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My Spy (2020)
Quite a nice spy!
So as the school holidays comes to an end in Australia we finish off with yet another release of a children's film. The funny part is that it's a bit like a recipe, as it contains parts of all the other films I've reviewed already these summer holidays! You take the machismo of Playing with Fire, add the silliness of Farmageddon, plus a touch of heart from Frozen 2, not forgetting some funny one-liners from Jumanji, finish it off with some espionage from Spies in Disguise, garnish it with the child-friendly action of Star Wars and you have a perfectly satisfying film called My Spy. Mr. 9 and I ate it up (and reviewed it) last week when we saw it at Palace Nova cinemas!
JJ (Dave Bautista) is an undercover CIA agent who is not exactly inconspicuous. After a weapons deal goes horribly wrong he is assigned to surveillance duty with tech-specialist Bobbi (Kristen Schaal). Their job is to keep an eye on a mother and daughter who may be in danger if a global terrorist finds out where they live. But JJ isn't exactly qualified for surveillance duty and it's not long before he is caught out by clever 9 year old Sophie (Chloe Coleman), the girl he is supposed to be watching. The two work out an arrangement where Sophie won't tell her mum Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley) that they are being watched, but only if JJ teaches Sophie how to become a spy. The two don't exactly get along but over time a friendship develops, much to the chagrin of Bobbi who knows that this is a serious breach of the CIA surveillance rules. But, as expected, trouble inevitably finds its way into Sophie and Kate's life and we are left to see whether the spy training that JJ gave this precocious 9 year old will succeed or fail spectacularly.
THE GOOD For a film like this, with a storyline that has been done to death plenty of times before, I was actually surprised at how much I liked My Spy. But my enjoyment didn't come so much from former WWE wrestler Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy, Stuber) but the confidence and acting ability of kid actor Chloe Coleman (Big Little Lies). In a lot of these 'kids teaching adults to be kids' films the child usually comes across as bratty and unlikeable but Coleman finds a great balance of clever, likeable and entertaining which Mr. 9 and I really found appealing. Also when you have a great comedy support cast like Kristen Schaal (Gravity Falls, Toy Story 4) and Ken Jeong (The Hangover movies) the laughter also lifts a notch too. Mr.9: I really liked Sophie in this film when she is learning to become a spy. The part where she keeps looking at the explosions behind her was really funny because JJ had to keep turning her head around.
THE BAD Bautista seems to have found his niche in Hollywood at taking characters who are large, muscle-bound, meat heads with not much going on upstairs. Alongside professional comedians like Schaal and Jeong his comedic acting can sometimes be painful to watch as he tries to compete with them for laughs but comes across more forced than natural. And for those of you looking for an action film this is not entirely the case with My Spy. Although it is bookended with big, action, set pieces it is more a romantic comedy as much of the film is taken up with telling the story of JJ's budding friendship with Sophie and finding a possible love interest with her mum, Kate.
Mr. 9: It got really boring in the middle because there was no action happening. The bad guy was there at the start and then disappeared until the end of the film. It seemed different from what the trailer showed.
THE UGLY For those of you who are familiar with Dave Bautista you would know that he is bald up top. Yet for some unknown reason the hair and makeup team decided to either spray paint or put a toupee on top of his head which is jet black and extremely short. It looks so unnatural and left me staring at the top of his head for most of the movie. Somewhat in shock and somewhat in fascination I couldn't stop looking at this unusual follicle choice.
I didn't have high hopes for My Spy after seeing the trailer but walked out pleasantly surprised at how a completely unoriginal film could be so enjoyable. Bautista's charm and Coleman's likeability really carry this film above 'just another comedy'. An enjoyable film to finish off the school holidays!
THREE AND A HALF TOUPEES OUT OF FIVE
Mr. 9: All the spy stuff was fun and the movie was also pretty funny although it had a lot of swearing for a 'PG' film. Three and a half out five.
War is hell, this film is NOT!
After reviewing movies for many years I have a sort of formula when it comes to writing about the films I watch. If the movie is really bad I tend to write the review straight away so I can get it out of my mind and never have to think about it again. When a film is good, as I find most are, then I tend to wait two to three days to collect my thoughts, do some background research and write it with a clear mind. But occasionally I see a film which absolutely blows me away. These types of films come around rarely but when they do I have to really sit back, take a deep breath and comprehend just how I'm going to convey how good it is in words. 1917 is that type of film - a movie that displays technical wizardry behind the camera and amazing work in front of it. It's been six days since I've watched 1917 and I'm still in absolute awe of what I witnessed!
