Movie Review: Spy (2015)

July 10, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

spy-poster

I won’t lie. I initially had zero interest in Spy, the new comedy directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) and starring his favourite collaborator Melissa McCarthy. The poster just made it look generic and lame, and I always thought Feig’s earlier films were overrated.

Just shows we shouldn’t judge a movie by its poster or preconceived notions based on the past. Because Spy is really funny. Hilarious stuff. Laugh-out-loud gags with a progressive slant. In my opinion it’s easily the best film either Feig or McCarthy have been involved in.

It doesn’t have a mindblowing plot — McCarthy plays a former teacher-turned-CIA-agent who acts as the eyes and ears of the agency’s top spy, played by Jude Law. She’s meek and awkward and disappointed with how her career change has turned out.

Naturally, an opportunity arises in which she is thrust into dangerous undercover field work, and this brings out the hidden beast in her as she tries to track down a lethal nuclear weapon.

All the kudos in the world for having McCarthy as the undisputed female lead and a kickass spy, an absolute rarity in sexist, beauty- and weight-obsessed Hollywood, but none of that would have mattered if Spy turned out to be a stinker.

Fortunately, Spy smashes the six-laugh quota for a decent comedy with ease thanks to a variety of factors. First and foremost, McCarthy, who gets the opportunity to show her range by playing essentially two personalities — the meek, and the snarky one we’re used to seeing from Bridesmaids and The Heat. 

In the former, she’s funny in the hesitant, awkward manner she’s very capable of pulling off. However, she’s at her ripping best in the latter, firing off quick-witted, sharp, acidic one-liners and well-placed profanity to elicit the chuckles. I always found this crude version of McCarthy funny, but too much of it felt grating and exhausting. Feig’s decision to give us half a film of it ended up being perfect; just the right amount of familiar McCarthy.

Rose Byrne, who seems to be in absolutely everything these days, once again displays her  ample comedic chops as the stuck-up villain with the posh accent. She’s not afraid to make fun of herself and go head-to-head wih McCarthy in the profanity stakes; I believe this could be as funny as she has ever been.

Jude Law, who has been out of the limelight in recent years, returns as a James Bond spoof of sorts, probably a nod to the fact that he was almost picked to be the iconic spy years ago. He’s clearly aged and appears to have gotten some plugs, though the charisma is still there. He gets to joke around the least as the tongue-in-cheek straight-man of the comedy but takes the role in stride.

Up to this point, Spy is already a fairly decent comedy. What takes it to the next level, however, is the presence of Jason Statham. As the most bankable martial arts action star of today, Statham has only been on the fringes of comedy, and by that I mean wisecracks and one-liners in between beating people up on screen. He finally gets to show off his incredible self-awareness and untapped comedic timing in Spy as a disgruntled rogue agent who steals just about every scene he’s in.

Statham’s character is British, but he’s also crass, profane, arrogant, mysognistic and hyperbolic. He reminds of a hardened version of Kurt Russell from Big Trouble in Little China. His hilarity is undeniable, and it adds an edge to the film I doubt anyone else could have offered.

I thought after Kingsman: The Secret Service the year’s best action-comedy had been set in stone, but now I’m not so sure. Spy isn’t nearly as stylish or visually impressive, but it’s much more of a pure comedy in that it generates bigger and more frequent belly laughs. I had an unexpectedly good time.

4.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

December 16, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

I much preferred this poster to the one that just ripped off the one from The Conjuring

I much preferred this poster to the one that just ripped off the one from The Conjuring

The first Insidious from 2011 (review here) was a pleasure, a supernatural horror film that delves, unexpectedly for me, into the world of astral projection (oops, is that a spoiler?). It fell apart somewhat towards the end, but it started with aplomb and contained some genuinely creepy sequences and effective traditional scares. The fact that I watched the film feeling kinda weak after a bout of food poisoning might have also contributed to the overall experience.

When I first heard that they were making a sequel I was apprehensive. For all its positives, Insidious did not come across as a sequel-friendly film, especially given the way it ended. It felt like a studio cash-grab, to be honest, and my expectations were accordingly fairly low. In this light, Insidious: Chapter 2 actually exceeded what I had expected of it, which is a reflection of the skill of Aussie director James Wan (who will helm the new entry in the Fast & Furious franchise — RIP Paul Walker, by the way) and his buddy Leigh Whannel, who wrote the screenplay.

Insidious: Chapter 2 picks up where the first one ended, which means there could be a bit of confusion for audiences who did not watch the first one. Essentially, the plot centers on a family of four, a couple (played again by the formidable duo of Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) and their two young sons, one of whom is naturally adept at astral projection. They were haunted by nasty entities in the first film and they are again, and this time the stakes are even higher.

This sequel is a more in-depth film that traces the story back to its origins (hinted in the first film) and keeps the narrative progressing in the present day. I understand the decision to call this Insidious: Chapter 2 as opposed to just Insidious 2, because it really is a continuation of the same story. As such, the structure of the film is less traditional and could throw some people off, and there were indeed times when I felt like the plot was wandering aimlessly in search of more scares.

