Tag Archives: Steve Martin

Christmas With The Coopers

love-the-coopers-the-christmas-movie-you-need-to-see-this-holiday-season-707877

“Just don’t mention Jesus, tax or gun control.”

It’s CHRISTMAS! That means we’ve been listening to carols in the shops for a month; mince pies have been on the shelves for two and we are slap bang in the middle of another period of a bunch of moronic boiled piss over some imaginary boogie man trying to “ban Christmas because it offends them”. It also means we get to see who is in film purgatory this year as the latest ensemble Crimbo film hits theatres.

This year’s rotten, stinking turkey of a film is Christmas with the Coopers; a family comedy drama with a cast so great, so fully loaded, that it couldn’t possibly fail. Could it? One giant family, fully populated with Hollywood greats all spending Christmas together sounds great. Grandad and family patriarch Alan Alda; Diane Keaton, John Goodman and Marisa Tomei bringing up the next generation; followed by Olivia Wilde and Ed Helms. All joined by the outsiders to the family Amanda Seyfried and Anthony Mackie, everyone has a story and everyone is trying to get home for Christmas dinner.

So, a quick run down of what’s going on, because it’s so stupidly complicated that I swear it started life as a Christopher Nolan film. Alda spends his days chilling in a local cafe, sweet talking waitress Seyfried who’s just being nice to the old dude. Keaton and Goodman are planning to tell the family they are seperating at Christmas dinner so spend the whole film bickering like, well, an old couple. Tomei is the petty sister who spends he whole film in the back of Mackie’s police cruiser having been busted for stealing a tacky old broach. Wilde is avoiding home, and her mum’s pity, and decides to drag along a soldier, waiting for a plane to take him to his first deployment but stuck in a snowed in airport, home to pretend she has a man. Helms is a recently unemployed dad trying to find a job and make Christmas for his kids. It’s all just so, so complicated, and so convoluted, and takes so bloody long to get to some kind of point that by the time everyone is introduced and explained, I’m already half asleep. As everyone travels, with varying degrees of success, towards home where a light and breezy happy ever after is guaranteed because, let’s face it, it’s a Christmas movie and we’ve all seen this film a hundred times before.

All of this narrated to us, via the family dog, voiced by Steve Martin, clearly just here to make us all go “who the fuck is that? I know that voice? Who is that?” For the entire hour and three quarter running time.

For shit’s sake. Can’t we have a year off from these things? Christmas With The Coopers is easily one of the worst of these movies I’ve seen in a while. It can’t tell if it’s a comedy about families falling apart and getting back together, or a long, drawn out drama about families falling apart and getting back together! For every forced gag there is an equally strained attempt at dragging a lump into your throat as everyone learns the meaning of life, the universe and everything in it over one Christmas Eve. I mean, this film made me laugh a measly three times! Two of those times came from the same joke, told twice, both of those times were shown in the film’s trailer! Ok, the third laugh was awesome. I pissed myself at a supremely childish but amazingly timed fart joke. But these jokes, and the amazing comedy talents of greats like Alan Alda and Olivia Wilde just can’t save this over long, boring, mainly unfunny sack of reindeer crap!

But hey. At least this one doesn’t have Vince Vaughn in it.

Home

Home is not original, but I dug the hell out of it.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

home 1Home begins with an alien race called the Boov forcibly invading and colonising Earth for themselves.  They do this by arriving unannounced, forcibly relocating the natives – whom they deem as uncivilised, lower, unintelligent, and in need of saving and educating by the Boov – against their will, systematically going through everything that the Earth has to offer and keeping what they deem is useful (often by mis-utilising the items in question) and jettisoning totally what they don’t, and re-naming and re-shaping the planet in their own image.  The real life subtext that comes from this set-up I doubt is lost on you.

Home, however, is very much uninterested in following that subtext, likely because describing it in that way sounds very much counter to the good laughs and fun times that are typically required in animated family films.  We get the occasional glimpse at it here and there with what little we see of the new human city – located on Australia – but it is otherwise left untouched.  Is this a little disappointing?  Well, yeah, in the sense that it is always disappointing when a film decides to leave its original potential untapped in favour of the safe and familiar, but Home does still have subtext going on underneath its tale of unlikely fellows becoming strong friends.