The year is of course 1917. Deep in the heart of France British soldiers battle the Germans in what appears to be insurmountable odds. It's on the battlefield that we meet two young soldiers, Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George Mackay). They've just been assigned an impossible mission by General Erinmore (Colin Firth): travel by foot behind enemy lines, avoiding German snipers and artillery, to find a British battalion that is about to walk into a trap set up by the Germans. It's a task so dangerous it will probably cost both men their lives, but if they fail it will lead to the massacre of 1,600 British soldiers. Adding to the urgency of the assignment, Blake's older brother is one of the 1,600 soldiers about to walk into the ambush!
After reading the above description you're probably wondering what makes this film so spellbinding. Well it's the way that it has been filmed that really puts it above other war films. Director Sam Mendes (Skyfall, American Beauty) and cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall, Blade Runner 2049) have collaborated to come up with a style of filming that makes it look like one long tracking shot that never takes a break or cuts away. We follow soldiers Blake and Schofield all the way through their mission in real time: walking though crowded bunkers, dodging snipers and crawling through mud as if we are there with them. As an audience member it's disorienting, confronting and an absolute cinematic masterpiece like I've never witnessed before. This is a film that just HAS TO be seen in the cinema to get the full experience. It's a movie that really shows the horrors of war with scenes that will shock you and sounds that will scare you. A lot of people may compare it to Saving Private Ryan but I think it may even be better than that!
Apart from a couple of nit-picky things there is nothing bad about this movie. There are cameos galore where the famous actor always has his back toward the camera and then dramatically turns around as if to say 'look it's me!', and a lot of the story does fall into place rather too nicely, but nothing took away from my enjoyment or made me feel as I was watching 'just another movie'. Throughout this film's two hour running time I felt as if I was on this mission with these two soldiers and absolutely nothing took me out of it until the very end credits.
Mendes has managed to capture the horrors of war in full, gory detail. From dirty, rat infested bunkers to brutal deaths and amputations, nothing is off limits as 1917 definitely doesn't glamorise what these brave men in the British armed forces had to go through. It may not be easy to watch for those of you with a weak stomach but it is probably a very accurate portrayal of what really happened in World War One.
The saying 'you have to see it to believe it' is an accurate statement when talking about 1917. Nothing I write will do justice to the film which definitely requires a second viewing to fully take it in. It's war and it's ugly but the way it has been told is just as engrossing as what is being told. A must see at the cinema!
FIVE MILITARY MEDALS OUT OF FIVE
Made by 18 year old aspiring director Ethan Hickey, Dreamstate is a thrilling short film that stays with you long after you finish watching. It's the story of one policeman's slow decent into madness and blurs the lines between illusion and reality. Bill (Trevor Ketcheson) is a cop who is having visions. Seeing himself in the people around him and the crooks he is chasing, we follow Bill as he tries to figure out what is happening in his life. But his search for the truth may come at the price of losing his sanity, or worse, his life!
Coming from a family with an aspiring filmmaker in it myself (my older brother) I can completely relate to the many joys and challenges that Hickey may have had in the making of this film. Budget, actors, lighting and props are all extremely important but it's the storyline that really has to shine through and grab the audience. And, for the most part, Dreamstate does its job.
The first act is really captivating, drawing the audience in to the madness happening on the screen. Credit should go to the framing of the scenes as it really adds to the tension. And as the strangeness of the story continues and you've reached your bizarreness limits the second act hits and we are given an explanation as to just what is happening in Bill's weird world. But what begins as a strong story quickly dissipates into confusion as the third act appears slightly rushed. I usually pride myself on being a discerning film viewer but had trouble understanding what was happening in the last couple of scenes. This is where I think Dreamstate deserves a second viewing. Not just to try to understand what happened at the end but to also enjoy seeing an aspiring filmmaker and crew produce a good film, learn their craft and do it well. I'm looking forward to more big things to come from Hickey in the future!
What Men Want (2019)
What Meh-n Want!
It's the year 2019 and it looks like Hollywood is continuing its love affair with 'gender swap remakes' of previously successful films. Thinking back a couple of years has it ever really worked? Apart from Ocean's 8 (starring Sandra Bullock & Cate Blanchett) films like Ghostbusters and Overboard didn't come across so well with audiences. So with the new release of What Men Want, a remake of What Women Want starring Mel Gibson, it's fair to say I was a little apprehensive about what I was about to watch. Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures, Empire) is a fine actor but could she carry a film on her own? Would this just be an exact re-make or add something different from the original? And most importantly of all, would it actually be funny?
