RSS

Penny Dreadful Season 2

Last night the Showtime gothic drama Penny Dreadful wrapped its second season, and it continues to be quite an under appreciated prestige series that I looked forward to every week. Season two found the gang being haunted by all sorts of demons, internal and external, all while the show maintained the excellent mythology and world behind the characters. The Victorian London setting is beautiful like always and the production is breathtaking at times. It’s the kind of series that rewards patience, but can be enjoyed nonetheless to see Ethan Chandler go full-werewolf and tear shit up.

This season, Vanessa Ives, the protagonist of the show (if there is one), finds herself possessed by demonic witches, courtesy of last season’s Madame Kali/Evelyn Poole. The decision to make her a primary villain this season was a good one, as Helen McCrory steals the show in some outstanding sequences that are chilling to the core, including a doll-making montage at the end of episode 2, definitely a highlight. Eva Green continues to shine, and she has her fair share of memorable moments as well. While there’s nothing here like Season One’s “Seance,” Green puts on a more subtle face as Vanessa confronts her inner demons and has to make all kinds of difficult choices. We learn more about Vanessa in a few flashback as well, including the third episode “The Nightcomers,” and while they might be an awkward break in the pace of an excellent season, these moments help flesh out our characters and we get to see their true selves.

PennyDreadfulEthanVanessa_0

Sir Malcolm, however, found himself in a joyful mood amidst all the terror, as he fell head over heels for Madame Kali. But he quickly gets in too deep after being put under her spell and is forced to face his past and his regretful choices we learned about last season. While Malcolm has the least to do this season in terms of plot, he’s still a very well-rounded character and acts as an old sage of sorts. His mentor relationship with Vanessa is great this season, and after the finale in which the gang all but parted ways, I’m excited to see where his journey will take him.

Penny Dreadful has always done a fine job of balancing the demonic storylines with the mythology of others, such as Victor Frankenstein and Dorian Gray, and this has always been one of the show’s strongest suits. We all know the story of Frankenstein and his monsters, but the show manages to make everything that’s old new again, and it remains exciting and full of surprises. After creating a love interest for his creature John Clare in the form of Lily (ex-Brona Croft), Frankenstein finds himself in the position of playing god, and faces the consequences as Lily and Dorian strike up a relationship antithetical to what Victor was expecting. While these plots might get a bit messy at times, and Dorian’s side chick Angelique feels underused and a bit out of place, it’s all in service of the world-building. This leads up to an outstanding sequence in which we finally learn Dorian Gray’s secret (as if we didn’t already), but once again Penny Dreadful makes this as riveting as if its new to everyone.

American gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) has always been my favorite character, as he serves as our entry point into this crazy British world, and he has plenty to do this season as his past catches up to him and he faces the fallout of his bar massacre last season. An investigation led by a Pinkerton agent hired by Ethan’s father manages to track Ethan down, and despite him going into hiding with Vanessa for a two-episode arc, he still finds himself imprisoned and on his way back to America come the season finale. Ethan’s plot provides most of the emotional foundation for the season, and he and Vanessa strike up the sort of romantic relationship that fans have been craving for since day one. If anything feels contrived, it’s this, but I still appreciated the effort to make them end-game. A beautiful moment in the finale features an alternate universe in which Vanessa and Ethan are married and have two children, and I teared up at the thought of them finally escaping this haunted world, but we know this will never be reality.

screen-shot-2015-01-12-at-3.51.55 PM

The last scene in the season has Vanessa looking thoughtfully out the window as the gang part ways, and we wonder if they will ever see each other again. It’s a depressing thought, really, and the finale isn’t a rousing winner despite a few knockout scenes early on, but Penny Dreadful has always been just that, dreadful. There isn’t much that is pretty here, but the characters manage to find beauty in other ways. There’s still some lighthearted humor, such as a fun scene in which Vanessa helps Victor go shopping for Lily (why exactly? But it’s still fun), but Penny Dreadful still nails its eerie atmosphere and bleak universe. Brilliant production gives us great sequences like a literal bloodbath in Dorian’s home, and great action scenes with Ethan, Sembene (always a delight) and Kali’s witches. Creator John Logan has taken all of these historic properties and made something beautiful, and the show keeps you on your toes thanks to some frustrating cliffhangers, and this is a credit to the excellent characterization for these characters over the course of just 18 episodes. The show has already been renewed for a third season, and as it looks now we might be looking at self-contained storylines set across the globe. Whatever the prospects, I’m excited, because I know it will never be dull.

