Say Your Prayers


Just a couple of radical Christian assassins out for a drive.

(2020) Comedy (Gravitas) Harry Melling, Tom Brooke, Roger Allam, Derek Jacobi, Vinette Robinson, Anna Maxwell Martin, Flora Spencer-Longhurst, Matthew Steer, George Potts, Max Upton, Mike Baxandall, Cathy Baxandall, Tiffany Clare, Vivienne Race, Elliot Halidu, Dave Peel, Will Barton, Zach Webster, Jimmy Wilde, Louis Brogan, Helen Simmons, Emily Layton. Directed by Harry Mitchell

 

Sometimes when you read politicians and analysts speak, you’d think that the tribalism that affects modern society is something new but in fact humans have ALWAYS been tribal. If it wasn’t actual tribes, it was country versus country, city versus town, rural versus urban, one religion against another. We have always found reasons to hate The Other.

Tim (Melling) and Vic (Brooke) are two orphaned brothers, brought up by the somewhat obsessive Father Enoch (Jacobi). He has sent them on a mission – to murder noted atheist author Professor William Huxley (Allam), likely no relation to Aldous. He is speaking at a literary festival at a small village in Yorkshire, so he will be far from the safety of crowded city streets.

Tim is a gentle soul and somewhat simple and he bollocks it up by choosing someone (Barton) who looks similar to Professor Huxley – from behind, that is. Vic has anger issues and is much more gung-ho about the whole thing. When Father Enoch gets the word that an innocent man has been killed, he is more than a little miffed.

In the meantime, Tim has met and fallen for Imelda (Robinson), who unbeknownst to Tim has been carrying on a long-distance relationship with the Professor. Meanwhile, on the tail of the bumbling assassins is strident foul-mouthed Inspector Brough (Martin) and her friendlier, long-suffering partner Hodge (Spencer-Longhurst). With Father Enoch now insisting that the boys kill the Professor in a public way and Tim, who once was reluctant to take life until he met the royal arsehole that is Huxley, and Vic not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier, will righteousness triumph over self-righteousness?

This is a dark British comedy that skewers organized religion, zealotry (of every persuasion), TV cops and literary festivals all at once and has quite a lark doing it. One of the notable things is that Mitchell (who also co-wrote the movie) does is have a kind of Greek chorus following the boys around – except they are a British choral society of elderly men singing traditional British songs and hymns. They are actually quite lovely to hear and the incongruity of seeing immaculately dressed (in matching blazers) a choir of old men standing in the wilds of the Yorkshire moors is a running joke throughout the movie.

Melling has come a long way from Dudley Dursley, whom he played in the Harry Potter movies. There is nothing of the bully in Tim, who is gentle and simple, with a yearning to love. He is the tragic figure here as he is caught by events that he can’t escape from. He is more or less the straight man here, although he is the spindle around which the entire movie turns. Most of the other main characters (with the exceptions of Imelda and Hodge) are fairly unpleasant or even despicable but in the cases of Enoch and Huxley, are resolute and even passionate about their beliefs.

Allom and Jacobi are both old pros who know how to deliver and do so here, but Melling may well be a rising star with a little more range than some of his other Potter co-stars that have continued their careers in acting since Harry’s saga came to an end. He also has some decent comic chops, although the humor is largely situational here; there aren’t a lot of one-liners.

But the humor is superior to most of the other comedies I’ve seen thus far this year. If you like your comedies bone-dry with a bite, if you like your comedies to tackle big issues, this is the movie you seek, grasshopper.

REASONS TO SEE: Wickedly funny. Not so much a Greek chorus as a British one.
REASONS TO AVOID: May be a bit on the blasphemous side.
FAMILY VALUES: All sorts of profanity, violence and a scene of sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Scenes set in a television studio were actually filmed at the University of Bradford’s studio which is used for teaching aspiring broadcast students how to set up a set.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/8/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Estate
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Amber’s Descent

Donny’s Bar Mitzvah


The big man gets the big chair.

