Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2019)

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Forgery has never looked so gently compelling but ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ is out and about in New York to show how unexpectedly sweet and deliciously sour it can all be.

Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) has a NY Times Best Seller book under her belt but has fallen under writers block and other self-made hard times. Whilst trying to compile notes for a new novel she unearths letters sent by the person she wants to write about. This sets in motion a plan to spin money by forging letters from other writers and along with Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), Israel gets into her groove once more.

The film is lovingly layered with spot on wit, never over-laden to breaking point, the screenplay has a fair few amounts of razor sharp insults and sniping but it’s still a film that is generally a pleasant watch, like the director has managed to settle her audience in to this calming, jazzy ambience of comedy and drama. It’s like you’re watching this talented yet hard to reach writer figure of Israel, not from a cinema but on a plush armchair with atmospheric lighting setting the mood in comfortable surroundings.

It is also true that it can feel like a biographical picture more like a lazy Sunday afternoon watch because it never changes gears and it takes a bit of time to warm to the aggressive nature of Lee as a person but once she begins her typewriter hustling and forms a bond with flamboyant Jack, the movie becomes a much more investing product.

The film does well in making Lee Israel and her fraudulent letters a rather interesting matter, it’s a story truly deserving of the spotlight and they don’t squander it. It’s made me want to find out more about her and I’m sure it’ll have the same impact on others. ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ is a great commentary on the eagerness to lap up literary content and buy into the world of the writer, any unheard of material is ripe for the picking without any due thought which makes her actions all the more understandable. The writers and director never paint Lee out to be some unholy crook but more a mildly unpleasant, anxiety-ridden alcoholic with a mouth on her…so like all writers!

Melissa McCarthy brings amazing presence to the film and silences any critics to her more usual shouty comedy flicks, which was me included. Like in ‘St. Vincent’, McCarthy shines by proving great dramatic chops that she clearly has within her. Richard E. Grant is purely enigmatic with a cheeky smile helping him bring Jack to spritely life. The two actors bounce off each other so well, the characters they play clearly sharing like-minded souls in bittersweet humour and sadness. The pair of performers play the relationship beautifully with a radiant spark flaring up between them every time they’re on screen together.

It’s an intriguing film and very close to being a joyful watch. The witticisms and emotional current that carry the film are wonderfully balanced.

7/10

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The Happytime Murders (2018)

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Puppets like you ain’t ever seen them before…and hopefully never will again. Brian Henson, son of puppeteer and legend Jim Henson has clearly got the experience from performing in previous Muppet series to directing a couple of Muppet led movies but he squanders his fuzzy know-how in this dire ‘comedy’ feature.

Cop turned Private Investigator Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) takes on a case from a sex-mad young female who’s being blackmailed. As he roots for clues he ends up at the scenes of multiple murders and needs to team up with his former partner Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), which would be fine if they didn’t despise each other but they’ll have to put a fractured relationship aside if they want to catch the puppet killer.

Honestly, this is a stand-out for one of the worst movies I have seen. The premise is actually a fairly great one, this notion of puppet/human coexisting could have been mined for laughs and heartfelt felt-lined emotion but it never comes close to either of these dream qualities. Todd Berger’s script is splattered with persistent attempts at what the creators assume is adult humour but is just juvenile.

If you saw ‘Sausage Party’ then this is in the same wheelhouse, though that less than amusing animation is a masterpiece in comparison to this story that hinges on the apparent comedy factor of small puppets dropping F-bombs, incessant sex jokes and a plot mystery solved by a eye-rolling ‘Basic Instinct’ reference of puppet genitalia. It’s almost as if this movie is a bunch of adults guffawing at how far they can take this idea of Muppet-like creatures doing X rated stuff; it never even gets to a point of being cringe-worthy because it starts off as try hard and beats you over the head with sex antics and swearing.

