Kingsman: The Secret Service

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DIR: Matthew Vaughn • WRI: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn • PRO: Adam Bohling, David Reid, Matthew Vaughn • DOP: George Richmond • ED: Conrad Buff IV, Eddie Hamilton, Jon Harris • MUS: Henry Jackman, Matthew Margeson • DES: Paul Kirby • CAST: Colin Firth, Michael Caine, Taron Egerton

When I say I always look forward to a Matthew Vaughn project there’s no implication of Zeitgeist filmmaking intended. As filmmakers go he’s more Dumas than Joyce; not looking to redefine paradigms of perception so much as spruce up classic frameworks with his own brand of polish, much like I’ve just done with metaphors for glossy, mainstream filmmaking with this sentence.

The same is arguably true of Mark Millar, Vaughn’s friend, second-time collaborator (previously having worked together on the terrific Kick-Ass) and all round under-arse fire-starter of the comic book community in the last few years. And like previous wielders of such titles in their respective fields (see Quentin Tarantino and Garth Ennis, respectively) both are accomplished post-modern story-tellers of essence, inverting genre and structure as they go and showing us old stalwarts from angles we’d thought unattainable and thereby shedding new light, and above all irreverent fun, upon fictional standards such as the super-hero movie or in the case of Kingsman – The Secret Service, the Roger Moore-era Bond movie.

It takes roughly 30 seconds to realise we’re in Vaughn-ville this time around, with blocks of credits crunchily exploding at the screen as we fast track towards a crumbling building in some middle-Eastern war-zone or other. Everything from the colour scheme to the symmetry of each frame sing hymns to the comic book on which it is partly based (the film and the book having been developed alongside one another) and to comic books in general, as have each Vaughn film preceding this one. The story emerges from the corpse of a man who sacrifices his life for Colin Firth’s Harry, who takes it upon himself to do justice to the dead man in question by one day shepherding his then-infant son into a top-secret spy school for a trial-run in joining the titular Kingsman organisation. Following? Good. The son in question, Eggsy, is magnetically portrayed by squeaky fresh newbie, Taron Egerton, for whom I can see a dazzling career ahead. Vaughn and newcomers, eh?

This film works on so many different levels to the comic it is pleasantly surprising. With each sneaky nod to the unoriginality of the structure (stand up, Henry Jackman, for a score so Bond it just about escapes a lawsuit) there are moments so outrageous that the fact that Vaughn was denied the chance to direct Casino Royale is entirely unsurprising. In fact, there are such gloriously violent moments littered throughout that, were it not for George Richmond’s glossy cinematography, it could quite frankly qualify for late-eighties, Hong Kong cop-fair. Indeed, what will here be known as “the church scene”, is an unashamed love letter to the best work of John Woo, and a worthy tribute to the maestro at that. Critics of this wing of modern cinema largely attack it as a “style over substance” approach to filmmaking and yet every whim of this aesthetic approach would retort that style is substance.

This approach is not without its gaping flaws. Michael Caine lets an otherwise cracking cast down by phoning in a performance that would have done better in the hands of a less iconic star, with Caine’s sheer presence sucking energy from the screen in his apparent non-delivery of simple dialogue. Samuel L. Jackson plays antagonist software giant Valentine with a lisp throughout that can only be described as poorly misjudged, a gimmick that should have been perfected or dismissed in rehearsals and I’d have gone for the latter. There is also a climatic “fireworks” sequence (potential spoilers prevent an adequate description) that made me laugh heartily but might have done better to keep to the tone of the rest of the film but a smidgen, in terms of the claret spatters.

If any of the more negative footnotes to this review might put you off seeing this, dismiss them immediately. If you see the film and you hold them against it prepare yourself for an existential crisis every time you board a roller coaster for it is after all merely the pointless tossing around of a bag-full of guts. I assure you, the rest of us will be having a blast.

Donnchadh Tiernan

16 (See IFCO for details)
128 minutes
Kingsman: The Secret Service
is released 29th January 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service – Official Website

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Magic in The Moonlight

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DIR/WRI: Woody Allen • PRO: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Edward Walson DOP: Darius Khondji • ED: Alisa Lepselter  • DES: Anne Seibel  • CAST:  Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Marcia Gay Harden

Woody Allen continues a routine which he’s more or less kept up for over 40 years, which is to write and direct a movie every year. This amazingly prolific output comes with some downsides however, mainly that the movies can be hit and miss. Last year’s Blue Jasmine was certainly a hit, owing a lot to Cate Blanchett’s Oscar winning performance. Unfortunately, this year’s effort Magic in The Moonlight must go down as a miss.

The storyline of the film, set in 1928, revolves around an American family who summer in the south of France, and who have become extremely taken with a young spirit guide named Sophie, who claims to be able to read peoples futures and contact the dead. Some close relatives of the family are convinced the girl is a con artist, and hire a well-known magician to catch her out. Unable to do so, the astounded magician recruits his world famous colleague Stanley Crawford, to find her out. Crawford, as well as being a world class magician is also a debunker of mystics. He is an extremely cranky and pessimistic man, but warms to Sophie despite himself, and starts to realise that maybe  there is more to life than meets the eye.

