Sunday, 25 January 2015

Kingman: The Secret Service

Kingsman is a welcome return for Matthew Vaughn whose last film X-Men First Class came out in 2011. The film is adapted from the comic he co created with Mark Millar and once again screenwriting duties are shared between Vaughn and Jane Goldman. It would be easy to look at the creative team and say that Kingsman is to spy films what Kick-Ass was to superhero films yet I think that would be wrong as Kingsman is much better than Kick-Ass and it also has much more to say.

In the same way last year Wes Anderson made a film about the holocaust and the second world war without a single mention of the those events in the script Vaughn has made a film about the London riots without really focusing on them. Kingsman is an angry film behind everything there is a sense of anger about the state of Britain. Its angry that Britain is run by an elite born into their positions and those at the bottom are ignored not matter how smart they are.

The films central protagonist is “Eggsy” (Taron Egerton) Eggsy is down on his luck since the death of his father his family seems to have fallen apart he lives on a run down council estate his mother is married to a horrible stepfather and their flat is grimy and dirty. When Eggsy nicks and ruins the car of his stepfather mate it seems like a cry for help. After this he is released due to favour owed to his family and then things start to look up for Eggsy as he is taken in by veteran Kingsman agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth). Soon Eggsy is in the running for a place as a Kingsman agent and here the films reflections on class continue as Eggsy is up against people who come off like posh toffs there because of their parents money and no skill.

Kingsman is definitely Vaughn’s best film. The direction is spot on the fight sequences have this fast paced energy to them everything has this chaotic sensibility that grips and excites you. There is a scene in a church during the film that is one of the best violent action scene of recent years. Yet its not just the action scenes that are well made everything in the film has this sense of quality to it, George Richmond’s cinematography stands out all of the colours are bold and sharp the camera style is fluid to move with what the film requires. For instance in the church fight scene there are lots of tracking shots edited together in this fast paced frantic manner but at other points it’s still and lets everything on frame sink in. For instance you can see this in the trailer when Harry shows Eggsy and elaborate inventive weapons cabinet. The performances are great as well Egerton perfectly encapsulates the character of Eggsy he plays him with warmth and proves that heroes can come form anywhere they don’t need to be a part of the elite. The real stars of the show however are Colin Firth and Samuel L Jackson. Firth completely embodies the gentleman spy yet also shows us a whole new side to him with his sense of comedic timing and a skilled use of swear words. Jackson plays the villain with such campness and flourish you totally get the sense that he is having fun with the part people think serious dramatic acting is hard but this is proper acting you completely by Jackson as the villain, his sense of character and fun lift the film from great to excellent.  

Kingsman is one of the best action films of recent years. It’s been four years waiting for Vaughn but it was worth it Kingsman is a big fun joyous film but justifies its style with a moral message going against the British elite.
5/5 Stars 

Saturday, 24 January 2015


Please note this review is slightly shorter than my usual ones might be as I’m trying to remain as spoiler free as possible. A longer spoiler filled analysis will be up in a few weeks once more people have seen it.

Ex_Machina is the directorial debut of writer Alex Garland, Garland started his career in fact as a novelist and then moved to screenwriting. It would be natural then when you hear that a film is the debut of a writer especially one by a former novelist you might be full of dread expecting it to be dialogue heavy ,lack visual substance and have very little cinematic flourish but Garland proves this idea wrong.

The film follows the story of Caleb (Domhnall Glesson) who in a manner similar to “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory” wins a competition to visit the private home of his boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac)(Note I can’t fully review this opening as for the first 2 mins the wrong sound track was playing so it was quite hard to tell what was going on, yet I’ve looked it up to check what was going on) once Caleb arrives at the facility he discovers that it is not fun and games and he is asked to take part in a Turing test with Ava (Alicia Vikander). I won’t say much more for fear of spoiling the plot. However from this point the film becomes and intense drama that questions the nature of humanity and what it means to live. The central cast give their all in terms of performing. Gleeson is  the character that we the audience are supposed to identify with the most and we learn to narrative as he goes through the events he manages to convince us of his confusion surrounding the events. Isaac throwaway the image of Llewyn Davis with a shaved head and a bushy beard. His character walks around in vest in order to display his large muscles and intimidate others but like in Llewyn Davis he makes a perfect jobs of playing a dick yet one who still fascinates you and the character is written is such a way that you are interested in who they are and why they act this way towards others. The third star of the piece is Vikander who shines a Ava she plays Ava with enough distance that it is clear that she is different and clearly not human but we still manage to develop and emotional connection with her.

Garland’s direction of the film is terrific as well. His version of the future is perfectly realized. Like the tv show Black Mirror the future is different enough to be interesting but it seems close enough to also scare. Garlands direction is very clean and he perfectly orchestrates this atmosphere of creepiness and tension. His writing of the film is to be praised as well as he covers ever twist and turn and he brings humour to each scene  in order to breathe extra life into the film.

