Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service

Matthew Vaughn is no stranger to adaptations of comic book works, having been responsible for the film that sort-of rebooted the X-Men films, First Class. Neither is he a stranger to Mark Millar comics, and their more brutal manner of approaching an already familiar genre, as he directed Kick Ass, and acted as producer on the second film. With this new collaboration on a Millar title, Vaughn gets to explore Bond-styled themes as we discover the world of the secret agency known as Kingsman.
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The comic on which the film is inspired was a typical Millar approach to a genre, breaking down the conventions and putting a new spin on old ides. Much as how Kick Ass lovingly made fun of the idea of costumed vigilantes, so too did Secret Service poke fun at the spy genre. In adopting the film version, this loving mockery is retained, but never seems to be mocking as such as it embraces the old styled aesthetics of a crazy megalomaniac versus a secret agent, mountain lairs and strange skilled henchmen intact.

Story wise, the film has a Men in Black approach, as we are brought into the secret world of the Arthurian named agents of Kingsmen via a new recruit who joins a group of others in an intense training program of which only one can succeed in the end. It is usual for the recruits to be of the upper class stock, but Harry Hart aka. Galahad (Colin Firth) believes that there is potential in a young lad from a poor estate, Eggsy (Taron Edgerton). Whilst Eggsy starts proving his worth via tests laid on by Merlin (Marc Strong), the underlying plot plays out elsewhere. Celebrities great minds, and diplomats have been vanishing, and a wealthy tech developer, Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) is set to release a new mobile technology to the world. However Valentine has a secret agenda, and only the Kingsmen can stop him.
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The film is visually smart, and action is handled with skill and style that we have come to expect from Vaughn. From encounters with mobs in a local pub, to a frantic chase through an underground lair, Vaughn knows how to edit for pacing, but ensure that the action is seen (a pet hate of mine is the shaky camera and swift editing of many action films these days that don’t allow you to see the impact). There is generally a comical approach to the action, even in a high point of the film which sees a brutal massacre in the confines of a church. The balance of humour to brutality is well measured, much in the same way it played just right in Kick Ass. Other set pieces such as a group skydive exercise, or a flooded dorm room present more thrills and tension between the key moments, making this a well packed out action film.

Kingsman is a great, loving homage to the early days of spy films, whilst also setting up potential for a future franchise of well spoken, well educated, and most importantly well mannered spies for the new generation. A well rounded cast, including Michael Caine as Arthur, and Jack Davenport (who needs to be cast as Bond once Daniel Craig leaves the role) as Lancelot, all lend to the proceedings. It also has a great use of music tracks throughout, with standout moments using Freebird and Land of Hope And Glory to brilliant effect. Most importantly the film knows exactly what it wants to be, and doesn’t try to be a serious film. It is fun, frantic, and pure entertainment.

Is there really a lack of originality these days?

In a year which seems to be packed to the hilt with sequels or remakes, you often see and hear people bemoan the lack of originality these days. They will cry out that, “Hollywood has run out of ideas!” But is this true? Are there genuinely no original ideas these days, or are we just so dazzled by the hype for Star Trek 27: The Search For A Script that we overlook the new concepts?

Quite clearly there are original ideas and concepts put to film each year, that goes without saying. Take a look at 2014, and films such as Grand Budapest Hotel, and even Edge of Tomorrow. In fact, if you add up all the sequels and reboots each year they will not even dent the number of new films that come out. So why does it seem that every film being released is a sequel or reboot?

Well, that’s all because of two things.

1: The franchise films and reboot get a lot more marketing to get the already bought in fans salivating at the idea of more.
2: Audiences flock to them more than new ideas. This means less marketing on the new idea as it is harder to guarantee a return.

Simply put, the general audience dictate what we will have shoved down our throats each year, and they seem to prefer a safe option of a film they know what to expect over a risky choice that they have no experience with. This is, to some degree, understandable. Why spend over £10 for a ticket to something you are unsure of, when you know that Fast and Furious 14 will have cars and stunts and explosions (and who doesn’t love mindless action?) Inevitably this leads to people seeing the newer idea films a year or so later and pondering why they didn’t go and see it at the cinema. It is also why films such as Source Code, Looper, etc, whilst being really good films with great underlying concepts, never end up breaking any box office figures.

