Category Archives: Comedy

LFF: Brigsby Bear

FILMSNAP: A film review that is 300 words or less.

Does a comedy have an obligation to be funny to be deemed a good film? Brigsby Bear certainly suggests otherwise; sporadically rib-tickling but largely misfiring, this unorthodox abduction comedy rides on a premise that’s brimming with potential to deliver an enormously affecting study of a man unable to escape the manipulation of his captors.

James Pope (Kyle Mooney) is a man-child obsessed with Brigsby Bear, a kids’ television show fabricated by his surrogate parents. Their reasoning for doing so is never defined, but it needn’t be; this is a challenging film where Mooney undergoes a form of mental torture that’s disguised as anything but. His captors mean well but their treatment is like force-feeding a child sugar: the captive may enjoy it, but it remains unhealthy. In this way, the film’s closing images are deeply sinister if you break through its saccharine facade.

Mooney, rescued from his captors early on, attempts to integrate himself in the real world. His parents are awkward, understandably, but Mooney finds his footing, with the not-so-small caveat that he can’t let go of his beloved television show; instead, he decides to reimagine it as a feature-length movie.

With the help of new friends and barmy police officers, he achieves exactly that. There are moments that breach through the Sundance-y skin surface, transforming the cheese into a complex understanding of a frazzled, traumatised mind. Brigsby Bear himself, for instance, is reimagined as having parents who are rescued from jail ‘because what they did wasn’t even that bad, really.’

If the comedy itself is hit-and-miss, Brigsby Bear’s emotional heft more than makes up for it. Tottering on the edge of manipulation, the film manages to keep upright through an ability to carve out a unique dynamic between captor and captive, demanding a degree of perceptiveness from its audience.

-Gus Edgar

LFF: Ingrid Goes West

FILMSNAP: A film review that is 300 words or less.

With mobile phones, apps and celebrity culture reaching peak popularity, along with its growing number of dissenters, a film like Ingrid Goes West was inevitable. Matt Spicer’s film is a satirical comedy riffing on these themes, that’s neither satirical nor comedic enough to make a dent in our digitised world, but remains a fleetingly entertaining character study/nosedive that plays to the strengths of its main star, Aubrey Plaza.

Plaza’s film career has had a rough time so far, but here she excels, playing a moody and psychotic millennial who becomes obsessed with a famous photographer (Elizabeth Olsen) and her Instagram. In some early images of the film, she’s glued to her phone screen, only leaving it briefly to take some medication. Thankfully Ingrid Goes West doesn’t dwell on this one-note joke (‘Aren’t millennials so fixated on social media?’) for too long, as Ingrid ventures to California to stalk, manipulate, and eventually befriend Olsen’s celebrity.  

For a time, this works, and her exploits in this second act are at its most hilarious when it vies for cringe (rather than a series of batman references that form an inexplicable running joke). Billy Magnussen as Olsen’s gurning brother is a riot; Olsen’s husband, played by Wyatt Russell, is less so, regurgitating the themes Matt Spicer wants to convey. If his wife talks in emoji, he talks in exposition.

Scathing satire falls to the wayside as the narrative takes over, which is when Ingrid Goes West turns into Ingrid Goes Pear-Shaped. The film forgets to have fun with its premise, but is also overconfident in how much empathy it can brew up with Ingrid at the helm. This is a (140-or-less) character study that fails to live up to the potential of its premise – even if the premise itself is inherently watchable.

-Gus Edgar

LFF: Person to Person

FILMSNAP: A film review that is 300 words or less.

Presenting itself as a welcome tonic to last year’s insipidly cynical Wiener Dog, Dustin Guy Defa’s slight Person to Person avoids pretension and hits all the right notes (played from one of its stirring records), bouncing between several characters and their loosely interconnecting NY storylines. The film doesn’t stray away from its cosy shell, nor does it try to do so. Guy Defa provides both the claim and the evidence that perhaps the constant warm fuzziness provoked by a series of heartwarming non-sequiturs might just be enough.

