Tag Archives: spy movies

Jason Bourne

I knew how this one would end before it began.  Screechy repeated musical notes and Matt Damon fading into a crowd after having eluded capture yet again.  I don’t even consider that a spoiler, which surely means this is a tired franchise overdue to be retired.  It makes me sad we’ve gotten to this point with Bourne when initially these movies felt like a revitalization of the secret agent genre.  Now, the James Bond franchise is the vibrant one and Bourne is the one that’s just regurgitating what has come before.


That’s the most damning criticism I can make.  Jason Bourne is point-by-point the exact same movie we’ve seen four times previously from this team.  This is not a case of a poorly executed movie or a badly acted one.  It’s far worse.  This is like if CCR’s John Fogerty had plagarized a song he wrote himself, only without any possibility of a similarly bizarre yet logical lawsuit on the horizon.  So there’s not even an intellectually appealing consequence to be found here.  Even if you liked the other movies I can’t recommend this one, because it offers absolutely nothing new.

The only interesting thing about this movie is to wonder whether Matt Damon looks more bored here or in The Great Wall (China’s latest attempt to break into the North American box office).  I’m not sure and I’m not at all looking forward to finding out.

Jason Bourne gets a score of don’t even bother out of ten.

The 39 Steps

I love how old this movie is – Canadians are measuring distance in miles, and are actually slicing bread. You know the saying “the best thing since sliced bread?” – well safe to say this movie came before it!

The 39 Steps is technically “early Hitchcock,” early in terms of success anyway, but is his 19th film or so. It was his follow-up to the 1934 quasi-39steps_3142653bsuccessful (at the time) The Man Who Knew Too Much and used “imported” American actors who were supposed to help him break into that coveted American movie-going market.

Richard (Robert Donat) goes to the theatre to see “Mr. Memory” perform, and while there, meets a mysterious woman who claims to be in dire straights, evading secret agents. He agrees to hide her in his apartment, but in the night she is murdered. Richard takes off running, in part because he’s a suspect in her death, but also because now it falls to him to break up the elusive spy ring. He’s got few clues to work with, but “the 39 steps” is one of them, if only we knew what that meant. Along the way he becomes encumbered with an unwilling but fetching participant, Pamela (Madeleine Carroll).

Carroll’s Pamela is a quintessentially Hitchcockian female character, perhaps the template for those to come: she was blonde. She was icy and remote. She was mesmerizing. And she’s not the only familiar element you’ll find here. There’s the suspense. Hostility in every day objects (a ringing telephone did it for me). The dizzying plot twists. The innocent man on the run. The witty dialogue. The unrelenting pace. And of course, the infamous Hitchcock cameo. He pops up early on in the movie – can you spot him?

The 39 Steps successfully made Hitchcock an international name, solidifying his reputation as a master story-teller and a thrilling director. This is considered his first major oeuvre, and Hitchcock always counted it among his favourites.  His stars proved worth the extra £20,000 he spent on their salaries. Donat’s suave, smiling, smoking son-of-a-bitch puts the swagger back into leading-man territory.

The 39 Steps is essential Alfred Hitchcock filmography and can be seen on the big screen this Saturday July 16 at TIFF.








Central Intelligence

Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson meet up at their 20th high school reunion. Hart, voted most likely to succeed, once the prom king and a popular athlete, is now a mild-mannered accountant living in a nice comfortable rut. Dwayne Johnson is ecstatic to reconnect. A high school loser, he’s gone through life without many friends despite the fact that he’s central1reformed himself and leads a life of intrigue. Unfortunately for Hart, that intrigue’s about to hit a little close to home.

The movie opens with a fat joke. A 7 minute, visual fat joke. I didn’t laugh. I’m uncomfortable laughing at any joke where the punch line is somebody’s body. Dwayne Johnson IS the fat joke, seen dancing in a CGI fat suit, butt-naked, in a high school locker room. You’ve seen the previews, haven’t you? It’s brutal. That pivotal high school prank has haunted him his whole life, even now that he’s big and buff and rippling with impressive muscle (we’re supposed to feel like getting fit has made him a more worthy person, even though to lose the weight he’s quite clear that he had to be obsessive and unhealthy about it…not exactly a cause for celebration). So Central Intelligence and I got off on the wrong foot. But you know what? I’m glad I stuck with it.

This movie is essentially a piece of fluff. It won’t be remembered in the annals of history, or even among the annals of comedy, or possibly even the annals of The Rock’s filmography. But for an evening at the cinema, it’s definitely worth the price of admission.

Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart are a comedic duo that had to happen (their 13-inch height difference is often played for laughs – a bit of a barb in my side, reminding me how ridiculous I look standing beside Sean, who is 15 inches taller than myself). Their Screen-Shot-2016-03-17-at-1.30.47-AM-750x375-c.pngcharacters are one-note but a pleasure to spend an hour and a half with. The movie is action-comedy, which means there is never quite enough comedy, and the action itself becomes part of the farce and thus has no real consequence. But if you can put that aside, Kevin Hart is as good as we’ve seen him at the movies to date, even if he’s basically relegated to being The Rock’s straight man. Say what??? Yes – you read that correctly. The Rock is bringing the giggles. Together have crackling chemistry and they bro down in some pretty unexpected ways.

Sean said he could have used “a little less story” and it’s true it gets a little bogged down with the constant action, but man this movie does move along like Sean’s Mustang through a yellow light. Like Jay on an out of control, brakeless bike down a tree-lined hill. Like The Rock’s chest muscles after he’s been tazed.

There are even some well-chosen cameos; one was such a little nugget of happiness that it garnered spontaneous applause in the theatre. Don’t look it up. Just go and be surprised. Life is hard. The winter was tough. The news is sad. You deserve a little treat, a few hearty chuckles, and maybe even an ice cream sundae afterward. Yeah, I said it. Go ahead. You deserve it.

In Defense of SPECTRE: A Review For the BEST of Us.

You may have read Matt’s review of SPECTRE.  He seemed to like it but still called it the “dullest, most phoned-in Bond movie” since Casino Royale.  That’s a bit ambiguous but I think he liked SPECTRE and Casino Royale and just hated everything that came between Sir Sean Connery and Dr. Daniel Craig.

Sir Sean Connery

Real knight.

Daniel Craig

Not a real doctor. As far as I know.

You may also have read Jay’s review of SPECTRE.  You probably should read it just for context.

Jay and I have been together for over six years now.  She’s the smartest person I’ve ever met and that’s one of the things I love about her.  But it also drives me crazy because I have never been able to prove her wrong.  Until now.

Jay is right that she was never going to like this movie.  She hates everything I like on principle.  But that doesn’t make it bad.  Obviously I have fantastic taste in movies.  Exhibit A: The Rock.  Exhibit B: Transformers.  Exhibit C: Bad Boys.  Not coincidentally, those are all Michael Bay movies and two of them turned into franchises precisely becnicolas cage the rockause they were so good (the Rock probably would have been a franchise as well if not for the curse of Nicholas Cage).  Because people loved them.  You don’t get a franchise any other way, and everyone knows that sequels always live up to the original movie.  That’s just a fact.

Score: SEAN 1, JAY 0

Jay also hates franchises on principle.  But franchises make action movies better!  With franchises, we don’t have to worry about plot, or character development, or other boring things like that.   We can get straight to the action!  So when we open with the awesome Day of the Dead sequence, we don’t have to have title cards or anything to let us know that the guy who pulls off the mask is the world’s best spy, because the preceding five decades of Bond movies have already set that up.  Thank you, franchises, for simplifying our lives.

Score: SEAN 2, JAY 0

And okay, the helicopter sequence in SPECTRE is terrible.  Absolutely terrible.  But to say it’s worse than a bucket of army guys?   That’s just hyperbole.  And that’s a logical fallacy. So therefore Jay’s dislike of the helicopter sequence(s) is invalid.

Score:   SEAN 3, JAY 0

Jay also hated the train sequence.  Because it got destroyed.  But that’s actually entirely realistic when you consider who was doing the destruction.  Dave Bautista a.k.a. Drax the Destroyer.  Just look at how strong he is in the WWE (six time champion) or in Guardians of the Galaxy (where he singlehandedly fought a guy who later survived a spaceship crash).  That train was not only real, it was probably very well built, maybe even German.  It just didn’t matter because of how hard Bautista can punch.  If you want some sort of arthouse surrealism that’s fine, Jay, we can go to the Bytowne this weekend and watch a movie where two people can’t get out of a shed.  But don’t blame SPECTRE for your weird preferences.

Score: SEAN 4, JAY 0

Another criticism Jay made was that James Bond had different jackets all the time.  Well, that’s the whole point!  He’s not just a spy, he’s a fashionable guy with a watch that blows up and a car with an ejector seat.  Obviously he also has some sort of flying or floating wardrobe machine as well.  They probably covered that in one of the earlier Bond movies, so there was just no need to explain it this time.  Again, thank you franchises!

