Tag Archives: Melissa McCarthy

The Boss (2016)

The-Boss-Poster

Melissa McCarthy was beginning to grow on me after the surprisingly funny Spy last year. Unfortunately, she’s unable the keep the momentum rolling with The Boss, a labour of love she co-wrote with her real-life husband and director of the film, Ben Falcone.

It has again McCarthy playing foul-mouthed, abrasive woman who we will discover, surprise surprise, actually has a heart of gold. This time, she embodies Michelle Darnell, an orphan-turned-millionaire-businesswoman who loses everything and must seek the help of a former employee, single mother Claire Rawlings (Kristen Bell). The “villain” is played by none other than Peter Dinklage, aka Tyrion Lannister.

There are problems galore with The Boss. First of all, McCarthy is playing the exact same character we’ve seen a zillion times already. She’s crass, she’s rude, and she doesn’t take any prisoners. In Spy, we got to see a different side of her as she stretched out perceptions of what she’s capable of. In The Boss, she takes a huge step back by resorting to her stale bag of tricks.

Secondly, the film doesn’t seem like it knows what it wants to be. It’s all over the place. Part of it is the weak plot that basically pieces together a bunch of familiar tropes. At times the movie feels like it’s going for the gross and outrageous, other times it’s going for the cute and sweet. Occasionally it just resorts to cookie-cutter stuff like predictable slapstick or try-hard melodrama. It tries a bunch of different things but nothing sticks.

Thirdly, the central characters are either unlikable (McCarthy) or devoid of personality (Bell). The movie simply assumes we’ll like them because of the actresses who play them, but actually give us no reason to give a shit about their predicaments. And Peter Dinklage…I don’t even know what to say. He totally phoned this one in. I’ve seen him in other comedies like Pixels and Knights of Badassdom, where he’s actually not too bad. Here, he’s more like a Dingleberry than the Dinklage we know and love.

Above all, the movie simply isn’t funny. It was actually quite a surreal experience, because I knew exactly what each gag was aiming for and where it was going, sometimes even prior to it happening or before the punchline hit. But I got no laughs out of any of them. Not a laugh, not a cackle, not even a tee-hee. I wasn’t really frustrated or annoyed, just puzzled as to why I wasn’t laughing. The phrase that best encapsulates my sentiments about the whole movie can be found in that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer starts working for a place he’s not employed at, and when his boss is trying to fire him he references Kramer’s reports, saying, “I don’t know what this is supposed to be!”

I didn’t expect much from The Boss, and even then it still underperformed. It’s rare to see a film filled with so many jokes — and so many types of jokes — but zero laughs. Even the ad libbed jokes and outtakes at the end couldn’t deliver. I don’t know what else to say, because all McCarthy, Bell and Dinklage all have positive track records with comedy. I guess this was just a perfect storm of unfunniness.

1.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Spy (2015)

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I won’t lie. I initially had zero interest in Spy, the new comedy directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) and starring his favourite collaborator Melissa McCarthy. The poster just made it look generic and lame, and I always thought Feig’s earlier films were overrated.

Just shows we shouldn’t judge a movie by its poster or preconceived notions based on the past. Because Spy is really funny. Hilarious stuff. Laugh-out-loud gags with a progressive slant. In my opinion it’s easily the best film either Feig or McCarthy have been involved in.

It doesn’t have a mindblowing plot — McCarthy plays a former teacher-turned-CIA-agent who acts as the eyes and ears of the agency’s top spy, played by Jude Law. She’s meek and awkward and disappointed with how her career change has turned out.

Naturally, an opportunity arises in which she is thrust into dangerous undercover field work, and this brings out the hidden beast in her as she tries to track down a lethal nuclear weapon.

All the kudos in the world for having McCarthy as the undisputed female lead and a kickass spy, an absolute rarity in sexist, beauty- and weight-obsessed Hollywood, but none of that would have mattered if Spy turned out to be a stinker.

Fortunately, Spy smashes the six-laugh quota for a decent comedy with ease thanks to a variety of factors. First and foremost, McCarthy, who gets the opportunity to show her range by playing essentially two personalities — the meek, and the snarky one we’re used to seeing from Bridesmaids and The Heat. 

In the former, she’s funny in the hesitant, awkward manner she’s very capable of pulling off. However, she’s at her ripping best in the latter, firing off quick-witted, sharp, acidic one-liners and well-placed profanity to elicit the chuckles. I always found this crude version of McCarthy funny, but too much of it felt grating and exhausting. Feig’s decision to give us half a film of it ended up being perfect; just the right amount of familiar McCarthy.

Rose Byrne, who seems to be in absolutely everything these days, once again displays her  ample comedic chops as the stuck-up villain with the posh accent. She’s not afraid to make fun of herself and go head-to-head wih McCarthy in the profanity stakes; I believe this could be as funny as she has ever been.

