Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates

Director: Jake Szymanski (2016) BBFC cert: 15

Head to Hawaii for raunchy raucous fun in this sweet natured and bad taste comedy.

Adam DeVine and Zac Efron are unerringly convincing as idiotic party loving brothers, Mike and Dave Stangler with a reputation for causing chaos at family shindigs.

To ensure their sister’s nuptials in Hawaii are a drama-free affair, their Dad demands they find a pair of ‘nice’ women as dates.

Mike and Dave think they’ve struck gold with hedge fund manager Alice and teacher Tatiana, an intelligent, charming and pretty pair. But they’re really unemployed waitresses out for a free holiday and up for a good time.

Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza are a sleazy, sweet and sexy blast and the film powers wantonly along whenever they’re on screen, stealing the film from the supposed leads.

As their facade dissolves in booze, drugs and sex, the boys must mature to ensure the wedding goes ahead.

The tone and jokes are typical of most of Efron’s recent output and yes, among the sex jokes he appears topless and sings and dances. However this is on a par with the enjoyable Bad Neighbours 2 (2016) rather than the woeful Dirty Grandpa (2016).

The former film traded on the idea feminism has allowed girls to act as badly as boys if they so choose. This follows a similar path with the girls on top as they out-party the boys at every turn.

@ChrisHunneysett

The Last Five Years

Director: Richard LaGravenese (2015)

This likeable musical is a stagey adaption of Jason Robert Brown‘s Tony Award-winning show of the same name.

Set mostly in New York and told almost entirely in song, it’s worth seeing for a fabulously fresh and nicely nuanced performance by the hugely engaging Anna Kendrick.

She plays Cathy, a struggling actress whose five year relationship to writer Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) has come to an end.

We see the rise and demise of the ambitious, attractive and sexy couple. As Jamie’s career as novelist goes stratospheric, Cathy’s acting career stalls. As she suffers humiliating auditions, he is flattered and applauded at public readings of his work.

Tensions increase and as he parties with publishers in New York, she performs in summer seasons in Ohio; the US equivalent of starring in the cabaret at a Butlins holiday camp.

The narrative is divided in two strands alternating between his and her points of view, emphasising their differences.

Cathy’s songs begin at the end of the marriage and move backwards in time to the beginning of their romance. Jamie’s songs move from the start of the affair to the final parting.

As Cathy becomes increasingly happy and confident, Jamie becomes frustrated and disillusioned. The tone of their songs synchronise in the middle of with their joyous marriage vows before diverging again.

This clever construction has it’s advantages. The frequent switchbacks between the duo’s viewpoints create momentum and prevent the failure of the relationship to become a maudlin slog to the end of the film.

It enables us to see the complex dynamics at work and offer sympathy to them as individuals. There’s sadness, anger, regret, confusion, deception and infidelity – but also passion, love, sweetness, and support.

Against this very few other characters even speak and there are too few duets. This means for the majority of songs the non-singing partner must simply stand and stare.

This creates awkward moments such as when Jamie sings excitedly in anticipation of an intimate encounter and Cathy is forced to stare silently at him while prone on the bed.

The relationship begins in glorious bright colours and a frantic camera dizzy with passion. It ends in a muted palette of blues and greys in the apartment they shared, the camerawork is more composed and the tunes mournful. The fine cinematographer responsible is Steven Meizler who has worked a great deal with Steven Soderbergh.

There’s a valiant effort to open up the stage production to take advantage of the bigger canvas cinema offers. New York offers some lovely locations but the few exterior scenes set there seem rushed, resulting in moments of not great lip-synching.

Kendrick showcases an impressive singing voice and provides lovely moments of subtlety and a great adaptability in tone and range, being comic or serious as the role demands.

Her co-star gamely gives his all in trying to keep up – but his toothy, stagey playing burns the screen instead of illuminating it. It’s not a poor performance but an overcharged one.

Kendrick’s career has included a role in the Twilight franchise and holding her own against George Clooney but she has yet to be a household name. Maybe, hopefully, this performance will push her towards a wider and much deserved recognition.

The Voices

Director: Marjane Satrapi (2015)

It’s claws versus paws in this macabre black comedy as the eternal conflict between good and evil is fought between cat and dog.

But as well as committing the cardinal sin of not being funny, there are clunking changes of tone, weak direction and too many scenes lack energy.

All of which is a shame as there are two great actresses, a decent idea and a laudable attempt to bring something different to the cinematic marketplace.

Pizza-loving Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) lives quietly with Bosco and Mr. Whiskers, his pet dog and cat. He works in a toilet factory, is in therapy and taking medication.

Based in the town of Milton, he is obsessed with angels and devils and happily points out Lucifer was both.

At home the foul-mouthed Mr Whiskers urges him to be bad, Bosco tells him to be good. Reynolds provides the animal voices, including a poorly advised Scottish accent for Mr Whiskers.