(2021) Comedy (Circle Collective) Steele Stebbins, Danny Trejo, Jeremy Tardy, Adrian Ciscato, Zemyhe Curtis, Joshua Gonzales, Wendy Braun, Regan Burns, Jennifer Sorenson, Michael Patrick McGill, Adam Herschman, Tricia O’Kelley, John DeLuca, Jessica Renee Russell, Radek Wallace Lord, Isabelle Anaya, Connor Del Rio, Eugene Kim, Judilin Bosita, Noureen DeWulf, Aundrea Smith. Directed by Jonathan Kaufman

 

It’s 1998 and social media hasn’t yet become the force it is today. Donny (Stebbins) is a nice Jewish boy about to become a nice Jewish man, at least in terms of his faith. Looking at the adults around him, it’s hard to figure out who the grown-ups are.

Shot from the point of view of a videographer using a camcorder (the film is even shot in the 1.33:1 ratio standard for camcorders of the era), Donny’s Bar Mitzvah follows several plot lines such as Donny’s brother Bobby (DeLuca) getting his mother’s friend Susie (O’Kelley) pregnant after a quickie in the venue bathroom – a pregnancy which goes through its entire process in the course of the night. Then there’s Donny’s sister who is the beard for gay Gary (Herschman). Or there’s emcee Gerald (Tardy) who has a thing for his co-worker Gigi (Smith) but it turns out that she’s just Danny Trejo (Trejo) in disguise and Trejo is actually a federal agent chasing a nefarious criminal known as the party pooper who it turns out is, umm, aptly named. Also, you get to meet Mr. Wang (Kim) and his wife (Bosita) attending their first bar mitzvah, whose shocked and uncomfortable expressions likely mirrored my own.

There’s Donny and some of his friends trying to learn a dance routine but protesting that Jews can’t dance, or the overbearing mom, the interfering grandmother trying to matchmake or a thousand other stereotypical cliches which were passé even in 1998. And the film is jampacked from start to finish with raunchy, vulgar sex jokes. One gets the sense that Kaufman is trying to go for a cross between the Farrelly Brothers and Judd Apatow with a dash of John Hughes thrown in for flavor.

I have no problem with raunchy comedies, although the more prudish among you might find the humor here overbearing, but I’m not so much a raunch for raunch’s sake kind of guy. I need my comedy to be funny and not merely amusing. Kaufman adopts the “throw as many jokes and bits against the celluloid wall and see what sticks” school of filmmaking founded by ZAZ back in the day. The pacing is a bit haphazard, moving in fits and starts despite the constant barrage of jokes. On the plus side, though, there appears to be some actual ideas in the background, from the concept that parties of this nature are more status symbols for the parents than celebrations of their children. The movie could have used a few more of these.

This isn’t a movie for everybody, simply because Kaufman tries so hard to push the envelope which is unnecessary for a good movie. As this is his first feature, he’ll doubtlessly learn that pretty quickly and concentrate on just making a terrific movie, and something tells me he actually will. But this ain’t it.

REASONS TO SEE: Pokes fun at the “we’re doing it for our kids” culture. There are some profound ideas among all the grossness.
REASONS TO AVOID: The pacing can be compared to a car with carburetor problems. Tries too hard to be outrageous.
FAMILY VALUES: There is lots of profanity and vulgarity including sexual references, nudity, violence and drug use, most involving teens.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Jonathan Kaufman cameos as a super awkward bartender under the pseudonym Jonny Comebacks.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/1/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 60% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Superbad
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
The Fever

Senior Moment


Life begins at 80

(2021) Comedy (Screen Media) William Shatner, Jean Smart, Christopher Lloyd, Katrina Bowden, Esai Morales, Ruta Lee, Valerie Pettiford, Carlos Miranda, Beth Littleford, Don McManus, Maya Stojan, Joe Estevez, Ron Gilbert, Denise DuBarry, Kaye Ballard, Wesley Eure, Jack Wallace, David Shatraw, Jilon VanOver, Luke Massy, Melissa Greenspan. Directed by Giorgio Serafini

 

One of the main indignities of growing old is the loss of abilities; while we have been self-sufficient all our lives, suddenly we need help doing even the basics as various aches and pains and infirmities brought on by living an increasing number of years taxes are bodies well past our wear date. For many, the loss of the ability to drive is the loss of independence and brings us back to the dependency of our childhood. It’s humbling, to say the least.

Victor Martin (Shatner) is a former NASA test pilot (undoubtedly a nudge nudge wink wink at Shatner’s bests-known role) living out his retirement in balmy Palm Springs. A confirmed bachelor, he spends most of his days hanging out with his best buddy Sal (Lloyd) and driving his pride and joy, a vintage Porsche convertible. A man who has the need for speed, he’s not afraid to test his mettle against would-be drag races, but his enthusiasm often gets him making poor choices. After one too many drag races with a friendly rival (Miranda), his license is suspended and his Porsche impounded.

