Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service Review

Matthew Vaughn loves embracing a genre wholeheartedly whilst subverting it with affectionate self-reflexive pokes. This time it’s the spy movie era before Bond got badass. Vaughn plays with the genre with knowing nods to the audience without being a parody or a spoof. Kingsman: The Secret Service is still a great spy movie, a welcome addition to the earlier Bond canon, that is action packed, stylish with plenty to say about the modern era. Although not everything is as bright as the colours of the film.

Secret agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) works for a secret, private spy company called Kingsman. Dressed to the nines in suits, they stylishly clear a room without spilling a single drop of whiskey. It would be rude to. After the unfortunate death of his father, Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin (played by North Walian Taron Egerton) seems to go through life by the intervening hand of London poverty. With a clear cockney accent and a penchant for mischief, Eggsy is a man of a broken system that society has given up hope on which, in effect, makes him give up on himself. Harry Hart offers assistance in reforming this troubled youth’s life by adding him to the Kingsman programme to unlock his full potential.

There is much fun to have with Kingsman: The Secret Service. Most of which is performance related. Colin Firth shows us how he would have played Bond before the Craig realism reboot, a fun image that we may have missed out on otherwise. Outside that we have Samuel L. Jackson‘s hilarious theatrical billionaire villain, Valentine, suffering from an aversion to violence and a prominent lisp. Mark Strong proves again that he can assimilate to any nationality with his easy adaption to the Scottish accent. His tech character could have been another exposition droid that we see, but the way Strong performs the comedy makes him more than a desk jockey.

The standouts aren’t the familiars though, they are 100% the newcomers. Sophie Cookson‘s Roxy does not get the most to do or really say, more a serious character within a silly world, but it utilises her talents. Sofia Boutella may be famous for StreetDance 2 but all that will change after a physical, threatening performance as Gazelle, Valentine’s right-hand woman with deadly blades. The real star of the hour is of course its lead, Taron Egerton. It is a surprise to find out that the actor was born in North Wales, but even more a surprise that he managed to make the accent and the lingo endearing, charming and sympathetic at the same time. This is a star-making role for a man who should (and will) be having many a phonecall after this.

Matthew Vaughn’s flair brought to the action sequences makes them great yet grating to watch. The hyperstylised sequences can be off-putting in areas. Fights are stretched out by abusing slo-mo while the camera (too plainly CGI in many moments) throws itself around the room to match the kinetics of the dynamic fight. This does work at times – a sequence in the church is brilliantly inventive – but fatigue kicks in for the third act of the film. One sequence that should be the most fun and is the most anticipated is the run of a mill fight sequence seemingly choreographed by Capoeira  fighters to match the hyperstyle. That final sequence is better from the surrounding environment than in the actual battle. It is, at best, a one-minute fight stretched out by flips and slow-motion.

Despite problems with the an over-reliance on CGI, creating garish visuals like the unfortunate, ugly titles, it does not hinder every aspect of the aesthetics. It does feel like the budget either needed to be bigger or there needed to be a mixture of practical effects to then improve the detail on the CGI. Vaughn, after X-Men: First Class, should know the importance of visual effects in a large-scale actioner, pointed out as the main weakness of a rushed blockbuster. Kingsman: The Secret Service is still maniacally fun; it is Austin Powers with grand action sequences. The theatricality of the spy-genre is both welcoming and enjoyably silly, making Kingsman: The Secret Service guaranteed as a mainstay of the year’s most fun and pleasing films. Stellar star-making performances, a whirring hyperstyle, something that is poignant and righteous to say, create a dizzying, visceral comedic actioner that does end on a bum note.


Saturday, 3 January 2015

My 2014 in Film, TV and Numbers

Last year I reflected on the year that passed in terms of films and television, calculating just how much time I wasted watching Kevin Bacon adverts in the cinema. I think this may be a good tradition to keep as it is interesting to see how well or poorly I did in terms of targets, film and TV watching and other stuff. Last year was a successful year for my journalistic film writing, whereas this year has been disappointing and that is mainly my fault. Last year I got to do some amazing interviews with people like Nicolas Winding Refn, Gareth Evans, Zal Batmanglij, William Fichtner, Simon Barrett, Aaron Guzikowski, Andrés and Barbara Muschetti and plenty of other people I'd brag about. This year I've not had a chance to interview many people unfortunately, but I did get to interview Amy Seimetz which was a great one to do. Hopefully I'll get my foot back on the pedal a bit in 2015 in terms of interviews, reviews and features.

Instead of doing that type of writing, I've moved a bit to scriptwriting as it is something that I liked doing a little in the past. My target from last year was to write one feature length script at least. Thankfully I doubled that and wrote two which have been entered to competitions - a little unsuccessfully so far unfortunately but the feedback from BlueCat was positive - and are there for me as practice and a useful portfolio. Like last year there are many people to thank. Howard Gorman of Cinema Chords for still being a great editor who finds great stuff, apologies for not being as prolific as I was last year. Christopher Misch from Next Projection for having a great website that differs from usual film websites and was rightly featured on RogerEbert.com's great film sites thanks to the writing of people like Ronan Doyle (who is currently working on a book, the site misses him greatly). Then there's Jon Lyus and David Sztypuljak who still have me on board at HeyUGuys and the site continues to gather momentum, it is a remarkable creation now to be endlessly proud of and it is an honour to be a part of it.

