Informer!

She flips when she hears your secrets.
Demoted to the FBI, you now spend your day peddling lies.
Calculating, she looks at you as she plots your demise.
Sizing you up for termination.
She’s wise to your cries for special consideration.

But it didn’t start here.
This is the end of the tale.
It began with a trap so allow me to regale.
Looking back, the mission started on a park bench.
Most begin this way, it wasn’t that far-fetched.
At the time you were CIA.
Rival spies often clocked you a mile away.
Let’s just say… subtlety was not your specialty.
So you decided to up your game.
One last mission to show your superiors what they’d been missing.
Cos you had big plans and wanted to show them your vision.
But let’s face it, you weren’t spy material.
Rivals had you for breakfast. Espionage cereal.
So you cooked up a coup, all whispy and ethereal.
Least that’s what you thought, ’til it became hyper-real.

Escalating to the point of civil war.
And to top it off, fucking up wasn’t even a chore.
There you were, flouting international law like a zen master.
A God among men, yet a total chancer.
A show pony, a reindeer, Prancer and Dancer.
And then it came crashing down.
You missed your ultimate goal.
Ending up most wanted of Interpol.
So you turned double agent and became a mole.
A snitch, a grass, call it what you will.
You folded on friends and colleagues alike, it took real skill.

Frantic, you made deals left and right to save your hide.
Your antics? A classic panic to avoid doing time inside.
Then in she walked, right into your life.
A femme fatale that had your senses screaming.
Your defences down, what could she be scheming?
In an instant, you fell in love.
Betraying your country you were hand in glove.
With her by your side you were a man that was tough.
Somehow though, you knew it wouldn’t last.
And sure enough she betrayed you.
Leaving you trapped like an animal in a caged zoo.

Then down came the pain.
What career was this?
You were left in tatters as you got dismissed.
An old spy, most wanted with no alibi.
Part of you wanted to lay down and die, but you had spirit.
Stating your case it was a miracle when others chose to hear it.
Then, like a phoenix, you blazed back.
Solving old cases watching bad men fall and take the rap.
Even so, there’s a long way to go.
You’re still raw and torn up.
But that’s the price you pay to play, Mr Informer.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. review: new franchise?

Guy Ritchie is like… so hot right now. At least, it seems so, after his career had hit a little blip right before the Sherlock Holmes films put him back on the map.

Then for his next trick he thought he’d turn his hand to the spy genre, specifically resurrecting a nostalgically adored ’60s TV show, The Man from UNCLE. Remembered fondly by those of a certain age, utterly unknown to those younger than that.

But no matter. Whether you’re young or old(er) most of us can get on board with a sexy cast dressed in gorgeous clothing, their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks as they swan around the globe foiling evil plots. Can’t we?

And if we’re talking tone (which we are now), this film sits somewhere between Austin Powers and Bond, the Roger Moore years, which is no bad thing. Or if you’re seeking a more modern reference, it would make a nice triple-bill with Spy with Melissa McCarthy and Kingsman, with Colin Firth; as you’ve never seen him before.

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Concerning story: we have handsome American spy Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) trying to rescue pretty girl Gabriella Teller (Alicia Vikander) from East Germany, as he needs her help to get close to her nuclear scientist father who’s been kidnapped by an evil, Paris Hilton-esque woman wearing far too much jewellery. They’re aided by a handsome yet prickly Russian Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), told by his superiors he’ll have to team up with the annoyingly smug American to complete his mission.

Ultimately this film isn’t really about plot. It’s about the laddiest of all laddy things, banter! And Cavill and Hammer do this pretty well, bouncing off each other and working effectively – if chaotically – as a team, despite their grudging reluctance. However, most of this film does feel like an intro to a franchise – as the studio would no doubt love it to be.

Do we have the spy version of Lethal Weapon on our hands? Too early to call. I wouldn’t be averse to a second film. It nipped along at a decent pace, looked great and had a killer soundtrack (as you’d expect from Ritchie), so giving these characters another mission wouldn’t be a bad idea.

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But on the downside, as far as quibbles go, I have two.

First, it’s 2015, and in this day and age Ritchie must surely have been able to give a lady of Alicia Vikander’s talents more to work with. She starts off ok then descends (slight spoiler) in the final third into classic, uninspired territory of the female needing to be rescued by the male leads. It’s tiresome and it would have been nice to mix this up. She had a frisson of chemistry with Armie Hammer’s character, so why couldn’t he have been the one needing to be rescued by her?

