“We Lose! He Beat Us! The Game Is Over..!”
Beginning his big-screen career with a collection of Hollywood stars and a mildly comedic central gag to play with, debutante director, Jeff Tomsic, adapts Russell Adams’ 2013 article, “It Takes Planning, Caution To Avoid Being It”, an account of a true story published in The Wall Street Journal which focused on a group of life-long friends who spend one month each year playing the titular game of tag with overly dedicated and sophisticated measures in order to succeed. With a band of usual American comedy suspects including Ed Helms (Father Figures), Hannibal Buress (Blockers) and Jake Johnson (21 Jump Street), Tomsic’s movie follows the reunion of four particularly immature friends as they team up in order to finally “tag” Jeremy Renner’s (Captain America: Civil War) swaggering, soon-to-be married Jerry before his self proclaimed retirement at the end of their chosen month in which the game takes place. With a handful of child-like slapstick set pieces, seething bromantic chemistry and an overarching sensibility which relies on its’ audience to be as similarly immature as its’ leading characters, Tag is indeed a solid comedic winner, one which although suffers slightly from a violently overstretched central gag and a couple of strange narrative add-ons, works due to a likeable array of personalities and sharp, well-timed gags which managed to make even this hard chestnut giggle with childish amusement.
With an opening act which introduces the central relationship between Helms’ Hogan Malloy and Jon Hamm’s (Baby Driver) Bob Callahan, a successful businessman who hides his inner paranoia and low self-esteem behind sharp suits and formal haircuts, the movie’s first set piece in which Malloy takes a job as a janitor at Callahan’s place of work in order to tag him pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the movie, with the zippy one hundred minute runtime being crammed with slapstick inspired chase sequences which move from golf courses to wedding receptions as particular characters attempt to evade the embarrassment of being it. With Renner as the self-proclaimed master of the game whose transition from child to adult has remained free of ever being tagged, his planned wedding is the battleground for one last attempt, and whilst Renner is only used sparingly at times in favour of the core quartet of friends, his performance is joyously entertaining, with Renner clearly embracing the sheer nonsensical nature of the script which he is working with. With a concluding attempt to pull at the heartstrings, the movie does finish on surprisingly rank terms, particularly when the tone of the movie pretty much throughout is utter silliness, but within the rather middling genre of contemporary American comedies, Tag is trashy fun which passes the time rather neatly.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Somebody’s Mum Just Enrolled In College..!”
Following on from the release of the Amy Schumer led I Feel Pretty this week, America’s second favourite female comedian of the moment, Melissa McCarthy (Spy) feels the need to grace us with her presence upon the big screen too within Life of the Party, a morbidly unfunny back-to-school drama which sees McCarthy’s recently divorced mum Deanna Miles feel the need to attend her daughter’s college in order to finally complete her degree after dropping out previously in order to care for her family. Cue dance offs, excessive drinking and sleeping with minors of an uncertain age and what we have with Life of the Party is yet another swing at attempting to create the legacy and enjoyment of a film such as National Lampoon’s Animal House albeit with a narrative twist which attempts to showcase every child’s living hell when their respective parent drops in uninvited at a party, jumper and rucksack in toe, and with contemporary coming-of-age comedies such as Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! an example of smartly written and successful on-screen American frat house debaucheries, McCarthy’s latest manages to at least capture that sense of awkward family reunions by being a film which no-one in their right mind really wants to admit to having enjoyed let alone be a part of.
With McCarthy one of the many contemporary U.S based comic actors who have failed to ignite any sense of interest thus far thanks to less than spectacular performances within the likes of The Boss and Ghostbusters, her reunion with husband Ben Falcone once again proves that her supposed potential has been put tragically to waste, with Life of the Party a soulless, cringey and overly annoying attempt at a comedy which aside from one stand-out set piece, is rather quite unbearable from beginning to end. With a whiny, screechy voice and totally awkward sensibility, McCarthy’s Deanna holds solid ground for most annoying character of the year in film, with the first hour in which we see her attempt to embed herself within the college lifestyle simply torturous to endure, and with the younger actors, particularly Molly Morgan’s Millie and Gillian Jacobs’ Helen, not only much more interesting but universally more entertaining and comedic than their elder leading star, there is indeed a somewhat successful movie embedded within the action, but just one that doesn’t happen to feature McCarthy in any shape or form. With a shock-tastic set piece towards the latter end of the movie offering the one real taste of interesting implausibility, by the time it gets around the damage has unfortunately already been done, with Life of the Party failing pretty miserably as both an example of contemporary American comedy and a project for McCarthy to thrive within, something of which backfires rather spectacularly.
