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Spy Review


Excellent

The ace partnership between filmmaker Paul Feig and actress Melissa McCarthy evolves into something formidable with this raucous action comedy, which simultaneously spoofs the espionage genre and provides some genuine thrills. From ensemble player (Bridesmaids) to costar (The Heat) and now to the star of the show, McCarthy finds a role worthy of her talents, subverting rather than exploiting her distinct physicality.

She plays Susan Cooper, a desk-jockey at the CIA who works with the field agents, guiding them by radio link through their dangerous paces. When star spy Bradley Fine (Jude Law) is taken out of service and all other top agents have their covers blown, the boss (Allison Janney) has little choice but to send the well-trained Susan into the field to take down the villainous arms dealer Rayna (Rose Byrne). With her best pal Nancy (Miranda Hart) as her office-bound helper, Susan gets into a series of disguises and travels to Paris, Rome and then Budapest. And despite the constant attempts of rogue agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) to "help" her, Susan gets ever closer to Rayna and her gangster buyer Sergio (Bobby Cannavale).

The relatively simple plot is overcrowded with characters and subplots that add absurd layers of humour to the film, almost all of which are genuinely hilarious. Best of all, none of the laughs come at the expense of Susan, a capable, smart, witty woman who's the perfect alter ego for McCarthy (and certainly much more engaging than her obnoxious-slob persona in The Heat or Tammy). She has terrific chemistry with all of her costars, flirting shamelessly with the Bond-like Law, an amusingly swaggering Statham and especially the purringly hysterical Byrne. As always, the great Janney steals every one of her few scenes. Less effective is an extended goofy cameo by Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent, who at least shows willing to dive into some ridiculous comedy. There's also another terrific foil in Susan's local contact Aldo, played with leering, opportunistic relish by Peter Sarafinowicz.

Continue reading: Spy Review

Exodus: Gods And Kings Review


Good

Aside from impressive 21st century digital effects, this new take on the Moses story pales in comparison to Cecil B. DeMille's iconic 1956 version, The Ten Commandments, which is far more resonant and intensely dramatic. Biblical epics are tricky to get right, and Ridley Scott certainly knows how to make them look and feel terrific (see Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven), but his films are generally about the spectacle rather than the human emotion. So this version of the biblical story will only appeal to viewers who have never seen a better one.

It's set in 1300 BC, when the Israelites have been in captivity in Egypt for 400 years. Now rumours of liberation are circling, centring on Moses (Christian Bale), the adopted son of Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro), raised as a brother alongside the future Pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton). When it emerges that Moses is actually a Hebrew, he is sent into exile in the desert, where he finds a new calling as a shepherd and marries his new boss' sexy daughter Sefora (Maria Valverde). Moses also has a run-in with the Jewish God, who appears in the form of a young boy (Isaac Andrews), challenging Moses to free the Israelites. As Moses attempts to spark a slave revolt, God sends seven horrific plagues to convince Ramses to let his people go.

The script struggles to have its cake and eat it too, finding rational explanations for the plagues and miracles while still maintaining God's supernatural intervention. It's a rather odd mix that demonstrates just how compromised the movie is: it's a big blockbuster rather than a story about people. Several elements work well, such as depicting God as a boy, although the screenplay never manages to make much of the female characters. And only Ben Mendelsohn manages to inject any proper personality as the weaselly overseer of the slaves. Bale and Edgerton both catch the complexity of their characters' situations, privilege mixed with personal revelations. But Scott is more interested in parting the Red Sea than taking them anywhere very interesting.

Continue reading: Exodus: Gods And Kings Review

St. Vincent Review


Excellent

Bill Murray shines in this story of a cynical grump whose life is changed by his friendship with a bright young kid. Writer-director Theodore Melfi makes an assured debut with this hilariously astute, emotional punchy drama, which may sometimes feel a bit over-planned but gives the audience plenty to think about. And along with Murray, the film has especially strong roles for Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts and promising newcomer Jaeden Lieberher.

It's set in a New York suburb, where the neighbourhood grouch Vincent (Murray) is already having a bad day when he discovers meets the perky family next door: Maggie (McCarthy) and her curious son Oliver (Lieberher). She has just fled from her unfaithful husband (Scott Adsit) and is working extra hours to make ends meet, so she reluctantly agrees to let Oliver stay at Vincent's house after school. Intriguingly, Oliver is one of the few people Vincent can bear to be around, aside from the pregnant Russian stripper Daka (Watts) and his lively cat Felix. And Oliver is like a sponge, happily soaking up Vincent's knowledge about things like swearing, fighting and betting on the horses. Oliver has no real idea that all of this makes Vincent a seriously unsuitable role model.

