Culver City Observer -

MOVIE REVIEW: A weekend of good vibrations

Spy - Insidious: Chapter 3 - Love and Mercy


There really is something for everyone this weekend at the movies with the release of some of the most anticipated films of the summer - INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3, LOVE & MERCY and SPY.


SPY is a balls-to-the-wall, mile a minute laugh fest starring Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Jude Law and Bobby Cannavale. Setting SPY apart from other McCarthy comedies which, let's face it, have been less than funny of late, SPY is smart and smartly written with a tightly crafted story and comedy, exceedingly well developed characters, plus some James Bond level action.

Susan Cooper is a 40-something CIA analyst and intelligence specialist stuck in the basement office of CIA HQ, infested with bats, rats and other assorted vermin - both 2 and 4 legged. She serves as the eyes and ears to super spy Bradley Fine. Their latest mission finds Fine trying to locate and stop the sale of a nuclear bomb in Eastern Europe. From the get-go its obvious Susan is the brains of the operation, although she is thousands of miles away. Unfortunately, Fine is assassinated by Rayna Boyanov, the haughty elitist daughter of a recently deceased Bulgarian arms dealer who just happened to be her father. Still needing to complete the operation before possible world destruction, Agency Chief looks for a new operative. Agent Rick Ford, the obvious choice for the task throws a hissy fit and quits the Agency when the Chief says he's too recognizable; in fact, all of the operatives are. Cooper, wanting to avenge the death of Fine, begs for the assignment. Despite Cooper's extensive CIA field training and high scoring exercises before becoming a "desk jockey", the chief is reluctant to put her in the field. Ultimately acquiescing, it's on the condition the mission is to track-and-report the whereabouts of Rayna and hopefully, Sergio De Luca, a suave terrorist withe megalomaniacal ideas.

While McCarthy is always hit and miss with me, all I can say about her performance here as Susan Cooper is, Move Over Mata Hari! McCarthy is on fire! As fellow spy Rick Ford, now gone rogue, Jason Statham breaks into an exaggerated Cockney accent and plays to one of his more unknown strengths - comedy. Joining the mix as the heartthrob James Bond-esque Bradley Fine is Jude Law. And yes ladies, he is very fine. In a fun turn, Bobby Cannavale (looking more like a very tan and sophisticated young Andy Garcia) gets to really have fun and play as the suave debonair terrorist Sergio De Luca. Haughty delicious decadence perfectly describes Rose Byrne's Rayna. Clearly relishing the role, Byrne goes toe-to-toe with McCarthy with every barb, bite and head butting and has you begging for more. Terrific supporting turns from Alison Janney as the Agency Chief, and a delightfully ditzy take on Cooper's friend and colleague, Nancy, is courtesy of Miranda Hart.

Written and directed by Paul Feig and working hand-in-hand with cinematographer Robert Yeoman, the film is light, bright, colorful and entertaining on every level. Never feeling cheap or cheesy Lensing captures the beauteous locations of Hungary and to a lesser degree, Rome and Paris, giving the film real international depth and scope fueling the spy thriller mythology. Polished technical levels showcase the work of production designer of Jefferson Sage while elevating the film as a whole. Theodore Shapiro's scoring is eclectic and distinctive yet filled with recognizable genre touchstones.

AND STAY FOR THESE CREDITS! Hilarious and serving as their own chapter in the ongoing SPY story, they are not to be missed.


We all know, and for most of us, love, the INSIDIOUS franchise, so it comes as no surprise to finally see INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3. But don't look for the Lambert family again. This time, writer and first-time director Leigh Whannell takes us back in time to tell the story of everyone's favorite psychic/medium, Elise Rainier, played once again by the infamous Lin Shaye, now also known as Lin Shaye - Action Hero.

Hands down the best of the franchise. Leigh Whannell, the originator of the franchise with director James Wan, has outdone himself. There's palpable fear and terror, humor, cheer out loud and applaud moments, and then poignant tenderness to touch the heart. This is so much more than a horror film. INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 is irresistible!