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 6, 2015 in TV Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Best Movies of 2015 (so far)

6 months into 2015 and it’s time to start looking ahead to awards season where the best films of the year will be recognized. This year has been record-breaking for the box office but we’ve also had a fair share of smaller films that have taken the art house scene by storm. With half of the year under our belt, I thought I’d share what I think are the best films of the year so far. This is in no particular order, as I’m not sure of where these will place come year-end, or if they will even make my final list.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

NEnBsmtCJwyaqv_2_b

This one I know for sure is my #1 this year. Kingsman is hands down the best kind of fun you can have at the movies. It’s sharp, tightly paced, well-acted, and features outstanding action sequences (including the best I’ve ever seen in a church). The great cast adds plenty of charm to the film and the plot will keep you engaged the entire time. No other film this year is as risqué, action-packed and hilarious as Kingsman.

Love & Mercy

love-and-mercy-02_0

A spin on the traditional biopic, Bill Pohlad’s affecting drama about Beach Boys’ lead singer Brian Wilson is an outstanding portrait of a tragic man. The decision to feature two different actors at two different periods in Wilson’s life is a bold one, and it pays off handsomely. Paul Dano and John Cusack are excellent, and Elizabeth Banks shines in an unexpectedly well-developed supporting role. The unorthodox storytelling techniques, mirrored with unique cinematography and storytelling mechanics makes Love & Mercy a joy to watch.

Inside Out

inside-out

I try to avoid superlatives, but Inside Out is Pixar’s best film since Finding Nemo. Inside Riley’s head, a psychological plot unfolds like none other this year. Kids will adore the bright colors and funny slapstick, while adults will stick around for the affecting drama and sharp wit. But Inside Out goes the extra mile and delivers a commentary about the hardships of growing up and how being emotional is an important part of that.

Jurassic World

Jurassic World

Is there a better blockbuster this year than Jurassic World? Hell no. Jurassic World takes us back to before superhero movies ruled the summer, when all it took was good old dinosaurs. At the wheel are Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, who are a great pair, and while the plot might not always sing, seeing dinosaurs never grows old.

Clouds of Sils Maria

CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA

A very unconventional choice for me, as Clouds of Sils Maria is very experimental, but no less engaging than the other films on this list. Kristin Stewart gives my favorite performance of the year thus far, as Clouds examines one woman’s pursuit of career excellence in a Hollywood that would consider her past her prime. Olivier Assayas’s excellent script and wonderful dialogue make this trip to Switzerland one worth taking.

 

 
1 Comment

Posted by on July 2, 2015 in Other

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Inside Out

Inside_Out_(2015_film)_poster

Inside Out is Pixar at their creative best. After a string of misfires, Pixar is back on track with this one, a deep psychological study full of humor and heart. The best thing about Inside Out (and almost all of Pixar’s movies) is that it works on so many different levels. This is a film full of laughs about the hardships of growing up, but beneath the surface there’s a deeper study of how everyone is different inside their heads, and how our emotions drive our actions. With an all-star voice cast and plenty of signature gags, Inside Out is a delight.

Inside Out is Pixar’s most innovative and daring film to date. Our frame of reference in the film is Riley, an 11-year old girl whose adolescence is uprooted when her family moves from their home in Minnesota to sunny San Francisco. While her parents are busy with the moving van and her father’s startup company, Riley is impacted the most by this sudden move. After all, we all know how hard moving to a new home and new school can be, especially at her stage in life.

We enter this world through the emotions in Riley’s head, represented as Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. After Joy and Sadness go missing as they compete for Riley’s emotional control, the other three are left at the helm and Joy and Sadness must journey through Riley’s mind in an effort to return to headquarters and save Riley, who spirals into a depression.

Inside Out is simply genius. Its storytelling works on so many levels and it will please both kids and adults alike. To start, you’ve got some hilarious voice acting from Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith as Joy and Sadness, respectively. They are literally the embodiments of these emotions, and I can’t think of anyone else I would cast. These five emotions become genuine characters, and it’s fun to see how their actions affect Riley. It’s weird to say that these emotions have chemistry with each other, but they honestly do, and it’s a delight to see them play along with each other with witty banter and fun jabs. The script, credited to director Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley, is simply brilliant.

