Melissa McCarthy surprises and horror lurks in a library.
Many other viewers seem to have had the same experience I had with Spy, an action/comedy that marks the latest collaboration between Bridesmaids director Paul Feig and actress Melissa McCarthy. That experience is, we thought the film's marketing campaign made it look atrocious, and then when we got around to checking the movie out we were very surprised by how hilarious it actually is.
McCarthy stars as Susan Cooper, a CIA analyst who assists super-spy field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) from her desk in Langley. When Fine is killed by the villainous Rayna Boyanov (McCarthy's Bridesmaids co-star Rose Byrne), who knows the identities of all of the CIA's top agents and is seeking buyers for a nuclear bomb she has in her possession, the unknown Cooper volunteers to go into the field and thwart Rayna herself.
Despite being given some embarrassingly bad cover identities, Cooper proves to be, for the most part, quite competent in the field, although there are many amusing and dangerous obstacles along the way. Spy is very much a blend of the non-stop comedy style of Bridesmaids with the type of James Bond / Mission: Impossible films that I love, and it's a highly entertaining amalgamation. Cooper doesn't exactly react to danger in the way Bond or Ethan Hunt would, and she has a weak stomach about certain things, but when she's called upon to kick some ass she is able to get the job done, and it was a lot of fun to see McCarthy pulling off the sequences of fight choreography.
McCarthy is the center of the film, but Feig surrounded her with an excellent comedic supporting cast that includes the aforementioned Byrne, earning laughs by playing a terrible human being; Peter Serafinowicz as a lascivious contact; Miranda Hart as Cooper's fellow analyst Nancy; and Jason Statham delivering an incredibly funny performance as an over-the-top, arrogant, not-too-bright version of the sort of highly capable action hero he would usually star as.
I didn't expect a lot from Spy going in, but it was truly a delightful surprise that provided two hours of solid entertainment.
Bridesmaids is one of my Remake Comparison co-writer Priscilla's favorite films, she quotes and references that film regularly, and after watching Spy she said she felt it was on the same level as Bridesmaids. Feig and McCarthy's earlier collaboration made such an impact with her, to say that Spy was on its level is some high praise indeed.
LONDON HAS FALLEN (2016)
Released in 2013, the "Die Hard in the White House" movie Olympus Has Fallen, directed by Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer), was a fun, old school action flick. Three years later, we've got a sequel, and while Fuqua didn't return, many of the stars did, with Olympus screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt (they also wrote The Expendables 3) providing the story and again writing the script... this time with an assist from Christian Gudegast, who wrote the 2003 Vin Diesel movie A Man Apart, and Chad St. John, who has gone on to write the upcoming Vin Diesel movie xXx: The Return of Xander Cage.
When we catch up with Olympus hero Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) he's still in the Secret Service, best buds with U.S. President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart), but things are changing in his life. With his first child with wife Leah (Radha Mitchell) on the way, Banning is considering resigning from the Secret Service. Before he can send in his letter of resignation, however, an emergency trip comes up for Asher. The British Prime Minister has passed away, and the President intends to be one of the many world leaders who will be attending the funeral.
Banning accompanies Asher to London... and if he weren't there, the President would likely be toast, because all hell breaks loose before they can even attend the funeral. Bombs starts going off all over the city, terrorists disguised as royal guards, police officers, and paramedics open fire on world leaders, landmarks crumble. If you liked the poor CGI utilized in the large scale action in Olympus Has Fallen, like when the Washington Monument was badly damaged, you're in luck, as the sequel is packed with stuff like that. Chelsea Bridge, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Parliament, they all take a hit.
While much of the action in Olympus was confined to the White House, this time Banning has the whole city of London to play in as he does his best to keep Asher alive as a small army of terrorists comes after them. This allows for vehicular chases in the streets, missile dodging in a helicopter, and of course a whole lot of shootouts and hand-to-hand combat.
