Review: Spy

spy-melissa-mccarthy-03-636-380

DIR/WRI:  Paul Feig •  PRO: Peter Chernin, Paul Feig, Jessie Henderson, Jenno Topping • DOP: Robert D. Yeoman • ED: Mellissa Bretherton • MUS: Theodore Shapiro • DES: Jefferson Sage • CAST: Melissa McCarthy, Miranda Hart, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Allison Janney, Bobby Cannavale

 

When super-suave agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) is killed by the fabulously-quiffed Raina Boyanov (Rose Byrne), his CIA desk jockey handler Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) is devastated. Worse than that, now there’s a nuclear bomb available to any dastardly buyer, and Cooper begs Chief Crocker (Allison Janney) for a chance to finally get out in the field and do some real spying-type stuff.

Agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) laughs off that idea – he wants to go in with all guns blazing – but this requires a light touch, and he’s too OTT. When he storms out, the Chief has no choice but to – reluctantly – give the nod to Susan. Finally she’s going undercover!

Quick as a flash – well, after getting her underwhelming super spy “weapon” – Susan has said goodbye to her BFF and fellow agent Nancy (Miranda Hart) and is on the way to Budapest, slipping into her first hideous cat women/single-for-life frumpy middle-America lady tourist disguise.

Ford is there too – he’s gone rogue – and now Susan has to deal with him and try not to blow her cover (or make too many mistakes). She manages to infiltrate Raina’s inner circle, but then things start to get really dangerous: can Susan and her friends save the world (and finally get a decent haircut and frock to stop Raina’s bitchy comments?).

Written and directed by Feig, Spy reunites him again with his Bridesmaids and Heat star McCarthy, who was wobbling a bit after the relative failure of Tammy, which was the first film where she was the only name on the poster.

Perhaps taking note of this, Feig does the unusual for this kind of film; he beefs up the supporting cast and actually gives them something to do. Apparently a huge fan of English TV star Miranda Hart (an unknown in the USA), Feig gives her a funny and meaty role, and she almost steals the film from McCarthy at times; they’re like a kind of female Laurel and Hardy.

The rest of the supporting cast – Statham, Law, Byrne and another British comedian Peter Serafinowicz, playing an amorously cheesy Italian agent – get plenty to do as well, and because they’re all totally up for a laugh, the combination effect works really well and makes McCarthy shine a little more.

There are plenty of laughs to be had, and with smart direction (we’re in Bond territory here of course, but there are chases and knife fights alongside blood, vomit and plenty of f-bombs – Americans love to hear English people swear), this is likely to set off a sequel or two…

James Bartlett

15A (See IFCO for details)
119 minutes

Spy is released 5th June 2015

Spy – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Side Effects

DIR: Steven Soderbergh  WRI: Scott Z. Burns  PRO: Scott Z. Burns, Gregory Jacobs, Lorenzo di Bonaventura  DOP: Steven Soderbergh  ED: Steven Soderbergh   DES: Howard Cummings  CAST: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum

It’s a big day for Emily Taylor (Mara). Her young husband Martin (Tatum) is being released from jail after serving four years for insider trading, and it should be a chance for the young couple to start all over all again, and maybe recapture the glamorous lifestyle they had. But then Emily drives her car into a wall – and it doesn’t look like an accident.

At hospital, the on-call psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Law) believes she’s not suicidal, but she does become his patient – and the search for a drug that will help lift her ‘fog’ of depression begins. Things improve, but then it goes sideways; she begins to sleepwalk, loses her sense of time, and then there’s another possible suicide attempt. Nothing’s working, so after consulting Emily’s former therapist Victoria Sibert (Zeta-Jones), Law cautiously prescribes ablixa, a new ‘wonder’ drug he’s acting as a consultant for.

At this stage, the fim takes one of its many turns and things aren’t all they seem as Soderbergh skilfully lays out his revelatory drama. An incident results in Emily being shipped off for court-ordered psychiatric care, but then a question mark forms over Dr. Banks and his actions. Was what happened a terrible side effect of ablixa, the drug he prescribed? Is someone else to blame here?

Mud sticks though, and now Banks becomes front page news. There’s a medical enquiry, and he quickly begins to lose everything: patients, the consultancy, and then his practice. His psychiatrist his sessions with Emily have to continue though, and he becomes suspicious about her. Some of the things she said don’t add up, and the stock prices for a rival to ablixa have soared in the wake of this scandal; can the two things be related?

