Film Review – Comedy

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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

Dirty Grandpa (2016)

Dirty Grandpa seems to be a universally loathed film. From reviews to podcasts to word of mouth, it seemed as though Dirty Grandpa did not have an audience anywhere. Considering the success of Efron’s Bad Neighbours and Robert De Niro, you know being Robert De Niro it surely can’t be that bad. Right? Surely!

Efron and De Niro are collaborating with Dan Mazer, who is known for writing the Sasha Baron Cohen films like The Dictator, Borat and Brüno. Dan Mazer has tried his hand at directing before with I Give It A Year, which seemed to be something he wanted to replicate with Dirty Grandpa, thematically.

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Robert De Niro doesn’t strike me as a comic actor in anyway, as I have always associated him with blood-pumping crime thrillers, like Goodfellas, A Bronx Tale and Casino. The only comedic thing I have seen De Niro star is the ‘Meet The’ franchise and even in that he stars as a stern-faced authoritative figure. Efron on the other hand has expanded into comic acting with his most recent one being Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.

I’m willing to let bygones be bygones when it comes to actors branching out, as I despise typecasting, but not when it comes to Dirty Grandpa. What seems to be a familiar stance on all ‘racy’ comic films is the inclusion of crass and vulgar comedy somewhere in it, but not have all the comedy as crass and vulgar. Unfortunately Dirty Grandpa seems to have not have gotten that memo as within 15 minutes, we see Dick (De Niro) pleasuring himself quite openly as his grandson, Jason (Efron) walks in.

I don’t need to see that.

Jason is tasked with driving his Grandpa Dick down to Boca Raton in Florida, which was the vacation home for Dick and his late wife. Jason is cast much like the Robert De Niro character of Jack Byrnes in Meet the Parents in the sense that he is very uptight and seems to be very work-orientated. During their drive, it becomes apparent that Jason is very ‘under the thumb’ with his fiancée Meredith (Julianne Hough) and Dick expresses dissatisfaction in his relationship with Meredith on numerous occasions.

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As they drive down to Boca Raton, Jason with a whiskey in his hand as his grandpa seems to enjoy the idea of drink driving, Dick recites that they used to be closer when Jason was younger and begins to pluck away at his character. The once photographer-hopeful now turned corporate lawyer storyline begins to tread all-too familiar ground.

What comes as a surprise is that Dick is not really in bereavement, but rather in excitement as they bump into three college graduates. One was Jason’s classmate in photography, Shadia (Zoey Deutch) and the other being Lenore (Aubrey Plaza), who wants to sleep with Dick. (to complete a college trifecta or something along those lines). Unfortunately Plaza and Deutch don’t become memorable characters, other than the need for love interests in this film.

Over the course of its 100-minute runtime, I think I laughed roughly twice. And that wasn’t at any of the main characters, but rather Jason Mantzoukas’ Tan Pam, a Floridian drug dealer who is responsible for getting Jason and Dick in some sticky situations.

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As I mentioned, majority of the comedy used throughout the film is off a crass or vulgar nature. It is often throwaway and quite frankly, not very memorable. When I watch a comedy, I expect to be able to laugh at something in the days after, but nothing of this sort came from Dirty Grandpa.

It feels as though Dan Mazer tried to save the film with this trickling of the story regarding Dick caring for Jason’s future and expressing that he should be following his dreams, not being a corporate lawyer for his father. But by the point Mazer introduced this, the film was too far-gone with the ‘comedy’.

I watched this film thinking surely it can’t be that bad considering all the less-than-positive reviews, but alas, I cannot argue in its favour. The film is just awful. The story doesn’t really work at all considering what transpires in the 100 minute runtime and just fails to land any comedic laughs, aside from the two delivered by Mantzoukas, but even those weren’t memorable. Dirty Grandpa offers nothing, but crass and vulgar comedy situated in the all too familiar spring break setting and I just cannot recommend Dirty Grandpa at all.

The Big Short (2015)

The Big Short and Spotlight were two of the main frontrunners into last years Oscar season. I have watched The Big Short twice recently and I am still flabbergasted at the terminology and trying to wrap my head around the premise. The Big Short is based around the housing crisis that caused an economic meltdown in America.

I originally thought it was going to be Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt working in unison to make money off the back of this crash. In short, it actually involves three different groups making their millions and billions through this crash.

With the nature of the story and this housing crisis being in quiet recent memory, the storyline was marketed quite freely with regards to the ending. Instead of focusing on this storyline and trying to make the film full of twists and turns, the film rather focuses on it’s leading cast throughout the 130 minute runtime and their execution of this disaster.

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Christian Bale’s Michael J. Burry first notices the unstable condition of the housing market in 2005 and begins the process of “credit-swapping” so in effect he’s ‘betting’ that the housing market is going to collapse. Michael begins this process and Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) catches wind and misplaces a call to a bank, which leads Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his team to investigate whether there is any truth in this.

In the guise of breaking the fourth wall, Ryan Gosling’s tongue-in-cheek character of Jared Vennett, drives the narrative forward. Breaking the fourth wall is rife throughout this film to explain some of the terminology, using some rather strange techniques such as Margot Robbie explaining a ‘Subprimes’ in the bath whilst drinking champagne. The cameo appearances are really strange, in their tongue-in-cheek way, but could’ve worked all the same if the character did the cutaway themselves.

Adam McKay, who is associated with the comedic hits such as Step Brothers and Anchorman, has moved away from this framework, but it’s clear to see the smatterings of comedy throughout the film. Ryan Gosling’s Jared Vennett leads the comedy through the cutaways, but the also appearing in the forms of cameos.

