Tag Archives: Colin Firth

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman: The Secret Service is not particularly intelligent, mature or able to fully escape the shadow of a certain other Matthew Vaughn film, but it is a hell of a lot of fun.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

kingsman 2Matthew Vaughn is now one of the best action directors working today.  That feels really weird and kinda wrong to type and say, but it’s honestly true by this point.  The guy who got his start producing Guy Ritchie crime films and directing Layer Cake is now one of the best action movie directors working today.  It all, however, becomes more than clear when one actually watches Kingsman: The Secret Service.  In stark contrast to the typical way of shooting action films, Vaughn doesn’t shake the camera around like a drunkard who is sobering up, he doesn’t keep it tightly zoomed in on the characters in a misguided attempt to make the viewer feel like they’re there, and he doesn’t rapidly cut between sixteen different shots to mask any violence in incomprehensibility.

Instead, Kingsman is fond of actually showing you stuff.  He prefers longer takes with slightly steadier cameras, although they do shake, that keep enough distance from the people that it’s filming without losing the impact of the various hits.  In addition, Vaughn is a man of style, flinging himself into the comic book world of Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ source material with gleeful abandon.  Choreography is wild and exaggerated – many unnecessary flips, highly impractical moves, and operating on rule of cool more than anything else – and he plays with speed to great effect.  There are instances of the obvious Zack Snyder super-slo-mo-then-speed-up-then-slow-down-again school of filmmaking, but most of the time things are more subtle, employing brief doses of hyper-speed to enhance the kineticism of the fight scenes as well as purposefully jarring usages of CG’d environments and stitched together shots.

This all ends up creating action scenes that feel very reminiscent of the Lucas Lee fight from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and the entirety of The World’s End, like Matthew Vaughn saw what Edgar Wright was doing and, instead of merely taking notes, lifted pretty much the whole aesthetic for himself.  It really, really works, though.  When Kingsman does get into its action scenes, they end up being a tonne of glorious fun.  Much like when he directed Kick-Ass, Vaughn displays a gleeful rather teenage enthusiasm for action sequences, prioritising fun and coolness over logic, reality and good taste.  In its standout sequence, Vaughn ends up crafting an utterly ridiculous brawl that starts off feeling like slightly uncomfortable wish-fulfilment bad taste, but becomes so gloriously deranged – aided by a perfect music cue – and so impeccably staged and shot that I ended up revelling with the film in its excessive line-crossing mayhem.  It’s the kind of action scene that films don’t have the balls to make nowadays.

That’s what Kingsman has going for it.  Pure glorious debauched fun, where you can also actually make out what’s going on, which is an incredibly nice change of pace from humourless incomprehensible dreck like Taken 3, The Equalizer and their ilk.  I mean, it’s not the only thing going for it, but it is the main thing going for it and the thing that powers it through most of its problems.  Vaughn’s direction is always pacey and stylish, the performances are all excellent – in particular, relative newcomer Taron Egerton really nails lead character Eggsy’s innate goodness without losing sight of the fact that he’s a mischievous young adult, whilst Colin Firth legitimately (and surprisingly) impresses as a halfway convincing action movie star – and there are many legitimate belly-laughs to be found within.

This all being said, Kingsman does have many problems.  For one, at two hours and change, it is too long and that sustained energy eventually starts feeling a bit tiring at many points where the film isn’t going full-tilt.  For two, whilst I do give the film points for a female lead character, in the shape of competing Kingsman candidate Roxy (Sophie Cookson), I do take those points back for the film not really giving her much to do, despite making a big deal out of her existence.  This is actually a problem with the film overall, lots of time is spent on certain characters and plotlines – the main ones involving chav Eggsy beings groomed by Colin Firth’s Harry Hart to become the latest Kingsman, a member of an elite and highly secretive spy organisation, whilst tech billionaire Richmond Valentine (a lisping Samuel L. Jackson) puts into play an evil plan that threatens the world – and that split can, at times, leave the film feeling unfocussed and underdeveloped in parts.

