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Review – Assassin’s Creed (12a) [2016]

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Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Justin Kurzel – The Snowtown Murders, Macbeth, Haven

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Jed Kurzel – The Snowtown MurdersThe BabadookSlow West, Alien: Covenant

Films based on video games have not been well received, historically. Super Mario Bros, House of the Dead and BloodRayne were atrocious; Street Fighter was rubbish, even if it had moments of unintentional hilarity; while Warcraft was bad, but tolerable mainly due to the visuals. This raises two questions: one, can video games be successfully adapted into movies? And, two, could Justin Kurzel, reuniting with his Macbeth co-stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, buck the trend of bad video game adaptations with Assassin’s Creed?

Rikkin (Jeremy Irons, left) telling Cal (Michael Fassbender) about the purpose of his institution.

Rikkin (Jeremy Irons, left) telling Cal (Michael Fassbender) about the purpose of his institution.

Assassin’s Creed is based on the video game franchise of the same name. The film goes back and forth between fifteenth-century Spain and the present day. Cal (Michael Fassbender) is a descendent of Aguilar de Nerha, an assassin in 1492. He is recruited by a scientist, called Sofia (Marion Cotillard), who needs him to go into a machine and become his ancestor. That way, they can discover what happened to the Apple of Eden. For the Apple was the source of sin in the world and, with it, Sofia and her father, Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), can rid the world of evil. The only problem is that the Knight’s Templars stand in their way…

Assassin’s Creed has a lot going for it. The CGI is very good. Justin Kurzel has done his homework with regards to what Spanish cities looked like in 1492, so the art and architecture are fantastic. Michael Fassbender puts in an admirable, physically-demanding performance that Jason Bourne would be proud of. And the film is full of fight scenes and action sequences that are well choreographed.

Yet, for all the above, Assassin’s Creed is boring and head-bangingly silly. The storyline makes no sense (not that it was ever meant to) and the movie has a superfluous amount of overly long (and amateurishly sped up) fight scenes. Indeed, the film has so much action, one wonders if the fleeting bits of (incoherent) dialogue are sprinkled in here and there to give viewers respite before the next action sequence begins.

Cal in the machine that connects him to his ancestor, Aguilar.

Cal in the machine that connects him to his ancestor, Aguilar.

Furthermore, the performances of Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons leave a lot to be desired and both deserve their Golden Raspberry nominations. Cotillard, at least, looks like she is trying (at times), only to be let down by the nonsensical script. Irons, on the other hand, is just going through the motions. His laziness is on a par with Liam Neeson in Battleship, which means Irons is in Assassin’s Creed solely to pick up the cheque and visit some historic locations while he’s at it. (Come on, Irons, you can do better than this. You have won an Oscar, voiced Scar with banal menace, and earned yourself a golden globe nomination for your portrayal of Pope Alexander VI as recently as 2012. Put in some effort for heaven’s sake.)

Nevertheless, as bad as Irons’ acting is, Jed Kurzel’s music is worse. God knows why, but he decided against using Assassin’s Creed’s awesome video game theme tune for the film. (Seriously, it is so awesome DB Weisz and David Benioff used it as background music for the second trailer for Game of Thrones, Season Five.) No, instead, Jed Kurzel has written an awful score that is so loud it cannot be heard and gives one a thumping headache. Plus, what was Jed Kurzel thinking when he decided to use loud, electric guitars to be at the heart of his score for the Medieval/Renaissance Spain scenes? It simply does not work!

Aguilar the Assassin fighting men of the Knight's Templar.

Aguilar the Assassin fighting men of the Knight’s Templar.

Over-all, Assassin’s Creed is a shambles of a film, but it is not an atrocity to cinema. Sure, it is dull; the script and the dialogue are incomprehensible; some of the acting reeks of a disinterest; and the music is horrible. But the movie also has several positive elements, such as the CGI, cinematography and Michael Fassbender’s acting. These give the film cre(e)dence and make it marginally watchable.

But does Assassin’s Creed buck the trend of bad video game adaptations? Not really. And if a video game adaptation with as much talent as Assassin’s Creed cannot turn the tide in the right direction, perhaps video games should remain on their consoles rather than be adapted for the big screen.

