The Big Sick

Year: 2017
Director: Michael Showalter
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher, Bo Burnham
Written by Fiona Underhill

Fans of ‘Silicon Valley’ will recognise Kumail Nanjiani, but apart from that and the stand-up comedy circuit, he’s gone fairly under-the-radar, until now. Nanjiani has teamed up with his wife, Emily V. Gordon to write the true story of their courtship. Zoe Kazan (who I loved in ‘What If’) plays Emily and Nanjiani plays himself, which must feel bizarre, especially when shooting romantic scenes with an actress playing your wife, who is on-set watching proceedings. The film is directed by Michael Showalter, who also directed the delightful ‘Hello, My Name is Doris’ (currently on Amazon Prime).

Nanjiani is a Pakistani immigrant, trying to make it on the stand-up circuit in Chicago. He does the same open-mic night with fellow comedians played by Aidy Bryant (terrific in ‘Girls’), Bo Burnham and Kurt Braunohler – all hoping to be noticed by someone who can help them make the leap to ‘SNL’, or similar stardom. His parents parade a slew of Pakistani girls in front of him, in the hope he will find a suitable match for an arranged marriage. However, after heckling him at the comedy club, Emily catches Kumail’s eye and they end up going home together. Their relationship seems to be going swimmingly, even surviving the skeletons in Emily’s closet (she’s been married before), but when she discovers that Kumail seems to be judging ‘Pakistan’s Next Top Model’ – they have a huge fight and break up. He then gets a late-night phone call, letting him know Emily is in the hospital and this is where we get to ‘The Big Sick’ of the title. Emily has a mysterious infection and has been placed in a medically-induced coma.

It is here that perhaps the strongest supporting characters enter the scene – Ray Romano and Holly Hunter – as Emily’s parents. As someone who detests ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ – it almost pains me to say that Romano provides some of the biggest laughs of the whole film. Hunter gives a typically tender performance as a heartbroken mother, desperately doing everything she can to solve this problem for her daughter. Incidentally, she is also one of the strongest aspects, in a similar role in a totally different type of film from this year, ‘Song to Song’. I was also pleased to see, among the supporting cast, Adeel Akhtar, who plays Wilson Wilson in ‘Utopia’ – the best television programme of the last ten years (including all of the American golden age fare).

‘The Big Sick’ is a very good example of a rom-com – funny, charming, tender – probably precisely because it is true. Nanjiani makes a natural and compelling central figure – all of the action revolves around him. It may sound easy to just be playing yourself, but it takes a lot of guts to be that vulnerable. To also be publicly exposing what must have been a difficult time – not just dealing with a gravely sick girlfriend, but also facing a choice between romantic and familial love – is brave and refreshingly honest. In some ways it feels old-fashioned – almost a Romeo & Juliet style tale – but it is also modern – dealing with the immigrant Uber driver, the post 9/11 climate and Islamophobia. The film has taken on a more political stance than it perhaps intended, now that Trump is in power. There is a scene in which a heckler becomes racially abusive but now, it could be argued that he represents roughly half of American voters.

It is important to Nanjiani to represent Muslims as something more than terrorists in the mainstream media and he provides a well-rounded character to do just that. The fact that the character IS him definitely makes the film seem more real and while there are moments that are perhaps more dramatic or with more perfect comedic timing in the movie, it is character-driven at its core. ‘The Big Sick’ is currently ‘expanding’ throughout the US, relying heavily on word of mouth. It deserves to succeed in the US and internationally, as it is rare to see such a well-written, non-clichéd rom-com. Go see it!

 Fiona’s rating: 8 out of 10
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Despicable Me 3

Year: 2017
Director(s): Kyle Balda, Peter Coffin
Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Jenny Slate
Written by Andrew Garrison

Whilst I enjoyed the previous two ‘Despicable Me’ films, 2015’s the ‘Minions’ movie was a bit of a disappointment, being tolerable at best film. Following that, my anticipation for this movie had dropped considerably, however I was hopeful that bringing Gru and the gang back would elevate the film over the previous.  Thankfully, it did, but not nearly as much as I’d prefer.

Despicable Me 3′ tells the story of Gru (Carell) who is now working as an agent for the Anti Villain League alongside his wife, Lucy (Wiig), and this time ex-childhood TV star of the 80s, Balthazar Bratt, is the one being a nuisance. Lucy and Gru end up getting get sacked from their jobs, resulting in Gru suffering a personal loss of purpose. It is then discovered that Gru has a long-lost brother named Dru (also voiced by Carell). The two siblings reconnect and quickly devise a complicated heist that is ripe with ulterior motives.

Whilst ‘Despicable Me 3’ wasn’t a complete disaster, it did have several issues worth noting.  Of the three films, I felt the writing in this one was the weakest. In past films, the humour hit its mark often, and there were also moments that pulled at your heartstrings.  In this third installment however, the heart is missing. There are a couple of moments that rise to the right level, but plenty do not, and you will leave this movie with dry eyes.