What’s dumb is that it’s not even got the selling factor of being a unique idea. Stringed puppets were rude but cleverly mastered in ‘Team America: World Police’, stage characters in ‘Avenue Q’ have done it all before and even Kermit’s roadshow Muppet mates, who are tailored nicely to children but adults alike because there’s traces of smart grown up humour; a brilliant but short-lived ABC television series had them living and working with humans and is a damn sight funnier than the 91 minutes of drivel I sat through.

There’s no interesting story; the murder mystery is badly handled and the puppet premise is wasted. In fact, worse than the relentless cursing and “look at us with puppets doing mature stuff” is the matter that this a excruciatingly boring movie.

1/10

 

Ghostbusters (2016)

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After the hugely torn apart and heavily disliked YouTube promos, this was always going to be an interesting watch. Whether it’d be as bad as it looked or if the trailer guy needed firing because the movie is much better. It goes without saying that this reboot of the 1984 classic is nowhere near as good as the original.

Wanting to gain tenure, Erin (Kristen Wiig) needs to get rid of a book about ghosts she wrote with school friend Abby (Melissa McCarthy) as it could ruin her credentials. However after meeting Abby and science whizz Jillian (Kate McKinnon) she witnesses an actual ghost leading them to try and capture a spirit to prove their long time theories. Metro worker Patty (Leslie Jones) sees another malevolent apparition and joins the media coined ‘Ghostbusters’, in trying to stop someone bringing numerous ghosts into our world.

I truly don’t want to rip into this film because people may say that’s too easy and also too expected considering the amount of hate it gained before it was even close to release. Trust me when I say that it’s nothing to do with the fact the busting crew are female or that it’s a classic movie being rehashed…because I get it, films are remade all the time but this felt like a cheesy attempt at being 80’s and never really made me laugh much.

In fact the chemistry between the four women is strong and energetic, I liked the buzz they had. The moments when they’re in unison and coming up with plans to save the day are powerful and still lighthearted. What I didn’t enjoy as much was the lame humour in stupidity and slapstick. Goo and falls aplenty are Sandler fan appeal and I wanted better than that from this.

Paul Feig has proven he knows how to direct comic stars in comedies, but maybe tackling the well known name of this franchise was too daunting. It at times feels like an SNL sketch dragged out as the cast bicker and banter with each other. The pacing is awfully slow in the middle which is a shame because the beginning quarter of the movie is very good. As the busters sit with the mayor and go on about a ‘cat out the bag’ scenario you plead for the dull spiel and obvious ad-libbing to end.

Genuinely the opening of this comedy-action feature is spooky and engaging. A haunted museum and a nice little trick prop help play on the idea of ghost tours. All this leads to a rather well shot and built sequence of horror as the first ghoul appears, which I must say would have made for a better story than the severely underdeveloped threat of some guy placing devices around New York. The film could easily have had the Ghostbusters trying to stop the obviously dangerous killer ghost from the museum, but instead they cram in a loner villain and old jokes such as Oprah riffs or an Eat Pray Love line.

Times Square rolls in and this near ending sequence to be honest lights up the movie and brought a smile to my face thank God. It’s stuffed with lots of ghosts – iffy CGI but let it slide as the slow-mo of the gals kicking butt is pretty awesomely handled. Melissa McCarthy is manageable to tolerate in this, the original stars cameos are a treat to see and there is an undeniable silly charm in places.

McCarthy, who is fast pushing herself into the female Adam Sandler mould, is fine in this. Her chemistry with the others is good and she plays a scene of being something other than Abby very well. Kristen Wiig can do goofy comedy well and shows that off here, even in the moments when her character seems to shift motivations she is a wide eyed dose of humour. Leslie Jones adds an integral sprinkle of information and attitude to the group. She isn’t as shouty as the trailers make out. Kate McKinnon is for me the one that bugged me the most. She starts off being cool and different, her manic expressions and reeling off quick sentences being amusing but then it keeps on going and going…and going. To the point where I got tired of the act and wanted her to be like Rick Moranis in live-action movies nowadays. Chris Hemsworth is the one that steals the show, even if they paint a man as being a pretty face and dumb, his acting of this stupidity is ace and you can’t help but chuckle at the things he does or comes out with.

