Brothers to name a few. Some of these films are a hive for intriguing, but genuine characters.

The Big Sick is the latest film to be attached with the Apatow name, but what I did not anticipate was the true story that revolved about the leading mans love life. Kumail Nanjiana wrote the romantic comedy story and told the story about him and his wife.

Kumail is a stand up comic, but survives day-to-day by being an Über driver around Chicago. As I mentioned, Apatow films often have genuine characters and that what Kumail is. As usual with this sort of comedy, it’s more wit than situation or slapstick comedy, and Kumail is the perfect vehicle for this as he is incredibly deadpan throughout the film.

Regardless of the situation he finds himself in, Kumail remains incredibly deadpan. His first meeting with Emily (Zoe Kazan) is brilliant as they have instant chemistry, which just emits from the screen. Of course, in true romantic comedic style, the newly-formed couple manage to enchant the screen and fill us with the joy of Kumail and Emily enjoying each others company.

But further to a classic romantic comedy trope, what goes up, must come down. They become infuriated with each other and break up, citing that they cannot do it anymore. They both abide, until Emily is placed in a medically induced coma to try and fight a strange infection and Kumail never leaves her side after learning this.

It’s not often that I am caught watching Romantic Comedies, truthfully because they are not my cup of tea, but The Big Sick has proved that there are still new avenues that can be explored in romantic comedies. Michael Showalter chose to explore the culture clash between Pakistani culture and a modern westernised culture that Kumail finds himself being pulled to and from.

Kumail consistently defies his parents wishes, from not praying to playing coy with the meetings with potential brides to appease his parents. This is all the whilst he keeps falling for Emily and their chemistry continues to light up the screen. The believability of this situation comes down to the acting that is on display from Kumail, Zoe and the rest of the cast.

And The Big Sick is incredibly honest for a romantic comedy, majority of the romantic comedies I have seen often fall into a certain farfetched approach to the story, but this one doesn’t. It has Emily acting skittish because she’s got to take a shit and doesn’t want to in Kumail’s house in an incredibly funny scene. But not only this, but the approach to Pakistani culture and recognising that there are people within those families that do not necessarily want to live that way.

On top of this, the film is incredibly funny. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily’s parents are excellent with their brashness toward Kumail, but also Kumail’s deadpan jokes. (his response to the 9/11 question had me in stitches I must admit). Showalter was very unapologetic it seemed as the film progressed, but that’s great because it’s opened up fresher avenues for the film to explore through the genre.

For a fresh approach to the romantic comedy genre, you’ll not find a better film than The Big Sick. It’s use of comedy throughout is brilliant, because it relies on wit, rather than situational/slapstick comedy, but the characters at the heart of this film are the winners. It’s because you genuinely want these characters to get together by the end of the film and as always with Apatow films they are genuine characters.

The Big Sick is probably not going to be the best film I have seen this year, but it’ll be the best romantic comedy for sure. It’ll probably include some of the best laughs and characters from films this year and it just shows that Apatow knows his comedies and characters. I still find myself chuckling occasionally at the jokes.

Mindhorn (2017)

One of the biggest things that attracted me to Mindhorn was the casting of the Mighty Boosh pairing of Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby. The trailers had me in fits of laughter everytime and it just looked brilliant with Julian at the helm.

Brilliantly the story seemed very simple (which stemmed from a idea by Simon Farnaby) as an old washed-up television detective helps real detectives bring justice. Of course, you just know that Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barrett) is going to be completely inept and if anything, an hindrance to the police.

So why is he helping them?

Well, the accused killer Paul Melly (Russell Tovey) believes Detective Mindhorn to be real. The set up is brilliant, especially as the opening sequence shows Richard Thorncroft severing all ties with the Isle of Man as he exclaims he is off to Hollywood.

Fast-forward to the present day and he is extremely rotund, balding and struggling for work. He reluctantly returns to his old stomping ground to try and help bring justice, but that’s not without scorn from the locals remembering his departure.

Richard Thorncroft soon becomes the butt of the joke as he tries to keep it together and continue the air of arrogance that he possesses, although he is effectively washed up. He interacts with his former co-stars including Pete Eastman (Steve Coogan) who played Windjammer (a now 16-season successful show) and his stuntman Clive (Simon Farnaby) who is now shacking up with Patricia Deville (Essie Davis) who has become a lead journalist for Manx News.

