Darke Reviews – Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

Every now and again you find a movie that surprises you. One where the trailers failed to grab you, but some early word of mouth got your attention. You weren’t expecting much of it and still were not quite sure of the tone as the film house lights came down and the movie logos began to roll. Suffice to say this year has been a weak year for film thus far, which isn’t terribly surprising when you look at releases through March with the stock of films that are shelved for long periods or the studios have no real faith in. If a Cloverfield comes along and destroys the box office so be it, but more often than not you get an Avatar or Frozen running until something new edges them out like a Lego Movie or  Alice in Wonderland. Kingsman is in the litany of the delayed having originally been scheduled for an October 2014 release. Though the not yet reviewed Seventh Son has it beaten for shelf time by a full year.

Was the movie delayed for a good reason or did the studio make a mistake?

I can’t help but be reminded of another film of Samuel L Jackson’s from 2001 called Formula 51. It was not good, but I had the feeling this movie would remain the same in tone as Jackson was affecting an unusual lisp for…well reasons. It’s odd for me to start with the actors on a review, but Jackson is just so bloody odd in this and honestly a bit distracting from the rest of the film. There were times I wished to yell that he was the weakest link. I’d try to blame the director or the script, but nearly everyone else was spot on. Colin Firth as the elder tailor and mentor was rather engaging; which leaves me finding it funny he was in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy. While I am not familiar with his body of work, having seeing only one of his 75 credits (Shakespeare in Love if you must know), I can see why people gave him accolades for The Kings Speech. The man has a natural subdued charisma that he makes look effortless. Through the film his character talks about being a gentleman and he truly seems to embody that. Michael Caine is serviceable in his role, and Mark Strong (also in T,T,S,S) is magnetic as usual happily taking a back seat to others in the film and letting his natural screen presence be overshadowed when appropriate. The only oddity with him is what sounds to me like a touch of a Scottish accent that isn’t quite natural for him.

The two worth mentioning as standouts are Taron Egerton, our protagonist. For a new comer he shows a certain consistency that many other first time actors lack as he makes his way through the film. Dashing Rogue or Charming Gentleman he is successful in both. For a first time actor to have as much attention on him as he does, he doesn’t break and makes almost every line work and every bit of appropriate emotion. Sofia Boutella also stands out as Samuel L Jackson’s characters partner. There’s an eager gleefulness to her as she works her way through people and the movie, that makes her engaging to watch through and through.

From a story perspective, it is straight from a comic book – literally. The comic written by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons is familiar territory when you put names to works; such as Kick Ass and Wanted. The movie absolutely resonates with the irreverence of both the previous works. It functions both as an homage to the genre of the spy thriller and a near parody at the same time; just as Kick Ass does for the Superhero story. That is to say the movie is as witty as it is ridiculous, but too entertaining at the same time. The movie doesn’t try to be more than what it is and it actually knows it. Where some works try to be self referential and ironic in that they are doing that – they fail. This one does not as it keeps the tongue firmly planted in the cheek the entire time. I think the source material was good, but this tone I’ve been talking about comes from frequent writing partners Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman. The pair previously gave us Stardust, Kick Ass, and X-men First Class which all are very well done films that succeed on a lot of levels as does this one continuing a good trend.

This isn’t to say they are flawless, with Vaughn at the helm again. There’s just something he misses but I can’t quite put my finger on it. The pacing is off just enough and I can’t be certain but I think he uses a 4 act structure rather than 3 which sets the story and style off from the norm. There are some pacing issues that could have been avoided if there had been a touch more deftness at the helm. Some of the fights are a confused mess through sharp cuts and unusual camera positions. When you can tell what the fight is, you move from first person shooter to near comic book level action sequences to moderate success in the overall film. What does work with the technicals though is that the movie knows it is ridiculous and gives the audience something special for it.

TL;DR

Kingsman is a good movie. It is an acerbic tongue in cheek take on the spy movies without being an outright parody. It is a fun little actioner that has humor and a sense of the absurd that needs to be praised. It goes for over the top without reaching too far, putting it in the just right category. I can honestly say I want to see it again and hope to laugh just as hard. I want to see more films remember how to be fun but still tell a good story. I think we have had enough as a movie going audience of dour, dark, and broody. They have their place, but movies like Kingsman are looking good and leave you feeling good.

The movie is not for everyone as it hits a bit of the ultraviolence at times, so if you want bloodless action give it a pass. It’s not gory, just not bloodless either. Someone remembered what squibs are.

If you were the least bit curious about this movie, go see it. Nom your popcorn and drink your beverage and just enjoy the ride. I know I did.

