Another one of them there list things…some comedies that didn’t necessarily break the Box Office, but all out there and easy to find.
Once again, in no particular order…
Set in 1980’s Dublin, Sing Street sees fourteen-year-old Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), trying to settle in at a new school while dealing with family issues, bond with his older brother, and falling in love with the most beautiful girl in town. How does he go about catching her eye? He does what any of us would do… and forms a band made up fellow outcasts at the school.
Following on from ‘Once’, and ‘Begin Again’ Sing Street is directed by John Carney and has elements of his previous outings, and not just because they’re all diegetic in their use of music- always an easier sell for a ‘musical’ for me, but in its warmth, use of hand held, gentle humour, and some great songs- both covers (good and bad) of ‘classic’ ‘80’s tunes. and some well written originals as the band progresses.
Great for viewers of an, ahem, certain age, it sees some great ‘80’s references both musically and thematically, but it also apparently works for younger audiences as well- my son’s favourite film of the year.
It’s a film about being a teenager, friends, family, but mostly love- of the latter, and of course, music.
One of my films of the year at the time of its release, The Angels’ Share is a great example of the humour Ken Loach brings to his movies, which those who think of him only as a grim activist film maker are often unaware his work possesses.
The film follows young Robbie, who promises he will change his wayward ways when his equally young girlfriend gives birth to his son. Serving on a community service programme Robbie meets a bunch of other young adults skirting around prison sentences and unable to secure employment because of their own juvenile criminal records. Taken on a work tour by their good hearted probationary officer Harry (John Henshaw- the only recognizable face in the piece) to a whiskey tasting session, Robbie finds he has a world-class palate and potentially a chance to do the right thing in life. But that’s at the same time as the allure of ‘one last job’, to steal the titular Angels’ Share, is tempting him. And what’s the Angels’ Share? Best to watch rather than have it spelled out beforehand.
The term ‘bitter sweet’ is often an overused short hand for a movie that is supposed to be funny but is actually more depressing- that’s not the case here; there are a lot of laughs to be had here, but Loach is not afraid of reminding the viewer within what could be a fairy-tale heist caper that violence is always close at hand. Think Ealing Comedy meets The Misfits and you’re along the right lines…
Possibly getting more notice in retrospect of Director Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnorak, Hunt for the Wilderpeople sees kindly Bella and cantankerous Hector agree, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, to take on fostering duties in their rural home for problem child from the city, 13 year old Ricky- a state branded trouble maker with a penchant for poetry (sample Haiku: Kingi you wanker / You arsehole, I hate you heaps / Please die soon, in pain.)
When Bella dies suddenly Hector and Ricky struggle to get on, and with Social Services deciding to return him to the orphanage Ricky runs away- when Hector goes to find him the two become the target of a misunderstood national manhunt.
It’s would be all too easy to predict what would happen in a big studio telling of the story, but the New Zealand production, with Waititi directing and producing the screenplay, brings a great underplayed and warm-hearted humour to the piece, in the same way he did with his first feature What We Do In The Shadows and his tv work on Flight of the Conchords, which provides real feeling to the piece: the death of Bella is no mere plot device to get things moving, but central to the story and the characters we come to feel so much for- partly through the great performances from Sam Neill and Julian Dennison (leading to a key part in Deadpool 2), and partly through Waititi’s writing, directing, and pretty much everything else including a small cameo to a film with heart and laughs.
To be honest I could put Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in any number of categories of underrated areas: it’s a comedy, action, mystery, thriller- pretty much, in fact, what you would expect from Shane Black, ala Lethal Weapon, Last Boy Scout, Long Kiss Goodnight, and others. Whichever category you choose it’s a criminally unseen, if not necessarily underrated movie (I haven’t seen any bad reviews of the film, but it only took $4 million domestic at the box office).
A three year prior to Iron Man Robert Downey Jr plays Harry Lockhart, a small-time thief who stumbles into an audition as he flees the scene of a robbery and ends up in Hollywood, teaming up with Val Kilmer’s Private Investigator Gay Perry to method actor research his role. This research leads down a labyrinthian road of Noir pastiche missing persons, found bodies, goons, and of course, murder.
There’s a lot that makes the film work- Downey Jr and Kilmer are great together, the dialogue is as funny as you’d expect from Black but his film directing techniques and story structure are dazzling for a first-time director, and the film actually benefits from lacking the sort of fireworks extravaganza that came to become a challenge for each Hollywood Blockbuster Black has written to make bigger and ever bigger. The limitations of a $25 million budget (and this is before Downey was on ‘Downey Dollars’) means Black is forced, or perhaps because of it able, to make the dialogue driven film he is so very good at writing.
Set in an unspecified near-future retired cat-burglar Frank (Frank Langella) is given a robot caretaker (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) to look after him by his successful business man son, who is concerned at his living alone and suffering from progressive dementia. Initially reluctant to accept the ‘gift’, Frank comes to realise what an asset Robot could be in a return to his former profession.
What could all to easily have been a run-of-the-mill ‘adversaries at first, but come to love one another – from the sublime Mary Poppins, to the ridiculous Suburban Commando with all manner of quality in between (I’m looking at you Uncle Buck), Robot and Frank is that, but a whole lot more as well.
There’s a whole lot to like about Robot and Frank, from the performances (particularly Langella and Susan Sarandon. Hell, even James Marsden interacting with Langella doesn’t bring too many memories back of their previous efforts together; the massively disappointing The Box and Superman Returns…), to a smartly written script which manages what could be a sickly affair into a moving balance between humour and drama, with beautifully written ruminations around aging, family, illness and mortality (“I would rather die eating cheeseburgers than live off of steamed cauliflower.” Seems a good mantra to me – all treated with subtlety and heart. It’s all so good, it even survives the slightly unnecessary ‘chase’ towards the movie’s climax, before an ending which will bring a smile and a tear.
If you have a significant other who baulks at any or all of the terms Sci-Fi/ Independent/ the awful ‘Dramedy’, or the horrible sounding idea of a comedy involving dementia, then Robot and Frank could well change their minds.
For me, it’s a damn sight more enjoyable than ‘Still Alice’, but no less powerful in its’ message.
But that’s probably just me…
Hope you find something here you haven’t seen, and hope you enjoy them – as always, comments welcome as are suggestions of your own.
Another 5 choices coming soon…
In the meantime, you may even find a few laughs in Basement Tales…depending on how sick you are, but hey…got to get the Call To Action in on as many of these posts as possible…