As it turns out, this was all orchestrated by a notorious arms dealer, known for instigating violence in nation capitals to foster instability and fuel arms sales, who survived a G8 drone strike that killed his family. This guy is responsible for "more deaths than the plague" and now he's back on the scene for revenge. He killed the Prime Minister to lure in the world leaders for massacre, but he has special plans for Asher.
Plans which you know Mike Banning is going to violently thwart while dropping plentiful F-bombs, both in the midst of action and just when he's feeling particularly thirsty.
Directed by Babak Najafi, making his English-language debut after getting his start in Sweden, London Has Fallen is, as sequels so often are, quite a step down from its predecessor, but I still found it to be reasonably entertaining. Things went boom, there was carnage eye candy, and the film is brimming with hard-hitting action. In the brutality department, a standout moment for me was when a villain on a motorcycle crashes into the back of an SUV carrying Banning and Asher, his helmeted head sticking through the broken back window. Banning puts a bullet into the guy's head and goes on with his day. Banning has some even more cold-blooded moments later, even admitting to Asher that one gruesome kill wasn't even necessary. A man of admirable virtue Mike Banning is not.
Short compared to a lot of action movies (it doesn't even crack 100 minutes), London Has Fallen is worth checking out when you need an action fix and don't want to give even a second of thought to what you're witnessing.
JUG FACE (2013)
Jug Face is the feature writing and directorial debut of Chad Crawford Kinkle, who also developed a whole backwoods mythology for his story. It deals with an insular community that lives out in the middle of the wilderness somewhere, staying so separate from the outside world that the parents even arrange marriages for their children, joining together members of the community. When a member has an ailment, they go out to a pit in the woods to be cured. And within this pit dwells some kind of monster that demands sacrifices.
Who's to be sacrificed is determined by a potter who, when the time for sacrifice has come, goes into a trance and creates a jug with the chosen community member's face on it. Checking the kiln, a young girl named Ada (played by Lauren Ashley Carter, an actress I first became aware of through Mickey Keating's Pod) discovers that she is the latest to be chosen. Maybe it's random, maybe it's because she hasn't saved her virginity for marriage - this jug with her face on it was made at the same time she was having sex with her brother out near the pit. That's not acceptable behavior, you can imagine even a monster might frown on that.
Understandably not wanting to be sacrificed, Ada hides the jug. And the community pays the price for this, as things in this wilderness start to get increasingly supernatural and dangerous.
Jug Face is an intriguing start to what will hopefully be a prolific career for Kinkle, such a unique film that it's sure to be divisive. An example of its divisiveness: when Final Girl covered the film as part of her SHOCKtober event last year, she really enjoyed it. I enjoyed it less than she seemed to, despite the fact that I admire the world building Kinkle did here and it has some terrific actors in the leads: Carter is joined by Larry Fessenden, Sean Young, and Sean Bridgers, all of whom do very strong work here. This particular brand of backwoods weirdness just wasn't exactly for me, I was ready to leave this wilderness before the 81 minute running time was up. It is a well made film, however, and I hope it's finding its audience and building a cult following, as it absolutely deserves one.
The following review originally appeared on ArrowintheHead.com
VOLUMES OF BLOOD (2015)
Volumes of Blood opens with text on screen mentioning, among other things, that the film is "a true endeavor of independent cinema". Not only is that fact something to be proud of, the statement also serves to help ease the viewer into the type of movie they're about to see, which does indeed display some of the common pitfalls of micro-budget movie making, like some dodgy acting and fluctuating video quality. There's nothing here that will make you blink if you watch a lot of low budget indies, but if you're more accustomed to well-polished mainstream fare, you should know that this film had very humble beginnings. This is the result of a program filmmaker P.J. Starks ran at the Daviess County Public Library in Owensboro, Kentucky called Unscripted Film School, which gave locals a chance to witness the filming of the shorts that make up this anthology.
