The Last Laugh

Showing on Netflix.

Directed by Greg Pritikin and starring Chevy Chase and Richard Dreyfuss The Last Laugh tells the story of Al Hart, a long time comedy talent agent who is encouraged to move into a care home as he enters his later years, where he’s reunited with his first ever client, Richard Dreyfuss’s Buddy Green, who had seemingly thrown it all away as a young comic, Al encourages him to get back on the road and on tour.

What that gives us is a classic road trip film, it’s not original and the storyline is relatively predictable, but that’s fine, it’s delivered with enough warmth and laughs to keep you engaged and with a cast of veteran actors led by Chase and Dreyfuss, especially, who carries the film a long and keeps you engaged.

At 98 minutes it doesn’t over stretch and it was good to see a well looking Chevy Chase back in a starring role.

It’s perfectly fine comedy, nothing special and probably a film in its perfect environment on your tele when you have nowhere else to go!

The Last Thing he Wanted

Showing on Netflix.

Adapted from Joan Didion’s novel The Last Thing he Wanted supposedly tells the story of Anne Hathaway’s Elena McMahon, an investigative journalist who is working on stories of fighting in Nicaragua and wants to understand the US’s part in this as well as other conflicts. She then finds herself pulled from the story and sent to follow Reagan’s election campaign where we come across Ben Affleck’s Treat Morrison, some kind of politician identified for bigger things.

Elena’s life is then changed when her estranged father (Willem Dafoe) becomes ill and shares with her a big business deal that will be “the one”, however it would seem his business is gun running. Elena then inexplicably decides she can do some gun running on his behalf, this amazingly doesn’t end well, with me so far?

I said at the beginning of the synopsis “supposedly that’s what it’s about” because if that description sounds unclear and convoluted that’s nothing compared to what unfolds on screen. From the minute we hear Hathaway’s mumbled narration which makes no sense the film lurches from one unclear plot line to another. It feels like the film was cut into 100 segments, which were then randomly stuck together to produce the finished article.

Even with a talented cast Hathaway, Affleck, Dafoe supported by Rosie Perez and Toby Jones amongst others, there is no saving this mess of a film, incoherent dialogue, no discernible plot, a series of random events that may or may not be linked to each other and a twist at the end, that may or not be a twist depending on whether you’ve understood the preceding 100 minutes or so.

There is some enjoyment in Hathaway’s performance and a fun cameo from Toby Jones but there is no saving of this film, maybe it’s a work of misunderstood genius but I doubt it. I’d imagine the last thing he wanted was the same as the rest of us, to not have to watch this film.

Days of Bagnold Summer

Available on Streaming Services.

Days of Bagnold Summer is the directorial debut of Simon Bird (yes he of The Inbetweeners fame) and provides a charming portrait of coming to terms with change and re-defining who you are. Based on a graphic novel by Joff Winterhart it focuses on the awkward but loving relationship between a teenage boy, Daniel, played by Earl Cave and his single Mum Sue (Monica Dolan).

Birds film is a gentle look at an evolving mother and son relationship when the two of them unexpectedly find themselves spending the 6 weeks of summer school holiday’s together when Daniels now Florida based Dad changes their summer plans.

Daniel is your “average” surly teenager his look and attitude informed by his love for heavy metal bands, sporting a fine selection of black Metallica T-shirts, while his mum is the archetypal quiet librarian, dressing to “un-impress” with a safe haircut and hiding behind the comfort of her glasses.

The two main characters are hugely engaging throughout as you see the desire from Sue to find ways to be close to her son who is trying to find his place in the world, while he is auditioning to become the lead singer for a new band, alongside trying to come to terms with that annoying gentle encouragement from his Mum to get a summer job, tidy up, go shopping and her insistence that he can’t go to a wedding later in the summer in a pair of black trainers and needs new shoes.

While this kind of look at a relationship isn’t particularly new and this story doesn’t do anything unexpected with the premise, the story is lovingly told and the change in the relationship built around the family dog during the final act is charming. Daniels realisation of what his Mum means to him alongside her own, that she needs to help him find his own way and compromise a little on her idea of how he should be, provides a satisfying conclusion.