Score: SEAN 5, JAY 0

I think I’ve proven my point.  I’ll even give Jay the sockless loafers, Christoph Waltz in general, and the weirdness/creepiness/wasted potential of the whole Monica Bellucci thing, since I’m feeling generous.

Score: SEAN 5, JAY 3

And as for Michael Bay, you already have all the proof you need (The Rock, Transformers, Bad Boys) to rest assured that he’s Hollywood’s greatest living director.

Case closed.

Winner:  SEAN



It seems our math doesn’t quite agree. Over at MY post, there’s a lot more nodding going on. I think we can count Mark, Joel, the other J, and Hammy as all #TeamJay.

A SPECTRE Review For the Rest of Us

Has enough time gone by yet that I can write this without being burned at the cross for heresy?

I didn’t like it. Worse still: I was completely bored by it.

I probably wasn’t ever going to be blown away by it, I was mostly along for the ride, because I sort of naturally abhor “franchises” – I just can’t watch thDaniel%20Craig%20steps%20out%20of%20DB10-largee same thing happen to the same person over and over and be entertained by it. At work I might call such a person pathological, or emotionally stunted, or incapable. At the movies, we call him Bond. James Bond.

007 and I parted ways long ago, but I’ve at least felt the past few movies were diverting, or at least they passed the time. This one actually slowed the clock down. And as soon as the creepy guy in the paisley shirt and twirly mustache sitting next to Matt stopped taking pictures of himself with the VIP waitress, andStephanie-Sigman-2_3482079b himself with his chicken wings, and himself watching a movie, I got bored.

The day of the dead parade was actually promising. Really promising. Wasn’t it beautiful? The colours and the energy and the tension in the long take? But then that opening helicopter scene. Shit. They obviously ran out of money. That thing looked horrendous: completely fake. I’m pretty sure I could spectre-featurette-01-600x350rig up something more convincing with my Samsung Galaxy and a bucket of plastic army guys. It was laughable – and the script is so lazy they use the helicopter stunt twice. You know, because it worked so well the first time.

And then the train. Seriously? I know they don’t make trains like they used to, but if you want people to take your set seriously, and to believe that it’s not just spit and cardboard, then don’t make it crumple every time Bond sneezes. Every time he threw an elbow the whole thing wobbled. I know Daniel Craig is soooo tough and everything, but I’m pretty sure some walls can withstand him some of the time.

And speaking of travel. James Bond is a spy, no? I always had this notion that a spy would travel light. But this spy has a goddamned different suede jacket for every occasion! And he changes sunglasses more often than he changes underpants (presumably).

And I still had less of a problem with Craig’s wardrobe than Christoph Waltz’s. Here is a free piece of advice to any and all of you Hollywood typeJames-Bond-Spectre-trailers, feel free to write it down: nobody looks threatening in sockless loafers. Nobody looks good in them either, but that’s besides the point. The loafers aren’t even the biggest problem with bad guy accessories. Let’s talk that octopus ring. Bond gets it from Sciarra but when Q scans it for DNA, all 3 previous bad guys have also spilled their DNA on the thing. So what, there’s a big mutual bad guy jewelry box, and when all the baddies are getting ready to go out to the club, Le Chiffre is like, “No you wear it tonight, Raoul. It looks so darling with your evil polka-dot pocket square.”

Not that I’m ready to let Blofeld off the hook yet. Because first, why the artifice when heO8AlDuLX-600x399‘s first introduced? His face is literally in the shadows when in fact, Waltz’s name was in the opening credits. There’s no surprise here. Waltz was announced as the villain months ago and the internet has already talked it to death. But now we’re all going to pretend we don’t know? Surprise! It’s Christoph Stupid Waltz! Playing my least favourite Bond villain maybe ever. I mean, spectre-still03how weird is it that he somehow raced back to the empty ruins of MI6 in order to set up a “James Bond, this is your life”  funhouse display (is there some sort of Evil Pinterest I don’t know about)? And then he reveals himself behind bullet proof glass, a move we all know he stole from Ethan Hunt. I’m beginning to think that Quentin

Mandarin collars: all the rage in evil pret-a-porter this season

Mandarin collars: all the rage in evil pret-a-porter this season

Tarantino fooled me into momentarily liking Christoph Waltz. Have I liked him in anything since? I definitely abhorred him in Big Eyes. He was less cartoonish here, but that doesn’t mean he was good. Aren’t villains supposed to seem…evil? Ruthless? Blood thirsty? This guy just came off like someone’s jaunty if letchy, grabby uncle (and p.s., “Cuckoo” is the lamest villain catch phrase EVER).