A man is concerned just as much with his new shirt as he is with being made a victim by a record fraudster. Another is depressive, choosing to lounge on his sofa instead of confronting his ex-girlfriend and the fact that he’s posted her nudes online. A millennial laments society to her friend, while an elderly gentleman watches over his clock store. And Michael Cera, in a brilliant turn, stars as a journalist who urges a fresh employee to exploit the potential murder of a wife’s husband.

The storylines are of varying importance but are each treated with the same nuance and affection towards its characters. These characters are broad depictions of New York as a whole, yet somehow feel intensely personal – no doubt due to the individual cast’s honest performances, marked with quirks and the hyper-realised whimsy that richly define them.

That’s not to say that all of the narrative threads synchronise perfectly. Person to Person’s teen angst strand lacks the frantic energy the rest of the film abides by, for instance. But there’s more than enough joy to be had watching Cera and his partner head-bang to the sound of his heavy metal band, or watching a comically glacial bike chase unfold, to make up for its minor shortcomings.

-Gus Edgar

FilmSnap: Toni Erdmann

FILMSNAP: A film review that is 300 words or less.

Toni Erdmann is an experience like no other. A 3-hour German epic consisting of boardroom mundanity, cheap practical jokes and a sexual shenanigan involving a petit four, all riffing off a beautifully touching and complex paternal relationship.

The father is Winfried (Peter Simonischek), a divorcee adopting the goofball persona of Toni Erdmann in order to become closer to his daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller), both figuratively and literally. Ines herself is entrenched in the workload demanded of a business consultant, and so the antics of her father distract rather than entertain – her straight-faced demeanour at odds with Winfried’s spirited take on life. Accompanied by farce and several cringeworthy situations, we watch as their relationship evolves.

It’s a triumph of sharp scriptwriting and superb performances, an emotional odyssey with the perfect conclusion. There’s no pretension here, no melodramatic speeches or the excessive swells of a saccharine score. It’s grounded and quietly devastating, director Maren Ade aware of her actors’ ability and the strength of the dialogue, ridding the film of its background noise and thus of its superficiality. With a single embrace, Toni Erdmann profoundly communicates the complications and tribulations of a father-daughter relationship far better than any sickly sob-story could manage.

And it’s funny, too. As unorthodox a comedy as it may be, Winfried’s actions and Ines’ reactions earn plenty of laughs, and several set-pieces are teeming with awkward energy. It’s not a film that consistently provokes belly-laughs, focusing moreso on the ‘drama’ aspect of ‘comedy drama’, but Simonischek and Hüller are totally committed to their roles, and so the humour is both intensely embarrassing and remarkably believable.  

Toni Erdmann’s 3-hour runtime may seem daunting, but it allows its ingeniously realised central relationship to flourish. By the end, you won’t know whether to laugh or cry. So you do both.

-Gus Edgar

Big Hero 6

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There’s been talk of a Disney renaissance; hot off the heels of Frozen’s commercial – and critical – success, the studio released Big Hero 6, a charming flick that was met with a similarly superb response. So much so, it went on to beat the likes of The Lego Movie and The Tale of Princess Kaguya to the Best Animated Feature Oscar. The accolade was clearly indicative of the golden period Disney now finds itself in – away from the depths of the 2000s; the award was sweet, a success story, a signifier of great things to come. The award was undeserved.

Big Hero 6 is undoubtedly a pleasant, likeable film. Baymax, the sidekick of main protagonist Hiro (Ryan Potter), is irresistibly adorable and wonderfully voiced by Scott Adsit. Together these two heroes attempt to stop a mysterious masked villain in control of a creation owned by Hiro himself – microbots -, a figure of formerly ambiguous motives. To conquer this villain, they team up with a group of scientists/thinly-veiled caricatures, each given an upgrade via Hiro’s genius that tailors to each character’s specific skill set. To give any more plot points away would risk delving into spoiler territory – it’s a shame then that you’ll see each plot development coming a mile away. Disney has certainly benefited from their control over the majority of Marvel, and Big Hero 6 is a way to flaunt that control; adapted from the Marvel comics of the same name, the series offers a huge array of creative sequences to choose from. And Big Hero 6 certainly excels in its world-building – the film takes place in the city of San Fransokyo, an imaginative hybrid city that looks beautiful and is much a character of the film as any of the other characters. If the movie shines in one department, then its most obviously the world created, and its sumptuous visuals.