Inside Out is insanely creative as Joy and Sadness navigate Riley’s head. They go through the memory chambers, the subconscious, abstract thought, and, my personal favorite, dream productions. All of these areas in Riley’s head are brimming with invention and the signature Pixar detail. You’ll see memory workers dumping useless information from Riley’s memory. You’ll see the five foundations that build Riley’s personality: family, friendship, honesty, hockey, and goofball. It reminds me of The Sims in a way that every character in the film is a unique being. This is best represented in an outstanding dinner scene, where Riley’s anger escalates and we see how both her parents react to the situation with their own five emotions in their head. Along the way we also meet Bing Bong (Richard Kind), Riley’s imaginary friend who provides the rock of the film’s emotional core. Some brilliantly animated scenes portray Riley’s growth and the film displays an excellent and emotional farewell to childhood.

What I love about Inside Out is that it doesn’t shy away from the hardships of growing up. A brilliant theme in the story revolves around how Sadness finds meaning among the group, and how without her there isn’t really any Joy. Riley’s life isn’t a perfect one, as represented by the bleak San Francisco buildings and dark recesses of her mind, but the key is finding Joy in every memory. Pixar has made a beautiful and moving tribute to childhood, one that doesn’t have the answers to life’s problems but expresses the necessity for emotional expression. Inside Out will be remembered for a long time, I think. As a movie, it’s funny, touching, and beautifully animated, with a genius score from Michael Giacchino. But it also transcends the boundaries of traditional storytelling and gives us an informative and unique account of how every human is an emotionally complex being. One of the best films of the year by far. Hell, of the decade.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 20, 2015 in Movie Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Orange is the New Black Season 3

oitnb-season-3-key-art

With the latest season of Netflix’s biggest original series, Orange is the New Black continues to prove that with such a brilliant ensemble of characters, a looming plot isn’t always necessary. While I appreciated season 2 for going the “villainous” route through the character of Vee, it felt far too central to make an impact in such a contained environment. Season 3 irons out the wrinkles leftover from last season, showing how the setting of a prison can affect those that inhabit it. We’ve already seen Piper Chapman go through her prison crash course, and the show has already wisely sidelined her and focused on the best part of the series – that is, the wide and diverse cast of characters that make season 3 the tightest and most profoundly entertaining yet.

Season 3 is all about faith, and as the women of Litchfield penitentiary find out, it’s hard to have when everything seems to be falling apart around you. Keeping the faith and having something to latch on to helps our characters escape reality, and gives them something to believe in when times get rough. For Lorna Morello, this means having faith in her love life as she pursues an outside beau. For Sophia Burset and Gloria Mendoza, faith means remaining a part of their lives outside prison, as both clash over raising their children. For other inmates, it means putting stock in mute Norma’s healing powers, whatever they may be, because they make life seem a little less bleak.

Orange is the New Black continues to explore these different personalities through the use of flashbacks to the inmates’ former lives, and while it works, the flashback structure remains both the best and worst part of the show. At this point, we’ve learned the stories of how these women came to be incarcerated, and scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of characters doesn’t work out in the show’s favor (was anyone really waiting for Chang’s flashback?). Some of the flashbacks have become very routine and predictable, such as Flaca’s fake high school drug ring, or Pennsatucky’s old flame, but these stories are all smart because they provide a frame of reference for whatever the theme of the episode may be. The best flashback, from Leanne of all individuals, shows how her Amish upbringing acted as her own personal prison, and escaping from it led her to Litchfield. There’s still smart and sophisticated writing to be found in OITNB, even if it must be reached for.

This is a testament to the brilliant characters we’ve come to know and love throughout three whole seasons. Creator Jenji Kohan (Weeds) taps into these characters’ psyches to examine how the prison system affects them as people. The wise decision to drop Larry, Piper’s ex-fiance, and focus more on the internal affairs in prison is a move I wholeheartedly applaud. The show continues to move the focus away from Piper, our entry point into this crazy world, and instead zero in on more interesting characters, be it the optimistic Taystee or everyone’s favorite Russian chef Red. An additional pleasure of this season was the new focus on the guards of Litchfield, as we got to see C.O. Bennett’s backstory as he decides if he wants to be a father or not. We also saw more of Joe Caputo, one of my favorite characters, and how he saved the prison from going under with the help of Danny Pearson (Mike Birbiglia).

