Sunday, 8 February 2015

The Ciné File Vol. 19

Oddly I've been surrounded by film all week, but despite having Sky Movies on in the background pretty much all the time I've been at home, I haven't actually sat and watched many films this week.

I have, however, managed to squeeze in a trip to the cinema to see Kingsman: The Secret Service; and watched two of my absolute favourite films from 2014 - The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Guardians of the Galaxy.

* * * *
2015 // In U.K. cinemas now

"A spy organization recruits an unrefined, but promising street kid into the agency's ultra-competitive training program just as a global threat emerges from a twisted tech genius."

I've read lots of reviews of Kingsman: The Secret Service over the last few weeks, and it seems to be a pretty divisive film. Critics either like it or really hate it, most citing the violence as the main reason for such a negative response. Having seen it for myself I can appreciate both sides of the argument, but personally I loved Kingsman.

As to be expected, Kingsman is to Bond what Kick-Ass is to superhero films - the morals are looser, the language is more colourful, and yes, the violence is higher, but it is also ridiculously fun to watch. Co-writers Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman have crafted a love letter to the spy movie genre, with this slick and envelope-pushing film. It sort of parodies Bond in a similar vein to Jonny English - taking a beloved British figure and turning him on his head - but instead of creating a bumbling idiot as the protagonist, they go the opposite way, making the Bond-esque characters smoother, cruder and even more stylish. This is a film made by people that adore spy films for people that love to watch them, and it shows.

The casting is seriously on point. Colin Firth is sensational as Kingsman Harry Hart. As an actor whose last onscreen fight scene was with Hugh Grant in a fountain (Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, in case you were wondering…) he looks effortlessly at home wielding a deadly umbrella and schooling potential new recruit Eggsy (Taron Egerton) in the process. Firth was born to play a secret agent, and it seems like he has been waiting for this role his entire life: no one could have played it quite like him, and it's such a surprising performance - his ultra-violent scene in a church springs to mind - that you wonder where Firth has been hiding these talents all along.

Newcomer Egerton is charming, cheeky and carries the film wonderfully, looking like he's having the time of his life from start to finish. He's in a couple of films this year, but Kingsman will be the one to really put his name in lights and deservedly so. There's a whole host of stalwart actors, from Samuel L. Jackson playing a villain with a hilarious hatred for blood; to Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Mark Hamill and Jack Davenport. Each never quite right for the likes of Bond but perfectly at home here. Stand-out performances, however, are from the two women at the centre: both presenting complex, strong and thoroughly bad-ass characters on the opposite sides of the moral spectrum. Sofia Boutella's acrobatic Gazelle is thoroughly deadly, and Sophie Cookson shows the men who's boss as Roxy.

Also at the helm directing, Vaughn ensures that the almost cartoonish action sits comfortably next to character driven scenes. The fight scenes are lightening quick, precise and ultraviolent, but they are shot in such a manner that although they may have crossed the line to grotesque at points, it's so unexpected and shocking that it's impossible to take it as seriously as some articles have claimed. Any film that uses exploding umbrellas, shoes with hidden knives and grenades disguised as lighters in an action sequence isn't one to be taken too seriously…

It's energetic, exciting and beyond stylish (the costumes and tailoring are stunning - menswear on screen has never looked as good: it's like another character). According to Kingsman, you don't have to be born into the establishment to be a gentleman; funnily enough, women can actually be as dangerous and capable as men; and a well-cut suit and impeccable fashion sense is the modern form of chain-mail armour. Manners maketh man, indeed.

* * * * *
2014 // DVD

"A group of intergalactic criminals are forced to work together to stop a fanatical warrior from taking control of the universe."

Any film that features Chris Pratt delightfully exclaiming: "they got my dick message!" is a film worth seeing in my book.

Guardians of the Galaxy is just pure genius. From the soundtrack, to the enormously witty script, to the astonishing CGI it hits all the right notes, and as far as original superhero/sci-fi epics go, it doesn't get much better than this. I am embarrassingly obsessed with Marvel films but I think over the last few years and under the weight of endless (decreasingly in quality) sequels, the studio have almost been playing it safe. They've found a formula that works - and when they get it right, they routinely prove their credentials in spades - but sometimes that can prove boring and almost monotonous. That's why I think Guardians came at exactly the right moment: yes, it still ticks all the normal Marvel boxes, but it's risky, is less child-friendly than most Marvel offerings, and with no previously seen characters (Stan Lee cameo aside) attempting to establish a fan base* for the movie from scratch was a bold and potentially devastating move. *I'm not counting comic book fans here. Luckily, everything about the film just works.

