Spy (2015)

Spy (2015)

Melissa McCarthy doesn’t get offered the kind of roles that she deserves. She’s been faced with plenty of utter shit and several hit-and-miss roles since her breakout performance in 2001’s Bridesmaids. As someone who has loved her since I first watched The Gilmore Girls, I’ve been disappointed with the amount of her roles that just rely on her size to get laughs. Although, she and Paul Fieg are proving to be a pretty great double-act. Bridesmaidsis still celebrated for its female-centric comedy and I was surprised to find that, despite my misgivings, The Heatwas actually pretty good. The problem with the duo’s films is the way they are marketed. They have to appeal to the male film audience as well so I’m never wowed by the trailers. I was devastated when I first saw the trailer for Spybut I knew I’d still end up seeing it. Such is my love of McCarthy.

Paul Fieg isn’t exactly treading new ground with his spoof of spy thrillers but he is using his latest film to bely the genre’s sexist history by continuing to showcase funny women. Joining Melissa McCarthy are Rose Byrne (her Bridesmaids co-star), Allison Janney and Miranda Hart. Whilst the latest James Bond film, Skyfall, was criticised for the use of female characters, Spy makes a point of taking its Miss Moneypenny figure and turns her into a profanity-spewing, kick-ass spy.
Susan Cooper is a CIA agent who has been relegated to a desk job where she provides technological backup for superstar agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) who she is hopelessly in love with. Fine has been attempting to track down a bomb and, when he is killed on duty, Susan offers to enter the field to finish his task. Of course, her bosses and co-workers aren’t exactly thrilled a the idea as Susan has the general air of a tragic, crazy cat lady type. She falls to pieces in front of a younger and more successful female spy and can’t help saying and doing the wrong thing.
Although, Spy isn’t an American Johnny English where the bumbling Susan accidentally finds victory whilst fucking everything up. Susan, it turns out, is a fucking brilliant spy who is actually a pretty terrifying opponent. Melissa McCarthy does a great job of playing each facet of Susan’s character. Although, there is still a sense within the plot that the comedy arises from the fact that female spies are an unlikely thing. At her funniest, Susan is heard spouting endless streams of insults and profanity as if to prove that females must push-aside their femininity in order to succeed at both the spy thriller and comedy.
Although, McCarthy’s comic timing is as sharp as ever and gets plenty of opportunity whilst reacting to the fancy gadgets and disguises her boss (Allison Janney) creates for her. Instead of fancy cars, pens and mobile phones that James Bond and co get to play with, Susan is left with her own special kit of rape whistle/poison dart, stool softener/antidote, and a large pack of haemorrhoid wipes that can melt a guys face off or something. McCarthy does a great job considering most of the humour is derived from her age and frumpy look. At least it makes it more satisfying when she gets her real-spy make-over.
She certainly makes a more memorable spy-figure than Jude Law as the traditional Bond figure. He does everything he should to portray the smarmy agent – pouting, flirting with pretty young things during a getaway, unflinching self-esteem, and witty quips – but nothing more. Law just coasts in his role and is never really given the chance to prove he is anything more than a face in a suit. Unlike Jason Statham who plays an angry, meat-head agent who disagrees with Susan’s methods. Statham reels off complicated soliloquies about how tough his time as an agent has been and just how many tricky situations he’s got himself out of. It’s a parody of the roles he has become known for so can’t have been much of a stretch for Statham but it is much more pleasurable to watch.
As Fieg has proved time and again, there is something that works so well when women bounce off other women. Rose Byrne has a great deal of screen time as villain, Rayna Boyanov, where she is both disgusted by and impressed with Susan. Bryne doesn’t exactly have the role of her career but she does provide some laughs as the fairly incompetent but deadly Rayna. Of course, the real friendship that works throughout the film is the relationship between Susan and her fellow analyst Miranda Hart, in her Hollywood debut. Hart tags along as the clumsy and awkward sidekick in a way that isn’t too different from her sitcom character. It’s not necessarily the strongest comic debut in movie history but Hart does enough to suggest she’ll be back for much more. Especially her work alongside rapper 50 Cent.

