Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014): Matthew Vaughn Spy Gold, Bruv

Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service
The second Kingsman: The Secret Service begins, the viewer can see Matthew Vaughn’s fingerprints all over this gold spy film adapted from another Mark Millar comic…bruv. The Money for Nothing music in the beginning along with the graphics, explosions and action interwoven with opening credits alone makes this film head and shoulders above the other action comedy films on offer. While this film is not a complete win, the idea of using a London “thug” as protagonist aka super spy material, “innit blood,” is a bit annoying and was used in Attack the Block as a device.

Granted, the character portrayed by Taron Egerton can be seen as a “victim of circumstance” but then so are most of the lads in prison who really come from that part of London. Ignoring the reality of gang members and focussing on character portrayal and storyline, Egerton has to be praised for the authenticity of his actions, delivery and pronunciation while playing the young “almost” gangster “Eggsy” who is lifted out of the borough like “My Fair Lady.”

Directed and co-written by Matthew “Kick-Ass” Vaughn Kingsman: The Secret Service has a perfect blend of humor and making fun of stereotypes, brilliantly choreographed fights and shoot-em-ups, and an over the top villain and hero. Colin Firth is spot on as the “silver spoon suppositoried” super-spy “tailor.” With his “John Steed” umbrella and Bond-ian spy toys and weapons, Firth’s Galahad is a top notch super spook who works for a private organization.

Samuel Jackson as the squeamish (cannot stand the sight of violence or blood) villain who is attempting a global cleansing of the planet since he cannot stop Global Warming may not be to everyone’s taste. His lisping delivery is very funny though, and as super big bad Richmond Valentine, Jackson feels a little like an Americanized Richard Branson with a speech defect.

The violence in the film is just like that in the 2010 film Kick-Ass and watching the church scene with its stylized mayhem and Firth’s Galahad taking out all the “Westboro” types in the chapel makes one realize just how brilliant the Hit Girl scene must have been in the 2010 film before it was edited down to seconds versus its original length. The success of the scene is helped by the action taking place against the backdrop of the guitar solo from the Lynyrd Skynyrd classic em>Free Bird.

In terms of memorable actions scenes, it simply does not get any better than this. Unless, of course, one includes the latter scene of Eggsy fighting his way through a legion of guards throughout a warren of hallways while Strong’s Merlin shouts out directions.

Kingsman: The Secret Service has a roster of actors whose pedigrees and skills are impressive to the extreme and even the film’s cameo performances are noteworthy. Sir Michael Caine, playing the head of the organization, Firth’s character is named Harry Hart, which feels like a nod and wink to Caine’s Harry Palmer “back in the day” (and brother if that is not the case, it should be), is excellent as always. Mark Hamill as the kidnapped professor looks like he is doing an Eddie Izzard impression and enjoying the hell out of himself while doing so.

*Side note The scene in the beginning where the villain tells Professor Arnold, “honestly, this whiskey is amazing…you will shit,” is pure Vaughn and it sets the tone of the film beautifully. Also, it should be mentioned that the line “Are you taking the f***ing piss” is English for “Are you f***ing joking” or alternatively, “Are you having a laugh?”*

Along with the big names, like Mark Strong, Caine, Jackson, and Firth, you have Guy Richie regular Geoff Bell and the surprise appearance of Eastenders actress, and former Eurovision contestant Samantha (Janus) Womack. The actors all deliver and Strong proves that not only can he do “American gangster” (“Mommy, I want a Kick-Ass party.”) but he can deliver an excellent Scot as well.

Kudos to newcomer Sophie Cookson as Roxy, the possible love interest and female Kingsman. This very capable young English actress only started working in the industry in 2013 and is one of those who bears watching.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is the sort of film that Vaughn does extremely well. Based upon a comic, Mark Millar again, and one that allows the director to show those tightly edited fight scenes and twisty plots that are ever so slightly tongue in cheek. This is a 5 out of 5 star film that can be purchased or rented on iTunes and other streaming services right now. If you loved Kick-Ass, you will adore this film. Don’t mith thith one.

RocknRolla (2008) Guy Ritchie’s Ode to New and Old London

Poster for RocknRolla
I will admit, I adore Guy Ritchie’s films, even the ones that have been bashed by the media (that’s spelt critics by the way) and have done ever since hearing a “behind the scenes” tale from my old agent. It goes something like this:

“One of my other clients got cast to be in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and we were both very pleased. Later, after he’d finished his bit he explained what was really shot versus what had been in the script.” Lennie paused and shaking his head continued.

“The pages he had originally had a bit in the pub which was around three pages long, about three minutes on screen roughly, and it was all quite convoluted, a lot like rest of the film. Clever interaction between my client and the chaps in the pub. It was to end with him getting a facefull of brandy and being set on fire. According to him, the budget was so tight that the scene kept getting smaller and smaller until it was just him being set on fire and running out of the pub!”

All this long apocryphal anecdote says is that Guy did not let the lack of money stop his using an actor he’d hired for the scene. His vision, and the implied loyalty to his cast dictated that he keep at least part of the brandy scene in and he did. You have to admire that, just as one has to admire his lifelong love affair with London.

Anyone who has been in London over the last 30 or so years can see just how much it has changed. Canary Wharf, the docklands, and South London to name a few locations which stand out the most as being very different from what they were in the early 80s. The fact that the film is, according to Ritchie, partly about the property prices skyrocketing out of control, (To the point where honest Brits have found themselves forced out of the market.) again, rings true to those who lived in Britain over the last 30 years.