Yes, the central point is that good people are sometimes hard to spot. Vincent may smoke, swear, gamble and hang out with hookers, but he also has a deep soul that Oliver witnesses in the way he takes care of Daka, or how he regularly visits his wife in a nursing home even though she has long forgotten who he is. Melfi makes the most of this perspective, seeing everything through the eyes of perceptive young actor Lieberher. And Murray shines in a role that adds clever shadings to the actor's usual on-screen bluster. The interaction between Oliver and Vincent snaps with personality, and sharp roles for McCarthy and Watts offer meaningful wrinkles, as do other side characters such as Chris O'Dowd's schoolteacher.

Continue reading: St. Vincent Review

The Heat Review


Very Good

Miss Congeniality shows up The Other Guys in this riotously funny buddy-cop comedy, which overcomes its silly script with the ingenious pairing of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. The plot is essentially a flimsy framework on which to hang a series of nutty set pieces, but they're so hilarious that we don't mind at all.

Bullock plays Ashburn, an FBI agent who endangers her upcoming promotion by being too obsessively efficient and showing up the boys. Her boss (Bichir) thinks she could use some new scenery, so sends her to Boston to find a drug kingpin. But she quickly encroaches on the turf of local detective Mullins (McCarthy), whose outside-the-box methods have deeply intimidated her frazzled chief (Wilson). As they investigate the same case, Ashburn and Mullins clash badly before they realise that they really should be working together. But neither is willing to relinquish even a tiny bit of control.

It's hard to remember the last time two over-40 actresses were allowed to play such lively characters. Bullock and McCarthy have a fantastic snap of chemistry on-screen, as they improvise much of their hysterical interaction. This is a terrific combination of Bullock's fearless slapstick physicality and McCarthy's stinging humour. They're a lot funnier when they're at each others' throats than when they're working together, although even then they use deadpan humour to play on their differences. And in another clever flip of the genre, the male actors all have thankless roles around the edges of the story.

Continue reading: The Heat Review

Country Strong Review


Good
Like last year's Crazy Heart, this film traces the journey of a struggling addict country singer. And while the film is somewhat sentimental and simplistic, it features some strong acting that manages to draw us in.

Nashville superstar Kelly (Paltrow) is released from rehab a month early to get back on the road and make some money. Kelly wants her sponsor Beau (Hedlund) to open her shows, while her husband-manager James (McGraw) also lines up rising-star beauty queen Chiles (Meester). Beau thinks she's just a "country Barbie"; he genuinely cares about Kelly, whose marriage to James has gone cold.

Unsurprisingly, she turns to Beau for comfort and more when her comeback tour doesn't go as expected. And the big finale is in Dallas, where she fell from grace.

Continue reading: Country Strong Review

Jenno Topping and Mann Tuesday 14th December 2010 Screening of 'Country Strong' held at Mann's Village theatre - Arrivals Los Angeles, California

Jenno Topping and Mann

Catch And Release Review


Weak
Susannah Grant's Catch and Release is a nice movie. It tells the story of Gray (Jennifer Garner), a nice woman whose nice fiancée Grady has just died; in the days and weeks following his funeral, she becomes a roommate to his nice best friends (Kevin Smith and Sam Jaeger).

I use the word "nice" because the characters come close to having personalities, but back away politely; their lives are so caught up in this admittedly life-changing event that the outside world doesn't seem to exist. The movie is realistic enough to show Gray moving out of her new house because she can't afford to pay the rent on her own, but not so unsparing that any of the characters, rich or poor, have employment that qualifies as anything other than a mild distraction. For a few movie-days, the free time looks like mourning; an hour in, it begins to resemble, well, one of those movies where no one has a real job.

Continue reading: Catch And Release Review

28 Days Review


Weak
Everyone knows that writers are drunks. I mean, I'm drunk right now. I'm surprised I can type, you know, since my hands are shaking so bad and my vision is so blurry.