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Review – X-Men: Apocalypse (12a) [2016]

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Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • John Ottman – X-Men IIHouse of WaxFantastic 4 I-IIValkyrie, X-Men: Days of Future PastNon-Stop, 20,000 Leagues Under Sea

The Godfather Syndrome is a common problem for film trilogies. When the first film is a good and the second is better, the third film has a hard act to follow. So often, it cannot raise the bar to the required level and, consequently, the film is unsatisfactory. The Godfather trilogy is the most high profile to fall victim to this syndrome (hence the name), but the third film in the Alien franchise and in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy suffered from the syndrome as well. Sadly, so too does the third film in the X-Men prequel trilogy, Apocalypse.

Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) has awakened and keen to inflict punishment, using his incredible powers, upon the 'decadent, corrupt' world of the 1980s.

Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) has awakened and keen to inflict punishment, using his incredible powers, upon the ‘decadent, corrupt’ world of the 1980s.

X-Men: Apocalypse begins in Ancient Egypt with the creation of the most powerful mutant of all time (played by Oscar Isaac). This mutant is not given a name, but his enemies nickname him Apocalypse. No sooner is Apocalypse created when he is entombed and falls into a coma.

Fast forward to the 1980s and Apocalypse is awoken. He sees the world is full of decadence and corruption. So he decides that he must destroy it in order to make a new and better world. He recruits four (angry) mutants to his cause: Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn), in order to carry out his master plan. Only the X-Men can stop this plan from coming to fruition. But only if they unite.

Apocalypse’s plot is quite dull, unoriginal and unfaithful to what the X-Men prequel trilogy has been about. First Class and Days of Future Past were original and interesting because they were not about good vs evil. Rather, they were about the polar-opposite approaches of Charles Xavier/Professor X and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto to tackle the problems mutants faced in the world (mirroring the stances of Martin Luthar King and Malcolm X during the American Civil Rights movements of the 1960s). Neither Professor X’s nor Magneto’s approaches were completely right or completely wrong, which was what made First Class and Days of Future Past so fascinating and realistic (for the X-Men world that is). However, Apocalypse goes back on this theme and focusses more on stopping an all-powerful, under-developed and poorly written (and so obviously evil) villain. This is a real shame as director Bryan Singer should have done more to continue the theme of the previous two installments.

Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) using his machine to find mutants around the world... and being mentally invaded by Apocalypse.

Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) using his machine to find mutants around the world… and being mentally invaded by Apocalypse.

Yet, the near abandonment of the theme running through the first two movies of this trilogy is not the only major problem with Apocalypse’s plot. The storyline is bitty at best and incoherent at worst. As is so often the case in X-Men films, there are many characters with competing storylines. To condense so many storylines into a TV series is a struggle (just look at Game of Thrones). But to do it in a 144-minute film, and to develop the characters as well, is nigh on impossible. As a result, so much in Apocalypse is left under-explained or simply not explained at all: for example why Magneto begins the film in a metal-works factory in Poland (yes, just go with it)? Why, also, does Apocalypse need four assistants to help him execute his grand plan? (One would think these questions are profound enough to warrant answers. But, no, instead Singer spends the time explaining how Professor X went bald and how Storm’s hair turned blonde.)

It is safe to say that Apocalypse’s plot has enough holes to rival Swiss Cheese. However, to some extent one can ignore its many problems and enjoy watching some of our favourite mutants once more. Like in First Class and Days of Future Past, the acting and the dialogue is good. Again, both are a little bit down on the other two movies. But that may be due to viewers becoming accustomed to the high standard of acting set by James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence in particular.

No, the only real surprise in Apocalypse is how much screen time is given to the new members of the cast; notably, Sophie Turner as the young Jean Gray. Turner’s American accent vacillates across the Atlantic during the course of the film and she does not have the screen presence or the charisma (as yet) of the more senior members of the cast. But Turner does a good job with what she is given nevertheless.

The new mutants: young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, left), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee, centre) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan, right) in the thick of the action, trying to stop Apocalypse from carrying his plan to destroy the world.

The new mutants: young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, left), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee, centre) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan, right) in the thick of the action, trying to stop Apocalypse from carrying his plan to destroy the world.

And like with the acting and the dialogue, the action scenes and the special effects are good without being spectacular. Similarly though, audiences have seen what Apocalypse has to offer before (not only in previous X-Men films, but also in other sci-fi and comic-book movies). This, therefore, leaves viewers feeling underwhelmed and yearning for something more interesting to watch.

