Spy (January 11th, 2016)
Director: Paul Feig
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, and Jude Law
This is a movie starring Melissa McCarthy. A pretty big, successful movie starring Melissa McCarthy. And yet coming out of this movie, all I can say is God bless Jason Statham. He is legitimately the only great part of the movie, understanding completely what kind of movie this is. He doesn’t mug for the camera or make the joke obvious. For a man whose cinematic reputation makes it seem like he only does stupid action movies, this dude has fucking talent. He is funny. Like, unbelievably funny. He improvs better than everyone else in the movie. And there are some comedic heavyweights here, and he schools them. All without a smirk on his face. And with his physicality he brings with him from his massive amount of action work and his athletic background before becoming an actor, he has some seriously great physical gags. I can’t overstate how great he is. But, sadly, enough about him. The rest of the movie is, frankly, not up to his high standards. It wants to be a legit spy movie that’s funny. Not a spoof or anything. The way Shaun of The Dead did with zombies or Black Dynamite with blaxploitation, it wanted to be a legit entry with a comedic bent. But, sad to say it didn’t meet that high bar set by those two examples. Or, the high bar set earlier in 2015 with Kingsman. That movie did exactly what this movie wanted to do (minus the feminist themes), by being a rip roaring spy yarn with a good number of laughs. Hell, for as good as Statham is in this movie, nothing in here beats the Church massacre in Kingsman. That scene alone is a perfect encapsulation of the tone needed to make this kind of movie. Spy doesn’t have that. It’s too comedic leaning. And it doesn’t even nail the comedy for the most part, being way too broad and missing at a good deal of swings it takes. And the action, when it comes in, is not very good. Not that it’s bad or anything, but it’s mainly it’s just bland. Nothing special and it’s shot with the style of a workman comedy director trying to do action scenes he’s seen before. Some slow mo thrown into the scenes with no real finesse, trying to elevate the moderately well done stunt work. And if you wanna make a comedic version of a spy movie, you need to do one of two things or both. Heighten the violence or heighten the sexuality. Spy flicks are always showing off the violence of the field and making it kinda sexy. Sexuality is usually part of them, mainly in the Bond movies. And none of these things are well done in the movie, with sexuality only being represented by Peter Serafinowicz’s terribly unfunny sexual deviant cariacture. And the violence is basically PG13 violent for the most part, with some moments where they try to be R rated but ultimately come off very toothless. I will say this about the movie though. The first half is pretty much terrible. Not funny and the spy stuff isn’t good. Well, the whole movies plot isn’t interesting, unlike Kingsman. But the second half, things kinda pick up and are much more interesting. The comedy works better, mainly because McCarthy unloads some actual humor instead of the tired old fat loser jokes. The rest of the cast is ok for the most part. Jude Law really doesn’t do it for me as the dumb ass substitute of James Bond. His comedic timing isn’t as tight as it was in the Sherlock Holmes movies. Rose Byrne is good, playing an even bitchier version of her role from Bridesmaids. This movie is overall an ok ride with an amazing journey through Statham island. I wish it was better but it wasn’t, not really helping out with my hesitance for the Feig directed Ghostbusters movie.
A Better Life (January 12th, 2016)
Director: Chris Weitz
Starring: Demian Bichir and Jose Julian
Bicycle Thieves is one of the greatest movies ever made and one of the most influential, one of the earliest examples of Italian Neorealism. Telling the story of a desperate man trying to get work to support his family as he is beaten down by circumstance, it’s a masterful movie. It’s got such a simple concept though, it’s a surprise it hasn’t been remade in one form or the other. Which leads us to this movie, a loose remake of that iconic film. Set in modern (2011) LA, it follows the tribulations of an illegal immigrant (Bichir) as he struggles everyday at a gardening job just to keep his son (Julian) fed. When the opportunity to take over the gardening business, he struggles but accepts in the hope that it will help him move to a better neighborhood to protect his son from gangs. Obviously things don’t go so well, leading to some heart wrenching scenes that will fundamentally change these two mens lives. So while the overarching story is similar (poor father trying to provide for family is beaten down by life after taking a big leap), the details within are different. Obviously the setting, adding a much more dangerous feel to the flick. Gang infested LA is no 1940s Italy, and you can feel it. Now, this isn’t Training Day or some other David Ayer movie. Not grimy or brutal or anything. But the danger is lingering on the edges of the frame. And obviously the plight of migrant Mexicans is a much different life than that of a poor Italian man in Italy. It’s a much rougher, precarious lifestyle. At any moment, Bichir can be arrested and sent back to Mexico, his son left back in the States. Always having to make sure you don’t attract attention from the wrong people is a draining life. Working a shit, blue collar job for shit pay in your middle age is not easy. This isn’t a flashy movie filled with big moments that make an audience whoop and holler. Nor is this an easy movie with happy endings, yet not so bleak that you end the movie feeling like your wrists look really in need of a good cutting. It’s a movie that toes the line between heart warming and heart wrenching, but one that ends up a note of hope in the face of oppression. Weitz does a good job behind the camera to elicit all these complex emotions, thanks in no small part to the help of Demian Bichir. The man is a fantastic actor, able to properly convey the hard life that this man leads and all the hopes and disappointments he has in his life. A good man just trying to survive. Bichir truly did earn his Oscar nomination for this. Julian is ok as the son, only really doing good work in the end where he’s allowed to do more than play the spoiled brat. I really loved this movie alot more than I could have imagined. It’s totally human, never descending into melodrama and getting to some honesty that doesn’t condescend. It may not necessarily best The Bicycle Thives, but it comes close and I may honestly watch this one more. This comes highly recommended to all.