When I heard that this was produced in partnership with a library I wasn't quite sure what to expect from it. Of course, libraries contain books with all sorts of content for every age group, but I assumed that a horror movie made in association with one would have to go light on the language and gore. I thought it would need to be family friendly, accessible to everyone in the community. That is not the case with Volumes of Blood. The connection to the library only affects the content in that the building is the movie's primary setting. The filmmakers didn't have to hold back in any way, which quickly becomes clear when we see a bloody throat slashing and then a head chainsawed in half within the first few minutes.
There were five directors involved in the making of Volumes of Blood, each taking the helm of one of the five segments that make up the film. Lee Vervoort handled the wraparound segment, fittingly titled "That's a Wrap!", which begins with four college students sitting in the library and coming up with an idea to try to create a new urban legend based around this location. Each student tells their own story, which is how we get the other four tales of terror.
John Kenneth Muir directed "A Little Pick Me Up", a quick and gory little story that delves into the dangers of energy drinks. Particularly energy drinks delivered to you by strange men with names that sound suspiciously close to Lucifer. This segment is a bit too simplistic, but it's fun and features popular character actor Jim O'Rear as the fellow who just wants you to try his company's new drink.
Starks directed "Ghastly", making the stylistic choice to shoot it in black and white, which definitely works for it. This story comes the closest to having the "community friendly" approach I suspected the entire film might have. It involves a librarian being stalked among the book shelves by a ghostly presence that toys with him by moving one of the books around the place. Starks managed to capture a nice, dark tone for "Ghastly", but I do find this stretch of the film to be somewhat underwhelming because when all is said and done it's really just a guy chasing a book around for a few minutes.
"13 After Midnight", directed by Jakob Bilinski, is a segment powered by rapid fire comedic banter packed with pop culture references. Actors Paige Ward and Grant Niezgodski do a fine job handling the dialogue as their characters, a hard-studying college student and her potentially alcoholic boyfriend, go back and forth about various subjects. The boyfriend at the very least borders on annoying, if not crossing the line and going deep into annoyance territory, but it's a lively few minutes that leads into the horror aspect. "13 After Midnight" is a monster tale with a twist, and although the monster is far from impressive its appearance does bring about a solid version of a classic anthology ending, and I love the red and blue lighting utilized during the chase sequence.
The filmmaker at the helm of "Encyclopedia Satanica" brings with him an extra boost in attention from the horror community - it's artist Nathan Thomas Milliner, perhaps best known for the work he's done for Horrorhound and creating cover art for Scream Factory DVD/Blu-ray releases. Milliner is likely the filmmaker that genre fans will be most familiar with when going into Volumes of Blood, and he also delivers what I found to be the most well-crafted segment of the bunch, in the writing as well as cinematography and picture quality.
Milliner's story centers on a young library worker mourning the anniversary of her ex-boyfriend's death by suicide. With the Encyclopedia Satanica, she summons her ex so she can have the chance to talk to him one last time. Unfortunately for her, he is not happy to see her again. The ex is played by Kevin Roach, who Milliner would later cast as a young Freddy Krueger in a fan film he made, and here it's clear to see why he would choose Roach for such a role. Roach delivers an incredible performance as this demonic maniac who comes back from the dead with a grudge to settle and a lot of hate to spew at his former love. "Encyclopedia Satanica" takes Volumes of Blood to a whole other level.
With each "That's a Wrap!" student having told their story, the film returns to them for a wrap-up of the wraparound. Just as it appears that the movie will be ending, the whole thing goes completely off the rails in a wonderfully comedic and meta way. As it turns out, an early scene that seemed to be out of place was actually very important for the ending of the film. "That's a Wrap!" takes us out with a gore extravaganza and left me with a smile on my face as the credits began to roll.
Volumes of Blood may not be a new anthology classic, but it blows away the expectations you might have for a low budget movie made in association with a library as part of a film school program. Sometimes it can be a bumpy ride, but overall it provides a thoroughly enjoyable 96 minutes of horrific entertainment. If you didn't catch a screening when it was making the festival and convention rounds (and of course if you did catch it and liked it), I would recommend picking up a copy of the DVD, which was just recently released by LeglessCorpse Films.