There's no getting away from the fact that it's really weird, and on paper initially a bit of a hard sell for anyone not particularly interested in superheroes and strange new planets. But to be honest, even if that's not your thing, it's pretty difficult not to find Guardians of the Galaxy enormous fun to watch, and I think its success lies mostly in the script. If you strip away all of the special effects and intricately detailed makeup, costumes and sets, it's fundamentally a really, really funny film.

With Chris Pratt - one of the funniest men in his profession - leading the bunch of mis-fit heroes as Peter Quill, a combination of excellent physically comedy and a spot-on deliverance of catchy one-liners was guaranteed from the beginning, and he does not disappoint. He quite literally dances his way through the movie, making Star Lord a roguish, rough-round-the-edges hero, a man that delivers awkwardly phrased yet touching rousing speeches, breaks all the rules, and has no qualms sleeping around all over the galaxy. Squeaky clean Captain America he is not.

The rest of the cast work brilliantly too. The fact that they're all so different is visually incredibly interesting, and the dynamic between a green master assassin, foul-mouthed racoon, talking tree, and huge deadly destroyer is bonkers but brilliant on so many levels. It's a testament to director James Gunn and the special effects team at Framestore that the central cast - two of which are digitally animated - light up the screen so fantastically.

As far as I'm concerned, Guardians of the Galaxy deserves all of the praise that's come its way and more. It's a superhero film was a twist: one for adults more so than children, and those uninterested in fantastical adventures told by men in tights and a flowing cape. Instead this is for those wishing to be as bas-ass as Kevin Bacon, with reflexes so fast nothing could go over your head and an appreciation for three little words: "I am Groot."

* * * * *
Sky Movies // 2014 // DVD

"The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous hotel from the fictional Republic of Zubrowka between the first and second World Wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend."

I've now lost count of the number of times I've watched The Grand Budapest Hotel. It was my favourite film of 2014 and the one I've been most routing for during this awards season - I can't even begin to explain how thrilled I was to see it picking up so many nominations this year after defying the routine release months of awards contenders (September-January) by hitting cinemas this time last year. This wonderful Wes Anderson concoction should be a delightful yet hazy memory on the film calendar at this stage but it obviously left a significant lasting impression in voters' minds over the year and with good reason. It's utterly brilliant.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is so beautiful it hurts. The screen is constantly popping with colour, be it from the pastel pink exterior of the eponymous hotel to the bold purple of the staff uniforms, making it look like a whimsical fairytale fantasy; and every single shot is either symmetrical or perfectly framed with razor-sharp precision. The overall effect is a sight to behold, and Anderson really is at his absolute best with this dazzling, charming and utterly stylish offering.

It's an absurd, technically outstanding, and delightfully funny film. The atmosphere and ensemble cast are definitely familiar thanks to Anderson's previous work, but here they seem more refined and a lot more acute. There's not a single note out of place and the whole movie unfolds with an exquisite dream-like quality that is impossible to accurately description on paper.

I'm not sure I quite believe in the concept of a "perfect" film, but for me The Grand Budapest Hotel is as close to cinematic perfection as is physically possible.

* * *
Sky Movies // 2004 // DVD

"Jack Hall, paleoclimatologist, must make a daring trek across America to reach his son, trapped in the cross-hairs of a sudden international storm which plunges the planet into a new Ice Age."

When I'm watching any form of disaster movie, The Day After Tomorrow is always my benchmark for the quality of the special effects, the level of global panic, and the sheer enormity of the problem. It's the first of this sort of film I can actually vividly remember watching, and being really affected by what I saw - my 12 year old self loved it, and as such even in hindsight and now seeing its faults, I can't shake the habit of using it as a comparison to every other similar film I see. Recently 2012 tried to top it, as did Into The Storm, but for me they just didn't compare to this.

