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Posts Tagged ‘Rose Byrne’

2015 has, so far, seemed to be a bit of an annus mirabilis for those of us who are fans of (the man, the legend) Jason Statham – true, things got off to a slightly wobbly start with the virtual non-release of Wild Card, but set against this are Mr Statham’s appearances in Furious 7 and now Paul Feig’s Spy. Not only are these big, mainstream releases, well outside the action ghetto which the great man once seemed to be stuck in, but they also indicate that he’s at least attempting to broaden his range a bit – Furious 7 had him playing a villain in a major blockbuster, while Spy sees him trying his hand at comedy. Possibly I’m biased, but the omens looked good for this one.

spy

That said, Spy isn’t really his movie, but a vehicle for Melissa McCarthy. She plays Susan Cooper, a desk-bound CIA analyst whose normal duties are to support suave super-agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law). She has a bit of a crush on him, naturally, which equally naturally is entirely unrequited. Susan is understandably devastated when Fine is killed on a mission to investigate ruthless arms dealer Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne, sigh).

With the CIA seemingly compromised, Susan volunteers to go into the field herself for the first time (her identity being unknown to the bad guys), much to the chagrin of crazed macho-man agent Rick Ford (you can probably guess who this is). Nevertheless, the mission is approved and off she goes to Paris, technically only on surveillance duties but with vengeance on her mind…

The first and most important thing to say about Spy is that, given his prominence in the advertising, Jason Statham really isn’t in it very much. In a way it’s oddly similar to his appearance in Furious 7, in that his contribution doesn’t amount to much more than a series of scene-stealing (and very funny) cameos. Mr Statham’s usual intensity reaches the point of incipient, swivel-eyed madness, but he’s still playing a version of the Jason Statham Character, which just adds to the humour.

As I said, though, it’s McCarthy’s movie all the way. I haven’t seen any of her previous movies, but on the strength of this one it seems to me that her schtick is based on two things – her physicality, and a startling facility with profanistical vocabularisation. Both of these are given full reign here. I remember that many years ago, Dawn French went to Hollywood with the idea of making a movie in which a short, plump woman found herself mixed up in a Lethal Weapon-style action caper, to comic effect. That movie never got made, but Spy – at least to begin with – is based on a similar premise.

Except, of course, this isn’t a pastiche of buddy cop films, but spy movies in general and the Bond franchise in particular. I say pastiche rather than parody: the opening titles are a spot-on copy of the Eon style, but they’re not actually funny, while the actual plot of the film – a hunt for a missing nuclear bomb – is handled relatively ‘straight’ (one consequence of this is that the film contains some unusually graphic violence for a comedy). The story isn’t terribly original, and I’m not sure how much it actually makes sense, but it mainly functions as a container into which to put jokes, anyway. These start off relatively restrained, and to be fair the film always retains a concern with Susan as a semi-believable human being rather than just as an over-the-top comic character. That said, at some point around half-way through she inexplicably transforms from a slightly awkward but generally decent lady into a sort of foul-mouthed berserker, although one of the results of this is that the film gets funnier and funnier as it goes on.

Quite apart from the reliable technique of inserting McCarthy into staple scenarios of the genre – the visit to be issued with gadgets, the casino sequence, the high speed pursuit, and so on – the film is notable for being a largely female-led crack at this particular target, with equally strong supporting performances coming from Byrne, Miranda Hart, and Allison Janney. And beyond this, the film seems to have an inexhaustible supply of off-the wall running gags and surprise cameos to draw upon – a joke about the surprisingly vermin-infested CIA HQ made me laugh a lot, while Peter Serafinowicz is extremely good value as a outrageously inappropriate Italian agent.

I’m still a little disappointed that Spy doesn’t contain a bit more premium Statham, and I’m not sure I’ll be becoming a regular visitor to Melissa McCarthy movies, but as you can probably tell I rather enjoyed this one. It probably isn’t the greatest comedy spy thriller ever made, but it is consistently funny in all sorts of ways, and if this style of modern comedy is to your taste – let’s just say it’s broad and irreverent – you will probably have a good time watching it.

