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Spy comes from the team of writer Paul Feig and actress Melissa McCarthy who worked together on numerous other projects like Bridesmaids and the new Ghostbusters. The film is a blast to watch as it’s a James Bond spoof with McCarthy as the lead in place of the suave super spy. So as you might have guessed, yes, it’s a comedy.
That being said, it’s a really good comedy. The film has some clever spy stuff in it as you would expect to find with Bond, James Bond, but without the bluster and formality instead substituted with lighthearted-ness and humor. The script is well written and interesting not just in terms of the spy story itself but also in the development to McCarthy’s character arc. She starts as someone in a support position for another spy but is moved into the field herself after an incident that leads to her partner’s “death”. From there, she quickly becomes the fish out of water having to negotiate the world of espionage.
One of the elements that makes this film enjoyable are some of the repeat gags including the identities McCarthy’s character has to assume when she’s undercover as they’re not the most glamorous or adventurous personalities. There’s also Jason Statham who is the opposite of his usual bad-ass self in that he kind of screws up every time he tries to exert his bad-assness and thwart the villains. The story is solid and original with clever dialog and situations related to the spy genre while breathing some fresh air into the genre.
All the performances are enjoyable and engaging. Melissa McCarthy has a natural sense of timing and how to use her body and expressions to great effect. Statham is fun to watch too as he’s more of a caricature of himself rather then his usual over-the-top action guy. Rose Byrne (also from Bridesmaids) plays the obnoxious nemesis causing most of the trouble for McCarthy and her partner played by Jude Law. The lineup is rounded out by Jessica Chaffin, Miranda Hart, Morena Baccarin, Richard Brake and Bobby Cannavale.
Be sure to give Spy a try!
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Based on a real-life event, The 33 tells the story of 33 miners in Chile who spent 69 days trapped underground after a mine collapse. The script details the collapse, the men who worked together in order to survive and those who worked in the background to get them out. It’s a compelling film, and even though I knew the outcome as I followed the story on the news when it happened, I still felt myself rooting for their rescue.
The writers did a great job dramatizing the rescue and building up the characters along the way. That’s actually how the movie starts, with some backstory about some of the key players leading up to the cave in that nearly ended their lives. Surprisingly, they all made it out even though there were plenty of people in charge that had written them off for dead. Part of what makes the presentation here compelling is how the men pulled their resources and cooperated through extreme circumstances where others might have torn each other apart. The way they had to ration food and water was remarkable but so was the fact that the temperature underground was around 100 degrees or more the whole time.
The film didn’t do well in theaters but don’t let that sway you from giving the film a shot. The resolution you already know so it’s got a happy ending which felt good after seeing what they went through. Something really cool they include is footage of the actual miners all together during the end credits. Overall, I enjoyed The 33 and thought the production was done really well with a convincing design and quality that made you feel the heat and claustrophobic conditions those guys had to face in order to make it through to the other side.
Antonio Banderas plays the lead role as Mario Sepulveda and brings passion and intensity to the character. The rest of the talent brings their A-games as well. It was nice to see Lou Diamond Phillips in here too who plays his role with conviction and humility as he shoulders some of the responsibility for inspecting the mine and not pushing for it to be shut down due to safety concerns that were ignored by his higher-ups. The talented cast includes Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, James Brolin, Oscar Nunez, and Kate del Castillo.
The 33 is a uplifting story of persistence and endurance and what it took to make it out alive when many believed they were already a lost cause. Hmm, I guess will power and love of life won after all.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Johnny Depp embodies the notorious Whitey Bulger who rose to legend status within Boston’s Irish mafia. Bulger (who was eventually caught and sent to prison), was known for being a brutal mobster that would have someone killed for insulting him, even if that insult was rendered accidentally. He was also known for building a criminal empire and even raising a family while he did it. The brutality of Bulger and the humanity of him come together at different points through the script which result in some of the more intriguing sequences along the way. Whether this actually happened or not, there’s a chilling scene where Bulger is teaching his son the lesson of “if you’re going to punch a kid in the face, just make sure you do it when noone’s looking so you can get away with it”. The way that Depp’s character passes along that life lesson to the child is one of the more subtle but memorable and unsettling moments in the film.
The story is a compelling portrayal of Bulger and his rise to power during his time as a CIA informant. Yes, you read that correctly, it turns out Bulger had a childhood friend who ended up working on the opposite side of crime in addition to a brother who was a US senator! And for years, the 3 of them worked in harmony to advance their respective careers while keeping certain corrupt activities off the radar of the various related entities who might be interested in such matters. Bulger, very smartly and ambitiously served as an informant on his competitors which eliminated them and paved the way for the building of his own criminal empire.
Acting-wise, this is Depp in his prime as his performance as Bulger is as riveting as it is disturbing. You hate this guy but you can’t help wanting to watch him at the same time. He’s cold but somehow charismatic, it’s interesting to see how he became a leader, a terrifying and intimating leader nonetheless; but in that world it’s understandable, even necessary perhaps. It’s nice to see Johnny Depp doing a real character piece instead of the cookie-cutter caricatures he’s been involved with as of late. Watching him in this role reminded me of how deep his talent actually goes.