All-in-all, X-Men: Apocalypse is a disappointing film. The storyline is a muddle, undercooked and a betrayal from what made the previous two films in the trilogy so engaging. With a plot so problematic, it is no surprise that neither the quality of its cast nor the numerous (inconsequential) action sequences can save this third film from being a let-down. Thus, The Godfather Syndrome has struck again and means that the X-Men prequel trilogy has not got the conclusive third chapter that it richly deserved.

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Review – Deadpool (15) [2016]

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Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Tim Miller

Cast:

  • Ryan Reynolds – X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Proposal, Buried, Truth In Advertising
  • Karan Soni – Supremacy, Goosebumps, Other Space, Ghostbusters
  • Ed Skrein – The Sweeney, Game of Thrones, The Transporter Refueled, The Model
  • Stefan Kapicic
  • Brianna Hildebrand – Prism, First Girl I Loved
  • Gina Carano – Haywire, Fast & Furious 6, In The Blood, Scorched Earth
  • Morena Baccarin – The OC, Homeland, Gotham, Malevolent

Music Composer:

Ryan Reynolds has wanted to play Deadpool since 2005. In 2009’s (forgettable) X-Men Origins: Wolverine, he got his wish; although, it was an insignificant role and did such an injustice to the foul-mouthed, raunchy character that has lit up Marvel comics since 1991. Well, now, Reynolds has finally got his wish and has made a Deadpool standalone film. But is the movie any good? Does the movie do justice to the character?

Wade (Ryan Reynolds) with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). The two of them hit it off quickly.

Wade (Ryan Reynolds) with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). The two of them hit it off quickly.

Deadpool centres round Wade Wilson (Reynolds). Wade is a former US special forces operative who works as a mercenary in New York City. One day, he finds out that he has multiple and terminal cancer(s). Not wanting to die, Wade goes to a special, underground clinic that claims to be trying a new cure for cancer, which could potentially save him.

However, when Wade arrives at the dodgy clinic, he learns that Ajax (Ed Skrein), the one performing the experimental cure on him, is not trying to cure him at all. Rather, Ajax is attempting to create a mutant, super-slave and disfigures Wade. Wade escapes, but does not manage to kill Ajax before the latter gets away. Wade is out for revenge and puts on the red spandex for good measure.

Deadpool is an entertaining film. It is action-packed, rude and raunchy. Wade/Deadpool is also the antithesis of what a superhero should be. Spiderman, the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Captain America are modest, selfless and caring individuals, while Iron Man and Thor are egotistical maniacs yet altruistic characters at heart. Deadpool, on the other hand, is irredeemably arrogant and selfish, and Reynolds looks like he is revelling in it all. (And fair play to him too. If one generally waits a decade to play a role, one should enjoy every moment of it when it finally comes around.)

Wade about to undergo an experimental procedure, with Ajax (Ed Skrein) looking over him and telling him so much that he would not want to hear.

Wade about to undergo an experimental procedure, with Ajax (Ed Skrein) looking over him and telling him so much that he would not want to hear.

The film’s filthy dialogue reflects the character. Possibly the best element of the movie is the numerous, inappropriate jokes. Not only are they genuinely funny, they keep audiences entertained when the action is not taking place. Nevertheless, due to the way Tim Miller has put the film together, one is never more than ten minutes away from a shoot-out or an explosion. The movie starts on an over-the-top chase scene. It keeps cutting out/back in time during this chase scene to explain the background, with the (unneeded) aid of a voiceover from Wade, until the movie catches up with the chase scene. Then, the film continues with the action.

As one can imagine, this style of directing can become grating after a while; particularly as Wade/Deadpool is so unapologetically full of himself. Equally grating are the constant (and unsubtle) references to other comic-book films, such as The Wolverine and the X-Men franchise. (We get it, Deadpool, you were in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the studio did not want to pay for the entire X-Men cast. You don’t need to ram it down our throats every fifteen minutes.)

Furthermore, the plot is silly and the villain is clichéd. Indeed, the silliness of the plot and the clichéd nature of the stereotypical British villain (played with unrepentant glee by Ed Skrein) should have fans wondering if the creators of Deadpool could have been any lazier in their planning.

