Spy – Figeish

spyDirector: Paul Feig
Title: Spy
Production: Chernin Entertainment, Feigco Entertainment (US)

Paul Feig certainly deserves respect for his inflated and witty methods of giving the audience plenty of punch, but so much is attempted that I felt I was hardly watching a movie and something more like an explosive stand up routine. It is undeniably funny and it will be received with great pleasure from a wild flock of summer entertainment enthusiasts. The laughs collect in different measures, occasionally the self-aware slapstick will get in the way of the more developed commentaries in pursuit of social puns, and the popular culture in particular is rewarded with heavy dosage. Fits of laughter spewed out across the auditorium make oneself hard of hearing for the actual rebound, but the wicked gasps in response to such images as kitchen knifes cleanly splicing there way through flesh were sufficient enough to boost my audience predilections.

Susan Cooper is everything that a CIA agent shouldn’t be: I don’t need to spell out the long list of adjectives. Therefore, you quickly sense that the film’s objective will be to turn this around and make her kick some serious butt out in the field, instead of being cooped up behind her staunched desk with Miranda Hart. I say Miranda Hart because she sticks out like a snapping branch in the wind, though unfortunately the only miscast in what is a very attributable supporting cast. Jason Statham is uproarious as the trouper agent Rick who is an unconditional fool to believe in his dexterities, but has the warm heart underneath it all to compensate; the soul of a child even. I must note that Carlos Ponce’s character treats Italians so unfavourably and with such misunderstanding that I found it painful to watch: yes, men can lust woman, but seriously?

Thankfully, there are a few surprises along the way, but this is largely due in part to the revelations not making a whole lot of sense. When you whittle it down, the infiltrated domain of this arms dealer has no reason to exist other than to serve the surface proceedings. There is no explanation or commentary here on the severity of such dealings, but no harm done as the film is well to not be interested in such matters. Just try and imagine a logical way to reach a storyline where you become the guardian to your very own rogue. No spoilers here.

There is obvious reason why espionage outings are often given the thriller bonus rather than comedy: I doubt a member of the international intelligence goes about their jobs making a fool of themselves. Of course, this is thoroughly naïve of me, a comedy can come and go as it pleases, particularly one constructed in a spoof factory. Jonny English was novel and every attempt since has been misguided, for starters, why are these films made? An individual being totally inept at their jobs does not enrich comedy; rather it is in the working of normality where we can find the most enriching moments of hilarity. I cannot help in taking a critical standpoint to these films. Comedy is by nature a particular activity that is found in unique sensibilities (it is the delivery of a comedian that lures us), but films like Spy seek to codify conventions and displace the charm that should be associated with comedy.

spy_weaponsTo fully suspend any disbelief with this breed of film requires your inner gremlin to go through some form of cathartic release. It means embracing the consistent malfunction of life on the screen and converting it into hollow hedonisms. In other words, aim to let the thought “this is just ridiculous” rest in the back of your mind and bury it there for the duration of a spectacle that successfully completes a full-scale turnaround of glees. The film does have intelligence and it could easily be ten times worse, but can’t anything be so?

Now that the honest niggles are out of the way, I can say that Spy was a good film. 3/5

Sex Tape – Laughable Crap!

1138130 - SEX TAPESex Tape (US/2014)

UK Release by Columbia Pictures – 3rd September 2014

Directed by Jake Kasdan 

Whilst you may be having a fit about how bad this movie is, I ask you to look beyond how it appears and laugh at the satire it presents of the age we live in. Indeed, the plain fact that a film has been made about a couple that looses their sex tape in the cloud is laughable, but oddly peculiar and admirable. It is a simple concept that screams bad movie, but the film is relevant, somewhat bizarre and an awakening of how online (or should I say Apple driven) our society is; yes, beware it is a cosmic scale ad for Apple.