More of an issue than those, though, is the simple fact that Kingsman is not Kick-Ass.  And I’m not just saying that because it’s the same people who made Kick-Ass the film (Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman) adapting work by the same people who made Kick-Ass the comic (Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons).  Kingsman has that same anarchic tone, that same gleeful desire to revel in immaturity, that same stylish nature, the same attempt at melding action and comedy, that same irritating self-conscious insistence on having characters refer to the type of movie the film is trying to be in-dialogue, that same shock death of [REDACTED] at the two-thirds mark…  I think you see what the problem is.

Kingsman ends up hitting a lot of Kick-Ass’ beats only without the surprise impact that Kick-Ass had back in 2010.  It’s also kinda just a lesser movie in general.  It’s nowhere near as funny, most of its cast isn’t as developed, its pace over the runtime isn’t as well managed, and I rarely found it as giddy and grin-inducingly brilliant as I found, and still find, Kick-Ass to be.  It feels less vital, less like a shot in my movie-going arm, and less brilliant than that film, basically.  When it’s going full-tilt, pushing itself well past the typical limits of immaturity and backing utterly ridiculous extended displays of violence in sync to “Pomp And Circumstance”, that lower-quality Xerox feeling rescinds completely and the film is a delight to watch.  When it slows down from that, though, my personal being was filled equally with enjoyment for what I was watching but also a desire to just watch Kick-Ass again.

That all being said, Kingsman: The Secret Service is still a delight and a far better film than its last minute delay and eventual January release date would have you believe.  In its lesser moments, it’s a less-great version of Kick-Ass.  In the moments when it’s on fire, and those do eventually come and my word are they glorious, it sets a high bar for the rest of 2015’s action films to clear.  Superbly directed, very well acted, and a great deal of fun, Kingsman is very much a delight that, although it never overcomes the shadow of Kick-Ass, is another excellent entry into the filmography of Matthew Vaughn: one of the best action movie directors working today.

Still feels weird saying that.

Kingsman: The Secret Service will be released in UK cinemas on January 29th, and in US cinemas on February 13th.

Callum Petch is as free as a bird now.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Failed Critics Podcast: The Return of the Fat White Duke

The Guest Dan StevensThat’s right ladies and gentlemen; just two weeks after saying some emotional goodbyes and handing over the keys to Failed Critics Towers, James has come crawling back begging to help out. Luckily for him, Steve’s holiday presented the ideal opportunity for a coup d’état and a triumphant return as guest host for one night only.

Luckily for you, Owen and Carole are on hand to keep the ego in check, and provide some much needed analysis of the week in film, including the launch of London Film Festival 2014. Elsewhere we review new releases Before I Go To Sleep and The Guest, and Triple Bill sees the team discuss Movie Recasting Decisions.

Next week we’ll be back to normal with Steve in charge and James banished to the forbidden zone until Christmas. Basically it means more puns and less French cinema.

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Before I Go To Sleep

There’s this film that exists in the real world that tells the story of someone who, each day, forgets everything that has happened to them. A form of amnesia that’s rife for basing a mystery-movie around. A twist here, a shock there, a revelation half way through that changes everything that’s gone before; it was an ambitious project that was both original and very entertaining.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

IMG_0124.CR2But enough about Memento. (See what I did there? They’re both about.. ah, never mind.) The lazy and obvious comparisons to Christopher Nolan’s award winning hit from 2000 (and currently the 40th most popular film of all time according to the IMDb ‘Top 250‘) pretty much end here.

Rowan Joffe’s movie, based on the S. J. Watson best seller of the same name, stars Nicole Kidman as the lonely amnesiac ‘Christine’ (as her doctor (Mark Strong) refers to her. Or ‘Chris’, as her husband Ben (Colin Firth) calls her. Or Chrissie, as her only friend calls her. Depends on which character you like most, I suppose?) Christine suffers from anterograde amnesia, which affects her short-term memory. Every night, Christine’s mind erases everything she’s learned that day. She will always wake up the following morning with absolutely no recollection of anything that has happened to her since she was involved in a traumatic event several years ago. She’s now forty years old and has no memory whatsoever of meeting Ben, never mind marrying him. With the aid of a daily morning routine consisting of her spouse explaining her condition, reading post-it notes with her name on stuck to photographs in the bathroom and answering the phone to a doctor claiming to be treating her without Ben’s knowledge, she slowly begins to unravel the mysteries of her past. Both recent and distant.

