For A Good Time, Call (2012)

If Bridesmaids proved anything, it’s that the girls can be just as filthy/depraved/unsubtle (delete where applicable) as the boys.

Taking that insight and dialling up the dirty, Jamie Travis’ comedy sees ex-college frenemies Lauren (Lauren Miller) and Katie (Ari Graynor) launch their own amateur phone-sex line: 1-877-MMM-HMM.

All right, it’s not up there with Bridesmaids but, thanks to a game Graynor (here channelling a young Bette Midler), a revolving door of cameos and some gloriously smutty pillow talk, For A Good Time delivers, yes, exactly that.

Via Total Film

The Fairy (2011)

This brilliantly bonkers French comedy has simple aspirations: it wants to make you laugh. And, with improvised physical comedy taking precedence, it mostly succeeds.

Dom (Dominique Abel) has his life turned topsy-turvy when a woman (Fiona Gordon) looks for a room at his hotel and reveals she’s a fairy.

Their ensuing adventure stick a finger up at logic as they get pregnant, bother the local authorities and perform hilariously low-budget dance routines.

Not all of the jokes land perfectly (a late telephone gag treads too much water), but The Fairy remains infectiously funny throughout. 3/5

Via Total Film

The Promotion (2008)

Ahead of his return for another slice of American Pie, here’s Seann William Scott in the belated bow of this sporadically funny 2008 dramedy.

As supermarket worker Doug, he endures gangsta car-park loiterers, sexy banjo players and walking on hot coals in hopes of bagging his dream job as manager.

Problem is, John C. Reilly’s sweet-natured Canadian is going for the same gig.

No Stifler-sized belly laughs, but Promotion gets by on nudge-wink observations (shopworkers using the products) and Scott’s easy charm.

Via Total Film

Bridesmaids (2011)

Weddings get a bad rep at the movies. Thankfully, any concerns that Bridesmaids would stumble down the same desolate aisle as the likes of Bride Wars and Runaway Bride are quickly dispelled in its opening moments. As Kristen Wiig thrashes around in bed with Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, then spars with roomie Matt Lucas before getting catty with her engaged BFF’s snooty new BFF, it’s clear that Bridesmaids is no Sex And The City 3.

For a start, it has Wiig. As Annie, she’s miserable in the wake of her business’ bankruptcy – but Annie’s life is further complicated when best friend Lillian (Maya Rudlph) gets engaged and asks her to be maid of honour. Making that nearly impossible is Lillian’s prissy new moneyed friend Helen (Rose Byrne), who competes with her for the bride’s attention/affection in the run up to the big day.

Unlike the glut of Hollywood comedies that rev out of the holding bay before quickly running low on fuel, Bridesmaids is the gasser that just keeps going, getting progressively funnier, wilder and more delightfully disgraceful as its journeys ever onward. It’s undeniably Wiig’s show, and the Saturday Night Live actress is more than up to the task, gluing together a string of increasingly hilarious set pieces that include a calamitous dress-fitting session and a riotous plane journey to Vegas. But the secondary characters are more than frosty cake bunting, eliciting big laughs courtesy of shrewd characterisation and some truly devilish gags.

Add to that an ending straight out of a John Hughes movie, replete with frilly frocks and nostalgia-laced pop anthem, and Bridesmaids is as near a perfect summer comedy as we’re ever likely to get. People will call it the female Hangover, but Bridesmaids is better than reductive comparisons. Messy, rude, warm and laugh-out-loud funny, it earns every one of your jubilant cackles. 4/5

Via Out In The City

Real Genius (1985)

Packed with orgasmic ‘80s montages, an adorably anarchic Val Kilmer and advocating the kind of anti-authority rebelliousness that appeals to the teenager in us all, Real Genius could just be the greatest John Hughes movie not made by John Hughes.

Directed by Martha Coolidge at her hip-cool ‘80s peak (this came after Nic Cage’s mohawktastic Valley Girl, and before 2004’s terrible The Prince & Me), it’s the kind of glossy, high-spirited slice of goofball Americana that makes you wish you’d been an American youngster in the decade that fashion forgot. Was it ever really like this for the real teens living it? Probably not, but we can dare to dream, can’t we?

