Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman-The-Secret-Service-06

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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Interstellar

interstellar

DIR: Christopher Nolan   WRI: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan   PRO: Christopher Nolan, Lynda Obst, Emma Thomas • DOP: Hoyte Van Hoytema    ED: Lee Smith  DES: Nathan Crowley   MUS: Hans Zimmer  CAST: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn

Once considered the ‘saviour’ of the modern blockbuster genre, Christopher Nolan has in more recent years become a divisive figure. His most hardened acolytes will defend his every utterance while his equally tenacious detractors decry him as a no-talent hack that’s managed to fool everyone into thinking his movies are more than just well-shot, shallow distractions. The one-two knockout of The Dark Knight followed by Inception created a lot of goodwill that allowed The Dark Knight Rises to slip by with Nolan’s reputation intact; it wasn’t a bad movie and there were a lot of individually great bits in it, but no one really expects the third part in a trilogy to be good at this point.

Interstellar then is the first time Nolan’s really had to prove he can do this blockbuster shtick when removed from long-gestating pet projects and The Goddamn Batman. Well, let’s just say there’ll be plenty for both sides of the Nolan argument to get into heated debates about.

And the all-important question; when Nolan’s first post-Batman film heavily uses the term “Lazarus” after he negated to do so when everyone was asking for it, could it be that he truly does get a kick out of antagonising Bat-fans? (Kidding… mostly.)

Set an undisclosed amount of time in the future, Interstellar follows Cooper (McConaughey), a farmer and former engineer/pilot. With the human population devastated after a global food shortage, most people are now farmers. However, crop after crop continues to fail and the human race trudges slowly but inevitably towards extinction by hunger. After his daughter Murph (Foy) discovers some strange anomalies on their farm, Cooper is led to a secret government project headed up by an old friend of his, Brand (Caine), who might just have a dangerous solution to our species’ looming extinction. In case the title didn’t give it away, it involves space.

From a technical point of view there is, as ever with a Nolan movie, a lot to admire. The cinematography is consistently pleasant but largely little more than functional, save for some of the effects-heavy space sequences and the ice planet which really stand out as the visual highlights of the movie. The score is in a similar position. Zimmer has, like Nolan, become somewhat divisive over the years. In many ways the score here is a better version of what he was approximately aiming for with Man of Steel. It’s certainly nowhere near the awful dreck that was his work on The Amazing Spider-Man 2 but nor is it as memorable and inventive as Inception or the Batman scores. The main issue is that it feels terribly derivative. A large swathe of the main themes sound so much like Philip Glass that you have to wonder if he wasn’t their first choice. I’m happy to report there isn’t an Inception-Bwong in earshot but unfortunately it’s been replaced with a massive overuse of organ music that couldn’t be screaming “Didn’t 2001 make space sound majestic yet divine?!” if it tried. Some of the more intense action scenes, and the initial blast-off sequence, are extremely well scored and you’ll quickly remember why Zimmer is accompanied by the hype that he is, but far too much of the film just sounds so disappointingly familiar or at worst, clichéd.

As to those action scenes, they’re genuinely exciting and close to being unbearably intense. This is helped in no small part by the score and the general volume of the chaos that often surrounds them. There is a mild issue with everything being so loud that it can drown out the dialogue (especially in IMAX) but it remains worth it just for that feeling of armrest-gripping tension. Getting to these scenes is another matter. The initial movement of the film set on Earth is by no means boring, and contains some fascinating world-building, but it does start to drag on for just long enough that you begin to wonder when exactly you’ll be getting to space. In that sense the running time is both a blessing and a curse. You get to spend a substantial amount of time with these characters (and in space) through multiple eras and really get a well-rounded experience as far as their arcs go. (Although, Hathaway’s character still feels lacking, never feeling quite like a fully-rounded person.) This can’t stop the film from feeling overlong but it conversely still doesn’t feel as long as it actually is so that may be a moot point.

