Monthly Archives: February 2015

Review – Kingsman: The Secret Service (15) [2015]

Kingsman - title banner2

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

Writer:

Cast:

Music Composer:

Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman make an awesome screen-writing couple. Together, they wrote the hilarious Kick-Ass and the first-rate reboot of the X-Men franchise. Now, they are back in comical fashion with the secret service spoof, Kingsman: The Secret Service.

harry (Colin Firth) showing Eggsy (Taron Egerton) the secret way of entering the world of a Kingsman.

harry (Colin Firth) showing Eggsy (Taron Egerton) the secret way of entering the world of a Kingsman.

Kingsman is based on the comic-book by Mark Millar. It is about a young man from South London called Eggsy (Taron Egerton), who is descending into a life of violence, drink, drugs and crime when secret agent Harry (Colin Firth) pays him an unexpected visit. Harry offers him the chance, which Eggsy accepts, to train and become a secret agent/Kingsman to stop Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) from making the world anew with his new invention.

Kingsman is a stylish and entertaining film. At its core, the movie is a satire on the spy thriller genre and James Bond in particular (which, itself, was a satire on the world of espionage until Daniel Craig’s Bond hijacked the franchise). Yet, Kingsman has a (charming) stick-two-fingers-up attitude that most spy thrillers and James Bond films would never dare employ. This attitude has a strangely endearing quality and hints at why Vaughn turned down directing X-Men: Days of Future Past in favour of making Kingsman. This attitude not only makes the film worthwhile-viewing, it reminds audiences of why they loved Kick-Ass so much back in 2010.

Roxy (Sophie Cookson), the obligatory babe, trying her luck to become a Kings(wo)man.

Roxy (Sophie Cookson), the obligatory babe, trying her luck to become a Kings(wo)man.

It also helps that Kingsman is ludicrously funny. Vaughn and Goldman have an impeccable understanding of the most essential ingredient for comedy: timing. As a result, the numerous jokes, touché lines, exaggerated action sequences, and amusing special effects all work throughout the film’s 129-minute running time. Indeed, one is likely to be so amused by the ridiculousness of the movie that one is unlikely to care that the plot is cliché and overblown, or that the actors take themselves as disingenuously as their counterparts did in Knight and Day, Mission: Impossible IV and This Means War.

Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) looking laughably ridiculous as the utterly camp villain, wanting to start the world anew.

Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) looking laughably ridiculous as the utterly camp villain, wanting to start the world anew.

No-one epitomises the preposterous nature of the storyline and the acting as much as Samuel L Jackson (SLJ), as the camp, 1980s-dressed, lisp-impaired villain of the film (named Valentine to cap it all). When one is used to watching SLJ as the stern and authoritative Coach Carter and Nick Fury, one has to blink repeatedly (and with disbelief) to remember that Valentine is the same man. But credit to SLJ: he performs insincerely admirably as Valentine without disgracing himself. The same can be said for Colin Firth, Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton and Sophie Cookson, even if their roles are far less humiliating than SLJ’s.

Over-all, Kingsman: The Secret Service is an enjoyable film, provided it is taken with a handful of salt. The movie is absurd and over-the-top in all departments. But it is a very funny and entertaining spoof on James Bond and the spy genre in general. Thus, like with Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class before, Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman have scored again with Kingsman, and long may they keep scoring.

PG’s Tips

Advertisements

Review – Birdman (15) [2015]

Birdman - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu – 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful, The Revenant

Cast:

  • Michael Keaton – Batman, Jackie Brown, Need For Speed, Spotlight
  • Noami Watts – The Ring, 21 Grams, Eastern Promises, Diana, While We’re Young
  • Andrea Riseborough – W.E., Shadow Dancer, Oblivion, Nocturnal Animals
  • Zach Galifianakis – Into The Wild, The Hangover I-III, Due Date, Tulip Forever
  • Emma Stone – Easy AFriends With Benefits, The Help, The Amazing Spiderman I-II, La La Land
  • Edward Norton – American History X, Fight Club, The Illusionist, Sausage Party
  • Amy Ryan – Gone Baby Gone, The Wire, Escape Plan, Goosebumps
  • Lindsay Duncan – Under The Tuscan Sun, Rome, About Time, Alice In Wonderland I & II

Music Composer:

  • Antonio Sanchez

Movie trailers are designed to give viewers a feel for the film and whet one’s appetite for the film. The trailers for Gone Girl and Whiplash were mouth-watering and suggested that those movies were of the highest quality and had to be watched. In contrast, Birdman’s trailer makes the film look unappetising, strange and worth skipping. But the film has been awarded with multiple Oscar nominations. So, is Birdman better than its trailer suggests? Is it deserving of its Oscar nominations?