Wade in his Deadpool spandex, taking out those who are either after him or who disfigured him.

Wade in his Deadpool spandex, taking out those who are either after him or who disfigured him.

The women add nothing to the film too. They are either there to be the (hackneyed) damsel-in-distress or to kick some arse. These are comic-book tropes that have been done repeatedly since Sam Raimi’s Spiderman came out in 2002. All the same, if done well they make for entertaining viewing. And Deadpool is undoubtedly entertaining viewing.

Over-all, Deadpool is a fun film. It has action aplenty and enough genuinely funny jokes to render it better than most comedies. Of course the movie is silly, referential to other comic-book movies, filled with tropes from the genre, and annoying. Yet, that is all pars for the course with the character and the movie certainly does our rude, crude and foul-mouthed super anti-hero justice. Thus, Deadpool has exorcised the pale imitation that appeared in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and is the film that Ryan Reynolds and fans of the comics have been waiting for.

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Review – Spooks: The Greater Good (15) [2015]

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Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Bharat Nalluri – Killing Time, The Crow, Spooks, The Player

Cast:

  • Kit Harington – Pompeii, A Testament of Youth, Seventh Son, Game of Thrones
  • Peter Firth – The Hunt For Red October, Pearl Harbour, Spooks, Risen
  • Jennifer Ehle – The King’s Speech, The Ides of March, Contagion, Zero Dark Thirty, A Quiet Passion
  • Tuppence Middleton – Cleanskin, The Imitation Game, Jupiter Ascending, War And Peace
  • Elyes Gabel – Game of Thrones, World War Z, A Most Violent Year, Scorpion
  • Tim McInnerny – Spooks
  • Eleanor Matsuura – Alan Partridge, The Love Punch, Residue, Burn Burn Burn
  • Michael Wildman – Family Affairs, A Bunch of Amateurs, Act of Godfrey, London Has Fallen
  • Lara Pulver – Spooks, True Blood, Edge of Tomorrow, A Patch of Fog
  • David Harewood – The Ruby In The Smoke, Homeland, Grimsby

Music Composer:

  • Dominic Lewis – Free Birds, The DUFF, The Player

When one watches a TV series from the beginning, one usually becomes emotionally invested in the characters. Whether it is Jack Bauer from 24, Homer Simpson from The Simpsons, the inbetweeners from The Inbetweeners, or the leading police officers from 21 Jump Street, viewers usually acquire affection (or disdain) for the characters, and normally they carry their sentiments on into the film adaptation(s) or spin-off(s). But what if one has not watched the TV series that a film is based on? Can one still enjoy the film to the same extent as if one had watched the show? Spooks: The Greater Good may give us an answer.

Harry (Peter Firth) convincing Will Holloway (Kit Harington), an ex-agent, to trust him and to rejoin M:I-5.

Harry (Peter Firth) convincing Will Holloway (Kit Harington), an ex-agent, to trust him and to rejoin M:I-5.

Spooks is based on the British TV series with the same title that aired between 2002-11 (although it was also called M:I-5 in some circles). The film is a spy thriller. At the start of the movie, Adam Qasim (Elyes Gabel), a terrorist wanted by US authorities, is in the hands of M:I-5. He is on his way to being handed over to the CIA in London when the vehicles driving him are attacked in a heist. Threatened with the deaths of agents in the streets, M:I-5 orders the agents to hand over Qasim to the armed attackers.

Now free, Qasim plans a terrorist attack on London. While M:I-5 looks for him and determines what he intends to do, Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) disappears. He is convinced that there is a traitor in M:I-5 who let Qasim free, and he re-recruits Will Holloway (Kit Harrington), an ex-agent, to help him find out who the traitor is.

Spooks is a solid espionage thriller. The film is quite grounded and beguiling with good acting and humorous dialogue. For one who has not watched an episode of Spooks the TV series, there are probably some subtleties that go unseen. But not seeing these does not make the film any less entertaining. Furthermore, the film is written in such a way that the allegiances (and rivalries) between key personnel in the upper echelons of M:I-5 are spelled out quite early on in the film. So, one should not have a problem understanding who is on whose side… until they switch sides, of course. But that happened in the TV series regularly, like in 24, and is also part and parcel of the spy genre in general. How much emotional investment in Spooks one needs prior to watching the film is debatable.

