Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Review: Kingsman - The Golden Circle





Kingsman: The Golden Circle (first-pass / SPOILER-FREE)
Cert: 15 / 141 mins / Dir. Matthew Vaughn / Trailer



I'll keep this short and sweet. You've probably arrived at this review with two questions. The answer to your first is 'yes, very much'. The answer to your second, 'of course not, how could it be?'.

The eagerly awaited followup to the 2015 hit, Kingsman: The Golden Circle knows what made its predecessor work and knows what made it falter. Screenwriter Jane Goldman returns with writer/director Matthew Vaughn, and they use this knowledge wisely to tiptoe around audience expectations. Set around a year after The Secret Service, the story sees Kingsman™ intelligence agents Galahad (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) teaming up with their American counterparts Statesman™ led by Champ (Jeff Bridges), to stop a crazed entrepreneur (Julianne Moore) killing vast swathes of civilisation with poisoned recreational drugs. Other characters from the first outing return, but to go into that would be to unfurl plot points, and this is a spoiler-free joint tonight.

Now, the good news is that the cast (reprising or otherwise) are all largely on great form, and the issues which hampered the previous movie don't really apply here (and 'that troublesome line' gets a reference at a similar point in this film which is laugh-out-loud funny, at least). The action is slick, the language is foul, the CGI is better than last time and the shell-casing count is off the chart. The Golden Circle is a very enjoyable flick. And be warned, it's also another one for this year to bow at the altar of John Denver.

But at the same time, there are far more moments in Vaughn's sequel than you expect than ones you don't. It never becomes a flat-out retread, but much like GotG2, it's impossible to top the unique buzz of an unexpected hit when everybody's looking forward to your follow-up, especially when there are the requisite number of callbacks to be made anyway.The story serves as a solid continuation of the events we witnessed last time, but brings nothing in the way of new toys to the sandbox.

But when it comes down to it, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is smart, fun, genuinely touching in places and more than acceptable in the cinematic roller-coaster which is 2017. Just temper your expectations and you won't go too far wrong…



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Kingsman, pretty much.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
If you're going to watch it at all, watch it big, yes.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I'm not entirely convinced at this point that the film knows what it wants to achieve.
It's a more-than-passable sequel however, so let's go for a yes
.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's not.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I won't.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Didn't hear one.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: This film's got Sam 'Windu' Jackson in it, albeit very briefly and in a flashback sequence. Still counts, though.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…





DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Review: Kingsman - The Secret Service





Kingsman: The Secret Service (third-pass)
Cert: 15 / 126 mins / Dir. Matthew Vaughn / Trailer



When I was four, I wanted to be Mark Hamill. Well, I wanted to be Luke Skywalker, but the two were indistinguishable at that age, and remained so for some time. Whether it was the loose-fitting desert tunic, the pristine stolen stormtrooper armour or a heavy-drill orange flight-suit, these were outfits I wanted to wear, to be like my hero. Forty years later, I watch Mark Hamill in this movie*1, an appreciator of fine whisky in a brown corduroy jacket… and nothing has changed.

Anyhow, from the mind of Mark Millar comes Kingsman: The Secret Service, the comic-book roots spawning a perfect cinematic mashup of spies and superheroes. After its original run two and a half years ago, revisiting Eggsy's first outing on a big screen doesn't really deliver any new or prescient insights, it's just bloody good fun still. Back in 2015, this felt like it could be the first charge in a new wave of action cinema; not so much re-inventing the wheel, just reminding you how cool the wheel can be when it's done right, although tonally we haven't since had anything comparable other than Deadpool and maybe John Wick.

Absolutely perfect in its pacing and approach, this is the classic Hero's Journey for the 21st century. While Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Sam Jackson are all great value for money, Taron Egerton holds the whole thing together effortlessly, suggesting that he's going to be a (welcome) fixture on our screens for many years to come.

It's perhaps notable that the film which ran tonight was the original cinematic print, rather than one of the edited versions that later hit the home-release market. Fair play to 20th Century Fox*2 for sticking to their guns with that one, I suppose; it passed classification once and there's no point being defensively revisionist about it, right?*3

But all in all, this is amazing. And the church-scene is still one of the greatest action sequences ever committed to film. Kingsman: The Secret Service is a thing of profane beauty…

Oh but for the record, you do realise that even if the gun is loaded with blanks, you'll still be looking after a deafened dog for the rest of its traumatised life, don't you? Well done Caine, now get back in your bloody attick…



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Kick-Ass, Deadpool.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
If you get the opportunity, hell yes.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Hell yes.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
As fantastic as the movie is, probably not, due to the strength of the talent involved.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Nope.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
I'm not hearing one. Help me out here?