 

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Darke Reviews – Jupiter Ascending (2015)

So this is a few days late, the 9-5 takes precedence, but was it worth the wait? It’s rather hard for me to avoid reviews of others until I write my own. I’ve also found the people you see a movie with can determine how you feel about it coming out. Last movie saw with one friend, we sang along, laughed, and winced. This one I saw with a friend who is notorious for not enjoying the sci fi genre that much and another who has far less tolerance than I when it comes to what they will accept in a film. Would I have the feelings I have for this without having seen it with them? Honestly…I’ve been thinking about that all day while I try to figure out how to write this review. I suppose it is worth mentioning I went in with some fairly low expectations.

Let me go into why for a moment. The Wachowski siblings are hit and miss. They gave us the Matrix, and its sequels. They also gave us the screenplay for V for Vendetta. They also gave us Speed Racer. Speed Racer gets a lot of hate, it is mixed in that regard as I see it as someone giving us live action anime. It gave me the cartoon I saw as a kid and again as a high schooler as the entirety of the artists in my class became obsessed with Speed Racer. Their work however, when looked at as a body is high in style, with a lot of marks for intent and most of the marks come in low on the execution. The Matrix sequels are proof of that concept as the artistic intent seems to be there, but their inability to execute it resulted in audiences decrying the franchise as a whole. And that dear friends is where the problems of Jupiter Ascending begin to show.

The movie is both written and directed by Andy and Lana; and you can tell. They learned none of the lessons from Matrix 3 and the exposition brigade. Nearly every yawn inducing line from the movie is about political intrigues, families, or space jabber that most folks won’t bother to try to keep up with. I referenced this in a friends post, but the script for this film is like Dune and Battlefield Earth had a baby…..and this movie is the afterbirth. I promise you that the ten minutes spent on space bureaucracy that makes a trip to the MDV after a root canal look positively entertaining could have been better spent on making me give a damn. Aside from horrific monologues, droll political double talk, the movie also suffers from bad science. I can take most films in the sci fi genre presenting me rules so long as they follow them. You cannot tell me how important genetics are to these people and pretty much violate some of the core science of genetics. Look I am not a genetic engineer, much like anyone on the internet I am an armchair scientist with enough information to be dangerous to myself and others. I understand this and try not to talk about things I don’t know and I really wish the writers here had too.

From an acting perspective, I fault no actor here. I lay the blame solely on the directors. Mila Kunis does fine as Jupiter, the typical destined one who has no idea of her destiny until people start trying to kill her. Channing Tatum is wasted as Caine Wise (thats right up there with Cypher Rage in After Earth) a man sent to find and return Jupiter to her family. Comedy he does well. Action he does well. Brooding he does not. Please stop with the brooding. He does not do it well. Also….peroxide blonde – not a good look for him. He does ok with the material, but that’s largely because he does actually have some talent in there. Poor Eddie Redmayne has this released the weekend he gets a BAFTA for Theory of Everything. I know this boy can act…but what the heck was this? If you’ve noticed a trend of confusion in my commentary on the actors it’s because these are good people who do stellar work normally and have jack to work with and are clearly being given the oddest direction imaginable.

The technical flaws don’t end there, but really seem to only begin. The movie has no fundamental tone. It can’t seem to make up it’s mind as to who the central character is to be, what the central focus is to be, or what the outcome is until it happens. It spirals around its own ideas but never coalesces into a cohesive shape of it’s own. Every fight takes about two minutes too long. Every scene is just a bit too busy. Even the resolution to some of the fights is repeated to the point it is almost a joke. I wasn’t kidding about the ten minutes of bureaucracy by the way, that actually happened and was boring. When Harry Potter did it in the first film there was whimsy to it and a sense of amazement even amidst the banality. Here the banality is on display for one and all and is quite possibly infused with a dementor as it sucks the soul out of you.

The one thing the movie has is beautiful visuals. The ships, the space flight, the planets, the creature design, the prosthetics are all top notch. Sadly thats about all I can say.

TL;DR

Had I not seen it with two friends I might have taken a nap at times waiting for the movie to realize what it was or fulfill a promise that I think it wanted to make. I knew going in this would be a style over substance movie as many other Wachowski films are; yet what I couldn’t realize was its attempts at trying to be more would be so bloody awful and dull. It has moments of fun spliced with long runs of nonsense. Even turning off my brain for this one wouldn’t lend enjoyment as I would have likely dozed off.

If you are curious, please feel free to check it out, but stick to the matinee and 2D.

Otherwise, give this one a pass. It wanted to be good sci-fi and failed. It tried to be more than it was and was a train wreck of proportions I have not seen since Ghosts of Mars.

 

Theoretically later this week I will go see 7th Son, at least I know that will be bad. This one sadly gave me hope. Silly me.