Each character is foolishly pleasant. Annie couldn’t be played by anyone other than Cameron Diaz (or the film would make zilch) and Jason Segel who is squeamishly admirable plays her husband, Jay. Annie’s boss Hank (Rob Lowe) is entertaining as a middle-aged CEO desperate for a line of cocaine once the family are out and with an ego great enough to forge his appearance onto iconic works of art hanging up in the home. Annie and Jay’s best friends, Robby and his wife Tess (Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper) are simply just desperate to get hold of the sex tape and indulge in the fantasy themselves. This is cringe warfare, but if you let your hair down it can at times be raucous laughs, especially when things turn bonkers at Hank’s house in search for the tape. However, there are moments that could have been more intriguing and it is arguably a weak effort from a strong writing team of Kate Angelo, Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller.

It is clear that Jay is a character that is still tongue-in-cheek about the fact that he ever scored with Annie and, consequently, it is amusing watching him lust over her and become frustrated at managing the relationship. In fact, the chemistry between Annie and Jay is the best thing this movie has going for it, they are actually relatable in their playful manner, even when they act like children. I am assuming that we have all acted childish with our partner once in a while? Anyway, if you want to watch what is essentially laughable crap with your partner, this is it!

Side note: if you are wondering what nudity is on show here, the movie shouldn’t disappoint!

2.5/5 stars

 

Magic in the Moonlight – It is Woody Allen

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Magic in the Moonlight (US, 2014)

UK Release by Sony Pictures Classics – 19th September 2014

Written and Directed by Woody Allen

Brief Synopsis: A profound romantic comedy about a pessimistic yet largely successful magician sent to unmask a likely fraud in the South of France.

Woody Allen manages to dispel a number of his perilous qualms surrounding mortality and the meaning of life into this loveably quotable and highly imaginative little picture. My favourite line from the film being: “You’re born, you commit on crime, and then you’re sentenced to death.” It is simply a delight for fans. There is ample intelligence to be sourced beneath the dialogue and turn of events in this film; it is a lesson in existentialism and it will open up a wonder of insightful queries for your mind to dwell on (but, don’t dwell for too long!). There are illustrious characters in tasteful dramatic conflict, elegant costumes, classy music, amiable and warm cinematography and just about whatever else you’d expect from Allen. However, if you aren’t a fan of Allen’s work, forget it, you will hate the film!

The plot is straightforward and the twist is undeniable, but this is no reason not to seep with enjoyment. In this case, one can know what to expect from Allen and that be the pure reason for the enjoyment. The charm and wit of his filmmaking is on show and it is an admirable trait, so thoroughly grounded in his vast body of work that we can forgive the odd slip-up and count it for bonus points.

Colin Firth plays the pessimistic magician who acts as we imagine Allen himself would; the character evidently explores Allen’s feelings and beliefs, as every good writer hopes to achieve through their characterisation. Firth is cast well and acts with the clear self-loathing and doubt that is needed for the typically unfriendly hermit. Although, I continue to struggle with his persona, the sly appearance that finds its way into all his films. However, it fits the character here, so the traits merge rather uncannily. Every turning point for Firth is leaps and bounds and one might feel a gurgle of over-acting, yet in the world of this hopeless world, the latter becomes manageable and a flamboyant image of the 20s. At times, I would have found the film more appealing if Allen had taken on the role, no doubt he would have been flapping all over the place, but he might have carried off the part with greater conviction (because he would be playing himself). This reminds me of Kenneth Branagh’s performance of an Allen archetype in Celebrity, which was spot-on; unfortunately, with Firth that isn’t the case so you have to give him an alternate epitome.

Emma Stone, dare I say, is somewhat divine in her portrayal of the young socialite spirit seeker. She is the perfect gauge of timid and alluring. Every subtle gesture can be read a number of ways, and it becomes clear that everyone is falling head over heels for her intriguing ways. There is the comedy that Stone brings to the character that excels; one can imagine a young woman travelling away from America in the 20s to be having just as much fun and commotion. Her obsessive admirer and the rest of his family are catastrophically ludicrous and provide much amusement in the way of tantalising prose and burlesque behaviour. Allen’s characters always sound wildly fictitious, yet they frankly resonate in conveying the truth behind certain ways of human beings and thus implement profound meanings. This makes a film special, and for me it is what makes Allen’s so enthralling.

