Morning Glory (2010)

2015 #194
Roger Michell | 107 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Rachel McAdams takes a break from time-jumping rom-coms to lead a film where the romantic subplot is merely tacked on, presumably for marketing purposes. Really, it’s about a woman in love with her job.

McAdams plays the producer of TV’s worst-rated breakfast show, but her dream career faces ruin when it’s scheduled for cancellation. If only she can persuade her hero, investigative reporter turned disgruntled host Harrison Ford, to toe the line…

Overlong, predictable, and not the sharpest newsroom-based comedy, Morning Glory’s likeable cast nonetheless carry it to a level of entertaining amusement. Not the disaster it’s been painted as.

4 out of 5

Advertisements

The Informant! (2009)

2015 #133
Steven Soderbergh | 104 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | 15 / R

The InformantMatt Damon turns whistleblower (or does he?) in this amusing romp based on a true story of complicated corporate fraud.

Director Steven Soderbergh is clearly having fun: despite the ’90s setting, the aesthetics harken back to the ’70s and its political exposé movies; while Marvin Hamlisch’s fun score references Bond during mundane stuff but offers tunes you’d expect from a farce during undercover FBI business.

If you want to follow the ins and outs you have to pay attention, but the main thrust is conveyed in the flow. Besides, such specifics barely matter to the farcical fun Soderbergh largely achieves.

4 out of 5

This drabble review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015. Read more here.

The Decoy Bride (2011)

2015 #155
Sheree Folkson | 89 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | UK / English | 12 / PG

This is not a well-reviewed film — Little White Lies described it as “possibly the worst thing ever in world history.”

Obviously they’re being intentionally hyperbolic (well, I hope), but it’s not merited. Okay, it’s a standard rom-com, of the form we’ve seen dozens of times, but it’s no worse than most and better than plenty. Kelly Macdonald and David Tennant are appealing leads with some chemistry, “TV director” Folkson’s work is cinematic enough, and there are decent laughs in the screenplay by Sally Phillips.

There’s nothing special about The Decoy Bride, but it’s pleasantly entertaining. It could be much worse.

3 out of 5

This drabble review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015. Read more here.

Tank Girl (1995)

2015 #180
Rachel Talalay | 94 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Critically derided, this anarchic adaptation of the rebellious comic has become a cult fave. You can see why: a ramshackle plot allows for plenty of outré zaniness, including a big musical number to a punky Cole Porter cover, and surely no one predicted the bizarre truth about the Rippers!

Malcolm McDowell chews scenery as only he can, a pre-fame Naomi Watts grabs attention, and Lori Petty’s looniness somehow holds it together, helped by efficacious design from Catherine “Twilight” Hardwicke and sporadic animated interludes.

Compromised in post-production but too wacky to fully suppress, it isn’t strictly good, but I enjoyed it.

3 out of 5

Rachel Talalay directs tonight’s Doctor Who season finale.

This drabble review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015. Read more here.

Superbad (2007)

2015 #128
Greg Mottola | 113 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | 15 / R

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s semi-autobiographical comedy sets Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) (see what they did there?) on a quest to obtain booze for a party where they hope to copulate. Or, “every American teen comedy.”

Presumably the key to Superbad’s acclaim lies in the details, then. The narrative is implausible (hence “semi-”) but creates amusing situations — it’s a comedy, so, fine. Seth’s all-encompassing sex obsession feels extreme, but also accurate to many teenage boys.

The most interesting aspect is the guys’ college-threatened codependent relationship. Or maybe it’s people saying rude sex words — your mileage may vary.

3 out of 5

The General (1926)

2015 #29
Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman | 77 mins | DVD | 4:3 | USA / silent (English) | U

The GeneralPoorly reviewed and a box office flop on its release, Buster Keaton’s The General has undergone a stark re-evaluation since: the United States National Film Registry deemed it so “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” that it was added to the registry in its first year, alongside the likes of Citizen Kane, The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars; these days, it rates on both public-voted popular lists (the IMDb Top 250 at #133) and critics’ polls (34th on Sight & Sound’s 2012 poll). Does it live up to such a reputation?

Set at the outbreak of the American Civil War, Keaton plays a Southern train engineer who is refused permission to sign up for the army. When agents of the North hijack a train, he sets out to prove himself by giving chase. Hilarity ensues.

Believe it or not, The General is based on a real incident from the war… which was considerably grimmer than the farce presented here. Like the film, however, the South did win… except in real life the South were the bad guys (right?), so that’s no good. Anyway, such things shouldn’t trouble us here — this is a comedy, not a history lesson. That said, I must confess I didn’t laugh all that much — although some of it is quite funny — but, in spite of that, I rather loved it. Whatever the intention, it worked for me as a kind of comedic action-adventure (a genre we more often associate with more modern eras, I’d wager), rather than as an out-and-out comedy. Some of it is quite genuinely tense rather than purely amusing.

