Tag Archives: Comedy

Second Act – Review

It is some time since Jennifer Lopez headlined a crowd pleasing Hollywood comedy. But you glance at the poster for Second Act and there’s nothing on it that suggests 2019. Indeed, it looks like a film released ten years ago. You might find yourself asking, ‘have I seen this already?’

On the face of it, you have. Back in 1988, Melanie Griffith was sandwiched between Sigourney Weaver and Harrison Ford in the comedy, Working Girl, about a receptionist, Tess McGill, who steals her boss’ life after the villainous Katharine Parker (Weaver) took Tess’ idea. At its heart is the struggle of a working class girl: can someone without a college education succeed in business? You could ask Diane Hendricks, the co-founder and chairman of ABC Supply, a wholesale supplier of roofing, siding and windows in America with net worth of $6.2 billion.

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In Second Act, Lopez plays Value Shop assistant manager Maya Vargas. She has turned an ailing store around by allowing customers to choose cuts of meat online and providing a space with free coffee where shoppers can talk. Maya knows customer taste. When a promotion comes along (no, not a two-for-one), she is disappointed to be overlooked in favour of a college-educated white guy whose buzz words attract flies. Maya quits in disgust. Then a husband of a friend creates a social media profile for her complete with a degree from Harvard Business School and some Peace Corps volunteering experience and suddenly she has a job interview at a cosmetics company where she is hired as a consultant. Her criticism of the current line of products draws ire from some of the staff, notably the boss’ daughter Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens). The women are placed in opposing teams to come up with the next exciting revenue earner.

The writers Justin Zackham and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas give us the set pieces that we expect, notably when Maya’s lack of coxing experience is exposed. Then there is a plot twist that is something out of a telenovella, Lopez having one eye on the Latin audience.

Does it work? Well, in spite of the twist which does at least overcome the problem of some antagonistic female-led comedies – one woman having to supplant another to be successful – much of the film feels tired. There is the guy in the firm who tries to unpick Maya’s past and a dance sequence choreographed by Mandy Moore (La La Land) that is a stand in for a fist fight. Then there a bunch of doves that are released only to collide with traffic, a gag that would not be out of place in director Peter Segal’s 1994 directorial debut, The Naked Gun 33 1/3 – The Final Insult. Personally, I prefer the police light tracking shots during a space dog-fight.

Lopez is an empathetic presence but the comedy heavy lifting is provided by the supporting cast, including Charlyne Yi as an office worker with a fear of heights and a kinky side, Annaleigh Ashton as an unconfident researcher who trips a woman over to better talk cosmetics and, best of all, Leah Remini as the straight-talking best friend, Joan. Remini has an inspired moment when during a conversation in the kitchen with Maya and to show how relaxed and ‘blown-out’ she is undoes her trouser button. Okay, it is not on a par with Marisa Tomei illustrating her body clock in My Cousin Vinny but it takes you by surprise.

The film is backed by STX, which has predominantly Chinese finance behind it, so there is the obligatory scene where, for a business meeting, Maya pretends to speak the language, having words recited to her through an ear piece by a veterinarian.

It’s not just the plot that feels retro. At one point, Maya’s trying-too-hard-to-impress make over causes Joan to remark, ‘oh my God, you look like Mrs Doubtfire’. The film has one eye on the audience who first enjoyed Lopez in Anaconda.

As far as a trip to the multiplex goes, Second Act feels second choice. It doesn’t have anything interesting to say about social media makeovers. Yet, I didn’t hate it. I know that’s faint praise, but there is something enjoyable about Maya’s Value Shop colleagues pretending to be her friends from Harvard. You’ll smile at least once – honest. If I haven’t mentioned Milo Ventimiglia as Maya’s love interest, Trey, it is because he isn’t germane to your enjoyment, though he cheer-leads well.