Spyis something of a mixed-bag really. There are enough laughs to keep audiences amused and most of its stars to flourish. It’s refreshing to watch a film of this genre give all of its best lines to women and allow them to take centre-stage. It’s something Fieg and McCarthy have become known for and it is comforting in prior to his all female Ghostbusters reboot. However, the plot isn’t exactly ground-breaking and some of the humour just fizzles out. The problem lies with the long-line of spy spoofs that we have been subjected to over the years. The plot is the same kind of silly, nonsensical narrative that simply facilitates the many action scenes. It’s just a shame that Spycomes across as more tired and pathetic than the CIA’s view of Susan. 
TBT – Jurassic Park (1993)

TBT – Jurassic Park (1993)

As soon as I heard that 22 years had passed since Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park I had a mild panic attack. Despite the fact I definitely won’t have seen it when I was 5, there’s nothing like another reminder about the unstoppable passage of time. Jurassic Park is one of those films that you don’t mind watching over and over again because it will always be something of a spectacle. Of course, it can’t be denied that the technology has moved on since it came out and it may look a little dated to those who have been spoilt by current techniques. However, there’s a reason that Spielberg’s dino-fest is constantly being recognised as one of the most influential films of all time. I can’t remember just how many times I’ve watched it but I still get that same thrill upon seeing that first dinosaur that I did the first time. It’s fucking brilliant.

Do I really need to discuss the plot of this film? Has anyone in the world not seen it yet? Just in case this blog in encountering some kind of real-life Kimmy Schmidt I suppose I better had. Eccentric billionaire pays scientists to clone dinosaurs using some plot-holey scientific techniques and decides to open a theme park. In order to get the bank to let him open, wealthy billionaire invites experts to the island. Disaster happens, dinosaurs escape and drama ensues… with added sexy Goldblum.
Jurassic Park took Michael Chrichton’s novel and made it a huge blockbuster that is still just as relevant and awe-inspiring today as it was 22 years ago. It has been universally praised since its release for its stunning visual effects, the perfect musical score and Spielberg’s superb direction. It’s the kind of film that you break down into memorable chunks that will stay with you forever. There isn’t anyone who isn’t aware of John William’s motif that kicks in when Dr Grant first sees the park in all its glory. Just as the famous water ripple scene has been referenced and parodied more times than anyone could ever possibly count.
Technically, Jurassic Parkhelped to kick off a revolution in the film industry about the potential of visual effects. It’s no wonder the film’s Oscar success came from its technical prowess. Spielberg and co. had shown just what was possible with computer generated visual effects and inspired many great film-makers to push the boundaries even further. Of course this too had its negatives considering that Industrial Light and Magic’s work on the film helped push George Lucas into making the Star Wars prequels.
Jurassic Parkdoes exactly what we needed it to: it showed us some dinosaurs and they were good. What it doesn’t do quite so spectacularly is the rest of it. There is no problem with Spielberg’s creatures but there are plenty with their human counterparts. The narrative between the visual displays leave something to be desired and to say the main characters are underdeveloped would suggest that the women in a Michael Bay film are as deep as the fucking Pacific Ocean. The human’s in the narrative are basically just a group of people who exist to scream in the right moments, debate the morality of scientific advancement and run really fucking fast.
Richard Attenborough was convinced to come out of retirement to play John Hammond, the man who has the dream to open the dino-filled theme park, but looking back it’s hard to see what convinced him. Hammond is a jolly, grandfather who has a few chuckley comic moments but isn’t really as grand and powerful as he should be. He gets a bit of drama when his grandchildren find themselves facing a hungry T-Rex but the character is nowhere near as fleshed out as he deserved to be.
The other characters all fall into the forgettable category which of course might have something to do with their attention-grabbing co-stars. The dull and stoic Dr Grant (Sam Neill) and the kind, kind of kick-ass Ellie Satler (Laura Dern) just don’t stand out when they’re fighting a velociraptor not only for their lives but for screen time. In fact, the only real human to come out of this fighting is rock-star, chaotician Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). Goldblum is given as little to work with as his fellow human actors but is responsible for one of the most memorable scenes in movie history. Ian Malcolm is the only character who offers enough humour and ridiculousness to battle against the visuals. Goldblum, er, finds a way.
The narrative just doesn’t provide enough opportunity for the humans to really get their teeth into the action. Having never read Chrichton’s novel, I have no idea how faithful an adaptation it is but I have to hope, for his sake, that it’s taken a few liberties. There’s nothing really inspiring to the plot and is only worked to give Spielberg as many chances for big action sequences as possible. Not that I’m really complaining. They’re the tits.
However, there are more than a few plot strands that just don’t work as well as they should. The subplot of Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) and his attempt to steal dino-embryos is just the worst breed of sitcom nonsense. It even has Knight pratfalling whenever the opportunity arises. I know that it’s strictly meant to be a kids movies but I have to question Spielberg’s decision to focus on snot, vomit and clumsy chubby guys to get laughs.
There are some fine moments in the film but the narrative is slow to get going. The first scene that Dr Grant and Ellie see the real-life versions of the bones they’ve been digging up for years is simply astounding. Some of the discussions about Hammond’s morality and sanity are glorious. However, Spielberg has decided to make a monster movie so the tone quickly changes to “fuck there’s a dinosaur, RUN!” The rest of the narrative just drags a little and an audience may find themselves waiting for their next big thrill, which might explain why there are so many plot-holes. At least it makes the great base for a drinking game.