Simon Bird shows some nice touches, I’d particularly encourage that you look out for the representations of distance that are dropped in throughout the film which I thought were really well done and the two main characters are strongly supported, especially by Tamsin Grieg and Alice Lowe.

Days of Bagnold Summer is an enjoyable piece of work, with characters you enjoy spending time with and for anyone with teenage kids, provides a fun peek into a world many of us are familiar with.

A Futile and Stupid Gesture

Showing on Netflix.

In the 1970’s National Lampoon redefined comedy in the United States and beyond, spawning from a Harvard campus magazine, they introduced the world to comedy talent who would become household names, first via books and magazines before spawning the most successful film comedy, up to that time, with the classic that is Animal House. All of this coming from the minds of Henry Beard (Domhnall Gleeson) and Doug Kenney¬† (Will Forte).

David Wain’s film focuses on the life of the two founders and more specifically that of Kenney. The film flits between traditional biopic interspersed with fantasy scenes (a la Rocketman but less extravagant) showed perhaps most clearly by Martin Mull’s self proclaimed narrative device of an older Kenney.

It’s an interesting reflection of the time and focuses on the story of a hugely influential character in modern comedy, but one, as we hear in the intro, that you’ve never heard of. Kenney’s, like with many comedic talents, zany exterior hides an inner sadness that shows itself through the excess that his success and quickly acquired wealth allowed him, alongside talents of the time like John Belushi and Chevy Chase, to spiral into, as these new comedians developed a “rock n roll” lifestyle.

While the film provides an interesting window into their world, it never quite fully works, it’s a little uneven and feels like it drags as the film enters its final act. However, there are things to enjoy, there are plenty of solid performances from a plethora of well known current comedic talent and some recreations of well known scenes from influential comedies from the late 70’s.

If like me you’re a fan of National Lampoon, while not perfect, A Futile and Stupid Gesture provides an interesting take on its creator and a chance to see loving recreations of famous moments from their colourful past.

Dating Amber

Showing on Amazon Prime Video.

Dating Amber, written and directed by David Freyne, shares the story of Eddie and Amber two kids coming to the end of their school lives in 90’s Ireland who while trying to come to terms with their sexuality decide that the best way to deal with it is to have a pretend straight relationship.

There’s is a lot to like in this film, it has warmth and humour, especially a recreation of a 90’s sex education video! And dips into some of the angst, difficulties and youthful optimism of kids heading into their after school futures.

In Fionn O’Shea and Lola Petticrew’s, Eddie and the titular Amber we have two interesting central characters, Eddie from a military family but one that is breaking down, struggles to admit his sexuality and tries to fight it, looking to do the things that are expected of him. Amber is much more confident, she knows who she is and how she’ll get there, with an enterprising streak that sees her renting time in a caravan to horny teenagers! However, her home life is equally difficult as her and her mum come to terms with the early difficult death of her father.

All that said, ultimately it did fall a little flat for me, it didn’t quite engage me in the way it perhaps should and I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Perhaps in its 90 minute running time it’s because we only get to examine everything at a superficial level, we never really delve into the struggle of the two central characters or those around them and I suppose because of that I never really become truly invested in them.

Which is a pity, as there is a lot to like about Dating Amber, warm, humorous, nice performances all around but it didn’t quite click. But I’d say enough to enjoy to make it a worthwhile way to pass 90 minutes.

Rising High

Showing on Netflix.

Two things dawn on you about 5 minutes into Cuneyt Kaya’s Rising High, it’s dubbed, but a bit annoyingly and it’s a poor mans attempt at a Wolf of Wall Street type story.

The film centres around Viktor Steiner who we see retelling his adventures to a journalist, we flick back to his childhood to find his early steps into con-artistry before we find him in contemporary Berlin, dabbling with shady property dealings ahead of running into Gerry an equally suspect character who can “get anything in the world” and Nicole a smart banker who also doesn’t mind bending the rules to make a few euros.

The film then follows very familiar territory as the three play fast and loose with the rules to buy, develop and rent properties perpetrating cons as they rapidly build wealth.

Like Wall Street there story unravels as they delve into a life of excess drink, drugs, hookers and ever more flamboyant scams.

The problems with this are plentiful, the dubbing is distracting, the script at time is excessively ripe and some of the storylines a little “random”.