It may not be the top number in the phone book, but give this average film a call and you’ll see a mild entertainment flick. A true summer movie that’s not hilarious or amazing but really not shocking or as awful as people will have you believe.

5.5/10

 

Spy (2015)

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More than an average spoof film, this Paul Feig/Melissa McCarthy team up jumps hard on all the fast swift delights of action films and ties it in nicely with comic set ups based on the rise of an internal based agent thrust into the field of espionage. It’s scope is open enough to delight many watchers and the satisfaction can be found in the strong enjoyment factor.

Working as a spy aid and CIA agent, Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) one day steps forward into the active field to track down Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) and Sergio De Luca (Bobby Cannavale) who are about to do a black market deal for a nuke. Knowing the basics from helping fine agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) won’t exactly help as she gets wrapped up in pushing orders to follow targets and avoiding the dimwitted interruptions from fellow agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham).

This film is out and out good fun from opening to closing scenes and it doesn’t really stop in between. The reliance on pratfalls and some slapstick is perhaps catered more to that specific clientele of people who laugh at anything but it’s punchy in the spy spoofing department and the funny lines as well. The visual comedy of secret agent humour and having Susan dressed as increasingly depressing and humiliating single women personas shows McCarthy can poke fun at herself and also gives something different to the usual black tie/glamorous dress image of spies. Though of course that does get lost as the desk bound caterpillar becomes a confident butterfly in black dress and gets used to her new world.

Paul Feig masters an enthralling script of whizz, the film may run at 120 minutes but it never feels a stretch. His actual handle on the meatier subject of the actual narrative gets lost. The whole set up of the suitcase nuke and transaction gets muddled between the comedy stylings and then it suddenly rears it head for the ending face off. That feels a little rushed to get back to the plot, close the mission and therefore the story and set up for an obvious ‘Spy 2’, but he writes back and forth dialogues really well, one liners come flying thick and fast and the double agent stuff is done greatly keeping you guessing to what’s going to go down.

There’s more comedy to be had in what’s said than what’s seen and I prefer that for this big comedy type of feature. Certain aspects like bats and rats in the CIA basement is a drag for visual comedy, the entire plane sequence to me wasn’t tense and became sillier as it went on. The sleazy humour from Aldo can only go so far until it became tedious. It’s the snappy dialogue spoken that made me really like the movie. Ford and his zany anecdotes about his work are pure genius, Melissa’s squaring up to Rayna is great and her asides about her or others add superb character.

Broadly, the film utilises it’s jet setting locations in the same vein as Bond movies. This movie does have glitz in it’s European settings, casinos and fast cars. The opening also works on that Bond title look. You can’t mistake the angle it’s going for and the genre is ripe for the picking and it does so fantastically. At times, a lot of fights rival real action movies. There’s appropriate music from Theodore Shapiro that also keeps the film in check with that sound of spy genres. Though having the Ukrainian Eurovision entry of 2007 appear in France felt a little odd.

Melissa McCarthy is a great leading role, for this film at least. I’m not a huge fan of her roles but she does work well doing her thing. Also she’s more relatable in the way she wants to achieve and her clear love for Fine to follow this mission make for wanting her to succeed and Melissa brings about that feeling splendidly. Rose Byrne clearly seems to love parading about in her panto role of over the top image obsessed, violent and controlling daddy’s girl. The harsh and yet hilarious remarks she makes are delivered with such tasty snarls. 50 Cent and Miranda Hart make for a weird yet comedic duo but her by herself doing her best friend role is as annoying as I find her in her brain dead slapstick drivel excuse of a TV show. Jude Law is smarmy and slick, the clear Bond of the piece who comes into the story as motivation and possible dilemma. Jason Statham is utterly fantastic. The bad boy way he delivers the increasingly elaborate stories of what he’s done is crazily brilliant. He steals the show and let’s hope in the inevitable sequel he does a whole load more showboating.

