Film Review: Good Boys

Sixth Grade is a tough time for any kid. Hormones are starting to fly around, you’re finding your way in life a little more and seeking independence from your parents, while at the same time still seeking solace under their protective ‘wings’. And all the while, you’re forming friendships that are likely to last at least up until adulthood, if not for the rest of your life. Sixth grade might just be the making of a person.

Such is the situation for Max, Lucas and Thor (The self titled Bean Bag Boys and the heroes of Good Boys), three 6th grade friends living in a smart suburb of an unnamed American city as they prepare for their first ‘kissing party’. Sadly though, their preparation doesn’t go smoothly, leading to a series of misadventures that although often bordering on the ridiculous, are highly entertaining.

‘Good Boys’ is a coming of age adventure with a healthy slice of slapstick thrown in for good measure. Having been invited to their first ever ‘kissing party’ by the school cool kid, Soren, the boys set out to do some research. After all, if you’re heading for a kissing party, you’d better know just how to kiss, right? And Max is smitten with classmate Brixlee and desperate to grab a smooch with her.

So, in the name of research and with no thought whatsoever for privacy, the boys borrow an expensive drone from Max’s dad and set out to film a neighbour kissing her boyfriend. So far, so good…nothing to see here! Surely, nothing can go wrong? But the Bean Bag Boys’ drone experiment in fact goes badly – and oh so predictably – wrong and as a result they inadvertently make enemies of their neighbour Hannah (she of the kissing with the boyfriend) and her friend, Lily. Even though the boys eventually get to their kissing party, they are forced to learn some harsh lessons from their mistakes in the days afterwards. This is often to hilarious effect and although at times the humour is near the knuckle and perhaps a bit silly, I found myself laughing along all the way through.

Writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, known for their work on The Office, deserve great credit for the words that they put in the mouths of babes here, as it’s often brilliantly incongruous and hilariously – and deliberately – inaccurate. Seth Rogen, one of the producers of the film, has clearly had a chunk of input here too. The boys’ take on various aspects of sex and drugs is a hilarious mix of total myth, complete rubbish and dangerous stereotypes which is guaranteed to raise more than the odd chuckle.

In their quest to replace the expensive drone – which is inevitably destroyed – and avoid their now mortal enemies, Hannah and Lily, the Bean Bag Boys find themselves thrust into several dangerous adventures that are navigated with typical pre-teen innocence so that they can reach an out of town mall. But it’s not just these trials and tribulations that make up the coming of age story and as a result of the kissing party the boys learn some things about friendship and each other that they would have never suspected in their previous lives sitting in their ban bag den playing games.

Good Boys is a great, feel-good film. The comedy here is sharp, the characters well written and if at times the twists and turns of the narrative are nothing short of ridiculously unbelievable, it doesn’t matter. Good Boys is one of those films where you’ll need to suspend your sense of reality and just enjoy the action, however daft it might get. Ultimately you’ll want the boys to get the drone, stay friends and keep the feel-good factor…but once all of their escapades are over, will there be a happy ending for Max, Lucas and Thor?

I’d give Good Boys

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Book Review: Anti Social by Nick Pettigrew

I thought I knew what an Anti-Social Behaviour Officer was before I read this book. I had them pegged as being akin to a Community Support Officer in the police and so I imagined this would be the book version of shows like ‘999 What’s Your Emergency?’ The odd fight, neighbours who play their music too loud and a lot of time wasters. And then I read the book.

Nick Pettigrew fell into a career as an Anti-Social Behaviour Officer in the way that many of us have fallen into a career. He came out of university with the kind of degree that doesn’t have an obvious next step (bloody English!) and before he knew it, was taking a job that he didn’t know a great deal about. Lots of us have done it. I did it. Over two decades after leaving university I’m still in a job that I once told my wife I’d “probably give a couple of years”. Fortunately, I love what I do, so although I can’t help but wonder what might have been if I’d have had an actual plan, there are no regrets. But then, my job doesn’t involve regularly dealing with problems ranging from noise nuisance to crack addicts.