Working in a male-dominated sports management agency Ali Davis (Taraji P. Henson) is finding it hard to get ahead in her world. Constantly being looked over for promotions and cancelling on her friends she is blaming everyone else for the problems happening around her. All that changes when she attends her friend's bachelorette party and is given mysterious male mind reading powers by a fortune teller named Sister (Erykah Badu). Now that Ali can read men's minds she goes about setting things right, as she sees it, while getting revenge on the men in her life. But as she works her way up in the business world she soon discovers that her love life and friendships are falling apart. With wise words from her father Skip Davis (Richard Roundtree) and the realisation that change starts from the inside Ali goes about trying to set things right again, the only problem is that she may be too late!
THE GOOD Taraji P. Henson has always shown in her work that she could act but carrying a movie on her own was another question entirely. In What Men Want she shows that she can not only carry it but lift the whole film on her back from start to finish. While the star-laden support cast are good it seems that when Henson is not on the screen the movie falls a little flat. She gives all of herself to this film, not scared of playing the fool as well as showing her well-credentialed dramatic side when the story asks for it. Her scenes with Richard Roundtree (the original Shaft) are particularly poignant and really take hold of the audience's attention. Roundtree has a really commanding presence on the screen.
THE BAD When you have at least five different writers on this film you know it's going to be a struggle. Add to that director Adam Shenkman (whose films Cheaper by the Dozen 2 and The Pacifier didn't really break boundaries) and this film pretty much doesn't stray too far from the well worn paths of most other romantic comedies. It seems as if the writers and the director think that if the characters on screen constantly swear or finish a punchline with "I'm on crack" then that's a joke. Sorry to say folks but not one of your 15 or so 'crack jokes' was even a slightly bit humorous no matter how much you milked it. Just because you make a film crass doesn't mean that the audience is going to laugh. I'm by no way a comedian but once you've set up a joke how about a witty ending instead of an 'F this' or 'F that' finish? It may take a bit more thinking but the silent cinema audience may enjoy the film a little bit more.
THE UGLY Is there a rule somewhere written that if a film has a group of ladies in it then they must go to a club and have a dancing scene together? I don't see this so often in movies with groups of guys but it appears that the default position for a woman led rom-com is 'please set 10 minutes of the film aside for a women-only trip to a nightclub where they will dance and possibly conduct a choreographed number together' *insert deep sigh here*.
What Men Want is a nice, safe, enjoyable film. There is nothing new or groundbreaking about the storyline but Henson makes the movie fun enough that you don't get bored watching the story go down the clichéd path that so many have gone down before. If you can handle the many cringeworthy sports celebrity cameos then you'll find a pretty decent film.
THREE WOMEN DANCING AT A CLUB OUT OF FIVE
The Grinch (2018)
Now is the time to read The Grinch review (ALL IN RHYME!)
Welcome dear readers, you're in for a treat,
So get in your bed or pull up a seat.
The new Grinch film is out, so now is the time,
To write a review, all done in rhyme.
So Grinch is the movie, I'm reviewing today,
And my kids are with me, I hope that's ok?
Written by Dr. Seuss, The Grinch is quite mean,
He lives high on a mountain, and is rarely seen.
When Christmas comes around, he gets awfully mad,
He takes it out on Whoville, it's really quite sad.
There's also one little girl, with one wish to make,
She doesn't want presents, just her mum to get a break.
The Grinch though is different; he has other things on his mind,
And we are shown in flashbacks, just why he's so unkind.
He thinks of an evil plan, to steal Christmas from the Who's,
Hoping that they will also feel the blues.
Will his plan succeed? You'll have to watch to find out,
I don't want to spoil the ending, the finish I will not flout.
THE GOOD Let's get to the good stuff, and tell you what my kids liked, Mr. 8 loved the dog Max, while I thought the animation was out of sight. Mr. 5 said he liked everything, especially when Grinch was caught, I think he was more interested in the chocolate I had brought!
THE BAD Now onto the bad stuff, this film feels quite long, To stretch a small book makes it boring and wrong, Mr. 8 felt the movie stretch, so did the kids in the crowd, While Mr. 5's one complaint was that it was too loud.
Overall I must say, the kids did like the movie, While me and my wife, thought it wasn't so groovy. I'm not the target market, I think or I guess, If my boys enjoyed themselves, that's fantastic god bless. Mr. 8 says it was great, a four out of five, While Mr. 5 gives it four, I was just glad to survive. A three is what I'll give the Grinch, it was just fine, Story way too long, but animation sublime. So that finishes my review, I hope it brought you some cheer, All that's left to say is.... Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
The Mule (2018)
This Mule has quite a kick!