Like I said, while there is no overarching plot this season, season 3 is better as a result. Many have cried that “nothing happened” in season 3, but there isn’t much external conflict that can be drummed up for dramatic effect. Instead, life continues to roll on for these ladies, and we see how everyone deals with their own shit. One bigger plot this season was Piper’s new panty-selling enterprise with the help of new inmate Stella (Ruby Rose). The show introduced the new job of selling Whispers undergarments, and the girls hop aboard with vigor. This is Piper’s link to the outside world, as for her having faith means praying she can return to her old life as a New York yuppie, and this is her own way of keeping faith. The show continues to have many different avenues and entry points, Piper remains one of them, and all of the plot strands soar this season. Things never get too messy, and the narrative is always grounded in the prison reality. As a result we get the best season of OITNB yet. It’s confident in its own skin, it knows what kind of show it needs to be, and it delivers throughout all 13 episodes.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 18, 2015 in TV Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Game of Thrones Season 5

The dust has settled on yet another season of HBO’s mega hit Game of Thrones, following what I believe was the show’s best season. Season 5 had a lot to live up to, as the show continues to set records and set the standard for ambitious television in the streaming age. In this season we saw how the show runners are handling the external influences around Martin’s book publishing dilemmas (will we get Winds of Winter before Season 6??), and as a result the show significantly diverged from the book. Entire plotlines such as the Greyjoys are left out in exchange for new developments in Dorne and the North, and characters have passed on who are still alive in the books. But I don’t dwell on the books, the big fan that I am. I think we can confidently consider the book and the show as two separate entities. Each have their pros and cons, the book allowing for more slow characterization while the show allowing for more creativity in storytelling, but the end result is still a satisfying show in the golden age of television.

To start, let’s talk about the pacing, something I think Thrones has struggled with in the past and hasn’t changed here. In season 5, many have complained that not much happens until around episode 6. This is both a product of the early leak of the first four episodes and the fact that the material covered in the season (split in book 4 and book 5), isn’t the most exciting stuff. But Thrones has never been the type of show to go for broke, as ambitious and expensive it may be. We get exciting action sequences like the battle at Hardhome, but we also get slow burn political dealings in King’s Landing, a unique plotline with Arya in Braavos, and more moments that make Thrones one of the most fervently frustrating shows on television.

o-SAND-SNAKES-facebook

What Season 5 excels at is once again making the world of Westeros feel alive as ever. A cliche, I know, but what Game of Thrones does so effectively is interweaving these plotlines and characters into a cohesive narrative. You still have self-contained stories in Meereen and Dorne, but these still have palpable implications on the Thrones universe as a whole. Yes, Daenerys is still stuck in Meereen, but her meeting with Tyrion Lannister energizes the plotline and kicks things into high gear, having noticeable effects on the world around them. The showrunners seem to have noticed the problem areas and done damage control accordingly. It makes for exciting stuff where you miss when your favorite character takes the episode off, because you want to see what they’re up to.

Speaking of characters, our favorites have been up to quite a bit since the explosive Season 4 finale. In King’s Landing, Cersei faces opposition from an extremist religious group, and finds herself imprisoned alongside Queen Margaery. The focus of the season is primarily on the North, but I still think the heart of the show is in King’s Landing, who we have known and loved since season one. Cersei is still one of my favorite characters, and Lena Headey continues to evolve alongside her, giving her best performance of the show. Her conflicts with the High Sparrow played by the excellent Jonathan Pryce show her dedication to her bloodline and stubbornness for the future of the kingdom. The scene I was most eagerly anticipating from A Dance with Dragons was Cersei’s walk through King’s Landing, which didn’t come until the season finale, but boy did it deliver. The outstanding production is coupled with Headey’s expressive performance, and the almost ten minute scene is a doozy. This scene is great because it reminds us of the King’s Landing average joes, the ones who are really feeling the effects of the royalty’s reign. We often forget that Westeros has citizens going about their daily lives, and Cersei must contend with that while grooming Tommen for the throne. This was one of the most consistent plotlines in the season, and was definitely a highlight.