If you're ready to buy in to the writer-as-alcoholic cliché, you should just love 28 Days, which pulls out every stereotype in the book. Sandra Bullock stars as Gwen, the aforementioned drunk writer (living, naturally, in New York City), who ruins her sister's wedding by insulting her during the toast, falling on the cake, and wrecking the "just married" car by crashing it into a house! Off to rehab for her, where she meets a cast of characters drawn so broadly they could populate a sitcom on UPN.

Continue reading: 28 Days Review

Surviving Christmas Review


Good
Halloween hasn't arrived yet and we're already getting the first holiday film of the season. Despite opening to the tune of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," the timing of Surviving Christmas could not feel worse. We haven't even set our clocks back, and the trees haven't lost their leaves, but we're supposed to believe that Christmas is right around the corner? Fat chance, Santa -- this film won't even survive long enough to see turkey day. But, it's just that kind of attitude that makes this spiteful little movie work.

Ben Affleck plays the lonely but wealthy media marketing executive Drew Latham. He prefers to ditch his family this holiday and take his materialistic girlfriend Missy (Jennifer Morrison) on a first-class trip to Fiji. Missy emphatically rejects his offer and dumps him for wanting to take her away from her family at Christmas. At the advice of Missy's quack psychologist, Drew's therapy is to write down all of his grievances with his family and burn them in front of his childhood home. While this ridiculously manufactured scenario presents a good treatment option for Drew, to the rest of us, it reeks of rotten eggnog.

Continue reading: Surviving Christmas Review

I Spy Review


Terrible
I Spy is based on a popular 1960s television show by the same name where two mismatched spies, one white (Robert Culp) and one black (Bill Cosby), engage in wild antics to fight evil around the world. For a series during the middle of the civil rights era, it was considered groundbreaking. Unfortunately, the movie version completely disrespects this inventiveness of the original series. In fact, the movie is thoroughly insulting.

Owen Wilson is Alex Scott, a second-rate super-spy for the BNS (think CIA, I guess), who is always relegated to the department's least desirable assignments. Other BNS spies, like the suave Bond-like Carlos (Gary Cole), are equipped with the most sophisticated spy tools and receive the most attractive jobs. Scott's newest mission though, requires him to travel to Budapest, Hungary with beautiful fellow agent Rachel Wright (Famke Janssen) to prevent the sale of an invisible stealth spy plane. Some of the world's worst criminals have gathered in Budapest for a party sponsored by criminal mastermind Gundars (Malcolm McDowell). He plans to sell this plane during the celebration for an upcoming boxing match, which happens to involve the wildly flamboyant American featherweight boxing champion Kelly Robinson (Eddie Murphy). The BNS officials recruit Robinson to help Scott and Wright get into the party and accomplish their mission.

Continue reading: I Spy Review

Can't Hardly Wait Review


Excellent
Surprisingly well-realized teen party film about the last night a bunch of high school kids have as, well, high schoolers. Follows a dozen often hilarious stories, the least interesting of which, unfortunately, is the Ethan Embry-Jennifer Love Hewitt wannabe romance. Otherwise, a really good movie and a lot of fun. Recommended.
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Jenno Topping Movies

Spy Movie Review

Spy Movie Review

The ace partnership between filmmaker Paul Feig and actress Melissa McCarthy evolves into something formidable...

Exodus: Gods and Kings Movie Review

Exodus: Gods and Kings Movie Review

Aside from impressive 21st century digital effects, this new take on the Moses story pales...

St. Vincent Movie Review

St. Vincent Movie Review

Bill Murray shines in this story of a cynical grump whose life is changed by...

The Heat Movie Review

The Heat Movie Review

Miss Congeniality shows up The Other Guys in this riotously funny buddy-cop comedy, which overcomes...

Country Strong Movie Review

Country Strong Movie Review

Like last year's Crazy Heart, this film traces the journey of a struggling addict country...

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Catch And Release Movie Review

Catch And Release Movie Review

Susannah Grant's Catch and Release is a nice movie. It tells the story of Gray...

28 Days Movie Review

28 Days Movie Review

Everyone knows that writers are drunks. I mean, I'm drunk right now. I'm...

Surviving Christmas Movie Review

Surviving Christmas Movie Review

Halloween hasn't arrived yet and we're already getting the first holiday film of the season....

I Spy Movie Review

I Spy Movie Review

I Spy is based on a popular 1960s television show by the same name where...

Guess Who Movie Review

Guess Who Movie Review

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