Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Spy; Sookie gets her gun

I first saw Melissa McCarthy bit-playing Sookie the cheerful fat chef in The Gilmore Girls and I’ve always struggled to get my head round her new, popular, raucous personality. But the trailer for Spy looked like it couldn’t possibly fail no matter how Melissa has grown or in what direction.

And so it proved. Jude Law, getting killed? Check. Always have time on my schedule for that. Allison Janney being the only sane woman in the neighbourhood? Check again. She’s turning into the female JK Simmons these days, but we needed a female JK Simmons; in fact, the whole world needs a female JK Simmons. If only our real leaders were as matter of fact and hard to impress, we’d all be a lot better off. Melissa McCarthy tearing lumps out of people for being idiots? All right, if you insist. The Stath taking the piss out of himself? Man, why couldn’t that have been the whole movie? Rose Byrne playing the villain as the worst human being in the whole world? I could watch it all day. Melissa McCarthy might have been having fun telling Rose Byrne she dressed like a slutty dolphin trainer, but Rose Byrne’s delivery of “If you like, I can have one of my men go up to your room and burn those clothes for you.” left Melissa in the dust. Melissa was, in other words, surrounded by scene stealers in her own comedy headline movie.

It is all great fun. It would probably have been even more fun if they hadn’t been given the money for a stunts budget. The comedy was good; the action scenes were just action scenes, with the possible exception of a fight in a kitchen which had the slapstick tone that all the other action scenes really needed. They clearly thought they needed to have action scenes in a Bond spoof, but the real fun of the movie isn’t seeing a parody of something you’ve seen a million times as near-parody anyhow, it’s watching the office politics going wonderfully wrong. At the beginning of the movie, Melissa’s character is sitting in Langley, guiding Jude Law’s suave super spy through a life and death mission in Bulgaria, while all around her the office is falling apart. It climaxes with the whole room filling with bats while Melissa gamely tries to stay professional, and it’s perfect. It’s also great that they continue the vermin infestation theme for the rest of the movie. The movie works best when people are sitting around getting in trouble and bitching at each other instead of having adventures, because there’s nothing getting in the way of the jokes.

The other thing which struck me, long after the movie was over, is that for all that the villain is a woman, and the real hero is a woman, and the comedy sidekick is a woman, and the hard to please boss is a woman, this is not really a woman’s movie, even if it does pass the Bechdel test in principle [1]. It’s really a teenage nerd fantasy movie that happens to have women in the nerd roles. Melissa’s character is fat, smart, self-effacing and mocked by the alpha males even though they couldn’t get anything done without her work behind the scenes. And then she gets given a chance to be the hero and with zero preparation and training, she turns out to be just as good as they are at the macho action. Well, not as good, but equally effective. That’s not female empowerment; it’s every basement dweller and cube rat’s dream of staying just the way they are and having the whole world operate differently.

Still, it’s funny. The Stath never breaks character as an obnoxious blowhard for a second, and it’s magnificent. And Peter Serafinowicz breaks character just once as a sleazy Italian, and the timing and execution of that may be the single best thing in the movie.

[1] best single example; Rose Byrne and Melisa McCarthy, both of whom are playing named female characters, have a conversation about Rose Byrne’s mother.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Survivor: Milla stumbles

I will watch almost anything with Milla Jovovich in it, even when I know that it’s going to be objectively terrible, because Milla can move through a movie so well that as long as she’s in motion, everything else gets pulled up to her level. So I assumed, stupidly, that Survivor would rise above its cookie cutter plot and terrible reviews.

Instead, Survivor is a terrible demonstration of how little action $20 million dollars can buy in today’s Hollywood. And without action, Milla is helpless. She doesn’t run up anything at all. She doesn’t kick anyone’s head off. She shoots one guy, by accident. It’s Milla, in a role written for a middle aged housewife from Yonkers. And if you think the writing is bad in $200 million blockbusters where they spent more money on the doughnuts than they did on the writers, wait till you see what it’s like when they’re still spending less than 1% of the budget on the script and the budget wouldn’t buy the doughnuts for a real movie. There’s about twenty minutes of action, so they have 70 minutes of the characters talking to each other. The only way you’re going to see anything worse than those scenes is if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t skip the intros to porn. I think. I don’t know that I could bear to tee both up at once to check. It’s a killer combo of terrible writing, no-one giving a shit, and a director trying to get everything in one take even if no-one shows up with their acting boots on.

Perfectly good actors are sleepwalking their way through this. Robert Forster is visibly tapping his fingers waiting for the moment when he can get killed and go home. Frances de la Tour, of all people, is stuck in a wheelchair the whole way through the movie, and I started to wonder if they’d tied her into it to stop her from leaving. Angela Bassett plays the world’s least convincing US ambassador as if she’s talking to her agent about how much longer she’s got to stay on set. Towering over it all, you’ve got Pierce Brosnan’s baddie. At first you think he’s playing someone detached and cold blooded, and somewhat annoyed with the stupid people around him; as the movie continues, you begin to realise that he was literally not acting at all; the weary indifference and growing irritation with everyone around him is just the way he felt about being in this movie.

The movie climaxes in the least convincing New York I’ve ever seen in a movie, and instead of wondering whether Milla could save the day, I was wondering where was standing in for the city which would’ve fallen asleep if it had to watch this movie. Toronto, I assumed. But it turned out even that was too much like hard work and real money; they shot the movie in Bulgaria and London. At some level I’m actually impressed that I can’t tell which of them was standing in for New York so badly.

Stupid things; The US Embassy in London allegedly has GPS trackers in its ID badges so that they can track the staff. Which even work underground, except when they don’t; there’s a moment where Milla’s allegedly goes from “visible to a hacked together mobile phone tracker” to completely vanished when she’s CLOSER to the guy tracking her. Pierce Brosnan blows up a whole restaurant to kill Milla, and still misses her, though the same blast completely kills the woman standing next to her in the shop next door, and even more weirdly, only kills the four people at her table and no-one else inside the restaurant. Weirdest bomb ever, at least until later, when our terrorist villains are all set to kill a million people with a gas bomb on New Year’s Eve and the way they get the gas into play is that it’s the coolant for the disco ball they drop at Times Square. They actually take the time to tell the audience that the ball needs to be cooled because it’s studded with thousands of LEDs. Which need cooling in much the same way that the Sahara needs drying. Also, the only way to detonate the bomb is with a super bullet, even though the charge is a mixture of methane and fluorine and hydrogen. You don’t need a bullet to set that off; you need more engineering than a jumbo jet just to stop it from exploding out of sheer spite.

Anyhow, I was wrong. If this is what happens when Milla works with someone who isn’t Paul WS Anderson, I want her shackled to him permanently from now on.