As for the humour, there are several very funny moments in the film, however, there are also many jokes that were weak and missed their mark because of poor timing, delivery, and overall substance. The first act was quite hilarious, but the jokes diminished drastically in the latter two-thirds of the film. As a result, the first act is the strongest, but the movie drags in the middle. You wind up with a few laughs, a little bit of heart, and then a ton of downtime.  Perhaps the biggest issue here is the film touched on a subject that could have delivered the greatest amount of heart, allowing us to grow closer to these characters, but this was never fully developed. 

The humour saves this movie from being dismal.  When the jokes hit right, they were hilarious, and this was mostly thanks to Trey Parker as Balthazar Bratt; a 1980’s childhood star turned evil. The sight gags, sheer energy of the character, and 1980’s references are thoroughly entertaining.

Gru, Lucy, and the minions had personal story arcs that needed to be fulfilled.  Whilst Gru and his relationship with Dru carries the film, Lucy has her own issues to work out as she is filling a very unfamiliar motherhood role. This story arc showed promise, but I just wish it was explored more, however overall I was satisfied with the conclusion. 

Like many, I prefer when the minions are used sparingly, their story here is entertaining, but it did not have me longing for more.  It works well enough for the construct of this movie and there certainly were some humourous minion moments. Let’s be honest, if not for the minion madness that has spread across the globe, these little guys would still be hilarious in small doses.

Finally, the connection between Gru and Dru and their brotherly dynamic is interesting; both have expectations of the other and both have to make adjustments accordingly.  Although much of the best potential is wasted, there is enjoyment to be had in seeing these two bond as brothers.  In the end, I like the lessons that Gru learns about his purpose in life, and whilst his character doesn’t alter as much as one would hope, there is a noticeable change. 

It may have been less than stellar in comparison to other ‘Despicable Me’ movies, but it was considerably better than ‘Minions’. ‘Despicable Me 3’ has enough humour to keep all ages entertained for the runtime, however it had potential to do so much more and never fully delivered on it.  

Andrew’s rating: 6.5 out of 10 

 

Rough Night

Year: 2017
Director: Lucia Aniello
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Zoe Kravitz, Ilana Glazer, Jillian Bell
Written by Fiona Underhill

I saw the trailer for this film and thought it looked like a female version of ‘The Hangover’, which is pretty much exactly what it is. Although the trailer did not appeal to my sense of humour, it had a strong cast (including Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon and Zoë Kravitz) and I wanted to support the film because it’s a female-directed, female-driven R-rated comedy and I believe there should be more of all those things. Interestingly enough, like buses, two have come along at once – the similarly-plotted ‘Girls Trip’ (starring Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah) is also coming out this Summer, showing there is room for more than one studio comedy from the female perspective. I am pleased to say I was pleasantly surprised by ‘Rough Night’ and I ended up laughing a lot more than I thought I would. 

Jess (Johansson) is a goody-goody, trying to carve a noble political career and engaged to a boring and sensible man. Her former college roommate, Alice (Jillian Bell) has planned a wild weekend in Miami for Jess’ bachelorette party. Along for the ride are uptight and wealthy Blair (Kravitz) and free-spirited hippy Frankie (Ilana Glazer) – who have a romantic history from college. The fifth ingredient is Pippa (McKinnon) – Jess’ friend from a year out in Australia. Pippa immediately gets Alice’s back up, as she feels jealous and threatened in her best friend status with Jess. The weekend starts off predictably wild – with drink, dancing and drugs and a stripper is ordered once the girls are back at their luxury Miami pad. In the fine tradition of a Joe Orton farce – an accident occurs, the stripper ends up dead and the rest of the film covers the panic of what to do with the body. 

It’s interesting that because it is women reacting to the death of someone in their midst, the tone did become more serious and emotional – at least for a while. I was in a packed cinema, with a mostly female audience and the atmosphere did become a little awkward and uncomfortable when the stripper was killed. It’s hard not to empathise when you see yourself represented on screen and initially the group of women are quite shattered by what has occurred. The writers – Lucia Aniello (who also directed) and Paul Downs (who plays Jess’ fiancee Peter) quite deftly handle this tonal shift and fairly subtly but quickly build the moment back up to comedy. Bell and McKinnon, who play the more outlandish comic figures also greatly help with returning the mirth. I did find myself swept along and almost despite myself, laughing at crude and broadly comedic moments – which usually isn’t really my thing. 

The film alternates between the raucous bachelorette weekend in Miami and Peter’s bachelor party. In a slightly tiresome role reversal, his is a much more sedate wine tasting affair. However, after a panicked phone call from Jess, Peter believes she has cheated on him with the stripper/prostitute and his friends persuade him to pull an insane all-nighter – fuelled by Adderall, Red Bull and adult nappies – and drive to Miami to confront her. This was a pleasantly unhinged performance from Downs (who I’ve not seen before) and did provide some welcome relief from the body-hiding shenanigans.