Relegated to public transportation, surly Uber drivers, expensive taxis and his own two feet, Victor is forced to slow things down and in doing so, runs into Caroline (Smart), a café owner who makes a mean strudel as well as an activist concerned with saving the desert tortoise. She and Victor couldn’t be less alike. Therefore, the two fall in love. Victor at last realizes that there is something more to life than fast cars and hot young girls, but does he have the ability, at this point in his life, to be a good romantic partner?

It should be said that Shatner was 86 when this was filmed and turned 90 just a few days before this film was released this past Friday (as this is written) and he doesn’t seem to have slowed down all that much. While nobody is hoping that his shirt rips any longer, he still has the screen presence that made him not only a star but a cultural icon. He has an easy chemistry with Designing Women’s Smart as well as Taxi’s Lloyd. He keeps things pretty much low-key and that serves him well here.

The problem with the movie isn’t so much the actors, who are for the most part accomplished pros who do their best with what they’re given, but in the writing. The movie follows established rom-com tropes and ends up being more predictable than it needed to be. I also thought the hoary old trope of the dirty-minded senior was insulting. Certainly seniors are sexual; that’s been explored in plenty of films and television shows. It just seems condescending to make a joke out of it.

But the worst thing is that most of the humor falls pretty flat. The movie feels like the director really wanted to make a drama and the writer really wanted to write a comedy; at times, the film seems at war with itself as to what it wants to be. I can only imagine that actors were wondering the same thing.

At worst, this is a predictable time-waster that will be viewed once, and then forgotten by the viewer who might have been attracted to see it due to the presence of the leads. At best, though, the charm and sweetness of the cast will be just enough to make it worth your while.

REASONS TO SEE: Generally sweet-natured entertainment.
REASONS TO AVOID: The humor often falls flat.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity including sexual innuendo, sexual content and drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Shatner and Lloyd appeared together in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and then again in Just in Time For Christmas.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: Rotten Tomatoes: 17% positive reviews; Metacritic: 37/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Boynton Beach Club
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Miracle Fishing: Kidnapped Abroad

Happily


Married couples red light district.

(2021) Comedy (Saban) Kerry Bishé, Joel McHale, Natalie Morales, Stephen Root, Charlyne Yi, Shannon Woodward, Breckin Meyer, Brea Grant, Al Madrigal, Natalie Zea, Paul Scheer, Jon Daly, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Billie Wolff. Directed by BenDavid Grabinski

 

It is a truism that as the years go by, passion within a couple cools down. While we are newlyweds, we cannot keep our hands off one another. With age comes wisdom and a settling into a more comfortable relationship as we learn to accept our partners foibles and quirks (or don’t) and get used to the idea that, for better or worse, here is the person we’re going to spend the rest of our lives with – the person we’re stuck with, in other words.

Tom (McHale) and Janet (Bishé) are the exceptions. Fourteen years into their marriage and they still can’t wait to have sex with each other – and do at every possible opportunity, including at parties, in clubs, at home – whenever they can do the bad thing, they do it.

This has taken a toll on their friends. Tom’s ex Karen (Zea) and her husband Val (Scheer), fed up with the lovey-dovey couple, have disinvited them from an upcoming couples’ weekend at a snazzy estate with a spectacular view of L.A. They are shortly thereafter visited by a stranger named Goodman (Root) who informs them that due to a defect in their genetic make-up, they have not done what most couples do and lose that newlywed zeal. However, a quick stick with a syringe full of dayglo yellow goop will quickly put things right and make them both miserable, which is to say, normal.

Janet, however, is not okay with this option and chooses to take action to prevent this. Shortly after, they are re-invited to the couples-only weekend and show up along with the aforementioned Karen and Val, Patricia (Morales) – the only one among them who isn’t uncomfortable with their failure to lose the romance – and grumpy Donald (Daly), snooty Carla (Howell-Baptiste) and shy Maude (Woodward) and newly engaged Richard (Meyer) and Gretel (Yi).

This couples weekend was supposed to be a means of blowing off steam, but it turns out to be therapeutic in a most unconventional and unexpected way. As secrets get discovered, issues get confronted and the dead don’t stay buried, and relationships will be changed.