There is a curious substance in Allen’s films that is hard to expound, it is neatly wrapped up in his pictures; the ingredient might be a direct belief explicated to the audience but without the bite; it is a piece of an artists integrity. Allen’s genius has not wavered despite what many critics say; the Allen that many of us know and love is still there to enjoy and explore further, as every new picture entails. I believe audiences get lazy when an artist grows old; I say stop reminiscing over Annie Hall and view each picture in the light of a fresh or, rather, more refined soul. Magic in the Moonlight explores the meaning of life and its inexplicable possibilities more head on than ever before; one way of looking at it is that the poor man still has no answers to life and its multifarious frustrations!

4.5/5 

Short Reflections from the Silver Screen: Play it Again, Sam

Play-It-Again-Sam

Play it Again, Sam

US. 1972. Herbert Ross

This is a very funny Woody Allen, I was laughing throughout at his endless Woodyisms and neurotic behaviours. In one scene, at his apartment covered in Humphrey Bogart movie posters, I laughed so loud and hard, I felt more awkward than Allen does himself in this film. And, there are some very awkward, almost squeamish, moments; most of which amount to Allen’s failing attempts at finding, or even approaching, a new girlfriend.

This may sound cliché and corny, but the script (based on Allen’s stage play) is tight, active and ends charmingly; Casablanca’s ending is recycled wonderfully; the film has a remarkably fresh pace.

The chemistry between Allen and Diane Keaton foreshadows their great relationship that would span the decade (working and personal). Allen’s acting, still with its goofy moments, does take a step back from his slapstick frenzy at the time (Take the Money and Run, Bananas, Sleeper) and adds some sentiment and melodramatic weight; it is really the first time that we see Allen play out his actual self. Keaton is a charmer who matches Allen’s offbeat approach; she is also a trendsetter with her fashion in this movie and those to come.

 

*All reflections are from my film journal.

The Family – The Manzoni’s need a chill pill

the_family

In most mob films it’s evident philosophy that the gangsters try to maintain some distance between family life and business. This is not so with the Manzoni’s, they are a mob, and they all feed off each other’s mishaps.

It’s refreshing to see Robert de Niro at home in playing Giovanni Manzoni (a great gangster name, by the way) as he blunders around, in contradiction of the witness protection restraining orders in place on the family, condemning trivial enemies to savage beatings with various tools (a sledgehammer and baseball bat, to name a few). It’s a reminder of why we thought of him as so great in the first place: De Niro is capable of honest warmth and love for his family whilst, at the same time, holding at bay his psychopathic tendencies which we’re always subliminally aware of. Michelle Pfeiffer, who plays Maggie, the wife, gets to toy with a role she has so perfectly executed in the past (Scarface, Married to the Mob) after a recovery of working sparingly for over a decade. Not to mention that she still looks amazing and manages to pull of a likable character, even though she has committed so many sins that even the priest is shocked and henceforth refuses her presence at the church. It’s a wonderful mix.

Another veteran in the mix is Tommy Lee Jones, who plays Stansfield, the main man assigned to overlooking the Manzoni’s case. Jones is his usual deadpan perfect self and has a few moments of invaluable countenance appearing next to De Niro. Stansfield is indeed given a hard time trying to keep the Manzoni’s at bay!

Luc Besson approaches the subject in a refreshing, witty and light nature. Despite mixed reviews, The Family is no different from Besson’s entertaining and chic approach, held across the board of his filmography, from Nikita to The Lady. He is not afraid of big, flashy action sequences, when the story demands it, but when he takes this direction he does so with a pleasant dose of over-the-top humour and a flair comparable to Tarantino. Although in this film, not meant to be seen entirely as a farce comedy, Besson doesn’t shy away from various in-jokes and occasional moments of sporadic tongue-in-check moments; moments I actually laughed at.

de_niro

Giovanni’s previous life is brought to attention when we see snippets of a previous mobster gang stewing in a rather luxurious prison cell – a refrigerator, music, and jail guards acting as servants? No doubt, Giovanni ratted out this gang, hence his current position under a witness protection plan in Normandy, France, and the gang being obsessed to find the Manzoni’s and literally blow them off the face of the Earth.