It's amazing that at almost 90 years of age Clint Eastwood is still directing, producing and acting in films. While most people of that age are taking a well deserved break, Eastwood is still busy producing high calibre work that has seen audiences flocking to cinemas to see his latest release The Mule. Add to that the amazing cast that want to work with him. From the likes of Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), Laurence Fishburne (Mystic River), Michael Pena (Ant-Man), Taissa Farmiga (The Nun), Diane Weist (The Birdcage) and Andy Garcia (Ocean's 11) the list of famous names in this movie is astonishing. And while most of them take a back seat to Eastwood's portrayal of drug mule Earl Stone, their small but vital roles play a part in telling a wonderful story.
The film starts in the year 2005 where we find Earl Stone running a successful flower business, travelling to all parts of America selling his wares. He scoffs at people selling flowers on the emerging internet market and always puts his work before his family, even skipping his daughter's wedding so he can attend an awards ceremony in his honour. He is an attention-seeker: any chance he can get the spotlight on himself he takes it. Fast forward 13 years later and we find the internet has destroyed Earl's business and he is estranged from his family. The years of stubbornness and neglect have caught up with Earl and have left him broke and homeless. Through a chance encounter he finds a job running drugs from Texas to Chicago for a Mexican drug cartel. Discovering that he is good at his job, as well as receiving positive attention from the cartel which he has always craved, Earl's drug running becomes even more daring as he begins taking larger shipments across state lines. But with the DEA closing in, a health crisis in his own family and a change in cartel leadership all coming to a head at once, a gripping conclusion awaits that will turn Earl's world around and change his way of thinking.
THE GOOD Even being the oldest member of the cast Clint Eastwood still steals the show. Portraying Earl as a spritely, quick witted and no nonsense 90 year old he manages to get the audience to have empathy for his character even though he was a terrible father who is doing a terrible deed. His character seems very much like the one he played in Gran Torino. Tell it like it is, racist and not caring about anyone but himself. With the same script writer working on both of those films (Nick Schenk) I'm guessing that's where the similarity comes from. I also love that a top star in Bradley Cooper basically takes a backseat in his role of DEA agent Colin Bates in his performance. It's a classic case of less is more, and his scenes with Eastwood in a cafe evoke memories of the film Heat when Pacino and De Niro come together and discuss life from their perspectives. Alison Eastwood does her best trying to portray Iris, the daughter of Earl (that's a joke... as Alison is the daughter of Clint!). The one actor I'm really enjoying the rise and rise of is Taissa Farmiga. I wrote about her wonderful performance in my review of The Nun recently and although she plays a minor part in this film it's still strong enough to get the audience's attention. Seemingly oblivious to what is going on in her family she takes a stand when needed and brings some heart to a wonderful story.
This film is said to be 'inspired by a true story'. I know I've written about this before but it's such a cop out. Whether it's 'based on a true story' or 'inspired by true events' the writer and directors always take the liberty of turning the story into what works for them and not on what really happened. Bohemian Rhapsody is a prime example of how a director told events in order to gain sympathy even though it wasn't factually correct. With The Mule Eastwood has kept the bare bones of the real story while adding other elements to the plot to add layers and generate a reaction. I can completely understand why studios use the 'based on' or 'inspired by' taglines because it adds credibility to the story and gives the marketing team something to work with. But I get frustrated when the director tries to pull the wool over our eyes by showing that Earl did not know he was running drugs for the cartel until his fourth run. That just borders on ridiculous. It also caught my attention that although the movie runs for nearly two hours it seemed to come to a very hurried conclusion. The storyline between Earl and his friend Julio just disappeared without a trace. One minute they were having a serious discussion about getting out of the drug business and then Julio's character just seemingly vanished. A scene where the cartel captures Earl and then lets him go seemed straight forward but then Earl is shown driving with blood all over his face. It's as if scenes were cut and storylines shortened which left me rather confused as to what The Mule's ending was supposed to be.
THE UGLY You can tell that Clint Eastwood, at 90 years old, is the director of a film when he puts himself in not one but two scenes involving a ménage a trois with two twenty something year old ladies. Highly unnecessary and adding nothing to the story really. It garnered a few laughs in the cinema but I think that was more embarrassment from what was being seen on the screen.
Chalk this one up as another highly entertaining Clint Eastwood film that he has either acted in or directed. I'm not sure how many more we are going to get but you can always count to them to be highly entertaining, at times very funny and beneath the surface delivering a message about an important issue in today's world. At its heart The Mule is about family and as we go on this journey with Earl we discover that sometimes what you need in life has always been in front of you the whole time.
NINE KILOS OUT OF KILOS