Secondly, despite me saying the story is incidental, the characters (and actors) still need something credible to sink their teeth into and give the audience a reason to care. For me, the story started well but lacked a bit of punch as it progressed. I found my attention wavering somewhat in the middle. (This never happend with Lock, Stock and Snatch – Mr Ritchie, take note.)

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In general though, it’s a fun ride. An easy, popcorn fest of a movie. Standout for me was probably Armie Hammer’s performance, although Hugh Grant does turn up at the end and almost steal it.

So go see it.

Turn your brain off and your smile on and soak it in.

Spy: McCarthy prods buttock

After lengthy success in TV (Gilmore Girls, Mike & Molly), Melissa McCarthy finally broke through to film in 2011’s Bridesmaids, almost stealing the whole thing from the rest of the cast. In 2013 she received critical and commercial acclaim for The Heat with Sandra Bullock and, last year, starred opposite Bill Murray in quirky comedy St. Vincent.

So she’s been building to a big project and here with Paul Feig’s Spy we have the result. McCarthy leads the show but is ably supported by a great cast (all having a ball) which includes Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Allison Janney, Miranda Hart and Jude Law.

McCarthy plays desk-bound CIA analyst Susan Cooper, who gets thrown into the field to foil a plot by evil baddie Rayna Boyanov (a bitchy Rose Bryne) to sell a nuclear weapon. From the off we see Susan on a headset advising charismatic agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law on fine, narcissistic form) as he dispatches bad guys with time to check his hair. Bond eat your heart out.

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Once the Americans learn Rayna is behind a plot to steal a nuke, CIA head Elaine (a pragmatic, spiky Allison Janney) realises none of their current agents can get near her as they’ll be recognised, so up steps Susan, sent off to a series of European locations on a mission to ‘track and report’ only. This disgusts loose cannon agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham), who ends up butting heads with her throughout the movie in a series of hilarious encounters (who knew Statham was this funny?).

As a writer-director Paul Feig has formed a stellar partnership with Melissa McCarthy; they’ve now done three films together (Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy) and she knows exactly how to make his material sing, comedically speaking. And in the world of funnies she’s really carved her own niche. Lazy critics might say McCarthy is the female Will Ferrell or, given Bridesmaids‘ common DNA with The Hangover, the female Zach Galifiniakis. Why she has to be the female equivalent of a male actor is beyond me, but that’s Hollywood and the media I guess, still a man’s world to the core.

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Back to Spy, the plot is relatively simple and merely a device for McCarthy to show Susan’s progression from timid analyst to kick ass spy, which she does convincingly. She’s surrounded by quite a lot of British talent too, from fellow analyst, ditzy Nancy (Miranda Hart) to lecherous ‘Italian’ Aldo (Peter Serafinowicz having the time of his life). So it’s an odd mix in a way, but it works well.

Spy has its tongue in its cheek the entire time and there’s barely a quiet moment to reflect on whether all the jokes are landing or not (most of them do). But none of this matters as you won’t be assessing it during (a sure sign the comedy is flagging); you’ll be with Susan on her journey in all its sweary glory. In the year of spy films coming out (The Man from UNCLE, Bond’s SPECTRE) it remains to be seen whether audiences will tire of this genre by the end of the year. If they don’t, there’s a high chance we’ll see a Spy 2 greenlit, so watch this space.

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.

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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.

Trailer park: monster, soldier, secret service

Time for a quick look ahead at the trailers of some films coming up. If you’re unfamiliar, I do these little ‘trailer park’ blogs from time to time of upcoming films that I’d like to see.

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For this one, I’m focusing on one out now and two out soon: a gritty historical action tale, an alternative type of sci-fi and a tongue-in-cheek action flick.

’71 (out now)
Out in cinemas now, this tale is set in Northern Ireland and follows a young British soldier (Jack O’Connell) after he becomes separated from his unit during a riot. His performance has already impressed the critics and this looks like one to see before its cinema run ends.


Monsters: Dark Continent
(UK release 28 October)
The follow up to Gareth Edwards’ 2010 original – this time directed by up-and-coming chap Tom Green – sees a soldier searching for his comrade in the desert. This looks to follow the nuanced and stylish aesthetic of the original and build on it in a promising way.


