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If you’re like me, you’ve often wondered what would happen if you were to combine ABBA with Bjork, divide that into into two people and enter the result in the Eurovision Song Contest. Now, thanks to Will Farrell and Netflix, we finally have an answer.

“Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” – directed by David Dobkin and starring Ferrell (who also co-wrote the script) and Rachel McAdams – is the story of a mismatched pair of Icelandic oddballs whose strange band accidentally winds up representing their country in the legendary Eurovision Song Contest.

This is a legitimately weird movie, one that revels in its sense of exaggerated cultural absurdity and is unapologetic in its steadfast refusal to concern itself with making sense. It is both celebration and satire, a goofy love letter to Eurovision that leans into the over-the-top pomp and circumstance that helps define the beloved contest. It is relentlessly ridiculous, loose and shaggy and rife with inexplicable accents. It is a movie that won’t be everyone’s cup of brennivin, but if you’re into it, you will be INTO IT.

Real talk: I enjoyed the hell out of this movie, but your mileage definitely may vary.

Published in Movies

Anyone with eyes and ears is aware that we’re currently living in an extremely polarized time. That polarization makes it both a great time and a tough time to make a political comedy. On the one hand, the landscape is littered with targets for satirization. On the other hand, it’s all just so f---ing bleak out there.

Into this dichotomy drops “Irresistible.” Currently available via VOD services, the film is written and directed by Jon Stewart. It tells the tale of what happens when a small-town mayoral race captures the attention of high-level political operatives on both sides of the partisan divide. These operatives swoop in and turn this minor municipal election into a big-money campaign. It’s ostensibly an ideological fight, but it soon becomes clear that there’s far more to it than that.

Stewart’s body of work from “The Daily Show” on up would seem to make him the ideal candidate (no pun intended) to make a film like this. And it’s a dynamite cast, led by Steve Carell, Chris Cooper and Rose Byrne. The talent is here, for sure.

So why isn’t this movie better?

Not that it’s bad, per se. It has its moments. It just feels like it is trying to be all things to all people, which is ironic considering its subject matter. It never commits to a tone, resulting in an overall feeling of meh-ness that undercuts whatever satiric impact it might have made. Political commentary? Sly satire? Underdog tale? “Irresistible” is all of these – and hence none of them.

Published in Movies

Stop me if you heard this one: a professional wrestler who transitioned to acting makes an action comedy in which he shares the screen with a precocious child costar.

Ever since the double leg drop of Hulk Hogan’s “Suburban Commando” and “Mr. Nanny,” it seems that part of the formula for getting over a wrestler as a movie star involves that sort of kid-oriented flick. Hogan did it, the Rock did it (wildly successfully, it should be added) and now we’re seeing offerings from the likes of John Cena and Dave Bautista.

Bautista stars in “My Spy,” currently available on Amazon Prime Video and for rental, precisely the sort of odd couple kiddie comedy we’re talking about. Now, Bautista is an interesting case, in that he initially skipped a few steps in the wrestler-to-movie star plan thanks to his delightful turn as Drax in the MCU, but apparently he still has to follow the rules, even if he does it out of order.

As you might expect, there’s not much here that you haven’t seen before. The standard beats are all present, landing with a steady deliberateness. This is not a movie that surprises in terms of structure or story; you’re pretty sure how it’s all going to go from the top.

And yet … it’s actually not bad. Not great, mind you, but charming enough, thanks to Bautista and (particularly) his young costar. It’s all perfectly pleasant, with some dumb jokes and a couple of fun supporting turns and some fun kid-friendly(ish) action sequences. Not memorable, but in a vaguely pleasant way.

Honestly, it could have been worse.

Published in Movies

Love – and our ongoing search for it – is one of the fundamental building blocks of our lives. That quest to find the person with whom we’re going to spend our lives is complicated and surprising, often leading us in unexpected directions. Highs can very quickly become lows, and vice versa.

We’re all on our own journey when it comes to love … but most people don’t film it.

Steve Markle is not most people.

The Canadian filmmaker’s new documentary “Shoot to Marry” – winner of the Audience Award at Slamdance and currently available to rent on a variety of platforms – is a filmed record of his own search for love. It is an occasionally rambling, sometimes cringe-y and always heartfelt document of Markle’s quest to find the person who might help him heal his broken heart and give him what he has always wanted – someone to marry. Five years in the making, the film is rife with shaggy DIY charm – Markle was essentially a one-man crew.

While it’s true that Markle is sometimes disingenuous with regard to the motives behind the documentary, it’s also true that he has brought together a genuinely fascinating collection of women from all walks of life, so while his pitch about making a doc about “interesting women” is still the truth, albeit not the whole truth.

Published in Livin'

Few filmmakers have had as outsized an influence on 21st century comedy as Judd Apatow. For over a decade, the Apatovian voice led the way, introducing us to the players who would define the genre for their generation. It was a comedy of youth, shaggy and unapologetic and inspiring to those who would follow.

It’s hard to believe that it has been five years since Apatow helmed a movie, but it’s true – his last directorial foray was the 2015 Amy Schumer vehicle “Trainwreck.” Perhaps he was simply waiting for the proper inspiration to get back into the saddle.

Said inspiration has apparently arrived in the form of Pete Davidson, who teamed up with Apatow and Dave Sirus to co-write “The King of Staten Island,” a film based in large part on Davidson’s own life. It’s an emotionally charged and honest offering, one driven by the real feelings at the heart of its semi-autobiographical story.