June (Tuppence Middleton), an M:I-5 agent, going in with a fellow agent to take out some terrorists.

June (Tuppence Middleton), an M:I-5 agent, going in with a fellow agent to take out some terrorists.

Yes, it may have helped to know what the shifty Harry Pearce, played well by Peter Firth, is like before going into the film in the same way it may have helped to watch The Simpsons on TV to appreciate what makes the blundering Homer Simpson so endearing before watching The Simpsons Movie. Similarly, watching Spooks the TV show may have helped to get to know supporting cast members played by Tim McInnerney and Lara Pulver. Both reprise their roles from the show well but are given little screen time during the movie (especially compared to Peter Firth’s character).

Nevertheless, for every actor reprising their character, there are a handful of new characters. Jennifer Ehle, Tuppence Middleton, Eleanor Masuura and, chiefly, Kit Harington were never part of the TV series. Suffice to say, all of them have a role in the film and add something different to the plot. Fans (and non-fans) of the show cannot have known these characters or anticipate their motives prior to the movie. This means that the film is going to deviate from the show and that whatever happened previously in the TV series is unlikely to be crucial.

Jon Snow... I mean, Will Holloway being the hero and using a gun to take out a foe instead of a sword.

Jon Snow… I mean, Will Holloway being the hero and using a gun, instead of a sword, to take out a foe.

Yet, if fans (and non-fans) are arguing over how alike Spooks the film is to Spooks the TV series, they are arguing over the wrong issue. How closely the film resembles the show pales in comparison to the problem of the film’s tone. Director Bharat Nalluri cannot make up his mind if he wants the film to be taken seriously, like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, or as a spoof, like Kingsman: The Secret Service. Bearing in mind the title of the movie reads and sounds close to ‘spoof,’ it may have been logical to make the film as a satire, as James Bond was pre-Daniel Craig. (Or maybe that conclusion is borne from not watching the TV series?) Either way, Spooks’ tone is confusing. Add in the (numerous) implausible plot twists and it is understandable that viewers get into a fuddle as to what sort of a film they’re watching.

Over-all, Spooks is an enjoyable spy thriller. It has been put together well enough to ensure that viewers who have not watched the TV series that preceded the movie are not worse off than those who did. The tone of the film may be puzzling and some of the Byzantine-like scheming makes no sense. However, Spooks: The Greater Good has got good acting, dialogue and intrigue, with semi-grounded action. Thus, like any film with such ingredients, Spooks is a decent movie and worth a watch.

PG’s Tips

Review – The Falling (15) [2015]

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Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Carol Morley – The Alcohol Years, Edge, Dreams Of A Life

Cast:

  • Maisie Williams – Game of Thrones, Heatsroke, The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea
  • Maxine Peake – Shameless, Edge, The Theory Of Everything, Hamlet
  • Florence Pugh
  • Anna Burnett – Ripper Street
  • Greta Scacchi – Baltic Storm, Ways To Live Forever, AD The Bible Continues, War and Peace
  • Morfydd Clark – Madame Bovary, The Call Up, Love & Friendship
  • Joe Cole – Now Is Good, A Long Way Down, Pressure, Callow In Their Eyes
  • Rose Caton – Last Knights
  • Monica Dolan – Eye In The Sky
  • Ellie Bamber – Nocturnal Animals

Music Composer:

  • Tracy Thorn

Adolescence is a tricky period in one’s life. One experiences changes in the body while having to deal with the stresses of trying to achieve good grades at school and appeasing one’s peers who may (or may not) be at a more advanced stage in their hormonal growth. Carol Morley’s The Falling deals with some of the issues that many girls go through as part of their adolescence.

Best friends, Abby (Florence Pugh) and Lydia (Maisie Williams) lying on the grass in their school uniforms, drawing a tree.

Best friends, Abby (Florence Pugh) and Lydia (Maisie Williams) lying on the grass in their school uniforms, drawing a tree for their art class.

The film is based in a village in England in 1969 and centres round Lydia (Maisie Williams). She lives with her agoraphobic mother (Maxine Peake) and her ill-educated brother (Joe Cole) in a small, rundown house. While Lydia’s life is not great, she has a good group of friends at a private, all-girls school. One of whom, Abby (Florence Pugh), is exploring her sexuality.

