Tag Archives: ‘Spy’

Summer at the movies 2015: The best and worst

'Inside Out' (photo: Disney/Pixar)

By Tim Lammers

Theaters had their share of movie hits and misses this summer. Here’s a look at the five best … and the worst.

5. “Spy” (R): Unlike the overrated “Trainwreck,” this latest teaming of Melissa McCarthy and her “Bridesmaids”/”The Heat” director Paul Feig was by far the summer’s funniest film. After hitting the wall with her obnoxious performance in “Tammy” last summer, McCarthy returned to a character with dimension – a vulnerable sweetheart who can also talk F-bomb-laced smack with the best of them – reminding moviegoers of the very things that had us fall in love with her in the first place. Having a winning cast including Jude Law, Allison Janney, Rose Byrne and an uncharacteristically funny Jason Statham to back McCarthy up didn’t hurt, either. And who says writing, direction and casting isn’t important to a movie?

4. “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” (PG-13): Tom Cruise continued to ramp up the intensity with more real-life, death-defying stunts in the fifth installment of the “Mission: Impossible” series, which has vastly improved since the underwhelming original. “Rogue Nation” isn’t as good as its predecessor “Ghost Protocol,” but clearly Cruise and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie have enough respect for their audiences to give them a twisty, challenging narrative to compliment the film’s exhilarating action scenes. Relative newcomer Rebecca Ferguson also brings a kick-ass performance and proper air of mystery to her ambiguous female lead, and Simon Pegg gives his funniest “M:I” performance yet as Benji Dunn, Ethan Hunt’s (Cruise) techno-nerd right-hand man.

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3. “Love and Mercy” (R): It’s only fitting that the biopic of Beach Boy icon Brian Wilson get a summer release, and one can only hope that it’s not forgotten come awards season in the fall. Director Bill Pohlad expertly tells the riveting story of Wilson during the “Pet Sounds” era (Paul Dano) and later in his career (John Cusack), where the tortured musician endured physical and mental abuse first from his father/manager, Murry (Bill Camp), and in his later years, from manager/psychotherapist Dr. Eugene Landy (a haunting Paul Giamatti). When all is said and done, you can’t help but be affected by the fascinating, behind-the-scenes stories and heartbreaking plight of one of America’s greatest musical geniuses. Dano is brilliant as usual in the role of young Brian, and Cusack gives one of the best performances of his career as the elder composer/musician.

2. “Inside Out” (PG): After a few shaky years for the studio, “Up” Oscar-winning director Pete Docter brings Pixar Animation back to dizzying heights with his ingenious look at the changing emotions of an 11-year-old girl, Riley (voice of Kaitlyn Dias) as she relocates with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco. Docter keys in on five emotions – Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) – and how they become seriously mixed up when they tamper with Riley’s memories. The film works for all ages, although adults – particularly parents – will become weepy when being reminded of their own childhoods and the rites of passage as their own children cross from childhood into adolescence. Beautifully animated with vibrant, iridescent colors, “Inside Out” is Pixar’s best since their 2010 Best Animated Feature Oscar winner “Toy Story 3.”

Tom Hardy in Mad Max Fury Road

1. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (R): Thirty years after his last film in the original “Mad Max” trilogy starring Mel Gibson, writer-director George Miller comes screaming back with his hair on fire to make “Fury Road,” which is easily the most energetic, hyperkinetic, visually whacked-out ride to hit the big screen this year. The film is anchored by a charismatic Tom Hardy as the new Max Rocketansky and bolstered by yet another risky, kick-ass performance by Charlize Theron as female warrior aiding him in a showdown with the skeleton-masked leader (a menacing Hugh Keays-Byrne) of a society of post-apocalyptic crazies. “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a brilliant extension of the original “Mad Max” and “Road Warrior” movie experience as it captures the bat-s*** crazy tone that made the original films cult classics. After starting with low budgets with his original films, you can’t help but feel that Miller finally got the chance to realize the vision of the “Mad Max” movie he’s always wanted to make.

And the worst …

“Vacation” (R): While “Tomorrowland” was in the running for the worst movie of the summer with its preachy diatribe about how we’re all to blame for killing our planet, there’s nothing more painful than a smattering of dreadfully unfunny set-ups and pratfalls in a movie that shouldn’t have been remade in the first place. Ed Helms and Christina Applegate, who are generally likable and talented performers, should be embarrassed about ever signing up for this dreck, which feebly attempts to retrace Rusty Griswold’s (Helms) path to Walley World (the famed destination of the classic “National Lampoon’s Vacation” in 1983). Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo sadly show up for cameos near the end of the film, which only make you lament what might have been if maybe they would have been more creatively involved. Any amount would have elevated this “Vacation” out of its comedic hell.

Runners-up for worst summer movie: “Fantastic Four,” “Ted 2” and “Hot Pursuit.”

Reviews: ‘Spy,’ ‘Entourage,’ ‘Love & Mercy’

Melissa McCarthy in 'Spy' (photo: 20th Century Fox)

By Tim Lammers

“Spy” (R) 3 1/2 stars (out of four)

Melissa McCarthy and writer/director Paul Feig have reteamed again in “Spy,” an uproarious action spy comedy where James Bond meets “The Heat.” Bringing the best of all her acting qualities to the movie, “Spy” has the sweetness of McCarthy from “Bridesmaids,” “St. Vincent” and TV’s “Mike & Molly,” as well as the physical, foul-mouthed force of nature that she brought to “The Heat.”