So, remember this coming year, whilst you are plodding off to see Avengers: Age of Ultron, or Mission Impossible 6, to also have a quick glance at the other films on offer, and make a pledge here and now to check at least one of them out each month. You will soon find that sequels and reboots aren’t the only things released, they just make the most noise.

Not Quite Fantastic (but definitely not terrible)

So, the first trailer for Josh Trank’s reboot of Fantastic Four has arrived, and before I go further let me first express my admiration for the secrecy around this film.  There’s been very little in the way of shots and teases from the set, which means that this first trailer is actually the first real taste we get of the film (in addition there wasn’t a tease trailer for the tease trailer, which is quite refreshing these days).  Here’s the trailer for you to enjoy…

As quite a big fan of the comics, having been my first foray into Marvel tales when I was 8 years old, and still being a regular joy of mine to read, you could argue that I am a bit of a fanboy.  So, when others who dismiss the trailer as rubbish (some quite seemingly without actually watching it) decide to say that fans like me will all hate it, I wonder where they get that idea from.  My first impression was quite positive.  My second viewing was even better as I took time to absorb the small details such as the joyous wonder on Reed’s face as he enters the military science lab.  If I have one gripe so far it is that there is no sense of fun in this first trailer.  Some people have decided that this means the whole film will be dark and depressing, but that’s not the case.  Josh Trank has commented in interviews that things such as the family dynamic of the team is what he loves about the characters, and if we look at his breakthrough film, Chronicle, that was somewhat dark but did have great lighter moments.

On the subject of Chronicle (great film by the way), remember last year when a quote from someone was taken out of context and suddenly all the so called experts on comic book movies were reporting that FF would be a ‘found footage’ movie?  Now, I always say that too many sites churn out this nonsense for click-bait, and out of fear of being the last to report something.  Personally I prefer to await confirmation before breaking ‘news’ to the world.  Hence I don’t race to post 14 articles per day (heck, 14 per quarter would be a lot for me), and why I ignore most sites that spout random nonsense (hey, Latino Review, how did Ben Affleck being dropped from playing Batman turn out for you after your exclusive reveal last year?)  As the trailer shows, found footage it certainly isn’t. Still, haters are going to hate, and some folk will stretch for any excuse to dump on the film.  I’ve seen people moaning that the title being Fant4stic has ruined it.  Yeah, because Marvel would never do that themselves, would they?  image Others still harp on about the changes to characters (Johnny is black) or story, and like to say Marvel would do it better.  What? Change the characters and story better?  Or do you casually forget them plethora of liberties Marvel themselves have taken with their characters when putting them on film?  Don’t believe me?  Go check out the comic book origins of all the Guardians of the Galaxy, for example, then get back to me for your next homework assignment.  This is why Marvel have a ‘multiverse’ to explain different versions of their characters.  Heck, the FF have travelled and visited versions of themselves that include a black Reed, zombies, or an all female team.  Not forgetting a little comic called Ultimate Fantastic Four which had a young team working in a military science lab…kind of like…oh, yeah.

So, stop stubbornly wanting to hate the film just because you want it to revert back to Marvel.  Heck, I’d love for the characters to mix it up with the Avengers too, but why should that stop me from looking forward to seeing a representation of my favourite super family on the big screen?  After all, Fox seem to be getting the X Men films right (at last), so why not let them play with other Marvel characters a bit more?

Why I Love Awards Season

I love this time of year. Not for the backslapping and self-congratulatory aspects (although I do admit to being one of those people who stays awake on Oscar night to watch the awards through the early hours of the morning). No, I love this time of year as the film product that gets released tend to be the ones that impress me the most. So far this year I’ve had the pleasure of watching films such as Whiplash, Birdman, Foxcatcher, and The Theory of Everything (which reminds me, i really need to sort out the reviews of those films), and I still have American Sniper, Inherent Vice, and The Gambler to look forward to. Not forgetting the more ‘blockbuster’ approach films such as Big Hero 6 (being in the UK means I’ve had to wait a while for this one), Kingsman (being in the UK means I get to see it before the US…swings and roundabouts), and Jupiter Ascending (hey, look, I dig the Wachowskis okay?).