This is kind of a black comedy that comments on our obsession with wanting more, our refusal as a society to appreciate what we have, and the nature of relationships and what constitutes a happy one, all with a slightly supernatural bent. It helps that there is an outstanding cast, with Bishé, Morales and Root all doing standout turns and McHale nearly stealing the show.

Unfortunately, writer-director BenDavid Grabinski didn’t really develop many of the characters; this was a case of too many roles. He could have probably combined some of the attributes of the supporting cast and reduced the cast by four or more people; it certainly would have made the film a bit more interesting. Certainly he could have worked a bit on the ending, which was a big letdown.

But by and large, this is a solid film that while not spectacular, at least hits most of the right notes. With a few tweaks here and there, it could have been something special. As it is, it’s not bad at all; but it’s not great. Worth a rental? Sure enough.

REASONS TO SEE: Dark and twisted with a nifty soundtrack.
REASONS TO AVOID: Feels a bit pointless at the end.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity and lots and lots of sex.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actor Jack Black is among the producers for this film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/21/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 67% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Box
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Atomic Cover-Up

Days of the Bagnold Summer


So many shoes…so little time.

(2019) Comedy (GreenwichMonica Dolan, Earl Cave, Rob Brydon, Elliot Speller-Grillott, Tamsin Greig, Ony Uhiara, Paul Michael Bradley, Alice Lowe, Grace Hogg-Robinson, Nathanael Saleh, George Wilkins, Alfie Todd, Tim Kay, Gurlaine Kaur Garcha, Sophie Steer, Lesley Harcourt, Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness, Stuart Whelan, Olivia Buckland.  Directed by Simon Bird

 

I suppose there are few tortures for a 15-year-old boy than spending a summer alone with his mom. That must go double if mom is a divorced cardigan-wearing librarian and the boy is into metal in a big way. How do two people so disparate find any sort of common ground?

That boy is Daniel (Cave), who has been anticipating a summer in Florida with his Dad – who has since remarried and has a new baby on the way with his new wife  – but Dad isn’t the most reliable sort to begin with, and the plans fall through. Trust me, Daniel – you are NOT ready for a summer in Florida with pasty white skin like that.

Daniel is now faced with the prospect of summer at home in a dull, boring British suburban existence with his mom Sue (Dolan) who might have been fun once upon a time, but her idea of a good time is going off to the seaside and attending a demonstration on how to make fudge.

Like most boys his age, Daniel knows only that he hurts and doesn’t know how to express it, so he takes out his rage on everyone by being an absolute douche to his mom. She reacts with patience and compassion. Sue has retreated into her own shell and is only beginning to emerge from it, going on a date with Daniel’s history teacher (Brydon, who should be legally required to do the “Man in a Box” voice in every movie he’s in) but he turns out to be a massive jerk.

The more the summer goes on, the more frustrated Daniel gets. His best friend Ky (Speller-Girllott) and he have a falling out. His attempts to join a metal band are frustrated again and again. And his mom insists on taking him shoe shopping for an upcoming wedding he plainly doesn’t want to attend. This is going to be a long summer.

The movie is based on a Joff Winterhart graphic novel and as adapted by Lisa Owens, it captures the nadir of teen angst that only a 15-year-old son of divorced parents can experience. Daniel is not the easiest kid to like, but deep down there’s a decent guy under there; his mom knows it and even though he drives her up a tree, she hangs in there and regards him with a certain sense of droll humor although from time to time she clearly wants to give him a good shaking. Sue isn’t perfect either, but she’s trying and she hasn’t exactly had the easiest time of things, as a poignant conversation with her son late in the film shows. Teens have a tendency to not realize their parents were once like them, full of dreams and aspirations, and trying to fit in, be cool and figure things out. Parents have a tendency to forget what it’s like to be those things in their zeal to have them avoid the same mistakes that they made.

The movie has a lovely bittersweet quality to it, and the dry British humor that tends to get me going every time. Bird further has the soundtrack full of Belle and Sebastian songs which would seem at first glance to be incongruous, but actually turns out to be the perfect fit. As we emerge from a long and difficult winter with the promise of a long and difficult summer ahead, movies like this can be a tonic, reminding us that there is something magic in the warm months. It’s not the memories of good times so much but the love of the people we are with that make the magic. It would do us all well to be reminded of that.