The Big Short (January 14th, 2016)
Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Steve Carrell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt
Who knew Adam McKay had an Oscar nominated movie in him? For a while now it’s been obvious he’s had the financial crisis on his mind, kinda shoving it into whatever he can (The Other Guys mainly) and always talking about it online. But the man who has only made super silly comedies his whole career didn’t seem like the kind of guy who would take an obsession he had outside of movies and turn it into a pretty serious movie that would grab awards attention. And yet, that’s exactly what he did. He assembled a group of elite actors, one of whom is a past collaborator (Carrell) and tasked them all with a seemingly herculean effort in making nonsensical Wall Street jargon sound sensible and also make it kinda funny in an ironic way. But I will say, the movie isn’t as funny as you’d think. Certainly this is no Wolf of Wall Street. Satire isn’t the name of the game like that Scorsese masterpiece, even though this does have a similar aspect of laughing at the lunacy of it all. The humor is alot of verbal wordplay or structural jokes, when they cut away from the action to have a celebrity explain a certain aspect of wall street skullduggery to the audience. Otherwise, it’s not that hilarious of a movie. Cause it’s a lot of technical talk, trying to unravel the mountains of bullshit and negligence that allowed this to happen. It’s entertaining, but never gut busting. Gosling is the most outright comedic performer in the movie, almost like a slightly more moral version of the guys from Wolf of Wall Street. Carrell is funny, in the same way that some characters on TV with mild autism are. He’s the one who can’t keep his mouth shut damn it, and he’s sick of the bull. Bale is similar in that regard too, but as a more man childish role. He’s a heavy metal listening, shit clothes wearing, unbathed genius with no social skills. And a lazy eye. Funny! Brad Pitt is doing his zen thing, playing a guy who has no vested interest in any of the bullshit going on but is just helping out some friends. They all do good work, Pitt and Gosling in particular my favorites, but none so great that they stand out in an awards season. This is really all about the financial crisis, and the people are a means to an end. Pitt may be the best in my opinion because there’s just one moment where he turns that slacker persona on a dime and gets deadly serious, laying out the real life horrors that is at stake here. It’s a great moment, and one that was needed if the reception by morons to Wolf of Wall Street was any indication that subtlety is not welcome. Now, for a movie that is basically the entire 3rd act of Trading Places spread out over 2 hours with some more explanation to it, it surprisingly works. And I get why the Academy nominated it for some awards. But for me, it’s a little too slight. This is all stuff we pretty much get. It’s bad and the bad guys fucked us because they were stupid/greedy. It doesn’t reach the comedic highs or the thematic highs of Wolf of Wall Street. It’s a really good flick despite it’s powerpoint presentation feel. But of the Best Picture nominees, I have a feeling this is gonna be looked back on as the worst of the bunch. Which is good for us all, where the Best Picture nominees usually have one or two absolute shit pile awards bait movies in there.
Room (January 15th, 2016)
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers, and Joan Allen
Sometimes you see a movie that’s expertly made and that hits you real hard and you respect it immensely and when it’s over, you have no desire to ever see it again because it’s such an emotional gut punch. This is one of those movies. It’s so unrelentingly sad and human and devastating that a rewatch seems like self inflicted torture. I’m very glad I saw it and it really worked on me, but boy do I not wanna see it again. The story of the movie is simple enough, at least at the start. We’re in one room, watching a woman (Larson) who was abducted to be a sex slave by some bland suburban white guy. Also in the room? The son (Tremblay) she had from the man. They’re trapped in this room and it’s their entire world. To the boy, it’s all he’s known. He believes the world only extends to the 4 walls he’s seen, thanks in part to the lies the mother told him as it was easier than the truth. So we spend time with these people in this odd little life they had to build together, mainly strung together by the mother to keep her sane and keep her going. There’s some nice nice twists and turns in here, but obviously I won’t spoil them. But they deliver some absolute tearjerking moments. Larson is absolutely fantastic as this woman, a strong and fragile woman who is teetering on the edge of sanity while trying to keep her son happy and away from the misery of her true life. Tremblay is unreal. At the beginning you think that he’s gonna be another annoying, uber cute movie kid but alas. This movie has more tricks up it’s sleeves than simple cliche. From that premise of a woman being kidnapped for sex, you’d assume it to be a more graphic and upsetting movie. But it’s no exploitation movie. It’s very tasteful without pulling any punches. Quite the feat. And since it has Sean Bridgers as this blandly evil abductor, it plays as a nice and tasteful double feature to the insanely in your face The Woman. This could have easily descended into melodrama, and there are moments where you think it will. But it veers away from that and delivers something with such honesty that it hurts. Not many movies get to the heart of being a mother in such a starkly beautiful way. Hell, you could look at this movie as a metaphor for post partem depression in some ways. There’s some more thematic elements in here that make it a fascinating picture that I won’t get into as it would spoil the movie, but I’ll say it takes a very unique journey. I like movies that take a risk like this by spending such an extended period of time in one location, and this one does so with aplomb and real genuine emotion. But it’s a ride I never wanna take again.