Colin Firth is the latest delivery system for Woody’s pessimistic worldview, playing the lead role of Stanley Crawford who refuses to indulge in anything only the cruel harsh realities of life. It seems like a role that Allen would have played himself if he were younger, but Firth does his best with the material. Emma Stone is perfectly likeable and cute opposite Firth, although due to an uncharacteristically poor script, neither of the characters are drawn out well enough for us to care about them, or to believe in their romance.

Allen has made many soirees into Europe in the last 15 years, with some noticeable successes, including Midnight in Paris, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and Match Point. This film will not join the ranks of the aforementioned films, but remains a watchable, and mildly amusing film, and will tick a lot of boxes for fans of Allen’s neurotic brand of romantic comedy. It just feels to me like something we’ve seen many times before.

Michael Rice

PG (See IFCO for details)

97 minutes

Magic in The Moonlight is released 19th September 2014

Magic in The Moonlight – Official Website

 

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Before I Go To Sleep

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DIR: Rowan Joffe • WRI: Thomas McCarthy • PRO: Mark Gill, Avi Lerner, Liza Marshall, Matthew O’Toole, Ridley Scott • DOP: Ben Davis   ED:  Melanie Oliver • DES: Kave Quinn MUS: Ed Shearmur • Cast: Nicole Kidman, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Anne-Marie Duff

Rowan Joffes adaptation of S.J. Watson’s bestseller Before I Go To Sleep uses the same premise as Mememto and Fifty First Dates, one a thriller the other a romantic comedy.  I love how pliable a premise can be.

 

Christine (Kidman) wakes up every day with no idea who she is, her memory robbed because of a car accident ten years earlier; according to her husband Ben (Firth), a ‘stranger’ she has been living with for a long time. Imagine how worn out he has been explaining her predicament every day for all this time, even if he was lying he’d start to believe it himself. Kidman accepts this scenario, until Dr Nash (Strong) enters the picture, a psychologist who has a different story to tell. So somebody is telling porkies. Christine doesn’t know who to trust and has to learn the truth whilst struggling with her memory problem; a bit like Guy Pearce in Memento, only instead of a succession of tattoos to help aid her detective mission she relies on Post-it notes and video recordings.

 

Essentially a three hander, with Kidman worrying who is the villain of the two male leads, Before I Go To Sleep builds some interesting tension and keeps you guessing, but when all the cards are finally played, it breaks under the weight of its own expectations.  lso, its familiarity is distracting. Apart from the films mentioned already, it also riffs off Hitchcock’s Notorious. And why not?  But despite some solid work from those involved on screen, and Joffe as director, the script does not hold onto you because of the very nature of those comparisons – or perhaps I just watch too many films. Strong gets the terrible task of being Mr Exposition once too often and Kidman seems to be going through the A,B,Cs that she used as far back as Dead Calm, don’t get me wrong, she is a fine actor. Firth (for some reason of my own, not one of my favourite actors) does a version of Firth.

 

Joffe holds the reins adequately enough, but his clunky script replete with plot holes and similarities to other films may make it too distracting and derivative for audiences to buy into its ideas, or as I said, maybe I just watch too many movies.

Paul Farren

15A (See IFCO for details)

91 minutes

Before I Go To Sleep is released 5th September

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Cinema Review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

 

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DIR: Tomas Alfredson • WRI: Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan • PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Robyn Slovo • DOP: Hoyte Van Hoytema • ED: Dino Jonsäter • DES: Dino Jonsäter • CAST: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Ciarán Hinds

Featuring an exhausting list of top-class British actors that would make a Harry Potter film feel inadequate in comparison, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a stylish espionage thriller in the classic Cold War vein. Based on the novel by John Le Carré, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy eschews the action and gadgetry of the post-Casino Royale/Mission: Impossible generation of spy movies in favour of pacing, tension and intrigue; and will find an excited audience amongst those who long for the days of The Manchurian Candidate and Klute.

The unbeatable Gary Oldman plays the iconic, grim-faced spymaster George Smiley, recently forced into retirement from the ‘Circus’, the epicentre of British intelligence. But when evidence arises that his ailing and increasingly paranoid former boss, Control (John Hurt), may have been right about a Soviet mole infiltrating the highest offices of the Circus, Smiley is called in to smoke the mole out.

The suspects, codenamed ‘Tinker’, ‘Tailor’, ‘Soldier’ and ‘Poor Man’ after an old English nursery rhyme, are the arrogant but arguably incompetent new Circus boss Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), ladies’ man Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), gruff but cunning Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds) and prissy, watchful Toby Esterhase (David Dencik). Smiley, aided by young spies Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy, must uncover which of his former colleagues is leaking vital intelligence to the mysterious Russian operative known only as Karla, without any of the cabal finding out.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy will come under scrutiny as it has been shot before; as a BBC miniseries starring Alec Guinness as Smiley back in 1979. Over six-hours long, that series allowed the tension and intrigue to slowly build and boil over. Here, the pace moves slowly but ceaselessly, giving the audience very little time to take in the huge amount of information flowing between agents and interrogators.

