Talking Movies

March 18, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXIX

As the title suggests, so forth.

I didn’t realise it was social distancing at the time in 2017, I thought I was just going to deeply unpopular films

“Siri, what is a ‘cinema’?”

The cinemas have closed all over Ireland, all over America, and some may never re-open. As it looks like this global pandemic is going to last long enough for a latter-day Daniel Defoe to write a modern Journal of the Plague Year you have to wonder if cinema as we understand it will come back from this enforced hiatus. As the streaming wars ramp up just as everyone is suddenly stuck at home and at a loose end, will the idea of spending multiples of your monthly streaming fee to take a one-off punt on a film in a cinema full of obnoxious strangers coughing germs at you, flashing their phones, and shouting their conversations in your face become absurd? Will wasting time going somewhere else to buy over-priced snacks to watch something you can’t pause or rewind, when you could just stay where you are and stream instantly in your sedate cosy living room with your own snacks whenever you wish to pause or rewind, become as antique as the notion of carefully composing your message into as few words as possible in order to afford the telegram you are about to dictate? Stop.

Aloha and the xkcd challenge

I recently rewatched Aloha on RTE 1, and the knowledge that it had been beaten senseless by the critics made me suddenly think about the xkcd challenge [https://xkcd.com/2184/]. To wit, it is easy to prove your independent streak by disliking films universally beloved, but what about proving your independent streak by liking films universally reviled? Randall Munroe gave under 50% on Rotten Tomatoes as the target, [the other two parts of the trifecta being that they came out in your adult life post-2000 and are not enjoyed ironically] and gosh darn if poor old muso turned writer/director Cameron Crowe’s Aloha and Elizabethtown aren’t both under 50%, standing at a measly 20% and 29% respectively. And you know what, their critical pasting is undeserved. They’re not great movies, but they’re not nearly as bad as reputed, and I would happily watch either again. Elizabethtown has a number of ideas and scenes in it that I still treasure years after my single viewing of it on DVD, such as the distinction between a failure and a fiasco and the imperative to finish the rock-out of ‘Freebird’ over-riding all concern of personal safety, while Aloha has a vein of melancholy running thru it in the acceptance but continuing regret over squandered opportunities in life choices that is quite rare in Hollywood movies while the two silent conversations between Bradley Cooper and John Krasinski are a thing of joy.

January 28, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Director Matthew Vaughn eschews the current gritty James Bond formula for an R-rated absurdist spy fantasy from Mark Millar’s comic-book.

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Kingsman begins as it means to go on; tongue firmly-in-cheek; as terrible CGI explosions rock a Middle Eastern fortress, only for the falling stones to form into the title credits. Our hero Galahad (Colin Firth) is on a mission that goes fatally wrong, leading him to pay his respects to the widowed Michelle (Samantha Womack), and give a promise of aid, if ever needed, to her infant son Gary. Nearly two decades later a Kingsmen rescue of kidnapped climate change expert Professor Arnold (a cameo too good to spoil here) goes awry. A replacement Lancelot must be recruited, and all the Kingsmen must put forward a candidate. At this precise moment Gary, now known as Eggsy (Taron Egerton), gets into deep trouble with his criminal stepfather Dean (Geoff Bell), and calls in Galahad’s favour. Galahad proposes Gary as the new Lancelot, and so begins a dangerous mentoring in privatised espionage…

Kingsman is a blast. There’s a certain X-Men: First Class vibe to the Lancelot competition presided over by Merlin (Mark Strong) at a country house, with nice class warfare between chav Eggsy and upper-crust Digby (Nicholas Banks) and Charlie (Edward Holcroft). Egerton is endearing as someone hiding his potential because of his circumstances, and Sophie Cookson as sympathetic toff Roxy is a winning foil. Less sympathetic is the leader of the Kingsmen, Arthur (Michael Caine). There’s an odd meta-textual dance here between Egerton having played toff in Testament of Youth and cockney Caine’s enthronement as a cinematic elder. But that’s as nothing compared to the meta-madness when Galahad discusses old Bond films with lisping tech billionaire Valentine (Samuel L Jackson). Firth is effectively playing The Avengers’ Mr Steed, and loving it, while Jackson seems to be nodding to his Unbreakable role as a squeamish super-villain, with a surprisingly interesting motivation, who delegates murder to lethal blade-runner henchwoman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella).

Vaughn’s use of music deserves special mention. Eggsy’s car-thieving exploits are rousingly accompanied by Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Bonkers’, a surrealist gore-fest is played out to the strains of Elgar (in what feels oddly like a nod to Dr Strangelove), and then there’s ‘Freebird’… Vaughn tops Cameron Crowe’s demented use of that song in Elizabethtown, and, given that Crowe had a band rocking out on the guitar solo and determinedly ignoring the giant flaming bird flying past, that’s saying something. A vicious sermon by the great Corey Johnson is interrupted by utter carnage as Galahad gets embroiled in a fight to the death with the entire congregation. If The Matrix lobby scene used a high concept to banish guilt over massacres by heroes this pushes the envelope even further. Cinematographer George Richmond and Vaughn close up on the action and deploy a grainier look to hide cheats in their sustained bloodthirsty mayhem. And what mayhem it is – a choreographed wonder of continual stabbing, shooting, garrotting, strangling, bludgeoning that produces jaw-dropped, impressed disbelief.

There’re quibbles to be had, notably the rather tasteless use of Hanna Alstrom’s Swedish princess and the sudden ending, but Kingsman’s bloody good fun.

4/5

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