Second Act is in cinemas from Friday 25 January 2019

Strangeways, Here We Come – Review

Anyone waiting for the next British Shallow Grave won’t find it in the Salford-set ensemble comedy, Strangeways Here We Come, an enthusiastically performed but distasteful caper in which a group of none-too-likeable estate residents band together to rid themselves of an oppressive loan shark (Stephen Lord). It is the sort of film that mixes together Mormon bashing, postman trashing, vomiting, happy pills, community gardens and sex addiction all set to music from bands selected by Terry Christian.

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Writer-director Chris Green has corralled a group of ‘them off the telly’ including Michelle Keegan and James Foster from Coronation Street as well as Lauren Socha (Misfits), Oliver Coopersmith (Humans) and Chanel Cresswell (This is England) in a film that finds a level of irritability and raises it to eleven. It is the sort of material that might make an ITV comedy mini-series rather than something you would spend five-ninety-nine at a Vue cinema using the app.

When a postman is attacked for delivering ‘bad news’ (a bill), I shuddered. Residents mocked a pair of Mormons delivering Seven Day Adventism. A girl curses a boy who vomited on her. There is a boxer (Foster) who had a stroke, which continues to afflict him and a cab driver who has a drunken one night stand with a young student and then asks if she is pregnant. ‘Mixed race kids are always beautiful, even when the parents are ugly.’

If the jokes aren’t painful enough, there is also a boy, Aaron who has a Superhero badge on his chest with the letter ‘A’, which might just as well say ‘autism’. He wears the outfit out of a promise made to his dead mother as he reveals on the one year anniversary of her death.

There is one passable joke. A cabbie walks into Aaron’s front room, decorated with fairy lights and a cardboard cake and exclaims, ‘this is Narnia’. After that you are starving.

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The film takes half an hour to decide on a plot, ten minutes to knock off Nolan, using a mix of strangulation and kitchen utensils and the remaining forty-odd minutes to unwind. Elaine Cassidy (No Offence) makes a late appearance as a woman who wants to know where Nolan is and is more vicious than the thug she has by her side.

There is nothing wrong with a black comedy that shows wit and imagination but at a certain point the entire cast is trapped in a garden shed and the outcome is literally a cop out. This is followed by a drugged up woman having sex.

If Manchester wanted to replace London as the centre of culture in England, it will have to do a lot better than this. If you want a black comedy, go rent Alice Lowe’s Prevenge instead.

Strangeways Here We Come is out in cinemas Friday! 

The Rogue Table – Short Film

The Rogue Table follows John, a lazy “young professional” who couldn’t care less about life really. He works to eat, he works to drink and he works to party. Disregarding the feelings of his furniture has never been a massive deal for him but it has for his table. And now the table has got feelings…of revenge!

Starring Vedi Roy
Directed by Sarah Cook
Written by Sarah Cook
Produced by Gloria Daniel-Moss
DOP – Sean Narborough
Sound by Graham Osborne
Script Supervisor by Jo Johnstone
Runners – Leah Stone
Executive Producers – William John and Graham Osborne
In collaboration with IWG Productions and Cookie N Screen Films

Double Date – Review

A confession: I’m not a great fan of horror films and I haven’t been on a first date since – (coughs to mask the year). So I’m not the ideal audience for Double Date, the antithesis of a romantic comedy. Written by lead actor Danny Morgan, it is about an awkward young man, Jim (Morgan) whose best friend, Alex (Michael Socha) tries to get him laid before his thirtieth birthday. They double date two sisters, Lulu (Georgia Groome) and Kitty (Kelly Wenham). Lulu is quite nice; you’d take her home to meet your mum – and Jim does. Kitty is, how you say, mental, a word to describe her mistress’ plan to sacrifice a virgin to bring Daddy back to life.

We are in British horror comedy territory, the land of Shaun of the Dead and, er, Lesbian Vampire Killers, except that Morgan and Socha are far funnier than Cordon and Horne, if not on a par with Pegg and Frost. Jim has been dumped by his long-term girlfriend and doesn’t want to put himself out there. Alex loves a challenge, as opposed to University Challenge, and who stays in on a Monday night? He decides to push Jim towards two girls who make eye-contact, unbeknown that they are serial killers.

