Melissa McCarthy Delivers another Hit with Spy

Before you contact Sky and order Melissa McCarthy’s latest comedy, allow me to offer my humble opinion of the movie for your consideration. For the sake of being upfront, it should be noted that I am a fan of McCarthy and her work, but do not think that everything that she touches is gold. I have admit to watching her television services, Mike and Molly, only a handful of times and have never watched a single episode of Gilmore Girls. My appreciation for the actress stems from her recent comedy movies.

Spy left the theaters several weeks ago and has since made its way to the rental market. Consumers can contact Sky to order to film for home viewing (you will need to be a Sky customer first). Using that service, it is being offered as a rental, and I can only assume that it will be shown on one of the movie channels at no extra cost at some point. The film is available for sale on DVD and Blu-Ray for those who watch and fall in love with this modern comedy which also stars the likes of Jude Law. The supporting cast includes Raad Rawi, Jessica Chaffin, Miranda Hart, the talented Allison Janney, Jason Statham, and others.


Spy is similar to 007, but of course Melissa McCarthy is no James Bond. The character played by McCarthy, Susan Cooper, starts out as the support for actual spy Bradley Fine (played by Law). Her only goal is to keep him safe (but hopes to win his heart along the way). When Fine is apparently killed while on a mission, Cooper is pushed into action in an effort to help find his killer and save the world in the process. Her misadventures are very Inspector Gadget and the jokes are streamed throughout the movie consistently.

While parts of Spy are a tab predictable, the overall movie is not. There are several unexpected twists and turns, which are often linked to Jason Statham’s character, Rick Ford. Statham, known as primarily an action star, does an excellent job at being a funny man in Spy. In fact, he somewhat steals the show from Jude Law along the way. Law disappears from the film for quite a while he is assumed to be dead. Spoiler alert! He has not been killed and rejoins the movie about three-quarters of the way through.

If you contact Sky and order Spy, you will be treated to yet another Melissa McCarthy hit. Fans of the funny actress are not likely to be disappointed in this one. While it may not be exactly what you are used to seeing from her, which is actually what makes this one special. There are two levels of entertainment here – comedy and action. The filming itself is excellent and the movie is fast paced and does not drag. Note that Spy is rated R, so not exactly kid-friendly, but adults who are fans of the actress and comedy genre are likely to enjoy this one.


The Runaways Film

First the bad news; you can’t possibly make a biopic of The Runaways and expect it to come in at under ten hours. The good news is that screenplay writer Floria Sigismondi uses slices of the girls’ hectic four years as a band to show us what life was like, as a Runaway.

I’ve just read the screenplay and now can’t wait to see the movie, at a theatre near me, now.


The writer is taking some big chances that will alienate large chucks of the potential audience. She doesn’t hold back on the bad language, the use of drugs and alcohol which appeared to take over the young lady’s lives back in the mid to late 70’s. It might not be fun for young fans of Dakota Fanning when you hear her lines, if you’ve only followed her as a young teen fan. She’s grown up quickly in this movie.

There’s a lot of time spent showing the relationships between the girls and in particular, their possible lesbian relationships. What went on was private between the girls; it’s the music that counts. This movie doesn’t need titillation to send young teens rushing to see it for that reason alone. It’s the timing of the first great all girl band and the effect it had upon girls for the past thirty years since, that lays the groundwork here.

Kristen Stewart will have to act well to maintain the Joan Jett persona, especially as the screenplay calls for plenty of high attitude acting. Michael Shannon, who gets to play music mogul Kim Fowley gets to swear more than anyone else; in fact he doesn’t get to do much else, but I guess it’s all to do with his motivating the girls.

It’s odd that we get introduced to a new bass guitarist. One that didn’t really exist. It could be that rather than introduce four characters into the two hours, they felt the need to have one person play the bass throughout to maintain the audience’s ease.

It’s a good screenplay and I look forward to see how she directs it into The Runaways movie. There’s one point that stands out in this screenplay; the girls went through teenage years like almost no-one else will ever experience. The highs were so high that some of the girls have spent the last thirty years coming down.


Certainly, you can see how it became the launch pad for Joan Jett and Lita Ford. Nevertheless, I remain to be convinced that Joan Jett introduced her mega hit I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll to the band and had to wait six years for it to top charts all around the world as a solo hit. That’s perhaps where reality and the movie screenplay world differ to suit the motion picture style.

Drummer Sandy West would have just loved this movie. It’s where she wanted to be all her life. Sadly, cancer took her from her family and friends in 2006.

The new Joan Jett book and the Cherie Currie Book, Neon Angels are as well timed as the new Joan Jett greatest hits CD. With the screenplay, you have the full package, presuming you already have those six Runaways albums, now on CD.


Movie production clapper board over wooden background

Show It, Don’t Tell It: Visualizing Internal Conflictsearch

Your main character gazes forlornly into the distance… thinking of his lost love. Or maybe he’s just hungry. Or maybe he’s just trying to remember what he was supposed to pick up at the store. Or…

How the heck do you show what he’s thinking?


If this were a novel, you could just write his thoughts. Internal monologue is perfectly acceptable in prose.

If this were a stage play, you could probably get away with a soliloquy. Audiences go into theatrical productions knowing they’ll have to suspend disbelief. They don’t expect literal representations of reality.

In a film, though… have the guy talk his thoughts – especially with no one else in the room – and it just comes off as a cheat.

Film is immediate. Film is heightened reality. No sane person talks in monologues when they’re alone. Oh, sure, you might enunciate a few barely-coherent thoughts once in a while, but fully formed expositional soliloquies? Not likely.