However, as a horror film, Insidious: Chapter 2 is still damn effective, with some highly-skilled fright sequences that once again utilises every tool in Wan’s bag of tricks. People who have seen the first film and this year’s horror highlight, The Conjuring, will have a fairly good idea of what they are in for. Apart from recreating the eerie atmosphere from the first film, Wan uses plenty of misdirection to put you off guard before making you jump out of your seat with loud “boo” scares and frightening images. I wasn’t as unsettled as I was this time around but I can appreciate a strong effort when I see one, and it’s arguable that Wan has improved further as a filmmaker after The Conjuring (especially when it comes to deciding what to show and what not to show on screen). That blaring theme music (if it can be called music) that accompanies the title still gets me every time.

There is admittedly less freshness and intrigue this time around as the film steps into The Shining territory, and audiences who don’t “get” astral projection might find the whole thing kinda silly; laughable even. In many ways, Insidious: Chapter 2 is really just for the fans of the first one, and from what I’ve heard the wheels are already in motion for a third.

At the end of the day, I would have been perfectly happy if Insidious was a standalone film. While Insidious: Chapter 2 probably didn’t need to be made, it still is better than the vast majority of horror films to hit our screens every year, and because of that I didn’t mind it at all.

3.25 stars out of 5!

PS: Like it or not, astral projection is a real phenomenon, and it’s there to be explored for people who dare to venture into that kind of stuff (I don’t). That said, I’m not sure how accurately the film portrays it, but my guess is not very :)

Movie Review: Bridesmaids (2011)

June 19, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Good comedies are so hard to come by these days, so I was very excited to hear that the buzz on Bridesmaids has been overwhelmingly positive.  It has been described as a female version of The Hangover, though I personally think Bridesmaids was actually better.

Co-written by and starring comedian Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids tells the story of Annie (Wiig), a former cake store owner who becomes the Maid of Honour to her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph).  And as the Maid of Honour, Annie is entrusted with various tasks associated with the wedding and the bridal party, which comprises the wealthy, perfect wife of the groom’s boss Helen (Rose Byrne), the groom’s crazy sister Megan (Melissa McCarthy), and friends Rita and Becca (Wendi McLendon-Covey and Ellie Kemper, respectively).

The best parts of Bridesmaids are hilarious.  Bawdy conversations, outrageous situtations, a couple of which rely on gross-out humour — but nonetheless worked because of the surprisingly good execution from director Paul Feig (which became less of a surprise when I discovered he had directed episodes of Arrested Development, The Office and 30 Rock) and excellent comedic timing from the actresses, in particular the trio of Wiig, Byrne and McCarthy.  John Hamm (from Mad Men) was also brilliant in a small but memorable role.

Despite the praises, I still thought Bridesmaids could have been better and funnier.  For starters, at 125 minutes it was far too long for a comedy of this kind — though strangely it left a few loose ends.  The film worked best when it was focused on the bridal party and especially the rivalry between Annie and Helen, but for some reason the second half put excessive emphasis on Annie’s depressing personal issues and a sweet, sappy romance, both of which were adequate but seldom funny.

Since it was titled Bridesmaids, I was really hoping for more interaction between the bridesmaids, where there was so much potential for laughs, but instead there ended up being too many typical ‘rom-com’, ‘chick flick’ and ‘personal growth’ sequences that made the film’s humour somewhat choppy and uneven.  I put the blame on Judd Apatow, who was a co-producer of the film.

Having said all that, this was just my personal opinion and probably reflected my wishes and expectations more than genuine shortcomings of the film.

Ultimately, it may fall quite a fair way short of a classic, but Bridesmaids was at least a fresh idea that’s clever, entertaining, sometimes funny and occasionally hilarious.  And this is coming from a guy.

3.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Insidious (2011)

May 16, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Well-made horror movies about hauntings are a rarity these days.  Genuinely frightening ones are almost impossible to find.  For me, Insidious was both.

Written by Leigh Whannell and directed by James Wan (the Aussie duo who kick started the Saw franchise), Insidious is a unique spin on the haunted house genre, something I didn’t expect and was pleasantly surprised by.

It tells the story of a young married couple played by Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, who move into a new house with their three boys.  Weird things start happening and a tragic event occurs — but that’s just the beginning.  At some point in the film the story takes a turn and takes us in a new direction.  Some will like the fact that we are being treated to something we’re not used to seeing.  Others will despise it.

You will have to either know a little bit about what I am referring to or be able to keep an open mind in order to truly appreciate it.  If you can’t, you’ll probably write off the film as silly and farcical.  But if you can (and I could), I believe you’re in for a real treat.

For those put off by the Saw reference, don’t be, because Insidious is nothing like those torture porn films.  It’s also nothing like Paranormal Activity (also referred to on the poster because it has common producers, including Oren Peli), which I thought sucked.  Whannell and Wan have shown their versatility with this one, using clever and authentically frightening situations, escalating tension and downright freakish moments to create one of the most suspenseful ghost films I’ve seen in years.  Sure, none of the tactics are necessarily original, but the execution was undoubtedly superb.

The film does have a few shaky moments, especially towards the end, but if it’s frights you are looking for, then Insidious definitely delivers.

4 stars out of 5