There is also a thank you that is very much necessary to Paul Furr (@JustCallMeFurry) who not only was the first person to publish my writing which started an entire new life path (changing degree schemes from economics to film etc.), but also offered his home to me while I completed an internship at Abundant in London. Paul allowed me to stay for no charge, cooked me food and even gave me a lift every morning (and once at night because a bus was cancelled - I am still very sorry about that) so I could get my way from Hemel Hempstead to London for the internship. I really am grateful. He also reads my scripts like a proofreader and gives his critical opinion which improves them tenfold. He'll probably read this and mock me, as he does, but in fairness I did say I prefer his dog to him.

Another huge thank you is to Emyr ap Richard of Lenah Films. Thanks to Emyr, I went to Hong Kong to work as an intern on his latest directorial effort which I cannot say much about. All I can say is that it was an invaluable experience where I learned more in six days on location on production than my years doing an actual film degree. There I got to witness real actors on set, how the directors work with the cast and crew (he co-directs with Erdenibulag Darhad) and the problems of making it rain on set - although it does look really good. I also learnt a lot about cameras thanks to Emyr, from the RED Epic, the Alexa, to the one that he prefers to use, the Ikonoskop DPII, which - from what I saw on the monitor and a little in the editing suite - makes everything look beautiful. Here's to hoping his latest film is a success!

I would also like to thank Ray Kenderdine of the same company for being helpful when it comes to scriptwriting. From long discussions about my script Under the Bridge when I was writing, rewriting and redrafting for the BlueCat competition, to conversations about the importance of a 'threshold moment' and getting to read another writer's work and give my insights on them to try and help progress a script. It is difficult when looking at another's project as sometimes the writer has everything planned out in their head, but it's interesting to see how two different people view the same script and refine it so that everything that is planned out does eventually come out on the page. Plenty of other stuff to thank him for too and wish him all the best in the future.

Last thank you goes to Eleri who has to listen to me whinge, worry and whine about everything for the past two and a half years. Especially my worry about getting a graduate job since a lot of people roll their eyes when I tell them I'm doing a film degree and I'm well aware of how competitive it is. So she deserves special praise for putting up with me when I doubt myself and worry that I'll end up working a job I hate after uni to pay bills, which would probably drive her up the wall. Thank you for reading my stuff and saying it's good (even though she is a bit biased), for making me work when I sometimes don't feel like it, for watching films I make you watch and for generally being awesome. 

2014 Targets.
Now that the thanking is out of the way, hopefully not in too sycophantic a way, it's time to see how i fared from my targets from last year.

"To write a full length screenplay - at least one"
Completed. I managed to write two, Hunt and Under the Bridge, which still need refining but it's better to refine something you have, than have nothing at all.

"To film a few short films."
Woops... I wrote some, I just haven't gotten around to filming them yet, but I will this year before I leave university to make use of the equipment.

"Learn how to edit properly, not shabbily."
This I sort of have done. There is a problem with my laptop not being powerful enough to edit which is a bit of a problem, but I have learnt how to cut, do multiple tracks and how to use Da Vinci Resolve to colour. 

"Write consistently the same amount - if not more."
Depends on what I wrote. I wrote a lot of scripts - shorts and features - which probably means I wrote as much overall, if a little less, so this is half-success and half-failure.

"Watch even more films."
I did, but as many more as I had hoped. I got sidetracked with a lot of television this year.

"Work my way through the IMDb 250 and Empire 500."
Did that.

"Attend a film festival."
Unfortunately, due to financial problems, I had to turn down a great opportunity to go to the San Sebastian film festival to cover it. Hopefully, next year I will attend a festival and be able to afford a trip with the company this year instead.

"Save up money for after university."
Opposite happened here. I ended up travelling to Hong Kong, Amsterdam, London and Reykjavik as well as buying a new car... My bad.

"Try to get more paid work."

"Read a lot more than I have."
Half-successful. I managed to read 3 books in a week or so, then another the week after that, but then I slowed down with the reading. Instead, I managed to read about 15 screenplays, articles, academic reading and graphic novels.

Fairly successful targets-wise, which is impressive as I forgot I set them until I saw this article this week.

My Year in Numbers.