what-cersei-lannisters-walk-of-shame-tells-us-about-our-culture-884-body-image-1434374296

Besides that, the removal of Bran from the season gave new life to the North and at Castle Black, where newly elected Lord Commander Jon Snow (R.I.P.) struggles with keeping his soldiers happy and satisfying the free folk. Complicating things are Stannis Baratheon and his troops, who came to their rescue at the end of last season and are now running the show. Kit Harrington brought his A-game to Snow, a fan favorite, and he had quite a few knockout scenes, principal among them being the battle at Hardhome, where they are ambushed by White Walkers. The Walkers still remain a mystery as far as the lore of the series goes, and these are exciting moments for book readers and non-book readers alike. Episode 8 changed the course of the season considerably, and renewed interest in many who grew bored with the slow burn earlier episodes.

Maybe the uneven pacing is what gave such little weight to the season finale, Mother’s Mercy. Episode 10 has never been the series’s strong suit, instead leaving us with major cliffhangers to ponder over the 9-month wait for the next season, and Season 5 was no exception. While I very much enjoyed the season finale, and found it to be one of the best behind last season’s The Children, there was still a rushed feeling of exasperation as plotlines were sealed with a kiss and not-so-neatly wrapped up. Take Stannis for instance, who hit a new low this season after sacrificing his daughter Shireen to please Melisandre and the new gods. Stannis went from fan favorite to one of the most hated characters in history, but he still didn’t deserve what he got in the finale. Here is one of the most feared and powerful commanders in Westeros, only to be (presumably?) murdered at the hand of Brienne of Tarth, who spent most of the season playing the waiting game with Podrick. It makes little sense from a storytelling perspective, and only serves to wrap things up and end things with the ever-stubborn Brienne, but it comes off as sloppy. Stannis’s army took a crushing defeat at Winterfell, in a disappointingly off-screen battle, but I felt we never got to see the true Stannis we saw at Dragonstone the past three seasons. His chemistry with Davos was non-existent this season, instead he put on a pouty face and clashed with Jon and his family. It’s a disappointing turn for such a well-developed character. Still, Stephen Dillane gives an admirable performance, and I’m hoping this isn’t the last we’ve seen of him.

Y2RTHDj

Staying in the North, we have another problem area in Sansa Stark’s storyline, which takes the biggest divergence from the novels, and the show makes one of the biggest mistakes in Thrones history, that is, marrying her to Ramsay Bolton to secure the North for Littlefinger and the Starks. It’s a mess of a plotline that doesn’t make much sense. Sansa’s material from the books was essentially completed, but here she’s taking the place of Jeyne Poole in a despicable position that puts her in Ramsay’s grasp. By episode 5, after their wedding night, many were ready to call it quits. I wasn’t about to go that far, but using Sansa’s rape as a plot device to energize Theon Greyjoy AKA Reek was simply poor writing and a disappointing turn for a fan favorite. Sansa has always been one of my favorite characters. Her story is a tragic one, a parallel to her sister Arya’s, as Sansa learns to grow up in an unfair world and learn how to adapt after the death of her parents. But it’s frustrating to see the writers ruin her character after she finally escapes from King’s Landing after three and a half seasons. The season finale where Reek breaks and becomes Theon only strengthens my point, as the show’s most pitiful and frankly boring character is miraculously cured after seeing what has happened to his former friend. What a bummer.

The way I’m talking, you’d think I hated this season, but that’d be a complete lie. It had its ups and downs, as we navigate the murky waters of post-season 3 Westeros. The North is still a mess, but the rest of the show remains as engrossing as ever. What I love about Thrones is its ability to make us latch on to these characters and get invested in the living breathing fantasy world of Westeros. Everything is engrossing, there’s rarely a dull moment.

