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.

Gravity Holds Carrie and Captain Phillips Down Over the Weekend

Gravity Holds Carrie and Captain Phillips Down Over the Weekend

Gravity with its 3D depiction of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney’s lost in space adventure has managed to hold down Carrie and Captain Phillips over the weekend. The Alfonso Cuarón thriller has come in at number one for the last three weekends since the film opened.

Revolver (2005): Guy Richie’s Ode to Kabbalah

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With nothing better to do, I finally decided to bite the bullet and watch Revolver last night. The film was universally panned by almost every critic worldwide, except for Mark R Leeper who stated that the film would have a “narrow” audience. (Wikipedia)

You can say that again.

As the film finished on a black screen being serenaded by a piano, I gazed at the screen and said, “What the fudge was that?”

You know a film is esoteric to the extreme when you have to look the damn thing up after you’ve watched it, to try and figure out what the hell went on for 110 minutes.

And since I only know what Wikipedia told me about Kaballah (I mean apart from the fact that Ritchie’s then wife Madonna was heavily into the religion) I still don’t know what the hell was going on in the film.

Directed and co-written by Guy Ritchie with the marvellously talented Luc Beeson, Revolver is an exercise in frustration, hidden meanings (at least hidden from me) and strange character interludes with the camera a la schizophrenia.

Jason Startham stars as Jake Green; wide boy and games player extraordinary. He gets out of prison and goes to confront his old boss Dorothy Macha (Ray Liotta) about getting the money that Macha owes him. On his way out of Dorothy’s casino, a very large man stops Green and says, you’re in a lot of trouble, call me. He also hands Green a card with the words, take the elevator on it. (Green has a phobia about lifts)

Ray Liotta is feeling blue...
Ray Liotta is feeling blue…

Green doesn’t look at the card and takes the stairs, collapsing the second he starts down. He wakes up and is told he has three days to live. The big man and his partner then decide to help Jake by taking all his money and making him deliver it to various people around town. They also start seriously messing with Macha taking his money and his drugs that he is supposed to deliver to the menacing and never-seen Mr Gold.

I watched this film confused from the first scene and kept watching hoping that it would all be made clear to me by the end. The only thing that became clear to me was that the “hit man” hired by Macha, resplendent in his glasses and natty suit, was Mark Strong who played Big Frank D’Amico in Kick Ass. I spent at least half of the movie trying to figure out why he looked so familiar.

 

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Even after reading about how the characters and the numbers and the colours were representative of the “teachings” of Kabbalah, my comprehension of this film is still zero.

I guess I can take some comfort in knowing that most of the world’s critics didn’t like the film either, but not too much. I don’t as a rule trust many critics, although there are a few that I do listen to. So I can only shrug in bewilderment and wonder what in the hell was Guy Ritchie thinking?

Obviously as a gesture to his (then) wife Madonna aka Madge in the UK, he decided to make an “Ode to Kabbalah” since she was a little obsessed with the religion.

I will say this for Ritchie and his film, I could not stop watching it. Not because it was that good, but because I kept hoping to figure out what was going on.

It is on Netflix in the UK at the moment, but don’t go out of your way to watch it. Unless you understand Kabbalah intimately you’ll get lost. If you don’t? I guess it’s just me, then.

I think I had the exact same expression on my face (sans lollipop) while watching this film.
I think I had the exact same expression on my face (sans lollipop) while watching this film.

 

Chatroom (2010): The World Weird Web

Made in 2010 and directed by Hideo Nakata (the directorial genius who brought us Ringu, The Ring 2 and Dark Water just to mention a few) Chatroom is a small budgeted British thriller set in the virtual chat rooms that still fill the internet.

Aaron Johnson (having just finished working on Kick Ass) and Imogen Poots (28 Weeks Later, Fright Night 2011) head up the talented cast of youngster who populate the film.

Chatroom is primarily about William (Johnson) a teenager with a penchant for self harm and a disturbed personality. He is very smart and manipulative. He logs on the net and starts searching different chat rooms to see what is on offer. Not liking any of the rooms he visits he decides to start his own chat room, Chelsea Teens.

Chelsea Teens has no real agenda, instead  it focuses on the teens who visit the room and the aspect of their lives that they hate. It’s a place for them to unload. It soon turns into a place where they reveal more information about themselves than they should.

Nakata follows the screenplay by  Enda Walsh who wrote it originally as a stage play, she then adapted it for the screen. Watching the film, it looks very like a stage play. Static sets which the character can move through. Most of the action takes place in the room that represents the Chelsea Teens chat room. Very little of the film takes place out of these huge and empty rooms that represent the different rooms on the net.

That is the genius of the film and it’s setting. By creating the chat rooms as a ‘real’ setting it allows us the audience to feel what the teens are feeling when they interact in the room. All the members of the chat room sit or interact in the room as if they were really there and not typing questions, statements, and responses on a keyboard somewhere.

William sets about building up his Chelsea Teens members by entering other chat rooms and talking the odd member into entering his room. He gets Eva (Poots), Emily (Hannah Murray), Mo (Daniel Kaluuya) and Jim (Matthew Beard) to join. What these new members don’t know is that William doesn’t want to be their friend at all. He is there to create chaos and is trying to see how far his chat room ‘friends’ will follow him.