Jude Law, who has been out of the limelight in recent years, returns as a James Bond spoof of sorts, probably a nod to the fact that he was almost picked to be the iconic spy years ago. He’s clearly aged and appears to have gotten some plugs, though the charisma is still there. He gets to joke around the least as the tongue-in-cheek straight-man of the comedy but takes the role in stride.

Up to this point, Spy is already a fairly decent comedy. What takes it to the next level, however, is the presence of Jason Statham. As the most bankable martial arts action star of today, Statham has only been on the fringes of comedy, and by that I mean wisecracks and one-liners in between beating people up on screen. He finally gets to show off his incredible self-awareness and untapped comedic timing in Spy as a disgruntled rogue agent who steals just about every scene he’s in.

Statham’s character is British, but he’s also crass, profane, arrogant, mysognistic and hyperbolic. He reminds of a hardened version of Kurt Russell from Big Trouble in Little China. His hilarity is undeniable, and it adds an edge to the film I doubt anyone else could have offered.

I thought after Kingsman: The Secret Service the year’s best action-comedy had been set in stone, but now I’m not so sure. Spy isn’t nearly as stylish or visually impressive, but it’s much more of a pure comedy in that it generates bigger and more frequent belly laughs. I had an unexpectedly good time.

4.25 stars out of 5

Recent Movie Reviews: Part VI

I’m back with some more reviews of 2013 films I watched in recent months.

The Grandmasters (2013)

Grandmasters

Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai is regarded as an artist with classics such as Chunking Express and In the Mood for Love on his impressive resume. So when I heard he was directing The Grandmasters, about the life of Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man (played by Tony Leung, though Donnie Yen previously played the role in the eponymous Ip Man films), I had reasonable expectations for something with more beauty and depth than some of the manufactured Hollywood wannabes I’ve seen, such as Hero, The Promise and Curse of the Golden Flower, all of which felt like they valued style over substance by a considerable margin.

The film has been selected as Hong Kong’s entry for Best Foreign Film at next year’s Oscars, but I don’t think it is quite good enough to secure a nomination (though what the hell would I know?). The good thing about Grandmasters is that it has some of the most beautiful fight scenes ever filmed. While they have a strange air of authenticity to them due to the genuine Wing Chun moves, they are really more art fantasy than anything else, and I think that’s a good thing. The performances of Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi are also strong and you could have fooled me into believing that they both had years of martial arts training.

The bad thing about The Grandmasters is that when the characters aren’t fighting the film crawls along at a snail’s pace with lots of pretty images, which is fine but could put a lot of people to sleep. I was also kind of shocked that the story itself wasn’t more interesting. On a side note, I found the casting of Korean star Song Hye-kyo, who rose to fame in the TV drama Full House with Rain, a complete distraction. I had no idea what she was doing there as Ip Man’s wife, and it seems she didn’t either, as she said in an interview that there was “a bit of friction and misunderstanding” during filming with the director.

Overall, there are positives and negatives to take away from The Grandmasters. I’ve seen parts of the second Ip Man film and that was complete trash. The Grandmasters also wipes the floor with most of the other ambitious and flashy kung fu films I mentioned above. But at an unnecessarily long 130 minutes (I watched the full Chinese version) and with so many flaws, it really a great film? I think it falls short.

3.5 stars out of 5

The Heat (2013)

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I like Melissa McCarthy (photoshopped or not) and I can tolerate Sandra Bullock, but both are actresses I can’t see too much of at once, or else I’d get sick of them. This is why I wasn’t initially enthused about their action comedy buddy movie, The Heat, about a couple of FBI agents trying to take down a mobster.

They basically play versions of characters they have played before. Bullock is the uptight, goofy, ditzy detective who is dorky but adorable. McCarthy is the foul, abrasive loudmouth with the sharp one-liners and insults. Surprisingly, they have fairly good chemistry and as a result the movie was better than I expected.

Still, this is a formula movie that progresses as you would expect – the initial wariness, the bonding, the fallout, and the best buddy reunion just in time for the climatic finish. The Heat has some good laughs, some of which at the expense of an albino and McCarthy’s dysfunctional hillbilly family, but there is nothing gut-bustingly hilarious or memorable about it or even just specific scenes or conversations.

For me, I had a reasonably amusing time with it, but somewhere along the final third the film started to run out of steam and I wanted to more than the same clichés and jokes they were throwing at me.

2.75 stars out of 5

Snitch (2013)

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Snitch is about an “ordinary” father who would do anything to save his son from a lengthy prison sentence and decides to put his life on the line by going undercover to gather evidence on dangerous drug lords to get his son a plea bargain.

The problem is, the dad is played by The Rock, who despite his best efforts to look scared and vulnerable, is still THE ROCK. Apart from this weird casting choice, however, Snitch is a pretty solid crime drama that is heavy on the grit and the atmospheric tension, though at the end of the day it’s not as riveting or exciting as I hoped it would be.