Specifically, our protagonist is Oh (Jim Parsons, who is not just sticking to his Big Bang Theory safe zone, trust me) and Oh does not fit in with the rest of the Boov.  The Boov, you see, are a tightly regimented and dull alien race.  They are an arrogant, perfection-obsessed, and self-involved race whose extreme self-preservation instinct has kept them perpetually distant from one another.  They don’t particularly have time for one another and they, at least from what the film shows us, don’t bother to make friends, they’re that cynically detached.  Oh, however, is a heart-on-sleeve kinda guy.  He has that self-preservation instinct, growing up in a culture of fear will do that to you, but he’s also open about his emotions all of the time and he makes no secret about them.  He wants friends, he wants to fit in, but that kind of open joyous honesty is frowned upon in Boov culture and leaves him feeling isolated from his own race.  Again, with minor adjustments, hopefully the similarities between Boov culture and post-millennium culture aren’t lost on you.

Again, though, Home mostly pushes it to the side – mostly, it’s still easy to see it flowing through as the film progresses – in favour of telling a relatively simple story of two lonely people struggling to fit in finding each other by happenstance and becoming friends for life through wacky mishaps.  Oh doesn’t fit in with the Boov because of his eternally sincere nature and general clumsiness, Tip (a surprisingly brilliant Rihanna) didn’t fit in with humans because she and her mother are originally from Barbados – which is touched on briefly in dialogue as she explains why she never felt at home, but otherwise her race is not made a big deal out of – and she’s a bit of a whiz at math.  The two are thrown together after Oh accidentally texts the location of Earth to the Boov’s ever pursuant enemy, the Gorg, and he agrees to help Tip reunite with her mom (Jennifer Lopez) whilst attempting to lay low from the Boov’s commander, Captain Smek (Steve Martin).

If you’ve seen an animated film or five, you’ll know Home beat-by-beat without ever stepping foot in the cinema.  Again, this is a film that is brimming with potentially boundary-pushing subtext that it actively steers itself away from in order to tell the story that it ends up telling.  And yet, I don’t consider this much of a flaw because the film itself is that good and appeals that much to my sensibilities.  What can I say?  Give me two lovable characters who find it hard to fit in, and you might as well just start the countdown clock to the happy tears due to myself relating to their situation.

That being said, Home does do plenty of quietly great things that are worthy of note.  For one, there’s Tip herself.  She’s a black girl – the first lead black girl in any Western CG feature-length animated film, to my knowledge, which is going to be huge for a subset of children, I can already tell – and, again, her race and gender are not made a big deal out of, which is a major boon for the notoriously non-diverse feature animation landscape.  And though she is not the main lead of the film, Oh’s is the perspective that we are primarily given, the film still treats her with absolute respect and importance.  Tip’s quest to re-unite with her mom is decidedly more low-stakes than Oh and the Boov’s quest to keep the Gorg from finding Earth, but the film treats it as something equally as important, even with minimal flashbacks to how their dynamic was before she was taken.

The film never gives Tip the short-shrift.  She’s just as resourceful as Oh, she’s just as entertaining as Oh, and the one time that somebody in the film explicitly takes a swipe at her gender they are immediately proven wrong by Tip herself (and also by the fact that the Boov making that crack is pretty much an antagonist anyway).  There’s even a bit in the finale where it seems like she’s being carted off to the sidelines for Oh to resolve the main plot, but she then forces her way back in with vital action that Oh couldn’t have done.  She reminds me a lot of Vanellope from Wreck-It Ralph or Tigress from Kung Fu Panda 2, lead female characters who aren’t the main protagonists but whom the film treats as well as one anyway.  If Home didn’t do that, then I wouldn’t have been in floods of joyous tears at the incredibly sweet payoff to Tip’s story.

(Also, for a personal little plug, it’s very much a major step forward for DreamWorks Animation, who have had major troubles when it comes to the female gender in their films, as those who have been reading The DreamWorks Animation Retrospective will know.)

For two, I find the animation, and more specifically the art style, to be excellent.  Human character animations have the same weight, heft, and naturalness of How To Train Your Dragon, whilst the Boov are more susceptible to the occasional squash-and-stretch of various intensities, and the two gel very smoothly with one another.  But it’s the art style that really grabs my attention.  There is a lot of detail going on, all of it very pretty but most of it arguably unnecessary, but the world itself has this very smooth feel.  Places, people, and animals all have this soft, often curved design that creates this warm, huggable, inviting feel that, combined with the bright primary colours colour scheme, I found it very easy to lose myself in.

