Kingsmen: The Secret Service

Up next on our agenda is the new spy thriller Kingsman: The Secret Service. Directed by Matthew Vaughn and starring Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, and Samuel L. Jackson, the film is rated R for sequences of strong violence, language and some sexual content. Also, congrats to Simon for his Screenwars writing debut!

The movie starts with operatives led by Harry Hart (Firth) infiltrating a terrorist base, when suddenly his partner Lee is killed by a terrorist’s grenade in a moment of rash oversight by Harry. Harry gives Lee’s wife and son a medal of honor awarding Lee’s bravery; on the back is a number that calls in one favor to Harry should the two ever need it. Fast-forward 17 years and the family lives in a lower class neighborhood, where Lee’s son Eggsy (Egerton) has turned to petty thievery and drugs. After being thrown in jail, Eggsy realizes that the call to Harry is more than just a get-out-of-jail-free card, and now faces the once in a life-time opportunity to become a Kingsman.

7.0 out of 10

The spy movie has struggled the last few years. Sure, Daniel Craig’s first bond film, Casino Royale, was a sleek and stylish drama that helped reinvigorate interest in the classic franchise. But then we had Quantum of Solace, a disaster of a film that peaked with its Jack White and Alicia Keys theme song and failed to build upon the heartbreak of Casino. Then Skyfall came along, and while it was certainly entertaining as a popcorn action flick, it was a severe departure from the spy Bond that we’ve come to love over the years.

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I think a big part of the reason why newer spy movies are looking less like the Sean Connery sleuth and more like a bang bang explosion type film is simply the fact that we live in an age with such amazing special effects, and, frankly, most people go to the movie theaters for gunshots and big set pieces rather than the slow-build tension that characterized Connery’s Bond. Unfortunately, there is definitely something lost in these new spy movies.

Kingsman, for it’s part, attempts to shirk the stereotypes of the modern spy film and find it’s own niche, much like director Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass did for the superhero genre. And for the most part, I think Vaughn succeeds.

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He relies often on the strength of an exceptional cast, which features acting greats like Michael Caine, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, and Samuel L. Jackson. Firth was fantastic as an aged yet restless spy attempting to father the son of his old comrade into the spy business. He has deft comedic timing and some hilarious deadpan, which is surprising for a guy synonymous with Oscar winning dramatic roles like King George VI in The King’s Speech. Samuel L Jackson is also hilarious, and he accentuates his character’s accent and irrational fear of blood (given his business) to great effect. My favorite character was definitely Eggsy, the young and immature kid dragged into the spy business that cost his dad his life. He too provides comedic levity in the film, and he is often the outlet for Vaughn’s satirical comments on the mold spy film. Eggsy is brash, arrogant, and yet somehow moral and redeeming. I hope Taron Egerton gets some more starring roles in the future.

Kingsman is also predictably violent. If you’ve ever seen Kick-Ass, then you know that Vaughn’s affinity for blood and gore makes even Quentin Tarantino a little be squeamish. He had to tone it down a bit for X-Men, given that those were such mass-marketed films with a diverse viewership, but now that Vaugn is back in his niche he goes a little bit blood happy. There are shooting, knifings, strangulations, decapitations, and just about everything else you can think of. Still, it’s never very realistic nor shocking, but it certainly is entertaining.

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For the most part, Vaughn’s strategy in mocking the typical spy movie is to adhere to its formula but point out is ridiculousness. This strategy pays of brilliantly for a while, but at a certain point it seems like he switches up satire for laziness and Kingsman devolves into the convoluted, overdrawn spy movie that we’ve seen all too much of over the last few years. Still, Kingsmen is relentlessly entertaining, even if it teeters on the edge of contrived and banal towards the end.

I’d like to indulge myself in a little tangent here for a moment, but it requires a warning: spoiler alert (sort of).

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Without giving away too many details, let’s just say that towards the end of the movie Obama’s head explodes into cloud of multicolored debris. While the movie doesn’t outright call him President Obama, he is clearly seen in the White House and looks and sounds like Obama. It’s Obama. How interesting that in a year in which Sony Pictures was hacked and threatened for releasing The Interview, which features the death of King Jong Un, an American filmmaker releases a film in which our POTUS dies, and nobody says a thing. I don’t think The Interview or Obama’s death in Kingsmen should be big deals at all; they’re movies. I would like to just take a second to note that (rightfully) nobody has made Kingman’s content a big deal. Take that North Korea.

Hopefully we will see more Kingsman films in the future. They certainly help to break the monotony of superhero movies and crappy Adam Sandler movies. I think in a few years we should expect Taron Egerton to be commanding roles in both comedic and dramatic characters.