However, as Lydia is coming to terms with her developing body, she begins fainting inexplicitly. Soon, Lydia’s friends start fainting too. But the school administration does not take the matter seriously, not believing that it is an epidemic. Lydia tries her hardest to convince the administration that something is wrong with her and her friends.

The Falling is an innovative and interesting movie that has been well directed by Carol Morley. On a small budget, she has put together a solid film with a fine balance of charm and sincerity. Devoid of special-effects en masse, Morley relies on cinematography to create the wonderful ambiance of a repressive all-girls high school in a small, provincial area, with some odd sorts of people (and behaviour) that can be the norm in such communities in 1960s England or even today.

Eileen (Maxine Peake) smoking. She is Lydia's hair-dresser mother who suffers from Agorophobia.

Eileen (Maxine Peake) smoking. She is Lydia’s hair-dresser mother who suffers from Agorophobia.

Other elements of The Falling that work in Morley’s favour are the dialogue and the acting. Both are very good, honest and plausible. One can imagine (in the main) adolescent girls, and the adults that surround them, behaving in the manner that the film portrays. In the lead role, Maisie Williams is terrific and captivating to watch. Like Arya Stark, her character in Game of Thrones, her character in The Falling is strong-willed and tenacious (if more vulnerable, messed up and curious). But Williams, here, gives a more rounded performance as Lydia is more vulnerable, messed up and curious than Arya Stark is ever likely to be.

The rest of the cast are not given the time or detail afforded to Lydia/Williams’s character. Nonetheless, they all play their roles strongly and with a genuine naturalness that is highly believable.

Yet, for all The Falling’s genuineness and believability, it is a strange film. Its central premise has echoes of the hysterical contagion/the June Bug Epidemic that affected an American textiles factory in 1962; only, The Falling probably exaggerates the issue. Curiously, the fainting syndrome in the movie becomes so normal (and repetitive) that characters and audiences alike fail to bat an eyelid after a while. This is an abnormal reaction because the normal response to seeing someone faint is either to run over to the person who has fainted, or to call for help/an ambulance.

Lydia looking terrible, haunted even, as she tries to convince her teachers that the fainting epidemic is real and that she and her friends are not making it up.

Lydia looking terrible, haunted even, as she tries to convince her teachers that the fainting epidemic is real and that she and her friends are not making it up.

This leads on to the main issue at the heart of the film: is the fainting an epidemic among the girls? Is it something celestial or paranormal? Or is it just frustrated, adolescent girls crying out for attention (and an outlet) in a repressive environment? These questions are very pertinent as they can give viewers an insight into the stresses that adolescent girls often endure in high school. That is if one does not focus too much on certain, side-matters in the film that are remain ambiguous right to the end. Or if one can get past the perplexing, out of sync music. Or if one does not get an epileptic fit from the fast-flicking flashbacks that are unfathomable and add nothing to the plot. Nevertheless, if one can ignore these issues, one can greatly enjoy The Falling.

All-in-all, The Falling is an entertaining film in a stimulating and peculiar way. The movie may not resolve all its issues. But it is well-shot, has wonderful cinematography, and has marvellous acting to go with a good, solid script that brings out the best in Maisie Williams. Where The Falling succeeds most is in showing viewers the problems and pressures that most teenage school-girls face, even if it is in an environment and in a time slightly removed from conventional stories on the subject. Carol Morley must be credited for this because her film is original and demonstrates the dangers of repressing adolescent girls too much.

PG’s Tips

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

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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

Review – Philomena (12a) [2013]

Philomena - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Stephen Frears – The Queen, Tamara Drewe, Untitled Lance Armstrong Biopic

Cast:

  • Judi Dench – Shakespeare In LoveMy Week With Marilyn, Skyfall, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel I & IISpectre
  • Michelle Fairley – The Others, Harry Potter VII(i), Game of Thrones, Ironclad II
  • Steve Coogan – Tropic Thunder, What Maisie Knew, Northern Soul
  • Sophie Kennedy Clark – Dark Shadows, Nymphomaniac
  • Sean Mahon – Line of Fire, Reign of the Gargoyles, Dark Shadows
  • Charlie Murphy – Love/Hate, 71, Northmen: A Viking Saga

Music Composer:

Take Shelter, My Week With Marilyn and Shadow Dancer had solid premises and the potential to be very good films. Alas, they all shared the characteristics of being flat, lacking in character development, and running out of steam long before the end. It resulted in their latter scenes being overly predictable or trite, or both. Similarly, despite being a decent film, Philomena suffers from the same traits.