The creativity of the city isn’t translated into plot however, where somehow the writers manage to turn an animation – a cinematic form that has endless possibilities – into a formulaic, albeit enjoyable romp that’s inseparable from a large proportion of live-action movies: A protagonist is introduced, a traumatic event occurs that spurs on the emergence of a hero from within the protagonist, a villain arises and the protagonist, with the help of some lazily-written sidekicks, battle this villain in a huge showdown of mass destruction. It’s disappointing, and frustrating, to see a plot mishandled and shaped into a generic Marvel formula when there’s potential for so much more. It’s not just live-action Marvel films that Big Hero 6 seems to be copying- the animations wears references of The Iron Giant on its sleeve, the similarities bravely shuffling on the edge of ripping-off as opposed to endearingly referencing.

The dialogue itself is a mixed bag – some jokes hit, others are miscalculations, a large portion of the characters are poorly written and used more as plot devices than for realism, and there are many, many expositional problems at the start of the film (“Our parents died in a fire when I was 3, remember?”). Where the script succeeds is in its truthful, adult moral message, and how the film conveys that message. It’s touching, heartfelt, and admirably separates itself from feel-good animations that may end up serving as lies given to younger viewers. This is fast becoming a trend in 2015 – Inside Out deals with a similarly mature, acceptance-themed message too, and is made all the better for it. The ending of Big Hero 6 hits hard (although it’s then hindered by a following scene), despite the likelihood that you may see it coming, and proves to be a high of a film that’s otherwise a little flat.

Big Hero 6 is one of the most beautiful films animated, yet its visuals and resoundingly satisfying message can’t quite make up for poor plot-characterisation, poor plot writing and simply a poor plot. How this won the Oscar over The Lego Movie is anyone’s guess.

– Gus Edgar

Kingsman: The Secret Service

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Director Matthew Vaughn has a very accomplished track record; Kick-Ass is a breath of fresh air amid the abundance of Marvel superhero flicks, X-Men: First Class is a hugely entertaining romp that serves as the franchise’s finest, and Stardust, despite being rarely mentioned, is a competent and non-formulaic addition to the fantasy genre. You can imagine my disappointment, then, at Kingsman: The Secret Service, a spy caper devoid of any heart or wit that we have come to expect of the director.

The flick follows ‘Eggsy’ (Taron Egerton), a low-life, criminal that is taken in by Harry Hart (Colin Firth), to attempt to gain a place in the ranks of the titular Kingsmen, via a series of testing, if superfluous trials. From there, it’s a bonkers (and for me, too ridiculous to stomach) third-act to defeat the menacing Valentine, a character annoyingly played with a lisp and without charm by Samuel L Jackson. Incorporated into its convoluted plot, we have a mad, violent killing spree in a church, a mission to shoot a missile-launcher at a satellite after being sent into the Earth’s atmosphere via pressurised balloons, and a unique fireworks display that involves mass genocide – including President Obama, himself. Sounds farcical and preposterous, doesn’t it? That’s because it is.

Sadly, Kingsman: The Secret Service is an amalgamation of contradictions. Its a spoof on the recent gritty Bond capers, but begs to be taken seriously. Amid its story overstuffed with chaos are scenes that should carry weight, or shock, or any emotion whatsoever. All the emotional heft is lost due to the frantic fiasco occurring on screen. Yes, the film is violent and destructive, but despite its plot that threatens to congest, it’s an empty film, where character development – or even the care to structure characters realistically in any way – are sacrificed for full-on mayhem. Its third act amps up the inane tenfold, resulting in an unbalanced mess.