He gets one member to tell his best friend that he sexually fancies his  under age sister. He tells another to flush his antidepressants down the toilet and stop taking them. All the advice and guidance he hands out is bad or at the very least not very helpful.

William has also discovered another chat room that he begins visiting on a regular basis. This room seems to be dedicated to cyber bullying and each time William returns the intensity of the bullying increases until the victim kills himself. As with every thing else referring to the chat room verse, we see the actual people bullying the helpless victim in person. We see the people and the victim and their actions and reactions, live.

Visibly impressed by the power he has witnessed in the cyber bullying room William decides that he is going to pick the weakest member of his group and get him to kill himself.

This is an amazingly powerful film. Johnson as William turns in a brilliant performance as the evil minded damaged teen who wants to punish the world. Poots is stellar as his ‘on-line’ girlfriend who decides to aid him in his nefarious plots and Beard is spot on as the lad who has to have antidepressants to get through his life.

The film won’t be for everyone. In fact the overall verdict for this film by just about everyone is bad. I think this film was panned by just about every critic there is and public reaction was poor. I honestly can’t figure out why.

The use of the ‘hotel’ rooms to represent the chat rooms and enabling the actors to interact with each other in the rooms really brings home how intimate these chat rooms can be. The set design was great. Each room was dressed as a dowdy and pretty much empty rooms that looked more like warehouse spaces than actual rooms.

When William was cruising the other chat rooms, each room had set dressing to fit the particular type of chat room it was. Eva’s chat  room has her modelling pictures all over the wall and a huge frilly girls bed.

I would give this film a 2 bagger rating. I gobbled the stuff compulsively while watching this film. I didn’t want to look away from the screen for fear that I’d miss something.

Nakata and his cast have shown just how scary and dangerous the internet can be. They do this so well that you could change the www to mean the World Weird Web. So be careful who you interact with, it could be another William.

Aaron Johnson
Aaron Johnson (Photo credit: nick step)

 

The Ward (2010) Deja Vue All Over Again

I was really excited to see that John Carpenter had made a new film. This is his first full length feature since he made the mediocre Ghosts of Mars (2001) and by anybodies reckoning nine years is a long time between films. The films release was not well received by critics who generally mauled the film. I imagine John is wondering why he came back.

The films cast is well rounded with actors that have pedigrees to be proud of. Main protagonist Kristen is played by Amber Heard (who made such a big splash in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane ) and her psychiatric nemesis, Dr Stringer is played by Jared Harris (who sounds so much like his father Richard that it is almost disturbing).  The rest of the cast includes Lyndsy Fonseca fresh form the brilliant Kick Ass, Mamie GummerDanielle PanabakerLaura-LeighMika Boorem all actors with a list of credits as long as your arm.

The “Readers Digest” version of the plot is as follows:

A Girl is hiding   in the woods wearing a slip and house slippers. A police car is in the area answering a call. The girl runs from the police and sets a house on fire. The police catch her and she is put into an insane asylum.  We find out her name is Kristen and she  is placed in a room that the previous occupant vanished from. Her first night in the room something steals her blanket while she is sleeping and she finds a broken bracelet that spells the name Alice. The next day she meets the other five  occupants of the mental ward. What follows is a series of scenes where Kristen bonds with her ward-mates, interacts with Dr Stringer and repeatedly tries to escape.

Several short scenes show a pre-pubescent girl in chains who is about to be sexually abused by a large bearded man. intermixed with all this is the appearance of a gruesome looking wraith who is dispatching the ward occupants in very nasty ways. We also find out that Dr Stringer is using some sort of ‘new’ treatment on the girls in the ward. The wraith we find out is a previous girl from the ward that no one will talk about initially. The girls finally reveal that her name is Alice and they all killed her, because she was mean. With the dead Alice busily wreaking revenge on her killers, the six occupants of the ward have now been whittled down to just Kristen and Zoey and together they make one last bid for freedom.

I enjoyed the film but I could never really get invested in it. It felt more like a mystery thriller than your bog standard horror film. The “plot twist” at the end of the film was good enough, but unfortunately it has been done before. Comparisons to Shutter Island have been made and I can see why but, I felt, however, that the film had more in common with the 2003 film Identity. It is not a stretch to say the film is perhaps a mix of the two.

There were very few ‘jump’ moments in the film. The times I did jump had more to do with the sound being so loud versus the action being so scary. The interaction between Kristen and her ward mates was good, but not terrific by any means. I did like the scenes between Dr Stringer and Kristen. Stringer always made me feel uneasy. As the audience we don’t trust Stringer and question his motives. He comes across as a caring sensitive man one moment only to turn into a figure of apparent cruelty.

The cinematography is good and the FX on the wraith was superb. The hands alone were quite possibly the creepiest thing about the entire film. Over all, I felt the film was missing something. Perhaps it is because this has been ” a horror weekend.” My daughter and I have been glutting ourselves on three horror films and one science fiction film.

In all honesty, all the films have ‘brought something to the table’ but Carpenters film did not quite deliver. I have no idea why he decided to wait nine years before making another film, but, I don’t feel as though the break improved his film making capabilities. It is a shame that the last film he made before his break garnered the same sort of reception that his most recent film has.

The film is worth a look, if for no other reason than to admire the talented cast’s performances. Just don’t expect to be too surprised by the films ‘twist’ ending.