Add in great cameos from Ty Burrell and Demi Moore – as the randy neighbours to the party pad – and all in all, this was an enjoyable night at the cinema. I can definitely see this proving popular with groups of girls, who want to go out and have a few drinks and have a fun night at the movies. Films like that don’t come along all that often (‘Magic Mike’ and yes, ‘Fifty Shades’ are probably the most recent examples), so we have to take what we can get. I think ‘Rough Night’ is going to do well financially and I’m happy about that. Of course, many films have tried to replicate the success of ‘Bridesmaids’ and not many have managed to pull it off. Hopefully female-driven comedies will not be so few-and-far-between in future and we don’t have to put so much emphasis on female directors, writers and stars when reviewing them. It should be standard, run-of-the-mill, not worth noting. But we’re not there yet. 

Fiona’s rating: 7 out of 10

Wilson

Year: 2017
Director: Craig Johnson
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Sandy Oian-Thomas, Shaun Brown, Judy Greer, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Laura Dern
Written by Charlotte Sometimes

As a Londoner there is an innate social etiquette transcribed in my DNA that I follow unquestionably. It includes rules such as: no eye-contact when riding public transport; avoid talking to strangers in any setting at all costs; keep any small talk that occurs small, sticking to inane and vapid topic, and that personal space equates to at least one seat between you and the rest of the world. It’s clear from the opening few moments that Wilson (Woody Harrelson) is clearly not a Londoner and if he were he’d easily be written off as the weirdo-who-must-be-avoided (of which there always seems to be one, no matter where you are in London – if you can’t spot one then it’s probably you…). In fact Wilson seems to transcend social niceties or euphemism; he’s actually a misanthropic, passive aggressive prick, one who is riddled from neuroses to such an extent that a 60 second conversation with him would be too long.

At least, that’s how it appears at the start but as with most of these things, there’s more going on under the surface. First and foremost, he’s lonely. His breaking with social conventions, sitting at an occupied table when the rest of the café is empty or choosing to sit next to the sleeping person on an empty train who you then wake up and bamboozle with questions,  is the result of his desperate need/want for human contact. He’s trapped between a fear of commitment – caused by being abandoned by his wife Pippi (Laura Dern) 18 years ago – and an overwhelming sense of loneliness. When Wilson finds out that Pippi has returned to town he goes to find her in a desperate bid for closure. What he ends up getting is another chapter of sorts. Having believed for almost two decades that Pippi had an abortion post-leaving Wilson and pre-a failed attempt living in LA he finds out that she in fact had the child and gave it up for adoption. What follows is Wilson, and a forcibly co-opted Pippi, seeking out their teenage daughter then trying to form a connection with her. But, as Wilson is a less than conventional person, what follows is unique with a side of twisted…

The film is centred on Harrelson’s performance – in fact, it’s totally dependent on it. He’s the reason that most people would choose to see the film in the first place, let alone stay committed to it. It’s certainly something of a hard-sell, watching a middle-aged curmudgeon on his desperate search for some semblance of stability, but Harrelson manages to sell it…just. He throws all his charm at it and succeeds in making someone that should or could be an unlikeable character into someone we find ourselves being tricked into caring about.  The script is loaded with great gags and the odd belly laugh, regularly straying into genuinely hilarious territory. Dern is excellent support as his estranged wife and their chemistry is immensely watchable.

It’s a shame that the film loses momentum mid-way, the gags become less frequent during some unexpected narrative twists and the charming, odd-ball tone becomes replaced with just plain odd. Whilst Harrelson is consistent, the storytelling isn’t, and when the emotional gear switches and becomes more poignant, the film lacks the depth to fully connect with the audience. After having a first act that flew by, the film gets bogged down in the second act causing the 92 minute running time to feel far longer. If you like the idea of an indie movie that is the by-product of a Venn diagram with the subheadings ‘quirky’ and ‘chaotic’ then ‘Wilson’ is the film for you. If you want to watch Woody Harrelson firing on all cylinders then you’re also the perfect audience.

Overall, the film feels like something of a missed opportunity. An opener of ‘what went well’ followed by just a bit too much ‘even better if’.

Charlotte’s verdict: 6.3 out of 10

Captain Underpants

Year: 2017
Director:
David Soren
Starring:
Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, Nick Kroll, Jordan Peele
Written by Dalton Brown

Nostalgia. Nostalgia is why I wanted to see ‘Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie’. I didn’t go to laugh or anything. I went because my inner child consumed me, brainwashed me, and basically forced me to go see this. My inner child is an idiot. But hey, ‘Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie’ could have been a lot worse and, honestly, probably should have been. As it stands though, ‘Captain Underpants’ is alright; kind of underwhelming.

Based off a series of children’s books, the film follows Harold (Thomas Middleditch) and George (Kevin Hart) – two best friends that are inseparable. They like making comic books about this imaginary superhero known as “Captain Underpants!” When they’re not writing their next masterpiece, they’re pulling pranks on their mean school principle… Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms). Mr. Krupp hates fun. One day, Harold and George push Mr. Krupp past his breaking point; thus, forcing him to relocate the two friends to separate classrooms. The boys panic and try to hypnotize him. And it somehow works, cue “Captain Underpants!”

‘Captain Underpants’ is beautiful to look at, I’ll give it that. And it has a nice cast of characters too. The voice work is good. Everything about it is solid. Even the jokes. Though they do grow tiresome very quickly, they’re not completely unbearable. So, why was it underwhelming? Because I’m too old for it anymore, mostly. But also, there was a joke that had to do with the choir that kind killed it for me. And the third act became repetitive.