Kilmer plays Chris Knight, the kind of genius who could do some real damage on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? A science club geek/legend, he’s working at Pacific Tech University to craft a high-powered laser – which is when 15-year-old freshman Mitch (Gabriel Jarret) is assigned as his roomie. Together, they attempt to perfect the laser (amid numerous riotous parties), unaware that their invention is intended to be used by the CIA as a weapon.

It may not be a John Hughes movie, but like the best of Hughes, the – uh – genius of Genius lies in its kids versus adults warfare. William Atherton makes for a superbly slimy foil as an exploitative professor (he basically played the same character a year earlier in Ghostbusters), while the climactic prank involving the professor’s house and a lot of popcorn (replete with slow-mo popcorn dancing) is the stuff of ’80s cinema gold.

Filled with loveably kooky characters, a live-for-the-moment vitality, and a gloriously of-its-time soundtrack fuelled by Tears For Fears, Bryan Adams and The Call, Real Genius is the real deal. 4/5

Loose Cannons (2010)

Family – can’t live with them, can’t kill them. Unless your unexpected emergence from the closet has prompted your father to suffer a near-fatal heart attack. Such is the plight of forty-something Antonio (Alessandro Preziosi), whose revelation sends an emotional riptide coursing through his close-knit Italian brood. But it’s visiting younger brother Tommaso (Riccardo Scamarcio) who has the bigger problem – he was planning on announcing his own man-love at the very same dinner that Antonio’s confession disrupted. Now, with Antonio banished, Tommaso’s left to shoulder the floundering family business (pasta manufacturing, naturally) as the company’s sole male successor.

Which just barely scrapes the surface of director Ferzan Özpetek’s vibrant filmic cocktail, the energetic plot also tracking the exploits of a saucy older aunt, a tempestuous female friend, and all manner of domestic disquiet. Özpetek, though, is no stranger to such outlandish premises, his previous dramas having sticky-fingered numerous awards and kudos (notably, Ignorant Fairies won big at the 2001 New York Lesbian and Gay Film Festival). With Cannons, he deftly twists humour and dramatic gay themes into a sumptuously-shot melange of witty banter and touching sentiment.

Italian cinema has long flirted with dicey dissections of the family unit (see also the operatic beauty of Tilda Swinton’s recent I Am Love), but here Özpetek nudges the formula into sunnier surrounds. Though the resultant near-farce at times wobbles through campy terrain (witness the arrival of Tommaso’s flamboyant friends, who struggle to put a lid on their sexuality), the film is anchored by its stellar cast – not least Ilaria Occhini as the family matriarch, whose own tragic past poetically collides with the present, most arrestingly in the film’s elegiac closing moments.

A chic, charming chuckler, Cannons proves particularly appealing as we wend our way into the winter months, offering the perfect place to soak up some warm Italian rays. 4/5

Via Out In The City

Seeing Red

A retired action man who spent much of his life cutting a bloody swathe through the corrupt heart of North America… Sound familiar? “There are things [in this] that I haven’t done for a long time,” admits Bruce Willis. “I get thrown through the air, smashed through windows, things like that.”

As the weathered lead in comic adap Red, directed by Flightplan’s Robert Schwentke, Sir Willis of the white vest is getting tooth-cracking mean for the first time since 2007’s Planet Terror. And by all accounts he’s loved every second of it. “It was like recess. People talk about it as if it’s just an action film, but I thought of it as a romantic comedy,” he deadpans.

Not that there isn’t the requisite window dressing on display. As Willis goes black ops to take down his former employers in an ‘it’s me or them’ final mission, he crosses paths with Weeds funnygirl Mary-Louise Parker and the ever-delightful Helen Mirren (milf or gilf? We can’t decide), the latter as a fellow assassin.