The rest of the cast is competent and strong in certain scenes but are kind of out-shined when sharing screen time with the lead. It seemed like they were just trying to provide support but couldn’t really break out past that point. Even the actress playing his wife seems diminished, which could’ve equated to a more interesting and intensive character. It’s a bit of shame that everyone was a bit overshadowed as the lineup is comprised of talented actors and includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Adam Scott, and Julianne Nicholson.
If you dig mob or true crime films, be sure to catch Black Mass.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Suicide Squad is the latest entry into the disjointed mess of DC films that just can’t seem to find their groove. While the film has some entertainment value, it misses the mark as far as being a well crafted, strong film. The movie is mostly ok, but that’s really about it, here’s why…
Will Smith is the main baddy in terms of focus in the form of Deadshot. While physically he works, his delivery does not. As hard as he might try to be a bad guy, he still seems like a good guy placed in a bad guy wrapper. His demeanor has some attitude, but never did I feel like he was an actual villain or even much of a threat.
The plot has some interesting aspects to it, mainly in terms of some backstory elements and why the squad get summoned to do their thing but once you understand the reason why, it comes across as a bit of buffoonery that creates the situation in the first place. The way it plays out is again, ok, but nothing very revelatory or compelling as most of the film revolves around mostly average action scenes and Margot Robbie’s ass. The storyline primarily functions to move the viewer to the violence/action which comes off in a gratuitous fashion after a short time. I’m comparing in my head largely to Marvel’s films which always have a reason for things happening rather than just using plot devices to push you into novelties.
This is where the DC universe suffers vs. the quality of what Marvel is doing. The only reasons in my humble opinion that Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad made money at the box office are the gimmicks. For BvS it was the fight, for Suicide Squad it’s the fact that it’s all villains and of course Margot Robbie’s performance and derrière. But aside from those components and some fancy effects, there’s not much else that is really a big deal. Whereas Marvel films don’t rely on bells and whistles to carry their films, the bells and whistles are complimentary to the story, they’re not a crutch.
The acting is intriguing in spots with the standout being Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn (get ready to see a shit-ton of HQ costumes during Halloween) as her manic, passionate delivery establishes her character in a believable, effective way. Smith is just kind of phoning it in without showing any depth and the rest of the crew are adequate without anyone else being able to shine. Yes, that includes Jared Leto as the Joker. I was really interested to see how he did in this role and while I think he’s a pretty great actor most of the time, Leto is not that unique or fascinating as our favorite clown of destruction. I felt that Robbie out shadowed him and stole the scene every time they were on screen together. I also wasn’t a big fan of the Joker’s design as he looks more like a thug with a bad paint job than he does the iconic character. Chris Nolan and NAME crafted their interpretation of this character waaayyy better. Once again, this Joker is way more flash than substance, much like the movie itself.
Bat-fleck is in here too by the way but doesn’t really add much to the film or even really need to be in there to begin with. Strangely, when he is in here, he captures HQ, throws her in the back of the bat mobile and for some bizarre, rapey reason, kisses her while she’s unconscious. I’m not sure what the hell that was about…
The film’s worth a look to make up your own mind as the movie made some bank so somebody likes it. But if you really want to see a good villain/anti-hero movie, check out Sin City. Or if you want to see a convincing bad ass who knows how to skirt the line between villain and hero, check out Wesley Snipes in Blade, he could teach Smith a thing or two…
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Inspired by real events, War Dogs centers around two American men in their 20s who end up as arms dealers for the US military. Yep, that’s right, these guys sold weapons and ammo to our very own armed forces. The film goes on to explain how this came to pass but let’s just say it boiled down to bullshit, contacts and some research on the internet. Ultimately, everything went south for our intrepid entrepreneurs when they sold Uncle Sam a bunch of bullets made in China which is so not cool to our government.
Jonah Hill and Miles Teller portray Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz who sort of stumble into the world of weapons surplus and sales. I wasn’t sure I would find the film interesting based on the premise but I was pleasantly surprised to find the movie entertaining and well-paced. The locations bounce around between the states and more extreme locales in the middle-east. It’s a wonder these guys were never killed and left for dead in the desert somewhere considering how out their element they were. It’s also a wonder that the government doesn’t do more homework on who they’re getting their armaments from.
The script and dialog are tight as is the directing of the film. Bradley Cooper plays a supporting role and is also listed as one of the producers in the credits. The way the film plays out to its conclusion I thought was satisfying and surprising from the statistics presented at the end. It’s hard to imagine that you can sell illegal weapons, get caught and go to jail, only to get out and go back into business again doing the same thing. Yet, there’s more excessive punishment in some states for owning a small amount of marijuana. Wow. We really need to work on our priorities more.