It’s all best demonstrated in the design of the Boov.  They have this very simple cylindrical body shape that extends to their multiple feet and fingers (which both lack any noticeable tips), and that curves instead of points idea extends to their noses which, in their resting state, curl in on themselves, their teeth which gently curve with noticeable gaps, and their eyes which are wide and expressive.  They are very eminently huggable, which is a characteristic I like in this kind of genre.  Boov also change colour based on their expression – red denotes anger, orange denotes happiness, green denotes lying, etc. – which provides a fun extra layer of information about Oh at any given moment and helps make the designs and world pop that much more.

And for three, despite walking a lot in the same sweet DNA as Mr. Peabody & Sherman – lots of heart, funny but not overly so, not re-inventing any wheels – Home manages to avoid that film’s structural mistake: forcing an action-packed finale.  Home seems to be heading towards a superfluous big stakes action finale, but pulls back at the last minute to resolve its central conflict in ways more befitting what came before.  The threat of global destruction is there, because of course it is, but the stakes are primarily focussed on our two leads and the set-piece itself only really qualifies as a set-piece because of its placement and general expensive look; no giant chase sequence.  Since many animated films lose their nerve and force a last minute action climax, seeing Home pull back is a nice pleasant surprise and display of self-confidence in its storytelling.

(Also, the film takes the DreamWorks licensed soundtrack thing to its logical endpoint and, at multiple points, backs proceedings with songs written specifically for the film.  When it actually commits to this idea, it’s a rather neat and non-distracting choice, even with most of them being by Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t commit enough to the idea for me, with the really good score handling the vast majority of the film and the songs popping up very sporadically.  The songs are good, I rather like them, so the lack of time devoted to them makes it all feel like a bit of a wasted opportunity for me.  Ah, well, the soundtrack album will probably be pretty great, though!)

As I said earlier, Home does not re-invent any wheels and it’s not a majorly necessary and vital entry into the Western feature-animation landscape.  It’s not laugh-out-loud funny, although the kids at my screening never tired of the Boov’s constant inability to use correct syntax and proper grammar, and it’s not a market leader when it comes to heart or anything.  But I really, really dug Home.  It’s adorably sweet and sincere in the way that great animated features often are, its two leads are a joy to spend time with, its animation is great, and its vocal performances are surprisingly really strong.

In my review of Penguins of Madagascar, I noted that not all animated films have to reach for the stars.  They can aim to be more modest, lightweight entertainment so long as that is all executed with heart and joy by the filmmakers.  Home has enough heart and love visibly poured into its creation that I didn’t mind in the slightest when the Dance Party Ending reared its head to send us all home on.  That, my friends, is true praise.  I dug the hell out of this one.

Callum Petch got his friends by his side and that’s all that matters to him.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Best Films on TV: 20th to 26th May

The best* free-to-air films on television every day this week, as chosen the mad, bad, and dangerous to know site editor, James Diamond

*’best’ is a subjective term and James will deal with any criticism of these choices by sticking his fingers in his ears and humming Beethoven’s Ninth until you go away.

Beverly Hills Cop movie image Judge ReinholdMonday 20th May – The Jerk (ITV4, 12.10am)

Steve Martin’s film debut (he also co-wrote the script) is also arguably his funniest screen performance. Martin plays Navin R. Johnson, the adopted white son of African american sharecroppers who remains blissfully unaware of his genetic heritage until adulthood. Despite a rather crass-sounding premise, this film is both stupid and rather sweet-natured; similar in tone to its obvious descendant Dumb and Dumber.

In a rare move for this blog, I am also going to nominate the worst film on TV today, which is undoubtedly Silent Hill (Film4, 11.25pm). A film so bad it’s the closest I’ve come to walking out of a cinema, and manages to make Uwe Boll’s computer game adaptations look like Oscar winners.

Tuesday 21st May – The Last Samurai (5USA, 9pm)

I love Tom Cruise like our very own Owen Hughes loves Jean-Claude Van Damme (incidentally, JCVD’s Cyborg is on tonight, Sky 1, 9pm), and this is one of those films where he cannot be accused of playing cheeky chappy Tom Cruise. Instead he is a bearded Civil War veteren, recruited to train the Japanese Meiji government forces, hellbent on destroying the last remaining samurai who are resistant to the new western-influenced order. While it doesn’t offer anything particularly new, it looks wonderful and Cruise and Ken Watanabe’s central relationship drives the film.

