Downhill (2020)

I saw a trailer for this somewhere, can’t remember where, and it should have been a warning to me that I couldn’t remember anything from the trailer besides the movie exists. I couldn’t even remember that Will Ferrell was in it. I knew Julia Louis-Dreyfus was in it, so I considered that a good thing as I genuinely love her performances and am always happy to see her in things. It was directed by Jim Rash, who played the Dean in Community, who co-wrote it alongside Jesse Armstrong, famous for Peep Show, Veep, The Thick Of It, Four Lions, and In The Loop, all of which are wonderfully scripted. So while hopes weren’t high, I did hold out hope that this would be a sleeper hit.

It’s not, it’s just asleep. It’s incredibly lazy, some of the jokes are basically just “Europeans are weird” (bit weird that’s the second Will Ferrell film of 2020 that can be said about). It’s a shame as everybody involved is incredibly talented, but none of them show it in this. If I had to guess I’d say it’s a clash of comedic styles. Will Ferrell normally does quite loud and physical comedy which is slightly obvious and manic, whereas Julia Louis-Dreyfus goes for slightly more dialogue-focused and subdued stuff (her most extreme physical stuff probably being a few Elaine moments in Seinfeld). And Armstrong’s strength is usually dialogue and story, the film is a remake so he doesn’t have control of the story, and Will Ferrell is more physical than dialogue based. That creates a very weird mesh of conflicting styles that never seems to settle on what it wants the film to be.

It’s hard to explain why, but this film felt incredibly small, like a TV movie, albeit with a big name cast. Watching it, you can almost sense the advert breaks. It’s not just that, it’s the tone too. Nothing hits home. The emotional beats don’t work, the characters feel incredibly ill defined, I think one of the kids is written to be incredibly nervous, but it’s not showcased effectively enough for it to be something that character can overcome for narrative purposes. A lot of the side characters are pointless too, appearing just to drive the plot forward for a small moment, then disappearing.

It’s a shame as by all logic this should be a fantastic film, as it is, I can’t recommend it, even as a curiosity.

Onward (2020)

I was both looking forward to, and slightly apprehensive about this. Yes, it’s Pixar, and if a studio’s worst film is Cars (which, as much as I hate it, is MASSIVE financially) then you know you’re in for a good time, but since this film has been out I haven’t heard a lot of love for it. So maybe it’s just average, maybe it’s another Good Dinosaur, a film that’s perfectly serviceable but nothing special. After seeing the film, I don’t get it, it’s hard to say it’s one of Pixar’s best, but that’s only because their films are such high quality that it’s really hard to rank them. I will say this though: it’s going to take something special coming out for this not to be in consideration for one of the best films of the year.

I mean it could be argued that the plot is kind of generic, it’s essentially a road movie. But a lot of Pixar films are really when you think about it. For every brilliant plot of Ratatouille or Wall-E, you have the simple plot of Monsters University. Pixar are not about the story the telling, it’s about HOW they tell them, and they tell them perfectly. As to be expected it looks gorgeous, and the script and the characters are just as beautiful.

The best thing about this is just how deeply personal you can feel it is to the writer. I often criticise films by saying “I can’t imagine someone feeling they NEED to get this film made”. You could NEVER say that about this. It’s obviously deeply personal and that personal touch permeates every inch of the film.

It’s helped by the performances, Chris Pratt and Tom Holland work incredibly well together and their relationship is the true emotional core this film depends on. It depends on the brother relationship much more than the “sons missing their father” angle that you expect. I mean, the fact that they miss their deceased father is central to the film, and it does provide one or two deeply emotional moments, but the central emotional crux is the relationship between the two brothers. For a story about not-mythical creatures it is incredibly human, but then again that’s always been Pixars strength.

Now the downside: it feels like it doesn’t do enough with the premise. The film has two main concepts:

  1. Magic used to be a thing people could do, but then technology replaced it as it was simpler. Reminds me of the Arthur C. Clarke quote: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
  2. The legs.  Okay I should mention it: this film is about them trying to bring their dad back from the dead but it goes wrong and only his bottom half comes back (fully clothed thankfully).

I feel it could have done more with those premises, although then I suppose there is a risk that might have taken away from the emotional developments. The legs thing is weird, and should provide very unique scenarios, but it really doesn’t provide that many. It does provide a great moment where the legs realise that his sons are there. One of them lets him know by tapping on his foot like he did when he was a child, after that the legs immediately search for the other son, and press down on his foot with his own. It’s the closest it will get to a hug, and it’s beautiful. As is the moment near the end, when you see it you’ll know.

So yeah, go see it. It’s a great film, and all the cast are brilliant (I haven’t mentioned it but Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Octavia Spencer’s characters are crying out for a spin-off).

The Best Post-Show Role From Each Friends Cast Member

This is being written on 19th August 2016, as such it’s the 47th birthday of Matthew Perry. He’s actually a lot more versatile than his reputation would make you think, as his stint in The Ron Clark Story shows. That’s the trouble with being in a long running successful sitcom, you get so heavily associated with the character that it can be hard for people to not see you as that and it can be hard to break out into something new. It took two successful shows (The New Adventures Of Old Christine and Veep) for Julia Louis Dreyfus to no longer be seen as Elaine Benes.

