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).

The Farewell

Available on Amazon Prime Video.

Written and directed by Lulu Wang, The Farewell is based on her own true family story of a now, widespread, Chinese family who choose to keep from the family head, Nai Nai, her cancer diagnosis. Her dire prognosis leads them to create a “fake” wedding to provide an excuse for the them to come together to say their final farewells.

What Wang gives us is a gentle tale of the importance of family, how we can often take it for granted and assume it will be always be there, until we realise it won’t. It also shows us the complexity of life, the lies we tell to protect others and often ourselves from some of the realities with which we live.

There’s a real simplicity to the story, focussed on a family and its challenges, insecurities and jealousies. One thing that really stuck with me was how the story was just about that, not about a chinese family, but one that could’ve been any family from any part of the world, striving to do their best and deal with the tragedy of seeing someone for the final time.

There’s nice performances throughout and while Awkwafina got many plaudits for her performance as Billi, it was Shuzhen Zhao who steals the show as Nai Nai, the widely loved and respected matriarch, as she perfectly captures what we’d expect from any loving mother and grandmother who wants to share her wisdom to ensure others are happy and live the best lives they can.

While it didn’t always work for me as occasionally its structure seemed a little messy, its a minor quibble for a film that is full of love, warmth humour and scattered with lovely understated but hugely relatable performances.

The Half of It

Showing on Netflix.

I’ve watched a couple of really dreadful comedies on Netflix recently, so what a breath of fresh air this wonderful warm hearted romantic comedy from writer director Alice Wu is.

Our story centres around three high school students in small town USA, Squahamish to be precise. Ellie, a Chinese immigrant, Paul and Aster all of whom have grown up in the town. Ellie is smart and articulate and earns extra money by writing papers for her classmates, until Paul asks her to write a love letter to the thoughtful, intelligent and attractive Aster whom he adores from afar, but it becomes complicated once Ellie realises she has feelings for her too.

The film right at the beginning promises this is “not a love story” or an odd one were nobody gets what they want. This is exactly what Alice Wu brings us, this is beautifully judged story telling about 3 people trying to discover who they are and what they want, Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer and Alexxis Lemire are all a joy to watch and the changing dynamic between the characters as they grow is seamless and keeps the story fresh and moving forward.

With a mix of Cyrano de Bergerac and many a coming of age comedy it would of been easy for this to have falling into cliche and predictability.

However, Alice Wu with a warm script and talented cast delivers a hugely enjoyable story but with enough depth and nuance to give us something that delivers more than you may expect.

Tigertail

Showing on Netflix.

Tigertail, written and directed by Alan Yang is a melancholy drama following three periods in the life of Grover a Taiwanese child shipped off to his grandmother after the death of his father and his mother’s need to leave to find work, through his teenage years and dreams of moving to the United States to fulfill his ambitions, to a tired older man living in the US but not living the life he’d hoped for.

The performances of both Tzi Ma and Hong-Chi Lee as older and younger Grover do a good job of showing his descent from youthful optimism to the frustration of broken dreams and the harsh realities of life. At the core of that descent is a regret for a lost love, Yuan, who Grover meets as a young man in Taiwan and leaves when he heads to America when the opportunity is presented to him.

We feel Grover’s frustrations as those around him fail to appreciate or take advantage of all he is doing for him and also the impact his choices have on others especially in a difficult relationship with his daughter and how his sadness and stoic privacy have impacted her own ability to form the relationship they both seem to crave.

The film is nicely shot and moves seamlessly back and forth through Grover’s life, his younger life shown shot on 16mm “grainy” film while his modern world in crystal clear digitally filmed scenes.

It is not hugely original and doesn’t break new ground but it is a warm tail and while not full of laughs, the feeling of optimism, turning to regret and disappointment permeates throughout. Yang doesn’t present us with a classic happy ending but does give us a warm and loving one that, perhaps, reminds us not to dwell on what we don’t have but to embrace what we do and appreciate it, which right now isn’t a bad message to us all.

The Wrong Missy

Showing on Netflix.

One of the things I’ve done during lockdown is watch more on Netflix and what impresses me is the amount of original content, both TV type drama and movies. Mostly the Netflix original content is impressive, with their ability (similar to Amazon) to fund projects themselves it allows them more creative freedom. However with so much output occasionally we get a real dud.

Step forward The Wrong Missy, a hugely predictable rather un-amusing comedy that we’ve all seen many times before and done much better. The premise is our central character Tim Morris (David Spade) has met two Melissa’s one a nightmare blind date, one a joyful encounter in an airport, when he gets the chance to invite a guest to a company retreat he invites Missy, as the title suggests rather than airport Melissa it’s nightmare Missy (Lauren Lapkus).

While the premise has possibilities what we get is hugely predictable, Missy the nightmare, Missy as heart, people like Missy, Tim likes missy… etc… it really fails on most levels you know where the story is going from the start, the chuckles (because there’s no laughs) are very few and far between and there’s a reliance on some nonsense physical comedy alongside the occasional “gross out” moment.

While Lapkus is fine and watchable as the titular Missy around her there’s no real characters of note or performances to enjoy there’s even a cameo from Rob Schneider (can’t remember the last time I saw him on screen!) which fails to bring any humour at all!

Not a Netflix classic and not a hit very much a miss..y

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