Zach Galifianakis (Jake) reassuring Riggan (Michael Keaton) and Leslie (Naomi Watts) that the production is going well when it's not.

Zach Galifianakis (Jake) reassuring Riggan (Michael Keaton) and Lesley (Naomi Watts) that the production is going well when it’s not.

Birdman is about Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), a former super-hero actor, whose career has been going downhill for two decades. Now, Riggan is trying to rejuvenate his career by writing, directing and acting in a Broadway adaptation of John Carver’s short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. The problem is that the show is a shambles, which puts untold pressure on Riggan, who is also battling his own, inner demons.

Birdman is an original film and something different. It may not entertain viewers for its entire 119-minute running time and vast swathes of the movie may seem purposeless. Additionally, some of the storylines go nowhere and the final scene is incongruent with the rest of the movie.

Nevertheless, Birdman is a unique film. Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu deserves his Oscar nomination for best director due to his exceptional editing and choreography. He has made Birdman appear as if the whole movie has been filmed in one, super-long shot without any cuts. That is simply an amazing feat, especially as so much happens in each scene and the camera never keeps still. (Although, for viewers the editing feels strangely like being under water for too long. Before long, one is gagging for Iñarritu to make a cut so viewers can take a breath and relax in the knowledge that a scene has ended.)

Yet, Birdman has not been Oscar nominated solely for its directing. It has also been nominated in the cinematography, best actor in a leading role (Michael Keaton), best actor in a supporting role (Edward Norton), best actress in a supporting role (Emma Stone), and best original screenplay categories.

Riggan reading criticism of the production and ignoring the attentions of his sort of girlfriend, Laura (Andrea Riseborough), much to her angst.

Riggan reading criticism of the production and ignoring the attentions of his sort of girlfriend, Laura (Andrea Riseborough), much to her angst.

The cinematography is simple and apt. The movie is set predominantly in the (grotty) behind-the-scenes areas of the Broadway Theatre. It all looks plausible and builds on the shambolic atmosphere of the theatre production because it adds layers of insecurity and stress onto the characters; not least Michael Keaton’s Riggan.

Keaton is outstanding as the volatile, selfish and unstable Riggan. He fully deserves his Oscar nomination. Nonetheless, is Keaton not essentially playing himself in Birdman, the same way Matt Le Blanc did in Friends and Mickey Rourke did in The Wrestler? Riggan last played the fictional superhero Birdman in 1992 and has done little else of note since. How convenient that 1992 is the same year Keaton last played Batman in Batman Returns and has done little else of note since. No, it is not convenient. Yet, because one knows Keaton’s predicament going into Birdman, one genuinely pities Riggan’s situation and hopes that he (like Keaton) does something extraordinary to revitalise his (/their) floundering career(s).

But Keaton is not the only actor who seems to be playing himself in Birdman to acclaim. Edward Norton plays an arsehole with an inflated ego, and behaves in a manner that is difficult to work with. Funny that: Norton has a reputation for being arrogant and a difficult actor to work with. All the same, Norton is great in Birdman. He justifies his Oscar nomination and reminds viewers of his talents that have been lying dormant since his last Oscar nomination back in 1999 for American History X. That Norton plays himself is beside the point.

Not all of the cast, though, play themselves in Birdman. Emma Stone doesn’t. Stone seems like a balanced person in real life. But, in Sam, Stone plays Riggan’s messed up, unstable daughter in terrific and passionate fashion. The scene (part of which can be seen in the trailer) where she vents her frustrations at Riggan earns her her Oscar nomination as audiences feel her pain, the pain she inflicts on Riggan, as well as the guilt she feels afterward for what she says. That is quite an achievement. It also helps that her character is multifaceted and Stone demonstrates this throughout the movie.

Sam (Emma Stone) exploding at her father, Riggan, for being a useless dad. But is this true?

Sam (Emma Stone) exploding at her father, Riggan, for being a useless dad. But is this true?

Alas, the other two main female characters, played by Andrea Riseborough and Naomi Watts, are not as properly fleshed out. It is a shame as both actresses are talented. Moreover, they are not assisted by their storylines being as messy as their changing rooms, which is strange considering how well Birdman is written and choreographed. Yet, if this is Birdman’s major glitch (after the ending), it should be somewhat overlooked. The film deserves its Oscar nomination for best original screenplay as its script is, in the main, highly impressive.

