Strange Heroes

Spy: written and directed by Paul Feig; starring Melissa McCarthy (Susan Cooper), Jessica Chaffin (Sharon), Jude Law (Bradley Fine), Miranda Hart (Nancy), Jason Statham (Rick Ford), Bobby Cannavale (Sergio De Luca), Rose Byrne (Rayna Boyanov), Alison Janney (Elaine Crocker), and 50 Cent (Himself) (2015): Hilarious spy spoof takes full advantage of Melissa McCarthy’s out-sized comic talents by making her hyper-competent, if occasionally a bit over-matched. The supporting cast is pretty much uniformly well-served as well, whether it’s Jason Statham spoofing Jason Statham or 50 Cent supplying a winning cameo. Paul Feig, who did similar writing/directing duties on previous McCarthy movies The Heat and Bridesmaids, has become a gifted comic voice with a particularly appealing manner with women. Highly recommended.

Defending Your Life: written and directed by Albert Brooks; starring Albert Brooks (Daniel Miller), Rip Torn (Bob Diamond), Meryl Streep (Julia), and Lee Grant (Lena Foster) (1991): Albert Brooks writes, headlines, and directs this delightful bit of afterlife satire. I think it’s one of the great all-time satiric-romantic film fantasies. The efficient, vaguely sinister bureaucracy of the Afterlife is really a star itself. Brooks is great riffing on that neurotic Albert Brooks archetype. Meryl Streep is unprecedentedly funny and charming. Rip Torn and Lee Grant supply sharp supporting work as dueling attorneys at Brooks’ post-death ‘trial’ that decides whether or not he moves on or gets sent back to be reincarnated again. Highly recommended.

Big Hero 6: adapted by Jordan Roberts, Robert L. Baird, David Gerson, Joseph Mateo, and Paul Briggs from the comic book written by Steven T. Seagle and illustrated by Duncan Rouleau; directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams; starring the voices of Scott Adsit (Baymax), Ryan Potter (Hiro), T.J. Miller (Fred), James Cromwell (Callaghan), and Maya Rudolph (Cass) (2014): Charming Disney adaptation of a little-known comic book is better (and more moral) than most of Disney-Marvel’s live-action superhero movies. The writing is sharp enough for adults but soft on hands for children. ‘Personal health-care’ robot Baymax, voiced by 30 Rock‘s Scott Adsit, steals every scene. Wait until the end of the credits. This is a Marvel movie, after all, even though it pretends otherwise… except in that post-credits scene. Recommended.

The Boxtrolls: adapted by Irena Brignull, Adam Pava, Anthony Stacchi, Phil Dale, and Vera Brosgol from the novel Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow; directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi; starring the voices of Ben Kingsley (Archibald Snatcher), Jared Harris (Lord Portley-Rind), Nick Frost (Mr. Trout), Richard Ayoade (Mr. Pickles), Isaac Hampstead Wright (Eggs), Simon Pegg (Herbert Trubshaw), Dee Bradley Baker (Fish/ Wheels / Bucket), and Elle Fanning (Winnie Portley-Rind) (2014): Very, very English stop-motion animation film from the studio that brought you the weird and excellent Corpse Bride and Coraline. The first 20 minutes are a bit off-putting, but give the film a chance and the design, writing, and voice work ultimately make it well worth watching. A post-modern bit in the end credits is just icing on the cake. Or wheel of cheese. Indeed, The Boxtrolls is almost as obsessed with cheese as Wallace and Gromit. Recommended.

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