Despite all of this, it’s still a good movie. Granted, kids will probably get a lot more out of it than adults but there are some great messages about laughter and friendship and things.

I like the messages. I like the animation. I like what the movie is going for, but it could have been better. Maybe if it embraced its mediocrity? I don’t know. I suggest seeing it at some point, but don’t get your hopes up. It’s an easy watch and I enjoyed most of it, I was also expecting something a bit better.

Dalton’s rating: 6.0/10

Colossal

Year: 2017
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudekis, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson, Dan Stevens

Written by Sarah Buddery

The current trend in film seems to be re-makes/re-boots/re-imaginings and endless, endless sequels for films that perhaps we may have cared about years ago, but now we seriously have to question whether we still do. Of course there is still originality in film, but it is often hard to come by, saved for an exclusive elite in the form of small, unknown indie films, foreign language films, and other less mainstream options. Last year’s ‘Swiss Army Man’ was divisive, but also refreshingly unique (I was one of those who didn’t care for it!), and in a similar vein comes this year’s ‘Colossal’, boasting some impressive talent and promising to tap into that magical notion; that films can, and should still be original.

For me, the trailers gave off something of a slightly quirkier ‘A Monster Calls’ vibe with its towering monster figure, but it couldn’t be further from that fantastic and fantastical tear-jerker if it tried. I will do my best to avoid plot spoilers here as this really is a film you should go into without knowing too much, although perhaps not completely blind as it might catch you incredibly off-guard! In short, it is about Gloria (Hathaway), a struggling alcoholic who after a break-up decides to return to her hometown. So far so normal, but soon reports start emerging about a giant creature that is attacking Seoul in South Korea, and Gloria realises she has a strange connection to this phenomenon.  

‘Colossal’ is a film which will quite rightly get people talking, and you still might not have a firm grasp of exactly what is going on even after you’ve seen it, but it is also perhaps deliberately ambiguous. This is intelligent film-making which refuses to hand answers to you on a plate, but far from being pretentious, it’s laid back and undeniably “cool” approach makes it incredibly endearing.

In layman’s terms, ‘Colossal’ is something of an allegory for the destructive power of alcoholism, with the monster providing a somewhat extreme, but nonetheless important, physical embodiment of the ability it has to wreak havoc and destruction. See, I said it was absolutely nothing like ‘A Monster Calls’! If you’ve ever heard the phrase of someone “battling their personal demons”, there is something of that in this film, with the “demons” in question appearing as both gigantic, city-wrecking monsters, and the regular-sized and seemingly “regular” people, whose intentions are perhaps not to be trusted. Whilst the concept and ideas of this film are grand in scale and ambitious in scope, it is amazing just how naturally this is conveyed, and how easy it is to buy into. There’s enough substance, and crucially, likeable and well developed characters to cement this idea, and they sell it completely.

Whilst the subject matter might seem bleak, and there is undoubtedly room for genuine moments of human drama, it had a surprisingly dark comedic edge to it as well. This adds a delightful charm and warmth to the film, and despite its unusual ideas and thematically rich notions it is very easy to like and genuinely funny in places.

For those who have perhaps slated Anne Hathaway in the past (something of which I have never really been able to understand), ‘Colossal’ will instantly silence them, as she is really quite fantastic here. She nails the goofy awkwardness of the character, and sells the uniqueness of the story so convincingly, which is absolutely crucial in making it work. Her performance suspends our disbelief completely, meaning the idea of a giant monster being controlled by her brain on the other side of the world never seems like it is weird at all, and this is no easy feat!

‘Colossal’ is one of those undefinable films, one which might leave you head-scratching, and one which will leave you completely tongue-tied when you attempt to describe the plot to anyone else! It is in many ways indescribable, so refreshingly unique that you do really need to see it for yourself to make a judgement. I can fully accept that this film will once again prove to be divisive, but it will certainly get people talking, and that is something at least. ‘Colossal’ is dazzlingly unique, oddly charming, endlessly inventive and quite unlike anything else I have seen. Definitely worth a watch, and good or bad, it will certainly stick with you afterwards.

Sarah’s rating: 7.8 out of 10

Baywatch

Year: 2017
Director: Seth Gordon
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Priyanka Chopra, Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera, Jon Bass
Written by Tom Sheffield

Slow motion running? Check. Sexy lifeguards? Check. A soundtrack to rival ’22 Jump Street’? Check.

I’ll hold my hands up and say that I wasn’t ever really excited for this film. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge comedy fan, but as Patrick mentioned in his brilliantly worded article, comedy just seems to have lost it’s mojo over recent years, and they’ve become rather predictable. I watched the first 2 trailers and thought they look ‘okay’ and something that would give me a few laughs. I avoided the red band trailer, as that’s when the marketing team for some reason decide to show off the best gags of the film and leave you disappointed in the cinema expecting more of the same.

Right from the word go the film’s title sequence makes sure to set you up for what to expect for the next 2 hours. Without spoiling it, it’s over the top and outlandishly brilliant. The perfect expectation setter.

Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson), CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach), and Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera) are growing increasingly concerned for the patrons of their beach as drugs keep washing up on shore. Determined to put a stop to it, they go beyond the call of duty for lifeguards and decide to investigate further. With new recruits Summer (Alexandra Daddario), Ronnie (Jon Bass), and Matt Brody (Zac Efron) there to help their efforts, the team must work together if they are to solve the mystery of the drugs. Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) doesn’t like people meddling in her business, so she sets out to make sure her plans stay on track and does whatever necessary to ensure nobody can stop her.

Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron are absolutely hilarious on screen together, and they really bounce off each other’s jokes superbly. The fact that Johnson calls Efron’s character every name under the sun but his actual name produces some of the best laughs. The cast as a whole are fantastic, with each of them sharing screen time with one another at some point, and we see how different their relationships are. Jon Bass is hands down my favourite in this film because his character was completely the opposite to Johnson and Efron’s but he wasn’t just there for comedic effect, he was there representing the average guy amongst two six-pick donning, bicep tensing alphas. Priyanka Chopra also gets a special mention for her villainous role that would have a Bond villain shaking in his boots. She absolutely owned this role and I would pay good money for her to play a similar villain in a film with a more serious tone.

The humour is exactly what I expected. There’s dick jokes, running in slow motion, self-referential remarks, and constant reminders from other characters that these characters are just lifeguards and not cops. There is one joke I think will go down like lead balloon with most audiences, which refers to the death of a much loved celebrity and it actually got a few shocked gasps in the audience in my screening. Other than that, I found myself laughing throughout the film, even at the most ridiculous of jokes, because the film is just genuinely a laugh and it knows it’s basically just one giant piss-take. I think there was a lot more we could have learned about each of the characters, we only really learn about Buchannon and Brody, but hopefully this is something a sequel could provide. The gratuitous cameos were brilliantly done and fit in well with the rest of the film.

I think a sequel would be welcomed due to the fact that this film felt like it kept things safe to make sure it did well. I can really imagine some of the scenes being dialled down a touch when they wrote the script or filmed it because they wanted to make sure people left wanting more. A sequel should just carry on playing on it’s self-referential nature and just go absolutely wild and ridiculous. Give the people what they want!

If you’ve watched the trailers and found yourself thinking that it looks like your cup of tea, then you’ll not be surprised to learn that it actually is. However, if the jokes in the trailer don’t make you crack a smile, then you’d probably do best to save 2 hours of your time and skip this. I enjoyed it a lot more then I was expecting to and I think Johnson and Efron’s charisma will be a key factor in people’s enjoyment of this film. You’ll also want to stay in your seats as the credits role for some hilarious outtakes and once they’re done, there’s a short bit at the end that will make sure you leave the cinema with a smile on your face.

Tom’s rating: 6.5 out of 10

Mindhorn

Year: 2017
Director: Sean Foley
Starring: Julian Barratt, Essie Davis, Kenneth Branagh, Andrea Riseborough, Steve Coogan, Russell Tovey, Simon Farnaby
Written by Tom Sheffield

Through my teenage years I remember repeatedly watching ‘The Mighty Boosh’ after being introduced to it by a friend. It’s ridiculous humour and low-budget sets and costumes often brought me close to tears of laughter. Julian Barratt took this same essence and feel that he brought to The Boosh and produced something just as beautiful. Barratt teams back up with Simon Farnaby to write the screenplay for ‘Mindhorn’, as well as both starring in it and something I didn’t learn until  the studios appeared before the film is the brilliant fact that Ridley Scott was an Executive Producer on the film.

‘Mindhorn’ is a character from a 1980’s detective show which starred actor Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barratt), which was filmed on the Isle of Man. 25 years after the show ended, we see a balding, rotund Thorncroft desperately attempt to find some sort of professional acting work, something that he hasn’t managed to achieve over the last 25 years.  Meanwhile, a killer, who calls himself ‘The Kestrel’,  is on the loose on the Isle of Man and refuses to speak to or comply with the police unless he talks to Mindhorn, who he thinks is a real detective. Hoping this case will thrust him straight back in the limelight, Thorncroft dons his ‘truth seeing’ eye patch and mustard-coloured turtle neck and gets to work trying to make a name for himself again. But there’s more to the case than the police know, and it falls to Mindhorn to see that justice is served!

Going into the film, I sort of had an idea what to expect, due to it being written by and starring both Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby. Their previous work, both together and apart, have been some of my favourites over the years, so to have them both together in one film was always going to be a winner in my book. Their humour shines in this film, with some brilliant one liners, some heart racing action sequences, and a sense of silliness that doesn’t go too far to the point that it would put some people off. Mindhorn finds himself rolling from awkward situation to the next which allows Barratt to get his acting chops around some scenes that are all over the emotions scale, and yet he delivers in every scene.

