Comedy

Keanu (2016)

When photographer Rell (Jordan Peele) is dumped by his girlfriend, his self-pity party is immediately cancelled when a stray kitten turns up at his door. Taking it and calling it Keanu, Rell finds a new lease of life in his furry companion. However, returning from home after a night at the pictures with his friend Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key), Rell finds his house ransacked and, more importantly, Keanu missing. And so begins the two friends’ journey into the darker side of town to get the little kitty back which sees them cross paths with murderers, gangbangers and Anna Faris.

Directed by Peter Atencio, who headed up all the episodes of the sketch show Key and Peele, Keanu follows a similar path to films such as Pineapple Express and Hot Fuzz, where every day folk get caught up life-threatening situations. Cue lots of screaming, shouting and wondering how to use handguns.

What makes this film stand out from its peers is how dark the film goes so quickly. Starting off with a bloody shootout in an abandoned church, Keanu contains a surprising amount of violence. Take the scene where, after being mistaken for a couple of assassins, Rell and Clarence find themselves caught up in a drug deal that quickly turns into a bloodbath. The scene would be truly shocking if it wasn’t balanced out by Clarence teaching a bunch of gang members about the virtues of George Michael’s Faith.

It’s this dichotomy that works so well in Keanu’s favour; the absurdity of these two middle class men completely out of their comfort zone. Typical of the humour found in their sketch show, Key and Peele deftly switch between jokes about racial politics and the absurdity of action movie tropes. The jokes might not always stick, but there’s always the promise of another one just around the corner.

If you’re a fan of their show or just having a good time in general, then Keanu is certainly one to check out. A laugh out loud comedy, it’s a shame that, at the time of writing this, Keanu didn’t receive a better release in Australia before been shoved straight onto DVD and digital download.

Good Vibrations (2014)

Terri Hooley made a name for himself during the 70s and 80s in Belfast. Whilst Northern Ireland was being splintered by sectarian violence, aka The Troubles, Hooley had become the Godfahter of Punk. And it all started with a desire to make Belfast a little more like Jamaica. As Hooley reasons, they’ve both got their problems, but at least Jamaica has reggae. He is a man unwilling to let life get him down. He boils down the Troubles as simply one day having lots of friends from different walks of life and then suddenly having lots of friends who were either Catholic or Protestant. His stubbornness not to get pick a side or to flee Belfast like others, made him a target for violence.

Directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburm (Cherrybomb), Good Vibrations follows Hooley, played by Richard Dormer, as he sets up his shop, Good Vibrations, and finds himself nurturing the underground punk scene, turning his business into record label of sorts.  Dormer plays Hooley with unbridled optimism. During his first experience of punk music, the camera allows us to linger on his cheer, laugh and boot stomp. This is a man falling in love with music all over again.

Whilst the film is all heart, it doesn’t hide away from the horrific violence on the streets. A rather potent scene sees Hooly and his bands experiencing a crash form euphoria as they return to Belfast after a weekend gigging. It’s sad, sobering and a reminder of what was happening at the time.

In terms of structure, Good Vibrations is your standard biopic. We witness him falling in love, struggling to make ends meet, having the disastrous first gig, discovering the Undertones and so on, but it never feels trite. Instead you become swept up it in all, relishing every moment of being in the company of Hooley and his gang of well meaning ne’er do wells.

Hillbilly Horror Show Vol.1 (2014)

‘Nuttier than a squirrel fart’ runs the tagline of Hillbilly Horror Show Vol. 1, hinting at the kind of humour you can expect in this horror anthology. If you find the smell of rodent methane funny that is. However, despite a title that suggests copious amounts of sons of the earth gory humour a la Redneck Zombies, Hillbilly Horror Show is actually a platform for independent filmmakers to show off their talent through various shorts.

Host Bo has salacious feelings towards his ‘sister-cousin’, whilst Cephus is a tongue-tied type whose indecipherable mutterings can only be translated by cousin kisser Bo. They

deal out the kind of puns that would make the Crypt Keeper sigh as they make their way through a collection of DVDs they’ve purportedly found on the side of the road.

What of the shorts themselves? Well, as anthology aficionados will understand, you take the rough with the smooth if you’re going to get to the end. With Hillbilly Horror Show, despite there only being four shorts on offer, the rough outweighs the smooth.

First up is Frankie and the Ant, a two-hander between two shady types on their way to a hit. The strongest of the four, it also suffers from being derivative, feeling like one of those Tarantino rip-offs in the 90s, and a ripping a joke wholesale from Fargo. That said, I could have stayed in this world for longer than it allowed me to. As soon as it gets going, it comes to an abrupt end.

An animated short about two skeletons entering a form of duel entitled Doppelganger is our next film. Whilst technically rather brilliant, it unfortunately just left me feeling cold. In addition, when you stack it up against the other shorts, it feels out-of-place, like it shouldn’t be introduced by two grown men and a woman in a bikini.