Maggie Thatcher’s “right to own” opened the floodgates in the housing market and her selling off of council houses left the door wide open for big money to own property and for the little folks to slowly get pushed out of the equation. Ritchie’s film is not about Britain, however, it is about London.

Relying upon the same formula used in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels as well as Snatch, RocknRolla has that same feel minus Jason Statham and Vinnie Jones. Although the film is enjoyable, I admit that I loved it despite his use of Tom Wilkinson as Lennie who should clearly have been played by Mike Reid (Snatch, Eastenders).

Having said that, the cast, including Wilkinson, were superb. Tom Hardy, Gerard Butler, Mark Strong, Idris Elba, Thandie Newton all delivered. I was surprised to find that the comedic points in the film made me laugh as much as those in ‘Two Barrels’ did. The bit with Hardy, Butler, and later, Elba and the whole “he was going inside for 5 years” schtick had me in hysterics.

The one actor who really went above and beyond was, of course, the brilliant Toby Kebbell. Only he could have pulled off the role of Johnny Quid with his various ups and downs. The actor had me in stitches in the lift scene with Archie (Strong) and his, “Don’t hurt me Archie! I’m only little!”

Kebbell is a dynamo and his timing and delivery in all his films is beyond impeccable. I would say that my only complaint, apart from the lack of Mike Reid, is that there should have been a lot more of Toby. While this should have been a #tbt review, I could not wait to write my thoughts down after watching the bargain basement blu-ray copy last night.

A 5 out of 5 stars and a good reminder that Guy Ritchie still has the chops despite a few misfires.

11 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Long Time Dead (2002): Djinn See that Coming

Long Time Dead
Long Time Dead (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Directed by Marcus Adams and written by him and five other writers Long Time Dead centres around a Ouija board party that goes wrong. The group of 20 some-things who “have a go” at contacting the spirits are not taking the whole thing very seriously and that’s a big mistake. The film starts with a montage of scenes showing a 1979 Ouija board seance in Morocco that goes horribly wrong. As the film shifts into present day we meet our core group of folks who will accompany us on this short journey of fear.

The cast only has two ‘notable’ names. The late Tom Bell as Becker, the creepy landlord of the huge house that part of the group share and Joe Absolom as Rob. Tom Bell was a real jobbing actor who was constantly in demand. Absolom got his big break on the BBC soap EastEnders playing Matthew Rose. Absolom could be seen as this generations Tom Bell, he is always working and you’ll see his name appearing in a lot of credit lists.

But then the same can be said of James Hillier, Lara Belmont, Lukas Haas and the rest of the main cast. The film is made up of jobbing actors who can be relied on to deliver. Of course a few of them have improved since their performance in Long Time Dead. The only two actors who stood out were Lukas Haas and Tom Bell.  Of course they would stand out, Haas has been in the business since he was 5 years old and Bell had a lifetime of experience.

After the move to present day we meet the guys and gals who will make up the protagonists of the film. Rob, Stella, Liam and Spencer share a house and they are in the process of getting a new house mate, Joe. They all decide to go to a rave type party where Spencer will meet up with girlfriend Lucy and Liam will meet his girl Anne, also attending is mutual friend Webster.

Once the group get there, Liam starts filming everyone on a hand-held camera. Everyone gets bored (sorry about the pun) and decide to break off from the party. Finding a conveniently desert room on the top floor of the warehouse the rave is in, the group decide to make a Ouija board from a large broken pane of glass and some paper.

Lucy is the resident Ouija board expert as she studies witchcraft. Using a small glass as a pendant the group start their seance. Most of the group don’t take the exercise seriously but they all put their index fingers on the small glass. Lucy tells everyone that they must not break contact with the glass pendant until they’ve said goodbye otherwise the spirit that they summon will be earthbound.

The glass  pendant then spells out the word Djinn. Someone asks if the board can tell the future and it goes to the “yes” and then spell out, “All die.” It then goes on to spell Anne’s name.

Liam suddenly flips out and smashing the glass runs out of the room. This breaks up the seance and Anne goes out to the roof where Liam ran. After a short talk, she realises that she has left her inhaler in the room. As she suffers quite badly from asthma she goes to get it.

Anne is, of course, the first of the group to die as the Djinn from the Ouija board hunt them all down.

The movie moves at a good clip and there are enough suitably creepy moments that help to sell the scares.  The lighting and cinematography work well together to paint a great atmosphere. And although the film does rely on some horror clichés some of what they do is pretty original.

The acting is a let down, as I said earlier, and the plot isn’t blazingly original either. Using the glass pane for the Ouija board was annoying to say the least, the noise of the glass scrapping across the glass was worse than fingernails on a chalkboard. Of course this noise was manufactured by the sound effects department, so they and the director should both share the blame.

The film’s definition of a Djinn (that’s evil genie to me and you) was defined as a “fire demon” which I found quite funny. In the 1997 film Wishmaster (a Wes Craven presents film) a Djinn was just an evil genie, although in that film it was also divested of a twisted sense of humour.

Still the film is a “good un” and well worth a watch. It’s scary enough to cause the odd jump and some of the effects are quite good. For some reason it has always ranked as a favourite of mine and re-watching it, I found this was still the case.

Let me know what you think.