Much of the film centers on The Rock’s efforts to infiltrate the drug world with the help of one of his employees, Jon Bernthal from The Walking Dead, who is alive and well this time. And it’s a scary world with lots of bad people with guns and intimidating faces, though you would have to assume that in real life they would take one look at The Rock and scamper in the opposite direction.

On the side of the “good guys” are Barry Pepper, who plays a bearded agent, and Susan Sarandon, who plays the US attorney who can cut a deal for The Rock’s son. Good actors and good performances, but I thought their characters were poorly written, with Sarandon’s in particular a real cardboard cliché.

I suppose director Ric Roman Waugh went for dark realism in this one, which means you don’t get to see The Rock kicking ass and doing his thing, even though there are shootouts and car chases. You get to see his amazing “acting” muscles in action instead.

It’s a thoughtful film about the way the justice system works but I think it could have been better had the execution been sharper and the direction less muddled. As a result, it kind of works as a crime drama but is not a particularly effective action movie.

3 stars out of 5

Curse of Chucky (2013)

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One of my favourite horror movies growing up was the 1988 classic Child’s Play, which kept me up at night and made me forever fearful of dolls. I was also a fan of the next two sequels which kept the straight-laced horror, but then the franchise took a turn towards comedy with the next two installments, Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky (the latter of which I haven’t seen). I think Chucky lost a lot of his cache with those two films (a mixed bag at best), which is why I was happy to see the straight-to-DVD Curse of Chucky, a welcome return to darker tone of the original.

Brad Dourif is back as the voice of Chucky, who for whatever reason is not dead (again) and arrives in the mail for Nica (played by Dourif’s real-life daughter Fiona), a wheelchair-bound girl living with her mother in a giant mansion. Chucky makes real quick work of the mother and Nica is left to grieve with her older sister, the sister’s husband, daughter and live-in nanny – all just more victims for Chucky to have some fun with.

Bearing in mind that this is a straight-to-DVD sequel, Curse of Chucky is not all that bad. It’s got the usual clichés but it does have some surprises, scares and gory moments which bring back memories of Chucky’s glory days. There is also a back story that takes us back to the original and helps us understand some of Chucky’s madness. And if you stick around for the credits there is a cool cameo from Alex Vincent, the kid who played Andy in the 1988 original.

It’s not exactly a great horror flick but unlike most of these relatively low budget sequels Curse of Chucky doesn’t take a dump on the franchise and in the scheme of things is actually not a bad addition that could open the door for a new generation of Chucky films. Just don’t expect too much from it.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Bridesmaids (2011)

Good comedies are so hard to come by these days, so I was very excited to hear that the buzz on Bridesmaids has been overwhelmingly positive.  It has been described as a female version of The Hangover, though I personally think Bridesmaids was actually better.

Co-written by and starring comedian Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids tells the story of Annie (Wiig), a former cake store owner who becomes the Maid of Honour to her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph).  And as the Maid of Honour, Annie is entrusted with various tasks associated with the wedding and the bridal party, which comprises the wealthy, perfect wife of the groom’s boss Helen (Rose Byrne), the groom’s crazy sister Megan (Melissa McCarthy), and friends Rita and Becca (Wendi McLendon-Covey and Ellie Kemper, respectively).

The best parts of Bridesmaids are hilarious.  Bawdy conversations, outrageous situtations, a couple of which rely on gross-out humour — but nonetheless worked because of the surprisingly good execution from director Paul Feig (which became less of a surprise when I discovered he had directed episodes of Arrested Development, The Office and 30 Rock) and excellent comedic timing from the actresses, in particular the trio of Wiig, Byrne and McCarthy.  John Hamm (from Mad Men) was also brilliant in a small but memorable role.

Despite the praises, I still thought Bridesmaids could have been better and funnier.  For starters, at 125 minutes it was far too long for a comedy of this kind — though strangely it left a few loose ends.  The film worked best when it was focused on the bridal party and especially the rivalry between Annie and Helen, but for some reason the second half put excessive emphasis on Annie’s depressing personal issues and a sweet, sappy romance, both of which were adequate but seldom funny.

Since it was titled Bridesmaids, I was really hoping for more interaction between the bridesmaids, where there was so much potential for laughs, but instead there ended up being too many typical ‘rom-com’, ‘chick flick’ and ‘personal growth’ sequences that made the film’s humour somewhat choppy and uneven.  I put the blame on Judd Apatow, who was a co-producer of the film.

Having said all that, this was just my personal opinion and probably reflected my wishes and expectations more than genuine shortcomings of the film.

Ultimately, it may fall quite a fair way short of a classic, but Bridesmaids was at least a fresh idea that’s clever, entertaining, sometimes funny and occasionally hilarious.  And this is coming from a guy.

3.75 stars out of 5