Thankfully, the thrills are so fucking amazing that it’s possible to ignore all the narrative nonsense. The two major set-pieces involving a T-Rex attacking a tour-car and raptors getting all up in the kitchen are still some of the most effective action sequences around. I guess we could sit here for hours and lament the kind of film that Jurassic Parkmight have been. I don’t want to. Jurassic Parkdoes what it wanted to and, to be honest, it does it well. Spielberg wanted to make Jawswith dinosaurs and he fucking nailed it.
Jurassic World (2015)

Jurassic World (2015)

I, like everyone else of a certain age, felt fucking old when I realised it’s been 22 years since the Stephen Spielberg’s original dinosaur film. film came out. Admittedly, I was only 5 at the time so didn’t watch it til a few years later. I’m not ashamed to tell you I was fucking terrified after that first viewing. I couldn’t sleep thanks to the vicious Dilophosaurus and its spitty ways. Yes, Nedry was a dick who caused the deaths of many people, but nobody deserves that. Anyway, it’s safe to say that subsequent viewings have been much more successful and I love Steven Spielberg’s dino-epic as much as it deserves. In it’s day, Jurassic Parkwas one of the best visual displays on show and it still fills me with excitement to see that first glimpse of the park’s residents in all their glory. However, you can’t deny that the sequels have left a little to be desired. The Lost World was good enough until they stuck another Godzillainspired film on the end but Jurassic Park 3was just abysmal. So Spielberg brought out the big guns and dress Star Lord up as Indiana Jones and gave him a raptor army. Fucking awesome. Hold onto your butts.