And speaking of letchy! Confidential to James Bond: it’s fucking 2015, dude. You don’t get to act this way anymore. I was so excited to learn that Monica Bellucci was in this – I love her. Loved her. I’m sorry, but after watching that super weird “makeout session” (?) in front of the mirror, I can’t even look at her the same way. I don’t know if they do it different in Italy, but usually kissing involves…the touching of lips. Not just open-mouthed hoveringSPECTRE-summ-image-xlarge. It felt…well, almost non-consensual. Like, when on earth did she decide this was going down? That it was okay? Because I totally missed that part. And was totally grossed out by the, um, foreplay. And boy did he drop her like she was hot. Literally the script forgot she ever existed as soon as he left her boudoir – her only raison d’être was to look fleetingly luscious in European lingerie (which she apparently put on after sex, as people do – since her back was BARE when Bond unzipped her dress), and she’s goddamned Monica Bellucci! If you’re lucky enough to have her, you use her! But no, by all means bring in a younger version to offer NEKNYq3qRGnHOQ_1_bromance, a doctor so we know she’s not just going to stand around looking cute in her nightie (although, come to think of it, we did get a look at her in her nightie…which she was not wearing when James put her to bed, and yet…WAIT A MINUTE! Is James Bond’s kink to dress women in their lingerie? And is he possibly also wearing women’s lingerie under his relentless supply of suede desert jackets?).

And is it just me, or did things take a turn for the Michael Bay toward the end? When Blofeld declares that the thing about brothers is they always know “which buttons to press” – he then actually presses a button. It’s the kind of cheese I expect from Michael Bay but that line made me cringe for real. Is this really what it’s come to? And now this film has left us with a bad taste in our mouths. James Bond is outed as the exact opposite of the badass superspy we’ve built him up to be – apparently he’s just been a hqdefaultpawn manipulated by Blofeld this whole time. When we thought he was digging up villains in the previous films, it was actually Blofeld cleverly orchestrating the whole thing. In fact: James Bond is terrible at his job. Not only did these villains want to be found, THEY were coming for HIM. A monkey could have done his job, and would have probably worn less suede jackets.


Sean thinks he can outBond me? I don’t think so! I’m recruiting more members to #TeamJay – let’s let him know what we think! I’m calling out yet another Jay, and Ben, Kenny, Ruth …maybe even Peggy?




We had a busy weekend out-of-town but slid back just in time to make it to the drive-in and give this one the eyeball.

You know what I liked about this movie? A lot, actually. First, it’s not a spoof. Don’t call it a spoof. It’s a legit action movie that happens to also be funny. Second, it’s not funny because Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) is bad at her job. She’s a top agent, extremely competent if rs_600x600-150401084422-600_Spy-Movie-Jason-Melissa_jl__040115somewhat reluctant. It’s funny because she’s not quite got that James Bond suaveness down pat – she still gets a kick out globe-trotting and being upgraded to premium economy. She hasn’t let the whole spy thing go to her head. Third, it’s not just the hero who’s a female – so is her sidekick (Miranda Hart) and her adversary (Rose Byrne), and they’re all great.

Its highest gear isn’t quite comparable to what Daniel Craig is doing over at Spectre, but there’s a kitchen knife fight that’s pretty intense and you can tell that a lot of work went into its choreography. McCarthy gets to stretch some muscles she hasn’t used in a while with a versatile performance rather than a crude caricature. But the greatest treat is that she’s isn’t funny alone; Feig has this great trickle-down effect where he expects everyone to get laughs, and they do, even the cutaway character reaction shots. The best laughs, though, probably come at the expense of Jason Statham, who welcomes them. Nobody else  75could have played it so well because the jokes don’t just hit back at the manly superagent type, but also specifically at Statham’s career, and he’s game. Obscenely game! And while McCarthy is undoubtedly the star, Feig gives everyone a chance to shine, because if funny is good, then very funny is very good.

Big applause to Paul Feig for being the only one who can truly write for Melissa McCarthy – and that includes McCarthy herself. In anyone else’s hands she turns into a clown. A big, crass joke who’s too obnoxious to appreciate. Feig doesn’t need to humiliate her. He elevates her with the right element, the right foil, and with good writing and the right context, she makes the movie sparkle, and she led this one right to the top of the box office this weekend, smoked right by those Entourage boys like the badass she is.