Overall Score: 3/10
“I’ve Always Wondered What It’s Like To Be Undeniably Pretty…”
Following on from the mediocrity of Trainwreck and the sheer awfulness of Snatched, the latest face of American comedy in the form of Amy Schumer returns this week with I Feel Pretty, an attempted idealistic comedy written and directed by the film-making duo of Abby Kohn and Mark Silverstein, whose previous work together includes Valentines Day and How To Be Single, which sees Schumer as Renee Bennett, an inspiring low-level worker for cosmetic giant, Lily LeClaire whose concerns regarding low self-esteem and sweeping generalisations regarding society’s reaction to those not considered “perfect” are suddenly vanquished after an accident which results in her seeing her own body image in a completely different light. With the film’s trailers pretty much giving away the entirety of the narrative from beginning to end, Schumer’s latest is a movie which relies too much on the supposed talent of Schumer and the underlying message of the film, but with a severe lack of comedic elements whatsoever and a convoluted, confused and mistreated discussion regarding beauty being on the internal rather than the external, I Feel Pretty is somewhat majorly out of fashion.
With Schumer attempting to juggle a wide range of narrative strands which range from her fortunate psychological switch, a relationship with Rory Scovel’s (The House) Ethan and her blossoming career path, one aided by the ever radiant Michelle Williams (Manchester By The Sea) as the highly pitched Avery LeClaire, a similarly confused fashion mogul whose freakishly kooky performance is undeniably the best element in the film, I Feel Pretty primarily fails to warrant its’ nearly two hour runtime and unsurprisingly outstays its’ welcome come just before the eighty minute mark. With the middle section of the movie in which Schumer manages to embrace her sudden boost in confidence actually managing to develop her leading character into someone resembling more of a walking punch bag than a redemption punching martyr for societal freedoms, the underlying themes regarding the expression of our individual beauty just becomes totally tedious, concluding in a cringe-laden final speech in which female liberation is expressed whilst conducting a pitch for high-end beauty products which attempt to make the lay person much more attractive. With no laughs, a lack of diligent editing techniques and Schumer yet again failing to impress, I Feel Pretty should have just focused on Michelle Williams’ character, something of which I would happily have enjoyed much much more.
Overall Score: 4/10
“Our Girls Are Not Thinking Things Through. I’m Going To Stop Them…”
Directed by cinematic first-timer Kay Cannon, whose previous credits lie solely on each of the screenplays for the highly successful Pitch Perfect trilogy, Blockers is a ripe, rude and well-meaning coming of age American comedy which features Leslie Mann (How To Be Single), Ike Barinholtz (Snatched) and John Cena (Daddy’s Home 2) as three out-of-touch parents who attempt to thwart their respective daughter’s plans for prom night after discovering a “sex pact” between them whilst generously snooping on their online, social media based conversation. With Bad Moms showcasing that preconceptions regarding American comedies sometimes shouldn’t be entirely faithfully adhered to at all times, Blockers is yet another fairly successful U.S based romp which not only manages to mix a heartwarming soul with well-worked elements of ludicrous comedy, but also develops its’ characters of both generations to a telling degree that each works as an individual rather than a two-dimensional caricature, and even if at times, the narrative dwindles into a wacky mix of saccharin sweetness and silliness with a runtime which overplays its’ hand for at least twenty minutes longer than necessary, Cannon’s movie is a solid and enjoyable directorial debut.