The worst thing about the events of Jurassic Parkwas that we never really got to see John Hammond’s vision for a dinosaur theme park. We didn’t see the attractions in all of their glory. I can’t imagine anyone in 1993 who left the cinema and didn’t immediately want to pack up for a trip to Isla Nublar and seeing the exhibits themselves. Even with all the death. Imagining what it would have been like to see the kind of attractions Hammond and his buddies could have created is something that has kept fans entertained for the last 22 years.
Jurassic World understands the appeal of the dinosaurs as attractions so opens with a fully fledged park that has been enjoying a steady stream of visitors for a while. We see shiny new rides, feeding shows and dinosaur souvenirs. Crowds are able to enjoy watching a Mosasaurus swallow a shark whole as though they’re at fucking Sea World. If it weren’t for the inevitable danger that always turns up in these films, Jurassic World would be at the top of my vacation list.
However, as our society has such a short attention span, after 22 years the novelty of scientists being able to recreate extinct creatures out of old blood has worn off somewhat. People want something new and even more exciting. Thankfully, to make the money crunchers happy, the scientists have offered their own solution: by genetically engineering their own massive dinosaur. Weirdly only one guy thinks that’s a fucking stupid decision. Have these people learnt nothing from the last three films?
Suffice it to say, chaos ensues once the patchwork dino escapes from her cage and begins killing anything that crosses its path. It is up to the park’s resident raptor trainer, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), to use the skills he picked up in the US Navy to help stop the beast and save the visitors. Starting with the young nephews of Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), Jurassic World’s operations manager, who are rolling around the forest into the path of their aunt’s newest attraction. There’s also some guff about using dinosaurs in the military but that’s really just a waste of fucking time and I’m keen to ignore it here.
Of course, Claire and Owen, both being attractive people, have to take part in the obligatory romance plot that I really could have done without. That’s not to say it isn’t handled well. Howard and Pratt have great chemistry and enjoy a playful back and forth that’s reminiscent of Han Solo and Princess Leia. I’m still not sure why someone deemed it necessary to add it on but I guess it made for an interesting side-bar.
Both actors do great jobs all round really and, thankfully, they both get their chance to play the hero. Much has been shown of Pratt and his raptor army riding off to glory but Howard’s Claire has her own fair share of defining moments. The same cannot be said of the supporting cast who, the two young boys aside, lack any kind of definition or development. There is a real lack memorable characters here, something the original had no problem providing for us. There were moments in this film that I even missed fucking Tim.
AlthoughJurassic World is all about the spectacle and boy does it deliver. 22 years is a long time in Hollywood and this new film succeeds in making the original look as old as the creatures it portrays. Although, that’s not to say that it doesn’t respect its predecessor. Director, Colin Trevorrow, is a true Spielberg fanboy and references plenty of his works and trademark style within his blockbuster. Part of the fun will be rewatching and catching everything.
Of course, despite it’s modern techniques, $150 million budget and lovable leading man, Jurassic World was never going to beat the first film. Even in an age where Marvel rules all, Jurassic Park is still one of the greatest and most loved film’s for a generation of film goers. Spielberg created something genuinely tense, exciting and inspiring film: nothing will ever compare. So I won’t. Jurassic World is what it is. A fucking awesome film that’s as fun, silly and over-the-top as you expect from a big budget blockbuster. It’s also clever, thanks to the underlying message about our ever expanding tastes. It works as both a thoughtless Summer cheese fest and a genuine analysis of the film industry itself. I loved it.

Yes, a lot of it doesn’t make sense, is absurd or completely wrong. But we didn’t ask for reality, we asked for more teeth. 
TBT – Batman Begins (2005)

TBT – Batman Begins (2005)

This week marks the 10thanniversary of the film that launched one of the most popular film franchises of all time. 2005 was the first time since 1989 that it was OK to be a film fan who also loves Batman. Batman Beginsset the trend that has plagued Hollywood ever since: the dark comic book reboot. Batman had already been the star of 4 films since in the 16 years prior to the release of Christopher Nolan came along and each subsequent movie had made the supposed dark knight more of a laughing stock. The hero, first created by Bob Kane in 1939, was patiently waiting for the chance to show what he could really do and Nolan and co-writer David S Goyer knew the only way to go was to be super-serious . Nolan’s film was the dark comic book movie that Tim Burton wished he could have made in 1989 and it was a refreshing change. Of course, now it’s just par for the course but Batman Begins was a revelation in 2005. It was fucking exciting.