267A325F00000578-2986914-Under_siege_Daenerys_is_also_seen_in_a_spot_of_bother_as_she_is_-m-8_1425936294794

 

Over in Essos, we check in once again with my favorite character, Daenerys Targaryen. She finds herself being challenged by the Sons of the Harpy, a militant group who have set up shop in Meereen and are terrorizing citizens and political leaders. It’s an interesting parallel to Cersei’s plot, as both women face opposition from both within and outside. This plot finds its footing by episode four, after the tragic death of Ser Barristan (another divergence from the book), and it becomes one of the season highlights. Daenerys hasn’t had this much to do since season one, and like I said above, her renewed plotline can be attributed to the placement of the ever charismatic Tyrion Lannister into the mix. The Lannister-Targaryen meeting has been anticipated since day one, and hasn’t been reached yet in the books. But it delivers in spectacular fashion. Episode 8 gives us a great scene between the two, and really shows how far Emilia Clarke and Peter Dinklage have come in these characters’ skins. Unfortunately, we still have Ser Jorah Mormont to deal with, and her advisors Daario and the new Hizdaar zo Loraq don’t make much of an impact, mostly sitting around and waiting for action to strike. But Daenerys remains the series’ best character, as we consider if she is really ready to rule in the Red Keep. By the end of the season, we’ve caught up with the novels, as Daenerys finds herself surrounding by a khalasar of Dothraki soldiers. Hopefully everyone’s favorite queen will go nowhere but up come Season 6, and I am highly anticipating her eventual rule.

Keeping the action in Essos we find Arya Stark in Braavos after fleeing Westeros. This plotline is difficult to adapt because book details are so indistinct, as the youngest Stark girl transforms into “no one” with the help of mentor Jaqen H’ghar at the House of Black and White. Her training doesn’t get too interesting until later in the season with the appearance of Meryn Trant, conveniently on her kill list, but this is an invigorating plot nonetheless. What stands out here is the gorgeous production, with sweeping Braavos cityscapes contrasted with the eerie faces on the walls of the House of Black and White. Arya’s transformation is an intriguing one, and Maisie Williams is bright as ever, but something about this plot feels off. The mysterious H’ghar isn’t a character who can carry an entire plotline with the help of a little girl, and a lot of the book flair gets lost in translation, instead relegated to vague and ostentatious lines that close out a scene. Still, it’s serviceable fare that will keep fans happy but probably won’t make any new Arya fans.

arya-stark-house-of-black-and-white

Touching on Dorne real quick, I know a lot of people were disappointed with this storyline, but I was indifferent either way. They’ve changed so much from Dorne in the books that I almost don’t relate the two together. Sure, the Sand Snakes are a bit overbearing and never really stand out, but sending Jaime and Bronn there has given us some great comic relief and some standout moments between the pair. Jaime has been one of my favorites since day one, and this gives him more to do than wander among the Riverlands like he does in the books. But Dorne lacked the urgency and excitement of the books, and instead features a one-dimensional Ellaria Sand and a decent but forgettable Doran Martell. I hope this isn’t the last we see of Dorne, as the shocking death of Myrcella in the finale may shake things up a bit, and having Trystane along for the ride should reenergize things, but I can’t help but feel very blasé about the whole affair.

That brings us to the end of Season 5, where we find ourselves in a considerably more uncomfortable position than we started in. This season has been a pivotal one for the show, and we’ve been assured the future of the show is in good hands, but Benioff and Weiss have made some mind-boggling decisions about some of our favorite characters, at the expense of making others more interesting. The best episode of the season, The Dance Of Dragons, episode 9, was a highlight, along with Cersei’s walk in the polarizing finale, but Season 5 suffered from poor plotting and pacing throughout. Still, Thrones remains one of the best shows on television, with characters we’ve grown to love (and hate), and a world that feels as engaging as ever. Time will tell, however, if Thrones will be one of the greats.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 16, 2015 in TV Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Spy

Spy2015_TeaserPoster

If anyone was worried for the upcoming female Ghostbusters, don’t be. Melissa McCarthy proves with Spy that she is the reigning comedienne, with action chops to boost. Paul Feig’s hits another feminist win with Spy, a globe-trotting comedy thriller with outstanding performances and hilarity at every turn.

McCarthy’s critics contend that she plays a lot of the same characters. While I won’t dispute that claim, in Spy she spins this to her advantage. Susan Cooper is a CIA analyst, who after a mission with her agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) goes awry, volunteers to go into the field to prevent a nuclear attack. It’s a simple setup with a simple underdog, unsung heroes theme, but it works.

Cooper is adept as an analyst, which gives her promotion a credibility of sorts, and she proves to be more than adept as an agent. This characterization is a win for McCarthy haters, and as Amy Nicholson of Village Voice put it, “…for once, the joke isn’t on McCarthy, but on everyone who can’t see her skills.” Her only fan, Nancy, played by the hysterical Miranda Hart, believes in her as her best pal, while Cooper faces opposition from everyone in the CIA including her boss (Allison Janney) and fellow agents (Jason Statham, Morena Baccarin).

