Kingsman – The Secret Service: a billionaire entrepreneur tries to combat global warming his own way; by inciting a mass population cull. If there’s one thing that Millar, Vaughn, and Goldman are good at; it’s giving their ‘fanboy’ section of the public what they want – action and LOLz. At the beginning you don’t really know what to expect, but once it starts gaining momentum it slowly transforms into something akin to a more mature and relevant Austin Powers film. Kingsman is rarely less than entertaining, especially seeing Firth actually enjoying being A Single Man as the caricatured dapper gent that gets to hand out a copious amount of ass-kicking; it’s also always good to see Mark Strong, even with a bizarre Scottish/Edinburgh accent. More generally, all characters are split between either being an ASBO Chav, or a posh-boy – but the very broad and thick ‘London Geezer‘ / ‘Landahn Geeza’ accents may require subtitles outside the UK. As you’d expect from the minds of Kick-Ass, Layer Cake, Lock Stock, and Snatch it’s a bloody and violent affair – but why would you assume anything else? The action is solid throughout, although one scene in a church is jaw-droppingly executed – easily the highlight of the movie. Despite a couple of missteps in tone – like a cheap bumsex joke – Kingsman is a funny and entertaining send-up of the ‘classic’ spy TV Shows and Bond Films… adults only though.
Before I Go to Sleep [Mild Spoilers]: after severe head injuries a woman wakes up every day with a blank memory and has to piece the last ten years back together. The biggest boob is that this is a super-tight three-hander, about one of the people, so there’s only two potential characters you can’t trust, and one can be ruled out fairly quickly, which makes the majority of the film – especially the ending – a bit of a damp squib. Despite a couple of short pieces of tension the film takes its time, and the story warms up very slowly. The whole project has a feel of being entirely driven by Firth & Kidman (and Strong) – if this was 3 unknowns nobody would have touched this. All three actors are solid, but Kidman‘s on top, looking dowdy and showing a better range than usual. Firth also gets to flex his muscles, and does well with what he’s given – which is a testament to him more than the writing. Otherwise, and disappointingly, there isn’t a whole lot more to say about this other than it looks very televisual and drab, which doesn’t help either. Before I Go to Sleep is a fairly slow paced story, with a single twist that works well – but for the majority plays like a depressing version of 50 First Dates
Body of Lies: while hunting for a big fish terrorist, power and the upper hand continually shift between the Americans, Jordanian secret service and the man on the ground trying to bridge the cultural gap. It has the look and feel of an action thriller, but there’s not a whole lot of action (although when it’s on, it’s fairly violent). There’s a romance corner, an espionage corner, a cultural differences corner – it juggles quite a few things, which are all are done reasonably well, and fused together nicely. The problem is that with all of these things going on, it feels less focused than something like Zero Dark Thirty – the peripheral stuff detracts from the central terrorist plot. Also, because the whole Jihad genre has had a lot of material lately, they all sort of blend in to one – it took took well over an hour to realise I’d already seen this. Acting wise, you completely buy in to Di Caprio‘s conflicted character; Crowe properly gets on your nerves as the brash and cocksure US agent; and you marvel at Strong’s portrayal of an old-school espionage master. Body of Lies looks and feels as slick as you’d expect from Ridley Scott; it’s also acted beyond what you’d expect from A-listers; unfortunately the plot feels completely borrowed and unimaginative. Despite looking a little worn and generic these days, it’s still completely serviceable modern jihad-thriller.
John Carter of Mars: an American civil war-vet accidentally teleports to Mars in the middle of a war. At over an hour long the setup drags on, and the whole film never really shakes off the ‘teeing up a franchise’ vibe as things are cintinually explained – including all of the confusingly named species, planets, and cities – feels like Bill Cosby suggested a couple. The script isn’t the best, although there’s a few comedy gems poking out between clunky, formulaic dialogue and sections of explanation – that would have been better to get over with in one big voiceover. There’s some half-decent actors making a quick buck here Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Willem Dafoe – who are all good, but nobody has much scope with flat, stock characters, the most entertaining and likable of which is a non-speaking dog-like alien. Some other undertones felt out-of-place, like the environmental agenda segments (including literal green warriors!) Some positives of note: graphics are awesome considering most of it is CGI/Green Screen, several gratuitous big action set-pieces, the score is top drawer and is reminiscent of Indy films, skimpy outfits on the Princess are awesome, a smart ending, and there are parts that feel like a solid old-fashioned action adventure. Unfortunately, despite the source being an ‘original’ space story (almost 100 years old) it’s been copied and ripped off so often over the decades, leaving a major air of déjà vu. Finally, I know we’re supposed to suspend disbelief, but given advances and general knowledge in astronomy / physics / space and science… a lot of the unknowns from 100 years ago now feel like massive, tardy unexplained plotholes – but that’s a minor gripe. John Carter is undoubtedly an impressive story; but it’s just not presented as best it could be (down to the framing device – it’s necessary, but could have been done better), and because of this, it never got me going once, which is disappointing for a film this big.
Walkout: The Secret World of Arrietty – Despite being a Studio Ghibli film, around the 20 minute mark my two mates and I knew this wasn’t for us. Being a re-telling of The Borrowers, it’s definitely pitched at an audience far younger than us (mid 20s men), it was also quite a slow burner, especially for a kid’s film. The biggest turn off however was the English dubbing – not just because dubbing’s rubbish – but because badass Mark Strong is cast as the dad, and not fighting anything. Hanna the assassin was Arrietty, and Sophie from Peep Show was the mum… maybe it’s just me, but it’s such a strange voice cast? Although not as strange as Will Arnett (!!!) being the American voice of the dad…
Realising this was pretty uncool and that we may have looked like a pack of predators in amongst the screen full kids, we bundled out ASAP, not looking back.
