Spy

  • Title: Spy
  • Director: Paul Feig
  • Date: 2015
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • Genre: Action, Comedy
  • Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Miranda Hart, Allison Janney, Rose Byrne, Morena Baccarin, Jude Law, Jason Statham, Jessica Chaffin
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“I must have watched this fifteen times now, because What the fuck? I almost put it up on youTube.” – Elaine Crocker
“I must say I was uncomfortable with the event, but I’d also like to say – it was over ten years ago, the instructor was not harmed.” – Susan
“Fine was your mentor, right?” – Elaine
“Yes.” – Susan
“Why did you not become a field agent?” – Elaine
“We’re such a great fit and a great team… Fine made some great points, maybe I’d match better staying in his ear.” – Susan
“Yeah, he sniped you. All the top agents used to do that before I got here.” – Elaine

“I do not condone these sexy but reckless actions of yours, Susan!” – Nancy

Melissa McCarthy’s Spy is an empowering movie – but it is also laugh-out-loud funny, fast-paced, and quite the ride. The movie stars five very different women and a few men. At the core of the film is the friendship between Susan Cooper and Nancy, two analysts at the CIA. Their job is perfectly explained by the opening scene of the film where Bradley Fine, top CIA field agent, tracks down a man who’s made it known he’s willing to sell a small, portable nuclear weapon. Fine’s holding the man at gunpoint when he points out that he erased the men who helped him hide the nuke, then he erased the “erasers” so Bradley better not kill him. At that moment, Fine sneezes, the gun goes off, and the guy dies. Susan asks, “Why did you do that?” then calmly, and expertly guides Fine to his escape, even calling in a drone strike so Fine can get away. Susan and Nancy’s friendship is illustrated by a scene where they are in a bar talking. Nancy spots Carol Walker, the agency’s top female agent and quietly pokes fun at her for being so perfect. The scene is very real and illustrates how real women talk.

After Fine’s disastrous mission, Elaine Crocker, the head of the department at the CIA tells the agents that someone else must know about the nuke because it’s come up for sale on the black market. Susan had figured out it was Rayna, the seller’s daughter. Fine is sent to get Rayna – but he’s killed and Rayna reveals she knows the names of all the top agents. Thus Crocker needs to find an unknown for the mission. Susan Cooper volunteers. Susan, as a woman, is given a horrible cover story, and even worse and more embarrassing special equipment. When she arrives in Paris, her hotel is the type of dive that makes one want to take a shower just looking at it in the film. In Paris, she runs into Ford, another top agent who quit when Elaine choose Susan for the mission instead of him. Ford will continually show up – proving himself to be an incredible egotist, who constantly brags up his own abilities and insults Susan.

Susan herself through luck and talent manages to do quiet well. She’s supposed to be on a track and report mission, but the building she’s supposed to watch, where Deluka, their lead is staying has burned down the night before. Susan runs into Ford, who leaves her, but she notices that a woman has switched backpacks with Ford. She chases after him, right into the middle of a German dance pop outdoor concert. Ford barely realizes what’s going on but manages to throw the bomb into the river. After the encounter, Susan asks to go to Rome to follow their next lead. Her new cover is even worse than her first one.

In Rome, Susan saves Rayna – the woman she’s after, from a poisoned drink. Rayna has the man who slipped it to her killed, then invites Susan  on her private jet to Budapest. On the jet, Susan is knocked out. When one of the men on the plane threatens Rayna (largely because she treats him badly – not even knowing his name), shoots up the plane, and kills the pilot and navigator. Susan lands the plane. Rayna concludes that Susan is CIA – Susan convinces her she’s Amber Valentine a bodyguard hired by Rayna’s father. Rayna accepts this but is wary. When they land, Susan runs into Nancy, and tells Rayna she’s another of her operatives. A car shoots at them, killing Anton, one of Rayna’s retainers – Susan gives chase on a scooter. She catches up to the car, and fires at it and it crashes – it’s the agent, Carol Walker. Susan’s apologizing, when Carol pulls a gun at her – then is killed by a sniper.

Rayna is to meet her buyer at a disco. The Ally from Rome, Aldo, shows up – as does Ford and Nancy. Ford causes trouble, Susan has Nancy cause a distraction, and Susan goes after the woman to prevent her from meeting Rayna. Susan gives chase and fights the woman in a kitchen, using things like cast iron pans and tupperware. She does pretty well, but ends-up cornered. Fine shows up and kills the girl, but he and Rayna who are working together take Susan hostage. She ends-up tied up with Aldo. Susan’s pretty demoralized by this but Aldo cheers her up and then helps untie her. They escape.

