Tag: kate mckinnon

Yesterday


Yesterday (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

For an amusing and original premise in which our main character wakes up in a world where The Beatles did not exist, it is most disappointing that there is barely convincing drama behind “Yesterday,” based on the screenplay by Richard Curtis and directed by Danny Boyle. At first glance, the picture is energetic, the actors appear to be having fun with their roles, more than half the jokes land, and the interpretation of classic rock songs and ballads retains the spirit of the originals. But look a little closer and recognize it is a challenge to care for any of the characters—even though (or especially because) we already know its ultimate destination.

The first half is stronger because it is willing to play with an original idea. A singer-songwriter who has failed to garner popularity and financial success in the past decade, Jack (Himesh Patel) has decided to give up on his dream of making a career out of making music. A strange phenomenon occurs during the night of his decision: a worldwide power outage lasting twelve seconds has erased everyone’s memory as well as physical and digital evidence that The Beatles ever existed. Having gotten hit by a bus during the blackout, it appears that Jack is the only person who remembers the legendary band. Desperate to become successful, he tries to remember The Beatles’ songs from memory and pass them off as his own.

This section of the film is very funny because Jack himself is in total disbelief of the impossible thing that had happened. In a way, he expects to get caught at any time because a world without The Beatles feels strange, emptier. Patel portrays Jack as a hardworking musician without a mean bone in his body—appropriate for a feel-good film about someone who gets the opportunity of a lifetime through sheer luck. Patel exhibits good timing when it comes to delivering punchlines, particularly when face-to-face with another who prefers a modern song from a modern band or artist over a classic song by The Fab Four. It is meant to be silly yet at the same time it works as commentary regarding the change of music, and music preferences of the masses, over the course of fifty years. Needless to say, there are plenty of jokes that rely on the viewer knowing particular Beatles songs, perhaps even a bit of background about them.

Far less effective is the love story that rots in the center of it all. Jack and Ellie (Lily James) have been friends since childhood. It is so apparent that they love one another from the moment we meet them… and yet there is no chemistry between them because the screenplay relies on recycling the same old tropes about one not coming to terms with his or her feelings until a significant or life-altering event is knocking on the doorstep. The romance is desperate for fresh ideas—and we wait for it because Patel and James seem game—but they never come. Notice during the second half that nearly every time the two are in a room together, one is required to deliver a would-be tear-jerker speech. I was not moved by a single one. They bored me.

I found myself more interested in Jack’s savage agent named Debra who is played by Kate McKinnon. McKinnon portrays the Debra with a sarcastic and slithery quality, so brazen when it comes telling his client that all he is a product (when she is not insulting his highly ordinary appearance) and she plans to make a lot of money off his success. Debra may be a walking exaggeration, but the character fits the film because the premise, too, is a hyperbole. The final forty-five minutes to an hour ought to have been rewritten with far more ambition and originality. Instead, what results is a film with a curious premise but one that fails to be memorable.

The Spy Who Dumped Me


The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018)
★ / ★★★★

Here is a movie that might have been tolerable, perhaps even deserving of a marginal recommendation, given that it had ended around the one hour mark. But then it continues for another hour even when the screenplay, written by Susanna Fogel and David Iserson, does not have enough fresh content to entertain a spectrum of viewers. The death march that is the latter hour is so desperate for laughs that it forgets it is a parody of spy flicks, chick flicks, and action-comedies. As a result, the joke ends up being itself.

Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon play two best friends who get thrown in the middle of an international plot involving governments and terrorists that wish to get their hands on a device. While the co-leads share convincing chemistry at times, there are numerous instances when McKinnon overshadows Kunis—particularly difficult to pull off because the latter makes it look as though exuding charm and variegated emotions is effortless.

McKinnon’s approach is tank-like: do and say whatever it takes to be the funniest person on screen. She has numerous facial expressions in her arsenal—and she is not afraid to look silly or stupid as long as she is remembered, especially when she is not on screen. I admired her strategy and it works for a one-woman show, but the director, Susanna Fogel, seems to forget that there must be a constant partnership on screen. Because I kept noticing McKinnon’s firecracker physicality and energy, I caught myself wishing that the film was solely about her character, Morgan with too strong of a personality, instead of Audrey, the woman dumped over text by her boyfriend who happens to work with the CIA.