Where the violence worked for Vaughn’s previous effort, Kick-Ass, it falters and stumbles magnificently here; there is always a looming sense of seriousness and tension involved with Kick-Ass, where scenes carry an overbearing sense of danger. In Kingsman, it’s incredibly difficult to be invested in the plight of the characters when henchmen often less than a foot away cannot aim at the protagonist. The mindless violence is shocking and chaotic for the sake of being shocking and chaotic – any depth that the film has is replaced with unrelenting tedium. Amid this influx of violence are actual, genuine, plot points, but the script seems to have decided that incoherent coincidences should decide which way the plot turns; the decision proving beneficial to the protagonist and antagonist in equal measures, but at the expense of fluidity.

And while the film has been critically commended for originality, it is unable to escape condescending stereotypes of the lower-class. It seems as if Matthew Vaughn took all the different exaggerated tropes of a lower-class Brit family and concocted them into a thinly-scripted and one-dimensional set of characters. Nor can the film come up with decent character motivation for its antagonist, settling for an incentive that can only be described as cliche.

In terms of acting, it’s a mixed bag. Aside from a horribly miscast Mark Strong that looks thoroughly hapless throughout the flick, and Samuel L Jackson’s confusing attempt to convey a mixture of Blofield and Rain Man, the cast is largely competent. Taron Egerton is charming and assured, Colin Firth is refreshingly energetic as Hart, and both Sofia Boutella and Sophie Cookson play their strong female characters (which is always a welcome sight) with aplomb.

Yes, Kingsman is undeniably entertaining in short bursts – a skydive without a parachute and the now-infamous church scene set to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Free Bird’ is a joyous, if unfulfilling romp. Sadly, its entertainment value cannot make up for a strained plot, wooden characters, and a frustrating script. And to top it all off, Kingsman is not nearly as funny as it thinks it is; most of its jokes fall flat – a huge surprise when looking at the director’s credentials. Unfortunately, Kingsman: The Secret Service, much like its final pre-credits scene, is ugly, hugely disappointing, and lacking in any subtlety.

– Gus Edgar

Inherent Vice

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Incoherent Vice would be a much more suitable title.

Incohesive, long, and dialogue-heavy, Inherent Vice has all the potential to flounder. Yet under the steady (or rather, wild) hands of director Paul Thomas Anderson, the film becomes a psychedelic, incredibly enjoyable ride brimming with wit and melancholy. The film follows Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello (played in routinely magnificent fashion by the now ever-reliable Joaquin Phoenix), and his exploits to help his ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fey (Katherine Waterston, also exquisite) investigate a kidnapping of notorious real-estate billionaire Mickey Wolfmann. From there, the plot descends (or ascends, depending on your perspective of the film) into sumptuous lunacy; a mystery involving the coveted and secretive ‘Golden Fang’, a fascinating encounter with a figure named Adrian Prussia, and a charming, nostalgic tale involving a Ouija board all intertwined into the flick’s increasingly crazed plot.

It’s a stoner noir that gives the audience the impression of being stoned themselves – a startling achievement by both P.A Anderson and Thomas Pynchon, the writer of the book that this flick is adapted from. It’s not about the end result, but about the journey; plot threads aimlessly disappear and reappear, often left unresolved amid the concoction of brewing story lines; told from the perspective of Doc’s weed-frazzled mind. Yet despite the apparent attempt to confuse and toy with the audience, the flick is never not-fascinating. As the opening credits appear, you’ll find a big grin spreading across your face – barely disappearing during Inherent Vice’s 148-minute run time.

Part of this is due to the film’s soundtrack – just like its plot, it’s a daring and muddled mix in equal measures, an amalgamation of Jonny Greenwood’s terrifically periodic score, and the various offerings of artists, each with a booming, bombastic track to deftly support what’s on screen; Vitamin C, Here Come the Ho-Dads, Simba, and Les Fleur all stand-out as proudly and brilliantly as Doc’s sideburns. They also help contribute to Inherent Vice’s wonderful, tonal atmosphere – the turn of the 1970’s portrayed on screen with expert precision.

The atmosphere created is also helped enormously by the director’s use of large format film, fabricating a musty, saturated quality that wouldn’t be possible to produce otherwise. Inherent Vice also features the best cinematography of any film released in 2014 – which is saying a lot when considering Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel were both released last year. Each shot is filmed with typical P.A Anderson-ian perfection, outmuscling his previous effort, The Master, for beauty alone.