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Haven’t watched any Olympics so far, don’t feel this has blighted my life, didn’t watch the opening ceremony either – if you really must know, I came across a copy of Gamera the Invincible on the internet and found the prospect of watching that far more appealing. Nevertheless, from all I hear I Love Wonder was a great success. Spiffing; hopefully now Danny Boyle can get back to making horror movies as only he can.

I am of course particularly anticipating Boyle getting to work on 28 Months Later, and I suppose this is a little surprising as I seem to recall being a bit lukewarm about 28 Days Later when it first appeared in 2002. I didn’t think it was a bad film, I just wasn’t as impressed as many other people clearly were. Nevertheless, despite my usual policy of not buying films on DVD unless I’ve already seen them and know they’ll reward many viewings, I bought the box set of it and its sequel, which I missed at the cinema, the first chance I got.

For 28 Weeks Later Boyle stepped back from the director’s position and let Juan Carlos Fresnadillo have a go, although I’ve been told he handled the opening sequence personally. This is not surprising as it’s one of the most visceral and disturbing parts of the film. Here we meet Don (Robert Carlyle), an average family man who’s taken refuge from the outbreak of the Rage virus in a country farmhouse. (This section is set during the same timeframe as the first movie.) However, he and the people he is with are discovered by a pack of infected and he is forced to flee, the only survivor – his desperation to escape making him commit a genuinely shocking act.

Months later, as suggested by the end of the first film, the infected have died of starvation leaving mainland Britain ruined and empty. Refugees who escaped the quarantine are being repatriated by a US Army task force, based at an enclave in central London. Two of the latest arrivals are Don’s kids Andy and Tamsin (Mackintosh Muggleton and Imogen Poots – yeah, like those are their real names!) – despite the fact that the presence of children does not sit well with chief medical officer Scarlett (the lovely Rose Byrne).

Scarlett’s concerns prove well-founded when the kids slip out of the compound and discover someone who has survived the outbreak of the Rage. The problem is that they have done so due to a genetic anomaly, which makes them an asymptomatic carrier of the virus: they carry inside them the seeds of a second outbreak, and one which could potentially be even more dangerous than the original…

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking if you’ve seen this film: the recap above presents the facts of the story rather idiosyncratically, but this is only because I want to preserve some of the shocks and surprises built into the plot. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure the focus on Don and his family completely works as the film progresses – given what we saw of the virus and the infected in the first film, the way that some characters behave in the later stages of this one is a little bit startling. (The issue of why the infected don’t simply turn on each other becomes an even more clouded one.)

I suppose one could be accused of taking a very gory zombie movie a bit too seriously by even worrying about this sort of thing, but both these movies are smarter than you’d expect and thus deserve serious consideration. It seems to me that both these films are, on some level, about fear of the mob and the innate human capacity for savagery, but 28 Weeks Later adds a new layer to this by being much more openly political. The repatriatees live in a ‘Green Zone’, while the US Army have, possibly prematurely, declared a formerly hazardous area safe.

It’s very clear that the US Army’s occupation of London is intended, on some level, as a satire on the occupation of Iraq, which adds a new subtext to latter scenes, in which their general (Idris Elba) orders his troops to fire upon civilians to stop the Rage spreading. It’s an interesting idea, and allows for some stunning images – the Isle of Dogs being firebombed, helicopter gunships attacking civilian vehicles in central London – as well as (of course) allowing some American stars to appear in the cast (Jeremy Renner and Harold Perrineau are the most prominent). But I still don’t think this subtext of the film completely makes sense, not least because – on one level – the general is clearly justified in taking whatever measures are necessary to stop the virus spreading.

Nevertheless, this angle, and the fact that as a result this is much more of an action-chase movie than the first one, definitely give it its own identity. I think part of the reason for my subdued response to the Danny Boyle film was that it did seem to me to be an obvious mash-up of two sources I already knew very well (Night of the Living Dead and The Day of the Triffids). I’m not saying 28 Weeks Later is a better film, but I think I’ve watched it more often, quite simply because it is more original.