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: This film's got Mace Windu and Luke Skywalker in it of course, but as of December last year, Lt. Frobb from off of Rogue One is there, too.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Although this time Mark is the tutor, and it's Taron Egerton who gets to shoot white-armoured troops while running around polished corridors in an enemy fortress to rescue a princess. Boom. [ BACK ]

*2 It hasn't escaped my attention that in Harry's office, all the front-pages he has on display are from The S*n newspaper, owned by one R*pert M*rdoch, the same tycoon also owns 20th Century Fox, this film's distributor. And sure, this could be a coincidence, until you get to the sequel film in which all news-bulletin reports (even ones taking place in the UK) are branded as F*x News, also owned by… well, you get the picture. And as much as I try not to let my political affiliations colour either this blog or my cinema-viewing in general, I'd be lying if I said that didn't leave a slightly bad taste in the mouth. [ BACK ]

*3 Knowing I'd be writing separately about The Secret Service, I went back over my two previous reviews in 2015 to see what I'd covered at the time. I'd forgotten quite how annoyed I was by the film's gender politics. Not necessarily how shoddily the female characters are treated (cf. most other screenplays, ever), but how that's come about when the rest of the movie is so consistently strong. Let's just say that while I still genuinely love the first Kingsman flick, I stand by every single word I wrote about its flaws.
[ BACK ]


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The Super-Fan Diaries, vol.2

[ The following post is archival material, written for another site/platform, but never published until now. It is a follow-up to the previous SuperFan Diaries entry. While the text has been reviewed/proofread, it is presented here in its original, unexpurgated form. ]



The Thermally Inclement Judiciary System…


The September morning had been bright and welcoming, if somewhat brusque in its temperature, when Mrs Blackout and myself left Oxfordshire. The locomotive engine of Mister Brunel's own Great Western Company which ferried us toward London Town did so with the velocity and we had come to admire, and its counterpart which carried us from the Euston station did so with a comparable efficiency.

And yet the day as we found it when we arrived in Milton Keynes had a grey stillness to the air; not exactly an atmosphere of foreboding, but one of reluctance, certainly. Lest we forget, this is one of the realm's 'New Towns', commissioned in a drunken haze by His Majesty in 1819, then designed and built to completion by architects Frederick Milton and Broderick Keynes less than a year later. Alas, upon the day of the grand opening of the Central Station, the two had a spectacular quarrel regarding the refreshment concession in the forecourt (Milton citing his wish for a Pumpkin Emporium, Keynes professing his preference for The Caffeteria Nero brand), and the ensuing duel which many assumed to be naught more than a publicity stunt resulted in the untimely death of them both. And I fear that the literal clouds which hung overhead as we alighted our train were made all the heavier by this metaphorical one.




Fig.1 A Cinematorium in His Majesty's New Town, Milton Keynes.


As to the purpose of our visit, I have for some time been a member of The Cineworld Motionography Company's subscription scheme, whereby for 1/6d per calendar month, one can view as many modern moving pictures as the heart desires in any of their screening-halls, theatres or booths (although this rises to the still reasonable 2/- if one should like to include London's 'West End' halls). As a valued customer and cine-fanatic, I (and a few select others, I hasten to add) had been invited, all expense covered no less, to attend one of The Cineworld Company's flagship playhouses, in the aforementioned New Town, upon arrival at which, we would be presented with a showing of The Hollywood Corporation's latest moving picture drama, complete with a new-fangled system of pulleys and bellows attached to each customer's chair, the motions of which purportedly accompany the storytelling on the screen.

This contrivance, "The Four Dee-Ex" as its creators have named it, was the first of its kind on our glorious shores, and had been dreamt up by those marvellous boffins in the Korean See-Jay Four Dee-Plex Corporation. Additionally, this was to be a three-dimensional presentation, utilising a scientifically engineered pair of spectacles worn by the viewer (supplied by the cinema at a surcharge of -/3d, coincidentally enough), which work in tandem with a series of shutters and mirrors to create the effect of complete visual cinematic immersion. Whatever will they think of next?





Fig.2 The Latest Three-Dimensional Cinematic Viewing Apparatus.


After being met at the historically pensive station by The Cineworld Company's delightful representatives, carriages were arranged to ferry us along the bustling esplanade and toward the veritable Mecca of leisure and entertainment which expectantly awaited our arrival. We stepped down onto the concourse and the day proper began.

Now, the programme's feature presentation, 'The Thermally Inclement Judiciary System' was in fact "a sequel", as I believe they are known; a second installment in an ongoing cascade of adventure tales, rather like the serialised stories which appear in penny dreadfuls. Unsure as to whether Mrs Blackout and I were familiar with its narrative predecessor, our benefactors had very kindly put aside an entire theatre for a private screening of the series' first cinematograph, 'The Labyrinth Expedient'. In fact reader, I had seen the reel before (although my good lady had not) and enjoyed it thoroughly, so this cognitive refreshment was a most welcome addition to the proceedings.