Wednesday 22nd May – Hotel Rwanda (Channel 4, 1.45am)

You’ll need to stay up pretty late to watch a great film that you might not have seen before (the brilliant The Bourne Identity is getting its weekly outing, ITV2, 10pm). So get a pot of coffee on (or more sensibly, set your generic DVR to record) for this true life tale of a hotel manager who helped protect over a thousand refugees during a bloody war in Rwanada.

Thursday 23rd May – Beverly Hills Cop (Film4, 9pm)

Sometimes a film screams the decade it comes from through every pore of its body. Eddie Murphy at his acerbic and foul-mouthed best? Odd couble/buddy cop film with car chases and gin fights galore? Instantly recognisable all-synthesiser score? Judge Reinhold starring? Yep, Beverly Hills Cop IS the 1980s.

Friday 24th May – One Million Years BC (Film4, 5.15pm)

Early this month we lost the great Ray Harryhausen, the special effects genius who entertained and terrified millions of youngsters over the years with his stop-motion monsters. Although not quite in the same league as Jason and the Argonauts, this frankly odd tale of human lust and betrayal set against their age-old battles with dinosaurs. Hey, if all films were scientifically accurate then what would internet obsessives have to moan about?

Saturday 25th May – The Ladykillers (More 4, 1.15pm)

Saturday afternoon usually offers a classic to settle down and rediscover, and this weekend is no exception. Possibly the finest (and certainly the most famous) Ealing comedy, the Ladykillers stars Alec Guinness as the leader of a gang hiding out from the law, but constantly thwarted in their attempts by a seemingly benign and doddery old lady. The evening also gives us an opportunity to revisit Nic Roeg’s at times bonkers, and at other times brilliant and incisive, sci-fi classic The Man Who Fell To Earth (BBC2, 10.50pm)

Sunday 26th May – Festen (Film4, 11.20pm)

While you are unlikely to see as messy and amateur-looking a film all week, the first ever Dogme 95 film is an utterly captivating story of a family reunion, and the revelation of a dark secret that threatens to destroy lives. Directed by Thomas Vinterburg (who directed last year’s The Hunt), this is a triumph of substance over style. Brilliant performances and the lo-fi filming style pull in the viewer far more than any 3D ever could.

A Decade In Film: The Nineties – 1991

A new series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choose their favourite films from each year of that decade, and discuss the legacy those years have left us.

Kate has chosen to relive the nineties, because she’s old enough to remember them in their entirety This week she revisits 1991.

Beauty & the Beast

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‘Tie your napkin round your neck, Cherie, and we’ll provide the rest.’

The first animation to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, an honour which wasn’t bestowed again until Up got the nod some 18 years later, Disney present this classic fairy tale as a Broadway production. Notable voices provided by the delightful Angela Lansbury as kindly Mrs Potts, and the late Jerry Orbach, whose French accent steals the show as Lumière  the singing candelabra, in the same year he first appeared in Law & Order.

While other Disney offerings have some cracking songs, make no mistake, this is a musical. Indeed, in another Oscar first, this was the first picture to receive three nominations for Best Original Song.  From the big budget opening number, to Céline Dion warbling over the end credits, this film is all about the singing. ‘Be Our Guest’, performed by the ensemble cast of enchanted objects, is right up there with Little Mermaid‘s ‘Under the Sea’ for lyrical genius.

It’s difficult to find a huge amount of sympathy for the Beast, who really doesn’t do himself any favours considering his mission to ‘love and be loved’ is a rather time sensitive matter. Belle, our plucky protagonist, is sweet enough. But a carriage clock, a teapot & cup, a footstool and the aforementioned candelabra are the real stars. Anyone else find it really disappointing at the end, when they turn back into humans?

Father of the Bride

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‘Our plane’s about to take off, but I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye. Thank Mom for everything, ok? Dad, I love you. I love you very much.’

