March midpoint movie roundup

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Coming 2 America (2021) available now on Amazon Prime video gets top billing in this post simply because it’s a little piece of cinema history, not because it’s the best film so far this month. The film itself derides sequels to old films, but there are some old films that seem to cry out for a sequel. I don’t know why we got so many Honey I Shrunk The Kids or the Big Momma sequels and not a Coming to America sequel until now, but I’m kind of glad we finally did. Yes it’s not jaw-droppingly brilliant, but it’s a pretty good attempt at reliving the spirit of the original and there’s lots of fun to be had along the way.

The film spends most of it’s time in Wakanda, or wherever it is, and not America as the film implies but there are some great comedy performances from Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall and especially Wesley Snipes. There are also, as you would probably expect, a lot of good cameos from a bunch of famous people including Salt N’ Pepa, Morgan Freeman and James Earl Jones. Some of the sexism and crudity of the original has been reined in for the sequel, but the humour is still recognisably that of Eddie Murphy and with Craig Brewer directing there’s plenty of spectacle.

News of the World (2020) is one of the many Westerns that have landed on Netflix this year. It stars Tom Hanks as Captain Kidd a civil war veteran who is tasked with delivering an abandoned girl to her aunt and uncle. The girl, played by Helena Zengel, who I have a feeling has a bright future ahead of her, was abducted by the Native American Kiowa tribe years ago and her family killed, but she has been brought up in their ways and doesn’t want to go back to ‘civilisation’. Over the course of their journey, through many twists, turns and scrapes, Kidd and the girl bond like father and daughter. And I won’t spoil the rest.

As seems to be typical for modern Westerns, it’s a medium-paced film with bursts of action (gunfights and the like) and it feels like a bit of a change for Paul Greengrass who is probably best known for directing the Bourne films. It’s historically well observed and nature, in terms of the landscape and weather, has a role to play in the storytelling.

Mulan (2020) is another live-action remake of a Disney animation which pretty much takes all the fun out of the original. There’s no songs and no Eddie Murphy. On the flip side a lot of the potentially troublesome clich├ęs have been removed and the cinematography and action sequences are great. All the main actors are Chinese which is great to see, but I wish they’d kept the talking guardian dragon in the film just for some light relief. It’s been replaced by a ethereal phoenix which feels like it got shoe-horned in at the last minute after screen-tests told Disney the film was lacking some fantasy elements. I think the only Disney remake I’ve enjoyed so far was 2019’s Aladdin.

Marriage Story (2019) is a poignant comedy-drama starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson and written and directed by Noah Buambach. As the title implies it is about the break up of a marriage and the fight for custody of their son. Driver is as ever great and so too is Johansson. it’s a long film but doesn’t feel long when your watching and an hour in you are thoroughly invested in the characters and perhaps just as torn as they are in how best to handle their future apart. It’s probably the best film of the eight featured here.

Extinction (2018) stars Michael Pena as a father, working at a boring looking job in the near-future city, who has a recurring nightmare of an alien invasion. Unfortunately the nightmare comes true and he, his wife (Cloverfield’s Lizzy Caplan in full sci-fi disaster movie mode) and his two daughters find themselves on the run from killer aliens.

I found the film to be a game of two halves. The first half is edge of the seat tension and shocks. Its very similar to Cloverfield and the not so good Skyline. Then the second half of the film is a bit of a let down. There’s a twist, some bad computer graphics and a rather flat ending. I won’t say any more than that because I’m trying to keep things relatively spoiler-free today. If you’re a science-fiction fan then I recommend it as the underlying story is pretty clever, but the lack of budget kind of shows through especially in the closing scenes.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010) is a dark comedy centred around the story of Craig (Keir Gilchrist) a clinically depressed teenager who checks himself into the psychiatric ward of a hospital. Zach Galifianakis plays the role of depressed mentor and Emma Roberts is the love interest. As a coming of age story its a pretty good film. As a study of mental health it’s not so great and I actually found myself more interested in Bobby, Galifianakis’s character, than any of the other, mostly cliched two-dimensional, characters. So I was rather disappointed when Bobby just sort of disappears from view at the end of the film instead of completing a satisfactory character arc.

Carrie Pilby (2017) is a relaxed indie comedy starring Bel Powley (The Morning Show) as a high-IQ nineteen year old living on her own in New York and struggling to find her place in the world after the death of her mother. Her therapist gives her a list to work through which he thinks will get her back up on her feet. It includes getting a pet, going on a date, going to a party, making friends, and being with someone on New Year’s Eve. She overcomes her misgivings and sets out to tick of these items.

Carrie Pilby is basically a romantic comedy along the same lines as Bridget Jones but with slightly less farce, no pop music or big knickers, and rather more millennial introspection. It also touches on themes of mental health, family, sexual morality and fidelity in a rather more intellectual manner. Call it When Carrie met Cy for hipsters who think taking photos of things with a new Polaroid is cool. Great product placement and not a bad film.

We’re the Millers (2013) is a rather different style of comedy. A buddy road trip movie where a drug dealer (Ted Lasso‘s Jason Sudeikis) attempts to smuggle a huge delivery of marijuana from Mexico into the USA with his fake family consisting of a stripper who lives in his apartment block (Jennifer Anniston), a geeky lad who also lives in his block (Will ‘Eyebrows’ Poulter) and a homeless person (Emma Roberts again) who they cross paths with on the street outside. Siggy was convinced we’d seen it before. I think we’d just seen the trailer a few times and each time said, “nah maybe some other time”.

Anyway, some other time was yesterday and the film, taken for what is, is not that bad. Actually it’s quite funny in places and has some good cameos from The Office‘s Ed Helms, Parks & Recreation‘s Nick Offerman and Wandavision‘s Kathryn Hahn. It’s no surprise that the dysfunctional family all end up working well together by the end of the film and the real bad guys get locked up. There’s also a lap dancing scene which will no doubt be burned into the minds of every hot-blooded male who has seen the film. It made me wonder if Anniston would agree to the same scene in a film in 2021.

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