EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA

Cert 15 Stars 4

There’s music and mayhem in this Eurovision comedy which is as stupidly camp and delightfully daft as the contest itself, and where off-stage shenanigans mean it’s not just the songs which are being murdered.

At times very funny while always being affectionate to the long running contest, this is a musical underdog story which combines elements  of mock rockumentary Spinal Tap and Mel Brooks’s The Producers, and like the Mamma Mia sequel it’s at its best when it channels the irresistible spirit of pop legend Cher.

Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams star as Icelandic singers Sigrit and Lars, who in controversial circumstances are given the chance to represent their country at Eurovision.

After her scene stealing performance in 2018’s comedy Game Night, it’s no surprise McAdams is a fabulously earnest and sweet soul who still believes in elves, while Ferrell -famous for playing an elf – is once again playing an over-grown man child with daddy issues.

His screen daddy is played by Pierce Brosnan, which might make any of us feel insecure, and adopts an Icelandic accent which is far more convincing than fellow 007 Sean Connery’s would have been

Another plus is Brosnan isn’t tempted to sing, we suffered enough in the Mamma Mia movies.

Lars and Sigrit’s songs and those of the other competitors are perfectly pitched Eurovision cheese, and delivered with winning sincerity, impressive vocals and some outrageous showmanship.

‘Volcano Man’ is an anthemic wonder, while ‘Ja Ja Ding Dong’ is a unique sing-a-long example of Icelandic folk rock pop.

Real life Eurovision presenter Graham Norton keeps a straight face playing himself despite some preposterous dance routines, malfunctioning costumes, a runaway giant hamster wheel, and former Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens as a louche Russian contestant.

This year’s contest was cancelled of course, so if you’re in need of Eurovision fix you’ll love this, which at its best is a pop-tastic piece of ridiculously sequinned escapist fun.

IRRESISTIBLE

Cert 15 Stars 3

Steve Carrel brings charm and humour to his role as a ruthless spin doctor called Gary in this over-amiable political comedy written and directed by Jon Stewart, best known as host of US satirical news program The Daily Show.

Gary’s a political fish out of water in rural Wisconsin where he’s hoping to boost his party’s presence in the opposition heartlands by persuading Chris Cooper’s principled yet reluctant retired Marine colonel to run for mayor, despite having no previous political experience.

Rose Byrne has rarely been better than as Gary’s delightfully acid tongued opposite number, their filthy mouthed rivalry is the highlight of the film and I wish we’d seen a lot more of her.

Stewart is influenced by such films as 1939’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, 1941’s The Great McGinty and 1972’s The Candidate and his script merrily criticises the obscene amount of cash spent on campaigning for corrupting politics, and lays bare just how extraordinarily broken the US political system is.

GREED

Cert 15 Stars 4

Having made the brilliant TV series The Trip together as well as several films including the fantastic Manchester music comedy 24 Hour Party People, Steve Coogan re-teams with Brit director Michael Winterbottom in this scathing satirical comedy.

Never afraid of making himself look ridiculous in search of a laugh, Coogan sports outrageous white teeth and fake tan as a billionaire high-street fashion mogul Richard McCreadie.

Stephen Fry, Ben Stiller, Colin Firth, Keira Knightley, Louis Walsh and Keith Richards appear as themselves as McCreadie celebrates his 60th birthday at a lavish Roman emperor themed party on the Greek island of Mykonos.

HOOKING UP

Cert 15 Stars 2

Limp and less than satisfying, this tame sex comedy is a attempts to romp around the US but is too respectful of the State’s addiction to therapy and monogamy to spring any surprises.

Eager to please but suppressed by a timid script, Brittany Snow and Sam Richardson play strangers who’ve agreed to re-enact her sexual history in all the cities, towns, clothes shops, changing rooms and airport toilet where she’s had sex.

She’s a cynical magazine sex writer using the trip as cathartic therapy, and he’s a shy gym worker for whom it’s a welcome excuse for a great time before he loses his remaining testicle, but she hasn’t told him she’s secretly blogging about their adventures on her magazine website.