But that said, David Kross as Viktor gives a decent central performance and carries the film well enough and while throughout it screams “cheap unconvincing copy of much better films” it was compelling enough to keep me engaged (most of the time) and was not as terrible as the component parts suggest.

If you fancy a cheap German, English dubbed, knock off of Wolf of Wall Street but with only a 90 minute run time, this may work for you.

The Mustang

Showing on Sky Movies and other streaming services.

Based on writer director Laure de Clermont-Tonerre’s short 2014 film Rabbit, The Mustang is a fictional story based on a true prisoner rehabilitation program in the US where prisoners work with wild Mustang’s to help “break” them and prepare them for sale.

It focuses on Roman (Matthias Schoenaerts) who, on been moved to a new prison, becomes part of the program, run by the always watchable Bruce Dern’s, Myles. Myles takes the quiet and surly Roman and gives him purpose and a belief in what he can be beyond what he believes he is.

The film follows many a familiar trope for this kind of story, the parallels between the caged wild horses, who are to be taken, broken and sold on into “society” and the men who train them are laid on pretty thick, as is the story of how purpose and someone believing in someone else can change a life, but let’s face it they’re not bad messages to push hard are they.

While the story messages are not subtle, the performances are, the story telling is patient and Schoenaerts provides a compelling and complex central character. There are no real over the top prison figures, no scary Mr Big, no vicious warden or guards there are scenes of the grim realities of prison life and the complexities of Roman’s character, his past continually bubbling under the surface, including a difficult relationship with his daughter as he tries to battle with who he is who he has been and perhaps, who he’d like to be.

The Mustang is a steady paced story, no grandstanding or set pieces, captures the harshness of prison life, the difficulties of change and trying to become something new and with a final act that isn’t afraid to say “sometimes you just can’t change” alongside a very watchable central performance, it delivers an enjoyable and intriguing film.

Always be my Maybe

Showing on Netflix.

Written by and starring Ali Wong and Randall Park it tells the story of Sasha and Marcus, childhood friends whose relationship grew until one fateful night when it moved beyond friendship. They are then separated for 16 years as Sasha moves to LA and builds herself a career as a successful chef while Marcus stays in San Francisco to care for his Dad and work alongside him in the family business as they both come to terms with the untimely loss of mum and wife.

Eventually Sasha returns to San Francisco to open a new restaurant, she and Marcus are reunited and while she has built a successful career Marcus lives at home working for his dad and smoking weed. How will their two worlds clash? Will they rekindle their relationship and rediscover their childhood love?

Let’s face it you already know all the answers, Always be my Maybe is hugely formulaic and predictable and is also bizarrely uneven, with huge swathes of very mediocre but passable comedy. However, on occasion it became surprisingly good, with some really funny set pieces and a fabulous cameo about half way in, which also spawns a humorous end credit title track. There is also a couple of well judged warm and tender moments including a heartfelt final scene.

Wong and Park are both entertaining in the lead roles and are well supported by a likeable cast, with enough laughs to keep it entertaining and of course those occasional moments of real original humor and touching warmth.

Always be my Maybe I can’t imagine will live long in anyones memory, but it’s kind of fun while it lasts and with a couple of entertaining high points it won’t be the worst thing you watch on a streaming service.

The Lovebirds

Showing on Netflix.

Issa Rae and Kumail Najiani star as Leilani and Jibran a New Orleans couple who’s relationship is faltering and as the realisation hits them they also collide (literally) with a murder and as with all films like this they decide the best course of action is to attempt to solve the crime themselves before they become the accused.

Often a film watching experience is dependant on what you bring into it and on this occasion something light and not overly taxing was the brief and this delivered exactly what was asked of it.

The story while not a new premise, had enough originality to keep it feeling fresh and fun and the two leads played well off of each other delivering humour and importantly enough belief in their relationship to at least want the character’s to end up where you expect they will from the start.

Importantly their caper never feels completely ridiculous even though it is, which at least grounds it in something nearing reality (if you choose to ignore the silliest bits!).

The Lovebirds probably won’t live long in the memory but it was solid enough comedy with likeable leads and enough gags to keep it enjoyable and fun and much better than some of the recent comedies I’ve seen on Netflix (yes The Wrong Missy I’m looking at you).

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