The GeneralIt was reportedly a very expensive film, and it looks it: there are tonnes of extras, not to mention elaborate choreography… of trains! Who knew old steam trains were so agile? There’s impressive physicality on display from Keaton, but the well-timed movements of those big old locomotives are quite extraordinary, especially for the era (I mean, for the past couple of decades you’ve been able to do pretty much anything thanks to a spot of computer-controlled what-have-you. Not much of that going on in the 1920s.)

Sometimes watching Classic Movies is almost a chore of noteworthiness or “good for its time” import; other times, they still offer pure enjoyment, however many decades later. I’m not sure a silent comedy is ever going to curry favour with all modern viewers, but The General is one that still has the power to transcend the (perceived) limitations of its era.

5 out of 5

The General was viewed as part of my What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2015 project, which you can read more about here.

What We Did on Our Holiday (2014)

2015 #26
Andy Hamilton & Guy Jenkin | 95 mins | Blu-ray | 1.85:1 | UK / English | 12 / PG-13

What We Did on Our HolidayOutnumbered: The Movie” is the pithy way to describe this comedy from writing-directing duo Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin (the pair behind the successful BBC sitcom), which sees divorcing parents Doug and Abi (David Tennant and Rosamund Pike) playing happy families when they take their three children to Scotland for the 75th birthday of his dying father (Billy Connolly). Their separation is a secret from the extended family, and who better to keep a secret than three young kids?

It’s hard to miss the Outnumbered parallels early on, as a middle-class London family with two girls and a boy (a mere inversion of the series’ two boys and a girl) battle with the kids’ oddities as they try to load the car for a road trip. There’s a suspicion that Hamilton and Jenkin are returning to their half-improvised TV show’s early glory days, when the natural kids said funny things and the adults had to react. If anything, however, the more Kids Say the Funniest Things: The Sitcom tendencies of early Outnumbered are toned down for this movie, which (like later seasons of the series) is very story-driven much of the time.

This comes particularly to the fore in the second half, following a midway ‘twist’ that threatens to turn the rest of the movie on its head. Doug and AbiFor some, the shift may scupper things. For me, it only makes it better: the story’s pathos and emotion are brought into focus, and the humour becomes all the funnier for punching in as tonal relief. It often seems to me that movies struggle to stay amusing for a full feature running time (there’s surely a reason all TV comedy comes in 30 minute chunks), but this story allows Hamilton and Jenkin to spread the laughs out a little without them feeling few or far between.

The three kids aren’t as instantly memorable as Outnumbered’s — there’s no Karen (for my money, one of the greatest sitcom characters ever) — but that’s not to sell their talents short. They may not get the same volume of funny lines, but they’re wonderfully naturalistic and un-stage-school-y. As the eldest, Emilia Jones has the most to do, bridging the gap between the kid-like young pair and actorly adult (much as Jake did on TV, indeed). She’s already been in Doctor Who, Wolf Hall and the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean, and will soon be seen amongst the starry cast of Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise. One to watch? Maybe.

The adult cast are no slouch either, mind. Oscar-nominee Pike is the headline now the film’s being released in the US, with the always-popular Tennant joining her as the other nominal lead. Arguably they’re the straight men to both the kids and the array of comedy actors in supporting roles, idealised fun granddadincluding the likes of Ben Miller, Amelia Bullmore (getting the best subplot), Annette Crosbie and Celia Imrie. The real grown-up star, however, is Connolly. You get the sense he’s as scriptless as the kids are, improvising away with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, like some kind of idealised fun granddad. The scenes with just him and the kids are certainly one of the highlights, among the most amusing and the most affecting.

I wouldn’t have really objected if What We Did on Our Holiday had no higher aims than being Outnumbered: The Movie, though trying to recapture the alchemical comedy gold of the series’ early days may well have been a hiding to nothing. Hamilton and Jenkin are on a slightly different tack here, however, even if fans of the series may find it’s a variation on a theme. It’s a theme that stands repeating though, and by mixing in musings on loss and change and how, sometimes, the innocence of kids is more grown-up than the formality of adults, the writer-directors find enough to make their feature debut stand on its own merits.

4 out of 5

What We Did on Our Holiday is released in US theaters tomorrow, and is available via all the usual home entertainment choices in the UK.

The Interview (2014)

2015 #80
Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen | 112 mins | download (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English & Korean | 15 / R

The InterviewSix months on from all the kerfuffle, the storm-in-a-teacup (as it turned out) controversy of The Interview’s initial release has been consigned to the (film-)history books, leaving us with a movie to be judged on its own merits… albeit a movie being judged by a lot of people who probably wouldn’t’ve bothered with it otherwise, just because of the aforementioned controversy.