With sex guaranteed they gradually get to know each other which makes for a very predictable and safe experience. And with the best jokes banged in at the beginning, it means the fun’s all done after about ten minutes. Which always makes for a disappointing evenings entertainment.

BANANA SPLIT

Cert 15 Stars 3

It’s a busy year for Liana Liberato who starred in last week’s tragi-drama To The Stars as a free-spirited new girl with a tricky romantic life, whereas in this enjoyable High school romcom she plays err, a free-spirited new girl with a tricky romantic life.

To be fair she’s terrific as Clara who breezes into town and hooks up with a newly single hot bloke while becoming best friends with his ex, April, played by Hannah Marks.

A heartfelt, honest, funny and an optimistic account of female friendship, the best scenes involve the foul mouthed arguments between April’s feisty younger sister and their down-with-the-kids mum.

A trawl through bowling alleys, amusement arcades and house parties while they indulge in alcohol, drugs, road trips and beachfront shenanigans, and it’s all soundtracked by bands I’ve never heard of, yet it’s also energetic and straightforward with enough inventive staging and charm to distinguish it in a crowded field.

And so what if they’re all sex and relationship status-obsessed narcissist? They’re teenagers.

A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK

Cert 12 Stars 4

Controversial director Woody Allen delivers the latest in a long line of his deft comedy dramas which frequently feels like a self-aware and whistle-stop tour of his own lengthy career.

Once again he takes pleasure in briskly laying bare the hypocritical rotten heart of upper-middle class Manhattan society where commerce rubs up against art and both are aphrodisiacs.There are some wonderfully dry and acerbic one-liners accompanied by the timeless ballads of Irving Berlin and moments of comic farce.

Allen’s self-penned script sees a scheming student taking his naive, wealthy and aspiring journalist girlfriend to the Big Apple for a romantic weekend, but he risks being cuckold when she takes time out to interview a famous yet insecure movie director with a shady reputation.

Previously in Allen’s films we’ve seen actors such as John Cusack and Jesse Eisenberg play the typical ‘Woody Allen’ figure, here Timothee Chalamet is excellent as Allen’s stand-in nerd who finds ‘hostility and paranoia exhilarating’, and provides a voice-over with Allen’s trademark stammer.

Also giving excellent performances are a gauche and gushing Elle Fanning and a nicely sardonic Selena Gomez.

With his frothy tone barely attempting to disguise the acid asides in his script, Allen is in a combative and provocative mood. With several of the male characters involved in the disreputable film world, it feels as if Allen is parading various himself before us at various points in his career and daring us to judge him.

He merrily explores the relationship between journalism and movies which he sees as parasitic and he’s unsurprisingly disdainful of how the media twist and distort private relationships. Plus in eye-opening fashion he presents a relationship between a guy and the younger sister of his former love as the epitome of romance.

If you’re not a fan of Allen’s films then this won’t change your mind, but if you are then there’s a great deal here to explore and enjoy.

THE LOVEBIRDS

Cert 15 Stars 3

A pair of likeable stars bring a breezy freshness to this otherwise by-the-numbers romcom caper and do enough to divert you from the feeling you’ve seen it all before.

Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani play Leilani and Jibran, lovebirds who risk becoming jailbirds when a road accident unwittingly involves them in a high powered blackmail conspiracy and a night of being chased by the police and a relentless gun-toting bad guy.

Being in possession of a phone containing compromising photographs of prominent people, they’re chased around from dinner party, to bars, and to a masked ball which unsurprisingly turns out to be populated by high society swingers.

Being tied up, assaulted and forced to dress very badly allows them to learn truths about each other and reevaluate their relationship.

If this sounds familiar well you’re probably thinking of Steve Carell and Tina Fey in 2010’s Date Night, or Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams in 2018’s Game Night, and possibly a few more besides.

Where this is notably different is in the casting, as it’s still regrettably rare to see an African-American and a Pakistani-American headlining even in this sort of modest Hollywood fare.