And all this praise without truly referring to the acting – yes, the acting is something special too. Joaquin Phoenix brings his deranged, frustratedly lackadaisical persona to the forefront, and it works wonders. Doc is equal measures of composure and insanity, a brewing mix of hippie goodness that is juxtaposed expertly by the straight-faced ‘Bigfoot’ (Josh Brolin), a hippie-hatin’ detective that surprisingly features as the figure that prises the most laughs from the audience. Less surprisingly, he’s portrayed excellently by Brolin, shrouding himself in a subtly affectionate sentimentality; his character depth, where sexuality and sentiments towards Doc remain ambiguous throughout, elevates the film to a whole other stratosphere. He’s a character with a comical facade and an aura of sadness.

Katherine Waterston, who plays the main female lead as Doc’s ex-girlfriend, must be mentioned too. A relatively unknown face, she brings fragility and vulnerability to the storyline, where her chemistry with Joaquin Phoenix forms much of the crux of the film. She stands out expertly in one particular scene – a sensual, sorrowful discussion with Doc that culminates in silently affectionate sex; leaving the audience in a similarly hushed state. The scene is a showcase of Waterston’s acting range and capabilities, and she handles the challenging task with aplomb.

The same can be said for all of Inherent Vice’s bloated jumble of characters, each adroitly played; Martin Short helming a terrific cameo, and only Owen Wilson debatedly miscast. Their encounters with Doc contribute as the overall chassis of the plot, and if you can withstand the initial tedium, it plays out beautifully. Inherent Vice works on so many levels; an accurate portrayal of life in 1970, an intriguing mystery and crime drama, a fantastic character-study, and a poignant tale of love and paranoia. Inherent Vice may not be for everyone, but if it works, it works wonders – a gem of a film with a myriad of vibrant characters and a plot as smart as it is unhinged.

– Gus Edgar

The Grand Budapest Hotel

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So, The Grand Budapest Hotel is certainly my favourite film of 2014 so far, and is perhaps Anderson’s finest film to date. Which is saying quite a lot; every Anderson film I have seen thus far (Moonrise Kingdom, The Fantastic Mr.Fox, The Darjeeling Limited, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Royal Tenenbaums) have all been individually outstanding and hard to top. Yet Wes Anderson delivers the goods once again with a crazy plot, an impressive Ralph Fiennes performance, eye-globbering visuals and his classic traits shining through the film.

The story, told in the present day in the past in the past… in the past, follows M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) as a camp concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel, and his faithful lobby boy, Zero (Tony Revolori), for the majority of its running time. It’s essentially a game of cat and mouse as the story circles around a valuable painting known as “Boy With Apple”. That isn’t the half of it, of course, but to explain the plot any further would take up too much space.

As does the vast amount of actors swamping the film, although they never seem out of place (aside from a brief cameo from Anderson regular, Owen Wilson). Oft-criticised before its release that it was Anderson’s ensemble film, with a plot that would potentially be burdened by its cast, I couldn’t disagree more. The film flows eloquently and is extremely fast-paced, but it still allows for character development, the main recipient being M.Gustave. Fiennes is excellent with a role that Anderson stated, and I would have to agree with him on this, was “made for him”. He plays camp surprisingly well, and his moments of foul-mouthed temper are perfectly played out. Revolori is also great, acting in a more observant than active role, only playing second fiddle to Fiennes. He plays the emotion weaved throughout his character in a brilliantly understated way. Out of its mammoth supporting cast, Jeff Goldblum stands out, a particular museum scene with an abrupt ending being a highlight of both Goldblum’s performance and the film as a whole. Dafoe an Ronan both do a decent job with the roles they are given, although Brody can’t escape from his stereotypical “bad guy” outfit.

The outstanding visuals are accompanied with a seemingly-neverending soundtrack that isn’t like anything I’ve ever heard before. The soundtrack sums up the movie: simply wonderful, original, and from the heart.

– Gus Edgar