All-in-all, Birdman is a quirky film. It is not the most enamouring of movies and some of the plots go unfulfilled. However, Iñarritu’s style of editing is distinctive and innovative. This, in addition to the exceptional cinematography, acting and script illustrate that Birdman’s trailer is, to some extent, misleadingly unappetising and that the film is worthy of its Oscar nominations.

PG’s Tips

Review – Ex Machina (15) [2015]

Ex Machina - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Alex Garland

Writer:

  • Alex Garland – 28 days Later…, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go, Halo

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Geoff Barrow
  • Ben Salisbury

For decades, mankind has had a continuing urge to create and enhance artificial intelligence (AI). This has been reflected and taken to all kinds of extremes and dangers in science fiction films, such as the Terminator franchise, A.I., i,RobotHer and Transcendence. Ex Machina, Alex Garland’s directorial debut, smartly deals with the issue of AI again and the possible consequences of it.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) finding out at work, to his delight, that he has won the competition to be part of a break-through experiment.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) finding out at work, to his delight, that he has won the competition to be part of a break-through experiment.

Ex Machina is about a programmer called Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), who wins a competition at work to go to a remote facility to be part of an experiment. Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the man behind the experiment, wants Caleb to find out if his human-looking robot, Ava (Alicia Vikander), can pass the Turing Test. But neither the experiment nor Nathan is what they seem.

Ex Machina is an interesting and stylish movie. Alex Garland successfully contrasts the beautiful and open nature of a remote location, with the claustrophobic feel of being based there. This creates a natural tension that never truly leaves viewers. It might be allayed for parts of the film, but at the slightest change in circumstance, this tension (re-)tightens one’s muscles, reminding viewers of how terrifying remote locations can be.

In addition to this natural terror, Garland, who has written a superb script, tackles some thought-provoking (and disquieting) topics concerning AI, to augment one’s terrors. Some of the topics have already been done with varying levels of success in Transcendence and Her which dealt with the (disturbing) issues of consciousness within AI and having a relationship with AI, respectively. But Ex Machina arguably takes these issues to higher (and more alarming) levels by blurring the lines between people and machines; notably, by giving AI robots sexual desires and the capability to act on and enjoy them.

Nathan (Oscar Isaac, unrecognisable with a beard) talking with Caleb about the purpose of the experiment.

Nathan (Oscar Isaac, unrecognisable with a beard) talking with Caleb about the purpose of the experiment.

Ostensibly, the issue of sexual desire within an AI robot may seem far-fetched and ludicrous. But watch the documentary series Through The Wormhole, plus appreciate the intelligent ways that modern technology can respond to requests, and it might dawn on audiences that what we see in Ex Machina is not so far-fetched or ridiculous and that the lines between people and machines is genuinely being distorted. Bearing all this in mind, Ex Machina enables audiences to believe in this distortion because of Alicia Vikander’s astonishing performance as the AI robot, Ava. Ava’s (arousing) physique and general movements are robot-like. But her facial features and her observational and intellectual sharpness are so human-like that one almost forgets they’re watching an AI robot.

Yes, it helps that Ava/Vikander is an attractive woman and that the special effects on her are outstanding. Equally, though, it helps that Caleb and Nathan, played well by Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac, respectively, buy into Ava’s supposed realness and respond to her (human?) personality in differing but very human ways. Indeed, their responses say something about their personalities. Yet, while audiences learn about Caleb’s background and why he is the way he is, the same cannot be said for Nathan. This is unfortunate as there is undoubtedly more to Nathan than he lets on; his brooding face, alone, tells us that.

Caleb having one of his sessions with Ava (Alicia Vikander), to determine if Ava has human-like consciousness.

Caleb having one of his sessions with Ava (Alicia Vikander), to determine if Ava has human-like consciousness.

However, the lack of information given about Nathan is not the only element of Ex Machina’s plot that weakens it. The film is slow-paced; so much so, that for much of the movie one may wonder where the film is going. Moreover, the ending leaves itself open to scrutiny, not to mention out of kilter and jarring to the rest of the film. Nevertheless, one should not stress too much on the movie’s faults because so much of it is impressive.

Over-all, Ex Machina is an intriguing, weird, and noteworthy film. The movie is slow and the ending is questionable, but all the same Alex Garland has made a striking piece of work in his directorial debut. He deals perceptively and philosophically with important issues regarding AI. These are extremely pertinent considering mankind’s disconcerting hunger to further enhance AI. For heaven knows that these issues will not be isolated to the realms of science fiction films for much longer as it is likely that the world’s first Ava will be created in the not-too-distant future.

PG’s Tips