(Let me begin with a huge shout-out to the Golden State Warriors, 2015 NBA champions!)
Beware of Large, Angry Females on the Rampage
(I’m waiting for the P.C. Police to arrest me for this title)
While I’ve been a bit more in league lately with the overall critical consensus on the various cinematic offerings that I’ve chosen to review, this week I’m mostly going off in my own direction again concerning a couple of current, big-box-office-successes that I really don’t have that much to say about
(although that’s never stopped me before from writing short-story-length-reviews, as I’ve proudly done here in my usual-opinionated-manner), despite many in the overall critics’ community being in popcorn-tub-awe of these recent-runaway-hits (especially Spy, scoring an astoundingly-impressive 95% positive response from the many reviewers surveyed by Rotten Tomatoes—details in the links far below if you like, even if I don't agree with them much).
Reviews by Ken Burke
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews. Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up. Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
Yet, I wish that more of that box-office-moolah were going to touching stories of the human spirit such as the Brian Wilson biography Love & Mercy (Bill Pohlad; still under $5 million in receipts after 2 weeks in release) and the aging-gracefully-experiences of I’ll See You in My Dreams (Brett Haley; doing even worse with only about $3 million after 5 weeks), both reviewed in our first posting of June 10, 2015 (the second one is about Satyajit Ray’s well-honored-human-interest-classic from India, The Apu Trilogy, now playing in select cities, also unlikely to be making much money as it dares to use subtitles). But, it’s not too expected, even my me, that trauma-induced-pop-music or septuagenarian-love could provide notable competition against massive teeth and claws for ticket-sales, so I’ll just thank the universe that such personally-focused-films also get made, to some degree because the industry as a whole continues to be propped up by the financial successes of such fare as Jurassic World, ultimately allowing the quieter moments to also be heard occasionally.
A CIA computer-jockey goes into the field undercover in this comic version of a Bond/Bourne movie because the agent she’s got a major crush on was killed by the cold-hearted-villain who’s about to sell a nuclear bomb to a deadly buyer; lots of humor here if you like dirty words, physical gags, and intentional stereotypes, but it does wear thin after awhile.
After faking her way into a high-class-casino (where Ford’s still shadowing her), Susan prevents yet another assassination, this time a poisoned cocktail meant for Rayna, who then takes our novice spy onto her private jet to Budapest but the pilot also turns on Rayna so Susan has to save her again, covering up her blown-identity with her own foul-mouthed-exaggeration (another characteristic of Ford’s, whose exploits—if true, or even feasible—would make James Bond look like a small-town-librarian by comparison [a stereotype, I admit, but well within the spirit of this farce]) of being hired by Rayna’s father as a secret bodyguard. In Budapest, Susan encounters Nancy, sent by Crocker as further protection, which she needs when they’re almost killed by double-crossing-double-agent Karen Walker (Morena Baccarin) but someone shoots her first. Ultimately, we find that “someone” was Fine, working a ruse as a fake double-agent himself, to get close to Rayna, so Susan also uses that angle with Rayna during the negotiations for selling the bomb to a Russian gangster, but he’s killed by De Luca, who wants to then eliminate everyone else before leaving with the briefcase-of-diamonds-payoff—along with the bomb—but he simply escapes to a helicopter after Ford blunders in, causing enough of a distraction that Fine is only wounded while everyone else survives. Susan finally saves the day after jumping onto De Luca’s helicopter, climbing aboard (dropping Ford into the nearby lake in the process), being saved from him by Nancy’s rifle-shot from another ‘chopper that belongs to rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson (just noting that he’s part of this plot shows you how intentionally absurd it is, so I won’t bother explaining how he got there; I also won’t note subplot details about Aldo [Peter Serafinowicz], who’s either an Italian agent with a lustful interest in Susan or Albert, a British MI6 agent pretending to be such, although he does show genuine interest in her either way), with De Luca falling to his death as he tries to grab Susan’s cupcake necklace but she opens the clasp. In the aftermath, Crocker recovers the bomb and promotes Susan to Field Agent, Ford sets off on a seaside-cruise not realizing he’s on a lake, Fine asks Susan to dinner but she (probably aware that there’s nothing but professional teamwork between them) opts instead for a celebration with Nancy (who got a stash of champagne and beef jerky from Fiddy), then wakes up the next morning to find that she’s likely spent the night with Ford (much to her shocked dismay).