Yup, the starting three months is usally where I see the films that resonate most with me. That’s not to dismiss the films that come out later through the year. Heck, if you look at my look back on 2014 you will see films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, Edge of Tomorrow, and Paddington mentioned in a positive manner, and they were summer to winter releases. But it is typical that my one pick for ‘top film of the year’ (or more accurately, the ‘must see’ film of the year) each year is from January to March. Past years have seen films such as Shame, Grand Budapest Hotel, and Zero Dark Thirty be my top pick for the years, each released (in the UK at least), in the first quarter.

Last year I also set myself the objective to view all the films up for the main Oscars (Film, Director, Actor, Actress) before the event, and also as many of the films in other categories as I could. I managed to fulfil that task, and will be doing the same again this year. It’s nice to set personal challenges from time to time (on the run-up to Skyfall I watched all of the Bond films, even Octopussy! That’s dedication!)

Now, if I could just get around to reviewing the films I see…

The Man In The High Castle – Pilot Episode

The Man in the High Castle is a TV adaptation of the novel by Philip K Dick. The setting is a world in which the Axis Powers of Japan, Italy, and Nazi Germany won the Second World War. Set in the now fractured North America, which is split into the Japanese controlled Pacific States on the west coast, the Germany controlled United States to the east, and the mid-America zones known as the Rocky Mountain States, which act as a safe zone between the two. Germany and Japan are now in a cold war status, and with Adolf Hitler’s health deteriorating, the worry is that whomever takes his place will work to eliminate the Japanese threat by way of atomic strikes. In this alternate world a resistance movement still works to fight back against the Nazi and Japanese oppression, and a banned work of fiction known as The Grasshopper Lies Heavy serves to inspire them. This piece of film is a collection of newsreels that show a world where things were different, and the war was won by the Allies. The author of the film is the Man in the High Castle of the title.

highcastleThe sad thing is that at this point in time only one episode of this show exists. You see it is part of the pilots season, which Amazon kindly open up for public viewing to gain feedback on whether to go to full series. This means that I have just watched the best hour of TV of the past year, and may never get to see how it plays out in future episodes.

As someone who loved Philip K Dick stories, I have experienced my share of good and bad adaptations. Thankfully this is a solid adaptation, even though it takes a few liberties with the source material. In the book, for example, the Nazi technology expands past the supersonic planes they have developed to also include colonies on the Moon, Mars and Venus. Those colonies are not mentioned, which helps ground the show for an audience who may not be familiar with Dick’s style. In addition, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a novel within the novel, not a film. Turning it into a selection of newsreels actually serves to add a further mysterious layer – is it, as one character believes, real footage, and if so has it come from an alternate timeline?

timesnaziThe show looks amazing. Everything from costume design to visual effect shots of the world is showcased in meticulous detail. From small touches such as propaganda posters on walls, to the extravagance of Times Square, every element of detail makes this alternate world seem so real. Coupled with a strong cast of characters (albeit trimmed down a little from the book), and some chilling moments, the episode flies by far too fast, and the knowledge that it might not get picked up for a series run leaves you worried by the end.  Heck it even has one of the best opening title credit sequences of all time.

Don’t let the fact that this is the only episode so far put you off though. Head over to Amazon and watch it for free, then give them feedback. If it gets as much feedback as the current reviews suggest, we should see a whole season later this year. But to do so, it needs an audience. So, just like the resistance spreading hope via a newsreel, watch this episode and spread word of it to all.

2014 – A Year in Film

Around this time of year it seems every writer, blogger, or vlogger (I’m still not convinced that’s a real word) insists on their rundown of the ’10 Best Films of the Year’ lists. Each year I am totally bewildered by how anyone can narrow down the diverse wealth of film based entertainment over the year into just ten ‘top film’. Seriously, I have trouble getting it down to 30 films, and that’s when I’ve only seen 31 films (I always have at least one stinker). So, each year, rather than compiling a top list, I tend to choose to just discuss the films that kind of meant something to me, for good or bad. This year, I’m going to categorise the films into groupings similar to some kind of award (hey, it is the start of the Award season, so what a great segue).

All that said, even though I can’t do a list, I can state one outright winner of the top slot…

2014_02_27_JM_GrandBudapestBest Film of 2014 – The Grand Budapest Hotel

I’ve got a lot of love for Wes Anderson’s films. His quirky style in films packed with witty lines of dialogue, and framed beautifully like art-pieces, resonate soundly with me. From Rushmore to Moonrise Kingdom, every film he has made has been a work of cinematic art. This, his latest film, makes the others pale in comparison. With shifting aspect ratios to denote the time period of each element of back story, a frantically paced plot, and a stand-out comic turn by Ralph Fiennes, the film is an utter joy to watch and I urge everyone to seek it out on DVD or Bluray.
Her came a very close second here, and is another film I urge people to check out. A social satire reflecting our obsession with technology and how we relate more to computers than to fellow humans, the film is also the best love story on film in recent decades. Seriously, check it out.