Kingsman: The Secret Service
(UK release 12 Feb, US release 13 Feb)
Has director Matthew Vaughn been in the wilderness for the last few years? Perhaps he has, however this looks like him back to his best in this action spy flick, based on a Mark Millar graphic novel and starring Colin Firth as you’ve never seen him before.

The Hour series 2: First episode review

I assume, if you’re reading this, you were a fan of the original series. If not, allow me to bring you up to speed. Released in 2011 The Hour was a drama miniseries set in a BBC newsroom studios in the 1950s, starring Ben Whishaw, Dominic West and Romola Garai.

The premise began with ambitious, young producer Bel (Garai) being tasked by her boss to helm a new, cutting-edge news show. Her reporter and friend, Freddie (Whishaw), was brought on board to run the domestic news side of the show, with charismatic Hector (West) as anchor in front of camera. Series one took place against the backdrop of the Suez Crisis, with a murder mystery/spy story that built throughout to a tense, dramatic conclusion.

west garai whishawCanny casting
In terms of the three leads, Whishaw is going from strength to strength, currently seen as Q in the new Bond, Skyfall. He also has a significant role in the highly anticipated epic film, Cloud Atlas. Garai is a young, talented, up-and-coming actress, prolific on both stage and screen.

Notably she’s starred in TV miniseries The Crimson Petal and the White with Chris O’Dowd – and been in films Atonement and One Day. West is best known as McNulty from critically acclaimed TV show The Wire and film 300.

Superlative scripting
I must admit, I’d completely forgotten about series two until I spotted an advert the day before it started. Lucky for me, because I thoroughly enjoyed the first series. The three leads had some great lines, courtesy of a strong script by Abi Morgan – who also wrote the screenplay for films Shame and The Iron Lady. Indeed, this show was nominated for Best Miniseries – as well as two other awards – at the Golden Globes.

It’s also worth noting that it’s incorrectly been described – mostly by the press – as the British Mad Men. Other than the period setting, that’s it in terms of similarities. It’s a completely different beast. Just so you know what you’re getting into.

peter capaldiSeries two: Episode one – the plot
So it was with excitement that I settled down to watch the new series. It takes place a year after events at the end of series one, with Bel struggling to keep the show running. The episode starts with new Head of News, Randall Brown (the brilliant Peter Capaldi), and takes place in a Britain consumed by fear of nuclear attack by Soviet Russia. In order to compete with a rival show Randall brings Freddie back, which unsettles Bel. At the same time Hector receives a tip-off for a story that could outdo their rivals.

Didn’t they do well?
Sorry for going all Brucie bonus on you there, but it was a good first episode, hitting the beats in terms of bringing us up-to-date on the newsroom and various staff changes. This included introduction of Capaldi, who slipped effortlessly into the show, stealing most scenes with fantastically delivered lines. As an actor he seems to personify authority and quiet, bottled rage, kept at bay with a calm, almost Zen exterior. That’s probably why he was so good in political satire TV show The Thick of It, although he’s understandably more restrained here.

His character also hints at an ulterior motive for joining the newsroom, something brought up by reporter Lix Storm. So I imagine there’s a lot more to see from the mysterious Randall.

Whishaw’s character, Freddie, gets a brilliantly scripted introduction. As an audience anticipating his entrance, we’re kept waiting for half the episode. He then returns to the studio, sauntering into a news briefing like he’d never left,  sporting a bohemian beard and a sharp, new suit. This has significant impact on Bel; the range of emotions that flit across Garai’s face in this scene are worth watching. I’ve been a massive fan of hers since The Crimson Petal and the White. Her chemistry with Freddie picks up pretty quickly until near the end of the episode, when she makes a discovery.

Meanwhile West’s character, Hector, has let the success go to his head and is on fine, smug form: drinking, late for work, flirting and bedding glamorous women. This sows the seeds (no pun intended) for a story strand involving a mystery woman (played by Hannah Tointon), series 2 domonic westwho will most likely need the help of the intrepid news team. This plot feels a little similar to the start of the first series, a mystery woman in danger. I’m sure it will take on a life of its own quickly enough.

A final point, the tone of the show – including some great use of music during scenes – has continued much where it left off from the first series. This is important. Whilst it’s great to evolve and develop characters, it’s important not to lose sight of the appeal of the original. Factors that made it so compelling first time round I’ve covered: great cast, strong script and characters, suspense, intrigue, great period detail, sublime soundtrack.

