The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018)

I realised when I posted my review for The Happytime Murders that there was one point I forgot to make; I no longer trust Melissa McCarthy in films anymore. I like her in some, but she has a tendency to ruin some films with dialogue seemingly improvised on the spot which serves no purpose and isn’t funny enough to justify its own existence, so just ends up being annoying (I call this the Kevin Hart effect). I was really annoyed about that, luckily this film makes the exact same mistake, so I can make here instead. I won’t, but I could. This film has too many moments where the scenes go on long past the natural stopping point, just to let the characters ramble on.

Tonally it’s kind of a mess too, it’s attempting to be about 5 different films, it would have been better if it picked a style and settled on it. It’s not quite clever enough to work as a spy film, there’s no amazing twists which catch you by surprise, or clever plotting which runs throughout the whole thing; it’s a comedy first, and a spy movie second, and there’s enough comedies already that this doesn’t seem to be adding anything new to that genre. There is room for a comedic spy movie, as you can see from Spy (both the film, and the television series). When this film has a choice between character-based logical decisions, and a throwaway joke, it always goes with the joke. This has the effect of making it look like the characters aren’t taking the situation entirely seriously, which means you don’t really buy into the central premise. I go on about this a lot but the reason Airplane worked (and it did), was because although it was a comedy, the characters in it took it seriously, so it had stakes, you were invested in the plot one hundred percent. This doesn’t do that, and it’s all the worse for it. I mean, it is very funny at times, but it’s incredibly disposable and wastes a promising premise. It mainly wastes it by having the main characters actually be effective spies, it would be funnier if it was all by luck, or if they were actually awful at it and made the situation a lot worse than it would be otherwise, and it escalated from something manageable into something catastrophic.

So in summary, it’s alright, but I’ll be very surprised if it gets a sequel. I feel I would like it more if it was a netflix film, or an extended skit on SNL, but as a full length feature? It manages to both not to do enough, whilst attempting way too much.

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The Happytime Murders (2018)

I was super excited about this. It’s a puppet movie aimed at adults made by the Henson company. I will go on record as saying that “Muppets Christmas Carol” is one of my favourite films ever made. The trailer was hysterical and looked like nothing else released this year, so yeah, hopes were high. Sadly it did not meet them. I expected to sing this film’s praises. To talk about how funny it was and how I can’t wait to see it again when I buy it immediately on DVD the day it’s released. After seeing this I can say with absolute certainty that I’m not going to be buying it on release day, or at all. I don’t need to buy it, I don’t even need to see it again. When it was funny, it was funny, but outside of the puppets it was incredibly mediocre. It relied on the puppets waaaaay too much. There was a period in the 90’s where films thought they hit a formula:

Old person + swearing/drug/sex references=COMEDY

Replace “old person” with “puppet” and you have at least 50% of the jokes in this film. It thinks that just making them swear and make sexual references count as jokes. The actual jokes often aren’t much better, it’s the only film I’ve seen in like forever which does the “amoronsayswhat?” joke sincerely, twice. The last one I can remember doing that is Waynes World. That’s the biggest issue with a lot of the jokes in this; they’re too easy. They’re “we need a joke, this will do” level. They’re the first jokes you’d think of, no actual thought seemed to go into it. It’s like they didn’t care about the quality of the jokes, they just wanted to put jokes in, it goes for quantity over quality, but the quantity isn’t even that high. This wouldn’t be as unforgivable if the story was compelling. But it’s not, not really. There’s two big reveals in this, one is revealed in the poster, and one is incredibly obvious to anybody who has seen a film before. There’s no compelling mystery to keep you emotionally invested in the story. There’s no exciting twists and turns, or clever plot developments.

It does have some funny moments though. And the fact that the puppets use sugar as drugs is great, as is the subtle parallels to racial tension and discrimination. The bad thing about it? Both of those have been done before, and done A LOT better in the short-lived series The Fuzz. And that show had Rachel Bloom of Crazy-Ex Girlfriend fame. Does this? Does it bollocks.

The Equalizer 2 (2018)

Yes, I deem it “The Sequalizer”. I know that’s incredibly obvious and lacks originality, but so does the film so…..