Susan goes to find Rayna, Fine, the broker, and the buyer. Rayna claims Susan is doing all this because she loves Fine. Fine had revealed himself to be a triple agent. Rayna takes the group to the nuke, and again all hell breaks loose as the broker kills everyone he can so he can take the nuke and the diamonds that were Rayna’s payment. Ford arrives and pratfalls into the room – becoming a liability. Susan and Fine handle things in the room, though the broker escapes with the diamonds and nuke. Susan runs to the helicopter to get him and jumps on the strut. Ford jumps on her. Susan lets Ford fall in the lake, knocks the nuke and diamonds in to the lake but gets caught at the wrong end of the broker’s gun. Nancy shows up in another helicopter and fires at the broker. The broker, not quite dead fights back and grabs Susan’s necklace – she loosens the adjustable toggle and the guy falls into the lake.

Now successful, Susan passes up a chance at a dinner date with Fine for a girls night with Nancy. Elaine promises to keep her on as an active agent.

Whereas the opening credits are a typical Bond-type montage of smoke and girls – the end credits show Susan’s missions, complete with secret identities and special weaponry and they are hilarious. The movie also has a terrific soundtrack of fun music. Spy is an empowering movie and I enjoy it every time I watch it. It pushes through the Bechel test like water. The main characters – Susan, Nancy, Elaine, and Rayna are all women. Even secondary characters – the traitor Carol, and the third analyst in the basement – are women. Moreover, the men aren’t particularly competent. Bradley Fine walks into the opening scene like he’s James Bond, but he sets-up the entire movie by killing Rayna’s father, accidentally, before finding out where the suitcase bomb is. Ford is an egotistical braggart who’s claims are so ridiculous he’s obviously making them up (and Susan calls him on it), and the reality of his “abilities” is considerably “less”.

Susan begins the film as an extremely competent CIA analyst – without her in his ear, Fine wouldn’t last 30 seconds. When Elaine, Susan’s boss, digs into Susan’s records at The Farm – the CIA’s training facility, she’s impressed and even asks why Susan didn’t apply for a field agent position – only to discover that Fine suggested that she should not. Susan and the other analysts have to endure horrible conditions in the CIA basement in Langley – with bats and mice in the room – yet all three analysts deal with it like it’s nothing. No women standing on chairs screaming at a mouse here. The scenes between Nancy and Susan, especially their first scene in the bar, are written the way women actually talk. And Nancy is also a strong woman who adds to the chemistry of the film.

Rayna, as the villain of the piece, is the type of woman it’s easy to dislike – she’s a spoiled, pampered brat. She always gets exactly what she wants, yet she cares little for other people. Even her underlings can’t stand her – and many try to kill her in the film. Rayna’s method of intimidation includes poking fun at Susan’s looks and her clothes. She also is a psychopath – she doesn’t even care about Fine, whom she’s sleeping with, even though he killed her father.

I highly, highly recommend this film. It’s empowering to watch. But it’s also very funny – and it’s a great action/adventure film.

Recommendation: A Must See
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: Son of Batman

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Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows

  • Title:  Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows
  • Director:  Guy Ritchie
  • Date:  2011
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  Action, Adventure, Drama
  • Cast:  Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Jared Harris, Noomi Rapace, Rachel McAdams, Kelly Reilly, Stephen Fry
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Oh, how I’ve missed you, Holmes.” — Dr. John Watson

“It’s so overt, it’s covert.” — Sherlock Holmes

“What better way to conceal a killing, no one looks for a bullet hole in a bomb blast.” — Dr. Watson

“They’re dangerous at both ends, and crafty in the middle. Why would I want anything with a mind of  its own bobbing about between my legs?” — Sherlock Holmes (on horses)

It isn’t often that an adventure film sequel is as good as or better than the original, but Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows is one brilliant film, just as good if not better than Sherlock Holmes. Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films are proving to be crack to the SH fan — doing things any fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing has always wanted to do (Who hasn’t wanted to push Mary off a railway bridge? Or to not only have Watson see Holmes’ fall at Reichenbach, but to have a hint that he knew Holmes wasn’t dead?) Holmes and Watson were the original “buddy cop show” (though neither was a cop) and Holmes the original geek (used in the best sense, not the pejorative one) Ritchie’s films have come about at the most appropriate time, here’s hoping to a long and successful series.

In Sherlock Holmes A Game of  Shadows, we immediately see the close friendship between Holmes and Watson. They finish each other’s sentences, know each other’s moves, and have complete trust in each other when it really counts. Holmes doesn’t discount Watson’s abilities, especially as a soldier, or as a doctor.

