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Man Up (2015)
Predictable Rom-com but refreshingly well executed
My wife hates watching films with me because I tend to pick apart plot holes and character motivations, but with Man Up she was able to enjoy it because this movie basically shut me up!
I thought the script was clever and the two leads inhabited their characters so well that any of the typical misunderstandings, misinterpretations, silliness and anger that are needed to create the "boy loses girl" segment of the formula seemed plausible to me. (Really "Girl loses boy" here, as this is Lake Bell's film.) I'm not as familiar with Simon Pegg as some UK reviewers here so I didn't see him as being "miscast" as others have suggested. I thought he was great.
It's been said before but Lake Bell nailed her accent (in my untrained American opinion) to the point I thought she had been masking it in the few other films in which I'd seen her. As I said this is her film and she is terrific.
I had a quibble when I wondered why Jack would actually enter the women's toilet (which of course punched up the Sean/Nancy gag), but both Nancy and he were quite tipsy so I can accept his action there. I LOVED their reactions after that, where they each fell back in their protective shells and argued using phrases those particular characters would have probably used before. Even the silliness of Nancy running/biking back to the cantina seemed borne from hurt (and a need to show him she wasn't.) The entire second go-round in the cantina with each other and with his ex I thought was spot on, with the perfect "closure" punchline.
Those reviewers who expected more outright comedy I can understand as there's not a lot of laugh-out-loud moments, but the wry moments mixed with pathos to me struck the right chord to match these two lonely hearts. This script could even have been reworked as a straight drama with comedic elements and I think it would've been watchable.
I hope that writer Tess Morris gets more opportunities, and Ben Palmer more feature directing chances, they deserve it.
The only quibble other than the somewhat-over-the-top choreographed end run, which by then I was enjoying the silliness of it, was I didn't think the two characters would've waited til they were back in the train station to have the conversation that (temporarily) separated them, I think Nancy would've already invited Jack to the party by then or certainly Jack would've switched his phone on to check on the real Jessica earlier (probably when he was in the cab to the cantina racing Nancy.) I'd love to know if the writer set that up, or the director re-staged that in order to have them ironically part under the clock wherethey first met.
But I didn't think of any of that til later so my wife (who loved this film too) still talks to me!
Sparks and Embers (2015)
I wanted to like it...but...
I'm a Kris Marshall fan and I remember Annelise Hesme from "Hors de Prix" which is one of my favorite films, but this one was a switch-off after 20 minutes. The flashback format wasn't working, the relationship between the two wasn't believable, and Annelise's accent made her English hard to follow at times. The switch-off moment came during a present time sequence when she suddenly turned flirty and which seemed so forced and implausible. The flashback sequences were uncomfortable and claustrophobic. I understand that was the point of that, and also that I did not give the movie a full chance, but life is too short to waste on a situation and characters I don't care about in the first place.
I always welcome writers directing their own films, so I hope Gavin Boyter has better success with his next effort.
A Bond Film Minus One Thing: Bond
At the end of the film, we see Silva and M locked in a terminal embrace, and we hear the villain's ultimate desire: for them both to die together. But of course, JAMES BOND won't let that happen! And so he kills Silva.
But, alas, they both die anyway.
Skip to the beginning -- James won't let the tired old cliché of an agent list fall into enemy hands.
But, alas, it does.
Skip to the middle -- James won't let the long-suffering (and quite stunning) Bond Girl die.
But, alas, she does.
So when did Bond get so impotent? And irrelevant?
This film is a noisy, action-packed piece of flash, which would be enjoyable as a stylish escapism and on a par with every good Bond film except it's hard to get past the realization that our hero has no substance, and does absolutely nothing to affect the outcome. Bond might just as well have taken a golf holiday, and the plot would've arrived at mostly the same result.
The Irrelevant Hero is what I call the "Raiders of the Lost Ark" syndrome. In "Raiders", Indiana Jones fails in retrieving the golden idol, then runs around searching for the Ark, chases Nazis, shoots Nazis, chases the Ark, but ultimately fails to steal the Ark. If he'd not even shown up, if he'd taken that week off, the Nazis would've found the Ark, opened it up, been killed anyway, end of story. Does it ruin a film? Not if there's enough flash to outdo the substance, but it'll never make it a great film.
And such is the case here.
Where's the hero Bond that protects the world, saves Fort Knox, eliminates Le Chiffre? Or even seduces the girl? (I don't consider stepping in the shower with her a proper seduction, more like an obligation) It's like the filmmakers are tired of their own formula. I like Daniel Craig, I think he's a good Bond, but the character development towards a "New Bond" has created a character that's kind of a screw-up, and at times an unpleasant one. A scraggly bearded alcoholic is not Bond. During the scorpion scene, I was reminded of the psychotically tortured Christopher Walken in "The Deer Hunter." Not exactly the self-assured hero we've come to love. I mean this Bond has no RIGHT to step in that shower with the girl, except that he could use the bath.
I understand those of you who say it's a necessary update. But to go so far away from Fleming's conception is just change for change's sake. I mean, why stop there -- why not make him a vampire then? Do we really have to turn him into Jason Bourne? Does he have to have a conscience, or even be thoughtful? A thoughtful hero and a mindless entertainment don't mix. I just want to have fun seeing him best the baddies, not share his pain.
So I missed James Bond in this film. Even the Bond from "Casino Royale" would've done fine. And there's just way too many ridiculous plot devices to overcome without that sort of Bond. True, by the end of the film, Bond does get into "Bond mode" a bit more, though only through a gimmicky plot contrivance that puts him at a huge manpower disadvantage. By then, I was mostly chuckling at the silliness of it all. (My favorite bit of silliness: Silva's amazing prescience that Q will try to hack (by quite stupidly connecting it to the entire MI6 mainframe mind you) Silva's program at the precise moment that M will be at Westminster defending her organization, which Silva has somehow been able to also foresee and plan for, right down to Bond chasing him to the one particular spot (and then stopping) where Silva can blow a hole in the roof and send in a subway train, timing the train's arrival to a precise moment as well. (I mean - COME ON!) The new, likable Q even says that the new MI6 is not about gimmicks and silly devices, too bad the screenwriters didn't eliminate them from their plot.
Please, bring back James Bond!
Bride by Mistake (1944)
Pleasant little film
After Norman Krasna's Oscar-winning script for Princess O'Rourke turned into a box-office hit for Warners in 1943, RKO rehashed his similar rich-girl-masquerading-as-poor-girl story "Richest Girl in the World" for this film in 1944. The result is mixed, but Day is so lovely, supporting cast is lively, that it makes for a pleasant hour and a half. Day plays an heiress who's boyfriend dumps her because she's too rich (yeah, right.) Day switches places with her secretary, hoping to find true love that way, and complications ensue. Marsha Hunt and Allen Joslyn are particularly appealing as Day's Secretary and her new husband, forced to carry the charade to the point of breaking. A nice 40's wartime romantic comedy, not too taxing on the mind.
Two Hands (1999)
Sharp little film builds in intensity, then spirals into broad, almost seriocomic adventure, finishing in a neat little bundle -- entertaining throughout, with well crafted performance by Ledger. Not perfect, some jaw-dropping plot turns, but a very nice escape. Recommended.