Ex_Machina is an interesting film that looks at humanity through the eyes of something un human discovering what it means to be human . The story grips like a vice. Garland shows himself as more than just a writer and the cast perfectly embody their characters. A magnificent piece of work. 

4.5/5 stars

(Also of note if you’ve seen the film and enjoyed it do check out under the skin  one of the best films of last year that explores similar ideas)

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Whiplash Review

Whiplash is the ultimate story about ambition.  It follows Andrew (Miles Teller) as he tries to become the best jazz drummer of his generation while he’s caught in a destructive relationship with his tutor, Fletcher (JK Simmons).

One of the many reasons for the film’s brilliance is the way it handles its subtext.  Instead of having an outright message and banging its drum, the film raises questions through the story and we, as the audience are asked to bring our responses.  As Fletcher pushes Andrew to his limits, were asked to consider the ethics of the situation  - for instance, is Fletcher’s bullying acceptable as he is pushing Andrew towards the greatness Andrew himself desires?  We are left to ask if that makes the bullying acceptable.  It raises numerous other questions as well, but all of them ultimately focus on the values of art and aspiration.

The film is also raised by its two central performances.  JK Simmons is on fire as Fletcher. The character seems to be a vile human being, but Simmons brings more depth to the performance. In the first few scenes we see Fletcher on angry sweary form and for the first act this is our only impression of him until we the film catches him unawares in a corridor having a sweet moment of interaction with a young girl. However soon, Fletcher’s back with his band, they are under his control and he’s back on vile form.  We are left to question whether the interaction with the little girl was  nasty man trying to be nice in front of a child, whether he’s a nice man pretending to be nasty in order to push the very best out of his musicians – or whether any of this even matters: if you’re offending and bullying people does it matter what your purpose in doing it is?

Miles Teller shines and proves himself as one of the best young actors working today.  Ultimately the film is Andrew’s story of his aspirations to greatness. Yet it’s never a straight path with Andrew – at some points he confuses and we wonder why he persists with Fletcher’s bullying and all the rubbish life throws at him.  While we know he is trying to become one of the greats of jazz drumming, we still wonder if it is all worth it?

At some points Andrew’s path to greatness can be incredibly alienating.  In particular, in one scene, he coldly breaks up with his girlfriend in order to have more time to focus on his drumming. However in the film’s closing moments Teller throws everything at the screen.  The confusing character of before excels in this moment of greatness and defiance against Fletcher. One of Teller’s key strengths in the film is the incredible honesty he brings to the part of Andrew.  There are moments when Andrew isn’t in the right place to showcase his emotions for fear of showing weakness or seeming like  bad loser, but Teller’s little grimaces always let us in on his true feelings.

Yet the real start of the film is Damien Chazelle who proves himself to be an exciting young director to watch.  While it seems shocking that at the time of writing, Chazelle is 29 (his 30th birthday is tomorrow) it’s quite obvious when thinking about it as the film has such a youthful energy to it, edited so compactly that it roars along but still allows you to dwell on the characters and their actions.  Yet each scene is meticulous as well. It’s finely tuned, like a Swiss watch: every cut is clear and sharp. The sound fits perfectly with the visuals – at times you’re reminded of the works of Edgar Wright.

In conclusion, Whiplash proves itself as one of the standouts of this year’s awards season, with complex, fascinating characters brought to life by astounding performances – all allowed to flourish in a fast paced story that escalates in tension like the best drum solos. Whiplash is a case of cinematic perfection

Friday, 16 January 2015

Birdman Review

Much can be said of Birdman. Much can be critisized and much can be praised but one thing that has to be said is that the film is ambitious. Yet I actually think the film is slightly to ambitious for its own good instead of reaching to say something heart warming its reaching to be clever and smart and in the end the film feels quite cold.
The whole film is obsessed by this idea of realty and fiction merging. As we find within the powers of Birdman start to apply to Riggin Thompson, the narrative of the film starts to merge with life in the fact that Keaton like his character once played a superhero and his star has now fallen. In an attempt to merge reality with film Iñárritu directs the whole film in one long take. Again this is to be applauded and further enhances his idea of the line between reality and fiction merging but it leaves him with the inability to edit or cut which means to whole film feels like a slight stretch it feels a bit long in some points. If the film wasn’t so obsessed by showing us how smart it was then it might actually be more enjoyable. Ironically it gets caught in its own pretentions of grandeur those same pretentions it seems to be reflecting on.
There are high points to the film as well and its these moments you wish it had more of, there are many funny bits about Hollywood jokes about actors, jokes about the media and jokes about the rich folk who can still afford to go to the theatre on a regular basis. The actors are all on point Keaton convinces us he is this man caught up in the confusion around him. Norton is the high point though as his ultra method actor and its him who draws the most laughs out of the film.
Devin Faraci* put Birdman best when he said “it’s a movie where characters walk around declaring who they are, what they represent and what the movie is about” it’s the screenwriting that in this way lets Birdman down you get the feeling its four screenwriters at in a room together feeling very pleased with themselves for being so smart. This sentiment is representative of what’s wrong with Birdman the film is too pleased with its self, too smart aiming to be some sort of transcendent piece of work it jumps for this fall over with a bad bruise on its face. The film should have been happier being a smart funny film mocking actors and the arts rather than a smug film trying to be to clever for any fun to he had.