Then Banks receives some compromising photographs in the mail, and a story from his past comes back to haunt him. His wife Dee (Vinessa Shaw) leaves him, taking their son, and Banks realizes that he’s being set up, and there’s nothing he can do about it – except work with his patient, Emily, to find out what’s going on…

Apparently Soderbergh’s last movie before his retirement, Side Effects is a low-scale thriller that again marks another tight collaboration between him and writer Scott Z. Burns (they worked on Contagion and The Informant! too). Soderbergh – again working as his own cinematographer and editor under assumed names – keeps the tension up, and though there are some good performances from Rooney and especially Law, there’s a distinct lacks of thrills and danger.

 

Whether there’s the suggestion of a huge medical industry conspiracy or not, you still expect Law to get into some real trouble, be in real danger – but here it’s more garden variety career and family ruination. When you start with a bloody stabbing and get into lies and deception you expect more of a drama spiral, but never the less it’s a solid piece of modern filmmaking. No matter what, make sure you check out the great ablixa ‘website’: www.tryablixa.com

James Bartlett

15A (see IFCO website for details)

105mins
Side Effects is released on 8th March 2013

Side Effects – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGe2ZE0prGg

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Cinema Review: Anna Karenina

DIR: Joe Wright • WRI: Tom Stoppard  • PRO: Tim Bevan, Paul Webster • DOP: Seamus McGarvey • ED: Melanie Oliver • DES: Sarah Greenwood • CAST: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Johnson, Matthew Macfadyen

Not another costume drama; I hear you say. And you couldn’t be criticised for saying so. It’s not there have been an excessive number of period films in the past few years, or that they have not been of a high quality, but that the surge in well-produced TV drama has seen an explosion on our screens of ball gowns, steam engines and lives ruined by affairs. The costume drama has come down with a terrible case of the Downtons.

But Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina is something special. Not since Tom Jones has a costume drama been as ambitious, indeed audacious, stylistically as this film is. Leo Tolstoy’s tale of ball gowns, steam engines and lives ruined by affairs has been injected with a burst of visual flair by the Atonement auteur, staging much of the action within a 19th Century Russian theatre, where characters move from scene to scene as if in an epic, shifting play.

Within this theatrical world, the stage itself plays host to bedchambers and offices, while the house is home to work floors, train stations and ballrooms. The poorer denizens of Moscow are briefly found living in the rafters amongst squalor and sandbags. But like Larry Olivier’s Henry V the doors are soon flung open to the outside world and Wright’s camera becomes free to roam in the icy wilds of Russia.

It’s a remarkable production of a book that has been filmed many times before, and while the text gives no real reason for such a theatre-themed rendition, Wright’s excessive cinematic flair not only justifies the stylistic choice but makes it the film’s biggest draw. Returning to the period drama after the critically mauled Oscar®-slut The Soloist and the misjudged teen assassin oddity Hanna, Wright has produced his most visually tantalising film yet. There are plenty of examples of his trademark extended tracking shots, which are here used to sensational effect, with scenery and costumes changing on screen within the theatre to transition between scenes. A sweeping ball room sequence builds to a fevered pace to express burning desires and frantic jealousy, while in the film’s greatest set piece a thrilling horse race is remarkably enclosed within the theatre, with the animals thundering across the stage.

Wright regular Keira Knightley stars as the tragically smitten Anna Karenina, who although married to the good but closed-off Alexei Karenin (Jude Law), finds herself unable to resist the excessively charming Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). When the star-crossed lovers meet, sparks all-too-literally fly and a very public scandal is not far off.

Knightley gives a strong performance in the title role, although she permanently looks too young to play the princess (the passage of time is unfortunately poorly indicated). But her face, captured in repeated close-ups, is as beautiful as the gowns and diamonds that coat her person, and Wright tells his story through her amplified expressions, swamped in light.

As Vronsky, Taylor-Johnson is a weak link, not quite capturing the character’s newfound romantic nature as Anna draws him out of his womanising. Jude Law is surprisingly restrained as the jilted, befuddled Karenin, and is all the better for it – this is one of his finest performances in years. But the film’s most inspired performance is that of Dohmnall Gleeson, sporting a luxuriant ginger beard as Konstantin Levin, an idealist aristocrat hopelessly in love with a spoiled young debutante. Gleeson evokes a remarkable sadness coupled with an honest pride that he is doing the best he can with his life, and his scenes are in every case a joy to watch.

The screenplay, by the venerable Tom Stoppard, finds ample romance and tragedy and even a healthy dose of comedy in Tolstoy’s text, and the film never gives way to excessive narration to tell its story. While the pacing runs out of steam for much of the final act, the resolution is well composed and no scene feels out of place.

Whether or not audiences take to the film’s theatrical flair remains to be seen, but Wright’s ambition is not to be scoffed at. With production and costume design more glowing than the Oscar® statuettes they will win, Anna Karenina is a visual feast from the moment the curtain goes up.