‘Anti-Social’ is Pettigrew’s memoir of his time in what sounds like a tremendously testing and frequently unrewarding job as an Anti-Social Behaviour Officer in a local authority in London. A job he fell into and then gave his all to for over a decade before finding that he could no longer cope with the conditions in which he worked every day. And these weren’t what some of us might call ‘testing’ conditions, like having to sit on an uncomfortable chair or huffing and puffing about the fact that the stationary order was taking a bit long in arriving. No, Pettigrew worked with and represented some of the most vulnerable members of society in one of the busiest cities in the world.

So while some days were dominated by what Pettigrew might call routine investigations, inspecting flats and collecting evidence of noise nuisance, many others were spent trying to help the neighbours of drug dealers or battling to save the tenancies of incredibly vulnerable people with appalling mental health problems. Put simply, Pettigrew often gave every ounce of his energy and time helping those that wouldn’t admit they needed help or those who simply couldn’t help themselves. In fact, his diary tells us that his working days were often spent in vain, trying to help people who were a dangerous combination of both.

‘Anti-Social’ is a book that should shock you. In fact, if you think you have problems with every day life, then this book might just provide the antidote. While I probably spend too long moaning about life’s smaller problems, some of the cases that Pettigrew documents here left me in tears. Some of the powerlessness and some of the blatant exploitation of society’s most vulnerable is truly haunting. And all the while Pettigrew struggled with his own mental health, as documented at the start of every monthly chapter when he indicates to the reader his own current medication, accompanied by his newly changed and usually deeply ironic password.

The book is brilliantly written. Obviously the real life nature of it lends itself beautifully to an ever more engaging narrative, but what makes ‘Anti-Social’ stand out is its dark sense of humour. Often, the same tale is likely to have you tearing your hair out and close to tears while at the same time laughing at the way it’s told. There’s a certain dark irony in a lot of the problems that are discussed that makes the book both addictive and alarming in equal measure. And while ‘Anti-Social’ will introduce you to a dark side of society that you were perhaps unaware of, it will also expose human stupidity at its most hilarious with a deadpan tone that will help you to smile or laugh your way through the horror that is often unfolding on its pages.

If you enjoyed ‘This is Going to Hurt’ by Adam Kay then ‘Anti-Social’ is a logical next step. Similarly funny, maddeningly frustrating, but also fantastically engaging. The kind of book where what you’re being told makes you want to put it down, yet not put it down at all.

In what some all too often refer to as dark, desperate times, ‘Anti-Social’ should be a wake-up call to all of us. Yes, a series of lockdowns caused by a ham-fisted reaction to a global pandemic has made the last year or so undoubtedly tough. But if you’ve still got a job, can get out for a walk every so often, can afford to just sit and watch television for any length of time or you just still have your health in some semblance of working order, then you probably don’t know you’re born. Reading ‘Anti-Social’ might just help you stop feeling so sorry for yourself. Thank Christ for people like Pettigrew!

I’d give ‘Anti-Social’ by Nick Pettigrew

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Book Review – The Boy on The Shed by Paul Ferris

Paul Ferris was a young man who had it all. The looks, the intelligence, the talent and the style. Okay, maybe not the style, given that this was the early 1980s where style was confined to the drawer marked ‘Things that the 80s forgot’. None of us had style in the 80s. Put the phrase ’80s style’ into Google Images if you don’t believe me. The results are like those in a ‘Who can mix the worst colours in one outfit’ competition.

But back to Paul Ferris. His autobiography tells the tale of a lad who had it all, only to lose it cruelly on more than one occasion. And while this sounds like quite the heart-breaking read, it actually makes for a brilliantly original book and one that I’d wholly recommend people pick up.

Ferris should have been someone who scaled the same footballing heights as his one time team mate, Paul Gascoigne, a player often described as the most naturally gifted footballer that these islands have ever produced. Such was his talent – and his country of birth, being Northern Ireland – that comparisons were also quickly drawn with the legend that is George Best. He was gifted, dedicated and eager to learn, and so when he was scouted by and eventually signed for Newcastle United, his future looked bright.

Paul’s story was never going to be simple though. Brought up amongst sectarian violence in the city of Lisburn south of Belfast, there seems to have always been an edge to his childhood. Add to that his worries about his sick mother and you’ve already got an engaging story. But, surrounded by love and encouragement, Paul flourished. His natural talent with a ball at his feet soon became clear and suddenly he was faced with a choice – stay at home and pursue his education or risk everything, including the love of his life, and move to England to follow a dream and escape the troubles of his home town.