Batman Beginsstarts a afresh with Batman’s origin and assumes that its audience knows fuck all about the motivation behind Bruce Wayne’s double life. Drawing a lot of inspiration from classic storyline Batman: Year One, Nolan introduces us to the tragedy that shattered Bruce’s childhood and the path he took to give it a positive conclusion. Batman Beginsalmost tries to remove the comic book traces from one of the most popular superheroes as Nolan makes his Gotham City a very realistic pit of poverty, crime and greed. Of course, the Batman myth is never going to be a plausible one but Nolan came the closest to make it happen. His re-imagining of the journey from orphaned young boy to night-time vigilante has such depth that it almost felt like the obvious reaction to your parents murder was dressing up in a cape.
Nolan’s greatest success with the first film in his Dark Knight trilogy was how subtle he was. Batman Beginsforgoes the superhero staple of relying too heavily on action sequences. Nolan places more of a focus on story and character. The film is as much of a success in terms of drama as it does in sheer entertainment. The final act contains the obligatory good vs bad showdown but there is a distinct lack of high-tech action on display. The action sequences use CGI sparingly yet still offer enough visual spectacles to keep explosion nerds more than happy. It has all of the elements you need for a comic book movie but without the blinding sheen that Joel Schumacher dripped over his efforts. It’s understated, it’s held back, and it’s bloody good.
The film features the type of jumpy narrative that Nolan had used so effectively in his previous film Mementoas we piece together Bruce’s past. We first meet the grown Wayne (Christian Bale) after he was arrested trying to steal a crate of his company’s goods. After being visited by the mysterious Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), Bruce treks to the mountain-top retreat of the League of Shadows, an organisation that promises to help him on his path for vengeance. Although, this assistance comes at too large a price, as the League’s leader, Ra’s al Ghul, wants Bruce to help him destroy the city his parents helped build.
Returning alone, Bruce sets out on a more righteous path by defending the people of Gotham from mob boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) and his dangerous ally Dr Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy). Crane’s alter ego, the Scarecrow, is planning to tear Gotham apart using his own brand of hallucinogenic drug. Working alongside police sergeant James Gordan (Gary Oldman) and scientist Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Bruce must stop Crane whilst still keeping his identity a secret.
When it comes down to it, Batman Beginsis the only film of the trilogy in which Batman himself really shines. Christian Bale, growly voice aside, did a great job at getting to the real heart of the character. Considering the film is all about Batman’s origin, the actual murder of Bruce’s parents is fairly perfunctory. It has been dealt with so many times that Nolan gets it out of the way as efficiently as possible. Instead he focuses on the emotional and psychological resonance of that one moment. We see the young Bruce being comforted by a young Jim Gordan and the college-aged Bruce determined to make his parent’s killer pay. This is richer and deeper depiction of Bruce Wayne than we have been treated to yet.
My number one main quibble with Batman Beginsis the romance that Nolan clumsily inserts into the narrative. I’m not saying that romance and Batman shouldn’t go hand-in-hand but I don’t think it works here. That’s partly thanks to the complete lack of chemistry between Bale and Katie Holmes, who plays his childhood friend Rachel Dawes. On the whole though, the romance just feels like a misstep in a story that is about one man’s struggle to work out who he is. It seems unnecessary and drags the already bloated plot out even further. It is a long film, after all, and does take some time to get going. Nolan never really loses his audience but there is a lot that could have been cut to streamline the process. The lack of Katie Holmes could have done a great deal in his favour.
Although, the rest of the cast do a pretty sterling job and, with supporting cast of the likes of Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, Nolan’s work is treated with respect and care. None of them necessarily get a great deal to do but each bring what emotional depth to the narrative as possible. The performances, though not major, are reliable and memorable enough that you want to see more from them in the future. Of course, it is the bad guys that usually stick in your mind in these sorts of films and Batman Begins is no different. Cillian Murphy is both terrifying and comical in his portrayal of the freak Scarecrow. He’s still one of my favourite parts of the trilogy and I’m still upset he didn’t get bigger roles in the sequels.