Mindhorn slowly slips into becoming a run of the mill comedy, as Richard becomes Mindhorn once more to try and bring justice to the Isle of Man. But this doesn’t happen without mishaps, as one would expect with Julian Barrett at the helm of this film.

The use of the Isle of Man begins to work; because it becomes a film where there is a feeling that everyone knows everyone, which leads to more comedy at the expense of Richard Thorncroft. The characters throughout the 89 runtime aren’t exactly the most concrete, especially as Richard has the run-of-the-mill epiphany about his life. But it’s not necessary for film like Mindhorn to have the most engaging plot or characters, as long as it keeps you laughing.

And it does. As I mentioned majority of the comedy is situational and at the expense of Richard Thorncroft, but it works, especially as he continues to carry himself through his interactions with the locals and his former co-stars. Unfortunately, majority of the bigger laughs were kept in the trailers, and as it got to these points, I had already seen the sequence numerous times.

The narrative as I mentioned isn’t the most engaging, but has enough to keep the pace of the film chugging along the 89 minute runtime as everything isn’t quite as it seems on the Isle of Man. Mindhorn is quite enjoyable and continues to have laughs throughout, which is what is needed for a film of this calibre.

I was expecting the comedy to be a bit more oddball, but thankfully it didn’t go down that route and stayed under its own influence. Julian Barrettt does channel his Howard Moon character in certain sections, but nothing to move Mindhorn into the realms of the Boosh. It’s of perfect length, especially as the film is a comedy, anything longer would’ve been a detriment to the film. For a good laugh, Mindhorn is top.

Free Fire (2017)

Hot Fuzz tonally set the benchmark for me for Action Comedies, as every other action comedy film just does not seem to get the correct blend. For whatever reason, Hot Fuzz had this blend perfected and it’s never aged since its 2007 release.

Enter Free Fire, the trailers seemed have this balance tuned to perfection, which also gave me that sense of apprehension when going in and whether this carried over into the film. But regardless, it has to be said that Ben Wheatley has been on an incredible rise since Kill List, and he seems to be showing a diverse range of talents behind the camera.

One thing he has nailed for Free Fire is the perfect running time of 90 minutes, but I could have easily sat in and watched another hour of this film as the narrative unfolds. It’s not often that nowadays an action film takes place in just one setting, with the big blockbusters jetting to various locations before reducing them to rubble. And that’s become a bit boring and well, farcical.

Ben Wheatley has managed to bring some normality back to the action genre with Free Fire, but it’s the character’s nuanced movements that signify this. Justine’s (Brie Larson) trip as the enter the abandoned warehouse, or Gordon (Noah Taylor) getting a splinter during an incredibly tense moment during the gun deal, really give Free Fire that sense of reality. These directions are what is brilliant about this movie, as you wince with them at the glass being stuck in the hand, or getting a needle embedded in a palm.

And to carry on with this grounded approach take on the action genre, the gunshots are excruciatingly loud as they echo and ping around the empty warehouse. Wheatley has managed to inject some life into the action genre that goes against the humdrum affair of tearing cities to the ground in the name to protect civilians.

Peculiarly though, Free Fire doesn’t have a straightforward villain. You have some assholes in an empty warehouse, but no one is the standalone antagonist of this film. I believe this is done intentionally to give the characters more of a chance to express themselves in their own way, from the chipper Ord (Armie Hammer) to the apprentice-like Harry (Jack Reynor). But the screen-time that is allowed with each of the characters, as they try to outgun and outsmart the others in the room is excellent. But amidst all the anarchy that does ensue between the two sides, a confusion arises especially as Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) screams “I forgot whose side I’m on”.

It has to be said Free Fire becomes an incredibly funny film, with the characters interactions with each other. Much of the comedy is driven through Sharlto Copley’s Vern and his ego is just impressive. His comedic gestures and one-liners are just brilliant, including “Just watch and Vern”. But there doesn’t seem to be that reliance on the comedy within this film, as it just flows as the narrative naturally progresses.

It seems as though Wheatley has hit the sweet spot when it comes to the blend of action and comedy in Free Fire as all it all seems to flow together and enclosed within this warehouse space, which is just fantastic. It’s almost as though you can feel the dirt underneath the fingernails and feel the agonising shots that are placed in the characters calves and shoulders. But this displacement and not-very-accurate shooting is effective, because as I mentioned previously, it carries on that sense of reality, but still has that twinge when the shots do find their target.

