Movie Review: “Spy”

Starring
Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Miranda Hart, Allison Janney, Peter Serafinowicz
Director
Paul Feig

Director Paul Feig makes refreshingly nice comedies. There’s not a mean-spirited bone in his body. Not for a second does he ever poke fun at his characters. The creator behind one of the greatest and sweetest shows ever to grace television, “Freaks & Geeks,” loves all his characters – the screw-ups, the underdogs and even the bullies. That empathy has carried over to his feature film work. Although the laughs and appealing spirit of “Bridesmaids” was missing in “The Heat,” he’s quickly rebounded with “Spy,” a ferociously funny Melissa McCarthy star vehicle.

Susan Cooper (McCarthy) once dreamed of life as a CIA field agent. She imagined action, romance and intrigue. Instead of trotting the globe and saving the world, Susan performs her heroics behind a desk. The CIA analyst is super-spy Bradley Fine’s (Jude Law) eyes and ears. When the CIA’s top agents’ identities are exposed, though, Susan gets her chance to get out into the field. But putting the fate of the world into her hands doesn’t sit well with everybody – most notably, Rick Ford (Jason Statham), a spy who doesn’t believe he has any weaknesses. Ford and Cooper butt heads as she tracks down Bulgarian arms dealer Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), who plans on selling a miniature nuclear weapon to the highest bidder.

As expected, Feig’s script is sharp. Never does “Spy” become parody or satire. The writer/director manages to poke fun at some genre conventions – Ford is James Bond and Jason Bourne combined, with some steroids thrown in for good measure – but never to the point where they overwhelm the emotional core and broad stakes of the film. Yes, “Spy” is a comedy, but Feig makes the action scenes have a real sense of danger. The violence is surprisingly and often comically brutal. Feig not only takes advantage of the R-rating in the language department, but also with bloodshed.

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Movie Review: “Insidious: Chapter 3″

Starring
Stefanie Scott, Dermot Mulroney, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson
Director
Leigh Whannell

James Wan stepped up his game with 2011’s “Insidious.” The filmmaker behind “Saw” and “Death Sentence” conjured up his most effective scares to date with his fourth feature film, relying far more on tension than jump scares. While the sequel to that surprise hit wasn’t on par with its predecessor, it got the job done. But with Wan unable to continue the series due to other commitments, his frequent co-writer and “Insidious” co-star, Leigh Whannell, has taken over the reins, marking his directorial debut with “Insidious: Chapter 3.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t exhibit the same eye for tension that Wan does.

Set a few years before the first film, this prequel focuses on Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott), a teenage girl who hasn’t gotten over the death of her mother. Trying to communicate with the other side, she receives a response from an unwanted spirit: The Man Who Can’t Breathe (Michael Reid MacKay). The evil force almost kills the young girl at the start of the film, breaking her legs and leaving her immobile. Slowly – and rather repetitively – The Man Who Can’t Breathe tortures Quinn. Quinn’s father, Sean (Dermot Mulroney), enlists the help of Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), who, as shown in the first two films of the series, can speak to the other side. Other series’ regulars, like paranormal investigators Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Whannell), also return.

In the vein of the second film, this chapter delivers some more backstory. We learn how Tucker, Specs and Elise came to work together, and every moment with those three characters speaks to how funny this franchise can be. Whannell and Sampson have a terrific rapport. Even when they get into darker material, which they did in their last fantastic collaboration, “The Mule,” they manage to find laughs. If “Insidious: Chapter 3” was a full-blown comedy, it would probably go down as one of the funniest films of the summer.

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Movie Review: “Entourage”

Starring
Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Jeremy Piven, Jerry Ferrara, Kevin Dillon, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Haley Joel Osment, Billy Bob Thorton
Director
Doug Ellin

It’s been four years since “Entourage” ended its incredible run on HBO, and in that time, there’s been a lot of talk about a potential big screen revival from series creator Doug Ellin, producer Mark Wahlberg and the cast. But now that it’s finally a reality, does anyone still care? That seems to be the biggest question surrounding the film, although if the success of “Sex and the City” (which had a similar hiatus between its series finale and the first movie) is any indication, the studio has absolutely nothing to worry about. And why should it? “Entourage” has a built-in fanbase that’s getting bigger every day thanks to the cultural phenomenon of TV binge-watching, and while you don’t necessarily need to be a fan of the series to enjoy the film, it definitely helps.