However, shot by the visionary Tomas Alfredson, who redefined the arthouse horror film with the exemplary Let the Right One In, this film adaptation has a visual flair that utterly eclipses the sterile look of the miniseries. Alfredson and his team filter the colour of the ’70s through an oppressive grey, capturing the rotten heart of the espionage world in an otherwise vibrant era. Two missions, to Budapest and Istanbul, provide the film’s most visually inspired moments, as well as its greatest thrills.

As Smiley, Oldman gives one of his greatest performances, easily rivaling that of Guinness, making the character a more formidable adversary while still showing his weaknesses, particularly in the area of his troubled private life. Still soaring from his Oscar® win, Firth has enough to play with here and gets a number of the film’s best lines. The rest of the cast are largely strong, though Toby Jones feels strangely miscast, and fans of Hollywood upstart Tom Hardy will be disappointed he has little opportunity to show off his skills. The real revelation here is Mark Strong as bitter, double-crossed field agent Jim Prideaux – the undeniably typecast actor here shines as a character of tragic and unexpected depth.

An expertly made thriller, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy feels undermined slightly by its rushed pace – one can’t help but feel that somewhere near the midpoint between this feature and the ’70s miniseries is the perfect spy tale. Fans of the book will likely be disappointed at some of the greater detail and character development that has been excised, not to mention one hugely memorable (and oft-quoted) line of dialogue that is nowhere to be found here.

Intriguing and intense, this will not please all, but it is a memorable, finely acted and wonderfully stylised spy drama from an emerging master of cinema.

David Neary

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is released on 16th September 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy– Official Website

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Dorian Gray

Dorian Gray

DIR: Oliver Parker • WRI: Toby Finlay • PRO: Barnaby Thompson • DOP: Roger Pratt • ED: Guy Bensley • DES: John Beard • CAST: Ben Barnes, Colin Firth, Ben Chaplin, Rebecca Hall

Yet another adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic tale of supernatural narcissism, Dorian Gray tells the story of an extraordinarily handsome young man who inherits his grandfather’s valuable estate and finds freedom in a decadent society that craves to exploit his innocence. Upon arriving in London he soon becomes the subject of a portrait by artist Basil Hallward (Ben Chaplin) and makes the acquaintance of the witty Lord Henry (Colin Firth), who consistently and eloquently encourages Dorian to pursue a life of thoughtless indifference and reckless pleasure. After the success of the portrait, Dorian weds a young actress – yet quickly betrays her, with consequences most dire, which he has somehow learned to disregard. Indeed, any possible repercussions for his increasingly heinous deeds are not felt by our leading man – as he develops a lust for attention, pathologically exploiting the desires of those around him while inexplicably never losing his youthful looks. However, with every reckless act of debauchery committed, the portrait on the wall becomes ever-so-slightly more disfigured – until years later as Dorian retains his youthful looks it resembles a man so hideous as to mirror the depraved state of his soul… or something like that.

Director Oliver Parker drenches this piece in lavish yet heavy-handed Gothic atmosphere, indulging occasionally in electro-synth and blatant CGI that does not inspire confidence in his vision of the story – which is one that lacks any deliberate flourishes whatsoever. The initial promise of the first act descends into a series of absurd situations strewn together by truly shoddy editing, providing little incentive for audiences to care about this preening egomaniac. Ben Barnes is suitably vacuous in the leading role, playing the hedonistic pretty-boy without a hint of irony – as an exercise in calculated charisma he excels, but without any extra layer of genuine emotion the performance doesn’t hold much merit. Elsewhere Firth and Chaplin are well-cast and amusing in their roles but are left hanging by a weak screenplay. The supporting players also feature the dependable Fiona Shaw as Lord Henry’s jovial aunt while rising star Rebecca Hall is relegated to an afterthought of a love interest. Unfortunately, on the whole, this film does not deliver. Even as the somewhat trashy middle-brow version for contemporary teens it pertains to be, as it plods to a weak finale that barely makes an impact, partly due to the less than stellar production values, but mostly due to the failure of the screenplay to adequately raise the stakes. So, hardly worth catching on the gimmicky release date, but perhaps a camp guilty pleasure to catch on the box some Halloween.

Eoghan McQuinn
(See biog here)

Rated 16 (See IFCO website for details)
Dorian Gray is released on 11th September 2009

Dorian Gray – Official Website

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Win Michael Winterbottom's 'Genova' on DVD

A supernatural thriller with echoes of Don’t Look Now, Michael Winterbottom’s Genova is ‘intelligent filmmaking with superb central performances.’ (Rotten Tomatoes). Starring Colin Firth and Catherine Keener, the film follows a man and his two young daughters as they move to Italy in an attempt to start a new life and put a family tragedy behind them.

For the chance to win this work by the award-winning director of A Mighty Heart, 24 Hour Party People and 9 Songs, answer this simple question: Michael Winterbottom won the 2006 Best Director Silver Bear for which drama/documentary?

Email your answers to competitions@filmbase.ie.
The closing date for entries is Friday 24th July, 5pm.

Keep an eye out for further Film Ireland Competitions!

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