Tag Archives: spy movies

The Catcher Was A Spy

Mo Berg was a real-life baseball player, a queer, an intellect, and a spy. In the off-season, he worked for the Office of Strategic Services. When the Americans get an inkling that the Germans may be working on a nuclear bomb, they sent Berg overseas to find the brilliant physicist, Werner Heisenberg.

If Heisenberg is indeed working on a bomb, then he must be executed for the cause, right? But we don’t want to sacrifice a perfectly good brain if we don’t have to, and Heisenberg (of the famed Heisenberg principle, in fact) is the second most sciency scientist in the world (sucks to be Einstein’s contemporary – must be a little like being my sister, I assume).

Paul Rudd stars as our dashing but enigmatic hero. He does indeed play catcher behind MV5BNDYyNjMxNDUwOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTUwNDgyNDM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_the plate, and if he plays it anywhere else, well, the movie’s inconclusive about that. In fact, Berg was so secretive, he was destined to be a spy. Baseball was just a funny pit stop along the way – but while he may have been a third string catcher, he was a first string spy. Just perhaps not a first rate choice for biopic.

Now, understand that Paul Rudd is adorable as always and totally up to the task. He’s propped up by able performances by Jeff Daniels, Paul Giamatti, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Strong, and Guy Pearce. But the script lets them all down by failing the man himself. He is no doubt an interesting man, but if The Catcher Was A Spy is a weak spy thriller, it’s also a diluted character study because the writer just won’t stick his neck out. Berg risked his life for his country, but between screen writer Robert Rodat and director Ben Lewin, those boys won’t risk accidentally making a good movie. Instead, they play it safe, and frankly, dry. Mo Berg was clearly a curious and compelling guy. The movie has none of that, no quirk, no zing, no point, really. End title cards have to deliver the punch, and I didn’t come here to read, y’all.

 

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The Spy Who Dumped Me

As its title would suggest, The Spy Who Dumped Me isn’t exactly the most original, or, frankly, funny. The jokes, like the bullets, are hit or miss. They don’t all hit their targets. Director and co-writer Susanna Fogel is perhaps too inexperienced to spin this uninventive fare with a twist of creativity, but she gets at least one thing absolutely right: Kate McKinnon.

Kate McKinnon is a luminescent show pony who just trots across the screen pooping comedy gold. Even her facial contortions are helping to sell mediocre material. She’s worth the price of admission. She works harder here than I wish she had to, but on MV5BYjkzNWZmMDgtODM2NS00MTM4LThlMTgtMGM4Yjg3OTc3YTE5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1442,1000_AL_the whole the movie still worked for me, as a light and breezy r-rated comedy. I came to laugh and I did – mostly at her, granted, but she’s so fantastic and so talented and if the movie doesn’t quite measure up, I think this is her best role to date. I could have watcher her and her cat earrings fangirl over Gillian Anderson for hours.

The movie probably doesn’t need a lot of illumination in terms of plot: Audrey (Mila Kunis) was recently dumped via text by bad boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux). Best friend and roommate Morgan (McKinnon) is nursing through heartache when they’re rudely interrupted by men claiming to be CIA – they’re after Drew, who turns out to be a spy and not just a podcaster as Audrey had always believed. This immediately turns into raging gunfire and a dead ex-boyfriend whose dying wish is for Audrey to deliver a “package” to Vienna. And being very obliging girls, Audrey and Morgan jet off to Europe and are immediately in wayyyy over their heads.

The sweet thing about this movie is the friendship between Audrey and Morgan. Morgan is the kind of supportive cheerleader we all deserve to have in our lives. She thinks Audrey is kicking ass as an amateur spy, and she’s not wrong. It’s completely implausible that they survive even the first 10 seconds of this adventure (the movie’s got surprisingly intense action sequences), but if Daniel Craig can do it, so can they. I just wish the friendship felt as good as it was described; the chemistry just wasn’t there. I love McKinnon and have no particular objection to Kunis (though I think she probably over-relies on those big doe eyes of hers), but all the glowy, wonderful vibes seemed to flow in one direction. Kunis is a very pretty receptacle for other people’s good acting, but I’m not sure she gives back very much as a costar. The CIA guys (Sam Heughan, Hasan Minhaj) are a bit on the bland side too (Heughan is Tom Brady with a British accent, if that helps) but there are lots of other supporting cast that I was quite pleased with – not least of all Jane Curtin (!!!) and Paul Reiser as Morgan’s incredibly understanding parents (I would watch a sequel involving just this family), and the aforementioned Gillian Anderson as the big boss lady. Being a Lady Dynamite fan (that’s Maria Bamford’s amazing show), I was particularly glad to see both Fred Melamed and Ólafur Darri Ólafsson pop up. I was less enthusiastic about Ivanna Sakhno as the Ukrainian model\gymnast assassin. The first glimpse we get of her is half nude and totally emaciated, which just felt off in a movie that’s got two fantastic, strong female leads and is directed and co-written by a woman. We can do better. 