With Cena’s Mitchell playing hilariously against type, with his imposing, muscular demeanour being offset with a personality which cries at the first flicker of emotional weakness and favours tucked-in chequered shirts and easily mocked crew cut haircuts, and Leslie Mann’s Lisa Decker ferociously abstaining against anything to do with her daughter’s ascent into adulthood, it is left to Barinholtz’s Hunter to steady the ship, with his character heeding the warning of the consequences of his fellow parents’ actions, even when his own strange, sometimes excruciatingly awkward personality promotes him as the worst father figure type imaginable. With big-screen newcomers, Gideon Adlon, Geraldine Viswanathan and Kathryn Newton (Lady Bird) as the troublesome trio of teenagers eager to rid themselves of their sexual innocence, their superb chemistry also aids the film’s sense of appeal, particularly in regards to their familiar and overly contemporary use of youthful language and prom night experiences, and with the movie balancing all of its’ characters with empathetic ease, Blockers is the type of movie which yes, is of course not the most original or entirely captivating in history, but for a hundred minutes swing, is wickedly enjoyable and earns kudos for featuring the best naked BDSM game scene in comedy history. Yeah, that’s the selling point if ever there was one.
Overall Score: 6/10
“I’m Done Living In A World Where I Don’t Get To Be Who I Am…”
With Barry Jenkins’ outstanding big-screen debut, Moonlight, breaking fresh cinematic ground last year by being the first Best Picture winner at the Academy Awards to not only feature an all-black cast, but to have a LGBT centred narrative at the heart of it too, it seems almost incredibly quaint to finally be seeing a strong wave of widely different styled movies which focus on expanding the boundaries of romance within contemporary mainstream cinema as we know it, somewhat making up for the infamous misstep of handing Crash the Best Picture gong back in 2006 when pretty much everyone assumed it was heading in Brokeback Mountain’s direction. Adapted from Becky Albertalli’s 2015 novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda”, Love, Simon, directed by DC’s Arrowverse writing and producing stalwart, Greg Berlanti, follows in the footsteps of Moonlight and Call Me By Your Name by being yet another success story with a predominant LGBT storyline, one which sees Nick Robinson (Jurassic World) as Simon Spier, a repressed gay teenager who attempts to come to terms with the world’s reaction to his possible social revelation whilst seeking out the identity of the mysterious “Blue”, an online pen-pal who has used the luxury of the internet to express his sexuality and whom Simon slowly begins to fall for.
With a warm, chocolate sweet high-school sensibility which takes heed of classic coming of age movies such as the entire John Hughes back catalogue and the more modern examples such as Easy A and The Edge of Seventeen, Berlanti’s movie focuses heavy on the core relationship between Spier and his close-knit group of friends, with the screenplay allowing each character to have enough breathing space to be both convincing and engaging, even when it seems the parent figures of both Josh Duhamel (Transformers) and Jennifer Garner (Dallas Buyers Club) are seemingly left aside to pick up the crumbs in both metaphoric and literal terms come the end of the movie. With smart, crackling teenage quips and a steady handed tone which doesn’t dwell on the the nature of it’s romance in a sickly sweet saccharin fashion, Love, Simon instead works on the simplicity of its’ storytelling and the dedicated performance of its’ cast, particularly that of the impressive Robinson who manages to convey a rainbow of conflicting emotions with staggering ease, and even when the movie comes full circle and does end with a slight tinge of predictability and Disney-fulled cheesiness, Berlanti’s movie will leave you pleasantly surprised and see you departing the auditorium with a Joker-wide smile.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Why Do I Always Get Screwed For Doing My Job…?”
Itching with a sense of Hollywood styled nepotism, director Nash Edgerton brings brother Joel (Red Sparrow), Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) and Oxford’s own, David Oyelowo (Selma) aboard for his directorial debut, Gringo, a kooky, wildly inconsistent crime caper based on a screenplay by both Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone which sees Oyelowo’s white-collared Harold Soyinka caught between his sickeningly narcissistic bosses and the murderous ventures of the Mexican cartel as attempts to reconstruct his life based around cheating partners and financial ills by conning his way into a paycheck suitable enough to begin a new life. With the trailers somewhat misleading the movie’s true intentions by presenting it as a full bodied comedy, Gringo instead is the type of movie which can’t seem to make up its’ mind as it grinds solemnly through a runtime which edges just under two hours, and whilst each of the cast members give it their all in attempting to breathe some sort of life into proceedings, Edgerton’s movie just doesn’t seem to leave any sort of meaningful impression and simply comes in via one ear and departs swiftly out of the other.