Drama is conflict. Film is a visual medium. So how do you film internal conflict? How do you visually represent something as ineffable as thought?

When discussing this issue, I always think of the play and film Amadeus. Specifically, the scene in which Salieri renounces his allegiance to God. The play accomplishes this plot point with an eloquent soliloquy. The film effectively replaces Salieri’s speech with a simple action – Salieri tosses a crucifix into a fire.

Let’s take our bummed-out guy. Let’s assume that what’s troubling him is in fact his longing for a lost love.

Well, we could do a voiceover. Simply have the guy share his thoughts, tell us what’s ailing him. Kind of weak, though. I mean, unless the voiceover is exceptionally well written and a deliberate stylistic choice – or at least presented with some unexpected twist. (The “from beyond the grave” thing has been done to death by now. I’m looking at you, American Beauty.)

Film is about experience; it’s about immersion. It’s about removing barriers between the audience and your cinematic world. Nothing says lazy filmmaking like the voiceover.

Except maybe the flashback.

Show the guy staring into the distance, then dissolve to an idyllic scene of the man and his lady friend frolicking on the beach at sunset. Perfectly clear, right?


Flashbacks are easy and obvious, which is why they have become cliché. Think of the flashback scene in Airplane, where we learn why Ted Striker (Robert Hays) is afraid of flying. There’s a reason scenes like this get spoofed.

What’s another way we might dramatize our man’s longing for his lost love?


Here are a few, off the top of my head:

We could have him act as if he’s never loved anyone, least of all this particular woman. He could be a cranky old Scrooge, or a careless young playboy, and then unexpectedly reveal his tenderness by gazing wistfully at a photograph – or better yet, at some trinket associated with his love.

We could set up a mystery – Why is our guy acting like such a jerk? Or, why is he looking down in the dumps all the time? – and then reveal his back story piecemeal through clues, through dialog and action. Maybe show a diamond ring, a photograph, a woman’s scarf – whatever. Maybe have him unreasonably fixated on the object, and then have the back story come out in an argument with another character.

We could actually tell the story in order. Start the movie with our two lovers happy together, and then jump forward to present day. (Try to avoid too much time-jumping, though. In fact, you generally want to try to compress time in your film, have your story take place over as short a period as possible. This is why the novel Six Days of the Condor became the film Three Days of the Condor. But that’s a conversation for another day.)

Once we’ve properly set up our character and situation, it’ll be blindingly obvious what our man is thinking about as he stares down the sun. (Remember, context is everything.)

Looking over what I’ve written here, I’m struck by how many times I’ve used the phrase “film is…”

Here’s a list:

Film is immediate.

Film is heightened reality.

Film is a visual medium.

Film is about experience; it’s about immersion.


All these things are true. And they’re all reasons why a character’s thoughts should be revealed primarily through the things he or she does, only secondarily through the things he or she says.

What are some other ways (good or bad) you’ve seen internal conflict expressed in film?


Review: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

Saw this movie a few weeks ago. And I’m just now writing the review.
Because I forgot.
I didn’t just forget to write the review – I forgot I saw the movie!

I had been anticipating this Guillermo Del Toro production for years. I mean, little creepy raisin-faced gnomes? Obscure 70s TV creepfest remade with real Hollywood budget? What’s not to like?
So I go see it. Eat my popcorn. Go home. Go to sleep. Get on with my life.
A couple of weeks go by and I check my Amazon preorders list. I remember that I’m expecting a Blu-Ray of Del Toro’s Mimic. I think about the Mimic score (one of my favorites) by Marco Beltrami.
And then I think… didn’t Beltrami just do something else? Something with Guillermo Del Toro…?
And then I remember.
Right. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.
Okay, so what’s going on here? Why is it that so many geeks grew up with indelible memories of that el cheapo made-for-70s-TV original – and I couldn’t even remember seeing the remake a few weeks ago?
Is it me? I think not!
The reason the original was so effective – and unforgettable – was, I think, its simplicity. Woman sees little creatures. No one believes her. Things end – well or badly (I won’t tell).
The New Guy.
Those little raisin guys were creepy as hell, too. Why? Because they were simple. Even if the costumes weren’t all that technically proficient, you got a sense of character. You could feel that there was a sentient being in there. You could see centuries of weariness and want in those eyes.
While the new creatures seem to have been designed in homage to those original gnasty gnarly gnomes, their bodies were unnecessarily twisted, too-obviously computer generated. They looked as if they had been designed to prove they weren’t just men in suits, which – frankly – might actually be more impressive these days.
Now THAT’S creepy.
Also, the mythology. While I appreciate the knowing nods to fairy lore (mushroom circles, twisted tooth fairy references), this turned out to be yet another case of over-explanation. (See Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for a prime example.)
A movie like this wants to be short. It wants to be simple and intense. It wants to get in, do its job, and get out. It wants to be claustrophobic, surreal, not majestic and lush.

3 poster Dont Be Afraid of the Dark 2011

The characters were okay, I guess. The little girl – played by Bailee Madison – was good. She was also one of the best things about Bridge to Terabithia a few years ago, and I’m pleased to say my optimistic predictions for this child’s career seem to be coming true.
I just can’t summon a lot of passion for this movie, one way or the other. I’d be willing to give it a second look, and I hold out hope that I might come to appreciate it more over time.
Bottom line, though – it falls into that dreaded middle area. Not good enough. Not bad enough. Not watchable enough.

I should probably end this with some clever metaphor – something about how the good parts come and go like so many elusive raisin-faced little disappearing things.