That said, I did respond rather negatively to it the first time I saw it. Quite apart from the ungallant treatment meted out to the lovely Rose Byrne, I was repelled by the overwhelming, nightmarish bleakness of the film’s atmosphere and story, and especially its ending (as is common, the original doesn’t really leave obvious material for a sequel – this one goes out of its way to allow the story to continue, but of course the rights then got tied up, leaving the third installment in limbo). But now it seems to me that this is the horror of the film, as much as in the splatter and gore – unsympathetic though he is, the general’s ruthless approach to the crisis is ultimately proven to be the right one. It’s the human sympathy and affection shown by many of the main characters which is misplaced and ultimately results in catastrophe (I suppose you could also argue it’s all Don’s fault, but spoilers await). Compassion and empathy, in this film, are what wind up getting you killed, and that’s not a comforting message.

As I said, the ending is left wide open for further episodes (although I’m not sure what they can do with the titles after 28 Months Later – entering the realm of years and decades stretches credibility somewhat), the main challenge being simply to match the level of ingenuity and originality set by this first follow-up. I hope they manage it; this is a superior sequel and a memorable horror movie in its own right.

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If you’re anything like me – which is admittedly highly unlikely, but anyway – there are two things to bear in mind about X-Men: First Class. Firstly… well actually, we’ll come to that, as it’s kind of central to the concept of the film… and secondly, there isn’t a post-credits sequence, so you can clear off home at the end without seeing the names of all the carpenters safe in the knowledge you won’t miss anything. Public service blogging, that’s what this is.

Matthew Vaughn’s relentlessly entertaining movie is mostly set in 1962, with CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne, sigh) discovering playboy millionaire Sebastian Shaw (Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon) is manipulating both the US military and the Russians for his own nefarious ends. Even more startlingly, it seems that Shaw is backed up by a covey of genetically divergent scallywags (amongst them January Jones and Jason Flemyng) with uncanny superhuman powers.

Set on stopping Shaw, Moira recruits genetics expert Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his shifty friend Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) for assistance, unaware that both possess startling abilities of their own. And what nobody is aware of is that Shaw is also being stalked by Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), a man who originally encountered him in a Nazi death camp, but who was saved when Shaw recognised his own special gift: the power to control magnetic fields…

With Shaw’s plan to force a crisis between the global superpowers nearing completion, Xavier and Lehnsherr realise they will need assistance of their own, and so they set about recruiting a team of young mutants to assist them. Taking their name from the initial of one of their founders, a new faction is born, fighting for peace and understanding – the L-Men! Oh, hang on a minute…

If X-Men: First Class brings anything genuinely new to the superhero genre, it’s the idea of taking the story out of the present day and presenting it almost as a period piece. Vaughn grabs this ball and runs enthusiastically with it, with the resulting film in places looking more like a Bond or even Austin Powers pastiche than anything else. Perhaps unsurprisingly, introducing big special effects sequences into a spy thriller works extremely well and the sixties detail adds a lot of charm to the movie. (There’s one sequence at a slightly debauched party where Rose Byrne has to walk around in her underwear that felt a little bit leery and lubricious, but… it’s Rose Byrne in her underwear… I can only genuinely object so much.)

Despite the fact that this movie is set around the time that the comic originally appeared, precious few of the original characters actually make an appearance – a consequence of having to maintain nominal continuity with the other movies. Some of the X-Men this time around made their comics debut well after the movie series got going, if we’re going to be particular about this. Anyway, ladies and gentlemen, in addition to those already mentioned, your X-Men for this picture are a new version of Angel, the Beast, Havok, Banshee, and Darwin. Nicholas Hoult is rather good as Beast, but the others are really only there to fill out the numbers and perk up the climax – most of the time the film is preoccupied with other people.

It certainly seems to be the case that bad guys have more fun, because while McAvoy gives a great performance as Professor X – although his tic of putting a finger to his temple and frowning whenever he does anything psychic is perhaps a little overused – he doesn’t command the film to anything like the same extent as Fassbender, whose performance as Magneto is appropriately – er – compelling. He’s got the looks, the moves, and the intensity for the part, and after a while you stop even thinking about Ian McKellen. He does pick up a slightly startling Irish accent at a couple of points, however, and – as seems common with this kind of film – his transformation from avenger to terrorist seems a little too abrupt to convince entirely. It’s still Fassbender’s movie though.