If there is a major issue with the film, it’s one that can’t be easily explained and certainly one that can’t be talked about without spoiling things. For months now, people have been talking about Interstellar in relation to the movie Contact. Now, while that comparison certainly has some basis, Interstellar largely avoids falling into the same depths of New-Age-y nonsense that drowned Contact in its final act. That’s not to say the ghost of Contact is entirely absent but it’s underplayed in a way that it wouldn’t have been if this film was in the hands of anyone other than Nolan. That said, the ending comes dangerously close to disappearing up its own ass (being pulled into its own black hole, if you will), especially when it seems like the unthinkable has happened and that Nolan is about to be overcome with sentiment by invoking the old “power of love” deus ex machina. Mercifully this doesn’t entirely come to pass but the resolution (and indeed the whole setup) does feel unmistakeably Doctor Who-esque in its hand-waving, contrivance-ridden miasma of soft-science and its borderline invocation of magic to justify it.          

This is still however a comfortably Nolan movie, thematically speaking. His usual go-to moral greyness and notion of ‘the truth only being worth anything in relation to how useful it can be’ are all prominently on show. Perhaps even to a degree previously unseen as there is a recurring motif of characters, usually jokingly, telling each other what percent truthful they’re being with one another. There is also a nice amount of humour, mainly from John Lithgow’s brief appearance and the strangely designed robots. Said design is quite clever as it completely bypasses the uncanny valley by not even trying to make them look like anything resembling humans. It’s a small but clever choice that more movies could learn from. Aside from that, all the old Nolan tropes are present and accounted for; a wrap-up montage with voice-over, clunky writing, main character who wants to act for the greater good but for compromisingly self-centred reasons, weird relationship with female characters and naturally someone speechifies groggily from a hospital bed. The only real surprise on that front is the sudden and slightly awkward appearance of sentimentality.

This review sounds more negative than it should but really, it is definitely a film worth seeing and worth seeing right, i.e. on the biggest, loudest platform available. It’s not Nolan’s best and it’s not his worst (in as much as he has a worst) but it is certainly less than the incredibly worthy, meaningful movie it seemed to be being billed as. The performances are all great (especially the actress playing the young Murph), it looks great and there’s a handful of brilliantly exciting and emotionally devastating scenes that justify seeing it all on their own. It’s not as deep as 2001, it’s not as inventive as Inception and it’s not as intense as Gravity but it’s still a damn good ride while you’re on it.

 Richard Drumm

12A (See IFCO for details)

169 minutes

Interstellar is released 7th November 2014
Interstellar – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Now You See Me

NOW YOU SEE ME

 

DIR: Louis Leterrier • WRI: Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt • PRO: Bobby Cohen, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci • DOP: Mitchell Amundsen, Larry Fong • ED: Robert Leighton, Vincent Tabaillon • DES: Peter Wenham • Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Mélanie Laurent

Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco play ‘The Four Horsemen’, a rag-tag group of illusionists, hypnotists and street magicians that are assembled by a mysterious entity to form a magician super-group. Think The Avengers, but with David Blaine and Paul Daniels. A year on, they attract the attention of jaded FBI agent, Mark Ruffalo, and lovely French detective, Mélanie Laurent, when they publicly rob a bank during a Las Vegas show. Completing this cast of charismatic actors are Michael Caine, as the Four Horseman’s financial backer, and Morgan Freeman, as a professional illusion debunker.

The entire cast put in strong, but altogether tried and tested, performances. Jesse Eisenberg is teetering on the edge of one-trick-pony territory with the portrayal of a smug and arrogant genius; Woody Harrelson is in his element as the washed-up, likeable asshole; Morgan Freeman does his best God impression; and it feels like, once again, we are watching Michael Caine play himself. It is not as though any of these performances are bad, it just feels like we’ve seen this all before.

The chemistry between Mark Ruffalo, as the cynical FBI agent, and Mélanie Laurent, as the open-minded Interpol agent, was evident. But they, like the rest, suffer from there being simply too many characters. The majority of them are fairly interesting but, in trying to flaunt them all, none are given enough screen time to really shine. Coupled with a script that is heavy on plot and exposition, with enough space for a witty quip or two, and the characters are left disappointingly flat.

Ultimately though, this film is the kind that succeeds or fails on its ability to excite and entertain. No stranger to the action genre, director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter, The Incredible Hulk, Clash of the Titans) delivers a high-octane film that looks and feels as slick as a slight of hand card trick. While lacking in substance and depth, at no point did I feel bored. A few plot holes and moments of implausibility can be forgiven in a well paced story that twists and turns. Action sequences look and sound great, there is even the obligatory car chase, and you may, ever so slightly, feel yourself edging forward in your seat during the elaborate sequences where the magician’s tricks are exposed.