‘The Boy on The Shed’ is simply brilliant. Undoubtedly a book for football fans, but at the same time the kind of tale that anyone will enjoy. This is so much more than just a sporting autobiography. Ferris seems to have the world at his feet and yet every time he looks like making a big breakthrough – and not only in football – a cruel twist of fate appears to slap him round the chops. Undaunted, he keeps on getting up and fighting on, even when the setbacks seem like they’ll leave him with little or no fight left.

Ultimately, ‘The Boy on The Shed’ is the classic underdog story. And it won’t spoil your enjoyment to hear that there’s a happy ending. But along the way Ferris’s life seems to be blighted by pitfalls, tragedy and simple bad luck. Just when you think he’s going to catch a break another setback appears and he’s back, unfortunately, to whatever you call the bit that comes before square one! In a tale and a career that takes in professional sport, medicine, law and even writing novels, all you want for Ferris as a reader, is to be happy. And at times it seems like he never will be. Delightfully though, he makes it in the end.

‘The Boy on The Shed’ is a joy to read. Brilliantly written with intelligence and good humour and crammed full of the kinds of stories you’d expect from a life spent in and around professional football, it’s a must read. Whether you’re a sports fan or not I’d urge you to pick up this book. It’s the kind of story that has you rooting for the protagonist – and in this case it’s a real life that we’re reading about. Paul Ferris may not be a name that you’ve ever heard of, but he’ll become a person that you end up caring about. A likeable underdog who gets there in the end.

I loved ‘The Boy on The Shed’ so I’m giving it nothing short of…

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Feel free to leave a comment – I’d love to hear what you made of the book if you get around to picking it up.

Film Review: Overlord

OVERLORD | British Board of Film Classification

If you’ve ever wondered what the world would have looked like if Germany had triumphed in World War II, you may well have come up with some or all of the following answers.

  • Lots and lots of blonde, blue eyed people, like an incredibly efficient version of Baywatch. (Ironically, given his dark hair, David Hasselhoff would still have had a place because of the affection that he’s held in in Germany. He did, after all, single-handedly bring down the Berlin Wall).
  • Trains that ran on time. All of the time.
  • The obligatory picture of the family in ledherhosen on every mantelpiece.
  • Lots and lots of mullets.
  • Everybody can take a penalty, whatever the pressure. (This is a football gag…soccer, if you’re not familiar with what football actually is).
  • Of course I jest. The world wouldn’t look anything like this generalised tuetonic view…

What you probably wouldn’t have imagined though, would have been any supercharged zombies. But then, you probably haven’t watched ‘Overlord’.

Directed by Julius Avery and starring Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell and Mathilde Olivier, Overlord tells the tale of an American army units’ seemingly doomed mission to take out a vital communications tower prior to the D Day landings. We find our heroes in a plane, heading for Northern France and a remote village where the Nazis have set up some kind of communications hub in an old church. As you do. If the allied troops are to succeed on the beaches of Normandy this tower needs to be taken out. If it’s not, then the Nazis will be able to intercept allied radio communication and will inevitably be slaughtered. Over to you, American heroes.

However, when their plane comes under heavy artillery fire and ends up in flames you realise that this is going to be in no way a straightforward tale of big ol’ Uncle Sam saving the day. A bit like WWII, really. But, some of our parachuting heroes survive – I mean, it’d have been a short film otherwise – and head towards the target village in order to complete their mission. Game on!

If you, rightly, thought that Hitler’s plans for the Aryan race were unpalatable, then you’d be truly horrified by what our heroes find in the village and subsequently the church.

Overlord marries a dystopian vision with some of the most warped elements of horror to give us a quite absurd, yet compelling twist on the classic war film. You’ll find tons of clichés, heroes, villains, a little bit of glamour in the form of French villager Chloe played by Mathilde Olivier, but you’ll also find jump scares aplenty and a horrifically warped version of what the Reich were cooking up – literally – via their crazed scientists. Is it believable? Well, no. Is it watchable? Hell, yes!

Overlord is no emotional roller coaster. There are no life-changing performances here. However, it’s sure to keep you gripped and brighten up a dull day with its sometimes utterly fantastical plot.

If you’re not too bothered about realism, if you enjoy a bit of gore and if you fancy a war film with a twist, then Overlord is very definitely worth a couple of hours of your time.

I give Overlord