Alternative plans – as it was still relatively early we went to the nearest rock Pub and got our beer on!
The Guard: An odd Irish policeman teams up with an FBI agent to stop a major shipment of drugs. As the main character, Gleeson steals every scene and the entire show with his portrayal of an offbeat copper that switches between brilliance and insanity so often and effortlessly that you never know if he’s playing it straight or dumb. There’s a lot of other memorable characters woven through the story like Mark Strong’s disillusioned drug trafficker, both other bad guys, the elderly mother and rookie partner. The humour’s blacker than black, and drier than a bucket of sand – not for everyone, but for me it was fantastic, easily one of the funniest films I’ve seen so far this year. The story’s good, and keeps going through to the very last scene. The Guard is funny, sweary, a little surreal but very entertaining.
Rock ‘n’ Rolla [Blu Ray]: Guy Ritchie introduces another bunch of dodgy geezers that you would find in ‘everyday Britain’… honestly! There’s a huge section of Basil exposition at the start; although goes with the territory of having 20 storylines and around 400 characters. There’s more narration by a LANDAN GEEZA – and the script’s full of more cockney slang / gangster limericks; I wouldn’t blame non-Brits for requiring subtitles. (Ewe go’ mo’ feet on thu street van coppas on thu beat – etc). There’s more Tarantino-esqué styling with wipes, swipes, fast cut editing, dialogue in boxes. There’s more people acting trivially when surrounded by or cut between senseless violence – which is becoming old hat. There’s also more dark comedy elements, which are quite good: a homosexual sub-plot, S&M, botched robbery, comparing scars, indestructible Russians… Where this succeeds is the stunning Brit cast; Hardy, Strong, Elba, ‘Superhands’, Butler, Kebbell, and Newton. The Blu Ray’s worth the extra pennies, with a slick picture and some tasty HD-audio. If you can’t tell from the above, Rock ‘n’ Rolla is more of the same ol’ Guy Ritchie tricks, although it’s all totally passable, and in the end, quite entertaining & watchable. It was planned to be the first of three films and – surprisingly – I’d like to see the other two.
The Eagle: twenty years after his father led 5,000 Roman soldiers to their death a rookie tries to restore his family’s name by finding the lost Roman ‘eagle standard’. In a nutshell the biggest problem this film has is lackadaisical direction – every other issue seems to stem from this: naff/ridiculous plot, complacent acting, lazy storytelling… There’s genuinely a scene where a minor character says “To find them you have to go over the snowy hills and into the next glen” – there’s a 5 second shot of our soldiers struggling through snow, and wham – they’re back in normal terrain again!!! Complimenting the visual vomit is the corniest stock Gaelic music, that drones away in the background when the soldiers are in the highlands. To make the film more sellable there are a few gratuitous action scenes but you can’t really see what’s going on, and it winds up a blurry, shaky mess. The only redeeming part is when Mark Strong appears and shows everyone how to act properly! All in, it just all feels a bit amateur, and like more of a project about someone finding their roots / heritage, than wanting to let a decent story take centre stage. If you wish to see a film about southerners taking on crazed tribes of ugly Scottish people check out Doomsday instead! Or if you want to keep it historical – Spartacus.
The Way Back: book-to-film epic about a group of escaped convicts and their unbelievable journey – a 4,000 mile walk from a Siberian Gulag prison to safety in India. The biggest selling point is the fantastic cast, and nobody drops the ball here. Farrell‘s great as the tough inmate and Harris is superb as Mr Smith the American – Ronan as the girl and Sturgess as the lead are also enjoyable to watch. Furthermore, for having such a variation of accents there’s only one real lapse! In saying the above, the characters and drama are both pretty much by-the-numbers. Because of the scale of the journey the film’s quite long (133 mins) and the decision to railroad the entire Himalayan trek through in a few minutes of montage equally saved the film from being ridiculously long, but deducts from the size of that task (having spent the best part of an hour in Siberia and an hour in the desert). It also does particularly well to avoid laying it on thick with cheesy human adversity, resulting in a successful balancing act between a Historical Epic and keeping it firmly on the ground – there’s nothing glamorous about this journey. Watching the characters come out of their shell and bond throughout journey, coupled with the survival techniques makes for inspired viewing and saves this from being just lots and lots of boring walking. The Way Back reminded me of old-fashioned adventure films, pitting tiny humans against landscapes so monumental and beautiful, yet brutal. Seeing such stunning scenery, photographed this well is just begging for a great Blu Ray release. You know what you’re getting with this, and with the opening title letting you know how many people survive the trip; emphasis isn’t on the destination, but how you get there.
Kick Ass: A guy who’s only power is being invisible (to girls) sets out to become a crime-fighting ‘superhero’. in order to remain original, which it does pretty well, Kick Ass avoids the usual comic book clichés – however the film suffers because the story’s pretty flat. All of the main characters are well-played, especially Cage and Strong, although you don’t see nearly enough of anyone that isn’t Dave Lizewski/Kick Ass; and as a lead he’s not that interesting! My biggest problem was that it kept leaping between American Pie style comedy, shock value, grim & realistic violence, outrageously OTT fantasy/comic violence, romance, gangster… This will drag you through so many genres (sublime and ridiculous) that you never know what’s coming or how you’re supposed to react. Some of the action scenes are fairly frantic and unclear, especially the lame “doom style” night vision shootout!! It should have been about 30 minutes shorter and borrowed a lot of visuals from the recent Spiderman flicks. Despite the bashing above it is good fun, pretty entertaining and there are LOADS of comic-references for your inner-nerd to pick out – for me however it was a bit too superficial and the saturated trailer campaign absolutely ruined all the best bits.