The picture is surprisingly violent—which I enjoyed. However, this element of surprise is not enough to elevate the generic material. Yes, it is a parody of pictures that follow a certain formula, but it does not command an identity of its own. This is problematic, especially during the second hour, because when bullets fly and the characters go on the run, we know exactly how each sequence will play out. It becomes predictable—and isn’t one of goals of parody supposed to point to what is wrong or tired about a subject and attempt to subvert it? It relies on exaggeration—which parodies are supposed to do—but employing this strategy and nothing else prevents it from becoming a standout of the genre.

I dive into movies like “The Spy Who Dumped Me” not to ascertain the contents of its plot, but to see if it could really outsmart the genre it attempts to parody or skewer. While I chuckled sporadically because McKinnon and Kunis manage to sell their lines with verve to spare, the unambitious screenplay leaves a lot to be desired. In addition, notice its wildly fluctuating tone, how out of control it is to the point where would-be amusing moments are placed right next to occurrences that are deadly serious, or vice-versa. Clearly, the screenplay would have benefited from further redrafting.

Ghostbusters


Ghostbusters (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

The problem with this remake of the 1984 “Ghostbusters” is a lack of a consistent engagement where laughs turn into gasps of horror, and vice-versa, as well as its dearth of genuine curiosity despite its main characters being scientists who aim to provide incontrovertible proof of the paranormal. One may not be blamed for thinking that the studios simply green-lit the project to make money without the intention of ever providing solid entertainment because just about every other scene plays out like a television movie.

The casting directors made good choices in employing Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones to play the paranormal investigators. Each of them has a big but specific personality that brings something special to the table even though the script is not quite up to the level of its performers’ talents.

Particularly joyful to watch is McKinnon, a real scene-stealer. Notice that even when she is not saying anything but just so happens to be in the frame as her co-stars, our eyes tend to gravitate toward her—whether it is due to the way she stands, how she contorts her face, the manner in which she controls her eyes. This is called presence and it is invaluable. Another ray of light, but in a different way, is Jones. She has the more thunderous lines but she sells them with one hundred percent effort with enthusiasm left to spare. I enjoyed how her character is written as a historian compared to her more science-minded counterparts.

Allowing the special and visual effects to take over the final third is a grave misstep. The images look too playful, silly, non-threatening. In the filmmakers’ attempt to become family-friendly, it has forgotten to take risks with its imagery. Compounded with the fact that the stunts are too jokey to the point where we can almost see the wires lifting the actors as the characters are attacked by ghosts in Times Square, what results is a frustrating lack of suspense. There is no tension in our heroines’ confrontation with the neon-animated spirits. Twenty minutes of action unfolds but we end up not caring at all. Clearly, the picture does not qualify as a thrilling action-fantasy picture.

Neither does it qualify as a strong comedy with interesting characters. While the Ghostbusters share a sense of camaraderie, there are numerous ad-libbed lines, particularly from McCarthy, that ought to have been left on the cutting room floor. They stand out like sore thumbs because they are usually out of context. In addition, some of the dialogue, especially those between Erin (Wiig) and Abby (McCarthy) which touch upon how they have grown apart over the years so their reunion—though friendly—is a bit awkward, barely commands realism. It might have been more interesting if the writers, Katie Dippold and Paul Feig, had allowed the two to engage in some sort of friction and then slowly build toward mending their friendship. Give them a reason to work together even though they do not want to be around one another. Instead, everyone must be likable from the get-go. This is a recipe for boredom.

Directed by Paul Feig, “Ghostbusters” wants to have fun, and there are amusing elements here such as Chris Hemsworth playing a handsome but hopelessly dimwitted assistant, but those involved behind the camera seem to forget that there is value in work that is rough around the edges. This is why the original was such a success and is beloved by many. This work, on the other hand, is pristine, neatly-packaged, and just about everything is too controlled and polished. It fails to embody the spirit of its inspiration. And we see right through its mask.