Beginning by laying the foundations for the misfortunes which await Oyelowo’s titular “Gringo” as he follows Theron and Edgerton’s success craved business partners across the Mexican border in order to talk business regarding the sale of a marijuana-infused pill, Edgerton’s movie takes time to really set sail, with a first half unsure of its’ ultimate direction resulting in losing audience interest rather swiftly, and even as the action unfolds once we hit the the sunny sights of a gangland infested Mexico, Gringo doesn’t at any time hit a steady stride in regards to what we as the audience are meant to be taking in and dissecting. A few chuckles aside, Gringo doesn’t ultimately work as a comedy either and is a film better served being admired as a Guy Ritchie-esque double crossing caper, just without the freshness of a Lock, Stock… or the zesty absurdity of a Snatch, and with a thrown in penchant for unnecessary violence and crude stereotypes regarding one-dimensional Mexican citizens, Edgerton’s movie is a strangely dull mixed bag of a movie. With the trio of front and centre stars all managing to come across somewhat watchable however, with Oyelowo’s likeable luckless lead the obvious standout, Gringo isn’t exactly poor, it’s just badly managed, and for a cast this talented at the heart of it, Edgerton’s debut could, and should have, been much, much sharper.
Overall Score: 5/10
“For The Next Hour You’re Not Going To Know What’s Real Or What’s Fake…”
Part of the ensemble of writers behind the screenplay for Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, film-making duo, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein return to directing with Game Night, a blackly comic mystery popcorn delight based on a script by the relatively unknown figure of Mark Perez, featuring Jason Bateman (The Gift) and Rachel McAdams (Spotlight) as the competitive married couple who are sucked into a night of outrageous antics with their weekly “game night” comrades by Kyle Chandler’s (Manchester By The Sea) returning overzealous and annoyingly successful brother figure who promises the players a night of gaming unlike any before it. With laugh out loud gags from beginning to end and a joyous first time viewing in which the audience is pulled left, right and centre in regards to the many twists which come before them, Game Night is an American comedy which ultimately works much more effectively than your average US-based comic farce thanks to a tightly wound script and an ensemble cast who undeniably seem to be having as much fun as the fee paying customers come to observe, and even if the movie may not work as well on repeat viewings after its’ concluding payoff, Daley and Goldstein’s latest is still a resounding full house.
With obvious narrative comparisons to David Fincher’s 1997 mystery drama The Game, albeit with with a much more comical tone, Game Night manages to succeed in intertwining both the whodunit elements of its’ narrative with the sickly black tone of its’ sharp humour, with set pieces featuring amateur bullet hole surgery and the attempted deep clean of a blood soaked dog resulting in hysterical fits of giggles as you soak up the sheer absurdity which unfolds throughout a tightly packed 100 minutes runtime. With Bateman and McAdams leading the line of couples entrapped in the film’s leading mystery, the chemistry between them is undeniably well measured, and even with my own personal reservations regarding the former’s on-screen talents when it comes to comedy, their central relationship is crucial to the more out-there comedy elements which in lesser hands may have indeed folded under the silliness of it all. With Jesse Plemons (Hostiles) stealing the show as the woefully awkward next door neighbour and a fantastically designed post-movie credit sequence, Game Night is if anything, outstanding popcorn fun, and for an American comedy to hold my attention for its’ entire runtime, that is a miracle within itself.
Overall Score: 7/10
“I Want You To Be The Very Best Version Of Yourself That You Can Be…”
Arriving as the final Best Picture nomination from the upcoming Academy Awards to be released in the UK before the ceremony takes place on the first weekend of March, Greta Gerwig (Jackie) halts her acting career for her directorial debut, Lady Bird, a coming of age comedy drama formed around a screenplay written by Gerwig herself and starring Saoirse Ronan as the titular troublesome teen from Sacramento, California who in her transference from school to college faces difficulties within both her home-life and her widening taste of the adolescent outside world. Supported by the likes of Laurie Metcalf (Toy Story 3), Tracy Letts (The Post) and Beanie Feldstein (Neighbours 2), Gerwig’s movie manages to break free from the cliches and pressures of coming-of-age dramas in which the film undeniably takes inspiration from, with the likes of particularly Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and 2016’s little seen The Edge of Seventeen obvious reference points in terms of storyline, thanks to a tightly wound script which manages to balance each of the film’s leading characters with their own personal strengths, weaknesses and flaws, resulting in performances which not only feel perfectly rounded and entirely believable, but are so fundamentally humane and empathetic that the movie spins you around and grips you tightly from the opening scene in which we discover the roller-coaster nature of the relationship which is progressively examined between mother and daughter.