8.0 out of 10

Hello, Screenwars loyal readers! I’m Simon G, and I go to school with the other writers here: Vig, Zach, Will, Nic, and Sam, all of whom I thank very much for allowing me to review the new spy action-thriller, Kingsman!

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If you have any suspicions that this movie will fall far short of the always smooth, James Bond films; I wish to quell these concerns immediately. While Kingsman does not bear the universally known brand name of Ian Fleming’s popular spy hero, this fun and flashy feature does not disappoint in bringing classy, impeccably well dressed spies together with explosions and fights that will surely rivet your eyes to the screen.

Although it is surprising that the likes of Colin Firth and Michael Caine, who are classy, A-list British actors, assumed characters in this comedic film, their appearances only added to it. Their roles as spy agents of the Kingsmen secret organization was truly entertaining and exciting to see; even from the very beginning Colin Firth is seen deftly dispatching his foes with a classy flare. But this would be blood and gore, Tarantino-esq movie was well balanced with a healthy dose of dark humor as there are quite literally “mind-blowing” scenes where fatalities are accompanied with colorful fireworks. The comical, yet exhilarating action comes with an appealing protagonist played by Taron Egerton, who plays the troubled but promising Eggsy trapped in the rough neighborhood. His rebelliousness, humor, and position as a loner in the midst of both posh British school boys and barbaric street thugs puts him in the audience’s heart as he struggles across the many challenges facing a prospective agent. The Kingsmen mobilize to face the global threat imposed by Samuel L. Jackson’s evil persona, and the action only intensifies as cinematography that can only be described as totally awesome shows close up pans of agents when they engage in fisticuffs with whole hoards villains.

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If anything drew from the flick, it is the same thing that made it so electrifying: the flamboyant and plentiful action sequences. Although completely seat-gluing for young boys, the movie does not appeal as much to more refined moviegoers who prefer a nod to interesting plots and compelling characters. Although not devoid of these attributes, it is obvious that Kingsman had a particular emphasis on broken noses, flying teeth, and acrobatic pistol wielding. Further emphasis on the more complex aspects of plot and character development would have led Kingsman to truly match the sophistication of the spies within it. For the classy, British, fast-paced spy battle movie that it was however, it really made a blast out of a Saturday afternoon, one that would surely entertain anyone who loves energetic, nail biting thrillers.

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Underneath the action-packed layer of British guns, grenades, and gentlemen spies, there are undertones of socio economic divides, and suddenly what seemed to be a gratuitously fight-filled movie becomes a film with a real message. Eggsy’s upbringing, a humble and lower-close existence, clashes in staunch separation with that of the well dressed gentlemen from the Kingsman secret service. They wear their finely tailored suits and ascots while Eggsy sports his loose jeans and sweater. Eloquent speech hallmarks Harry, while cusswords and eclectic grammar define Eggsy and the bullies from his neighborhood. Although gadget wielding spies are not common, there is a very real line between social classes in the world, but this unassuming movie does an excellent job at closing the gap. At various moments Eggsy ridicules Harry for his obvious affluence, but through the growing friendship between the duo they break down the barriers that their immediate appearances set between them. Harry implores Eggsy to take up the spy opportunity presented to him and to not throw his life away as he had in the past, presenting the classic principle that hard work and dedication, (even to becoming a lethal, gun-slinging spy) can propel you into success. The mentor later reminds Eggsy that a true gentleman is seen from the maturity one has gained from their former self rather one’s superiority over their cohorts, an invaluable lesson that brings some real life morals to yet another spy-thriller. Despite what the trailers may bombastically show, Colin Firth beating evil-doers to a pulp looks absolutely kick-ass, this movie has meaning hidden between the scenes. As the Kingsmen preach, “Manners [really do] maketh man”.


Inherent Vice

Up next is a look at Paul Thomas Anderson’s next feature film, Inherent Vice. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, and Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice is rated R for drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some violence.

In 1970, drugged up Los Angeles detective Larry “Doc” Sportello (Phoenix) investigates the dissappearance of his ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend, only to stumble into more trouble than he originally thought he would encounter.

4.0 out of 10
I have dedicated 18 hours of my life to the movie Inherent Vice. 6 hours waiting in line to see it at New York Film Festival, 2 and a half hours seeing it, 2 hours reading the beginning of the book, 4 hours watching movies that were used for inspiration (The Long Goodbye and The Big Sleep), 2 and a half hours seeing the movie when it was released in theaters, and an hour skimming the screenplay afterwards. Why? Because I love Paul Thomas Anderson and I really wanted to love Inherent Vice (Spoiler alert: I didn’t).