The film’s supporting cast are absolutely brilliant, and they all bring something a little different to their character. Russell Tovey get’s a special mention from me for his portrayal as Paul Melly AKA ‘The Kestrel’, whose obsession with Mindhorn comes off as insanely creepy, but as we learn more about Melly’s background and motives later in the film, you begin to see a sort of innocence to his obsession. Steve Coogan is also a notable mention for his portrayal as Thorncroft’s Mindhorn co-star who shot to fame following a spin-off and multiple sponsorship deals. Although he doesn’t have all that much screen time, he has just enough to make an impression and give us an insight to his character and his smugness. Ultimately it’s Barratt and Farnaby’s shared scenes that are the most memorable, and not just because Farnaby is half naked the whole time. The pair have a great chemistry and bounce off one another with their similar sense of humour and I would definitely be buying tickets if they decided to pair up again and write/star in a prequel/sequel, which they recently teased in a Q&A.  

‘Mindhorn’ is a fantastic example of a brilliant British comedy that in no way takes itself seriously. Fans of Barratt and Farnaby will find themselves in familiar territory, but it never feels repetitive or too similar to their previous work. With a fantastic supporting cast, the Isle of Man delivering beautiful scenery in the background, and a perfect runtime of 89 minutes, I highly recommend giving ‘Mindhorn’ a watch.

Tom’s rating: 7.5 out of 10

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Year: 2017
Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Pom Klementieff, Karen Gillan
Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ marks the beginning of a MCU triple header in 2017, soon to be followed by ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ and ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ later in the year. It’s a return to the wider, ethereal plane of the MCU not yet entirely connected with the Avengers, but they’re certainly on the path to it. ‘Vol. 2’ has aspirations to be bigger than its previous installment, widely considered to be one of the best films in the MCU to date, but as we will soon find out, bigger doesn’t always mean better. 

‘Vol. 2’ sees the Guardians, Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Pratt) et al, continuing to save the galaxy from weird and wonderful things. They have crafted a niche in the galaxy as problem-solvers in their own, unique way. Together, each with their individual assets to lend to the team, such as Gamora’s sword, Rocket’s gadgets, Drax’s strength, and Groot’s adorability, they frequently succeed in their missions, no matter how unorthodox the solution may be. This time, however, a mysterious figure named Ego (Russell) has tracked the Guardians down claiming to be Peter’s long lost father who has wider aspirations for the Galaxy that Peter and the others have sworn to protect.

From the very opening moments, ‘Vol. 2’ has a different feel about it. Much was made before the film’s release that ‘Vol. 2’ is the first MCU film to be shot on state-of-the-art RED cameras and this is evident from the opening frame. No MCU film, populated by colourful characters left and right, has ever looked this vibrant. James Gunn and cinematographer Henry Braham use this to its fullest in every frame. My personal favourite moment is during a mid-point escape sequence, Yondu’s (Rooker) bright red arrow of death knocks the lights out in a corridor before illuminating 5 kills in a row in wonderful flashes of red. From a visual stand-point, ‘Vol. 2’ absolutely shines.

The characters we know and love are all back and as great as ever. Quill and Gamora (Saldana) share a relationship that borders on will-they-won’t-they that doesn’t feel forced; it feels borne from their experiences and mutual respect. Rocket and Baby Groot are the lovable, bickering older and younger brother of the team, and Drax and newbie Mantis (Klementieff) hit it off from the get go with their suspect social skills. These pairings all work in and of themselves, but the film shines when the team is all together. In the opening battle (sound-tracked wonderfully by Mr. Blue Sky), they bicker as they fight a hideous, tentacled beast, they bicker on the Milano, they bicker as they’re being praised for saving the Galaxy again. Their bickering is what made Vol. 1 so great; we fell in love with these characters and they became an unorthodox family with a spaceship as their home. They’re the best rag-tag band of space misfits this side of Joss Whedon’s ‘Firefly’.

And yet, James Gunn decided to split them up.

I understand film structure, and I understand that films have the A-plot and B-plot, but to separate Peter, Gamora, and Drax from Rocket and Groot fairly early on diminishes the film’s strongest suit – the Guardians themselves. Try as it might, despite some individual stand-out moments from Drax (he has one mini-rant about parents having sex that had me in fits of laughter) and Rocket (Taserface!), I could never shake the feeling that something wasn’t as right as it should be. When the band finally get back together, ‘Vol. 2’ rediscovers the magic that made Vol. 1 so special. The film is book-ended by sequences in which they fight and bicker and get the job done, but the hour between those is filled with far-too-many scenes of different pairings standing around, talking in a room. Gunn evidently wanted to delve deeper into these characters and help us understand who they are, where they came from, and where they want to go, but some work more than others. Peter gets the lion’s share of the character study as he discovers the true meaning of family, but it felt as if we were simply told these things rather than shown. With the aforementioned camera technology at Gunn’s disposal, it’s a shame so much of it is used to frame people’s faces as they discuss their feelings.