Let’s raise an Old Fashioned to – what I predict will be – an intriguing series!

Bourne again? Jeremy Renner and his green pills – Tony Gilroy’s legacy

Does it strike you as funny that of two films that are currently out at the cinema – one a remake, one a sequel of sorts – both are to do with memory loss?

I am, of course, talking about the Total Recall and the Bourne Legacy, the latter of which I saw recently and want to discuss.

First things first, I am a fan of Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz, the former for the Hurt Locker and The Town, and the latter for just being Mrs Daniel Craig. Seriously, there’s a lot of films which were significantly lifted by her presence; About a Boy, The Fountain, Enemy at the Gates, Runaway Jury and, yes, even The Mummy (seriously, she makes Brendan Fraser bearable).

In terms of the Bourne Legacy, Renner was solid as a spy, you believed he could do the things he did. Particularly his Alaska section, which reminded me slightly of Into the Wild, with Emile Hirsch, just with more explosions and less depressing deaths.  He fought like Bourne and was just as resourceful, however he just didn’t seem as accessible as Damon. Maybe it’s easier to identify with a man trying to regain his memory and make sense of his situation, whereas Renner’s Aaron Cross is in full possession of his memory, and is primarily trying to shake his dependency on drugs (which we’ll discuss more in a bit).

Perhaps in contrast to Cross’s cold, calm nature, Weisz is the emotional warmth of the film. Beautiful, intelligent, and a Doctor – I once read an article where she was voted the woman that men would most like to marry – too bad James Bond beat us to it!

As far as the link between this film and the preceding trilogy, the last two of which Paul Greengrass directed, you can see how they’ve tried to expand the world of shady goverment agencies with ‘assets’ placed across the globe in multiple, sinister programmes/experiments. It’s a nice link, but I don’t think it goes far enough.

jeremy renner and ed norton bournePerhaps too much time was spent on Renner’s character hanging out the in the wilderness, then racing across from the US to Manila in search of medication. I wonder if there would have been more mileage in exploring how Aaron Cross came to be in the programme? Treadstone or Blackbriar or whichever one he was in. This was touched on in the film, but it would have been very interesting to explore further.

There was a scene where he was all beaten up, with cuts all over his face, talking to some figure out of shot. Did he go through the same process as Bourne? Sticking with the memory theme could have been intriguing. The trick is to keep it grounded in the real world. Paul Greengrass did an excellent job of this, particularly with stunts and fight scenes.  I think, perhaps, Tony Gilroy let it become too ‘Hollywood’ and too detached. You got a sense that Bourne was always vulnerable. In contrast, Aaron Cross seemed too ‘action man’, holding his guns up to his chest, shooting round corners etc – too showy – like he could do almost anything, up to the point when he gets shot, then finally seems human. Let’s not forget, in the original trilogy Bourne kills someone with a biro, that’s realism!

I suppose what frustrated me was Bourne had a solid cause – recover his memory and expose Treadstone. Cross just didn’t seem to have a clear plan beyond wanting off his medication. There’s even a scene where says to Weisz’s character that if she doesnt know what to do next, he’ll find the next guy that does and ask him. It almost felt like script meetings Gilroy and his team must have had. Does someone know where this story is going beyond Cross getting off his medication? Will he go after Treadstone and the rest? Will he settle down with Weisz somewhere in Asia, only rousing himself to exact revenge after she gets murdered? No, wait, that’s the plot of the second film. Will the audience stick with us whilst we compare notes?

Perhaps I am being too harsh. Greengrass and Damon set the bar extremely high with Ultimatum and Supremacy. So much so that you only notice when the next Director comes along and tries to pick up the baton. In some ways I hope they get another crack at it, but it really needs a firm direction and killer script. Now Cross is off his medication, what next? Would it be the ultimate if Greengrass and Damon returned and teamed up with Renner? The ultimate Ultimatum if you will. Is that Gilroy’s hope? Like an Avengers film, but set in the Bourne world, hmmm.

Anyway, I’ve written more than I intended and my imagination is getting carried away as usual. What do you guys think of Bourne Legacy? Is it worthy of a follow up film? Or two? Should Gilroy try and get Greengrass back in the driving seat? Would Damon and Renner make a good team? So many questions. Right, where did I put my green pills…