REASONS TO SEE: Great Belle and Sebastian songs. Nice dry British humor.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit on the vanilla side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity including some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bird is best-known for his work on the British television show The In-Betweeners.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/21/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews. Metacritic: 57/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Adult Life Skills
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Crisis

Take Me to Tarzana


Making plans over a single generic beer; now THAT’S living the high life!

(2021) Comedy (GravitasJonathan Bennett, Maria Conchita Alonso, Samantha Robinson, Oliver Cooper, Kahyun Kim, Andrew Creer, Owen Harn, Kent Shocknek, Chris Coppola, Kimberly Joy McBride, Betsy Hume, Bob Wiltfong, Henry Brooke, Desiree Staples, Emanuel Hernandez, Denny Nolan, Andrew J. Rice, Ivan Ehlers, Kevin Dembinsky, Elle Vernee.  Directed by Maceo Greenberg

 

These days, big corporations and in particular, Big Tech make big targets. So do creepy, misogynist bosses. We all know that everyone hates all of those things. Well, ALMOST everyone.

Miles (Creer) works at Teleplex, a data mining company. It’s a far from ideal working environment, with a boss (Cooper) who is as abusive as they come and with unreasonable expectations. People are worked like the wage slaves they are and Miles can barely afford to live in the apartment he rents, despite having what most woud consider a stable job.

His cubicle is next to Jane (Robinson), one of those incredibly beautiful girls who always seem to be absolutely unobtainable. She has crosses to bear of her own; that same boss, Charles, consistently demeans her and she seems to have to work twice as hard as the men to earn any sort of respect.

But things are a lot worse than Mies thought they were; in fact, Charles has hidden cameras all over the building including under Jane’s desk and in the women’s bathroom, the better to perve on all the gals in the office. When he brings this to Jane’s attention, rather than go to the police or even to HR, she wants to get back at Charles in a more meaningful way. They enlist Miles’ party animal friend Jameson (Bennett) to help dig up the real goods on the company but when they get the dirt on Charles, they discover that the hidden cameras are only the tip of the iceberg.

As far as workplace comedies go, the top of the pyramid is the 1999 Mike Judge movie Office Space with which this film shares some thematic elements in common. I think, however, that Greenberg is loathe to have his own film compared to that classic comedy; for one thing, he shifts tones about two thirds of the way through the film in what can only be described as a jarring and unexpected manner. From that point, the movie falls off the rails in a big way.

That’s a shame, because up to that point it’s pretty enjoyable. I might have wished for edgier comedy, but the leads of Robinson and Creer are pretty nifty. Both are very likable and although Miles is a bit on the wishy washy side, Jane is a strong, powerful woman whom you wouldn’t want to cross. The character of Jameson, though, seemed to be somewhat unnecessary to me; he’s meant to provide comic relief but his Spicoli-like antics really don’t do anything to make the film better.

All in all the movie is mostly likable but that shift from workplace comedy to faux thriller really dooms it. I wouldn’t try to talk you out of giving this a try from your local streaming service for a weekend pizza and movie night on a cod winter evening, but then again I think you could probably do better as well.

REASONS TO SEE: Creer and Robinson have much potential.
REASONS TO AVOID: The humor needs more edge.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, drug references and some sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the directing debut for Valadez.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vimeo, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/21/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Office Space
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Judas and the Black Messiah

Blithe Spirit (2020)


Won’t you look sweet upon a seat…

(2020) Comedy (IFCDan Stevens, Leslie Mann, Judi Dench, Isla Fisher, Aimee Ffion-Edwards, Emilia Fox, Julian Rhind-Tutt, James Fleet, Michele Dotrice, Simon Kunz, Dave Johns, Adil Ray, Calie Cooke, Peter Rogers, Delroy Atkinson, James Fleet, Issy van Randwyck, Tam Williams, Colin Stinton, Stella Stocker, James Sygrove, Georgina Rich.  Directed by Edward Hall

 

Noel Coward was one of the most brilliant wits of the 20th century. He plied his trade at the height of one of the most creative literary periods in history, rubbing elbows figuratively if not literally with such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Aldous Huxley and Thomas Wofe. While most of his works were pithy and lightweight, they helped set the standard for British humor that endures to this day. I find it absolutely incredible that his work isn’t filmed more often.