Young Philomena (Sophie Kennedy Clark) holding her son tightly in the sole hour a day that she is given free time at the nunnery.

Young Philomena (Sophie Kennedy Clark) holding her son tightly in the sole hour a day that she is given free time at the nunnery.

Philomena is a British drama set in 2003. The movie is based on the true story of how an elderly Irish lady, Philomena Lee (when young, played by Sophie Kennedy Clark; when old, by Judy Dench), came to find her son, Anthony (when adult, played by Sean Mahon).

Anthony was taken away from Philomena in the 1950s when he was a toddler by the nuns at a Catholic nunnery, while Philomena lived there as punishment for her sin of becoming pregnant outside of wedlock. But now she has the help of a journalist in Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), who has just lost his job as a Labour government advisor and a BBC reporter. He wants to write a story that will reinvigorate his career (as a Russian history author of all things) and helps Philomena to find out what happened to her son.

Philomena’s storyline is straightforward, logical and saddening, yet done with wittiness and dignity. The film wastes little time in getting the two main actors on screen together and moving them in the right direction, which is positive. Quaint Ireland is portrayed in a genial, green way, with cheerful locals down at the local pubbie, while a nasty side of the country is shed light upon by revealing some of the crimes of Catholic nunneries. (Naturally, the particular nunnery involved claim that Philomena distorts the truth and is misleading. As they would.)

Yet, Philomena rapidly feels tired, which is disappointing as one expects more from it. The movie is only 98 minutes long, but it feels longer. All the best jokes are in the trailer, so they lose their panache when said in the film. But in general the humour, which is far from dumb or slapstick, lacks the cutting edge of Woody Allen’s recent Blue Jasmine.

Philomena in her senior years (played by Judi Dench) talking about her past with Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) in the Irish countryside.

Philomena in her senior years (played by Judi Dench) talking about her past with Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) in the Irish countryside.

Moreover, Philomena has little character development and, like My Week With Marilyn, none of the characters seem to go anywhere either. This is despite the characters and the movie taking the correct (and predictable) steps towards the film’s (inevitable) conclusion, which is a strange and an unrewarding sensation as a viewer.

The lack of character arches is a real pity as some of the characters had the potential to be very interesting. Consequently, the acting lacks meat, even though all of the performances are good. Judi Dench is fine as the quirkily charming, if socially odd Philomena in her old age. But Dench’s performance is undermined by the fact that no-one believes she’s Irish. It does not help that Dench’s accent in the film flips between that of a Dubliner and the Queen’s English. In addition, as Dench is playing a role not too dissimilar to many of her past performances, audiences are invariably reminded that she’s English (in case they needed any reminding).

Steve Coogan plays decently as the disillusioned (and discourteous) man trying to find his way again after becoming unemployed in middle age. And Michelle Fairley, playing in a very different role to the dutiful Lady Catelyn Stark in Game of Thrones, gives a good and amusing performance (with the little screen time she has) in her native Irish accent as the ruthless editor, manipulating all the facts that Martin Sixsmiths relays to her in order to create a more enticing story for her newspaper.

Judi Dench (left) with the real Philomena Lee (right) at the premier.

Judi Dench (left) with the real Philomena Lee (right) at the premier.

However, arguably the best performance of the film is from Sophie Kennedy Clark, as the young Philomena. In spite of the harsh living conditions in the nunnery, Clark demonstrates a mother’s true happiness when she holds her young son in her arms, as well as a mother’s brokenness when her son is taken away. Like Fairley, Clark is not in the film for very long. But the scenes with her on screen are the only emotional ones in this otherwise quite dull movie.

All-in-all, Philomena is a fine film. The movie provides audiences with a decent insight into the mean, inner workings of Catholic nunneries in Ireland in the 1950s, and has a good cast that deliver their lines well enough. Yet, Philomena lacks energy and runs out of puff long before its running time is over. Likewise, the film’s humour, general flatness, and lack of character development makes viewers feel like they’re cutting meat with a blunt knife. All the key ingredients to Philomena should have been sharper and more engaging as the film’s premise is a fascinating one.

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