Kingsman: Bond on steroids!

A dollop of James Bond, some London swagger straight out of a gritty Noel Clarke film, and a dash of the weird and fantastical lessons from Hogwarts in early Harry Potter films and… You’re not particularly close to what Kingsman: The Secret Service is all about.

Ok, let’s take Colin Firth. A bit of The King’s Speech, a sprinkle of Bridget Jones and, er, this really isn’t going to work. How on earth did Matthew Vaughn get funding to direct this film? It must have been impossible to explain, assuming he genuinely explained what he was actually going to do.

taron-5

I bet getting Firth on board was the easiest job of all. You can imagine the conversation. ‘Colin, I want you to take all the things that audiences love most about you and embrace them for this part, but turn them all on their head. Oh, and in the process I want you to kill people. Lots of people. All whilst in an impeccably tailored Savile Row suit.’

After Kick Ass, technically, people shouldn’t be surprised at the kind of films Vaughn likes to create. Or at least, the ones where he’s clearly having the most fun. Free from the shackles of a big studio – and with source material (graphic novel) from the twisted mind of Mark Millar – he’s been allowed to show the creators of the Bond franchise exactly what he’d do with a spy movie, given the chance. Vaughn doesn’t hold back in the slightest, picking up where he left off in Kick Ass, in a way, he really pushes the envelope. Not just shocks for the sake of it either, every moment of hilarious violence or edgy joke is there to serve the story and the characters.

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And talking of characters, newcomer Taron Egerton plays young tearaway Eggsy. A chap with bags of natural talent but has so far squandered it. Indebted to his family – and therefore looking out for Eggsy – is Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a Kingsman and super spy extraordinaire. Taking Eggsy under his wing he trains him up, under what Kingsman trainer Merlin (Mark Strong) calls ‘the toughest job interview in the world.’ During this time their big bad nemesis Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson, having a whale of a time) is cooking up a plot to reduce the world’s population by having them cull themselves in a mass brawl.

So, plot done, what are we left with?

Well, this is a film that is, simply put, a ton of fun. Yes it’s ultra violent in a cartoonish sort of way, and yes it revels in that fact. But that’s sort of the point. There’s an early scene with one of the Kingsman, Lancelot (Jack Davenport, great to see him back) that really sets the tone in a gruesome yet hilarious way. And it goes on from there.

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Egerton impresses in his first major role. Rumour has it that Aaron Taylor-Johnson was considered for the part, but Egerton brings a freshness and vitality and is less of a distraction than a more established actor would have undoubtedly been. Jackson plays a meglomaniac, which probably wasn’t much of a stretch, but he, too, is allowed to let loose, which is a joy.

And then there’s Colin Firth. Never again will you look at him in the same way. Taking an entire career’s worth of withering, foppish, and very droll put-downs and quips, he inverts them in a most glorious manner. Has his filmography been building up to this moment? We can only hope so.

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There’s been talk of Kingsman developing into a franchise, but, if it does, it will probably go the same way as Kick Ass, and you’ll never have that same level of surprise and delight (or horror, depending on your point of view) as the first time round. Better to leave as a one-off I say, preserve the insanity and balls-out brilliance just as it is.

Utopia: Conspiracy thriller packs a punch

utopiaAs I’d heard good things about Channel 4’s new mini-series, I settled down to watch with trepidation and was rather impressed. The plot focuses around an online forum group for fans of a cult graphic novel The Utopia Experiments: a novel that allegedly predicts future events.

They are brought together after one of them discovers a sequel to the novel. Something thought to not exist. Unfortunately this brings them to the attention of two evil chaps hell-bent on retrieving the sequel’s manuscript and killing the group and anyone associated with it, often in a chilling fashion.

utopia2Where is Jessica Hyde?

This mini-series is pitched as a slow-burn thriller and I’d say that’s an apt description. It gradually weaves various story strands together and we get introduced to characters slowly and confidently, learning a little about them in each scene.

As well as the forum group, there’s also a sub-plot involving a government health minister, which looks likely to connect with the main story further down the line and has intrigue written all over it.

