Movie Review: “Kingsman: The Secret Service”

Starring
Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Sofia Boutella, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson
Director
Matthew Vaughn

After subverting the superhero genre with “Kick-Ass,” the creative team behind that film (director Matthew Vaughn, co-writer Jane Goldman and comic book writer Mark Millar) has returned with an equally over-the-top homage to spy movies. Developed separately from the Millar-penned comic on which it’s loosely based, Vaughn’s film improves on that version in just about every way, delivering a smarter (but no less absurd) take on Cold War-era spy movies that embraces as many genre conventions as it breaks. A mix of the old and new school, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a lot cooler than its clunky title might imply – a hyper-stylized, gratuitously explicit action film that would make James Bond blush. After all, this is a movie that cartoonishly blows up Barack Obama’s head without even blinking.

The movie opens 17 years earlier when, while on a mission in the Middle East, secret agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is unable to prevent the death of a fellow agent. Feeling personally responsible, he visits the man’s wife (Samantha Womack) and young son, Eggsy, giving them a medal with a special phone number on the back should they ever need a favor. Fast-forward to present day and Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has grown up to become a lower-class delinquent who’s wasted his incredible potential. When Eggsy gets in trouble with the law, Harry bails him out, eventually recruiting him as a candidate for the same secret agency his father worked for, the Kingsmen, an independent organization of highly-trained agents who put their lives on the line to protect the world. While Eggsy undergoes the ultra-competitive training program (with only one recruit earning a spot as a Kingsman), Harry investigates a potential threat involving a tech-genius billionaire named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) who wants to save the Earth from the dangerous effects of climate change by wiping out most of humanity.

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Movie Review: “Magic in the Moonlight”

Starring
Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Hamish Linklater, Simon McBurney, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, Eileen Atkins
Director
Woody Allen

Woody Allen has made some real stinkers over the course of his 50-year career, and though “Magic in the Moonlight” isn’t quite bad enough to be included among the director’s absolute worst films, it’s not very good either. Allen’s movies have always been pretty hit-and-miss, but since 2005’s career-altering “Match Point” – in which he inadvertently became a foreign film director by working almost exclusively in Europe – he’s only made three legitimately great movies. But while Allen has proven that he’s still capable of delivering a good film on occasion, he seems more concerned with maintaining his yearly output no matter what the cost, and that quantity-over-quality way of thinking only underlines the problems with his latest comedy.

Set in the late 1920s, the movie opens in a Berlin theater during a performance of world-renowned magician Wei Ling Soo. But just like the magic tricks in his show, it’s all a ruse. Wei Ling Soo isn’t Chinese at all, but rather the terribly racist stage persona of grumpy and arrogant Englishman Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth). He’s an elitist at heart who despises charlatans that give his profession a bad name, so when his longtime friend Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney) asks for his assistance in debunking a young spiritualist named Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), whom he believes is scamming the heir of the wealthy Catledge family, Stanley is all too happy to oblige. The pair heads to the Catledges’ mansion on the French Riviera in order to observe Sophie in action and catch her red-handed, but against his better judgment, Stanley begins to believe that she’s the real deal.

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A Roundtable Chat with Colin Firth (“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”)

When Focus Features drops you a line and asks you if you’d like to head to New York City for an overnight stay at the Waldorf Astoria in order to attend a screening and press junket for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” based on the novel by John le Carré, you don’t think about it. You just say, “Yes.” And so I did. After catching a screening of the film on a Friday night, I got up on Saturday morning to begin the interviews of the day. After a roundtable with director Tomas Alfredson and screenwriter Peter Straughan, the two gentlemen left the room, to be replaced a few minutes later by one of the stars of the film, Colin Firth.

One word of warning: the potential for spoilers exists within the piece…like, to the point where Firth asks during one of his answers “not to turn this into spoilers when you write about it.” But, look, if you don’t want to know, then don’t read it. But given that the original novel was published in 1974, followed by the TV miniseries in 1979, it’s not as if you haven’t had plenty of time to absorb this information already…

Journalist: Are you a fan of the espionage and spy films?

Colin Firth: I like the good ones, yeah.

J: Do you have any favorites?

CF: No, not really. [Gesturing toward the journalist sitting next to him.] We talked about this, actually, him and I. He had to help me out. [Laughs.] No, I’m one of those people where, if you say, “Tell me what your favorite music is,” I can’t think of any music in the world. So that’s a difficult question. You throw something at me, I’ll tell you whether I like it or not. But, yeah, I’m a fan.

J: Well, we’re all like that. You ask me, and I’d do the same thing.

CF: Yeah, I know. Nothing is more guaranteed to draw a blank, I’m afraid.

J: In the film, we were trying to figure out exactly who the people up in that big office were.

CF: [Uncertainly] Oh, I hope I can help…

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True Sh*t: Ten Movies the 2011 Academy Award Nominees Don’t Want You to See

Everyone has taken that soul-sucking job in order to pay the bills. And while we proles may tease them for living the glamorous life, actors probably take that job more often than anyone, since they never know when the next job is going to come. (Case in point: Michael Madsen told us that he categorizes the movies he’s made as “good,” “bad,” and “unwatchable.”) Putting this theory to the test, we scoured the filmographies of this year’s nominees in the acting categories, looking for movie titles that screamed ‘bad idea.,’ and we were not disappointed with what we found. Jesse Eisenberg, for example, did a TV movie called “Lightning: Fire from the Sky,” which will be the main feature at our next Bad Movie night. Here are ten other films that this year’s candidates would probably prefer remained unseen.

Colin Firth (Best Actor, “The King’s Speech”)

Movie: Femme Fatale (1991)
IMDb rating: 4.6
The plot: An English artist-turned park ranger falls for and marries a stranger, only for her to disappear days later. As he learns more about his wife, he gets deeper and deeper into the Los Angeles underworld looking for clues that will lead him to her.
Firth’s character: Joe Prince, the aforementioned artist/ranger.
How bad is it?: You may not see the ending coming, but that is about the only thing this movie has going for it. Armed with one of the most awkward love scenes we’ve seen in ages, this movie does not gel on any level, using mental illness as a means of providing psychological depth, not to mention Acting!, with that last word ideally spoken like Jon Lovitz. Firth is actually passable here, given the material, and Danny Trejo pops up as a tattoo artist. But you can bet that when someone assembles a clip show of Firth’s finest moments, this movie will not make the cut.

Jeremy Renner (Best Supporting Actor, “The Town”)

Movie: National Lampoon’s Senior Trip (1995)
IMDb rating: 4.9
The plot: A group of delinquent kids takes a bus trip to Washington D.C. to tell the President first-hand what is wrong with the education system, something a couple of corrupt politicians intend to exploit.
Renner’s character: Mark “Dags” D’agostino, a slacker stoner. With pierced ears.
How bad is it?: Put it this way: the first actor listed in the credits is Matt “Max Headroom” Frewer, and the movie’s few laughs come from Tommy Chong as the drug-addled bus driver. On the “National Lampoon” movie scale, this one lands somewhere in between “Class Reunion” and “Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj.”


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