The actors are tight, each one of them owning their share of the screen while not stepping on the toes of their counterparts. Although Cooper’s not in for very long, he’s creepy and menacing when he’s onscreen in a convincingly performance. Hill is a bit of a smart-ass but in a more serious way that reveals his character is kind of scam artist and in the end, a loser beneath the smarmy surface. Teller plays his character passionately as well and shows more of his range as an actor.
Overall, I don’t know if I’d bother seeing this one in the theater, but it’s definitely worth catching when it hits the small screen.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Meet Jack, he’s a bit of a odd bird as conversations with him are short, strange and direct. He’s also a bit eccentric and oh, he eats flesh and drinks blood. A vampire you say? Nope, judging by the scars on his back, he’s a misplaced angel although it’s never formally explained that he’s an angel and there’s never any reason revealed for his presence here on terra-firma. He does seem to have a purpose though as he never hesitates to hurt someone of an unsavory nature. Eventually, he discovers he has a daughter and of course that opens up a whole new can of worms…
He Never Died is a bizarre movie. But that’s one of the things that makes it compelling. It’s kind of a day-in-the-life (more than a day really) that shows what it’s like to live in Jack’s shoes as a strange creature in a strange world. The script is well written, has some smart, catchy dialog and an interesting arc for the main character. Jack does evolve once the interactions with his daughter kicks in although initially on the surface you’re not sure if this guy is ever going to change his ways. The ending is something that left me scratching my head a bit as the film ends super abruptly on a point that establishes the swing of Jack’s persona into new areas of responsibility but in a really short, direct way.
Henry Rollins plays the main character. And although Hank is primarily known as a writer, spoken word performer and as the voice behind The Rollins Band as well as Black Flag, he does a fine job in the lead role. Rollins’ delivery is as offbeat as Jack is with short bursts of dialog and blunted emotions. His performance is really intriguing and worth studying. The lineup includes Booboo Stewart, Kate Greenhouse, Jordan Todosey, Steven Ogg, and David Richmond-Peck all of whom turn in solid portrayals with Rollins as the stand out.
Overall, He Never Died is an entertaining and engaging film if you like quirky dramas with some off-kilter personalities. You can catch it on Netflix.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Scarlett Johansson plays the title character who finds herself in a wrong-place-wrong-time kind of scenario when she ends up as a drug mule for a gangster. The twist comes in when the container containing the drug in her system bursts and Lucy begins to absorb the drug which is designed to be a new form of meth or something similar. Said drug stimulates areas in Lucy’s brain that have never been used before by anyone.
In some ways, the film reminds me of The Matrix; not in some rip-offey way, but more in terms of feel and towards the end, in execution as well. The script is well written and feels fresh with an interesting resolution. The dialog and development of the characters flows nicely with Lucy’s arc being entertaining to watch.
Johansson turns in a strong performance showing some range early on from her vulnerable beginnings to her powerful end. Alongside her are Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked, Analeigh Tipton, and Julian Rhind-Tutt all of whom bring their substantial skills to the table. Luc Besson wrote and directed.
Overall, the film kept my attention, made me wonder where it was going at times and looked great visually too.
A sci-fi thriller with an intelligent twist, Lucy’s worth checking out.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
I have a history with CBGB in NY from my own days in the music biz. I’ve spent a lot of time in that club and was fortunate enough to see some legendary performances. CBGBs was the club to cut your teeth in for new bands as well as a place to pay homage for the seasoned veterans. It was one of those clubs that was a badge of honor both for playing the stage as well as seeing a band pour out a pint of blood during a performance on it.
Part historical film, part bio pic, part music video, CBGB is all of those things and more. Alan Rickman expertly plays Hilly Kristal who many consider the godfather of US punk having given the stage to play for bands such as The Talking Heads, Blondie, The Dead Boys, Television, Iggy Pop and many, many more. Over 50,000 bands played at the club during the course of its lifetime. Ironically the majority of the bands did not fit into the original musical vision of the owner given that the initials actually stood for Country Blue Grass and Blues.
The film plays out as a drama / bio pic of sorts centering mainly on Hilly and the birth of the club. Throughout the film, Hilly is constantly going broke, letting people into the club for free, bailing bands out of trouble and trying to stay afloat in general. His generous nature is one of the things the film touches on, especially during the end credits during The Talking Heads acceptance speech at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The first thing the Heads do is thank Hilly Kristal, and then they thank him again.
The actors are great, especially Rickman who nails Hilly’s grumpy exterior which he balances out with an I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude. If you’ve ever seen interview footage of Kristal, you’ll appreciate Rickman’s portrayal. Taylor Hawkins from the Foo Fighters plays Iggy Pop and really does a great job, I have to admit I didn’t know he could act but he’s pretty good in this. Rupert Grint from Harry Potter fame shows up as Dead Boys guitarist Cheetah Chrome and does a fine job letting everyone know he’s more than just a wizard. Donal Logue, Malin Akerman, Freddy Rodriquez and Ashley Greene are all part of this talented lineup.
If you want to brush up on your punk history and discover the birthplace of The Ramones among many others, check out the entertaining CBGB.
reviewed by Sean McKnight