Set "a few years before the Lambert hauntings" we meet an Elise who is a recluse, living in fear and loneliness after the death of her husband. We also meet the Brenner family and a teenaged Quinn Brenner who still reels from the death of her mother Lily. Seeking out Elise, Quinn begs her help to contact her mother. Having given up on her psychic gift, Elise is reluctant to help, but moved by the young girl, she agrees to, only to quickly close the psychic door when she sees an entity more sinister and evil than anything ever encountered, shadowing the girl. Disappointed, Quinn returns home to her dad and brother only to discover her world is changing. Sounds, ghostly apparitions, flickering lights, bumps in the night are the start of it, but when Quinn is pulled from her bed up to the ceiling, transported to another floor in the building, her legs broken, what Quinn first believe to be her mother trying to contact her is clearly not. Something has come from The Further to take Quinn. And Elise Rainier is the only one who can save her.

Performances are rock solid all around but first and foremost is Lin Shaye. This is her films and she takes the bull by the horns. Shaye and her character Elise kick some demon ass! Dermot Mulroney proved a surprise to me with his casting as dad, Sean Brenner, but he is the embodiment of fatherhood and adds an emotional grounding to the film. Stefanie Scott more than proves her mettle as Quinn. Perfectly embodying necessary teen traits, Scott also bodes a maturity that helps carry the day with the heavier emotional scenes, not to mention taxing scenes of terror. And of course, what would any INSIDIOUS film be without Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell as ghosthunters/paranormal experts, Tucker and Specs. Although we have gone back in time to the beginning of the triumvirate of Elise, Tucker and Specs, the chemistry and fun between the boys is as tight, engaging and fun as ever.

Knowing the characters and throughline of the franchise better than anyone, Whannell delivers a story that is rock solid, completely satisfying not only laying the groundwork of a prequel, but a perfect starting point for those new to the franchise. Tension is so taut, the hairs on my arms were standing up. But intertwined with the terror is humor which comes from unexpected places and characters (like Mulroney's Sean Brenner) as well as the expected (Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell as Tucker and Specs) and often leads to laugh out loud funny. Thanks to a brilliant construct of cinematography, editing and sound, there are palpable moments of heart-pounding fear. Then Whannell knocks us sideways with some deeply poignant and loving moments that turn on the waterworks of the audience. But again, the icing on the cake is a bad ass Lin Shaye.

Brian Pearson's cinematography is nothing short of divine perfection. His use of light is beautiful and immersive while his use of negative space is brilliantly conceived. Wonderful - and judicious - use of close-close-ups and framing in general. Color and color saturation is rich and beautiful - especially in Quinn's room. Color palette and eclectic production design of the room lend to "fantasy" with that deep turquoise, fabulous twinkle light headboard, and wafting sheer curtains. Killer is the desaturation of The Further which is then amped up with inky blue black and a slight waft mist overlay texture. Lush, riveting and that inky depth is perfectly captured by Pearson's camera.

Joseph Bishara's scoring is spectacular creating a haunting undercurrent. Opening and end title treatments are standout.

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 goes further into The Further and gets under your skin like never before. Leigh Whannell and Jason Blum - now I want CHAPTER 4.


LOVE & MERCY is a compelling cinematic journey and exploration of the triumph and tragedy of a musical genius that mirrors Brian Wilson's own musical journey and life. Not your typical biopic, LOVE & MERCY is the story of Brian Wilson - from his early days as a Beach Boy to the infamous recording sessions of what has been described as the greatest musical album ever written - "Pet Sounds" - to the torment of his adult life thanks to mental distress and Dr. Eugene Landy to the start of a new chapter with the woman who would save him. The musical journey makes your heart soar as we celebrate Wilson's musical genius, while the performances are so emotional, so intense, as to break the heart and then pick up the pieces with the ebullience of the music and Wilson's soul. You cannot look away from the screen.

In a dual performance as Brian Wilson, Paul Dano and John Cusack deliver some of the finest - if not THE finest - performances of their careers as we watch Dano make the journey of Wilson's descent into the madness of his genius while Cusack takes us into the deepest bowels of Wilson's torment and hell, only to ascend to, and find, Wilson's inner joy that Wilson so freely gave the world for generations.