David Neary

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
126 mins

Anna Karenina is released on 7th September 2012

Anna Karenina – Official Website
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPGLRO3fZnQ

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Cinema Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

DIR: Guy Ritchie • WRI: Michele Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney • PRO: Susan Downey, Dan Lin, Joel Silver, Lionel Wigram • DOP: Philippe Rousselot • ED: James Herbert • DES: Sarah Greenwood • CAST: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris, Rachel McAdams

So when we last left Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and director Guy Richie, the looming threat of the arrival of Holmes’ to-be nemesis Moriarty was on the horizon. And so here he is placed front and centre, played with devilish delight by Mad Men alumni Jared Harris. Such is the jump in villainy that it’s a disappointment that the rest of the movie can’t keep up.

As is the rule for sequels, bigger is better; and so instead of just staying in London this time, the olde time dynamic duo are hopping all over Europe to stop Moriarty’s dastardly plans. Downey Jr. and Law have fit snugly into their roles a second time around, with their homoerotic bromance dialled up to 11. New additions Stephen Fry as Sherlock’s older, smarter brother Mycroft, and Noomi Rapace as a fortune telling gypsy who somehow is at the centre of everything, don’t really make much of an impression.

The story is kind of confusing since only Holmes and Moriarty seem to know what it is, and only reveal it right at the very end. And once it is revealed, it’s vaguely disappointing considering Moriarty is supposed to be an evil genius but for some reason is stealing nefarious plot ideas from Z-List Bond Villains. The action sequences have also been ramped up in size and intensity from the original, especially during a blistering shoot-out in a German forest that sees our heroes on the run from a world-class marksman and an armada of tanks.

But Holmes was never intended to be an action film, and the scenes of verbal jousting between Holmes and Moriarty are without a doubt the highlights of the movie. More of those for Part Three, please.

Rory Cashin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is released on 16th December 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Contagion

don't touch me I'm matt-damon

DIR: Steven Soderbergh • WRI: Scott Z. Burns • PRO: Gregory Jacobs, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher • DOP: Steven Soderbergh • ED: Stephen Mirrione • DES: Howard Cummings • CAST: Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Jennifer Ehle, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow

Premiered at the recent Venice Film Festival, there’s a huge amount of buzz around Contagion
– so much so that the US release date was brought forward to the weekend of 9/11, a time when people are remembering a terrifying event that affected – and killed – thousands of people.

This marketing tactic might be a lucky coincidence, but either way, does Contagion – a story about the fictional MEV-1 virus that wreaks havoc across the world – live up to the hype? It certainly starts at a breakneck pace with scary scenes that’ll ensure you wash your hands more often and stop touching your face (you do it about 3,000 times a day).

Contagion actually begins with the sound of a cough. It’s Day 2, and in a Chicago airport Beth Emhoff (Paltrow) is calling her lover. She’s been away on business in Hong Kong and is now going home to her husband and kids. Within a day she’s having seizures, and soon after she’s on the slab. They buzzsaw her skull open, check out her brain, and the Medical Examiner says those classic words: ‘Call everyone’.

Her son dies right afterwards too, leaving somehow-immune husband Mitch (Damon) and his daughter Jory (Anna Jacoby-Heron) separated by a temporary quarantine and unwilling first witnesses to the fury of an unknown and deadly virus.

Others are falling like flies in London and Hong Kong, and soon the hunt is on to find what’s killing everyone. At the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, head honcho Dr. Ellis Cheever (Fishburne) is trying to stay in control as Homeland Security starts getting twitchy, and Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) is beginning to organize what the mounting numbers of sick and dying are going to need.

As the virus slowly infects the planet, World Health Organization doctor Leonara Orantes (Cotillard) is trying to find Patient Zero: who they were and where they were infected on Day 1, while back in Atlanta in the CDC lab, Dr. Ally Hextall (Ehle) is trying to isolate the virus and find a vaccine.

Out on the streets in San Francisco is Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law, sporting a ridiculous pair of gappy front teeth and showcasing an Australian or possibly South African accent), a blogger and conspiracy theorist who believes the Government and chemical companies are all in cahoots, and that there might be another antidote. He fuels the fire of panic, and soon State borders are closing and the National Guard are on the streets… yet still the death toll rises.

Director Soderbergh brings his slick, crowd-pleasing Ocean’s 11 skills to bear here, setting up a cracking premise quickly and laying the path for a story that promises to have everything; an unseen enemy, a hopeless situation, a cast of heroes fighting for their fellow humans (even if it means their own sacrifice) and a race against time.

We’re in classic disaster movie territory, yet Contagion falls short of the mark because it fails to give anything emotional for the audience to connect too. Sure, people are dying by the truck load – including cast members – but with so many of them in so many places, there’s never enough time to get to know them.