The story — lest you need reminding — sees James Franco as a trashy TV interviewer and Seth Rogen as his producer who’d hoped for a more high-brow career. When they find out North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is a fan of the show, they set out to land the interview that everyone wants. Much to their surprise, they get it… but before they travel to Pyongyang, CIA agent Lizzy Caplan turns up with a request: assassinate Kim. So the pair set off to a brutally oppressed country in order to murder someone — hilarity ensues!

As with so many comedies, your mileage will vary on whether what follows is indeed hilarity or merely inanity. For me, it contained a weight of obvious ‘gags’ and crass ‘humour’, but also enough genuinely amusing bits to keep it ticking over. Park is excellent as the affable Kim, a misunderstood social outcast who bonds with Franco over basketball, tanks, margaritas, and Katy Perry songs. The latter in particular has a great pay-off at the climax.

Some plot beats may feel over-familiar (the nasty guy is actually nice! It leads to our best-mates heroes falling out!), but then you’re not going to get much comedy out of them turning up to find out that Fireworkno, really, he’s definitely as evil as everyone thought. On the bright side, co-writer/directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg also pull off a surprisingly well-constructed through-line about honeypotting/honeydicking, even if it doesn’t wholly hang together if you think about it too much (if Kim was just honeydicking Dave, would those things really make him cry?)

The real-world incidents that dogged The Interview mean it gained far more scrutiny than it ever would have normally, and the final result proves that such faff wasn’t necessary: it’s a Seth Rogen comedy, not some biting political indictment of the North Korean regime — anyone who expected it would be is clearly deluded in some way. Perhaps it’s a shame it wasn’t secretly a genius satire that deserved the extra attention, but at least it’s not bad.

3 out of 5

21 Jump Street (2012)

2015 #62
Phil Lord & Christopher Miller | 105 mins | TV | 16:9 | USA / English | 15 / R

21 Jump StreetHaving turned the unlikely-to-be-any-good story of a machine that makes it rain food into an entertaining and amusing movie, and the unlikely-to-be-any-good concept of a LEGO-centred film into an entertaining and amusing movie, is it any wonder that directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller also turned the unlikely-to-be-any-good premise of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill starring in a remake of a forgotten ’80s teen TV series about police officers who go undercover in a high school to find drug dealers into an entertaining and amusing movie?

The prime difference from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The LEGO Movie lies in the rating: those are kids’ films (with adult-friendly angles), while 21 Jump Street is an out-and-out R. That’s unusual in itself, given the US studios’ obsession with PG-13 and this being set in a high school, but it allows Lord and Miller to push at boundaries; not just being able to be ruder and grosser, but even the whole “teens doing drugs” storyline. They manage to make the extremes funny without descending too far into toilet humour — compare it to A Million Ways to Die in the West, for example, which had its share of clever edginess but undermined it with some terribly crass bits.

Perhaps the film’s best material revolves around the changing face of high school. Tatum and Hill’s characters grew up in an era of the traditional mould, where jocks ruled and nerds were bullied. When they return undercover, the tables have turned: getting good grades and caring about the environment is cool. In a classic bit of role reversal, Shot outthis leaves Hill hanging out with the cool kids — and being lured down the path of parties and their shallower friendship — while Tatum falls in with a gang of ultra-nerdy nerds and starts actually learning stuff. Distilled like that makes it sound pat, but in the film it works; in part because they don’t overplay the clichéd “friends fall out irretrievably… until it’s retrieved for the final act” story arc.

I only watched 21 Jump Street to see what all the fuss was about, expecting to find it unlikeable and unfunny. Happily, I was completely wrong — Lord and Miller win again. Next, they’re working on an animated Spider-Man movie. At the risk of jinxing it, that sounds likely to be quite good…

4 out of 5

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)

2015 #65
Declan Lowney | 85 mins | download (HD) | 2.35:1 | UK & France / English | 15 / R

Alan Partridge: Alpha PapaSteve Coogan brings his popular character to the big screen. When Partridge’s radio station colleague Pat (Colm Meaney) is fired, he takes a group of employees hostage at gunpoint. At Pat’s request, Partridge is sent in to negotiate.

Some claim the film hinges on in-jokes and references to the numerous Partridge series, but that’s poppycock: as someone who’s never watched one, I didn’t even sense I was missing something. Indeed, even as someone who’s never seen the character’s appeal, I thought the film was hilarious. A bit long, and it doesn’t really know how to end, but, otherwise, consistently funny.

4 out of 5

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa remains available on iPlayer until 10:45pm on Monday.