In Kurt Russell’s Ego, ‘Vol. 2’ has a fascinating character. Ego is a living planet. You heard me. A planet. I must commend Gunn for managing to convey this idea so effectively. It’s a baffling concept that could have alienated some viewers, but Russell oozes so much charm and cool that he sells the idea convincingly. Again, from a visual stand-point, Ego is conveyed beautifully with stellar backgrounds and a hint of Russell’s actual face on the surface of the planet itself. It’s a shame though, that Ego felt so inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

Ego plays a major role in Peter’s character arc, but where Vol. 1 had a connection to the MCU’s big picture of the Infinity Stones, ‘Vol. 2’ feels disconnected from everything else. Aside from a couple of Thanos name-drops, ‘Vol. 2’ is a self-contained story in the Guardians of the Galaxy side of the MCU. For most, this isn’t a problem, but it’s a bold move for Marvel to do this considering next year the Guardians are meant to be joining up with the Avengers for the impending Infinity War. I would have thought ‘Vol. 2’ would do more to send the Guardians to Earth.

‘Vol. 2’ has its fair share of spectacular set-pieces, fabulously unexpected cameos, and it is no doubt full to the brim with references that only die-hard Marvel Comic’s readers would know on first viewing. It’s certainly a very enjoyable film because of our connection to and love for the characters, but I felt it was a step back from Vol. 1. Rather than build on the strengths of the original, it split them up, and it hampered my overall feeling towards it. It’s a shame because when ‘Vol. 2’ works, it works. Groot’s moments in the spotlight trying and failing to complete a task are gold, Drax’s new found sense of humour is a delight, and Mantis is an adorable addition to the team. It just didn’t quite match the heights of Vol. 1.

Rhys’ rating: 7.2 out of 10

Their Finest

Year: 2017
Director: Lone Scherfig
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston, Paul Ritter, Richard E. Grant, Jeremy Irons
Written by Fiona Underhill

We all know that Hollywood loves to make films about itself, and then shower these films with awards in a self-congratulating exercise of narcissism and ego. So, it’s refreshing to see a British take on its own film industry, at a particularly interesting point in its history. We are talking World War Two – when entertainment had to do several things at once. It needed to provide an escape to the horrors, of course, but it also had to put the right ‘spin’ on things and became an instrument for propaganda. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – one of my favourite films of all time – Powell and Pressburger’s ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ was one such film. In an effort to foster favourable US-UK relations, it has an American radio operator fall in love with a British pilot. ‘Their Finest’ focuses on a similar film – a team is assembled by the Ministry for Information to make inspiring films, based on real wartime events happening around them. Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is specifically hired to write the ‘slop’ – the female dialogue. She stumbles upon a pair of twin sisters who took it upon themselves to steal their father’s fishing boat and try to take it to Dunkirk – to assist in the effort of evacuating the hundreds of thousands of men stranded there. The fact that they never made it, need not get in the way of a good story. Mrs Cole is teamed up with Tom Buckley (Sam Clafin) and Raymond Parfitt (Paul Ritter) to weave the story into something dramatic and exciting – and don’t forget a bit with a dog.

Bill Nighy plays Ambrose Hilliard – an actor past his prime, who believes he will be given the heroic soldier role, but ends up playing the comic foil – Uncle Frank. It is decided that (as with ‘A Matter of Life and Death’), an American character is needed, just at the turning point of whether the US will be entering the war or not. So a real life all-American hero is found – Carl Lundbeck (Jack Lacy – last seen playing one of Hannah’s boyfriends in TV show ‘Girls’) – the only problem is that he can’t act. Some of the best British acting talent has been assembled for ‘Their Finest’, even in smaller roles – with Eddie Marsan and Helen McCrory playing sibling agents to Hilliard. Richard E. Grant and Jeremy Irons also appear in small parts – it is gratifying to see that stars will still return home to help out British films. Jack Huston plays the role he always seems to play – a mustachioed injured soldier (see also Boardwalk Empire) – who is Catrin’s struggling artist husband.

The film alternates between a constantly bombarded London (where landladies and friends can be there one day and gone the next) and the much more peaceful seaside location where some of the film’s shooting occurs. Mrs Cole and Buckley become close here, but she is torn between supporting her husband’s art exhibition and her burgeoning feelings for her fellow writer. Of course, the film examines women’s changing roles during the war. The fact that they have jobs, responsibilities and freedoms that they had not experienced before means they will not easily be sent back to the kitchen when war is over. Mrs Cole is patronised and dismissed as a writer, but she grows in confidence throughout the film and gains respect from the men around her. The ending of the film is a disappointment in some ways, but ultimately is trying to return the focus to Catrin Cole and her role as a writer, rather than her reliance on romance or men.    

It is a delight to see some of the ‘behind-the-scenes’ magic of how films were made before the age of CGI. The Dunkirk beach scene is a particular highlight. It is also nice to examine a time when cinema had real power – to transport millions of people from bleak reality on the one hand, but also have an important role in providing news and information from the war also. ‘Their Finest’ is directed by a woman – Lone Scherfig – who, despite being Danish, has scrutinised aspects of uniquely British life in ‘An Education’, ‘One Day’ and ‘The Riot Club’. The acting – from Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy, in particular, is excellent. Nighy still manages to upstage almost every actor in almost every film he’s in. He simultaneously plays the ego and awkwardness of his character tenderly, particularly when he finds an unexpected role as acting teacher to the poor American war hero.