So What? From an income standpoint, while Spy’s not bringing in the record amount of bucks attached to Jurassic Work it’s no slouch either, having grossed about $56.9 million after only 2 weeks in release; further, it’s getting raves from the critics, with that lofty, aforementioned 95% at Rotten Tomatoes plus a hefty 75% from the Metacritics, which is quite generous relative to what that group usually has to offer (more details in the links farther below). McCarthy demonstrates versatility with her smooth transformation from meek, browbeaten data-gather to profane, gutsy, limber field agent, while Law is appropriately self-centered and self-important, Janney is consistently fierce until the very end (not the mode you want if you’re working for her), Byrne is a great ice-princess (but not like Elsa in Frozen [Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, 2013; review in our January 24, 2014 posting]), and Statham is impressing everyone with hilarious parodies of his normal action roles, coming across as a bit of a moron who may only have a successful career by dumb luck rather than any particular skill on his part. (In fact, Spy leaves you with the impression that CIA agents as a whole are mostly bumbling or corrupt, a rather discomforting thought as our Congress muddles through what to do with legislation intended to protect us from terrorist threats such as the bomb-sellers in this movie; I’m no advocate of unlimited-government-surveillance, but if these “protectors”—who seem to depend on their earpiece-handlers for their very survival—are anything like our actual frontline of defense [as many recent stories about idiocy by our Secret Service and TSA agents imply], then I think Rand Paul and his fellow “Don’t Tread on Me” libertarians might want to reconsider their absolutist-privacy-stances in favor of some tools to better defend against terrorists who aren’t so smug and easily-defeated as the ones undone by McCarthy—OK, enough politically-charged-conflation from me about silly movies and real national security issues, but given many of the news stories we find on a regular basis you have to wonder sometimes who’s producing the crazier “scripts,” Hollywood or the collective operations of our national government—Democrats and Republicans alike.)
Bottom Line Final Comments: In trying to determine my stars rating for Spy I found myself thinking back to my discussion about such decisions in my review of San Andreas, mulling over the evaluative difference between praising something for simply being an enjoyable diversion when that’s all it tries to be vs. assigning a larger-cultural-context-value that compares the current object of discussion to a larger framework of relevant conceptual considerations (films in this case, which I usually—haughtily—differentiate as “movies” when they fall into my 3½-stars-or-below-categories). There (as I noted in my comments on Jurassic World, where I made a similar decision) I was wiling to go to the 3½ level (which is actually pretty high for me; I normally don’t go above 4 stars, reserving the highest numbers for films that truly make a lasting mark on both the cinema industry and the culture that surrounds it, as with The Apu Trilogy) in respect of how San Andreas takes its main reason for existing—the depiction of physical catastrophe in the arena of the Disaster genre (or, maybe a subgenre parallel to Futuristic Science-Fiction where the calamity comes in our present time, presenting us with a natural phenomenon impossible to overcome, reinforcing fears of our human limitations, with the Futuristic Sci-Fi stories taking us a step up the cinematic-conceptual-ladder by presenting warnings about external-crises-of-existence [not internal-existential-crises; those are stories for angst-ridden-independent/artistic-filmmakers] that are caused by human intrusions into what should be a more benign natural order)—to a level of significant impact with its special effects. With Spy I must admit that I admire the far-fetched-parody-attitude toward James Bond-Jason Bourne-Ethan Hunt-movies (the latter character is from the Mission: Impossible series, if you have as much trouble as I do remembering that protagonist’s name; there’s another one of these—Rogue Nation—due on July 31, 2015, directed by Christopher McQuarrie, once again starring Mr. Smug, Tom Cruise), the opportunity for Melissa McCarthy to further demonstrate her extensive verbal and physical comedic range, the opportunity to see more of Budapest (even when it was filling in for Rome, as well as Paris some of the time), and the amusing final credits sequence where we get details of Susan’s later spy exploits.