“The most difficult thing about shooting a gun on film is not to pull a silly face while the gun’s going off,” reveals Mirren. “Because it can be a bit of a shock.” Parker’s advice? “Just look like you constantly have to pee if you’re in danger.” Helpful. Meanwhile, John Malkovich pitches up as a demented Scotsman, and Morgan Freeman Frank’s assassin ally. But it’s Willis the crowds will turn out for. Yes, Brucie’s back – and he’s got two fists to bruise!

Via Total Film

Whip It (2010)

Jammers score. Blockers block. And pivots… well, they sort of block too. If you’re feeling really saucy, you could always whip it. Make sense? If it does, you’re obviously a fan of that oestrogen-infused, hot-wheeled American pastime known as roller derby.

If not, fear not. Drew Barrymore and co are here to educate. Thrashing round a circuit track sporting miniskirts, tattoos and a fair few cross-me-and-die expressions, the gals in Whip It are championing girl power and attitude galore.

What’s it all in aid of? Well, it starts with a girl. Her name’s Bliss (Ellen Page). She’s feeling anything but – “Just defective, I guess.” Seventeen-years-old and her mother’s very own living doll, Bliss wants nothing more than to break free from the beauty pageants and concoct her own flavour of fun.

Which is when she happens upon roller derby. Pledging thrills, spills and frills; it’s everything that has been missing from Bliss’ life. So she secretly joins the ‘Hurl Scouts’ team and becomes brazen alter ego Babe Ruthless. But what will mummy dearest think?

Based on the novel Derby Girl by ex-roller athlete Shauna Cross, Whip It is the directorial debut of one Drew Barrymore. Uh-oh, schmaltz alert! But… wait. Despite having brightened up her fair share of blinding, Prozac-happy rom-coms, this once-rebel-without-a-cause does an admirable job of stripping back the gloss to forge something that ebbs with a cool, authentic indie vibe.

With its teen torment, carefully crafted romance, and Amazonian action heroines, Barrymore’s adaptation adeptly channels the spirit of the sport itself. Rough but heartfelt, her film boasts an edgy ’70s zeal – from no-fuss visuals to a head-banging soundtrack, which features the rockin’ likes of Tilly and the Wall, .38 Special and Goose.

The restrained approach is both a blessing and a curse. An empyrean underwater clinch, a cornfield romp and a moment of heartbreaking, well, heartbreak are all neatly handled. Here, Barrymore isn’t afraid to let these mostly wordless scenes play through images and music.

But when it comes to the sport itself, usually a bombastic blend of genuine athleticism and high camp, she tends to keep the lioness caged. Her biggest frivolity ends up being the unveiling of the circuit track, in which a blackout gives way to a glittering, suspended roller-skate.

At its most basic, Whip It is the story of a girl searching for her identity. Which, naturally, factors in the well-heeled drama of a mother-versus-daughter mêlée. But this threadbare lynchpin is given fresh legs by the combined thesp power of Marcia Gay Harden and teen queen Ellen Page. Harden, as ever, is a force to be reckoned with. Brittle and cold, yet loving and desperate, her interactions with Page’s likeable indie chick afford Whip It its strongest asset.

The addition of Juliette Lewis as bitch-on-wheels Iron Maven is also a masterstroke, though it’s frustrating that her character is kept on a PG leash, reducing her to a sideways snark that lacks the requisite bite.

In the cluttered sports movie sub-genre, it would be easy to diminish Whip It to Bring It On with balls (there’s even a similar bloody-faced ‘Is it bad?’ moment). But where the latter embraced saccharine dairy products (and there’s nothing wrong with that), Whip It establishes itself as a restless nomad with fire in its belly.

Anticipation: Roller-skates still exist? And they’re still cool? Wow! 3

Enjoyment: A killer soundtrack and a sassy, game cast make for a fun-filled roller-ride. 4

In Retrospect: A restrained but accomplished debut from Barrymore, who emerges with minimal bruising. 4

Via Little White Lies

The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009)

A sly comedy of errors, The Men Who Stare at Goats may be a movie that involves war, but it’s not a war movie.