Which is perhaps a good way to sum up this review: we can do better. And with Kate McKinnon on board, there really is no excuse.

Mission: Impossible -Fallout

lead_720_405Aside from the awkward colon in the title, the most annoying thing about the Mission: Impossible series has always been Tom Cruise’s massive over-reliance on rubber masks (yes, even moreso than his ridiculous excessive arm-pumping while running). While Mission: Impossible – Fallout doesn’t totally avoid the rubber mask cliché, it tweaks it enough to feel fresh. And every once in a while, despite how familiar the M:I formula has become after six attempts, the movie will sneak one by you, winking as it does.

In Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team (Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg) are tasked with saving the world (again) by recovering a bunch of stolen plutonium before a terrorist group can use it in nuclear weapons. The stakes are high so Ethan and his crew need to be at the top of their game, and doubly so when we’ve seen them in action so many times already.

M:I-F is up to the challenge in all respects. This is the best entry in the franchise so far. Not because it does anything surprising or anything we haven’t seen before, but because it delivers exactly what it promises and because it’s flawlessly executed, without a single misstep.

Action-packed and entertaining from start to finish, M:I-F is better than I expected, better than it has any right to be, and better than it ever needed to be.  This is 2018’s best summer blockbuster, hands down.

Red Sparrow

I read the book and didn’t really like it, and in true adaptation fashion, the movie sucks the book’s balls.

What you need to know: Russia is selecting beautiful women and turning them into spies who fuck. Like, they literally get secrets by giving blow jobs. And there might be something to that. Jennifer Lawrence plays a ballerina who can’t dance anymore, so her uncle sells her into this program, and she becomes a Red Sparrow, the spy who shags everyone. In this particular case, she’s going to shag Joel Edgerton because he’s an American spy who’s hiding a Russian mole but maybe he’ll turn intoMV5BNWRjN2E5NWYtNzNjNy00ZmI3LTgzOGEtMzBlZDdjMjkxZjI4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzk5NjEzOA@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_ a source himself or maybe he’ll turn her into a double agent, or better yet, a triple agent, or a quadruple agent, or just a woman who’s about to be assassinated by her own government, but not without blowing her way across the country first.

Does it sound sloppy? It is.

And the casting is confusing. I mean, first of all, Jennifer Lawrence couldn’t sell me a bottle of wine if I’d just found out Sean was my half-brother. Girl cannot carry a Russian accent. And in a movie where sex is everything, the sex was nothing. I mean, there was an abundance of sex scenes, and J-Law got straight down to bare hooch, but she and Joel have about as much chemistry as a couple of bologna sandwiches about to get in my grandpa’s belly. And then: the Russian characters are played by American, British, Belgian, Dutch, German, Ukrainian and Polish actors. The American guy is played by an Australian. This flaccid casting doesn’t exactly prop up a convoluted plot.

Like any good spy movie, the end is supposed to come as a surprise, but with such weak characterization, it’s hard to invest, and Red Sparrow attempts to write cheques it can’t cash. But for me the worst crime, you know, aside from the treason and murder and such, is the fake female empowerment. Just because she’s not getting paid doesn’t mean she’s not a prostitute.

American Assassin

They make you wait 20 whole minutes before getting to Tom Cruise, and when they finally do, I realized I’d been duped. In fact, it was Michael Keaton being introduced, not Tom Cruise, and I’ve been mistaking American Assassin for American Made possibly for as long as either have existed.

