‘Spies in Disguise’ Preaches Weirdness, But It Could Stand to Be Weirder

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CREDIT: Blue Sky Studios/Twentieth Century Fox.

Starring: Will Smith, Tom Holland, Rashida Jones, Ben Mendelsohn, Reba McEntire, Rachel Brosnahan, Karen Gillan, DJ Khaled, Masi Oka

Directors: Troy Quane and Nick Bruno

Running Time: 102 Minutes

Rating: PG for A Pigeon Eating a Band-Aid, and the Like

Release Date: December 25, 2019

Spies in Disguise has two credited directors and two credited screenwriters (and a third writer with a “story by” credit), and it’s based on a 2009 short film made by someone who is none of the aforementioned writers or directors. Yet it feels like a very singular, personal vision, as though it were willed into existence by someone who really loves pigeons and wanted the world to know that they’re not just rats with wings, but rather, dignified and eminently capable creatures. The world of animated children’s films is filled with plenty of talking animals, so this isn’t out of the ordinary in that regard. But I haven’t gotten the sense that movie-going tykes have been clamoring for the pigeon niche to be filled in this genre. And yet that’s what has happened, with about as triumphant a premise as possible, as the fate of the world hinges upon what super-awesome spy Lance Sterling (Will Smith) can accomplish when he turns into a pigeon.

If there are any pigeon aficionados out there, you will certainly be pleased by how lovingly they’re treated in this film. For everyone else, you’ll probably be floored by how out of time Spies in Disguise comes across. It feels like something that should have come out twenty years ago, when CGI animation was in its infancy and Smith was known primarily as a Man in Black. I actually appreciate some of its musty style, as it commits to a full-on opening credits sequence (a rarity in this era) that follows not one, but two, cold opening scenes.But the rest of my reaction to this film is basically being flummoxed by its outdated, non-specific definition of “weird.”

The other main character is socially inept young gadget guy Walter Beckett (Tom Holland), who is the one who accidentally turns Sterling into a bird. He’s spent his whole life believing that the world needs more weird, just like his mom assured him when he was a boy. But the thing is, while he may be a little awkward, I find it hard to believe that his line of work wouldn’t consider him weird so much as technologically essential. And while a man becoming a pigeon may be unusual in our world, it’s standard practice in this sort of movie. Spies in Disguise, you need to follow your own advice and be more weird.

Spies in Disguise is Recommended If You Like: Therianthropy

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Spies in Da Skies

Entertainment Essentials: January 11, 2019

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CREDIT: Entertainment Studios; Netflix; TBS

This post was originally published on News Cult on January 11, 2019.

1. Movie: Replicas (Theatrically Nationwide) – Keanu Reeves stars as a neuroscientist who loses his wife and kids in a car accident and then attempts to “resurrect” them in the form of androids. You can imagine how that goes. This is the type of original sci-fi movie that tends to fly under the radar, and that is a shame, even if it turns out to be horrible. So let’s all go see Replicas to declare to the big studios that we want to see more unique and challenging concepts on screen! Also, Silicon Valley‘s Thomas Middleditch co-stars as Reeves’ friend and colleague, which should add to the intrigue.

2. TV: Sex Education (January 11 on Netflix) – Gillian Anderson stars in this Netflix dramedy in the role that is pretty much perfect for her at this point in her career: a sex therapist who tends to overshare a bit too much with her teenage son. That teenage son is an awkward virgin played by Asa Butterfield who sets up a clinic at his high school to help his fellow classmates deal with their range of sexual problems. For my money, it is always a boon to have a show that is open-minded and sensitive on the topic of sex.

3. TV: Angie Tribeca Season 4 (Premiered December 29 on TBS) – Starring Rashida Jones as the titular detective who does things her own way, Angie Tribeca is a delightful spoof in the vein of Airplane! and The Naked Gun. Not every gag lands, but the joke-per-minute ratio is higher than any show currently airing, and it is all played so deadly serious, making it hard to get mad at any joke that falls flat. Even if you’re a fan of the show, you might not have any idea that a new season just arrived, as all ten episodes debuted the weekend before New Year’s with basically no promotion. Luckily, if you missed it, you can head over to the TBS website or app. In this batch of episodes, Bobby Cannavale joins the team as Tribeca’s long-lost son (it makes sense in context, sort of), and there is also the usual plethora of guest stars, including Anjelica Huston, Gillian Jacobs, and Jim Rash.

This Is a Movie Review: llumination Entertainment Brings ‘The Grinch’ Into a Post-‘Despicable Me’ World

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CREDIT: Illumination and Universal

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2018.

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Seely, Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, Angela Lansbury, Pharrell Williams

Directors: Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney

Running Time: 86 Minutes

Rating: PG for The Cartoonish Dangers of Snowy Cliffs

Release Date: November 9, 2018

Illumination Entertainment’s first and by far most influential release is Despicable Me. It may be the Minions who are inescapable in certain segments of our culture, but it is really the story of Gru and his girls that has provided Illumination with its template for success. That formula is now being applied to an even more established classic, as Dr. Seuss’ Christmas thief makes his CG animated big-screen debut. As voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, this Grinch still follows the arc of grumbling about the holiday, stealing presents, and then finally seeing the light. But he is very much in the mold of Gru insofar as he makes himself out to be a big villian but it is clear that he is actually a big softie the whole time. I don’t really buy that his heart grows three sizes, since I believe that it was actually always that big. Despicable Me works because of the tension of Gru hiding a fundamental side of himself, whereas previous versions of The Grinch have succeeded because the green fellow has been a genuine cold-hearted villain. But this time, there is no dramatically satisfying transformation.

Luckily, there are some details here and there that make for some cheery viewing pleasures. This version of Cindy Lou Who (voiced by Cameron Seely) is a formidable, strong-willed one. Honestly, I would happily watch a movie that is just about her trying to contact Santa or even one that is just about her preparing Christmas festivities. The animals are also satisfactory, with the Grinch’s canine companion Max serving as the long-suffering partner and a loyal reindeer named Fred showing up at just the right times to be the ideal scene-stealer. And then there’s Kenan Thompson as Bricklebaum, the jolliest citizen in Whoville and perhaps the jolliest character in Christmas movie history. And if you can’t accept Thompson as our resident Deliverer of Joy in 2018, well, then, you might be the one whose heart is three sizes too small.

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch is Recommended If You Like: Despicable Me‘s sweetness, Resourceful young girls, Kenan Thompson at his most buoyant

Grade: 2.75 out of 5 Grinch Orphanages