BILL AND TED FACE THE MUSIC

Cert PG Stars 4

Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter get the band back together as their goofy time travelling rock musicians return with a third knockabout sci-fi adventure comedy.

As they once more travel back to the future and all about in a phone box, they must compose the greatest song ever written to unite the world in rhythm and harmony to save reality, but have only 75 minutes to do it.

First appearing as Bill and Ted in their 1989 Excellent Adventure and returning in 1991’s Bogus Journey, the stars generate the same warm charm and silly earnest chemistry, and have great fun playing different versions of their future selves.

As the playful script pays homage to the history of popular music, Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong and Mozart among the famous artists encountered, as well as a killer robot.

Upcoming talents of Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine are the new kids on the block and are endearingly bright eyed as Bill and Ted’s  adult daughters, and many fan favourites appear – not least William Sadler as the Grim Reaper.

Brisk, funny, nostalgic and with a great deal of heart, it’s an uplifting power chord of love, signalling it’s time to be most excellent to each other, and not forgetting to party on dudes!

HOW TO BUILD A GIRL

Cert 15 Stars 3 AMAZON PRIME

A schoolgirl takes centre stage to smash glass ceilings in this spirited coming-of-age comedy drama based on journalist Caitlin Moran’s 2014 semi-autobiographical novel.

Combining a down-to-earth approach with moments of whimsical magical realism, it’s amiable and amusing but unlike it’s heroine Johanna only modestly ambitious, with the films success heavily dependent on the performances, particularly of its lead.

Beanie Feldstein plays little more than lip-service to the Black Country accent as she barrels her way through a performance as the working-class 16 year old Johanna, an aspiring journalist living with her struggling parents and four siblings in 1990s Wolverhampton.

As I’m the sixth of 8 working class kids from Middlesbrough, their noisy over-crowded house and the casual violent abuse outside school ring very true, as does Johanna finding out the London music industry is populated by condescending misogynist, sexist posh blokes of little discernible talent.

Her new job on a prestigious music magazine leads to a personal reinvention but success depends on her compromising her integrity, a huge step for the romantically-minded writer.

Instead of posters of pop stars on her bedroom wall Johanna has figures such as Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Sylvia Plath and er Maria von Trapp, who come to life to offer advice. it’s a lovely idea but sadly hugely underplayed and far too little time is given to actors such as Michael Sheen, Gemma Arterton and Alexei Sayle.

Paddy Considine and Sarah Soleman give strong support and mixing with the impressive cast are cameos by Emma Thompson, Chris O’Dowd and Bob Mortimer.

Casting the American Feldstein in this very English film was presumably a commercial decision as we’re far from short of acting talent this side of the pond, but after appearing in teen movies such as 2017’s Oscar winning Lady Bird, and being Golden Globe nominated for 2019’s Booksmart, this another enjoyable turn in the construction of her impressive career.

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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