Posted on June 4, 2015 at 5:44 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, violence, and some sexual content including brief graphic nudity
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive action-style violence, some disturbing images, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 5, 2015
Date Released to DVD: September 8, 2015
Amazon.com ASIN: B00YWE6LXK
Copyright 2015 Twentieth Century Fox
Copyright 2015 Twentieth Century Fox

It is time to celebrate. Melissa McCarthy finally has the movie role she deserves. Writer/director Paul Feig, who directed her in “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat” has wisely given her center stage and allowed her to be quirky and awkward, which we knew she could do, and improvise crazy lines and scenarios, which we also knew she could do, but also let her play someone who is extremely capable and loyal, smart, brave, and completely captivating, which we always knew she could do, but rarely got to see more than a hint of it.

Feig does not just thoroughly understand the genre he is shredding. He clearly loves it. All of the classic spy movie necessities are there, a sultry song over the opening credits, impeccable tailoring, a beautiful car, fine wine, pretty girls, chases and shootouts, cool gadgets, glamorous world capitals, a formal high society party with tons of security that must be breached, a club scene with EDM, betrayal by a trusted insider, an evil megalomaniacal villain, and — of course — the fate of the entire world depending on our secret agent with a license to kill saving the day. Dippold avoids the usual spoof go-to “jokes” of incompetence, slapstick, and instantly-old cultural references, allowing the characters to take the stakes and the relationships seriously enough so that the comedy is honestly earned and all the funnier for it. It is genuinely refreshing to see women as not just hero and villain but also as hero’s boss and her best friend. The male stars are excellent, especially Jude Law and Jason Statham, who get to riff on their own leading man images as well as larger-scale action hero conventions. But the ladies are in charge here, and they are killing it. Imaging Miss Moneypenny and Pussy Galore plus Dame Judi Dench as M running the show, with Bond as eye candy.

McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a teacher turned desk agent for the CIA. As super-cool Bradley Fine (Law) tosses off a glass of champagne, pausing to admire the crystal flute glass before smashing it and sneaking out to find the super-powerful, super-compact bomb, Susan is talking through his earpiece, letting him know which way to turn through the labyrinthian tunnels every self-respecting bad guy has to have under the elegant party going on up above, and which direction the henchmen are coming from. He is fond but patronizing. She is capable but a bit fluttery and insecure.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of pollen in the air and Bradley sneezes at the wrong time, accidentally making his gun go off and killing the bad guy. Also unfortunately, the bad guy’s successor, his daughter Rayna (Byrne, with what looks like several dead animals hiding in her hideous hairdo), has access to the names of all of the current field agents. With no alternative, the humorless CIA deputy director (Janney) sends Susan out into the field, just to track and report, not to engage. Susan is nervous but excited, though disappointed when she receives her cover. No sophisticated bespoke attire and fancy hotel rooms. She will be a dowdy, nondescript woman with a very bad perm.

She doesn’t get the cool hoverboard from the Q-equivalent. She gets weaponized versions of the things a woman like her cover identity would have in her purse. And her cover involves hilariously tacky wardrobe and a disastrous perm-looking wig.  Of course she soon abandons the “no engagement” part. A rogue agent (Statham) trying to find the bomb on his own mostly gets in the way. But she relies on her excellent observational powers, quick thinking, and some mad skillz in hand-to-hand combat, even if killing a guy grosses her out. And she gets some help from her best friend Nancy (the wildly funny Miranda Hart).

It is exciting, funny, and even heartwarming. And best of all, there’s a hint at the end of a possible sequel. More Susan Cooper, please, and lots and lots more McCarthy.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong and crude language, sexual references, sexual humor, and non-explicit sexual situations, graphic nudity, extensive violence with some graphic and disturbing images, and characters injured and killed.

Family discussion: What do you think it takes to be a great spy? If you were going undercover, what would your name be?

If you like this, try: “Get Smart,” “Bridesmaids,” and “The Heat”

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Other Space — New Comedy Series on Yahoo from Paul Feig

Posted on April 14, 2015 at 3:47 pm

Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids,” “Freaks and Geeks”) has a new comedy sci-fi series called “Other Space” premiering today on Yahoo.

There is a fascinating article by Stephan Rodrick in the New Yorker about one of the people who played a key role in shaping the series, casting director Allison Jones. It explains that even a few years ago, quirky characters were still played by standard-issue pretty actors. But Jones, working with Feig, Judd Apatow, and others, has pioneered the casting of actors who look like real — or realistically offbeat — people. Here is her comment about working on the all-female reboot of “Ghostbusters.”