It sneaks a sideways glance at a top-secret US military division that spent much of the ‘70s training a troupe of psychic ‘super-soldiers’. And yes, that involved staring at goats. George Clooney is the ex-military soldier tailed on a mysterious mission by reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), who wants to write a story on the Iraq war to prove to his wife that he’s not a waste of space.

Tying in real-life footage of Iraq combat and George Bush, Goats initially appears to be digging at the ribs of the Bush administration. But its jibes quickly turn more farcical than barbed. Erring on just the right side of silliness, its combination of slapstick and off-the-cuff sitcom mostly hits the right marks.

Anticipation: Clooney, McGregor, Bridges, Spacey and one heck of a title. 4

Enjoyment: Clooney again proves himself a master of comedy timing, shame the script isn’t sharper. 3

In Retrospect: Not quite as viciously funny as Burn After Reading, but a decent desert-set romp. 3

Via Little White Lies

Todd Stephens – (Not Just) Another Gay Movie Director

“Something’s got to change,” rabbits director Todd Stephens. We’re on the blower discussing the state of Hollywood’s relationship with homosexuals. More specifically, the number of gay actors still cowering in the closet, scared to come clean about their orientation. “If all the gay actors in Hollywood came out at the same time, the world would have to deal with that reality. That some of their idols are gay. But I don’t see that happening any time soon.”

Something of an authority on gay film, Stephens has made a name for himself directing runaway indie hits Edge of Seventeen and both Another Gay Movie flicks. Right now, he’s here to chat about Gypsy 83, a free-spirited road trip flick starring Sara Rue (her off Popular and Less Than Perfect) and Goth cutie Kett Turton. But that’s not before he lets us know how he feels about those closet doors. “I used to be against Perez Hilton outing people, but now I’m kind of up for it. Like, fuck it. In the case of Another Gay Sequel, I had a couple of guys who were in the first one who dropped out at the very last minute because their agents staged an intervention and told them not to play more gay parts. Some of them are gay in real life but they’re not out.”

Anyway, back to Gypsy 83. Shot in 2001, it’s been a while hitting UK shores thanks to short-sighted distributors who “didn’t think it was gay enough, they didn’t know what the movie poster was”. An intimate dramedy with a soundtrack set to the rock-out refrains of Stevie Nicks, the plot follows Gypsy (Rue), who decides to break out of her small-town apathy by driving to New York with gay best friend Clive (Turton) and enter the renowned Night of a Thousand Stevies contest. “I really wanted to explore the relationship between gay men and straight women,” Stephens reveals. “That sort of amazing bond that we often have as gay people. Our diva best friends. There’s a connection, and a love, and an intimacy, but no sex. Yeah, it’s very complicated.” And trivia fans prick up those ears, apparently Chris Evans of ‘Fantastic Four’ originally auditioned for a role in the film as a gay jock. “He wanted to be in the film and I gave the part to somebody else. I could kick myself now,” laughs Stephens.

A deep thinker with a celluloid soul, Stephens is just as interested in shooting cute guys doing naughty things as he is exploring the myriad gay issues that marshal our community. With Another Gay Movie – a queer American Pie that fuses teen angst with gross-out gags – he enjoyed toying with gay stereotypes. “I tried to do a lot with the feminine character of Nico,” he says. “I really wanted to celebrate that and sexualise him. I feel like the queen never gets to get laid. It bothers me that a lot of gay people are bothered by portrayals of effeminate gay men; that’s just part of the rainbow of our community.”

Up next, the director is pulling together funds for his “dream project”, a film entitled Flamingos. “I’m sort of fascinated by gay stories that haven’t been told,” he divulges. “What it’s like to get older and deal with aging in the gay community is something that fascinates me. I envision it as a kind of gay Golden Girls.” And who would he want to star? “I’d love to get people like Morgan Freeman to play gay. People who are really established and willing to take a chance. Jack Nicholson as a queen would be hilarious.” Now that would be a coming out to remember.