Batman Beginsis not the best example of a comic book film that you will ever see. Nor is it, in the minds of most people, the greatest in its own trilogy. However, it was undoubtedly an important film at the time and, despite a few missteps here and there, it was the reboot that the Dark Knight desperately needed in Hollywood. It made Christian Bale the true A lister than he is to this day and it showed the world that the director of Mementowas truly a great director. Just think where we would be without it.
TBT – Mad Max (1979)

TBT – Mad Max (1979)

With the release of Mad Max: FuryRoad it seems only natural that people will start to look back on Max’s place within cinema history. George Miller’s 1979 film not only introduced the world to fledgling actor Mel Gibson but also helped to define the action genre as we know it to this day. As a former emergency room doctor, Miller had a personal experience of the type of injuries he would go on to depict and saw them as the natural consequences of the type of mentality that would have people turn to violence in the face of a fuel shortage. Mad Max is an important film for plenty of reasons but it has survived for the last 35 years because it’s also a fucking great one. Whilst it never quite had the same impact of it follow-up film The Road Warrior or the final film in the trilogy, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, it it always worth revisiting the cult classic.

You may have noticed but dystopian is in these days: with the recent onslaught of YA adaptations of books like The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, or Insurgent, dystopia has apparently become something to strive for. In the ultimate hipster sense, Mad Maxwas helping define this film genre way before it was the cool thing to do. Set in Australia in the not too distant future, we are introduced to a society dominated by violence, anarchy and chaos. Biker gangs rule the roads and are only challenged by the Main Force Patrol (MFP), the leather-clad law enforcers of the day.
Their top member is our titular hero, Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), who is a skilled driver and lover of the chase. Already feeling the lines blurring between morality and immorality, Max is keen to get out of the game and spend time with his family. That is until Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his gang roll into town. With his friends and loved ones in danger, Max has to decide which side of the line he belongs on.
Mad Maxwas an odd film even by 1979 standards: in an attempt to make the film more accessible to international audiences by badly overdubbing the thick Aussie accents American ones. It’s fucking weird and just awful. It also helped propel the fresh-faced, pre-prejudiced Mel Gibson to stardom after Miller and producer Bryan Kennedy decided to cast unknown actors in all roles. Although, Mac Maxdidn’t find great success upon release and it wasn’t until the sequel that Gibson found his first American hit.
The film sets itself, and the franchise, up pretty nicely by avoiding any nasty exposition and getting straight into the nitty-gritty of the car-chase that would become Miller’s trademark. The future is bleak here and violence has taken over. It is a film about road rage and there is plenty of energy behind the action scenes. Even with his limited budget and lack of experience, Miller shows that he’s a director knows what he’s doing. The stunts are still on-point thanks mostly to the fact that they are real. Rather than making things less exciting, the shoestring budget as only made the film greater.
When you look at it in 2015, Mad Max perhaps does look simple and clumsy but there can be no denying that the passion and energy are enough to keep you invested. There are some frankly amazing moments during this film: there is a certain amount of weird, dark humour, some quieter emotional moments and plenty of action to keep any film fan happy. It also looks bloody great: cinematographer David Eggby used the Australian landscape to perfectly capture the vast and arid landscape of the future.
Really, Mad Max is all about the visuals because there’s not much else too it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great film but there’s no denying that it’s a slow burner. It’s the least memorable of the trilogy because, in all respects, it is an origin movie. This is the story of how Max became Mad. The dialogue is hardly the greatest and mostly falls back on awful clichés. The characters are mostly undefined and forgettable and, even the main ones, are given no real depth. Max himself is hardly explored and you don’t really get any sense of him as a character.
Until the final act of the film when the narrative ramps up a gear and the revenge plot is born. Max suffers a great loss and cuts all ties with the MFP, choosing to go after Toecutter alone. This is where Miller steps things up a gear and shows great promise for the future. Max isn’t the great anti-hero we will eventually know him to be. Mad Max, though great in its own way, is an undeniably bleak film. Once Max’ has found his revenge (and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that) there is no real sense of catharsis. This isn’t a world that has any real answers but just creates new problems. Mad Maxgave birth to a major franchise that has stepped up a new gear with the release of Fury Roadbut don’t expect it’s opening gambit to leave you with warm, fuzzy feelings. Just one epic ride.