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The first night that I saw Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson (man, myth, and legend) introduced the movie himself, along with the entire cast. He introduced his film as a “Saturday night movie” and told us to “kick back and relax”. That is the worst advice he could have given. This movie requires a a pencil, a notepad, and NO bathroom breaks if you want to know what is going on. If I am being totally honest I still only have a broad understanding of the plot. I do, however, understand where PTA is coming from. In the movies that inspired Inherent, The Long Goodbye and The Big Sleep, there are so many characters mentioned and so many events happening so fast that the audience only really keeps up with the basic plot of the movie instead of the case itself because of the rock that was the protagonist (in both cases, also a wise-cracking PI). The reason these movies succeeded and Inherent did not is because there was no anchor. Doc is emotional, drug abusing, and has a friend that disappears (???). His character is the looking glass the viewer sees the movie through, making us feel vulnerable and confused. The protagonists of the movies PTA was trying to emulate were very solid, making the movies solid.

Starting from the first scene I had no idea what was going on. There was a narration and then Katherine Waterston’s character mumbled through the set-up of the entire movie and left. After that there are Nazis, mental hospitals, and disappearing friends (???) for two and a half hours. In every single scene a new motive or character is introduced which gets hard to keep track of from the get-go. PTA has called this the kind of movie you might need to see twice, which I think is complete bullshit because that is not a kind of movie, it’s just bad filmmaking.

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Inherent Vice isn’t all bad though! The giant cast is without a bad performance, especially Josh Brolin who was absolutely brilliant as a “civil rights violating” cop whose partner’s death left him bitter. Most importantly though, it’s, of course, beautifully shot by Robert Elswit on 35mm. I could genuinely watch it on mute just for the visuals. There is a 470 foot dolly shot following doc and chasta (Katherine Waterson) running through the rain that gave me goosebumps both times I saw it in theaters and all of the times I’ve watched the scene on youtube.

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Every director has a dud. This is PTA’s dud. But being the actual genius he is, he will dust himself off and dazzle us all with his next movie. That is to say, Inherent Vice has not turned me off of Paul Thomas Anderson and agreeing with me shouldn’t turn you off of his work either.

PS: After writing this review I’ve now spent 19 hours of my life on Inherent Vice.

6.0 out of 10

There are some movies that just kind of chug along as though there’s no audience to please: they’re usually inhabited by some wacky characters that fit the pace as well and the plot takes several detours on its way to a (maybe) unsatisfying destination. These types of films truly never fail to earn my begrudging respect as you almost kind of have to like it when the creators of a movie just kind of…went without one care in the entire, whole wide, increasingly critical world. Usually though, there’s but one factor that can make these slower endeavors at least somewhat enjoyable to me: style.

Owen Wilson and Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice.

And Inherent Vice has got itself some style. Definitely a weird style but it’s the quantity of style plenty of movies sorely lack nonetheless so I guess the question of this review is largely whether it scraped enough style together to create an enjoyable experience. Before we dive in, I’ll go over the plot as best as I possibly can:

Private Investigator Doc Sportello has to deal with a series of odd cases that are tied together through one mysterious criminal organization called the Golden Fang. He is eventually forced to navigate himself through the seedier underbellies of Los Angeles to get to the bottom of all these issues. Doc encounters a slew of oddball characters in an onslaught of resulting strange events and additionally starts to revamp his relationship with his ex-wife Shasta along the way.

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That’s kind of the best I can do. I’m not even trying to shield you from spoilers too too much, it’s just a film that dips into a lot of events and characters with differing levels of success. In all honesty, I’d probably need to give this all a second go-around to give you a more detail-rich synopsis which I am honestly unwilling to do because this whole two hour and twenty eight minute crime-comedy-mystery-drama-romance-amalgam was just so incredibly taxing.

So, let’s keep this complex movie simple, shall we? Was it good? Like many people who saw it, I’m not too crazy about it but I didn’t think it was bad either. Like I said before, the only thing that can save a movie that simply does not care is style and this film had quite a distinct taste and modus operandi that (as far as I’ve heard) fit its eponymous source material accurately. Its strange characters are pretty memorable and well-portrayed as well and I’d rather have notable characters in a winding plotline than a series of bland ones in a tight plotline.

But around the third plot pit-stop, I started to get, for lack of a better word, pissed. Yes, I said it can be admirable when a movie just kind of goes but there is an audience and they have shelled out an $11.50 to watch your film so, please, put a bottleneck on the amount of stories you intertwine with your protagonist’s! Seriously, every time I started to like a well-crafted character during this, another one popped up to take his place. The story (ies?) got ridiculously crowded and any coherence sought out suffocated under the film about one fourth of the way through.

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If you’re incredibly (incredibly) tolerant to a writer or director’s whim and you’re willing to afford a movie a lot of wandering because of how well-done it can be, Inherent Vice is the one for you. But if you want a story that beelines to an exact conclusion with calculated characters, don’t dig through the case files of Mr. Doc Sportello.