Amused is a wordless chase through the woods, as murderous men sporting rictus grins vehemently pursue a woman. Despite it’s musical score that suggests otherwise, very little happens as our heroine moves from one set piece to another. On a positive note, the scenery looks lovely.

The Nest is a love note to the eco-horrors of yesteryear, such as The Swarm, Dogs and others. In the middle of Nowheresville, USA, a diner owner is selling her own brand of highly addictive honey. Meanwhile, the town’s bovines are being chewed up and spat out by something not human. Are the two things connected? Of course. Will it enthrall, surprise and astound you? Maybe. Taking up the majority of Hillbilly Horror Show’s running time, The Nest looks great, but is dampened by questionable performances and special effects. It could be argued that this is deliberate to fit in with the tone of the films it acknowledges, but even so, it’s not worth the run time.

A problem that runs across all four shorts, regardless of quality, is that they each keep their end credits within the ‘horror show’, as opposed to being left till the end. As such, the whole caboodle comes across as the patchy result of someone throwing a bunch of YouTube movies onto iMovie and hoping no one will notice. We’re not saying the filmmakers don’t deserve their dues, but think about how long you’d last with ABCs of Death if each letter was followed by its production credits, instead of being rounded up for the end. Would it make Ti West’s M section any more tolerable? Didn’t think so.

Hillbilly Horror Show VOL. 1 will certainly appeal to some (but not many). Perhaps those who are willing to negate quality horror for bikinied bosoms may wish to take the plunge.

Harmontown (2014)

Soon after his much publicised firing from NBC in 2013, Dan Harmon, infamous creator of Community, decided to take his podcast, Harmontown, across the country in a series of live shows that see him continually airing his dirty laundry, overthinking and over drinking. Filmmaker Neil Berkeley (Beauty is Embarrassing) was there for the ride and his documentary, also titled Harmontown, paints a somewhat entertainingly light portrait of the tortured artist.

Harmon, for all his neuroses and insecurities, is incredibly media savvy and within five minutes of the film starting, he’s already deconstructing the tropes of documentary making; mock-chastising Berkeley for setting up a scene of him getting in his car by asking the writer to pretend there’s no camera in his vehicle. He’s a performer and unafraid to pull back the curtains on secrets both professionally and personally. His podcast is filled with moments of introspection wherein the bearded artist questions who he is and why he can’t stop his predilection to sabotage himself.

Like Harmon himself, Harmontown never really scratches the surface of what make him who he is. Berkeley’s footage is separated with talking heads from Harmon’s previous employers and colleagues. Sarah Silverman is one of the many to admit that Harmon’s talent is second only to his desire to destroy himself. And it’s this point that is constantly brought to the forefront as we’re exposed to numerous examples of Harmon’s inability to be happy. Whether it be reliving a drunken fight with his partner at the time, Erin McGathy, in front of his audience whilst she stands, frozen, trying to mine some humour out of something she clearly doesn’t find funny, to admitting that he’s struggling to finish off commissioned work in favour of his own podcast.

There’s no denying Harmon’s talent, but Harmontown, at times, feels like it celebrates his inability to pull his head out. Yes, his work has touched the lives of those who attend his shows, but there’s only so long you can support someone who says they have a problem but refuses to do anything about it. It’s probably no surprise that Harmon was a producer on the film as, despite Berkeley’s insistence he had free-reign, we are continually asked to ruffle his hair and say ‘oh you!’

The Harmon hard-core will lap this up but, as documentaries go, Harmontown is the perfect exercise for Community fans in learning to separate the art from the artist.

Doctor Who: Deep Breath (2014)

Last year, the BBC graced upon us the opportunity to see Doctor Who on the big screen in lieu of a full length feature ever appearing. Last time it was all chins, old faces and Zygons for the show’s 50th anniversary and then last year, it was regenerations, steampunk and dinosaurs in the series 8 opening, Deep Breath.

Bursting onto our screens literally like a belch from a T-Rex, Deep Breath hit the ground running acting as a reboot, relaunch and continuation all in one feature length portion. The Doctor may look older, but the show appeared to have undergone a bit of a renaissance.

After the baddy stuffed, exposition overload that had been the previous Christmas special, showrunner Steven Moffatt wiped the table clean of all his timey wimey, Silence Will FALL, ‘I can’t go back for Amy. No, really I can’t. I’m not listening, lalalala’ bag of tricks, to focus on a lean plot that managed to sow the seeds for future plot lines in a manner reminiscent of the Davies era.