Kingsman: The Secret Service

It’s possible that director Matthew Vaughn cast Colin Firth just because the man looks damn finekingsman-the-secret-service-official-trailer-colin-firth-samuel-l-jackson1 in a suit. A whole clothing line was conceived for this film, which actually does hinge on refined bespoke menswear.

While in France, I saw this movie advertised as a cross between James Bond and Quentin Tarantino. Watching the film, the James Bond references slap you in the face – the martinis (gin, stirred for ten seconds while glancing at an unopened bottle of vermouth), the gadgets, the weaponized body parts! And while it’s not quite a spoof, it’s definitely subversive. Colin Firth is a Kingsman, one of many gentlemen spies who teach the uncouth of the world lessons in manners while being blood-Kingsmen2-645x370lustfully unmannered themselves. He will beat you to a pulp, but he will do so with his couture umbrella. Which is possibly where the Tarantino flavour seeps in – not just in the casting of Firth, who took home an Oscar for his portrayal of a King, but was sent by Vaughn to a gym for 6 months, equipped with a signet ring\hand grenade, and unleashed on the world as an action star to take notice of – but in Firth’s character itself, “tea and testosterone” they’re calling it, a razor-sharp dichotomy you won’t be able to take your eyes off of. Nor should you – Vaughn dives right into the action, and that’s where he stays.

gazelleIs this a good movie? Having just wrapped up Oscar season, it’s hard to say a resounding yes. But it IS an awful lot of fun. It’s gleefully violent, unapologetically politically incorrect, and often seems to make a joke out of itself (not all of them land but there was a lot of laughter from the surprisingly hearty Kanata audience). Sam Jackson as the supervillain, lisping away as he takes over the world, is brilliant. He and Firth are having fun. And the young street punk recruited by Firth – played by newcomer Taron Egerton – who must compete with more conventional types to win a kingsman-secret-service-stillspot on the elite spy team brings not only a nice juxtaposition but yet another excuse for non-stop action. Vaughn has plenty of other movies to his credit (Layer Cake and Kick Ass) but this is the one he was born to direct, finally melding gangsters with superheroes and coming up with something all his own.

This movie is definitely not fit for grandma, nor for gentlemen. It’s an energetic bloodbath. It’s exuberantly excessive in its ultraviolence, stylishly brutal, an extravagant killfest. And it’s a massacre to which you’ll enjoy having a front-row seat.

A Most Wanted Man

Post-911 Germany is scrambling to make sure nobody uses their country for terrorist organization again. Gunther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is one of the few “good” ones left in an intelligence unit largely corrupted by CIA, but his burnout is evident. When a young Russian-Chechen enters the country illegally, ostensibly looking for asylum, Bachmann decides to use the refugee to move up the ladder, hopefully toward a Muslim philanthropist who Bachmann believes is using charities as a front to fund extremist operations.wanted

Hoffman looks terrible in this film, which kind of fits with the character, who’s a bloated wreck, but it’s still painful to watch. He’s good though, if you overlook his German accent occasionally sounding Irish. Rachel McAdams plays a lawyer trying to help the refugee Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) claim political asylum. Dobrygin plays tortured and traumatized very well but McAdams seems miscast and out of her depth.

This movie is interesting but seems to have tried to pack too much into one single movie, so it’s a bit hard to follow. It’s also the least thrilling espionage thriller I’ve seen in a long time.  It’s not gripping because it gets bogged down in the details. And there’s no real heart. Who are we supposed to care about? The titular character, supposedly this Issa, is supposed to be mysterious. People are arguing over whether to arrest him now, or use him as bait to uncover his hidden motives, not just because he could lead them up the chain, but because they believe he himself may actually be a jihadist. The audience is meant to see him as a threat lying in wait, only he’s such a pathetic character that there is no real urgency, no real menace. In fact, the movie’s strongest sense of sinister undertone comes from conversations between Hoffman and Robin Wright, playing a CIA agent. The actors and director Anton Corbijn hint masterfully at malevolence.

It’s a mostly subtle film that makes you wonder how far is too far. How much should we infringe on someone’s rights in the name of “fighting terrorism”?  This movie will leave you unsettled, with a bitter taste in your mouth, both for the frustrating geopolitical policy, and for Hoffman’s swan song, his last completed movie.