American Assassin is about a kid who goes on vacation with his girlfriend and sees her and countless others get slaughtered on a beach. He does what any reasonable bloke would do: he grows regrettable facial hair, and decides to become a secret spy assassin. american-assassin-20172782Now, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that no dead girlfriend is worth growing that kind of tragic beard for. I can also tell you that this guy’s a doofus. I mean, a) his name is Mitch. Case closed. He’s played by that dude who’s in the Maze Runner movies, which is possibly why he believes he can just become a spy, and then does. He looks up terrorist on the internet, and then just shows up at their door. It’s just that easy. I mean, it doesn’t go well and he has to be emergency extracted by the CIA or whatever, but who’s counting? Revenge, baby! And then for some totally inexplicable reason, the CIA takes a liking to this renegade with pubic hair on his chin, and they decide to train him up so his spy game’s a little more on point. Cut to: Michael Keaton, who plays Stan, a tough as nails ex-NAVY seal who takes young Mitch under his grizzled old wing. They decide to become a lame crime fighting duo, and the bad guy is none other than Stan’s former protege, who coincidentally owns an atom bomb and holds a grudge, and together they put the ass back in assassin.

This genre is crowded as hell and the fact that I merged two movies with similar themes AND titles in my head is a bad, bad sign. Painfully generic. There, I said it. In fact, generic just texted me an angry face emoji because generic would honestly be a step in the right direction for this crap. Even Michael Keaton can’t save it, nor does he really appear to be trying. The script is just that bad. The maze runner, Dylan O’Brien is clearly  not his generation’s Tom Cruise, so  I guess I’m wondering….who is?

Genocidal Organ

In the near future, a devastating terrorist attack in Sarajevo shocks the world. The governments of most industrialized countries use the widespread panic to justify an increase in surveillance of their own citizens. While the developed world is safer than ever before, the third world- without the means to conduct such widespread surveillance- descends into chaos and mass murder.

Captain Clavis Shepherd  is one of the few Americans unfortunate enough to have to navigate this chaos. As a covert intelligence agent, Shepherd conducts bloody and dangerous missions around the world while his superiors monitor his vitals from Washington to make sure he’s not feeling too much compassion. His latest mission is to track down the mysterious John Paul, the architect of so many genocides around the world.

Genocidal Organ is not always easy to follow but will reward those who try to try to keep up. It took me about twenty minutes, given that this is a Japanese film with Japanese animation and Japanese voice actors speaking Japanese, to realize that most of these characters are supposed to be American. It feels weird at first. This must be how Russian people feel watching Eastern Promises. Once you’ve figured out who everyone is though, it’s easy enough to settle in and just enjoy the movie.

Visually, Genocidal Organ is an impressive film. The animators create a believable setting and the shootouts have better choreography than most live-action films do. As I’ve said before, I’m no good at describing animations so here are some stills to give you an idea.

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As a story, it’s an engaging spy thriller that tricks you into having fun because it looks so good. At its heart though, Genocidal Organ is hopelessly bleak. It’s a movie that, like John Paul (who is quite fond of monologuing), has a lot to say. While the script probably has a couple of speeches too many, its musings on linguistics, psychology, American foreign policy, and freedom are always interesting and often troubling. Be prepared to sit and think about this one for a few days after you see it.

Allied

It’s awfully boring for a spy movie. Allied would be a better film if it could decide whether to be a wartime espionage film, or to just embrace the wartime romance. Instead it tries to be both, and in trying, fails to be much of either.

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard play undercover spies who meet for the first time pretending to be spouses. Some dead Nazis and some illicit sandstorm sex later, they ALLIEDdecide that since they’re so good at pretending, they may as well get married in real life too. They’re warned that “field romances” rarely prosper, but critics be damned, they marry anyway, with London blitzing away in the background.

Marion Cotillard is full of sparkle, but Brad Pitt just flubs this six ways to occupied France. He has his moments, I suppose, but watching him struggle, try too hard, and come in rubbery is just embarrassing. Why has director Robert Zemeckis allowed such mediocrity? Possibly because he knew the material didn’t warrant much more. Brady Pitt is hardly the only problem, only the most surprising. The script is limp, indecisive. Nothing juicy happens until an hour in, the action comes in very, very small bursts with lots of passing the time in between. And at least one of the lead actors, perhaps even both, are outshined by Cotillard’s wardrobe, which may be a bit sumptuous for 1940s London, but who’s counting. Costumer Joanna Johnston nabbed an Oscar nom for her work but probably stands very little chance of actually winning. And frankly, I’m perfectly okay with this Oscar baity movie coming away with no Academy Awards whatsoever.