Nightcrawler, starring Jake Gyllenhaal is a close third too, with a dark look at the underbelly of news reporting through the eyes of a sociopath who wants to make something of himself.

GOTG-posterBest Blockbuster of the Year – Guardians of the Galaxy

The huge blockbuster film is the staple of the industry. Ever since Spielberg thrilled audiences with a rubber shark, the summertime (and, indeed, the wintertime these days) blockbuster is the bread and butter of the film world, and the film are aimed to excite, thrill, and amuse in equal measure. Whilst Edge of Tomorrow was a close second here, Guardian’s simply blew everyone away. I’ve loved the characters for years through the comics, but had concerns that the general public wouldn’t accept a talking raccoon. Boy, was I pleased to be wrong, as it means another outing for the team is in scripting process now. The balance was right, and although you could argue that the basic story was exactly the same as Avengers (infinity stone, bad guy powers his weapon with it to lead an army to destroy a planet, group of adventurers who don’t get on forced to unite and save the day), who cares when it is delivered with so much gusto.

Winter Soldier bubbled just under in this category, taking the character that was generally considered the weakest of the Phase 1 film entries (The First Avenger) and delivering one of the finest spy capers in recent years.

Mrs_Brown_movie_posterNo Chance of Me Watching Award – Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie

I generally say you can’t criticise a film until you’ve seen it, and I will stick to that. But, saying that I do avoid films that I feel are destined to rile me up, especially if their source material was poor, or previous films in the series were poor. Hence Inbetweeners 2 also makes this category, but Mrs Brown is, in my opinion, the worst thing to happen to comedy since Adam Sandler.

Hercules (the one with Dwayne Johnson in it) is another one I will not watch, but this time it isn’t because I hate the source material. In fact the comic series “Hercules: The Thracian Wars” ranks high in my opinion. However, it is because I love the comic so much that I refuse to see the film, as the creator of the comic, Steve Moore, was poorly treated over the rights and asked for his name to be removed from all publicity for the film. However when Moore passed away in March, the film distributors added his name back to the posters and marketing for the film, which I find extremely distasteful to deny his personal wishes after he passed away.

downloadBiggest Disappointment of 2014 – Interstellar

Flame retardant suit on. Right, here I go. Interstellar was a mess. A film that thought it was clever, but failed to actually fulfil any promises it set out. The cast are okay, but the characters are so poorly written. The film falls apart the most on the story, especailly when the ‘reveal’ of who created the wormhole is thrown out, thus making the entire thing make no sense. No wonder there is a fan-theory out there that says that they all died and the last hour of the film is a death-dream. I had high hopes for this film having loved all of Nolan’s non-Batman films (and one and a half of his actually Batman films…Batman Begins was okay, Dark Knight brilliant, and Rises was a mess), and the pre-publicity around the film played the hype up even more. “Intelligent sci-fi,” “2001 for a modern age,” and other such exclamations were thrown out. Sadly, the result was an overblown film that could do with having around an hour edited out of it to make it better.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 made this list also, more because by the time the film came out we had already seen the stand-out moments and thus had nothing left to thrill us. Seriously, less is more when it comes to marketing Sony.

robocop_poster_p_2013The ‘Give it a chance’ Award – Robocop

It seems many people had already made their minds up on this film before it came out, purely because of the 12A rating. Those people quite obviously think that over the top blood and gore, and swearing are what makes films good, and not great acting, solid story, and dynamic action. I guess the Saw films are the pinnacle of film entertainment for those people, whilst comic book films of recent years all suck (after all, they are 12A). I, however, was optimistic going into Robocop, and enjoyed the film immensely. Whilst it isn’t as much an instant classic as the original was, it does take the concept and do its own thing with it enough to make it work as a film in its own right.

Another film in this category is Godzilla, which isn’t the rubbish film many would have you believe. “Godzilla isn’t in his own film enough!” people cry out. This, for me, is what makes it work. The slow build and tease, before final reveals. Heck, you could argue the aliens aren’t in Alien or Aliens enough, or that the cenobites are absent for all but around 5 minutes of Hellraiser. Does that make them bad films? No? Well, stop moaning and embrace a human story set in a world of monsters.