It's a ridiculous film. There's a clunky script containing extremely dubious science and unconvincing characters. Once again America is the epicentre of the disaster, with the plight of the rest of the world merely an afterthought in the odd forgettable scene and an aerial shot from a NASA satellite. However, no matter how average the film as a whole might be, it's lifted by the special effects. Here, the unfolding of an escalating global natural disaster is absolutely terrifying. The shots of New York enveloped in snow, huge ships floating and freezing in the streets as dangerous zoo animals roam wild; and Los Angeles gripped by shattering storms that rip the Hollywood sign from the hill side, are jaw-dropping, and single-handedly have the effect I assume the rest of the film was supposed to provide too.

I find it visually gripping, and as long as you don't scrutinise the script too closely or try in vain to become emotionally invested in Dennis Quaid's quest to reach his son Jake Gyllenhaal in New York, then it's pretty easy to enjoy.

* * *
BBC // 2013 // DVD

"The story of a young girl in North London whose life changes after witnessing a violent attack."

Broken is a solid debut film from acclaimed theatre director Rufus Norris. It boasts an excellent cast - in particular a terrific debut from 11-year-old Eloise Lawrence as the main character Skunk - but is ultimately let down by an overly complicated script of intertwining, tenuously connected plot strands.

There's just too much going on. At its heart, Broken is a coming-of-age narrative, following Skunk after she witnesses neighbour Bob Oswald (the brilliant Rory Kinnear) seemingly randomly violently attack a troubled young man living in the house opposite as he washes his car (Robert Emms). After a hugely promising start Broken begins to unravel, introducing so many rival plots its hard to see where Skunk actually fits in and if she's really the main character at all. The initial confusion may be down to seeing the cul-de-sac chaos unfold through the eyes of a naive eleven-year-old girl, but even so it's not handled particularly intelligently, making the next hour look like a poorly connected series of short films.

Norris does, however, have moments of brilliance in amongst the maddening disappointment of the film. The relationship between Skunk and her father (Tim Roth) is both tense at times and tender; Rory Kinnear wonderfully presents a highly complex and volatile father prone to outbursts of uncontrollable violence in one scene and outpourings of love for his three vicious, nasty and unruly daughters in the next; and Cillian Murphy's family friend/teacher is a man of blurred lines as his career unravels. But herein lies the problem: each individual story is fantastically told by incredible actors, but they make very little sense interwoven together as a single film.

The plot strands are hard to follow and it's impossible to become properly invested in the right ones as the drama is constantly shifting from each of them. Unfortunately none of them are afforded the screen time and development that they deserve, leaving a film with moments of pure excellence hidden in amongst a muddling story, shocking ending and half-finished narratives. Skunk may be the person connecting the drama, but given the talent available it would have been better to have removed many of the unnecessary characters and have allowed those who remained to shine instead. Broken could have been astonishingly good, but sadly it's just a disappointment.

* * * *
Sky Movies - Channel 303


These days, my taste in film is exceptionally varied and I'll watch pretty much anything as long as it's not a horror. However my entry into the world of film was through romantic comedies. As a teenager I couldn't get enough of them, and my first forays into film was through the likes of Bridget Jones, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and The Notebook. Honestly, I do still like a good rom-com, but they're no longer my first choice and I'd rather not pay to see them at the cinema when there are so many other better films I could watch instead. Now I just catch them when they're on the television or if I need background noise from Netflix.

This week Sky Movies launched their special Valentine channel (taking over from the Superhero one) in time for the 14th. For the next fortnight they've programmed a huge collection of romantic films both on the television and available On Demand. Obviously I've taken full advantage of this, and as I've been doing admin at home this week and needed something to take over from the silence, this has been my programme of choice. As I've not been avidly watching the films from start to finish I didn't think they merited full, individual reviews, but safe to say I've had the likes of You've Got Mail, When Harry Met Sally, About Time and 13 Going on 30 playing during the day until my dad comes home and finds a western to watch instead. They're the types of films I've seen millions of times so can go out of the room for half an hour or become engrossed in my laptop, and come back and pick up the plot without a problem.

It's not exactly a normal review, but I thought if you're a fan of romantic comedies then it was worth a heads up!

So what have you seen this week? Do let me know in the comments below!

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