Ben Wheatley (A Field in England) took over directing duties, which certainly gave the whole thing a bit of oomph; a meaningless word and one which doesn’t do his work justice, but it’s done now. There were some glorious set pieces, from a T-Rex on fire, Peter Capaldi riding a horse through London in his jim-jams and, let us not forget, the spine-tingling and tense scene of Clara holding her breath. It doesn’t sound much on paper, but revisiting the scene still gives chills.

Having been painted into a corner (in the nicest possible way) last season, Jenna Coleman had her role beefed up. Not that the Impossible Girl wasn’t beefy last year. She was just more beef flavoured. Oxo cubes; the role was the equivalent Oxo cubes. Yes, let’s stick with that.

This time around, relating it back to the Davies era, here was a companion ready to think on her feet and fend for herself. Admittedly, the opportunity arose because she was left with her backside in the breeze by a still-percolating Doctor. ‘We can’t risk both getting caught.’ The Doctor said, skirting ever so close to his time during The Twin Dilemma. Of course, as the series progressed, there would be further examples of her being left out to dry, but Clara managed to scrabble back her dignity and eventually became The Doctor. If only for a short time.

Speaking of the Doctor, Peter Capaldi has certainly become one of the more iconic interpretations. He’s rude, impertinent, insulting, confused, loving, unable to do hugs and prone to throwing people onto church steeples. In short: brilliant. If his previous incarnation could be seen as a midlife crisis wrapped in a new face and tweed, then here was a teenager in middle age clothing. Sensing that an old Doctor might put off the kids – sorry folks, we need to remember, this show is always about the kids first and foremost – time was taken to ease the nippers into this new fierce face. All of which was topped off by a cameo by Matt Smith lovingly telling Clara (i.e. us) that he is he, and he is he and we are altogether.

Let’s not forget the return of the Paternoster Gang, clockwork baddies and new potential baddy, Missy played by the always brilliant Michelle Gomez. Of course, we all know what happened to her. Or do we? Deep Breath was bursting with fun and was the perfect jumping on point for those who still hadn’t dabbled in Nu-Who over the last ten years.

Here’s to keeping our fingers crossed that the momentum can be kept up as the ninth season approaches.

Here’s hoping.

Deep breath everyone.

 

Trainwreck (2015)

This opinion piece contains spoilers.

There’s something about the oil and water with Trainwreck; the latest from director Judd Apatow and comedian Amy Schumer. On the one hand we’ve got an enjoyable enough crude comedy which sees Schumer as Amy; a problematic journalist who tries not to aspire for too much in case it gets in the way of her social life. On the other hand, we can feel the saccharine handprints of Apatow’s inability to reign in the pathos. A rot that set in with the dramedy, Funny People, some would argue. The sum of these parts being a patchy affair which see several plots overlapping for precedence.

The character of Amy is an extension of the persona Schumer has a made a career out of. Which, in a world where Seth Rogan has basically played the same character, even in Green Hornet, is not a point of criticism. Far from it. When we first see Amy returning from a one night stand, we‘re introduced to a character who totters in high heels on the line between being offensive, but not enough that it’ll stop you rooting for her. Even when later in the film her boyfriend (John Cena) finds out Amy has been in an open relationship without him, she is still the underdog to be carried to victory.

Meanwhile, Amy is also juggling family issues: a sickly father, who was largely absent in her formative years, and a younger sister who, despite smiles, doesn’t see eye to eye with her elder sibling. This where a lot of the ‘heart’ of Trainwreck is to be found. Amy’s father is sat grumbling in a retirement waiting to die, and her sister would rather he did so in a cheaper home. It’s hinted that Daddy dearest wasn’t father of the year. However, nothing really comes of this as it’s played out rather quickly that Amy is always right in this situation and little sister needs to suck it up.

It’s refreshing to have a female lead, and one that’s calling the shots on screenwriting duties. However, something just didn’t settle right in Trainwreck’s second half.

When Amy is given an assignment to cover Dr Aaron Conners, a sports doctor played by Bill Hader, they naturally don’t get along. Aaron is somewhat taken aback by her uncouthness and Amy finds the whole idea of sports rather boring. It’s kind of the set-up that helps romantic comedies defecate money on a regular basis. A couple of drinks and a one night stand later and Aaron is all in for a proper relationship. A surprise to Amy who was just looking for a bit of fun, and yet finds herself willing to give it a go.

Once Amy and Aaron are 6 weeks into their relationship, the strain begins to show. Not just on Amy’s face as she realizes she’s going legit steady with someone for the first time ever, but in the narrative itself. Trainwreck loses its way as we’re subjected to numerous protracted scenes that were probably a lot of fun to film but add nothing. Not because they’re superfluous, but because they’re dead ends.