With barely any idea of what’s at stake for them – and what decisions they might make as a result – it’s hard to care that much. Also, sometimes it’s so long before you come back to a character that you’ve not only almost forgotten about them, but didn’t see how they reacted to the escalating disaster: they weren’t frozen in amber, were they?

In attempting to raise the level of tension and make this a film that appeals to everyone across the world – infectious diseases are no respecter of boundaries or oceans – it actually distances the audience, seeming too often to be more of an extreme environmentalist video about ‘what might happen one day.’

The chronic lack of action – it’s all about boardrooms – is a problem too, and at times the film really drags. That’s not a good thing when there’s a parasitic time bomb exploding, soldiers on the streets and people looting and killing – the bubble around the cast needed to be broken.

The much-trumpeted desire to be scientifically accurate but not boring (screenwriter Scott Z. Burns and Soderbergh worked for several weeks with Dr. Ian Lipkin, a scientist renowned for his work on SARS and the West Nile Virus) is something the film accomplishes well, but sadly it isn’t enough to compensate, and instead ends up diverting the human focus even more.

Finally, it stretched credulity beyond the borders of belief when, throughout the film, Matt Damon’s family home always seemed to have electricity, his daughter her mobile phone, and Jude Law his website. In the US at least, hot weather regularly causes power cuts, and everyone knows how often their internet access crashes or their mobiles suddenly cut out, yet in the midst of disaster the Emhoff lights were blazing. Really? With society in chaos and disarray?

It was just another thing that made Contagion far less thrilling – and believable – than it clearly meant to be (and probably really is), so overall it’s an entertaining but forgettable diversion, one that – I admit – did have me shifting in my seat every time someone in the cinema coughed…

James Bartlett

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Contagion is released on 21st October 2011

Contagion – Official Website

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Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes
DIR: Guy Ritchie • WRI: Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, Simon Kinberg • PRO: Susan Downey, Dan Lin, Joel Silver • DOP: Philippe Rousselot • ED: James Herbert • DES: Sarah Greenwood • CAST: Robert Downey, Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Eddie Marsan

It’s no mystery why Sherlock Holmes has remained popular since his inception by Arthur Conan Doyle. As a benevolent private investigator, Holmes employs his keenly trained mind, skilled fists and invaluable partner to resolve issues beyond the grasp of the police.

However, it doesn’t take Holmes’ genius to deduce that in direct comparison with a more contemporary, muscle-bound, gadget-wielding, cowl-wearing private investigator, poor Holmes seems decidedly dated.

Sherlock Holmes is no Batman. Thankfully, director Guy Ritchie knows this.

So, how to resolve the issue of said comparison? Elementary: focus on Holmes’ wit, which extends beyond his ‘not inconsiderable’ analytical skills. Next add genuine chemistry between the charismatic lead (Robert Downey Jr.) and the stiff-lipped Watson (Jude Law). Finish with a perplexing case, and the result? Sherlock Holmes.

Rest assured there were furrowed brows, clenched fists and gnashed teeth when this honour was not bestowed upon a British actor. Well, if you can’t have a British one, might as well have a bloody good one. And as expected, Downey Jr. does the role justice. His eccentric, energetic portrayal is a divergence from the common depiction, but it suits the pacing of the film. It will also make you laugh. Alot.

Without seeming ridiculous or worse still, unprofessional, Holmes tackles his mysterious case with all the vigour and conviction one could hope for. He is not alone in his endeavours though, and his cooperation/constant bickering with the stalwart Watson and the mischievous Adler (Rachel McAdams) make up the bulk of the humour. And a considerable bulk it is.

Unsurprisingly, apprehension aplenty is afoot for Holmes and Watson, evidenced by some cracking fights. Unfortunately the only real criticism of this fun venture is that these scenes employ unnecessary close-ups that tarnish the viewer’s experience. Sadly this has become common practice in many studios, and it’s difficult to decipher why. Perhaps Holmes should take a crack at that mystery.

Despite the humour, action and mystery, the attraction of Sherlock Holmes is undoubtedly the nuanced, inventive ways in which clues, revelations, inferences and general cleverness litter the film. You are never far from Holmes smugly reasoning away another problem, at which point you will kick yourself for not figuring it out and smirk at the ease with which the good inspector unravels it.

Sherlock Holmes could have been torn asunder by a modern audience, who demand a darker, edgier, Kevlar-clad hero. Mercifully, due to nice pacing, clever writing, engaging action and strong performances, with tongue slightly within cheek, viewers should be too busy enjoying themselves to complain.

Jack McGlynn
(See biog here)

Rated 12a (see IFCO website for details)

Sherlock Holmes is released 25th Dec 2009

Sherlock Holmes – Official Website

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