Tag Archives: steve coogan

TIFF19: Greed

Have we made Steve Coogan an honourary asshole yet?  He’s at his best playing someone despicable, and they don’t come more despicable than retail fashion billionaires, who’ve “earned” their fortunes by exploiting third-world workers and the “rules” of corporate governance.  Coogan’s character, Richard McCreadie, is not a real person but is clearly inspired by the owners of Zara and H&M, both of which are running the same scheme in the real world as McCreadie does onscreen.

Having come under some scrutiny for his business practices (though not as much as he deserves), McCreadie hopes to gain some more favourable press by throwing an extravagant 60th birthday party for himself, shelling out for numerous celebrities to attend, and building a plywood colosseum in which a rented lion and McCreadie’s aides will put on a spectacle worthy of Caesar.  It is all too real, this game of distraction that McCreadie plays, and having gladiator games as entertainment sets up a good parallel between the ancient Roman slaves who died in service of their emperor and the factory workers who are suffering in service of McCreadie’s business empire.

greed_0HEROGreed’s comedic and satirical elements work well, with Coogan ably and expertly leading the way.   I am sure Coogan could play this role in his sleep but he’s not phoning it in at any point.  He clearly relishes the chance to play this type of character and he delivers a wonderfully over-the-top take on a selfish billionaire (though really, is there any other kind?).

But outside of the scenes featuring Coogan, Greed seems to lose its way.  It felt like Greed was too ambitious. In addition to the party scenes, Greed also shows McCreadie’s early days, both in private school and as he first sets up his business, factory scenes that are filmed documentary-style at real locations featuring real workers,  and a large number of side stories involving McCreadie’s ex-wife (Isla Fisher), their three kids (Asa Butterfield among them), McCreadie’s biographer (David Mitchell), and one of McCreadie’s top staff (Sarah Solemani).  There’s just too much going on, and it seems impossible for one movie to combine so many disparate parts  into a cohesive whole.

Undoubtedly, Greed’s failure in that regard is due to Michael Winterbottom having too much to say about the increasing divide between the rich and the poor, and it’s hard to fault him for being so ambitious.  But I have to think Greed would have been more effective, both in delivering its important message and in delivering its comedy, if it had taken a more focused approach and left a few side stories (including the story featuring McCreadie’s younger self) on the cutting room floor.

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Holmes & Watson

How old am I? I laughed at Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly all the way through Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby in 2006. And then I did it again 2 years later for Step Brothers. They were such a charming duo in their way. But here we are in 2019 and I can’t find one spare giggle for their reunion in Holmes & Watson. How old have I gotten that I don’t find these two funny anymore? Or perhaps the better question is: why are they still making the same movie when they’re both now in their 50s?

In fact, upon closer inspection, Holmes & Watson is NOT the same movie. The first two are birthed at the hands of Ferrell and Adam McKay, with just a magical sprinkling from Reilly. Holmes & Watson is written and directed by Etan Cohen, who is also responsible for Idiocracy, a movie which I find vile and deeply unfunny, so perhaps it’s no wonder at all that this one isn’t for me either.

The world is saturated with Sherlock Holmes stories and we didn’t need another, but I believe we would have made room for it if the movie warranted it. Benedict Cumberbatch has already staked an icon take on the role, and the writers on the show go MV5BM2Q0Y2UyNDEtODE1NC00ZTUyLTgzY2EtNjliM2VjNDk3NTZjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTMyMjYwNTA@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,888_AL_to great lengths to honour his brilliant mind and the world’s most esteemed detective. Will Ferrell’s Sherlock is also supposed to be brilliant, but Cohen can’t find a way to express that while still being funny. The result is a rim shot – you know, when the basketball can’t decide whether to score or not, so it just sort of hobbles around in midair, keeping everyone in suspense? Only the movie’s tone is the basketball, and it circles the rim for so long that you’d rather just walk away in disgust than find it whether it eventually lands.

