The Day Shall Come 2019 ****

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Chris Morris is Britain’s most scabrous working satirist, and is probably best known as the creator of The Day Today, a parody of both news and news reporting that’s yet to be bettered. For his first feature, Four Lions, Morris attempted to make comedic hay from the idea of an incompetent terrorist cell, and it’s to his credit that he managed to make something that was much more than just a few gags on a topical theme. His follow-up, arriving almost a decade later, has a similar notion at its centre; outsiders in their Miami community, Moses (Marchant Davis) and his wife Venus (Danielle Brooks)struggle to make ends meet until an opportunity comes their way; to hide some guns…

Of course, guns are just the starts of Moses’s absurd journey, which brings him to the attention of Kendra Glack (Anna Kendrick), and her FBI team, who are keen to nab prospective terrorists in the act by feeding them bogus information and equipment, then sending in the SWAT teams after the misguided participants press the nuclear button. This is, Morris’s film makes clear, entrapment, and what‘s being entrapped is not ideological terrorists, but the poor. The Day Shall Come has good fun with Moses’s weird beliefs, and his understanding that blowing a small horn might just conjure dinosaurs out of the earth; the point is that Moses is just a misguided individual, and has no idea that his own brand of idiocy might make him vulnerable to being a political dupe.

There’s a certain brand of modern satire, via In The Loop, Veep and The Death of Stalin, that relies on absurd swearing tropes, convoluted insults and all characters speaking thinly disguised locker-room talk to fill in between the actual jokes; The Day Shall Come is admirable in that it rarely stoops to crude gags. Instead, Morris mines a ridiculous situation to great effect, with vibrant central performances and a fun, prissy support-turn from Kendrick.

“Next thing you’ll know, the Statue of Liberty will be wearing a burkha and we’ll be beheading Bruce Springsteen,’ one of Glack’s team observe, but the stakes are carefully defined in Morris’s intelligent, trenchant comedy. America is not under attack from outside, but from within, by those who seek to profit and further themselves by creating enemies from outside. It’s a laudable, modern sentiment, and fully articulated by the Ace In The Hole finale that Morris creates with genuine cinematic verve.

A Simple Favor 2018 ***

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Paul Feig’s neat thriller did will enough to find an audience; as a comedy director best known for Bridesmaids, it was quite a feat of advertising to explain that despite the presence of Anna Kendrick as a lead, this was not a rom-com, a comedy or a musical, although Feig works a few good laughs into the mix. Kendrick plays the provocatively dowdy Stephanie who gets into a dangerous relationship with Emily (Blake Lively), a go-getting, booze-loving mother who uses her play-dates for martini’s and gossiping. When Emily goes missing, the stage is set of a Gone Girl slice of mystery, but even though the conclusion is fairly silly, A Simple Favour digs deeply enough into the characters to avoid going over the top. An open-ending that seems to promise a franchise feels like a sop to the studio; A Simple Favour is a satisfying one-off that gains traction from Kendrick expanding her range as a not-so-innocent girl and Lively living up to her name as a character with plenty to hide.

The Accountant 2016 ***

accountant-affleck-snipeBen Affleck’s achievements as a director are considerable, but clearly he envies Matt Damon’s signature role in the Bourne films and fancies a franchise of his own. Gavin O’Connor’s film is fairly old-school in its taciturn hero, perky love interest (Anna Kendrick) and nefarious villains. The treatment of autism may not be so straight-forward; it’s not the first film to present a disability as a super-power. But as Christian Woolf (Ben Affleck) goes about the business of uncovering a mystery in the books of a wealthy client, there’s enough small-scale action to keep things ticking over, although the sub-plot involving JK Simmonds as a cop ultimately feels like nothing but padding. The final gunfight briefly lifts things to a John Wick level, but the outrageous style isn’t there. The Accountant is predictable fare, but just about passes muster as a routine action flick.

Cake 2015 ***

cakeSince Friends made her a household-name, Jennifer Aniston deserves credit for alternating mainstream comedies (We’re The Millers, Horrible Bosses) with more ruminative indie dramas (The Good Girl). Daniel Barnz’s Cake finds her in top form as Claire, a woman suffering from chronic pain, and with a support group she resists with a Fight Club defiance.  Claire will not go quietly, and her constant addiction to medicine and her caustic observation of the world around her are well caught by Patrick Tobin’s screenplay. Whether cheekily attempting to smuggle drugs back from Mexico or scrabbling behind picture frames for hidden bottles of pills, Aniston makes Claire a three-dimension character; waking up in the middle of the night, racked with pain, Claire captures the voice of a large and unrecognised group of sufferers in modern society.

Trolls ***

trollsTrolls feels like a feature length advert for dolls, and that’s just what it is. But like many adverts for toys, it’s often fun to watch, a gaudy, fuzzy, airy slice of noting but fun nonetheless. Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick are ideally cast as the star-crossed lovers of the troll community, and both give impressively personable vocal performances. Various hangers on, including Russell Brand and James Corden have comparatively little to contribute, but this Shrek-lite tale of warring kingdoms and dating princes is likely to become a family favorite by dint of its undemanding, pleasing quality. The prominence given to hit single Can’t Stop The Feeling in the climax doesn’t hurt, but all the music choices are generally in tune with the jolliness of the whole enterprise.

Pitch Perfect 2012 ***

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Proof positive that the heart of teen movies didn’t die with John Hughes, Pitch Perfect is a pitch perfect film for teenagers that wears its adherence to The Breakfast Club on its sleeve. Anna Kendrick is Beca, a talented teenager with father issues, who joins up with her school singing group The Bellas to take part in a competition, with boy group The Treblemakers in opposition. While the plotting, based on Mickey Rapkin’s book, is nothing new, the attitude of Jason Moore’s film is fresh and unselfconscious, catching the underlying excitement of live performance and keeping the mashed-up tunes coming thick and fast; the swimming pool riff-off is a non-stop wonder, and it’s inevitable that Pitch Perfect will generate enough fan-girls and boys to make it to the stage on day. 30 Rock veteran Kay Cannon contributes a smart script, and Kendrick is a sassy, likeable lead.

Camp 2003 ***

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The many admirers of Anna Kendrick in Pitch Perfect might want to cast their minds back to 2003’s Camp, written and directed by Todd Graff, who went on to Bandslam and Joyful Noise. She’s among a group of misfits put on a show in the Catskills, and there’s a smart off-Broadway sensibility on show, right down to some clever insider jokes and a cameo from Stephen Sondheim. Arriving too early to be part of the Glee/High School Musical wave of films about cheerful wannabes, Camp is considerably deeper than both, and has a number of lively numbers from a capable young cast.