A remake of the 1950 Spencer Tracy & Elizabeth Taylor romp of the same name, Father of the Bride is a simple tale of a daughter flying the nest. Like the Meet the Parents of the nineties, what makes it great is the stellar ensemble cast. Steve Martin portrays almost the same neurotic, fiercely loyal father he did in Parenthood two years earlier. Only this time he plays basketball and makes trainers for a living, so he’s pretty much the perfect dad.

Add to that the always great Diane Keaton, Kieran Culkin at the same age, and just as funny, as his older brother was when he starred in Home Alone, and Martin Short‘s inspired performance as the generically ‘European’ wedding planner Franck Eggelhoffer. There is also a bridal couple but, as these things often go, the film is less about them and more about everything surrounding them. Indeed, Wikipedia notes that groom George Newbern is ‘best known for his roles as Bryan MacKenzie in Father of the Bride (1991) and its sequel’.

An enjoyable 105 minutes for anyone who has planned a wedding, owns a daughter, or likes looking at the ridiculously lavish mansions that seemingly pass for a ‘house’ in the United States.

Thelma & Louise

thelma-and-louise

‘Shoot the radio.’

You know that feeling on the last day of your holidays when you really don’t want to go home? This is the tale of what happens when you actually act upon those feelings, under the direction of Ridley Scott. The story obviously resonated, and gained writer Callie Khouri the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for this, her first produced film.

Geena Davis & Susan Sarandon star as sunglasses and head scarf clad best friends, heading off to the mountains in their dusty convertible. Thelma is instantly lovable as the ditzy downtrodden housewife, while Louise is bolshy and demanding, with hints of a hidden past which might make you warm to her. Such is the nature of long car journeys, spend enough time with a person in a confined space and you’ll grow to love them. Or kill them. (Spoiler.)

There’s a cameo from Michael Madsen, a ‘before he was famous’ sex scene with Brad Pitt, and Harvey Keitel as the cop with a heart who is rooting for our anti-heroes. Even if you’ve never seen the film, you’re sure to know the oft-parodied ending scene. And while, at age 11 watching my mum’s VHS copy, it took me a while to comprehend the significance of the decision to ‘keep going’ in relation to the Grand Canyon, it was nonetheless pretty inspiring.

Backdraft

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‘You go, we go.’

Admittedly the initial appeal for me was the sight of William ‘Billy’ Baldwin in full firefighter get-up. But legendary director Ron Howard goes one better and makes burning buildings look sexy. Chicago’s emergency services never fail to impress on the big screen, and this depiction of their fire department is no different, gaining the auspicious title of ‘the highest grossing film ever made about firefighters’ in lieu of awards.

Baldwin and Kurt Russell are brothers and co-workers, who become embroiled in the work of a serial arsonist, the fallout of a mayoral campaign, and the deaths of several colleagues. One of them also has sex with Jennifer Jason Leigh on top of a moving fire truck. Have a guess which one. Elsewhere, Robert De Niro puts on a suitably geeky performance as an arson investigator, while Donald Sutherland is like Hannibal Lecter but with fire.

Backdraft has action, obviously, tension, and more than a little heart-wrenching family drama. Personally, nothing makes me sob like a baby more than some on screen reference to real life at the end of a movie. There are over 1,200,700 active firefighters in the U.S. today.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

robin-hood-prince-of-thieves

‘I’m not one of you, but I fight! I fight with Robin Hood! I fight against a tyrant who holds you under his boot! If you would be free men, then you must fight! Join us now, join Robin Hood!’

A thoroughly British affair, showcasing our rolling landscapes, our engaging folklore and our classic actors. Kevin Costner does his bit, by chucking in the occasional semi-English accent when he remembers to. Which is more than can be said for Christian Slater, as New York’s finest Will Scarlett.

Funny (sometimes intentionally, sometimes not so much) the film builds to the climactic final wedding/multiple hanging celebrations. Naturally Robin of Locksley saves the day, with a combination of arrow skills, sword fighting, and good old fashioned punches to the face. Alan Rickman is at his slimey evil best as The Sheriff of Nottingham, while Morgan Freeman’s Azeem is the person you’d most want to have your back in the woods.

The Bryan Adams rock ballad which featured on the soundtrack spent an epic 16 consecutive weeks at number one in UK charts, and somewhat eclipsed the film. Which is a shame because, to dismiss it, would be to miss out on the most amazing cameo/tribute to The Untouchables at the end.

 

See the five films Kate picked for 1990 or check out the full A Decade in Film series so far.