‘Their Finest’ is a lovely film, which is sure to melt the most cynical of hearts. I certainly had something in my eye at more than one point. It is also really important to support a) British cinema and b) female talent behind-the-camera; so go out and see it! You won’t regret it.

Fiona’s rating: 8 out of 10

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Year: 2005
Director: Shane Black
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan
Written by Rhys Wortham

I try to stay away from most buddy cop movies, mainly because they are either cliché or you can see the same thing (usually done better) on a TV cop show. There are some films that do this genre well, such as the ‘Lethal Weapon’ series and ‘Rush Hour’, although both are somewhat character driven rather then story driven sometimes. On the other hand there are ones like ‘Loose Cannons’ that tries too much to be everything and accomplishes nothing, or ‘White Chicks’ that bases itself on the premise that two handsome black man can disguise themselves as two white women and somehow not still look like men. Sorry fellas, you didn’t fool anyone. It ranges from the too silly, like ‘Police Academy’, to the very depressing, like ‘The Departed’. Its a mixed bag and sometimes they just aren’t marketed well. 

‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ from director Shane Black isn’t about the usual wacky comedy crime duo. In any duo, one is usually the straight man, who is anything but straight, and the other is a comic relief, but both you can relate to on some level. Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) is a down on his luck guy who see everyone else living their lives happily, while the only love he’s ever known is getting her cervix tested by every dog in town that wants to bury his bone. Haven’t we all been there? While Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) is the street-wise guy who doesn’t like his job, people, you, nor his inability to help people when going gets rough. It’s a nihilist perspective while still trying to see the sunny side of life. 

These two work well because Harry’s moronic antics lead to better questions and help solve the mysteries faster, Gay’s tactics are a little more based on detective work. He’s not a good guy, but not a bad one either. They counter balance each other really well as they try and struggle to work with each other. This leads to some great dialogue and some really funny scenes, both with and without nudity. Other whimsical things happen along the way, in the vein of ‘The Three Stooges’, except in this case, a few people actually die. 

This movie is definitely worth watching at least once. It captures a quirky person with the comedic ideals of someone like Bill Burr or Seth MacFarlane while still being grounded in reality and working with someone who’s probably going to get someone grounded, in a meat grinder. It’s slightly different because of it’s continuous commentary on Hollywood and how the whole crime drama genre is a farce of itself sometimes. It excels as a crime drama because it emotionally brutalizes a normal fellow like Harry while giving enough to Gay to go on to solve the mystery. 

I liked this, but the continued humour might ruin it for some. Seeing someone bleed out their chest after a few punch lines might leave something to be desired, but with a little something for everyone, if anything it might be a good movie for a date. 

Rhys’ rating: 7.5 out of 10

Going in Style

Year: 2017
Director: Zach Braff
Starring: Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman 
Written by Andrew Garrison

I have longed to watch a good comedy for a while, but so many “comedy” films today are either terribly unfunny, or raunchy to the extent that is too gross to be funny.  I wanted a mature film that could make me smile and laugh like the comedy films of old did. ‘Going in Style’, featuring the talents of Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Alan Arkin felt like a film that could do this. Additionally, director Zach Braff has proven himself a competent director, although he may have still peaked in the television series ‘Scrubs’.  ‘Going in Style’ is about three elderly men who find themselves being given a bad deal thanks to some greedy companies and bank loaners, who then decide to rob a bank so they can live comfortably and take care of their various personal issues. I’m delighted to say, despite its flaws, this film proved to be the comedy I’ve been waiting for.

I must say that the first act of this film is poorly written; I didn’t like the dialogue, the jokes weren’t funny, and nothing was timed well. It felt to me that this film was going to be an absolute mess. Everything about this film improved in the final two acts, but the humour didn’t always sit right. This film is comical, but it had potential to be so much more and never reached it.

While not so much a flaw, it is a concept that some could consider overused – about how the elderly still has value in society, about how being old doesn’t mean you stop living. The classic idea of staying young-at-heart even if the rest of you isn’t. This film taps into that notion quite well.

As mentioned before, the final two acts of this film are enjoyable and funny, with several moments leading to hearty laughter.  The talented cast find their groove and provide us with some quality entertainment. 

While certainly not the first film to do so, I did appreciate that this movie went after the treachery of major corporations and large banks – how they rob many less fortunate blind and pick up massive profits in the end. Meanwhile others lose their homes, their very livelihoods, and their hopes and dreams. It is among the greatest injustices of our time and too little has been done to stop it. By no means do I think a bank heist or something illegal is the correct path, but I liked that vein of thinking this film has; a sense of justice to those so sorely wronged.

As well as the A-list main cast members, the other cameos and bit-parts in this movie are wonderful, with so many familiar faces and voices doing wonderful things – I would love to see more from many of them.

‘Going in Style’ had a rough time getting together, but once established, it proved a worthwhile comedy, with a list of talented actors and an amazing secondary cast. This film turned out a delightful change of pace compared to the majority of raunchy comedies which currently litter the present movie landscape. If you have enjoyed the comedy style of Braff before, you likely won’t be disappointed here. 

Andrew’s rating: 6.6 out of 10