I mean, it’s not really a bad film, Denzel Washington is good in it and some of the action scenes are great and as weird as this seems, the sound editing is some of the best I’ve seen, well, heard. Sound editing is like drumming sometimes, you only notice it when it’s REALLY good, or REALLY bad. The first one had the same thing, it was bland but it sounded fucking fantastic. This is a theme that reoccurs throughout the film; the things you liked about the first film will be here, and the things you disliked about the first film will be here too. The weird pacing, the needless subplots that don’t go anywhere, the terrible characterisation. All of it returns in this film, and because they were all in the first film too you’re looking for them to see whether they fixed them this time.

This would have benefited from a good editor going through it and cutting a lot of the fluff. As it is there are quite a few really dull moments that almost seem like they’re specifically there for the audience to take a piss break. A good editor would have reduced those and made it so the film flowed naturally and made it so you felt like you couldn’t miss anything. As it is, outside of the action sequences the film is so dull you can almost feel the seconds go by. The action sequences themselves are really good though. Say what you want about Fuqua, he knows how to craft a great fight scene. That can’t be easy, because you need to make it believable that a 60 year old Denzel Washington can win a gun fight with these people. You need your suspension of disbelief, the worst thing to happen would be for that to break, for you to realise mid-scene “wait a minute, that only happened because the character has been written as overpowered”. This film is done well enough that that NEVER happens in the fight scenes. The rest of the film? Not so much. It spends far too much time convincing us of how great Denzel’s character is, how kind yet vengeful he is. There are multiple random scenes that show him shooting dickheads, and then helping someone who needs it. Shootouts are followed with him helping an elderly Holocaust survivor. Doing this kind of thing once would be okay, but for the entire film to be it? Nah, it’s too much and it really puts you off. It’s like “okay, he’s a great person, we get it, now move on to the actual point”. The other big story problem: it has a twist which is so obvious I’m not really sure it counts as a twist. Not quite “so the person called Doctor Doom turned evil? Oh no, this is a complete surprise” but it’s close.

So in summary; I’m hard pushed to find a reason to say you have to see this. Only watch it if the first one was one of your favourite films (in which case: what the hell is wrong with you?)

The Festival (2018)

I’m not proud of some of my reviews. Looking back at them,  y review of Darkest Minds said this:

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My review of The Meg said this:

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I really need to stop mentioning semen in these reviews, you don’t see Barry Norman or Roger Ebert talking about cumshots every review (maybe for their reviews of Basic Instinct I’m not sure). So I’m not going to reference it at all this review. Going to be completely clean and innocent.

So, this film. It’s very funny.  The opening scene shows the main character and his girlfriend having sex, he pulls out and ejaculates (DAMNIT, I lasted one sentence without mentioning it) over his graduation robe. When he’s at graduation his mum sees the stain, thinks it’s something else, so licks her finger to rub it off, then licks her finger again, an understated look of recognition and disgust on her face. THAT’s how this film starts, and it’s no false dawn in terms of vulgarity and general “eww”ness. Also in this film; the main character gets pissed on, his nipple ring gets torn off when it gets stuck on a fence post, and someone fucks a goat. This is not high-class cinema. It’s gross, vulgar, and very funny. That last one is subject to opinion, I mean, I found it funny, but I did spend a lot of it feeling like I should turn away as it was so cringe-ey, in a good way. The temptation as a director with this will be to cut away, quickly get to the next joke and move on, pack as many jokes as you possibly can into the short time, maximise the laughs. He does the opposite though; he holds, he keeps the scene going, wringing every drop of awkwardness past where it stops being funny, becoming incredibly awkward and hard to watch, in the best possible way. It’s a risky strategy but it pays off. This is a film definitely made by people who know what they’re doing, this isn’t shown just in the directing, but the writing too. Considering the level of humour in this it would be easy to just make it funny, but this has moments of genuine insight and pathos in it. One thing in particular came as a surprise; a piece of dialogue which was genuinely inspirational. In summary it was this:

“just because you’re a dick, doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Gandhi was racist yet still one of the greatest humans. Lance Armstrong was an abusive drug cheat yet raised millions for charity”. It’s an interesting piece of dialogue, and it really deserves to be in a more important film than this. Don’t get me wrong; it was a funny movie, and if it was on netflix I’d watch it. But I don’t need to get it on DVD. It just doesn’t do enough to stand out in a crowded field of similar movies. If somebody would ask “why should I see this film NOW?” it would be hard for me to think of a response. It’s a “I’ll watch it when I can” movie. It’s also got a dreadfully bland title which will be a bitch to search for in a few years time. Claudia O’Doherty was great in it though and I really want to see her in more stuff. And it is nice that the girl he meets and has sex with turns him down afterwards, and he accepts it. It shows the futility of placing all your hope on one person liking you, and also how to deal with it when it doesn’t work, which is an incredibly mature piece of film-making, and one I wish I saw more often.

The Meg (2018)

The opening scene to this did not fill me with hope; Statham’s accent was off, we saw an action scene that wasn’t that great, and the character dynamics were a bit meh. It was at this point I worried, that I’d watch something just dumb, instead of dumb fun. As the film went on, I warmed to it, even at some points being able to tolerate Statham’s accent (why they couldn’t let him do a natural one is beyond me). It isn’t anywhere near as dumb as I expected it to be. I mean, if you think about it for a few minutes there are numerous scientific inaccuracies throughout, but the point is you have to think about it. They don’t immediately jump out at you. It’s fun enough, and well-crafted enough, that you don’t really notice any flaws or problems with it. Yeah sure, once you’ve finished you will have lots of “wait a minute, that didn’t make sense”, but in the moment you don’t care as you’re too entertained. Jon Turteltaub (who also gave the world the best bobsled-themed movie of all time in Cool Runnings, and also gave us the pilot episode of Rush Hour, which I didn’t even realise had a TV show based on it) knows what to do; he is great at showing scale. It would be very easy to forget how big the titular Meg is, to just show a plain shot of it with nothing else in frame to give an indicator, he doesn’t do this; every time the shark is on screen, you’ve given a reminder of how absolutely massive it is. It’s spectacle cinema, but in a different way than Skyscraper was. Skyscraper was about set pieces, this is about creating something larger than life, and I haven’t seen it done this well since Kong: Skull Island. It helps that the CGI holds up REALLY well in this film, there’s not many moments where you sit there thinking “that looks fake as shit”, although you do wonder how a movie featuring a giant shark can look more real than a scene in Spider-Man: Homecoming where two characters have a conversation.

It’s also funny as hell. With the right kind of jokes. You don’t have people get brutally killed then characters making jokes about it, the jokes are contextual and relevant, which is a welcome change.

I’ve spent most of this film gushing over how likeable and fun I found this. I suppose to be balanced I should talk about the bad things. That cast……are actually good. Ruby Rose continues to be incredibly likeable in almost everything she does. Hmmm, okay so I can’t go for that as a negative. Okay, the obvious pandering to the Chinese market…..wasn’t that big an issue. They had good narrative reasons for a lot of it so it wasn’t as jarring as it was in Independence Day. Damn, have to go with something else. The romance….actually kind of worked. Jason Statham’s character is joined by his ex-wife on the trip, so I expected it to go the traditional way and have them get back together. But nope, he ends up with another character, (played by Li Bingbing) joining her and her child. Okay that’s it; the child actor……wasn’t terrible and provided the film with a lot of emotion and heart, wasn’t distractingly awful, and her decisions didn’t render her a useless load on the rest of the characters. This was helped by both her performance, and good writing. Gosh darn it! Going to have to go with something else. The restrictions placed upon it by the rating? Actually that would be a valid criticism. It keeps threatening to be gorier than it is, and it would be a lot more satisfying if we could see more blood. This needs gore, we need to see destruction and lots of people eaten and we don’t get that. There’s a scene in particular near the end where the shark heads towards a crowded beach. The film builds up a brilliant scene full of carnage and fantastic set pieces, which we then don’t get as it pulls away at the last second. The film gives the audience an over-the-pants handjob when it really needs to fuck us.

And that’s where I’m ending this. Next weeks reviews will be The Festival and The Equalizer 2, where I’ll spend most of the review trying not to call it “The Sequalizer”, and probably failing.