As far as I can tell, most of the humour is derived from Holmes and Watson supposedly accidentally inventing things far before their time, like a selfie with the Queen (it’s Queen Victoria in the movie, even though at the time of Titanic’s sail, which is when the film is set, King George would have reined), and a telegraphed dick pic

Holmes & Watson is a blemish to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s memory, and a bruise for modern cinema, which it really didn’t need. It’s not just an unfunny comedy, it’s also a shockingly bad movie. When Sony realized it had a real stinker on its hands, it tried to just sell it off quietly to Netflix, and Netflix said: no thanks. So if you’re still wondering How bad can it be?, remember that you’ll have to pay a $5 rental fee to find out, and after reading this review, if you pay it, it’s not so much a rental feel as an idiot tax, and maybe you deserve to pay it after all.

Stan & Ollie

Better known to the world as Laurel & Hardy, two things are communicated with the title Stan & Ollie: 1. There’s another side to this comedy duo, a lesser known side, and we’re about to be privy; 2. This is a more intimate look at the team, an insider’s look as we are invited to know them by their first names.

In the 1930s, at the height of their career, Stanley Laurel (Steve Coogan) & Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly) were like a 90s-era boy band and Hal Roach (Danny Huston) is their Lou Pearlman. Laurel and Hardy were as manufactured and packaged as any boy band; they started out as strangers, but when producers threw them together, their careers became inextricably combined. They became the most famous comedy duo on the planet, but the trouble was, they didn’t own any rights. Their movies weren’t their own. They drew salaries but never saw profits akin to their success. Producers and managers pocketed their millions.

When Stan’s contract was up (and Ollie’s was not), he saw it as an opportunity to 2negotiate – or leave. He got himself a better deal elsewhere, but the problem was, Ollie didn’t walk with him. Too afraid to risk his small piece of the pie for the whole damn dessert, Hardy stayed behind, and even allowed himself to be reteamed with someone else. Ultimately their careers tanked and that was the end, or nearly the end, of Laurel & Hardy.

Which, interestingly, is where the movie begins. It’s been 15 years since those unsuccessful contract negotiations, and the world has assumed that the pair have been retired.  Laurel & Hardy mount a comeback tour over in the UK, supposedly culminating in a movie deal. But the grueling tour is humbling, the small theatres not selling out, the world having moved on. Plus, Hardy’s health is no good. Can his body even do this anymore, even if the people showed up? Not to mention the resentments quietly roiling beneath the surface. Both are nursing hurt feelings.

This movie is a really interesting look at what it takes to forge a creative bond with someone. And what it takes to stay together! Though their job was to make the people laugh, it often came at a cost to them. This movie isn’t overly anxious to uncover dirt, it’s got a tread about as heavy as their soft-shoe routine. Small in scope, it’s actually better than the average biopic, focusing on the lows rather than the better-known highs experienced in the spotlight.

Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are well-matched. They certainly make us believe in a shared history and an easy\uneasy rapport. They’re both a lot of fun to watch, despite this movie being more about their despair and their failings. Stan & Ollie is a peek behind the clown’s smile, and the truth is that grease paint is slippery and imperfect, but it makes a helluva compelling story.

Irreplaceable You

As a little girl, Abbie knows what she wants, and she goes out and bites it. That’ll make sense when you watch the movie. What Abbie wants is Sam, and they’ve been together since they were 8. They’re extremely until-death-do-us-part, headed toward marriage and newly pregnant, except they find out what she’s pregnant with is a belly full of tumours, and she’s going to die, soon.

Abbie’s (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) last days are preoccupied with finding Sam (Michiel Huisman) a new partner. She’s grieving, she’s preparing, she wants to leave him settled, imageshe wants to know that he’ll be okay. But it’s creepy and invasive and neither Sam nor his prospective dates are super into this idea. Even Abbie’s support group is pretty skeptical. They’re also a pretty good source of humour in a movie that may have been overwhelmed by its maudlin theme. Thankfully the likes of Steve Coogan, Kate McKinnon, and Christopher Walken, all favourites of mine that I never dreamed would somehow end up sitting in the same little circle in the same film, go a long way to providing some comic relief.