Spy works as a female friendship film, but also as a genre-spoof and well-oiled action comedy. From the Bond opening credits sequence to the tight fight sequences (a kitchen brawl goes from hilarious to tense in seconds), Spy is the full package. Double crossings, conspiracies, bloody deaths are the norm in the R-rated flick, and it works. I was guessing until the end who did what, and the great characters kept me interested until the very end.

The great Rose Byrne delivers as Rayna Boyanov, a villain who I think will be remembered for a long time (sequel, please). Her thick accent and her chemistry with McCarthy flies off the screen, and the two deliver the most laughs per second. If there’s one complaint, it’s that there’s almost too many supporting characters. From agent Rick Ford played with surprising hilarity by Statham to MI6 agent Aldo who is smitten with Cooper, things get a bit crowded at times, and some characters remain underdeveloped. But when the laughs deliver, I’m not too upset about it.

Spy is an outstanding action comedy, and McCarthy’s best film since Bridesmaids. The writing is terrific, blending vulgar comedy with action thrills, and the film rarely stalls. Director Feig is completely committed to this film, making a spy movie that flips genre conventions 180 degrees, but also delivers more than it needs to on a character level, giving us a lovable and relatable lead that makes Spy miles better than what I was anticipating.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 15, 2015 in Movie Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Love & Mercy

Love_&_Mercy_(poster)

Love & Mercy reminds me of why I love the biopic genre so much. While audiences might be aware of Beach Boys’s singer Brian Wilson’s life, Bill Pohlad’s film adds such a creative spin on his persona, and the result is a film that doesn’t conform to traditional biopic standards. It breathes on its own, with two parallel narratives creating one cohesive whole. The result is one of the best films of the year thus far.

Love & Mercy is a beautifully structured film. Set in two distinct periods of Wilson’s life, one in the 1960s, the other the 1980s, the film chronicles his career with the Beach Boys before his loosening of his grip on reality in the 80s as a result of his psychotherapist. It’s a bold move, to lay out the film this way, as it often juggles between time periods without notice, but it works wonderfully. Scenes play right into each other, as the two time periods bleed together to create a tightly-knit account of Wilson’s life.

Wilson is portrayed both by Paul Dano and John Cusack as his younger and older self, respectively. Both perform adeptly, with Dano capturing Wilson’s boyish spirit and creative energy in his songwriting days, and the melancholy Cusack chronicling his lows and his struggle to maintain sanity amidst abuse by his therapist Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). There’s some serious talent on-screen here, and Beach Boys fans will enjoy seeing how both men capture Wilson’s quirks and cadences.

Sometimes it feels like ’60s Wilson and ’80s Wilson are different individuals, and other times they feel exactly the same. It’s a testament to the excellent performances and the filmmaking that cuts and blends scenes at the precise time, making what could feel disjointed an actual thing of beauty, a parallel storyline that works. Rounding out the cast is Elizabeth Banks as Wilson’s second wife Melinda, who is at the film’s heart. One of Banks’s best performances to date, her scenes with Cusack are remarkable, full of tenderness and passion as she helps Wilson out of his psychosis.

Director Bill Pohlad and cinematographer Robert Yeoman take advantage of the audience in Love & Mercy, and their filmmaking separates Love & Mercy from traditional biopics like Walk the Line or Get on Up. The style echoes Wes Anderson and even David Lynch at times. There’s plenty of trickery and outstanding framing on display, especially in the 1960s scenes, that truly encapsulate the soul present in Los Angeles at the time. Excellent recording scenes (that are quite accurate, I’ve heard) are balanced with drug-fueled psychedelic trips to make filmmaking harmony.

Love & Mercy is truly an authentic film, one that does Wilson’s difficult life justice, all while feeling distinct in a crowded genre of music biopics. There’s a respectfulness and compassion for the source material, as it covers some tough subject matter, but also celebrates one of the finest songwriters of our time. An outstanding dual performance from Dano and Cusack should put them in awards consideration, but even if it doesn’t, we still have one of the best music biopics ever made, and one of my favorite films of 2015.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 6, 2015 in Movie Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.