After shining in a wide array of roles including The Grand Budapest Hotel and particularly John Crowley’s magnificent 2015 romantic drama, Brooklyn, Ronan’s portrayal of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is an absorbing and entirely empathetic performance, an awards courting triumph which perfectly captures the wildly inconsistent emotion of teenage angst, acne faced and all, one which is aided profusely by the magnificently resonant aura which the Irish star brings to a leading role bursting with flavourful personality and charisma, a character who although is proven to be riddled with human error and socially shocking flaws, manages to be much more interesting than the standardised Hollywood image of a cinematic on-screen teenager. Although the flashy editing and electrifying pace of the movie interweaves Lady Bird’s in-school debacles and the choppy relationships with both the female and male sex, with Manchester By The Sea’s Lucas Hedges and Call Me By Your Name’s Timothée Chalamet the cameo love interests whose personal narrative endpoints both end in extravagant fashion, the cornerstone of the movie is entirely focused on the exhausting battle between the child and parent, with Laurie Metcalf’s mother figure, Marion, a resoundingly commonplace thorn in the side of youthful curiosity of which many 21st century teenagers are more than accustomed to, with the performance of Metcalf equally as impressive as her younger counterpart, resulting in the many on-screen discussions between the two strong willed characters entirely captivating. With a deep level of care for the characters and precise direction from Gerwig who in her obvious admiration and pride for her screenplay manages to get the best out of even the most bit-part players of the piece, Lady Bird is flawless, a movie full with outstanding performances and a movie which manages to blend laugh out loud and perfectly pitched comic timing with elements of lachrymose inducing tenderness so effectively, you’ll think you would have known each of the film’s characters for years, and for a movie with a runtime with just over ninety minutes, it’s suffice to say, I would have happily stayed for much, much longer.
Overall Score: 10/10
“The Universe Has A Tendency To Point Us In The Right Direction…”
Renowned for his work as an accomplished cinematographer on an array of American comedies including War Dogs, The Hangover Trilogy as well as the upcoming blockbuster franchise sequel, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, New Jersey citizen, Lawrence Sher, turns to a debut in directing for Father Figures, a messy, overlong and staggeringly sickening road trip comedy featuring Owen Wilson (Wonder) and Ed Helms (Captain Underpants) as alienated siblings, Kyle and Peter Reynolds who embark on a self proclaimed journey known as “Operation Whose Your Daddy” after being informed by Glenn Close’s (The Girl With All The Gifts) mother figure, Helen Baxter, that she is unaware of her children’s true parentage. With a narrative which twists and turns through redemptive family drama to lad-cultured sex ventures and finally settling for saccharin fuelled cop-out nonsense, Sher’s movie is fundamentally unsure of what it entirely aspires to be, and with a two hour runtime attempting to hold it all together, Father Figures is unsurprisingly dour, a film which not only comes across as your run of the mill Owen Wilson centred comedy, but an Owen Wilson centred comedy without any meaningful laughs.
Settling on air of overripe repetition as our leading duo move from state to state in order to locate their true titular father figure, the screenplay attempts to shoehorn in as many jarring cameos as humanly possible for some form of comedic effect, with the likes of Ving Rhames, Terry Bradshaw and the Oscar winning J. K. Simmons, yes, that J. K. Simmons, each conforming to a soap opera type scenario in which each character has around ten minutes to show off their goods and force some form of sketch show-esque comedic set piece before being entirely forgotten about as we head onto the next underwritten character who swiftly follows such a mould. With Wilson hitting snooze mode and regressing into normality after winning back some form of merits after his performance in Wonder, the star revels in handing the director a stereotypical Owen Wilson performance, one which clashes with Ed Helms’ pretentious, all-moaning flannel of a character who not only couldn’t look farther from being an on-screen sibling of Wilson if he tried but is the type of American character who believes their life is an utter shambles even with staggering levels of wealth and a high class occupation which of course only acts as a continuous, narrative weaving joke. The jokes are joyless, the script soulless and ponderous, and whilst at times the chemistry between the two stars evoke a sense of enjoyment that the film may be heading somewhere, the concluding act is shameful and for two hours of your life you may never get back, Father Figures really isn’t worth the risk.