The script, by Bess Wohl, is kind of terrific. There are lots of unexpected little nuggets of joy, such as the wonderful Merritt Wever’s truth bomb about the world’s only monogamous fish. Watch and learn. Frankly, I would have liked to see director Stephanie Laing push the film even further into black comedy territory. Instead its tone is confused and we’re never sure whether to laugh or weep (I had no problem doing copious amounts of both, but your experience may be different). On the whole, I liked this movie very much. I like Gugu Mbatha-Raw very much and she makes this character flawed instead of the saintly dead wife that almost any other movie would have made her out to be. Her character inhabits our worst fears while being relatable enough for us to confront them in some sort of comfort. Sure it’s tear-jerker porn, but it’s the best kind as long as you have plenty of soft, name-brand tissues to see you through.

The Dinner

As a book, I very much enjoyed The Dinner. It’s fascinating and controversial but hard to talk about without giving everything away. Same goes for the movie I suppose, but the most important takeaway is that the movie is very, very bad. Read the book. It’s a gut punch page-turner. The movie fucks it all up.

First, the book is Dutch. The movie of course makes the characters and setting American (even though half its stars are Brits). It’s about two couples who meet at a very fancy schmancy restaurant to discuss their problematic children. Paul (Steve Coogan) is a history teacher with some mental health problems; his wife Claire (Laura Linney) is a cancer survivor. It’s hard to say who is more protective of whom. Paul’s older brother hero_Dinner-2017Stan (Richard Gere) is a politician poised to become an even more powerful politician, as evidenced by the aides who can’t quite allow him a moment of peace or privacy during the dinner (not that he objects); his wife, aka, his second wife, Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) raises his kids so that he can govern unencumbered and expects to be rewarded. Their sons have recently been involved in a crime that is making its way around Youtube. They are thus far unidentified but now the parents must decide how to handle things should they found out – or should they remain undiscovered.

The dinner is filled with tension, not just because of what their boys have done, but because of the strained family dynamic between Paul and Stan. And because Paul is uncomfortable with all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the haute cuisine. The dinner is constantly interrupted by flashbacks, many of which actually detract from the story. The book is really about morality and the thin veneers we hide behind in “civilized” society, and the tension ratchets up as more and more secrets explode like bombs dropped among the gold-rimmed china. The movie doesn’t manage to retain much of what makes the novel great. The characters are repugnant because they’re stripped bare of any pretense. The worst has happened, their primal, parental instincts have been activated – anything can happen.

But the movie just drops the ball. It’s a complete waste of time that doesn’t even know what to do with itself. It has maybe the worst, most abrupt ending that I’ve ever encountered, and it made me want to interrupt their dinner by swinging an angry cat around by its tail. Fuck y’all.

Despicable Me 3

Nope.

This movie was made to take your money; it does not feel obliged to entertain you in return. The first two films in the franchise felt sweet in their own way, heart-warming in a villainous sort of fashion. But this one just feels incomplete. The movie ended and I felt nothing had really happened. Gru  (voiced by Steve Carrell), our nefarious villain turned secret agent thanks to do-gooder wife, Lucy (Kristen Wiig), meets his twin brother Dru for the first time (Carrell, again). Dru, though seemingly successful and handsome(er), has always been something of a disappointment bad-guy-wise, and begs his brother to teach him everything he knows. Reluctant to go back to his bad guy ways, Gru instead has them steal the world’s largest diamond back from the evil clutches of Balthazar Bratt, a villain who eluded him at the agency.

nintchdbpict000290313314Bratt is an entertaining character on paper: a washed up 80s TV child star who aged out and resented it until his old shows inspired him to become the very villain he played. Middle aged now, and armed with a mullet, a keytar, and a juicy 80s soundtrack that follows his every move, he pulls of heists with exploding bubble gum and an army of dolls who look just like him.