For those who’ve never watched a single episode of the show, “Entourage” opens with a Piers Morgan-hosted puff piece on movie star Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) and his friends that serves as a very basic cheat sheet on where the characters are in their lives to get you up to speed. The story itself picks up a few weeks after the series finale, with Vince freshly divorced following his impulsive (nine-day) marriage to Vanity Fair journalist Sophia and ready to get back to work. Recently retired super-agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) has also returned to Hollywood after accepting a position as the new studio head at Warner Brothers, and he wants former client Vince to star in his first movie: a modern day, big-budget adaptation of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” The only problem is that Vince will only agree to do it if he can also direct, something he’s never done before.

Fast-forward eight months and the film is almost finished, but Vince needs more money, despite having already gone over budget several times. But before the film’s financier, Texas billionaire Larsen McCredle (Billy Bob Thorton), will release more funds, he sends his son Travis (Haley Joel Osment) out to L.A. to watch an early cut of the film. Ari isn’t concerned because he knows the movie is great, but when Travis tries to meddle with the production for unknown reasons, Ari is pushed to the breaking point as he tries to protect Vince’s vision and his job. Meanwhile, Eric (Kevin Connolly) and Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui) hit another snag in their on-again-off-again relationship as the latter prepares to give birth to their child, Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) tries to woo UFC fighter Ronda Rousey, and Drama (Kevin Dillon) has his livelihood threatened just as he’s about to get his big break.

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Movie Review: “Aloha”

Starring
Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, John Krasinski, Alec Baldwin, Bill Murray, Danny McBride
Director
Cameron Crowe

Thus far, optimism has reigned supreme in this summer of moviegoing. “Mad Max: Fury Road” was about finding hope and redemption in a wasteland, “Tomorrowland” championed positivity, and now the king of sincerity himself, Cameron Crowe, has given us “Aloha.” The director’s latest effort is a Cameron Crowe film through and through – a heartfelt, funny and honest, albeit a little messy, romantic comedy.

Like most of Crowe’s protagonists, Brian Gilchrist (Bradley Cooper) isn’t the man he once was, a washed-up defense contractor looking for a comeback. His boss, famed billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray), is planning on launching a satellite out of Hawaii, and it’s Brian’s job to make sure the launch goes according to plan. Professionally and personally, the cynical Brian runs into more problems than he expected. For starters, his ex-girlfriend Tracy (Rachel McAdams) is now married to John ‘Woody’ Woodside (John Krasinski) and has two kids. Old feelings for Tracy arise when Gilchrist reunites with her, in addition to new ones for his babysitter/partner, Allison Ng (Emma Stone), an ambitious pilot who sees Brian for the man he used to be and the man he could become.

There’s actually more to “Aloha” than that plot description. There are a lot of moving pieces in Crowe’s script, and it takes time for them to become a cohesive unit. The details of Brian’s mission are a tad hazy at first, and his relationship with Allison is initially rushed, as she falls for him a little too quickly. But by the time the second act rolls around, Crowe and the cast are mostly smooth sailing.

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Movie Review: “San Andreas”

Starring
Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Giamatti, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi
Director
Brad Peyton

Roland Emmerich would be proud. “San Andreas” is every bit the big, dumb and loud disaster movie that everyone expected it to be, delivering on that promise with some sensational, effects-heavy action that’s practically begging to be turned into a theme park attraction. Though some people will undoubtedly criticize the film for doing exactly what it sets out to achieve, “San Andreas” is pretty upfront about its intentions, doing no more and no less than it needs to in order to get its characters from point A to point B. This is the type of guilt-free popcorn movie that the summer blockbuster season is built around, and while it never amounts to much more than cinematic eye candy, that’s kind of the point.

Dwayne Johnson stars as Chief Ray Gaines, a former military helicopter rescue pilot who now works for the Los Angeles Fire Department saving lives alongside the same crew that served with him overseas. When a big earthquake hits Nevada, tearing apart the Hoover Dam in the process, Ray is forced to cancel a road trip with his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) to help with the rescue effort. But Cal Tech seismologist Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) predicts that an even bigger earthquake is going to occur along the San Andreas Fault, with San Francisco getting hit the hardest, placing Blake smack dab in the middle of the impending destruction. After rescuing his soon-to-be ex-wife, Anna (Carla Gugino), from a crumbling building in Los Angeles, the pair heads to San Francisco to save their daughter before she becomes another victim of the devastating quake.

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