As was, in no lesser way, the banquet arranged by our hosts, prepared and provided by Mr Franklyn Benjamin's Brasserie Americana & Sausage Emporium (although the exterior signage would lead one to expect that Franklyn and Benjamin are the two cooperative partners of the business, this was an affectation insisted upon by its proprietor when a severe blow to the head sustained in an unfortunate kitchen-based accident lead to his developing two distinct personalities. Although the man's culinary skills are unparalleled, this is still very much a subject of some vexation, and should you meet Franklyn (or 'Benjamin') in person, for the love of God do NOT bring it up).

After luncheon, and as an additional (and pleasantly surprising) perk of our visit, my good lady and I were given, gratis, a shopping basket containing confectionery, a carbonated soft drink (one of the more deplorable items to come from The Americas independence, if one is being honest) and a range of branded 'merchandise' relating to The Thermally Inclement Judiciary System, so that we may outwardly express our appreciation for its entertainment value, whilst also acting as ambassadors - indeed, advertisements - for its continued availability and success. Whatever will they think of next?




Fig.3 Mr Franklyn Benjamin's Sausage Emporium.


And so it was with great trepidation that Mrs Blackout and myself were shown to our reserved seats in the centre of the auditorium, the braided rope being removed for our passage by the proud duty manager of the theatre. The house-lamps were dimmed to a respectful level and the show began. And what a show it turned out to be...

Following an initial period of bodily and psychological adjustment to the method of delivery, the audience was transported, in spirit at least, to a God-forsaken futuristic vision of The Americas, whereby a particularly virulent outbreak of Gout has all but exterminated the population, save for a smattering of spirited urchins who appear to be immune to the misfortune. Using naught but their wits, cunning and a series of progressively powerful firearms, the group endeavour to find the apothecary who can put an end to this madness and restore order, dignity and scheduled meal-times to what remains of civilisation (Mrs Blackout remarked on the lack of tea facilities in the film; I reminded her that this was a horrendous portent of humanity's future ailings, and American ailings at that).

Added to this engaging spectacle was the aforementioned system of sensory enhancements, which lived up to our expectation and then more. In scenes depicting thrilling carriage-pursuits, a parade of off-duty chimney sweeps beneath the screen were to waft large fans toward the audience, to create the sensation of air movement. Similarly, depictions of explosions and continued conflagration were accompanied by the ensemble's rapid inhalation and subsequent exhalation of Capstan Full Strength cigarettes, to create a layer of immersive smoke (and with the added bonus of being good for the health of both the little tykes and the audience alike!). At one point during a scene set in a storm, Mrs Blackout even marvelled at the effect of moisture flying toward the viewer from apparently concealed water-pistols. I quietly informed her that this was merely a fortunate co-incidence of the feeble collective's tears, projected as their gangmaster whipped their backs in synchronisation with on-screen gunshots. Whatever will they think of next?




Fig.3 The Effects-Providers, Allowed to Sit Between Performances.


Alas, with our cinematic duality at its conclusion and the return journey to Oxfordshire still to be endured, the time had come to bid farewell to our fellow revellers, thank our beloved hosts most humbly and make our way into the cool Buckinghamshire evening (although the hour was still light, the venue's programme contained no other cinematographs we wish to view at that juncture, nor did we wish to take our chances among the town's ruffians by leaving the hall once darkness had descended).

As a parting extravagance, carriages had been summoned for our convenience, but not before we were informed that the next gathering of our cinematic league was to be in December, whereby we would be excused from the church-services of the festive-season and convene back in our nation's wondrous capital (thank the Lord), to witness the upcoming moving-picture by Rev. Jebediah Jeronimo Abrahamson, entitled 'A Stellar Hostility: The Compulsion Enlivens'.

It appears, dear reader, that this is what they thought of next.


Our carriage awaited, as did our future festivities. Into the night we roared, over the moors, through the provinces and across county borders; our expectation and excitement matched only by the clattering wheels of Brunel's steel beast…




Fig.3 The Velocitous Mechanical Fruit or Mr Brunels's Labours.



DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Review: mother!





mother!
Cert: 18 / 121 mins / Dir. Darren Aronofsky / Trailer



Before what could be politely described as 'a challenging piece of work', and after the usual run of ads for products that no-one is actively bothered about, sat a selection trailers. This was the distributor's demographically-charged opportunity to showcase upcoming content to an audience already somewhat on-side, by means of them being perched in front of a tonally-related film. And so, on Friday afternoon, we had the promo reels for The Ritual, Jigsaw, Flatliners and… A Bad Moms Christmas. It appears that Paramount aren't entirely sure who Darren Aronofsky's mother! is for. And having since watched it through, I know the feeling…

We centre around a couple played by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, building an idyllic life for themselves in a recently restored house in the countryside. But when a stranger arrives unexpectedly and is offered hospitality, it begins an irreversible chain of events that will change their lives forever. It's nowhere near as linear or formulaic as that setup makes it sound, I assure you.