This film introduces Professor James Moriarty, as Holmes’ equal and opposite. Their conflict is played out in a metaphor of chess, and both are very good at the game. But, Holmes probably wouldn’t have directly challenged Moriarty, even when he finds out, to his horror, exactly what Moriarty is up to, if it wasn’t for Moriarty’s murdering of Irene Adler, and threats against Dr. John Watson, and his wife, Mary. The film also plays with real historical events, including a series of anarchist bombings in Europe (which did happen, especially in Russia) and the prelude to World War I. Moriarty’s plan, in fact, is to use the existing alliances and rivalries in Europe to start a world war — twenty three years early. This, after he has bought-up every business that can profit from war from bandages (cotton) to bullets (weapons and chemical warfare). Moriarty owns cotton, steel, opium (used to make morphine – the anesthetic of the time), and the aforementioned arms. As Holmes points out when Moriarty is torturing him, “Now that you own the supply you intend to create the demand.”

The film also introduces Mycroft, Sherlock’s brother, played by Stephen Fry, as quite possibly more eccentric than Sherlock. However, it is to Mycroft that Sherlock trusts the health and welfare of Mary, after dropping her from a moving train into a lake to save her from Moriarty’s attack. Watson is quite distraught at Holmes’ cavalier treatment of his wife, until he realizes that Holmes was in complete control, timing things perfectly, and his actions were to protect Mary. Quite a lot of Holmes’ actions in the film are to protect Mary and John; John because he is Holmes’ only friend and Mary because she is important to John.

I, personally realized the film was doing “The Final Problem”, when Moriarty’s men attack on the train, but I still loved just how much Ritchie opened up that particular story and brought more to it. That Holmes sends John on an errand so he can sneak into Moriarty’s weapons factory in Germany speaks volumes of how much he cares. That John returns and immediately figures out how to rescue Holmes, not only shows his own intelligence, but his own feelings for Holmes.

The escape, with the gypsies through the forest was brilliant. First the  direction, using a stop-motion technique to freeze the action briefly, enabling the audience to actually follow it was brilliant. The complete chaos of the explosions, gunshots, and use of big guns (howitzers, etc) brings to mind World War I. There is also complete trust between Holmes and Watson, when at one point, Holmes twirls the stock of a gun, and Watson is right there to receive it as Holmes hands it off. It’s Watson who fires the weapon at Moriarty’s men.

After escaping, Holmes, who’s been tortured, Watson, and Sim, their Gypsy companion, are in a railway car. Holmes stops breathing and his heart stops. Watson beats on his chest (this is a little premature – I don’t think even a doctor would know CPR in 1891) but is unsuccessful. Then he has a lightbulb moment – and uses Holmes’ wedding gift — pure adrenalin, that Holmes had extracted in an experiment, and Watson had seen Holmes use to revive Gladstone (Watson’s dog) after the dog ate something poisonous. The adrenalin works and Holmes jumps up, babbling of bad dreams. But the entire scene is brilliant. Watson pounds on Holmes’ chest crying that Holmes, “Bloody well not going to die on me!” and shouting at him to “come on”. Watson’s brief devastation as he realizes that his best friend has died, before the light bulb goes off, perfectly illustrates his caring for Holmes.

Holmes, Watson, and Sim arrive in Switzerland and meet Mycroft, but discover the peace conference is still planned. Holmes dances first with Sim, and then with Watson. (Another perfect moment!) He points out that Rene has had his face altered by experimental surgery. Holmes trusts Watson to find Rene, Sim’s brother and stop the planned assignation that will touch off a war, while he goes to confront Moriarty personally. Holmes and Moriarty plan a chess game together, without even using a board, while Moriarty both threatens Watson and Mary, and tells Holmes there is nothing he can do to stop him. Holmes sacrifices his Queen in the game, to win. The two then fight, first in their heads (each plotting out moves and counter moves, before doing a thing). Holmes, knowing he is still weak from his injuries at Moriarty’s hands, grabs Moriarty and sacrifices himself, dragging them both over a balustrade into the rushing waterfall under the castle of  Reichenbach. Watson, having found Rene, and stopped the assignation attempt, opens the door, a smile on his face to tell Holmes of their success. But, his smile evaporates, as he sees Holmes and Moriarty fall into depths. We then hear Watson reading the end of  “The Final Problem”, as a voice-over, which then becomes Watson typing the story. Mary comes to him, reminding him of their planned honeymoon trip. However, Watson gets a strange package in the post, Mycroft’s oxygen breather. Watson leaves, and Holmes appears, having been hidden by his camouflage. He adds a question mark to the words, “The End”, at the end of Watson’s story, cut to credits. Simply brilliant!