McCarthy stars as Susan Cooper, a CIA desk analyst who through her technical prowess guides super spy Bradley Fine (Jude Law) through his most dangerous missions. But when tragedy befalls the agency at the hands of Raina Boyanov (Rose Byrne) – a ruthless British nuclear arms dealer – Cooper, who is highly trained in weapons and physical combat, leaves her thankless desk job for the first time to infiltrate Raina’s circle to exact revenge and prevent the weapon from falling into the wrong hands.

The biggest difference with McCarthy’s performance in “Spy” is that she’s not playing the loser this time around, a move that threatened to derail her comedy career with last summer’s disappointment, “Tammy.” In “Spy,” she lacks confidence at the beginning to be sure, yet when her mojo kicks in, she’s sweet, charming, self-assured, glowing and physically, kicks maximum ass. Is the action fast, furious and ridiculous? Absolutely. But it’s also insanely funny. McCarthy is purely magic when she teams with Feig, who previously directed the comedy queen in “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat” opposite Sandra Bullock.

Adding to the hilarity are a smattering of top-level co-stars, including the always great Allison Janney as the no-nonsense deputy director of the CIA; Jason Statham as a rugged, accident prone agent who insists Cooper isn’t the person for the job; and Peter Serafinowicz as a lecherous Italian agent who gropes Cooper at every turn. Byrne is also terrific as the cut-throat Raina, and is hilarious  as she and Cooper personally attack each other at every turn.

Naturally, the door is left open for more “Spy” adventures, and the next one couldn’t come soon enough. A free-wheeling comedy that’s not afraid to launch F-bombs, bullets and bone-crushing action in one-fell swoop, McCarthy, Feig and company, have, in its brisk 2-hour run time, made “Spy” the first must-see comedy of the lackluster summer movie season.

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“Entourage” (R) 3 stars (out of four)

You don’t have to be a fan of the long-running HBO series t

o enjoy “Entourage,” a wild big-screen tale of a superstar actor and his buddies, and, the Hollywood super agent-turned-studio boss who guides them.

In this long-awaited big screen chapter, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) spurns retirement to run a studio, and his first big greenlight is a film that stars his longtime buddy, Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier). The problem is, Chase also wants to make the film his directorial debut, which makes Ari, the studio and the film’s major investor (Billy Bob Thornton) and his son (Haley Joel Osment) nervous, since the big-buck blockbuster is millions of dollars over budget and heavily involves longtime entourage  (Kevin Connolly, Kevin Dillon and Jerry Ferrara).

While a newbie to the “Entourage” experience (I’ve maybe seen a half episode midway through the show’s eight season run), the big-screen version of the hit show didn’t disappoint. Show creator Doug Ellin, who co-wrote and directed the movie, smoothly creates a way to give audience members the back story of Vincent and company so they won’t feel lost; and for fans of the show, the segment (which is told in a interview segment between the guys and Piers Morgan), will likely be a pleasant trip down memory lane.

From there, “Entourage” is an all-out tale of Hollywood excess with lots of sex, partying and hot girls, loaded with big star cameos from high-profile actors, filmmakers and sports stars. Fans who were thrilled by the large reveal of cameos from the film’s trailer shouldn’t get too excited, though. While there are lots of appearances, some like Tom Brady, last no longer than three seconds. Naturally, Mark Wahlberg, the show’s and film’s producer and inspiration for the series, shows up, naturally, with an entourage, no less. All in all, “Entourage” is a fun look at the inner-workings of the madness of Hollywood, yet without being too inside-baseball.

“Love & Mercy” (PG-13) 3 1/2 stars (out of four)

After years of producing such notable films as “Brokeback Mountain,” “The Tree of Life” and “12 Years a Slave,” Bill Pohlad returns to the director’s chair for the first time in 25 years for “Love & Mercy,” a fascinating look into the genius and mental fragility of Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson during the “Pet Sounds” era and a pivotal part of his life when he met the person who would steer him in a new direction.

“Love & Mercy” stars Paul Dano and John Cusack in two iterations of the musical Mozart, as the film hops back and forth between the early days of the Beach Boys and Wilson’s struggle to get “Pet Sounds” made; and his struggle with mental illness under the 24-hour care of his controversial guardian Dr. Eugene Landy (the brilliant Paul Giamatti).  The early and latter scenes are of equal measure in heartbreak, as the young Brian slogs through the mental and sometimes physical abuse of his father/manager; and suffers the mental degradation of Landy as the doctor’s unconventional treatment of Wilson spins out of control.

Dano delivers the most effective performance of Wilson, largely in part to the stunning resemblance of the Beach Boy in his younger years. Cusack, who looks nothing like the older Wilson, still manages to project the heartbreaking vulnerability of the older version of Wilson, but would have been so much more effective with the use of prosthetics. Elizabeth Banks also gives a memorable performance as Melina Ledbetter, the woman who fights to liberate and legally emancipate Wilson from Landy, whose treatment involves him taking a stake in the musician/composer’s business dealings. For music fans – especially Beach Boys fans – “Love and Mercy” is must-see.

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