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Although this guy constantly has fans of the show calling him by his character’s name

It’s quite sad as these actors often have fantastic roles outside of the sitcom. So for this reason, this week I’ll be discussing the best film from each of the six main cast members from Friends. So, let’s go.

Matthew Perry – The Whole Nine Yards

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Just looking at this you can tell what decade it was made

Made in a different era, when Bruce Willis was still bankable. It could be argued that Matthew Perry’s performance in this is basically his character from Friends, but the fact  it still worked over a feature is great news. Some characters work best in short easily digestible chunks, over a movie they tend to lose something or become annoying (this is less prevalent now of course as the majority of TV shows have at least one eye on the binge-watchers). Sadly this film was tainted by the release of a sub-par sequel, as is often the case. But for now, we’ll just watch this and laugh. Although I should point out, I consider this Amanda Peet’s film, she was amazing in it and easily overshadowed her more experienced cast.

Jennifer Aniston – Cake

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No contest, like most things in life, the answer to this is Cake. Even reviews which dislike the film point out how great her performance is. It’s heartbreakingly good, it’s so good you don’t even notice how good it is, because you don’t see it as acting, you see it as watching a real person. There’s no massive “this is the scene for the Oscar so I’m going to dramatically cry, dramatically, whilst acting, dramatically” scene, there’s just a complete performance from beginning to end that means you stop thinking of her as Jennifer Aniston, which for someone as well known as her, takes some doing.

Courteney Cox – Scream

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This was the easiest choice, not because of how bad her other roles are, but because of how good these are. It’s not hyperbole to say that these films completely changed how people perceived horror films in the 90’s, and a big part of that was obviously because of how many people watched them. I don’t think it’s too far fetched that at least a few people watched it because they were fans of Friends (it was still in it’s infancy but had a reasonably sized fanbase by that point). Cox relishes her role in this, the trouble with being in a sitcom is the characters usually have to be somewhat likeable to make the audience want to sit down and watch them every Friday night (there are some exceptions of course, the main one being It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, but that’s more cult than a mainstream success), whereas in a film you can play a terrible character, and she does so in this. Her character’s arc throughout the four films is one of redemption, one of acknowledging your role in disasters and attempting to improve yourself but always falling short. It says more about humanity than Friends ever did.

Lisa Kudrow – Bojack Horseman

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The first of two choices here which are basically glorified guest performances. But I had to put it in, her performance in this was heartbreaking. She delivered her lines with pure emotion and helped this show become more than just an animated show, she made it more human. There’s not much else that can be said about this that I didn’t already say in my Bojack blog. The show has actually been killing it with guest stars, it even got Mara “Matilda” Wilson in the third series, and she’s all kinds of awesome.

Matt LeBlanc – Episodes

This was also easy, but unlike the Cox situation, it’s because, truth be told, he hasn’t done that well since the show. He’s picked bad films which didn’t really help him at all, and then there’s Joey.

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Fun fact: it took longer for you to read this than it did for this show to get cancelled

Episodes, however, is fantastic. It’s beautifully meta about the entire industry, as such it’s never going to be a huge mainstream success, but people who watch it tend to love it. It has to be said that a lot of people watched this because of LeBlanc, they wanted to see how he was in it. Ok, they had to wait about 4 episodes to see him in a move which was either brilliant (as it allowed viewers to get to know the other characters) or stupid (as it annoyed people and made them leave). It was a huge gamble for the show to do it but it paid off, the show’s still running strong and has been nominated for Golden Globes, Emmy’s and BAFTA’s. LeBlanc is actually fantastic in it, playing himself with knowledge of what the audience thinks he’s actually like. This show is probably one of my favourite new sitcoms of the last 5 years, and unless it all goes Scrubs Season 9 on us, I can’t see that ending.

David Schwimmer – American Crime Story

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I was going to put his stint in Curb Your Enthusiasm in here, but realised then I’d have two sitcom appearances, and two of them playing themselves. The truth is, Schwimmer has moved more into directing since the show ended, and has done a good job, not quite Afleck levels, but he has an eye for what’s important. As such I was going to have to settle for sitcom guest appearances, but then American Crime Story happened. Holy hell is he good in this, who’d have thought Ross from Friends would put in one of the television performances of the year? As one review said:

“Schwimmer stole every reaction shot, no more so than in the finale.”

His casting was a masterstroke that paid off, not quite in “casting Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad” levels, but certainly high up there. His performance was rewarded with an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Limited Series Or Movie, an award so prestigious that Ed Harris, Patrick Stewart and Michael Gambon have all been nominated, and lost! His next step is the crime drama, Feed The Beast, and no doubt his performance in American Crime Story has made it a lot more eagerly anticipated.

So, that’s our choices, where did we go surprisingly right? Where did we go horrifically wrong?