Sherlock Holmes A Game of  Shadows is brilliant. The directing is perfect. I loved the ramped-up “Holmes vision”, which really gets into Holmes’ head and shows the audience how he thinks. Also, it makes Holmes seem less arrogant or untouchable/non-understandable by allowing the audience to see just how his mind works, rather than letting his deductions and actions seem almost magical or like some sort of trick. The friendship of Watson and Holmes was handled very well. I loved that they finished each other’s sentences, knew each other’s moves, but also, at their core, Watson cares deeply for Holmes and Holmes cares deeply for Watson. It is the male friendship that makes the pair timeless. And the plot was extremely well put together. Moriarty not merely as a master criminal, but an extremely crafty war profiteer, how appropriate. All in all, I really don’t think anything could have made this film better, I really loved it and highly recommend it.

Recommendation:  An absolute must see!
Rating: 5 out of  5 Stars
Next Film:  It Could Happen to You (a recent purchase) or Shrek (on list)

Sherlock Holmes

  • Title:  Sherlock Holmes
  • Director:  Guy Ritchie
  • Date:  2009
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  Action, Mystery
  • Cast:  Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“My mind rebels at stagnation, give me problems, give me work. The sooner the better.”  — Sherlock Holmes

“Holmes, you must widen your gaze. I’m concerned you underestimate the gravity of coming events. You and I are bound together on a journey that will twist the very fabric of Nature. But beneath your mask of logic, I sense a fragility that worries me. Steel your mind, Holmes. I need you.”  — Lord Blackwood

“It is a huge mistake to theorize before one has data. Inevitably, one begins to twist facts to suit theories … instead of theories to suit facts.”  — Sherlock Holmes

I loved this movie when I originally saw it, and it really loses none of it’s appeal upon subsequent re-watchings. Robert Downey Jr is playing Holmes as an action hero, as he should be played. And his relationship with Watson (Jude Law) is perfect! They complement each other perfectly, and one can see how they drive each other crazy but still have a strong friendship and caring for each other. Thrown also into the mix is Irene Adler (Yes, her name gets mis-pronounced — it should be “I–REIGN-ah”), but anyway — she and Holmes have known each other for awhile, and Watson tantalizingly says that Holmes and Adler ran into each other twice and she beat him both times. But Irene Adler still has secrets, and she’s working for a mysterious man. Even once she tries to get out from under his clutches — she is pulled back in, and can only warn Holmes about Professor Moriarty.

Meanwhile, Watson seeks to marry his Mary — and Holmes seeks to stop the wedding, since he can’t stand the thought of losing his friend, even to marriage. The Holmes and Watson relationship is intense; and on Watson’s side – you can see how he puts up with Holmes’ eccentricities because he truly cares for him, and he needs excitement in his life.

The plot of this film involves Lord Blackwood — who’s killing women in Satanic rituals. Holmes catches him in the opening act, and Blackwood is sentenced to die. He’s hanged and Watson confirms the death. Later, Blackwood seems to come back from the grave and continues his killing spree. But Holmes not only discovers exactly what is going on (all is not as it seems) but he stops a horrendous crime, confronts Blackwood, and insures he won’t trouble London again. To say more, would spoil the fun.

Director Guy Ritchie has Holmes talk through, in his head, what he’s going to do during a fight sequence (filmed in slow motion) then he films it at normal to normal/fast speed as Holmes takes action. This lets the audience in on how Holmes thinks and how fast he thinks. I also liked the scene of Holmes waiting in the restaurant for Watson and Mary, and we hear the over-whelming noise that Holmes hears. It’s almost as if rather than being a manic depressive as in the books or Jeremy Brett’s portrayal, this Holmes almost is an autistic savant. And, throughout the film there are visually stunning moments.

All in all, Sherlock Holmes, is a fun film. It sticks to much of the spirit of the original short stories and novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, though the plot is more bizarre. However, there were some bizarre plots in the later stories.  Also, the relationship of Holmes and Watson, always key to getting any interpretation of Sherlock Holmes correct was spot on. A highly enjoyable and well-made film.

Trivia:  Jude Law also appeared in an episode of Granada’s Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett (as Holmes) for ITV. The series title was The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes, and the episode title was “Shoscombe Old Place”, and Law played Joe Barnes.

Recommendation:  See it!  Highly recommended!
Rating:  5 out of  5 Stars
Next Film:  Shrek