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.

Stonehearst Asylum (2014) Old Fashioned Gothic Romance Story

Stonehearst Asylum Film Poster
Directed by Brad Anderson (The Call, Transsiberian) and adapted for the screen by Joe Gangemi (Wind Chill, Inamorata) from an Edgar Allen Poe short story (The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether) Stonehearst Asylum stars Kate Beckinsale (Underworld, Total Recall), Jim Sturgess (Cloud Atlas, Ashes), David Thewlis (Macbeth, The Theory of Everything) along with Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley as well as some of England’s finest character actors like Jason Flemyng and Sinead Cusak. Set in 1899 just as the world is slipping into the 1900s; Beckinsale plays Lady Eliza Graves, a woman driven mad by her brutish husbands sexual demands on their wedding night.

This is the reason given for her incarceration, but in reality, she attacks her husband with a comb and puts out one of his eyes when he attempts to force her into sodomy.

A doctor known as an Alienist, played by Brendan Gleeson (28 Days Later, Safe House) parades Graves at a medical lecture where he induces her to have a fit by touching her “inappropriately.” Later, a young Alienist, Dr. Newgate, comes to Stonehearst Asylum to become the latest member of staff in the madhouse. The stone structure is out in the middle of nowhere and the first person the young doctor meets is Mickey Finn (Thewlis) who is disturbing to say the least.

Once inside, Newgate meets the Asylum head, Dr. Lamb (Kingsley) and learns that the doctor does not give drugs to the incarcerated patients and practices new and unusual treatments. The new doctor meets Lady Graves and later finds that Lamb and Finn are actually patients who overpowered the real staff and taken over. Dr. Salt (Michael Caine) and the remainder of the asylum’s professional care takers have been locked in cages in the building’s basement.

The look and feel of this 2014 film is a mixture of mystery, thriller and a good old fashioned romantic Gothic love story. Enough of the real inhuman treatments of the clinically insane are featured in the film and this marks the second time that Kingsley and Caine have worked together, the first being their Holmes and Watson double act in the 1988 film Without a Clue.

The sets and the lighting combine to create what looks to be a perfect recreation of the back end of the Victorian Era. Cinematographer Tom Yatsko (Gotham, The Day After Tomorrow) pulls out all the stops to make this film moody, atmospheric and Victorian. The only anachronism is the reference to slipping someone a Mickey Finn before the phrase became well known, as the setting is just prior to 1900 and the saying did not become popular until 1915 according to Wikipedia.

All the actors deliver brilliant performances. David Thewlis, who repeatedly plays roles so full of menace, does not disappoint as the mad lady-killer and Sturgess gives a wonderful turn as the love struck medico. Sir Ben Kingsley shows once again why he is an award winning actor and Michael Caine does the same. Beckinsale is appropriately stressed as the woman who freaks at a too-familiar touch and Brendan Gleeson is seen far too little.

A little nepotism is apparent in the casting, although not a lot as he does not appear until towards the end of the film, as Kingsley’s son Edmund plays the role of Sir Charles Graves, Beckinsale’s brutish screen husband whose sexual tastes drives her into the madhouse.

For anyone who adores British cinema (And who does not?) this is a 5 star film. Despite being set, very loosely, on a Poe short story, the movie feels as English as London fog. Streaming on US Netflix it is worth the time spent to watch it. Pop yourself some corn, grab a glass of fizzy and enjoy.

1 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Interstellar Is Not About Space

Interstellar Is Not About Space

On the face of it, Interstellar is the modern take on a space exploration film that is trying to “out-Kubrick” Kubrick, but the film, despite all its trappings is not about space. It is not even about physics or dimensions or time travel. Like most exquisitely good science fiction and adventure, it is about story, more than that it is about human interaction and provides enough in-depth character development for the the main players that the film never comes close to fitting the standard template for most cinematic science fiction films.

‘Birdman’ Michael Keaton: Selling Raymond Carver and Seedy Surrealism

‘Birdman’ Michael Keaton: Selling Raymond Carver and Seedy Surrealism

In Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Michael Keaton gives a performance that simultaneously works as a selling vehicle for the late short-story author Raymond Carver and conveys a certain surrealism against a backdrop of seedy reality. The film, directed as well as co-written by Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, Babel) tells the story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who turned his back on a lucrative career in a film franchise about a feathered superhero. The underlying theme in the film deals with Riggan’s self obsession and his mental state is shown by the Birdman character talking to the actor when they are alone.

Interstellar: Matthew McConaughey on Epic IMAX Space Odyssey (Review)

Interstellar: Matthew McConaughey on Epic IMAX Space Odyssey (Review)

Christopher Nolan’s latest offering, in IMAX no less, is an epic new journey of discovery which takes Matthew McConaughey through a wormhole; in Interstellar, Nolan has tipped his directorial hat to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and managed to “out-Roddenberry” the Star Trek creator with worlds that surpass most imaginations. This long spectacular film entertains on a level that many movies aim for but few attain. This star studded feature, with five Oscar winners on board, should be seen in IMAX to get the full effect of what the director’s vision for the film is. Interstellar is a completely immersive experience, one that sucks the audience in and holds them captive for the entire 2 hour 9 minute run time.