“It’s nice to get a break from the testosterone every once in a while,” she said. “I was thrilled to do ‘Bridesmaids’—it was a true ensemble of odd characters, all of whom I had observed in real life. There wasn’t one scene that called for a push-up bra. Most female descriptions in screenplays and TV scripts—and I am not kidding—are basically ‘astonishingly beautiful, even without makeup,’ and ‘brilliant.’ Never just beautiful, always astonishingly so.”

The article describes the casting process for “Open Space,” as Jones reads the same lines over and over with actors, sometimes asking them to come back to read for another part in the series.
And it describes the influence she has had on shows like “The Office,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Veep,” and many other productions, as well as the influence she has had on the careers of stars like Jonah Hill. It is intriguing to think about the influence those casting choices have had in reflecting back to audiences a wider range of faces and bodies.

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The Heat

Posted on June 30, 2013 at 10:33 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Constant strong and crude language, use of bad language as an expression of freedom
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drunkenness (as an expression of freedom), scenes in bars, drug dealing and some drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Law enforcement violence, chases, explosions, murder, torture, characters in peril, injured, and killed
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, but a number of insults of a character with albinism
Date Released to Theaters: June 28, 2013
Date Released to DVD: October 14, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B00BEIYJ8G

the-heat-bullock-mccarthy_510x317By my count, I have seen some sixty jillion buddy cop movies, and they follow a format as rigid as a sonnet.  One cop is by-the-book.  One is free-wheeling and impulsive.  There is a frustrated superior officer.  There is a scene in a nightclub.  There is a bad guy with access to some inside information.  One is catnip to the opposite sex; one is romantically challenged or solidly married. And our heroes, initially antagonistic, learn to respect, trust, and like each other.  Some buddy cop movies have more comedy, some have more action.  Some buddy cop movies are PG-13, some are R.  There are always many wisecracks.  Quite often, we get to meet the family of one or both.  Sometimes the leads are white, sometimes they’re black, sometimes it is one of each.  But all of them, all of them, all of them have one more thing in common.  They’re both guys.  Until now.

So thoroughly conforming to the conventions of the genre that the opening credits could have been lifted from a 70’s movie, “The Heat,” is not interested in breaking any new ground except for the considerable change of a gender switch.  For the first time in decades, there is an action comedy with two female leads.  It even passes the Bechdel rule.  That is a major breakthrough.  Everything else is, well, by the book.

Sandra Bullock, basically carrying over her “Miss Congeniality” role, is the by-the-book FBI agent named Ashburn.  According to her supervisor, she has inspired “countless complaints of arrogance, competitiveness, and showmanship.”  She is assigned to a new case and has to work with a tough, brash, impulsive, profane local cop named Mullins (Melissa McCarthy, basically carrying over her last three roles).  “If you’re not in trouble, you’re not doing your job,” she explains. She also has an exasperated boss (Thomas F. Wilson, Biff the bully in “Back to the Future”).

Pretty soon they are battling over jurisdiction and getting caught as they both try to go through the doorway at the same time.


Cue the wisecracks.  “What is this, ‘Training Day?'” asks Ashburn.  And there are some bonding moments, including a makeover in a nightclub ladies’ room, a joint appreciation of an impressive arsenal, and a drunken dance to “Groove is in the Heart” by Deee-Lite with Lady Miss Kier.  But it feels like putting women in the lead roles was such a stretch they did not want to take any other chances with the genre.

They visit Mullins’ family, who appear to be visiting from “The Fighter.”  (Nice to see Jane Curtin, Nathan Corddry, and NKotB-er Joey McIntyre, though.)  Her brother’s girlfriend has breasts so significant to the character they deserve their own credit.  Wait, they do.  The girlfriend, Gina, is played by Jessica Chaffin, and the credits helpfully note that Gina’s boobs are played by “Jessica Chaffin’s boobs.”  So, not quite the step forward for gender equality we might have hoped.  And the Yale-educated Ashburn’s acid critique of a bad guy’s poor grammar loses some of its punch when she immediately follows it with a sentence that begins, with “me and her.”  Not quite the step forward for literacy, then, either.

Bullock and McCarthy are both terrifically appealing and talented actresses and they have such evident pleasure in playing these roles that they are fun to watch.  Maybe next time, though, they could put some more effort into the script.

Parents should know that this movie has non-stop strong, profane, and crude language with sexual references (and strong language is an expression of being free), drinking and drunkenness (including drinking as an expression of being free and open-minded and drunkenness as humorous), law enforcement violence with shooting, stabbing and explosions, murder, characters injured and killed, dead bodies, and drug dealing.

Family discussion:  How are Mullins and Ashburn different from each other? How are they similar?  Who is right, Mullins or her family?

If you like this, try: “The Other Guys” and “48 Hours”




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