Cinema Clash podcast: Radioactive; Yes, God, Yes; The Rental

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Review: I Used to Go Here

In this likable little indie comedy, thirty-something Kate (Gillian Jacobs from TV’s Community) has just published her debut novel and is excitedly planning for her first book tour. Then her agent calls to tell her that sales are slow and it’s been canceled. On top of it her recently ex-fiancé isn’t returning her calls. And all her friends are having babies. And life sucks. So what’s a girl to do? Accept an invitation from her favorite professor and mentor to return to her alma mater in Carbondale, Illinois for a reading to his latest writing class. What follows is a light and somewhat familiar story, elevated by a well-chosen cast and solid direction by Kris Rey (Unexpected).

Quickie Review: My Spy

My Spy happened to be the last screening I went to in early March, before the coronavirus upended all our lives and, consequently, Hollywood’s theatrical release schedule. In retrospect, My Spy was just what the doctor may have ordered: relatively mindless escapist fun in advance of toilet paper hoarding, sanitizer sticker shock, and mandated #SocialDistancing. My Spy follows the story of a big and burly CIA operative (Dave Bautista, Guardians of the Galaxy) who finds himself at the mercy of a precocious 9-year-old girl (Chloe Coleman, “Big Little Lies”) who threatens to blow his cover unless he teaches her the tricks of his trade. Picture just about any action comedy with the likes of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, John Cena or Arnold Schwarzenegger paired with a clever kid, and you’ll know what you’re in for with My Spy. A porous plot held together with sweet, corny, funny and poignant moments, infused with a solid dose of mayhem perpetrated by kids and adults.

Review: Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

It had me at Pierce Brosnan and ABBA. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is – a campy slice of goofy escapism that pays tribute to a worldwide phenomenon that the U.S. has been remarkably slow to embrace. Long before “American Idol” or “[whatever country’s] Got Talent” or “The Voice,” there was the Eurovision Song Contest, the world’s biggest song competition. It’s been around since 1956, spans more than 40 countries (not just European), and launched the careers of ABBA in 1974 and Celine Dion in 1988. How did I not know this? Anyway, I do now, thanks to Will Ferrell, who got hooked watching Eurovision during summer trips to his wife’s home country of Sweden. Who better than Ferrell (Elf, Talladega Nights, Anchorman) to craft a starring role for himself in a film that celebrates and mocks a global event that features an eclectic mix of talent?

Review: Irresistible

Irresistible is far more easy to resist than one might hope, despite a strong cast, timely premise and the indelible imprint of former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart as the film’s writer and director. In a nutshell, Irresistible is a scathing rebuke of our campaign finance system, issued through the lens of political satire. Steve Carell plays Gary Zimmer, a democratic political strategist based in DC who travels out to the small Wisconsin town of Deerlaken to help a retired Marine colonel (Chris Cooper) run for Mayor, touting the somewhat reluctant candidate as “a redder kind of blue.” The race draws national attention and Deerlaken takes on a political circus atmosphere, replete with media punditry and the arrival of Gary’s republican nemesis Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne) to bolster the campaign of the incumbent.

Review: Babyteeth

In this wonderfully dark dramedy from down under, Milla (Eliza Scanlen – Little Women) is a cancer stricken 16-year-old who falls for free spirited drug dealer Moses (Toby Wallace) much to the horror of her parents who only want to shield her from everything bad for whatever time she has left. But it is that relationship that keeps her going and ultimately brings them all to a place of acceptance. It’s a funny and touching and surprising film full of great performances.

Review: The Half of It

If you’re looking for a light as air romantic comedy, Netflix has you covered with its latest Cyrano de Bergerac retread. In this version, set in a Pacific Northwest high school, a Chinese-American girl with prodigious verbal gifts agrees to ghostwrite a love letter for an inarticulate jock to a beautiful girl who becomes the object of both their desires. It’s a sweet version of the old story and surprisingly charming.

Quickie Review: The LoveBirds

Oh, LoveBirds, how cruel you are! Setting us up to believe we’re in for a fun, engaging romantic comedy, then plunging us into the depths of stupidity for a solid hour before ending with a formulaic flourish. If you took only the very worst parts of Issa Rae’s recent romantic drama The Photograph and Kumail Nanjiani’s recent action crime comedy Stuber, then you’d have the bulk of The LoveBirds. The movie takes the likeable pair and puts them in the middle of a painfully absurd murder mystery that even by Netflix romcom standards is a major disappointment.

Review: Lucky Grandma

This dark comedy set mainly in New York’s Chinatown begins with curmudgeonly chain-smoker Grandma (Tsai Chin – Joy Luck Club, Casino Royale) visiting LeiLei the Fortune Teller (Wai Ching Ho – Hustlers). Her reading predicts a most auspicious day. So Grandma immediately empties her bank account and heads to a nearby casino. But it’s on the ride home to New York where things takes a truly fortuitous turn when a bag full of money literally drops in her lap, kicking the film into action, as Grandma becomes the target of one of Chinatown’s dangerous triads who want it back. Fortunately for Grandma, she’s a no-nonsense widow who knows just what to do. She hires a bodyguard from the rival gang. What could possibly go wrong?

Quickie Review: The Wrong Missy

File this one under “lame escapism.” I’ve taken to watching new films that are trending on Netflix since that’s about as close as we can get right now to what’s new at the box office. If I’d gone to see The Wrong Missy in a theater, I’d probably want a refund. But as quarantine entertainment, The Wrong Missy gets a wide berth. It’s a formulaic, sometimes raunchy, sometimes absurd, occasionally funny adult romantic comedy starring an unlikely pair of romantic leads in comedic actors David Spade and Lauren Lapkus. It’s not suitable for family viewing: There’s significant over-use of the F-word; a lot of sexual content (albeit clothed); and some situational gags that clearly scream “don’t try this at home.”

Review: How to Build a Girl

In this engaging coming-of-age flick, Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein – Booksmart, Ladybird) is a nerdy teenager living on a council estate in Wolverhampton, England in 1993. Her Dad’s a ne’er-do-well aging rocker. Her Mom’s suffering from post-partum depression after the birth of twins boys. And Johanna just wants to get away from them all. So when one of her other brothers shows her an ad for a writing job at a rock and roll magazine, she sends a sample article. She knows nothing about rock music, but she can write and what does she have to lose?