Lip synching by all of the actors is terrific but then Paul Dano bravely sings some numbers himself - and does so wonderfully, with emotional poignancy to mirror not only the point of song construction in the musical timeline, but the emotional fracturing points in Wilson's life. You hear vocal breaks and cracks that mimic his mindset of the moment. It is poignant, heartbreaking and frightening all at the same time.

Elizabeth Banks is pure innocence and heart and the heart of the film as Melinda Ledbetter. Standout is Diana Riva who, as Gloria, a housekeeper for Wilson during the period he was under the control of Eugene Landy, gives Gloria a fear and concern for Wilson that is beyond palpable, adding true gravitas. Jake Abel delivers a spot on Mike Love while Kenny Wormald as Dennis Wilson is a standout. Wormald also did some of the choreography for the "vintage" musical sessions and routines!

But then there's Paul Giamatti. As Eugene Landy, this could prove to be the performance of Giamatti's career as well. Someone needs to start the Oscar campaign for him as Best Supporting Actor now. For those that don't know or weren't aware of the legal wranglings in the 90's involving Landy, he had taken control of Brian Wilson and his life under guise of Wilson needing medical and psychiatric treatment as well as Landy serving as his conservator, after a period of time that had pushed Wilson to the depths of despair. It was thanks to Ledbetter that Wilson's family became aware of the situation and wheels started turning to really get Brian Wilson back on track. What many won't realize is that the insanity and horrific behavior we see Giamatti emote on screen is who Landy was. (Just before shooting, screenwriter Oren Moverman was "gifted" hours of audio interviews between Landy and a reporter from years ago. Because of these recordings, much of the script involving Landy was rewritten incorporating actual statements made by Landy. Adding to Giamatti's intensity is his listening to the tapes and hearing the rage in Landy's voice - all of which made it on screen.) Giamatti oozes the oily slickness of the demented manipulator that Landy was. So potent is the performance that you want to reach into the screen and grab Cusack's Wilson, and just pull him out of the screen and save him. Your heart bleeds and breaks for Wilson thanks to director Bill Pohlad's cinematic construct and Giamatti's performance. Every moment Giamatti and Cusack are onscreen together, one clenches their fists a little tighter, hoping beyond hope for an angel to come and save Brian Wilson from the Satan who is Eugene Landy. Of course that angel does come - in the form of Banks' Melinda.

And let me just say now - APPLAUSE APPLAUSE to Pohlad and Moverman for highlighting "The Wrecking Crew" - especially Hal Blaine and Carol Kaye! The actors assuming the identities of TWC are so perfectly cast, it was like looking into a crystal ball, right down to Hal Blaine's ID bracelet - which he still wears to this day. Kudos to Johnny Sneed and Teresa Cowles for their work in particular.

Robert Yeoman's cinematography is rich, vibrant and saturated, celebrating the highs of The Beach Boys and Wilson, then contrasted with the lows, with lighting and lensing becoming almost claustrophobic to the point that we as an audience, feel Wilson's anguish and pain. The genius of director Bill Pohlad lies in the film's overall construct and design - perfectly pacing the non-linear scripting of Oren Moverman - and then punctuating it with music and the PHENOMENAL period perfect vintage recreations of actual Beach Boys recording footage and videos of the day thanks to collaboration with Atticus Ross. These images, this music, was all part of the soundtrack and video track of many of our lives in the 60's and 70's and then beyond. To have seen it all unfold in the day and now to see it unfold yet again with the perfection of visuals plus the emotional highs and pure joy and fun the music delivered is guaranteed to bring a happy tear and a "smile."

Notable is the costume design which keeps Banks initially in that bright saturated ocean blue but then moves her clothing - and her home into angelic and cloud wafting whites. Similarly, Keith Cunningham's production design with the design of Wilson's oceanfront "cottage" all done in white with wide view windows - very metaphoric as the innocence of Wilson and the idea of being trapped within himself, always looking out . Spectacular touches to the production.

I have nothing but good vibrations for LOVE & MERCY.


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