There’s nothing you haven’t seen here before, spoofs are done a lot but Melissa can play that one role well, Feig can write comedy and bringing on board a whole host of actors to play over the top characters does provide this film with laughs a plenty. Very fun and an amusing distracting movie.

7/10

St. Vincent (2014)

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Truly, a superb first outing for director/writer Theodore Melfi, who brings a starry cast and a outstanding newcomer together to lovingly tell a funny yet painful and heartwarming story. It strides into place as one of the finest dramatic turns for Bill Murray and the plot is a sweet and sad one to watch develop.

A grouchy gambling vet called Vincent MacKenna (Bill Murray) with little to no money and a penchant for pregnant prostitutes; namely Daka (Naomi Watts), faces new neighbours one day in the form of Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). As Maggie is so often busy at her hospital job, Vincent takes the opportunity to ‘babysit’ Oliver for money and in doing so they start an unlikely bond.

Now I could possibly see how some may not like this film, maybe in the eyes of foolish audiences expecting to see a through and through comedy vehicle for Murray to shine in, but he excels even if there isn’t tonnes of comedy, not a problem for me however. The other issue may lay in it turning into being very sentimental as the close nears, people might not like that kind of mushy change, I however find it fitting for the story being told.

The film takes a little while to get going as it brings our attention to how Vincent is as a person, this is all fine as Murray is a great man to watch sell the character but it is sort of general obvious flaws of humanity being told, i.e, drinking, gambling, moody indifference, subtle racism and bankruptcy. These characteristics are beyond stale I feel, but as the friendship between grouch and kid takes wing I quickly forgot about these niggle of cliches.

This movie has a great soundtrack, perhaps it manipulates slightly to making you feel fuzzy or making a scene more emotional but music does that and the songs chosen in this movie really compliment the action well, never overpowering but always being noticeable in a good way. This is sounding at the moment like I found the film a tad weak but I really didn’t, trust me. I liked the film, these ‘flaws’ as I may be describing them are just things that I’m finding that I think stop it from being as perfect as it could have been.

Theodore Melfi has done an exceptional thing for his debut film, the style is smooth and pitched with precision. The developments of the story may be ones that hit with power but it’s the development of the growing connection between Oliver and Vincent that comes to the fore. Light touches of comedy in their days out, paternal like guidance and slow motion bonding through dance are all used to make you utterly believe these two people get on.

Comedy is how the movie is advertised and it does have a healthy dose of funny lines but the way it deals with the darker side of life is nice to see and it struck me more than I expected. The title of the film is obviously alluding to the saint-ing of Vincent but it’s the journey to that honour that makes this movie a bittersweet treat to enjoy. There’s plenty of interesting background to make Vincent less than the cliched character he could have been…and so here you see how my earlier critique was just one viewpoint on a figure that has more to his past than you initially know.

Bill Murray deserves the praise he’s getting and I hope some nominations head his way because he is quite frankly incredible as Vincent. The snide and offish man is on point balancing with his forever brilliant comedic timing but it’s so fresh to see him take a lead with a dramatic edge to it and he immerses himself into the later trials of the character with solid tenacity. I am no stranger to my dislike of Melissa McCarthy but here she does a good job with Maggie and her emotional scenes are really great, hopefully she’ll stick to more films in this capacity and stray from her grotesque lairy stereotype. Jaeden Lieberher is an exciting introductory talent and his more innocent scrawny yet smart shtick opposite the grumpy Murray is a lovely case of opposing forces working as one. Naomi Watts is a lighter relief character playing the Eastern European lady of the night with a baby bump to boot.

It may slip into sentiment a little too much nearing the end but pushing that aside this film with a new director and young actor to its credit provides an exceptional platform for Bill Murray to thrive on. Heartstrings may be overly obviously pulled at in it’s ploy for tragic turn ups but I enjoyed the light and dramatic shades it had to offer.

7.5/10