Davidson – who also stars – is a polarizing figure in a lot of ways, but love him or hate him, it’s difficult to deny the quality of his work here. Apatow lets the story do the heavy lifting as far as the laughs go, allowing the flat-out exceptional cast to bring forth the very genuine emotions at the heart of things. It is funny and touching and surprisingly moving, a much more warts-and-all glimpse of the arrested development that the director so excels at presenting.

Published in Movies

Hollywood loves making movies about music. Now, we’re not talking movie musicals (although that genre seems to potentially be making a comeback as well) so much as movies about the makers of music.

There’s a particular affection for the juxtaposition of those struggling to make it against those who have already made it; stories of upward and downward trajectories and the intersection of those lines.

“The High Note,” directed by Nisha Ganatra from a script by Flora Greeson, is the latest in this long line of rise-and-decline tales – one that doesn’t venture very far from the fundamentals. This story of a world-famous diva and her aspirational personal assistant doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises, but it’s tough to argue against the relative quality of its execution.

It’s a well-made movie, featuring good performances from its leads. And the music is solid (and in a couple of cases more than solid) – a major key to the relative success of this kind of film. It’s a reasonably entertaining experience; the tune is a familiar one, and there’s nothing wrong with liking a song you’ve heard a hundred times. All in all, the movie is … fine, even if it does occasionally wander off-key.

Published in Movies

When the central relationship of your movie – particularly if it’s a rom-com – really pops, it can make up for considerable shortcomings in other respects. If there’s genuine chemistry in that dynamic, then viewers will forgive a lot.

There’s no denying that Kumail Najiani and Issa Rae have that easy chemistry in “The Lovebirds.” Directed by Michael Showalter (who also directed Nanjiani in the excellent “The Big Sick”) from a script written by Aaron Abrams and Brendon Gall, it’s the story of a couple who, in the midst of what may be the end of their relationship, wind up entangled in a complex and weird mystery.

As far as this sort of action-adjacent rom-com goes, “The Lovebirds” is pretty familiar stuff. We’ve more or less seen this structure with these beats before – there’s nothing new here. But it still works, thanks to what Nanjiani and Rae bring to the table. Their energy elevates the movie to a significant degree, turning something that could have been generically forgettable into a worthwhile watch.

Published in Movies

Sometimes, you just know.

When you’ve been reviewing movies for as long as I have, you start to have pretty good instincts with regards to what kind of film you’re getting even before you sit down to watch it. That isn’t to say that movies are incapable of surprising me – that’s not the case at all – but the reality is that experience gives you the ability to make some fairly accurate educated guesses.

All this is to say that I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into with Netflix’s “The Wrong Missy,” the new Netflix original from Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production company. In truth, all you really need to hear is “David Spade vehicle” to have a general sense of what you’re in for.

However, it’s difficult to articulate just how off-the-rails terrible this movie actually is. Casting David Spade as anything resembling a romantic lead is a mistake on its face, but when you incorporate the lackluster script, disinterested direction and a checklist of the Sandler formula playbook, you’re left with a movie driven by sheer cringe and little else. It is dumb, generally unpleasant and woefully unfunny.

Published in Movies

Every once in a while, a movie comes along that is an unexpected blend of various things that you like, a mélange of your specific combination of interests. Of course, these great tastes may or may not taste great together – that’s up to the talents involved.

Strangely enough, “How to Build a Girl” - currently available on VOD - is just such a blend, and while it isn’t a perfect combination, it is definitely a winning one.

The film – directed by Coky Giedroyc from a screenplay that author Caitlan Moran adapted from her own novel of the same name – checks a lot of boxes for me. Coming of age story? Check. Period piece set in the ‘90s? Check. Culture critic for a protagonist? Check. Hell, it even manages to check the box of “featuring music from the extremely brief period when I gave a crap about music.”

Like I said – a LOT of boxes.

It helps that it is incredibly earnest and packed with charm, driven by a lead performance from Beanie Feldstein that is yet another indicator of just how sincerely talented she is as an actor. It might get a little shaggy and ring overly familiar at times, but the quality of work put forth by everyone involved pushes it beyond mere formula. It is genuine and disarming and unabashed – a story of the difference between becoming the person you think you want to be and the person you’re actually meant to be.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 29 April 2020 16:10

Be a man – ‘Man Camp’

What does it mean to be a man?

Popular culture has mined a lot of humor from the exploration of that question. The notion of masculinity – particularly when pushed to its extremes – is ripe for parody and satire. There’s nothing wrong with the traditional concept of the masculine, though there’s certainly an argument that said traditionalism is old-fashioned to say the least.

But yeah – if you can find a way to embrace those expectations while also subverting them, you’re well on your way to getting some laughs.

“Man Camp,” a comedy directed by Nate Bakke from a script written by Daniel Cummings, Scott Kruse and Josh Long (the first two also star), digs into this oft-explored territory. It’s the tale of three young men whose lives have been defined by the too-soon loss of their manliest-of-manly-men father and their efforts to come to terms with the possibilities of finally moving on.

With a new man entering their mother’s life after so many years, the brothers take it upon themselves to put this suitor through a gauntlet of sorts, forcing him to prove himself worthy via the setting of the brothers’ annual tradition of gathering at camp to celebrate the memory of their father. It’s a funny, sometimes crude look at how we define manhood … and how that definition can change as we become men ourselves.

Published in Movies
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