Free Fire is worlds apart from High Rise, which really shows a depth in the talent that Wheatley possesses. The narrative of a gun deal gone wrong really works, especially as the characters spill off into different areas of warehouse. There isn’t one true shining star of the film, but rather a collaborative effort from all involved as they actually interact with the story and surroundings. I could’ve happily sat and watched another hour of this film as the chemistry that is on-screen is just enigmatic and brilliant to watch. I think Free Fire will not age, much like the aforementioned Hot Fuzz.

School of Rock (2003)

If you know me on a personal level, you’ll understand just how much I enjoy School of Rock. It’s one of my personal favourites and I could watch it for a very long time, without getting bored.

Jack Black seems to be a marmite character and very divisive even before he appears on screen. I know this from personal experience and the mention of Jack Black instantly switching people off. If anything School of Rock emphasises what people don’t like about Jack Black, and that is hyperactive screen presence.

In the opening scene, we see Jack Black as Dewey Finn playing on stage with his band No Vacancy, before he abruptly stops the performance with an audacious stage dive after ‘shredding’ on guitar. Its clear Jack Black was given some creative space throughout this film as he can indulge his musical side and engage with his hyperactivity.

school-of-rock_668_330_80_int_s_c1

Mike White wrote School of Rock a year after Orange County, which also had Jack Black starring in, but in a much smaller role. White wrote School of Rock wanting a lead role for Jack Black and it seems as White actively chose to engage Jack Black’s musical side as Dewey Finn’s backstory is that he is down-on-his-luck intent on hitting the big time, with his music.

Dewey goes as far as to state that No Vacancy will become “an footnote on his epic ass”, clearly showing his intentions to become a self proclaimed rockstar. Under Richard Linklater’s direction, Jack Black brings the story of Dewey Finn to life, whilst excellently selling that his is struggling as he sleeps on the floor of his friends apartment.

The only questionable side of School of Rock is the story of how Dewey Finn easily becomes a substitute teacher at Horace Green Prep. His flatmate Ned Schneebly (Mike White – yes, the same one that wrote the film) and Patty (Sarah Silverman) demand his share of the rent, otherwise they’ll kick him out. The resentment between Dewey and Patty immediately lifts off the screen, as Ned slowly cowers away from the verbal battle that ensues in front of him. Because of his allegiance to Ned, he promises that he will make rent.

school-of-rock-2003-movie-free-download-720p-bluray-3

Whilst trying to sell a guitar, he receives a call from Horace Green Prep looking for Ned Schneebly to substitute at the school. (Wait, here comes the questionable part to the story) Dewey has a great idea and decides to impersonate Ned so he can make rent. This is pretty much the set-up for School of Rock and that happens within the first half hour.

What White and Linklater managed to do was make Dewey genuinely seem at rock bottom, which is also helped by Jack Black. Within that first half hour, Black uses his comedic whit to begin verbal jousts with everyone that disagrees with him and this continues as he begins to ‘teach’ at Horace Green. (When I say teach, I mean lean back on his chair and sleeps, whilst the class has recess)

Linklater cleverly glosses over the act of Dewey becoming the teacher, as he leaves a few questions about how easily he can do it and quickly rolls into the music that becomes infectious throughout School of Rock. Dewey overhears his class take a music class, and decides to enter the Battle of the Bands with the band to try and hit the big time.

School of Rock does stand at a perfect length of just a touch over an hour and a half, but it could easily be longer and not have any enjoyment levels altered with such a change. What the latter hour is filled with is Dewey teaching the children the origins of Rock and fine-tuning their band, before the big show. Although there is questionable glossed over part of the story, the film becomes rather sweet as the children find a way to start expressing themselves with the help of Mr S. (As Dewey seemingly can’t spell Schneebly, the children call him Mr. S)

13046_13_screenshot

If anything School of Rock becomes insanely quotable amongst the likes of Anchorman, Airplane! and Zoolander. For me, Jack Black is insanely energetic throughout the film and it works every step of the way, from his verbal jousts with people, to inspiring the children to express themselves such as Freddy (Kevin Clark), Zach (Joey Gaydos) and to some extent Summer. (Miranda Cosgrove)

Everything about School of Rock clicks for me. The characters are inventive and work, the comedic elements of Jack Black and his verbal jousts continue to provide laughs. And as I mentioned, I don’t think I can tire of this film just yet, especially as it remains immensely quotable and laugh inducing tied together with it’s fantastic use of the soundtrack.