Films Watched: 336 (higher than last year)
2014 Releases: 87 (less than last year's 99)
Films Seen in the Cinema: 46 (47 if you inc. Gone Girl twice - less than last year's 54)

If we do the same as last year and take the average film to be 2 hours long, that means 672 hours of last year were spent watching films. 94 of those hours were in the cinema, usually with James, watching terrible EE adverts with screaming goats. If the average ticket is £5.30 (Super Saver Tuesday at Vue) then that means I spent £249.10 at the cinema this year which explains why I didn't save money for next year too. Usually, there are 5 trailers attached to a film at the cinema which usually are 2 minutes long each time. That means 10 minutes worth of trailers at least when at the cinema. That adds up to 470 minutes of trailers which I've had no choice but to watch, taking up 7.8 hours of my life. I can't begrudge the cinema for that though, I watch trailers in my own time anyway although I try to avoid most now because they run into the third act - looking at you Iron Man 3. Again, I won't calculate those annoying adverts beforehand for things like Cinime app (which never works), cars I cannot afford and other things depending on the film. Even Netflix got in on the game showing far too much from Breaking Bad for my liking.

My full diary of watched films, reviews and rankings is on my Letterboxd.

TV Series Watched.

The Office - 7 seasons (x6) = 42 seasons
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - 9 seasons (+6 seasons) = 15 seasons
House of Cards - 1 season
Orange is the New Black  - 1 season
BoJack Horseman - 1 season
Trailer Park Boys - 8 seasons (and the films)
Archer - 5 seasons
Bob's Burgers - 3 seasons
Scrubs - 5 seasons
Hannibal - 1 season
Friends - 10 seasons (x2) = 20 seasons
The Big Bang Theory - 3 seasons
Brooklyn Nine-Nine - 1 season
Peep Show - 3 seasons
The Walking Dead - 1 season
How I Met Your Mother - 2 seasons
Family Guy - 5 seasons
American Dad! - 2 seasons
Top Gear - 1 season
Parks and Recreation - 6 seasons (x2) = 12 seasons
South Park  - 1 season
The IT Crowd - 1 season
Modern Family - 3 seasons

Overall: 137 seasons

If we use the averages from last year, which is 14 episodes per season and the average length of each episode to be 30 minutes then that works out as 1918 episodes of television this year. That is 378 more episodes than last year, which could explain why there is less writing. That is an additional 11,340 minutes of television which is 189 hours. That is just more than last year. Overall it would be 57,540 minutes which is a whopping 959 hours! Considering how many are rewatches (I really love The Office) I think I should work on watching more new things. Although some were new or newer seasons of thing I'd seen before, it's time to finally get through programmes like Game of Thrones, Mad Men, The Wire, The Sopranos and The West Wing. There's plenty else to look forward to with the additional seasons of Archer, House of Cards and Peep Show's final season. Television is great to put on while you do work, especially if it's something you've seen countless times.


Although last year I managed to pull out 112 articles which averaged out about 150,000 words thanks to extensive interview transcribing, this year is much less. With a measly 28 articles probably clocking in at about 35,000 words, it feels like a disappointment. However, I wrote two feature-length screenplays which ended up at 106 pages and 107 pages because I apparently lack brevity. The average length of that is around 26,000 words each, which means a rough 52,000 words of scriptwriting for features - this is excluding rewriting (which there is always a lot of), cutting down, additional scenes and so on. That is also not including the shorts I wrote this year. I wrote a fair few short films, probably another 35 pages which, if we use the same scale, would work out at about 8584 words on top of that. That works out, not including university work or story outlines, at 95,584 words perhaps. That is still successful in my eyes. It may be a significant decrease of 54,416 words but those are just averages. With spectacular trips to Hong Kong, Amsterdam, working in London and a holiday to Reykjavik, it is much more difficult to keep up writing when you are enjoying yourself outside of it. I do still love writing of course and will continue to write as much a I can, especially this year with deadlines that will request around 25,000 words within a week, but I will write more scripts, more articles and more of everything. There is even a possibility of writing an academic book, but I am not counting on that just yet. It is something that is only in the concept phase and would require a bit of funding. Here's to many more words in 2015!

2015 Targets.

As I did last year, I set myself targets. Hopefully, I will remember thee ones so I can work at them.

  • Get a graduate job. 
  • Write at least two more feature length screenplays.
  • Film at least one short film - even if it's just the noir one in February. 
  • Watch more films than last year. 
  • Watch more TV than last year. 
  • Watch more new discoveries rather than rewatches if possible. 
  • Work through your Blu-ray collection, it's going to waste otherwise. 
  • Continue to work through the greatest films of all time. 
  • Attend a film festival, if possible. 
  • Read more: I have The Blue Fox, Crash etc. to get through. Don't waste the shelf. 
  • Get at least a 2:1 in your degree, but really try to get a First Class degree. 
  • Write more consistently and more than 2014. 
  • Ambitious one: get representation, a writing credit or a film off the ground.

Although that list is ambitious, I will hopefully succeed in fulfilling it. Last year I liked summing things up. It's good to have statistics so you can see how much or little you did, it can be a good motivator. It's also important to thank people who have helped me this year. Last year I asked you to feel sorry for me for the amount I saw Kevin Bacon advertising EE, now I feel like it's my fault the EE Wednesday is finishing this year. How else will we get discount tickets?! Regardless, 2014 was a good year for film, just looking at my Letterboxd rankings proves that. Here's to hoping 2015 tops it. I'm off to break a target already to continue rewatching the Blade trilogy because it has been years since I last saw them.