Charles Condomine (Stevens) is a feckless crime novel writer who has found great success, but hasn’t written a word since his first wife Elvira (Mann) died young. Now commissioned to write a screenplay adapting his first novel by the father – a producer at powerhouse Pinewood Studios in the UK –  of his new wife, Ruth (Fisher). The trouble is, he is apparently beset by a writer’s block that is the size of a small country.

The Condomine couple and some friends take in the performance of Madame Arcati (Dench), a spiritual medium, as a means of distraction, but the performance goes howlingly wrong. Charles is struck by inspiration; he can work a supernatural element into the plot! Elated by the idea, he asks Madame Arcati to do a private séance at his London home, and while she’s reluctant, after the disaster of that performance she knows she needs the work, so she reluctantly agrees.

To her own amazement, she actually makes contact with the other side and manages to raise the spirit of Elvira, but the trouble is that only Charles can see her. Once she gets over the shock of her own demise, she becomes extremely perturbed that Chares has remarried, and sets out to win back Charles for her own – even if it kills him.

The bare bones of Coward’s original work remains, but the writing team of Nick Moorcroft, Meg Leonard and Piers Ashworth have made some pasing strange updates to the work, demoting the showstopper Arcati to a much reduced role and giving her a backstory that is meant to inspire pathos. Dench, ever the trooper, pulls it off with aplomb and manages to remain the highlight of the show, but the movie needed a lot more zing and the writers fail to deliver any.

Coward is known for his often barbed and acerbic dialogue that might seem a bit dated now. The decision to keep this a period piece might have rendered that less of a problem, but instead the writers chose to make the dialogue more updated – this feels more like a sitcom, with far more slapstick than Coward would ever have tolerated, and a few dick jokes which in 1945 would have been unconscionable but Coward himself might have arched an eyebrow, deftly flicked an ash from his ever-present cigarette holder and said “Well, one must admire a man who doesn’t mind displaying his shortcomings for all to see.” One really needs to understand the source material in order to properly adapt it, and I don’t get the sense that the writers – or the director – could really claim that distinction.

Admittedly, the cast is marvelous and most of them do pretty well with what they’re given, particularly Dench (as previously mentioned) and Stevens, the Downton Abbey vet who shows a flair for drawing room comedies here. Unfortunately, those aren’t particularly in vogue and this effort is unlikely to bring them back. The production looks sumptuous, and the costumes are Oscar-worthy. However, the score sounds like something you’d hear in a Looney Toon cartoon and often distracts from what is going on in the fim which might not necessariy be a bad thing.

I do really admire the work of Noel Coward and I heartily recommend that you see David Lean’s 1945 adaptation of Blithe Spirit along with other Coward gems like Private Lives and By Which We Serve. Unfortunately, this won’t go down as a masterful interpretation of his genius, but hope lives on that we shall one day see a new version of one of his plays  that does.

REASONS TO SEE: Dench is magnificent in this droll period piece.
REASONS TO AVOID: Unaccountably diverges from the source material in senseless ways.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some comic violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While this is Hall’s first motion picture feature, he has had a long career as a theatrical and television director.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV,  DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube, Virtual Cinema
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/20/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 30% positive reviews; Metacritic: 24/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Topper
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Take Me to Tarzana

The Mimic (2020)


One of these guys is just like the other.

(2020) Comedy (Gravitas) Thomas Sadoski, Jake Robinson, Austin Pendleton, Gina Gershon, Jessica Walter, M. Emmett Walsh, Marilu Henner, Tammy Blanchard, Didi Conn, Matthew Maher, Josh Pais, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Doug Plaut, Steve Routman, Teddy Coluca, Vanna Pilgrim, Drew Porschen, Victoria Mahal-Sky, Diane DeSalvo-Beebe, Connie Porcellini. Directed by Thomas F. Mazziotti

 

There’s no telling how we’re going to react to other people upon first meeting them. Some folks just charm the bejeezus out of us and we respond to that; others we can take or leave – most of the others, in fact. Then there are those where are feelings go the other way; we can’t quite put our finger on it, but we know there’s something off about that person and we instinctively dislike them.

Our Narrator (Sadoski) – who is never given a name – works for a community newspaper in a tony small town while he works on a screenplay. A new neighbor comes into his life, a man that the Narrator calls The Kid (Robinson), mainly because it irritates the Kid to be called that. The Kid is almost puppy-eager to please, but amid his wide-eyed gosh shucks demeanor there is an undercurrent that the Kid might not be quite so gosh shucks – trending more towards the No Please Don’t Hurt Me side. The Narrator is quite sure that the Kid is a sociopath.