Notwithstanding my snarkiness at the choice of pre-film trailers above, the other thing which caught my attention was the BBC-card's brief cautionary summary: "Strong violence", it said*1. Just that. Strong violence. Which, with a work like this, translates roughly as "The two lines afforded to a description on this screen are nowhere near enough to even begin listing all the things which an audience could find problematic. Seriously, mate. I mean, you've seen the trailer, right? However, there are moments of violence in there which, while they aren't intended for shock-value alone, are nonetheless over-and-above what we could normally squeeze into the 15 bracket. So let's just say 'strong violence' and leave it at that. In all honesty, the violence depicted will be the least of your worries if you start actually thinking about what you've sat through, but hey. Strong violence."

Right, four paragraphs in. Better start critiquing the film, really. And that's very much the thing; the more you think about this, the more you'll back away from examining too closely. mother! is frankly insane*3, albeit in a marvellous way; a two-hour fever dream, grinding together domestic farce and escalating psychological horror, like Terry and June on an absinthe and mescaline-fuelled bender. Aronofsky's screenplay is an allegorical symphony of religious*4, social and ecological notes, where not a single frame, line of dialogue nor pause between them is wasted. Less of an enigmatic scalpel, more an intricate sledgehammer.

Lawrence and Bardem are on excellent form, absorbed completely into their characters. Ed Harris with Brian and Domhnall Gleeson are strong (if fleeting) support, and Michelle Pfeiffer is utterly terrifying. As the story unfolds and the cast grows larger, Aronofsky never loses the focus on his leading pair. All in all, this is great direction of a great cast.

And how it makes the audience work, like only art can, and is all the better because it's not trying to appeal to the widest possible audience. None of the characters are specifically named, so the spoken references to him, her, he, she, they and you gets irritating around ten minutes after the house-guests arrive. The hand-held camerawork spends a fair chunk of time in close-up / extreme close-up position and is constantly moving, lending the atmostphere an air of genuine claustrophobia unlike anything else I've seen this year. This is a horror movie in the truest sense, showing what can me achieved when a writer/director has the courage to let madness expand organically.

The only real issue I have with mother! is that I'm not sure if I want to see it again (just yet, at least), in case I find it less enjoyable the second time round. Ironically, watching with the knowledge of what's to come feels like it will rob the screenplay of its power, despite bringing the opportunity to pore over its foreshadowing in greater detail.

It's rare that films come so close to being classified as an art installation, and rarer still that the multiplexes screen them, but Aronofsky's work really is the jewel in the ashes.

Go and watch mother!



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Requiem For A Dream, A Ghost Story.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
The close-quarters shaky cam is arguably better suited to a small screen. This film looks gorgeous but I wouldn't be surprised if it gives some viewers headaches/nausea.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think so?


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It could well be.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Absolutely not.
There is a fair chance you'll despise this, and I delight in you telling me why



Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard, although there's a lot of hullabaloo in the third act and it would be easy to lose one in there.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: General Hux is in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…
(I can't give the film a 7 without watching it again; I can't watch it again without letting my brain process it; I can't let my brain process it without speaking to other people who've also seen it. So go and watch this then report back, yeah?)


*1 Speaking of which, this was the second 18-rated movie of the week, and the second to feature very specific capitalisation in its title. And while I know it's a thing I can't seem to let go of, that exclamation mark at the end of mother! isn't going to hashtag well. And it'll look even worse without the capitalisation normally given to a film title. Any online buzz will be lost in people talking about their mums*2. It's almost like Aronofsky just wants to bring life to his artistic vision and doesn't give two fucks about social media marketing. I know, right? [ BACK ]

*2 Maybe that's why we got the trailer for Bad Moms Christmas? Very meta. Speaking of which, yeah - a footnote within a footnote. That's quite meta, too. Although a film like this fully deserves it. [ BACK ]

*3 Now it's one thing to have the title stylised as mother! with the lower-case 'm' and exclamation mark permanently attached making spell-checkers think the sentence has just finished. As it's a conceit of an already unique film, I'm fine with that. But it feels very, very wrong to be starting a sentence with the title and keeping the small-m. [ BACK ]

*4 If even I can see the biblical references scattered throughout this film (but still know that's not what it's specifically about), there are probably way, way more that I'm not picking up. [ BACK ]


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.