3/5 stars 
*You can read his full review here

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

SPY Trailer

I’ll start out by saying that I don’t  find many of the “comedies” released today that funny. It’s the heavy use of improve that ruins them they loose any cinematic feel and the improve isn’t even that funny it strikes you that the cast and crew all found the stuff funny on the day but after it feels like flat warm coke. If you want examples of great comedy directors working today I’d point you to Edgar Wright and Phil Lord & Chris Miller. But another director who I think is great and who’s certainly one of the best directors to emerge out of the Apatow comedy scene is Paul Feig I think Bridesmaids is hilarious and I cant work out why The Heat didn’t get more love anyway for this reason Spy is one of my most anticipated films of the year.

I’m very happy to report I love this trailer. The opening and the way it revels in it’s clichés then rapidly undercuts them is hilarious, Jason Statham’s british spy looks like good fun as well. Yet one thing Feig is great at is letting the female stars shine. Yet the real star seems the be McCarthy as the central lead she seems to be throwing away her standard character whilst remaining funny. Anyway without further ado here’s the trailer.

(Warning the trailer does feature a few naughty words- but their quite funny ones) 

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Into The Woods Review

Into The Woods is a prime example of a fun time at the cinema, the film knows exactly what it is and what it needs to do, the film doesn’t require you to think to much as its “Be careful what you wish for” message is stamped throughout and it always manages to entertain. What elevates the film from more standard film musical fair is the slightly darker nastier edge it has if the film wants you to do any thinking it’s all around this more adult subtexts. It’s in the few moment where “Into The Woods” engages with this sense of dark that the film becomes smarter as it plays on the classic idea of fairytales being used to express more upsetting ideas.

The strongest overall element of “Into The Woods” is it’s cast. They are likeable when they need to be likeable and they also know exactly what the film needs. They bring the exact level of fun for it. No one feels like they are taking themselves to seriously and no one feels like they’re waiting to pick up a cheque either. Meryl Streep for example really gives it her all playing the wicked with she cackles with her hunched over back whilst wearing a grey dirty looking wig and big false nails you get no feeling she’s embarrassed by the part. However the real standout member of the cast has to be Chris Pine as prince charming, he immerses himself in this slimy arrogant take on the typical prince charming he gets the stand out sequence of the film when he and Billy Magnussen (Rapunzel’s Prince) dance around atop a water fall, singing “Agongy” to their hearts content. It’s a hilarious sequence watching these two princes with no sense of self-confidence parading around singing about whose going through the worst pain.

One key piece to any musical however is the music itself. “Into The Woods” has good enjoyable songs they’re nice to here being sung as previously mentioned “Agony” is the best one, Anna Kendrick’s “On The Steps Of The Palace” is another highlight. Sadly I couldn’t name any of the other good songs without looking them up but rest assured the songs are very fun in the moment.

What lets the film down though is its direction. At times it still feels a little stage like there will be moments were one character will stand still while the others stand around them. There is one moment thought were the films gets around this though, its in the “On the Steps Of the Palace” scene. (You should find the scene to your right) I'll describe to scene anyway thought to give you an idea of why it works so well. Cinderella’s running down the steps the strings of the orchestra giving it a sense of urgency, soon she’s stuck though, this being a musical she decides to sing about it however the world around her freezes, this is inherently different to having actors stand still whilst on character sings, it’s a very cinematic moment as the world around her has frozen the flames of light as moving in slow motion whilst she moves quickly this gives us three different rates of motion within the scene which is something you cant do in theatre and it enhances the urgency Cinderella feels. Sadly the film is not always this smart and more often than not it can feel stilted. Often a lot of the main action happens off screen as well. For instance a giant is key to the conclusion of the story we never really see the giant though and only get snapshots through trees. Yet this is a film with a large budget we should a lest be shown some shots of the giants its incredibly uncinematic in that aspect.

Into The Woods is an incredibly enjoyable film in the moment your watching it. I’d happily watch it again and where it will probably find its audience is as it airs on TV over future Christmases. Outside of the cinema though it doesn’t really stick with you except for a few great scenes and the soundtrack is slightly too repetitive to download. Ultimately though the film is great fun.

3.5/5 Stars