And so the Narrator takes it upon himself to keep the Kid in close proximity so he can better observe him. The Narrator isn’t always able to hide his contempt for the Kid, and they often have disagreements. The Narrator, a widower, is also beginning to develop feelings for the Kid’s wife (Pilgrim).

The dialogue has a lot of snap to it, taking its cues from screwball comedies (the fact that it’s set at a newspaper could well be a nod to His Gal Friday). But for all the machine gun-like delivery hat Sadoski and Robinson manage, the laugh-out-loud funny quotient is unusually low. A lot of it is because the two leads are mainly just too unlikable; the Narrator is a bit of a pompous know-it-all and the Kid is just downright creepy.

In some ways, Mazziotti is trying too hard to make the movie relevant and fresh. It feels sometimes that he’s not confident enough to let the film stand on its own merits; he has to kind of gink it up a bit with screwy situations that don’t feel real, and with zippy one-liners that occasionally fall flat. I get the sense that Mazziotti is trying a bit too hard; if he had done some punchier jokes and went less for oddball and more for snappy he would have had something here

I do see what Mazziotti was trying to do, and to be honest while he isn’t always successful, he doesn’t always fail either. I can’t say I wouldn’t mind seeing a well-made comedy in this style again; it is definitely a lost art. The movie needs a bit more punch with the humor and a little less highbrow. Never talk down to your audience, a maxim that serves well in all sorts of artistic endeavors. I felt a bit talked down to after viewing this, but on the plus side there is definitely some strong points here to recommend the movie.

REASONS TO SEE: The dialogue is pretty snappy.
REASONS TO AVOID: Tries a little too hard to be different.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Mazziotti got his start doing television production at WPIX in New York City
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vimeo, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/12/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Keeping Up With the Joneses
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Young Hearts

Baby Done


The waiting is the hardest part.

(2020) Comedy (Gravitas) Rose Matafeo, Matthew Lewis, Rachel House, Nic Sampson, Madeleine Sami, Matenga Ashby, Fasitua Amosa, Loren Taylor, Olivia Tennet, Kura Forrester, Alice Snedden, Chelsie Preston-Crayford, Sam Snedden, Bree Peters, Hayley Sproull, Brett O’Gorman, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Angella Dravid, Guy Montgomery, Beth Allen. Directed by Curtis Vowell

 

We all react to pregnancy differently – whether our own or our partner’s. Some look forward to it eagerly as a new beginning; some see it as an end to a carefree life of fun and irresponsibility. The act of having a baby is, no matter how you react to it, a life-changing affair. There are no manuals and most couples (and singles) approach impending parenthood with the terror of the unknown staring them in the face.

Zoe (Matafeo) is a young arborist – down under in New Zealand, that means tree surgeon – who has big plans. She wants to win the World Tree Climbing Championship in British Columbia, for one thing (I didn’t know that was a thing either). Bungee jumping, having a threesome, and a whole laundry list of Type A shenanigans for another. But when she learns she’s preggers, her first reaction is denia. (“It’s a tapeworm. More often than not, that’s what it is”) to the point where she hides it from her partner in business and in life, Tim (Lewis). But at a gender reveal party for another couple, her competitive nature comes out and she spills the beans.

Zoe has spent her life defying convention and living on her own terms. Her obstetrician father is a bit clinical of the whole thing, but her mum is blunt: “You’re not cut out for being a mum.” That seems harsh at first but as the picture progresses, we begin to see that Mommy Dearest may have a point. As the due date continues to approach, Tim grows more excited and fearful and Zoe’s denial and disappointment reach record highs. Can their relationship survive having a baby?

This isn’t exactly new territory for movies, although having a prospective mom flat-out delusional is kind of a first. The movie has a kind of sitcom feel to it, often relying on its characters doing things that reasonable people would never do. Yes, I understand that people who are in this situation can sometimes lose perspective, but here it feels forced and unnatural, making the comedy at times a little awkward.