Discussions with his pets as to whether Jerry is a good person occupy far too much screen-time and deliver no laughs.

Jerry hangs out with the girls from accounts. He has a crush on Fiona (Gemma Arterton) and ignores the attentions of the clearly interested Lisa (Anna Kendrick). On a night out he kills a co-worker which leads to a spree.

The always engaging Arterton and Kendrick give proceedings an undeserving vitality, bringing glamour, charm and fine singing voices.

But Reynolds is such an unprepossessing leading man he barely registers. He plays sweet when dry would have been more effective. Anything would have been more effective. Maybe Adam Sandler and Paul Rudd were too expensive. Or busy.

The script can’t decide whether Gerry’s bad, mad or a victim. It absolves him of guilt by showing us his traumatic childhood.

There’s some nice production design by Udo Kramer, but the director loses control of her camera and the imagery becomes repetitive. The charitably minded will assume the choreographer was aiming for comic effect.

The film isn’t sufficiently trippy to be interesting, nor is it clever, fast or sharp enough to be funny. It’s a sad day when a Chinese Elvis impersonator can’t make me smile – but he’s just another glaring example of how The Voices mistakes wacky for funny.

Cake

Directed: Daniel Barnz (2015)

Jennifer Aniston learns suicide is far from painless in this dark, rich and tasty drama.

Playing a chronic pain sufferer who’s also coping with complex emotional issues, Aniston demonstrates how superb she can be with strong material. Hopefully this is a kick-start to an interesting new phase of her career.

With bad hair, baggy clothes and no make-up but copious scar-tissue, Claire Bennett (Aniston) is a divorcee with low self-esteem and high pain levels; sitting is awkward, standing is tricky and walking is difficult.

Despite months of physical therapy following an accident, her condition hasn’t improved. So Claire is self-medicating with wine and painkillers.

Doctors are scared of her and loyal maid Silvana (Adriana Barraza) is shouldering the emotional fallout as Claire indulges in unsatisfying trysts with the married pool guy and is kicked out of a support group due to anger management issues.

Nina (Anna Kendrick) was a support group friend who committed suicide by throwing herself from a multi-level motorway leaving only a succinct suicide note.

As an expression of Claire’s mental state, Nina now pops up for frequent fantasy conversations – in restaurants, in bed, even at a drive-in. Though Nina encourages Claire to commit suicide, these episodes are far more funny than morbid due to Kendrick’s sparky performance.

Claire is compelled to examine Nina’s life; visiting her grave, seeing the place where she died and even pitching up at the house where she lived – to the bemusement of widower Roy Collins (Sam Worthington).

Worthington’s screen presence can be underwhelming but here his dead pan delivery is warmly engaging and enjoys a sweet comic chemistry with Aniston.

Roy is not afraid to admit he’s bitter at his Nina’s choosing to leave him and their daughter. He and Claire bond over nachos, beer and anger issues. Both are looking for comfort and affection more than sex.

Aniston is the central ingredient of this sensitive, balanced, consistent and surprisingly humorous movie. With charm, intelligence, excellent timing and dramatic delivery she maintains our sympathies even when playing a complex, prickly and manipulative character.

Dusted with a light icing of hope this Cake is deeply satisfying, indulge yourself.

Into The Woods

Director: Rob Marshall (2014)

Disney embraces the dark side in this dazzling big budget live-action adaption of the award-winning magical musical fairytale.

Based on the stories of the Brothers Grimm, the wicked lyrics of songwriting maestro Stephen Sondheim are performed by an all-star cast on top form.

Plus as great sets and costumes boost the sometimes uninspired direction, it all makes for a spooky and frequently funny fantasy.

Once upon a time, a baby-stealing witch (Meryl Streep) has cursed the house of a poor baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt) so they cannot conceive a baby.

Corden and Blunt share a bickering chemistry and play commendably straight which allows the more fantastical characters to showboat.

Streep indulges herself with may a shriek and cackle as the witch who is also under a spell, forcing the couple to help her before she will lift their curse.

They must go into the woods to find a white cow, a golden slipper, a red cape and some yellow hair before the full moon in three days’ time.

On the way, they meet familiar characters such as Little Red Riding Hood, played by an astonishingly confident and scene-stealing teenage Lilla Crawford.

She is of course preyed upon by the big bad wolf, an excellent Johnny Depp in an extended cameo.

There’s also Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy), Jack of the beanstalk (Daniel Huttlestone) giants, ghosts and some golden eggs, Anna Kendrick is pitch perfect as Cinderella.

She is pursued by a a philandering Prince (Chris Pine). He’s wonderfully vain, self-centred and thoroughly enjoys himself delivering the funniest song and the best line.

Proving you should be careful what you wish for there are betrayals, mutilations and deaths as well as some unpardonably poor parenting.

As greed is punished and bravery and honesty win out, you won’t fail to be charmed by this wonderful tale’s dark magic.

★★★★☆