Yes, ultimately the film is shallow, trivial and won’t win any awards for originality, but I found it thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless. Now You See Me is like your average street magic, it won’t really put you under a spell, but it will leave you with a smile on your face.

Glenn Caldecott

 

115 mins
12A (see IFCO website for details)
 Now You See Me is released on 3rd July 2013

Now You See Me – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MHDYZJWLXA

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Cinema Review: The Dark Knight Rises

10 bottles of talcum powder later

DIR: Christopher Nolan • WRI: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan • PRO: Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven • DOP: Wally Pfister • ED: Lee Smith • Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy

Without a doubt the most anticipated movie since George Lucas decided to tell the story of Anakin Skywalker, The Dark Knight Rises seems to have two sets of distinct fans leading up to its release; there are those who are ignoring any and all publicity and reviews of the movie before they’ve seen it themselves, and there are those who are gobbling up any and every nugget of new information they can get their eyes on. And to those looking for spoilers, the only big one you’ll get here is this – Is The Dark Knight Rises better than The Dark Knight? No. But not for lack of trying. The primary reason it finishes second in Nolan’s trilogy is due to a giant Joker-shaped hole. Ledger’s villain in The Dark Knight elevated the movie around it, whereas the big bad in Rises cannot match his magnetic appeal.

After eight years of self-imposed exile in his mansion, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is still feeling the fallout of the death of the love of his life, with only his butler Alfred (Michael Caine) for company. However, a run-in with cat-burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway, much better in the role than expected) puts a renewed hop in his step. Before long he’s back at Wayne HQ, checking out Lucius Fox’s (Morgan Freeman) latest bat-inspired inventions, and also checking out new love interest / Wayne board-member Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and rookie cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are following leads which walk them directly into the path of Bane (Tom Hardy, indecipherable about 20% of the time), who has some rather revolutionary plans for the future of Gotham. Pretty soon all of these story-strands hit a crossroads, and all hell breaks loose.

To say any more of the plot would spoil some of the surprises Nolan has in store, but he sure takes his time getting there. The movie clocks in at 164 minutes, and aside from the opening Bond-esque mid-air plane hijacking, the opening hour is fairly light on action. There are a lot of characters to get through, a lot of plot to fall into place, a whole lot of call backs to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight to reference. There is barely any room to breathe, the film is packed that tightly with events, and it can be very easy to get lost in the jumble of stories happening all at once.

But once Bane’s plan becomes clear, the movie shifts into high-gear. The final hour ramps up the tension with a ticking-clock element that should have most viewers right on the edge of their seats, and nobody dials the action sequences up to the epic levels quite like Nolan, and his scenes of destruction surpass anything in the series so far.

It’s very easy to lose the story of Batman in the midst of more interesting villains, and that certainly seemed the case with The Dark Knight, but Rises puts Wayne right back under the microscope, and Bale finds new depths of emotion with the character, making him more vulnerable and ultimately human than before. The massive cast are catered for extremely well for the final curtain call, with special shout outs to Caine’s Alfred for providing the emotional core for the trilogy, and a certain not-to-be-named-here someone who shows up for two scenes and almost steals the movie out from everyone.

If there is a big gripe (aside from plot-holes which could only be poked at properly following repeat viewings), it’s that Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman & Robin were ridiculed for being too light and frothy (as well as being, ye know, crap). But Nolan has gone too far the other way; The Dark Knight Rises is not a fun movie to watch. It is a heavy, fantastically cinematic emotional slog  to get through. Now, before the pitch-forks start getting sharpened, Nolan’s trilogy is still obviously a landmark in modern cinema and three of the greatest comic book movies ever made. But whoever takes up his mantle from here should remember that being a billionaire vigilante with bat-shaped cars and bikes and planes, along with hot women dressed in leather cat-suits dying to get into your bat-pants… there is SOME fun to be had there. Just a thought.

Rory Cashin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
164 mins

The Dark Knight Rises is released on 20th July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises – Official Website

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