A common pitfall for psychological dramas is often the over-reliance on putting all of its eggs into a shock-twist basket, delivered approximately two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through, that suddenly changes how you see everything that’s gone before it. A frequently used example of how to do this successfully would be the Darth Vader reveal in Star Wars. Not only is it timed to perfection, but it changes character dynamics and their motivations, greatly impacts the story and comes as a massive surprise (ignoring the fact that it’s pretty well known these days). Just take a look at YouTube for some of the reactions kids have had to that scene. That is how a good twist should make you feel.

There are some notable down sides, though. Focussing too much on a twist can also detract from the overall quality of a film. If the build up is too weak or obvious, meaning you see it coming from a mile away, then it loses the shock value thus leaving the viewer quite rightly thinking “so what?”. If the twist turns things around too far, it becomes ridiculous, unbelievable and nonsensical, in turn removing that vital suspension of disbelief. Tease the twist too much and the audience will start to suspect that what’s happening on screen is little more than filler and thus get bored of waiting for the inevitable. There’s a very fragile balance to be maintained that few great psychological thrillers manage to tread.

However, what if the entire film was a series of twists? What if all that the main character knew about herself – about the situation she’s in, her back story, about who the other people in her life are etc – what if that was the same as what you (the viewer) knew? That is to say, virtually nothing. From learning about her family, to receiving a phone call from Dr Nash informing her that she’s sneaking around behind her husband’s back to receive treatment; these are all revelations for the main character, as well as for the audience. You learn as she learns with each progressing day with only the benefit that you can remember this information, rather than requiring a video diary every 5 minutes.

Of course, in a film like this, some of these revelations hold a much greater significance than others. Unfortunately, Before I Go To Sleep does have issues in maintaining interest in each new piece of information that it bombards you with. Some of which are (as you would expect) red herrings and others do not seem to hold any importance to what’s going on at all. Whereas some of the seemingly more relevant disclosures are definitely worth waiting for. They mix things up, creating new angles to the relationship between doctor/patient, or husband/wife. Details of which were apparently spoiled the other day live on the BBC Breakfast during an interview with Nicole Kidman. Obviously I’m not going to tell you what was revealed! That would be completely unfair of me. Wouldn’t it, BBC?

How many viewers do you reckon watch that show gets? A million? Two million? I bloody hate spoilers.

I digress. There’s very little fat to trim from this short 90 minute movie, but there are elements that are very repetitious. By its very nature, they are issues that there’s no getting around. Spanning approximately two weeks of Christine’s life, there will be days where she has to repeat certain actions. The majority of these are tucked away very cleverly in overlay narration, but occasionally it gets irksome. It’s also too uneventful for a thriller, with most of the major events in the plot occurring through conversation or exposition. In addition, it’s too light-weight for a serious drama. The dialogue in particular leaves a lot to be desired. Nicole Kidman is a good actress. If she’s scared, we’re going to know she’s scared from the way she’s behaving. Was it really necessary to make her exclaim “I’m scared” so often? Superfluous dialogue like that has no justification and patronises those who are watching the movie.

Whilst I’m on the topic of Nicole Kidman, she plays Christine in a very plausible way. It is easy to believe she is genuinely suffering from this illness and is an emotional wreck because of Kidman’s ability to convincingly portray that high level and range of emotion. She doesn’t overdo (nor underplay) her role. Essentially, she makes the most of a rather wishy-washy script. There’s dashes of humour throughout the film, but they’re few and far between and quite possibly the weakest aspect of her performance. Colin Firth and Mark Strong are pretty much the only other two main characters who are given any worthwhile screen time, save for a late appearance from Anne-Marie Duff. They are, on the whole, decent. Firth, playing the tired and manipulative husband, hides some dark truths from Kidman that gradually begin to seep out as her relationship develops with the uncharacteristically non-menacing Mark Strong. We’re not talking The King’s Speech or A Single Man heights for him, but of the two main support characters, he probably has the most complex role to play and does it to a good enough standard. Firth and Kidman have a similar level of on screen chemistry to that which they achieved together in The Railway Man earlier this year, but it’s nothing special.