During their first fight, Aaron confesses he struggles with Amy’s promiscuousness. First thoughts are that the film is going to tackle the concept of slut-shaming and the territoriality sitting heavily in the belly of men that stops them from accepting that women have, will continue to have, lives outside of the bubble of their relationship. Yes, Amy has had many lovers, but it certainly should not be the concern of Aaron, nor a litmus test of whether they can stay together. However, instead, the scene simply becomes a reason to display Amy’s inability to handle grown-up situations. But we’ve already seen that. We’ve seen it several times through the course of the movie. It’s a scene that mines for laughs when it could be courting character growth.

Yes, the argument could be made that centring the conversation on Aaron’s feelings takes Amy’s agency away. Which is a valid point IF it weren’t for the fact that soon after the argument we’re treated to a scene of Aaron grumbling about how ‘psychotic’ Amy is when she’s angry. It just smacks false. As too does the glib couple of minutes that are given to Aaron later in the film to think long and hard about how mean he is. Meanwhile, Amy takes on a decathlon of self-improvement, which oddly for our heroine mostly happens off-screen, because after all, she needs to change who she is if she wants to make her way in life.

The main issue for Amy appears to be her drinking. We are routinely told that her drinking is out of hand, but we’re never shown any true evidence of this. Well, there’s the scene where Aaron gives her some serious side-eye for wanting a second glass of wine at a luncheon. Oh and occasionally she smokes a joint, which is never shown to impede on her work or relationships. In fact, again, it’s only through meeting the straight edged Aaron that her lifestyle comes into question. In the paper, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, author Laura Mulvey discusses how the reality of the female comes second the want of the male. So whilst Aaron likes Amy for who she is, he seems to really like when she changes who she is. No one is asking Aaron to be like the straight-laced Dean of an 80s college movie; lighting up a doobie in the final scene and partying with the kids. However, there should have be some give and take surely. No, instead Amy is made perform literal cartwheels in transformation whilst Adam nods sagely from the sidelines.

With all that hanging in the balance, the second half of Trainwreck and conclusion – which is actually very funny – are dampened. Trainwreck has an enjoyable premise and is a lot of fun. Perhaps if the film was less about people making Amy change and more about her making changes, this would have worked more.

Ant-Man (2015)

In a world where we can (probably) download images of what Chris Evans ate for lunch during Captain America: Winter Soldier, it probably comes as no surprise that the pre-production problems of Ant-Man are well known. Kinetic director Edgar Wright (The World’s End) had been working on fleshing out the diminutive superhero since closing up shop on Spaced. Cut to 2011 and it’s announced that Wright will be working with Marvel to get Scott Lang out to the public. And then 2014 rocked by and the much-rumoured ‘creative differences’ between wright and Marvel comes to a head when Wright allegedly walks weeks before shooting, unhappy with certain changes. And just as suddenly, Peyton Reed was locked in to take the helm.

Taking into account the history, it wouldn’t have been surprising if the film turned out to be an omni-shambles of design by committee. Instead, Ant-Man manages to do something fresh with what is essentially the tired origin trope. Paul Rudd is Scott Lang, an electrical engineer and common thief. He roommates with three fellow ex-cons and has restricted access to his daughter. Scott wants to be straight, but is convinced to take one last job. Leading him to be taken under the wing of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who convinces Scott to work for him and steal a top-secret project from Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), Pym’s protégé who is wandering dangerously close to the dark side. To help Scott with his mission, Pym trains him to be Ant-Man; a diminutive superhero with all the force of a bullet.

Ant-Man is not your usual superhero movie, as the above shows. It’s more akin to a heist movie with Pym and Scott working together to develop and hone his skills as Ant-Man. Along the way, Pym struggles in his relationship with his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly). Hope, infinitely more skilled than Scott, wants to don the Ant-Man suit herself and most of the conflict comes from her trying to understand why her father is so adamant not to allow her. These scenes are surprisingly effective, with the success coming from both actors treating the material truthfully and honestly whilst Rudd bounces around in the background providing the comic relief.

Rumours persist that Wright was unhappy with the rewrite of his and Joe Cornish’s script, wanting to keep his film at arm’s length from the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How much of that is true is unknown. However, there are numerous cameos storylines that carry on from Marvel’s properties, including a cameo from Iron Man 2. Unless you’re an avid Marvel fan, none of these will particularly affect your understanding of the narrative and all will have a good time.

Ant-Man’s real issues come from racial profiling that sees all minorities either wise-crackers or safecrackers. It’s not overly offensive, but it is a little problematic. In addition, Judy Greer is entirely wasted as Scott’s ex-wife. Even when her daughter is in danger during a climatic moment of the film, its both her ex and her new husband that do the protecting. If you’re going to use an actor from Arrested Development and Archer, we want more from her than scolding Scott and being scared.

That aside, with excellent effects, witty wordplay and charismatic screen presence by all those involved, Ant-Man manages to punch above it’s own weight. It’s not quite Guardians of the Galaxy, but it’s nowhere near as pedestrian as Thor 2. It’s another win for Marvel.