However, unlike many other critics who’re praising Spy as one of the best of the year, I found it funny but easily forgettable, hence my mere 3 stars. Because of the obsessive desire of marketing-teams to put most of what matters about a movie into the trailer in order to lure us immediately into the theaters rather than just stream something that came out 6 months ago, we all come to a screening with a lot of expectation about what will transpire; while I may be satisfied if all I get is what I expect, I’m not really moved to full admiration unless I get even more, which for me was not the case with Spy where expectations of solid humor were fulfilled but not, unfortunately, exceeded.
As for a Musical Metaphor to finish off my comments on Spy, I first considered the theme song from Thunderball, both because the faux song under Spy’s floating-ink-swirled-opening-credits most reminded me of this actual James Bond tune and because it’d be great to hear Tom Jones staining his voice to the limit again; then I thought maybe I should use something more obvious, such as Johnny Rivers singing “Secret Agent Man” as a comment on how expectations are such that we assume spies leading dangerous lives to be male (which gets us back to “Thunderball” connotations again, if you follow my dirty pun) and of a certain athletic build and appearance (although a look at Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy [Tomas Alfredson, 2011; review in our January 6, 2012 posting] would tell you otherwise on the appearance front, although the principals in that opaquely-plotted-film are all from the traditional XY-chromosome-team). However, I finally settled on Kim Carnes’ version of “Betty Davis Eyes” (on her 1981 Mistaken Identity album, the biggest hit single of that year [9 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, also #1 in many other countries], winning the 1982 Grammys for Record of the Year and Song of the Year—written by Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon in 1974, originally recorded on DeShannon’s New Arrangement album that year; the line “she knows just what it takes to make a crow blush” was mistakenly recorded by Carnes as “make a pro blush,” which could have some oblique meaning but isn’t nearly as evocative) at https://www. youtube.com/ watch?v=tuleYF5KF84 (with some interesting visuals of famous Hollywood female faces added or here’s just Kim singing it in her official music video at https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=EPOIS 5taqA8) in tribute to Susan Cooper’s emerging-self-image (after being pushed away from higher aspirations by her limited-vision-mother) where she sees no reason why “All the boys [can’t] think she’s a spy” because she’s quite ready to “take a tumble on you, roll you like you were dice” if she feels like doing so, with no hesitation that she should be seen as capable of such despite the insults she gets from Ford and the dowdy disguises that the stereotype-focused-brains in the CIA echelon think are appropriate for her. Maybe Susan’s not yet “pure as New York snow” (not a compliment if you’re talking about what accumulates on the ground in the city—I've lived there; I know—rather than more upstate in the Adirondacks) but she sees herself as having such potential, even as she realizes that cocky Agent Fine isn’t really the man of her dreams after all.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
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Here’s some more information about Jurassic World:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAi07z-B7IA (“Easter Eggs” and other references to previous Jurassic Park movies that are contained within Jurassic World)
Here’s some more information about Spy:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwnHirAj27g (this is a Red Band trailer with language retained from this R-rated movie so you have to sign in to prove you’re at least 18 in order to watch it; if you’d prefer a more sanitized version here’s one at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltijEmlyqlg)
Here are a couple of short clips from the movie for you to watch at https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=wLGD8g7pTfo (Jason Statham’s character raising hell about why he’s not being sent in to stop the villain—this one and the next also have original saucy dialogue as well so be forewarned) and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bTCurSCdtg (Melissa McCarthy and Jason Statham argue about tactics while she’s on the job in disguise)
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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken
P.S. Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.
WE DO OUR VERY BEST TO PRESENT THESE TWO GUYS POSTINGS IN A VISUALLY-CONSIDERED GRAPHIC LAYOUT, BUT EXTENSIVE TRIAL-AND-ERROR HAS SHOWN US THAT UNLESS YOU’RE READING OUR REVIEWS ON A MACINTOSH COMPUTER USING MAC OS X 10.10.3 AND SAFARI 8.0.6 YOU’LL LIKELY SEE A SLOPPIER PRESENTATION THAN WHAT WE INTENDED (but Google Chrome 43.0.2357.124 usually comes fairly close to our intentions). OUR APOLOGIES FOR ANY INADVERTENT SLOP THAT WE CAN’T CONTROL.