The saving grace here is that the couple – Zoe and Tim – as played by Kiwi TV vets Matafeo and Lewis – are charming as all get-out and there’s a real chemistry between them that works. Matafeo, in particular, is delightful as a Type A personality who has lots of plans who is terrified that the impending Blessed Event is going to force her to change her identity into something she doesn’t necessarily want to be – a Mom. She’s not the sort who takes easily to being told what to do in any case. I can say I’ve known a fair amount of women in my time who fit that description.

The movie is also refreshingly frank with some of the indignities that pregnant women have to suffer through. The ending comes as no surprise and is about as squishy as you might imagine, but it keeps the tone overall sweet and light.

We have all been through a year of heavy and portentous and many of us need a break from it. You could do a lot worse than this light comedy that is reasonably inoffensive and in all honesty, none too challenging in terms of viewer investment. But sometimes, that’s just the perfect tonic.

REASONS TO SEE: Pleasantly clinical about the difficulties of pregnancy.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little on the sitcom-y side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of profanity and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok) is one of the producers of the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/25/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Nine Months
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Knocking

Paint


Art for art’s sake.

(2020) Comedy (GravitasJosh Caras, Olivia Luccardi, Paul Cooper, Comfort Clinton, Amy Hargreaves, François Arnaud, Vince Nappo, Kaliswa Brewster, Daniel Bellomy, Lizzy DeClement, Phil Burke, Austin Pendleton, Kate Stone, Victor Verhaeghe, Emrhys Cooper, Stella Kammel, John Wolfman, Roger Netzer, Nick Neon, Anthony Edward Curry, Jon Valde. Directed by Michael Walker

 

I don’t know if any of you have ever met an art school graduate. My sister went to Cal Arts so I knew quite a few. Most of them were people just like thee and me, with a particular talent for creativity and artistic technique. A handful of them were pretentious blowhards who thought they could take a crap on a piece of canvas and it would be amazingly insightful.

The latter is the sort that inhabits the latest from New York indie filmmaker Michael Walker. Three mostly-affluent graduates from art school – frustrated Dan (Caras), his best friend Quinn (Cooper), a photographer who lives in his own studio; and lovely Kelsey (Luccardi) who works menial jobs while trying to find herself as an artist.

Dan is frustrated at the hoops he has to jump through to break through the high-falutin’ New York arts scene. His distracted father (Verhaeghe) encourages his son’s chosen career, introducing him to gallery owners and scene makers who tell Dan that his art “isn’t dark enough.” So, he does what any self-respecting art student in the same situation would do – he asks his mom (Hargreaves) to pose nude for him.

She is understandably reluctant, but Dan sidesteps the obviously creepy Oedipal overtones by suggesting that Quinn take nude pictures of mommy dearest and Dan will paint based on these. Mom consents to this, but as it turns out, the session gets out of hand and one thing leads to another….

Speaking of inappropriate relationships, Kelsey has sex with an important painter three times her age who is currently homeless, who promptly takes one of her paintings that is heavily influenced by his own work and sells it as his own. So she does what any self-respecting art student in the same situation would do – she blackmails the art gallery owner (Arnaud) to take on her career as a manager.

In the meantime, Dan finds out about what happened with Quinn and his mom, which doesn’t sit well with him at all, although he himself is having an affair with a married woman (Clinton). The three friends are forced to re-evaluate their values and their preconceptions about who they really are.

Walker, who also wrote the film, has a good ear for dialogue and that might just be the most distinctive thing about the film. It’s a shame that the characters speaking those lines are for the most part, pretentious self-absorbed twats. I get the sense that Parker was poking a hole in the façade of the New York art scene, which elevates the above-mentioned traits to god-like heights, but the humor here is more in the deranged nature of the situations. At one point, you wonder if actual human beings would do the things that the characters are doing in the movie. I would like to say they wouldn’t, although given that this is 2020, I may be overly generous with my assessment of human beings.

After a year in which it has become readily apparent that Americans have a self-serving streak wider than any river and a tribal identification taller than any mountain, I suppose my tolerance for spending time with characters I find no common morality with is pretty low. If you are in the same boat that I’m in, you might have the same reaction. But if your threshold for arseholes is relatively high, you might find this entertaining particularly if you enjoy the skewering of pretentious art snobs.

REASONS TO SEE: The dialogue is pretty good.
REASONS TO AVOID: Pretentious and preposterous.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, nudity, sexuality and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film is based on a 2018 short of the same name  featuring the same characters.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/29/2020: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Velvet Buzzsaw
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
GetAWAY