The saving grace for this welterweight whodunnit is the fact that, for at least 60 to 75 minutes, it will keep you guessing. You forgive any moments of boredom or sillyness (and there’s plenty here that is utterly ridiculous, by the way) because there’s always a “what happens next” waiting for you around the corner to peak your interest. It establishes its premise quickly and without any wasted time, barely leaving pause for thought about just how absurd the plot is. But as shaky foundation after shaky foundation is built upon, it does wobble towards the end like a Weeble without totally falling down. It’s a fine one time watch that won’t pull up any trees. But, a bit like rain on your wedding day or a free ride when you’ve already paid, you’ll probably have forgotten most of it by the time you get up for work the next day.

Before I Go To Sleep is out in cinemas nationwide right now. You can find Owen ranting and raving about whatever film he’s seen lately over on Twitter.

Yes, I like Love Actually. Do you want to take this outside?

A couple of months back my twitter timeline exploded with people dismayed to find themselves watching Love Actually. From what I could tell, they weren’t being held against their will. They couldn’t bear to switch it off, but needed to justify their actions with derision.

For a start, they’re doing it wrong. Everyone knows the official date to watch Love Actually is 20th November – exactly five weeks before Christmas, and the day on which the film commences. While watching a movie that’s so laughably bad you have to provide a running commentary of its failures is fun, if you honestly hate the fact that you’re doing so, I’m willing to bet there are a couple of other films out there you haven’t seen yet, and could watch instead. Besides, where’s your festive spirit?!

Richard Curtis continues his expedition into the world of romantic comedy in this all star Christmas extravaganza. Before the opening song titles (a nod to Four Weddings and a Funeral, his first foray into the genre) are over we’ve met Bill Nighy the aging rockstar; Liam Neeson the widow; Emma Thompson the harassed mum, and Keira Knightley the sickeningly beautiful bride. This is exactly how the world looks inside Curtis’s head: a bunch of attractive middle class people who say ‘fuck’ a lot, and Hugh Grant as Prime Minister

The plot is full of holes. I won’t list them all; watch it and pick your favourite. Mine is the fact that they schedule a concert, starring children from a number of different primary schools (even St Basil’s) on Christmas Eve. That would never happen! Which leads directly onto the whole airport debacle. But I’m not going to mention that, as I generally disregard the entire kid storyline on the grounds that it’s a bit shit. Nonetheless, it’s worth it. It’s worth it for Colin Firth‘s swagger when he walks out of the room post jumping in the lake segment. For the thought of Colin Firth learning Spanish for you. For his adorably slow typing. Colin Firth, Colin Firth, Colin Firth.

I love the Wisconsin storyline. And that was surprising starring, as it does, the dude from My Family, who I was predisposed to hate on sight. But it’s just the right kind of silly, the geeky guy from Basildon getting to have all the sex with Betty Draper, Kim Bauer, and other screen hotties. Plus actor Kris Marshall landed the BT love advert series off the back of his stint at the Richard Curtis school of romance acting. We may have grown tired of Adam & Jane at the time, but they were vastly superior to a bunch of filthy students posturing about their Infinity package we have now.

And beautiful Laura Linney. Bringing a slice of realism to proceedings, offsetting the Mr Bean nonsense entirely. In standard chick flicks, you either get your desired outcome or your comeuppance. You never see a good guy get a non happy ending. This is real life in action. Well, real life if your boss was a pervy Alan Rickman hell bent on getting you laid, if you lived in a gorgeous mews house in central London, and if you had the stoic dignity of Laura Linney. She is never once shown cry-sniffing until she chokes a bit on her own snot backwash, which I admit  is a teensy bit far fetched.

I could (and will, on request) write a whole other post on why the Ant & Dec cameo makes me proud, how I strive to parent like Emma Thompson, or why the end credit footage makes me want to move into Terminal 5.

Dear Love Actually. Ignore the haters. For now let me say, without hope or agenda. Just because it’s Christmas (And at Christmas you tell the truth). To me, you are perfect. And my wasted heart will love you until you look like this. [Insert picture of generic rom com flop, set in June and not starring Laura Linney]

Read the 12 Days of Christmas Films so far, or watch Love Actually when it’s next on TV. (Probably sometime in April.)