What_We_Do_in_the_Shadows_posterComedy of the Year 2014 – What We Do In The Shadows

Not many people will have got to see this gem as it had a very limited release, but I urge you to track it down on home release and see what the fuss is about. The film is a fake documentary about a house of vampires in the modern world, and from the offset is hilarious. Very similar in tone to films such as Spinal Tap, the film looks cheap, but has some skilful effects work to make it believable.

22 Jump Street almost made this spot, but narrowly missed out. The first Jump Street film had fun playing with the idea that reboots of old 80s ideas are generally bad, and this sequel takes the same stance on how sequels always seem tired and repetitive…and then proceeds to be anything but.

Films I Am Ashamed to Have Missed 2014

Despite how much people raved on about these films, I still didn’t get around to watching any of them. Yes, I know I should feel bad, but in each case the universal praise given to them meant that my expectations were thus too high and the film would never be able to match them. I’ll no doubt embrace them when they come to home release (again, Edge of Tomorrow was in this category also, and I loved that when I finally got to see it). So, feel free to throw eggs at me and bemoan how I missed out on such gems…

Gone Girl, Frank, Under The Skin, Calvary, The Zero Theorum, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Railway Man

7108_poster_iphone-9Pleasant Surprise of 2014 – Paddington

There are a few films that make this list, such as Lone Survivor (who would have thought Mark Wahlberg could be in a good film?), and Fury (again, but with Shia LaBouf), but Paddington was a film that when it was first announced I anticipated rot of a similar nature to other kid’s shows to film translations (Thomas The Tank Engine, or even this year’s Postman pat film are notable examples). So, when the trailer arrived and it looked quite amusingly charming, I decided to give it a go. The trailers, as good as they are, fail to give the film the credit it deserves, and the end result is a marvellous family film with plenty of wit for the adults to enjoy, and charming antics for everyone to embrace.

Another pleasant surprise was Horns, which saw Daniel Radcliffe really grow up in a darkly comic role as a guy who starts growing horns and discovers he has supernatural powers, which he uses to find out who really killed his girlfriend.

11177655_800Animated Movie of the Year 2014 – The Lego Movie

Without any Pixar film released, it gave the other studios a chance to shine, and shine they did. Mr Peabody and Sherman was an educational joy to watch, How To Train Your Dragon 2 thrilled and wowed, but it was this awesome film that stood out. Unlike various animated Lego shows, or the cut scenes in games, The Lego Movie was deliberately clunky in design. The characters had movement of Lego pieces, and the story made clear that these were just toys acting out a story from a child-like imagination, but boy did it work.

WallStreet2013posterSeriously, That Didn’t Feel Like Three Hours Award – Wolf of Wall Street

The running time of films seems to be getting longer and longer each year. Michael bay clearly doesn’t know how to edit his films when he delivers 2 hours and 45 minutes of clashing metal and calls it Transformers (if he edited out all the bits that don’t work on those films they would be, at the most, 3 minutes long), and sometimes it can be a chore to sit through a 2-hour-plus movie. The Raid 2 just about managed to keep me interested over the 150 minutes running time, mainly due to the sumptuous action set pieces. However, Wolf of Wall Street tipped the 3 hour mark, and as the credits ran I had to check my watch in disbelief that I had sat watching it for that long. In fact, it is safe to say I’d have been happy to watch another 3 hours of the film as it was engrossing, witty, well directed, and garnished with a foot-tappingly perfect soundtrack. Well, it was Scorcese, what else would he deliver?

Now, I could write all day about the rest of the films that impressed, or upset me, but I guess I have to draw the line somewhere. A few honourable mentions that are left out of the above lists are:-

Good films – X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dallas Buyer’s Club, 12 Years A Slave, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies

Bad Films – Muppets Most Wanted, Pompeii, Sex Tape, 300: Rise of an Empire, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Last Days on Mars

Just Plain Average Films – Bad Neighbours, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Expendables 3

So, that’s 2014 in summation. Looking at the release scehdule for 2015, it’s entirely likely that next year’s summation will be about as long as War and Peace (seriously, we are in for a packed year). What films stood out (for good or bad) for you this year?