My nephews, who love the franchise, call this movie Minions 3, which tells you what puts 5 year old butts in the seat. Gru has no need for his minions now that he’s turned straight, but some of their side action lands them in prison, and the movie basically splits in two, one plot following Gru and Dru, and the other following the minions. The movie does just enough to satisfy the kids, but anyone over the age of 8 is out of luck. This is yet another franchise that ran out of steam. There’s no focus, no charm. The only good thing about this movie is Steve Carrell’s voicework. I spent a lot of the movie imagining him in a soundproof booth. It’s not the recitation of dialogue that impresses me, but rather I am intrigued by all the assorted random grunts and noises. He had to sit in his booth, and think, now, if I was about to get impaled butt-first on a poisonous stake, what sort of heavily-accented screech would I let out? And what sort of relieved exhalation would I make if I avoided it? And what sort of self-starting grunt would I make to get back to work? And how out of breath would I get trying to sticky-climb up the side of a lair? These questions fascinated me, and kept me entertained during a movie that was supposed to be doing the entertaining.

But okay, there was a SECOND thing that was rather cute. Gru’s unicorn-loving daughter Agnes is again in unicorn mode, determined to see one in person. A kindred spirit, I happen to be hosting a unicorns & rainbows party on Sunday. Because they’re so fluffy I want to die. But two little bright spots do not a good movie make. Despicable Me 3 was boring. Not so boring I wanted to die but I was certainly conscious that its 90 minute runtime brought me closer to the grave, which is not exactly what you want out of a children’s movie. The end.

Mindhorn

mindhorn_finalCanadians are consistently the funniest people in the world as far as I’m concerned, which is hard to reconcile with the stereotype that we’re boring and forgettable.  So I don’t try, I just think of us as funny and the stereotype as another example of how Americans are just not as good as we are.  Above all else, Canadians specialize in satire.  I have to think that is inherited from our former colonizers, as the British may love satire more than we do.

But just as Canada is not Britain (because in 1867 we asked politely if we could be our own country from then on, and the Brits were like, didn’t you already leave when the Americans did?), British satire is a whole other thing from ours.  I have always been fascinated by how there really is no middle ground in North America – either you devour British satire or you think it’s unbearable.  Personally, I find Steve Coogan a good test for one’s tolerance for British satire.   If he cracks you up then you are going to enjoy Mindhorn, whereas if you’re thinking, “Who the hell is Steve Coogan?” then you should probably give Mindhorn a pass.

I think Coogan is hilarious so of course Mindhorn made me laugh.  As a bonus, Coogan is not just a random reference I decided to use.  He’s also a bit player in Mindhorn along with a ton of familiar Brits (including a great cameo by a guy nicknamed “Kenny B.”).   But Mindhorn is co-writer Julian Barratt’s vehicle, and he is terrific as Richard Thorncroft/Mindhorn, a washed-up actor/TV detective.  Mindhorn’s gimmick is his bionic eye that is a lie detector, allowing him to literally see the truth.  Mindhorn made Thorncroft a huge star in the 70s and early 80s but he hasn’t exactly been tearing it up since then.  In fact, he’s just lost his last endorsement contract (for orthopedic socks).  So when a call comes in from the police department requesting Thorncroft’s help (as Mindhorn) in solving a murder case, he jumps right in, seeing it as a great way to kickstart his career.

In the finest British tradition, we quickly learn that Thorncroft is a grade-A idiot (maybe even grade-AAA if you use the meat grading system).  Still, as tends to happen, Thorncroft manages to bumble his way to (moderate) success despite not having a clue at any time.  And while Mindhorn’s way forward isn’t particularly innovative or clever, Barratt is clearly having great fun bringing Mindhorn to life and that fun is infectious.  The satire is spot on, as Mindhorn takes every opportunity to poke fun at the real TV shows from Mindhorn’s day, like Knight Rider and the Six Million Dollar Man, and there are some good shots at the cheesiness of those shows as well as the spin off products from them (such as Mindhorn’s best-selling rock album).

You’ve seen this all before but it’s good fun and I don’t think satirizing David Hasselhoff will ever get old.  So if you have 90 minutes to spare and think Coogan is a funny guy then you should check out Mindhorn on Netflix.