The cast boasts the estimable Dexter Fletcher as Alex’s dad, whose idea of a night in involves three-ply tissue and Robert Glenister as Jim’s pa. Jim’s birthday with the family is Brit comedy at its most crispy-cringe. The main reason to see the film is the finale. Creed Jr going twelve rounds with Tony Pellew is nothing compared with Alex taking on Kitty. When a man and a woman fight it is usually unwatchable but Alex takes a proper beating and Kitty looks like she could dish it out – it is the opposite of exploitation.

Double Date is the funniest, most satisfying British horror comedy since Shaun of the Dead  – although I have to say the funniest British comedy horror ever still has to be Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce, just ahead of Norman J. Warren’s Insemnoid. Although Morgan and director Benjamin Barfoot distinguish themselves, Wenham’s manic turn elevates the film; so kick-ass, she could be the first British actress to convincingly play Lara Croft.

The Other Side of Hope – Review

The films of Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki are instantly recognisable. They are minimalist and droll, with humour leaking out like air from a deflating tyre. Actors are often stationary in the frame, or their movements are singular, sitting up or walking then stopping. These movements are followed by a pause – a ‘what next?’ moment. When they speak, they often do so in a resigned manner; almost all emotion and energy have been spent (‘don’t come back’). Yet, the colour schemes of Kaurismäki’s films are striking – dark greens and dark reds. Then there is music. Kaurismäki likes rockabilly – or rockabilly tinged with punk, as seen in his most famous film, Leningrad Cowboys Go America. His films are shot through with social conscience. Protagonists are lonely, brutalised – the droll, deadpan tone offsets the brutality – and fatalistic. Until, that is, circumstances change. Individually we are miserable; together we are slightly less miserable: Kaurismäki’s films offer hope.

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But then there is The Other Side of Hope, Kaurismäki’s second film (after 2011’s Le Havre) on the subject of migration. It is about the collision of two desperate people, one better equipped to deal with desperation than the other. Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen) is a shirt salesman who leaves his alcoholic wife to start again. He sells his stock, plays poker and wins enough money to buy a restaurant, the sour-looking Golden Pint with its worn-out discontented small workforce. Khaled (Sherwan Haji) is a Syrian refugee who has stowed away on a tanker. When we first meet him, he emerges in blackface from his hiding place under soot; Kaurismäki is very far from naturalistic. No sooner than he cleans himself up than he presents himself at a police station to claim asylum. He has a compelling story, but ends up in a reception centre. When his claim is rejected, he escapes and encounters Wikström outside the Pint.

If you had to divide film directors into ‘cat people’ and ‘dog people’, Kaurismäki is definitely the latter. Dogs are expression of compassion and companionship. More than that, there is an unspoken bond between humans and dogs where repeated behaviour leads to understanding – try getting a cat to do what you ask. This behaviour is repeated between characters; understanding followed by unyielding loyalty.

Khaled gets a job at the Pint but pines for his sister, who is also making her way across Europe. Kaurismäki’s compassion for Khaled is like that for a stray – and I don’t mean that disparagingly. His characters rally round to help. But Kaurismäki is also a realist. Khaled falls foul of racists and there is only so much that Wikström, his employees and the local community can do.

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Lest this sounds all too depressing for an evening out – I assure you it isn’t – Kaurismäki’s droll humour is never far from the surface, notably in an interlude when the Golden Pint decides to improve its menu and attract a whole new clientele. (I won’t spoil the joke.) Because Kaurismäki’s films deal – in their own disgruntled way – with the best in people, they can be uplifting. Here, though this is tempered by the facts; in Western Europe ignorance and hate are difficult emotions to overcome.

The Other Side of Hope may be low-key and take place in a semi-imaginary Helsinki (or some other Finnish port town) where the locale is decidedly retro but it is entertaining and sophisticated; there are at least three strands to the migration theme. There is also music and a dog. Jean-Luc Godard once said ‘all you need from a movie is a girl and a gun’; Kaurismäki would reply, ‘all you need is music and a dog.’