The script is blind to their ethnicity except when gags are made about police prejudice, and even this is balanced by the vaguely sympathetic investigating officer also being African-American.

Rae is bright, vivacious and the more funny and ballsy of the two, though that doesn’t take much, as Nanjiani would probably be the first to admit he’s far from being an Alpha male.

He’s amiable screen presence and his throwaway comic asides on modern life are delivered in the passive aggressive style manner he demonstrated in 2017’s romcom success, The Big Sick, for which he was Oscar nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

A mainstream entertainment not trying to change the world, The Lovebirds provides sufficient chuckles in its enjoyable, undemanding and disposable way.

MY SPY

Cert 12A Stars 3

This silly, sweet and very self-aware espionage action comedy sees former wrestler Dave Bautista in his best leading role so far as a CIA secret agent taking on his toughest challenge.

A fan favourite from Marvel’s Guardian of the Galaxy films due to his dynamite dead pan delivery and a willingness to be the butt of jokes, he makes an entertaining double act with a streetwise 9 year old.

Utterly un-awed by her super-sized co-star, Chloe Coleman is a wonderfully confident charmer who plays the sarcastic and tech savvy young subject of a CIA surveillance operation.

She’s the estranged niece of a ruthless arms dealer who’s trying to get his hands on some plutonium.

There’s surrogate father-daughter bonding, ice skating, puppy dog shenanigans and the cold blooded treatment of a goldfish.

I enjoyed hanging out on the stakeout so much I was almost disappointed when the bad guys arrived for the explosive finale.

A far smarter and funnier film than the trailer suggests, I laughed far more than I thought I would and so will you.

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SONIC THE HEDGEHOG

Cert PG Stars 4

Nearly thirty years after taking the gaming world by storm, the world’s fastest alien hedgehog makes his film debut in this entertaining and appropriately fast-paced family action comedy.

Successfully meshing big budget Hollywood storytelling with Sonic’s playful spirit and core concept, it sees the cute and cuddly CGI critter having to collect his magic gold rings while battling the psychotic scientist, Dr Robotnik.

However in order to incorporate more relatable human characters, Sonic is dropped into our real live world, and the story is structured around a familiar and predictable ode to family, friendship, family and American small town life,

James Marsden is an agreeably amiable and comic presence as Tom, a good-natured small town sheriff with ambitions of proving himself on the mean streets of the big city.

He’s presented with the perfect opportunity when he meets the motor-mouthed Sonic who is need of taking to San Francisco which allows for some father and son-style bonding.

Voiced with enthusiasm and energy Ben Schwartz, Sonic’s epic expression of teenage loneliness and angst causes a power outage, which alerts the military to his presence and they send Dr Robotnik to investigate.

Played by Jim Carrey for whom it’s an overdue and welcome big screen return, his unique brand of deranged physical comedy is perfectly suited to the cartoon tone, and though his mania has marginally diminished with age, he still seems a biscuit short of barrel.

He’s heavily armed with mechanical gadgets which he transports around in a large black truck, which resembles the Batmobile’s angry big brother.

And the films best sequences are when we see the world from Sonic’s super fast view, with the humans seemingly frozen in time allowing him to cause merry mayhem.

My game-addicted 9 year old is going to love it, and so will yours.

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PLUS ONE

Cert 15 Stars 2

Featuring a dozen weddings and zero funerals, this millennial spin on the romcom is  laugh-light, derivative and strangely downbeat, and feels more like a sneering and mopey indie road trip drama than the classic When Harry Met Sally to which it owes a huge debt.

Jack Quaid and Maya Erskine star as singletons Ben and Alice, who team up as each other’s platonic plus one for the upcoming wedding season, in order to help each other find dates.

Despite much contrary evidence, the uptight Ben is described as cute, charming and funny, and being self-pitying and with his twice married dad is getting wed again, which encourages Ben’s self-pitying nature.

Alice is much more fun but in their directorial debut, writers Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer reduce her to being the conduit for Ben’s learning curve, meaning she has to be humiliated so he can grow as a person.

Few people seem to be having a good time, and nor was I.

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