Why a spoon? Because it’s dull, it’ll hurt more

In terms of critical reception, much will be made of the violence. Considering this is TV, it’s incredibly well-shot and cinematic, with a compelling cast including Kill List alumni Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley. If you’ve seen that film you’ll have an idea of the tone.

Without giving too much away I’ll just say there’s a few stand-out, Tarantino-esque scenes that really do pack a punch. That said, it’s not violence all the way – indeed, the characters are built up well and the plot is intriguing and compelling.

wilson wilsonMaster of suspense

One of the things the show does well is not reveal its hand too quickly. Vitally important – for something pitching itself as a slow-burn thriller – to keep in mind. Obvious you may say, but it’s been ignored before.

As an audience, we like to be kept guessing. Not too much, but enough to keep us hooked. Based on the first episode I think they’ve got the balance right. Let’s hope, if it’s maintained for the duration, the results could be something quite special.

[Interesting links]
Guardian blog: Utopia review | How long before they find you? The Utopia Inquiry

The Warriors: Director’s cut – can you dig it?

the warriors

Ok, it’s a film that first came out in 1979. Why on earth am I reviewing it? Well, I picked up the Director’s Cut version and had this vague, misty memory of watching parts of the original when I was a little lad. I remember Cyrus (the gang leader) and his monologue. It defines the film so it’s hard to forget. Here’s a snippet from IMDb, I couldn’t resist!

Cyrus: [yelling] Can you count, suckers? I say, the future is ours… if you can count!
[a couple of soldiers cheer for Cyrus]
Cyrus: Now, look what we have here before us. We got the Saracens sitting next to the Jones Street Boys. We’ve got the Moonrunners right by the Van Cortlandt Rangers. Nobody is wasting nobody. That… is a miracle. And miracles is the way things ought to be.
[Few more soldiers cheering for Cyrus]
Cyrus: You’re standing right now with nine delegates from 100 gangs. And there’s over a hundred more. That’s 20,000 hardcore members. Forty-thousand, counting affiliates, and twenty-thousand more, not organized, but ready to fight: 60,000 soldiers! Now, there ain’t but 20,000 police in the whole town. Can you dig it?
Gang Members: Yeah.
the warriors film 1979
Cyrus: Can you dig it?
Gang Members: Yeah!
Cyrus: Can you dig it?
Gang Members: YEAH!

So what’s it all about?
I vaguely remember the premise, a gang racing back across town to Coney Island whilst all the other gangs across the city are out to get them, falsely blaming the Warriors for the death of their city leader, Cyrus. Other than that I can’t remember much about it. So it’s pretty much with fresh, adult eyes that I viewed Walter Hill’s Director’s Cut.

It starts with an intro from Walter Hill, discussing why he is generally against Directors revisiting their past work. All the claims that they ‘didn’t have the budget/time/script they wanted’ to really tell the story as they intended he addresses. He then gives a fairly detailed explanation of why he felt he wanted to give the film more of a graphic novel aesthetic. You wonder if this is entirely true, but throughout the film it freeze frames and shots of the characters became like graphic drawings, before moving into the next scene, then morphing back into the real world again. It’s a nice touch and you feel the time was taken to make this look slick, but still fit the tone of the film.

You also get the sense that, given the popularity of films adapted from graphic novels these days, it could be argued the Director and/or Studio are trying to cash in? I don’t buy that, I think Walter Hill loved the story and characters and just wanted to present the version he originally intended. And these days, with HD TVs and Blu-ray, there hasn’t been a better time to do it.

the warriorsSpeaking of tone, it’s also worth mentioning date. This was released in 1979, yet still feels effortlessly cool and not particularly dated (other than perhaps some of the hairstyles). There isn’t too much in the way of story, yet the film has strong characters you can identify with, even their steely leader Swan.

The gangs they face as they race across town are almost comical, yet some fit into the Warriors’ world – The Orphans, Baseball Furies, Turnbull ACs, Lizzie’s, Punks, Rogues and Riffs. Check them out here, they all have their own logos and brand identity, it’s fantastic.

Anyway, as usual I’m rambling along, let’s sum up. It may be a cult film, a classic, it may be from the tail end of the 70s, but it’s definitely worth a watch. Whether you remember the original or not, it’s just a pretty cool world to embrace.

The question is – you know where this is going – can you dig it?