The way in which the Manzoni’s cover is blown is unequivocally whimsical and daft. It’s one of the many lunatic moments in this movie, others include: Maggie blowing up a French supermarket for not stocking peanut butter, Belle (the daughter) blooding the face of a creep with a tennis racket and Warren (the son) constructing a coalition to deliver vicious payback on bullies. This isn’t great cinema but it’s certainly good fun.

It’s not all fun however, some subplots just don’t work – whether this was intentional, I’m not sure. For example, Belle’s romance with the Math teacher, her despair over the fact he was the love of her life, and the families offbeat relationship with the Feds across the street. Giovanni’s attempts at being a writer also seem a little discharged and despondent.

A fantastic in-joke worth noting is when Giovanni is asked to perform a debate on an American classic at the local film society. Ironically the film that ended up screening was Scorsese’s Goodfellas – Giovanni’s typecasting on the film is a gigantic triumph with the residents who all stand up in astonishing applause.

To sum up, The Family is a deliberately eccentric, chirpy, violent and hit or miss film with just enough moments of inspiration to permit a recommendation. Be prepared for weird, different, but good.

3 stars.

We’re The Millers – I laughed in the Outtakes

we're_the_millers

We’re the Millers is one of those distinctly predictable road trip stories with a foreseeable plot and a script that is being asked for a sharpening. However, in a summer that has delivered such comedic miscarriages as Grown Ups 2 and The Hangover Part III, We’re the Millers could essentially be observed as a somewhat desirable reprieve.

This lowbrow comedy is permeated with crude jokes and bad language for easy laughs. However, this intention does not work in the films favour, rather the nonconformist casting adds an unexpected conception of innocence in scenes that could otherwise be offensive. That is not to say there is much about We’re The Millers that is in good taste, in fact, it’s pretty tasteless apart from occasional bundles of sweet-natured sentimentality – though this sentiment is, indeed, still rather cheap.

I get the feeling, director Rawson Marshall Thurber (celebrated for Dodgeball) sat down with his four screenwriters, shared a few beers, and formulated the wildest characters in the most bizarre situations. But, these characters are utterly flawed; I certainly had difficulty in believing that, good guy, Jason Sudeikis (playing David) is a veteran drug dealer, or that Jennifer Aniston (playing Rose) is a stripper. We are even lucky enough to see Anniston on the job, with indications that are no doubt meant to be tormenting but look utterly contrived and unconvincing. Though, in fairness, there is a hint that, underneath it all, they are designed to be misunderstood characters – after all, Aniston quits her job when the rules change and she learns strippers must have sex with their clients. She even ends up with a happy ‘family’ come the end of the film.

My few laughs came from rudimentary scenes that were pulled off as harmless fun. The scenes in which an experimenting lesbian fondles Jennifer Aniston’s breasts and a monster spider bites Will Poulter’s testicles, offer some injudicious chortles. The film unfortunately carries its exact potential – an inane Hollywood prototypical tale about drugs, sex and family – with a foreseeable and polished ending. However, then the outtakes appear and I find myself suddenly awakened and laughing; in particular the end outtake with the Friends theme tune “I’ll be there for you”. This was fresh and atypically pleasing on Anniston’s character – if only the whole film mirrored this moment.

Will Poulter (Kenny) steals the show for me and, not far behind is Julia Roberts’ daughter, Emma Roberts (Kasey). It is a play-off between a geeky recluse and an all too streetwise kid. Poulter prospers as a nerd; the scene involving a kissing lesson with his ‘sister’ and ‘mum’ is particularly impressive, the facial expressions are not to be missed. Sudeikis’s character does also manage to expose a few laughs in relation to references from Meryl Streep to Oprah Winfrey.

Though the narrative is exasperatingly meek, there is still some inconsistency. For example, it appears David and Rose are suddenly worrying a great deal about the decisions that Kenny and particularly Kasey are making when, the scene before, they couldn’t have cared less about acting like parents. I think a scene showing how David and Rose came to care for Kenny and Kasey must have been misplaced in the editing process.

All in all, don’t expect any life changing lessons from this buoyant, down-market comedy, but you may cope with an overworked laugh or two.

It’s 2 stars from me, although We’re the Millers wasn’t too far off scraping a commonplace 3.