Also good, I should say, is Jennifer Lawrence, who manages to bring real depth and feeling and reality to a character who previously hasn’t been much more than a striking visual gimmick. Watching the older movies again you won’t look at the character Lawrence plays here in quite the same way.

All this is possible, of course, because X-Men: First Class is a prequel and gives the film-makers a chance to explore the roots and personalities of characters we already know and care about. That said, this kind of film can have problems of its own – there can either be the sense that all that’s happening is pieces being shuffled about, preparatory to being left where they were at the start of the original series (case in point: the climax of Revenge of the Sith, which revolves around fights between four characters all of whom we know will survive), or the problem that all this is really just prep work for a future (or past) movie which is where all the fun happens (great though it is, I caught a whiff of that off Batman Begins).

Impressively, First Class doesn’t really suffer from either of these issues. Where it does fall down is in its affliction with what I term Star Trek Reboot syndrome, after the last movie in that series. This kind of prequel is largely sold on the promise that ‘this is the story of how the characters came to be the people you already know and care about.’ The thing about the last Star Trek movie is that it was nothing of the sort – it was actually the story of how the characters came to be subtly different people from the ones we know and care about, living in an alternate universe. The thread connecting the original series and the prequel was not intact.

X-Men: First Class doesn’t go out of its way to obliterate the original continuity with a massive time paradox like Star Trek did, but it’s still very clear to anyone paying close attention that this movie is not set in the same history as the others – the chronology of certain key events alluded to in the original series has been altered. (This breaking-of-continuity is the thing I referred to at the beginning of the review.) You may dismiss this as just geekish pedantry, but surely the whole point of this kind of movie is to respect the original story? Part of the power of this film comes from seeing the characters and knowing how they’re going to end up – but given that the film seems to regard the history depicted elsewhere as being mutable, we don’t know for sure that this is really what’s going to happen – in which case, isn’t it just cashing in on our investment?

Let me be clear: this in no way spoils the movie, and most people probably won’t care about it one iota. But for some of the series’ biggest fans – and I wouldn’t even necessarily include myself in that number – this may well colour their perceptions and enjoyment of the film.

I’m also half-minded to say something about the way the film turns the Cuban missile crisis, one of the key events of recent history, into not much more than the backdrop to a superhero fight. All right, I have seen much more tasteless things on screen, but even so. It’s not even as if there’s some subtextual link between the crisis and the story on screen – the film doesn’t really use being a mutant as a metaphor for anything, except in the most general and woolly of ways. Magneto alludes darkly to the Holocaust at one point, but the film sensibly backs away from exploring this angle (so they’re not completely insensitive to the weight of history).

Anyway, after a while the groovy sixties detail and other historical stuff falls by the wayside and it starts operating in the same kind of territory as the other films, with a climax that surely goes on a little too long. On the other hand, this is a smart and stylish movie that isn’t afraid to be openly and enthusiastically comic-booky (which was where Bryan Singer’s contributions really fell short for me).

I’m not really sure what the comic-book fan constituency is going to make of this movie, nor people who know the X-Men solely from their screen incarnations. It seems to be reaching out to both groups, with costumes that much more closely resemble the comic versions, various allusions to McAvoy losing his hair, and even… no, it’s a terrific moment, the best gag in the movie, and I can’t spoil it… but on the other hand – well, look, the movie version of Moira MacTaggert is an in-name-only reference to the one in the books. The same is very nearly the same of the movie’s take on Riptide. Is it really so easy to tickle the happy buttons of comic book fans? Perhaps it is; I wouldn’t really know (though ask me again when Green Lantern comes out…) .

If you have any sort of tolerance for big, colourful, spectacular summer movies, then X-Men: First Class should be able to give your own happy buttons at least a minor caress. It takes itself seriously as a drama, with proper performances and characterisations, but couples them with a great sense of fun and an eye for big cinematic moments. It’s a very satisfying confection, in a way that Thor, to be perfectly honest, wasn’t quite. The first X-Men essentially opened the door for Marvel characters to dominate summer cinema in the way they have for a decade or so now, and with First Class the trend shows no sign of running out of steam. A great summer movie and quite possibly the best X-Men movie yet.

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