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But McKay’s investigation into the housing crisis becomes interesting when Mark Baum’s team go to Florida and seek out property tenant who are 90 days delinquent. A human element comes into play, as we see people paying their bills to landlords that in turn aren’t paying for the houses. Mark upon this realisation exclaims that there is a ‘bubble’ in the housing market and expresses his distrust in the banking system. Brad Pitt’s Ben Rickert also states the very alarming fact that every 1% of the unemployment accounts for 40,000 deaths, as his partners do a happy jig after striking in lucky in their ‘bets’ against the market.

Mark even goes as far as to meet some of the people responsible for this ‘bubble’ and becomes increasingly frustrating when he realises that they are simply idiots. This repulsiveness extracts from the screen to the viewer, as I personally became flabbergasted as the blasé approach the bankers took to this impending doom.

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Whilst the acting on display is excellent with very interesting roles for Christian Bale and Steve Carell particularly, the cutaways to the random cameos to explain subprimes and CDOs is strange and sticks out like a sore thumb. It makes for entertaining viewing regardless of the terminology that goes right over my head. But it’s a strong outing on the casting (especially Carell in his angry, world-hating boss of a hedge fund) as they carry the film through the runtime and over the confusing terms.

It’s a strong, solid entertaining film. I imagine it would’ve been more interesting had I known more about the housing crisis in 2008 and understood terms, as I’m not the most savvy in this area. I really enjoyed Adam McKay’s comedic outings, but The Big Short has entertained me on a different level rather than laughing at inane comedy. Rickert’s stance on Wall Street and disgust for how it operates is really interesting, but the included humanisation of the story by McKay and actually seeing the implications on a couple of people added another level to this film.

The Fundamentals of Caring (2016)

As we all know, Netflix offers a wealth of original television shows, but occasionally they boast Netflix Original movies. The Fundamentals of Caring is a ‘Netflix Original’ that was released earlier this year in the summer, featuring the combination of Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts and Selena Gomez.

The quick wit on show from Paul Rudd and Craig Roberts is one of the real joys in this film, as they become instrumental in each other’s lives in a short space of time. Paul Rudd’s Ben becomes Craig Robert’s Trevor caregiver, after Ben pursues a career change from being a writer. Amid this career change for Ben, he is also being pressured by his anxious wife to sign their divorce papers. He meets Trevor and his mother Elsa (Jennifer Elhe) who continually stresses how hard it is to care for Trevor and reels off his medication for every day.

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Craig Roberts play Trevor excellently, a boy who was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy at the age of three, but is still quick-witted and takes every chance to try and push Ben to the end of his tether, resulting in some hilarious verbal bouts.

Primarily The Fundamentals of Caring is surrounding by the relationship that is built between Ben and Trevor and them two bringing the best out of each other. I feel that Ben also is trying to show Trevor that even though he does suffer from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, it shouldn’t debilitate him from seeing the world. Which leads to the Ben and Trevor taking a road trip to see (according to Trevor) ‘America’s dumbest roadside attractions’ culminating in ‘The World’s Deepest Pit’.

Trevor has never been an hour away from his home, since his diagnosis and as the trip wears on, Trevor becomes more comfortable with being away from home and seeing new things for the first time. Paul Rudd’s Ben also goes on an interesting journey, from the cynical, life-hating man at the beginning to the selfless man as he picks up Dot and Peaches along the way on their road trip. (Selena Gomez and Megan Ferguson, respectively)

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These characters are in direct correlation with enjoyment as well, because they are believable but also genuine such as the genuine teenage performance from Craig Roberts. They seem to have fun on-screen as well, as the chemistry builds primarily between the two in this triumph of the human spirit tale.

As this film is primarily comedy, it does stand up to the comedic task put before it, because it doesn’t reach out for the crass, or vulgar stick, but prefers to use the wit and bluntness of Craig Roberts and Paul Rudd. Add in the situational use of Trevor’s wheelchair when Ben is trying to care for him and you’ve got even more chuckles. Of course, it doesn’t end there as Ben tries to take Trevor on an adventure of firsts, again culminating in laughs.

(the teeniest, tiny plot spoiler is ahead)

Trevor plays a clever game throughout The Fundamentals of Caring as he asks everyone he encounters to pick a number between 1 and 3,500. Rob Burnett included this cleverly, as Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy affects 1 in 3,500 people, which doesn’t become clear until close to the end, but was an excellent use of this number.

(no more plot spoilers – even though it was completely insignificant)

The Fundamentals of Caring was incredibly enjoyable for the perfect running time of 93 minutes as the chemistry oozes out of the film between Paul Rudd and Craig Roberts and their very genuine characters. Not only this, the comedy that emits from the screen, but also the undertaking of the journey of ‘firsts’ with Trevor is really enjoyable, from his first Slim Jim to his First Date with dot.

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I’m not a huge lover of Netflix Original movies because I simply love the feeling of going to the cinema, but The Fundamentals of Caring is a life-affirming film if I’ve ever seen one. This is probably down to the great performances from the leading males, but everything works from their ridiculous road trip to their seemingly infectious smiles throughout the trip.

You May Also Like:

I’m going to try something new, where I recommend a double-bill film that will work or contrast with the subsequent reviewed film here.

My first one for The Fundamentals of Caring is Untouchable, the French foreign language film that was simply outstanding and follows a similar story the one above. Although Untouchable is based on a true story, it doesn’t take anything away from the performances and the connection to the characters told by Omar Sy and Francois Cluzet. If you enjoyed The Fundamentals of Caring then chances are you’ll enjoy Untouchable tenfold.