Kingsman: The Secret Service Review

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Dir: Matthew Vaughn

Writer(s): Matthew Vaughn & Jane Goldman

Cast: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Sofia Boutella, Mark Strong, Sophie Cookson, and Michael Caine

Synopsis: 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

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

 

Director Matthew Vaughn once again adapts a Mark Millar graphic novel (previously adapting Kick-Ass) with Kingsman: The Secret Service. The movie brings a lot of the well-established tropes we have seen in other spy films form the past, but brings them in modern times and adds a highly stylized Millar and Vaughn-esque violence, cleverness, humor and cheekiness.

 

The films follows Gary Unwin aka ‘Eggsy’ (Egerton) who is good-hearted but a bit reckless, as he steals a car from a friend of his mother’s abusive new boyfriend and ends up in jail. He ends up getting out of it from Harry Hart aka Galahad (Firth) who turns out to be part of an elite group of operatives/modern-day knights known as The Kingsman. Harry sees the value and potential in Eggsy and sets him up to enter the training program to see if he is Kingsman material. Problem is, a wealthy tech magnate with a speech-impediment, Valentine (Jackson) and his razor-footed henchwoman Gazelle (Boutella) are ready to unleash a powerful weapon to start a new world order.

 

Again, Kingsman has a great sense of knowing what it is, but doesn’t get too tongue-in-cheek about it. It makes references to other spy films and non-spy-films but never beats you over the head with it or looks at the screen to let you in on the joke. Vaughn knows what he is doing and adds the combination of well known tropes and brings them into modern times with new technology. But, at the same time Vaughn knows how to have fun with the subject material and knows when to go over the top. Of course, it is based on a graphic novel so the hyper stylized violence is there – like it was in Kick-Ass and the sequel – so don’t be surprised when the violence or anything is a bit over the top.

 

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When it comes to the cast, well, they are what makes the film shine. Newcomer Taron Egerton brings equal parts of charisma, toughness, and vulnerability to ‘Eggsy.’ Whether it’s ‘Eggsy’ going though the crazy tests to becoming a Kingsman or dealing with bullies and his mother’s boyfriend, Egerton holds his own and arguably be a big star one day. He even holds his own with on-screen veterans like Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Michael Caine. Another newcomer to the scene is Sophie Cookson, who plays Roxy – another Kingsman recruit – also hold her own being the only female during the recruitment process and has her moments to shine.

 

Colin Firth plays Harry Hart aka Galahand (his codename), who, yes, has his moments to kick some major ass in the film. We know that it has become a trend in Hollywood now to give older actors a “restart” in their career to become action heroes after Liam Neeson did it so well in Taken. Firth plays Harry as the proper English gentleman that carries himself with the outmost prestige, but when it comes down to fight, he goes all out. Which comes into play in one of the biggest action sequences in a church (more on that later) and a standout one at that. I, and many others, would never have seen Firth as an action star, but he does pull it off here in Kingsman.

 

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Samuel L. Jackson is really having fun playing Valentine. He gives him a lisp – which Jackson apparently actually had – and is a blend of recent villain and old school Bond villains. His main weapon is a technology-based one but he uses mountain-based secret lairs and has a lovely but equally lethal henchwoman that does all his dirty work, since he can’t stand the sight of blood, by cutting off people bodies parts with her razor-sharp prosthetic legs. Sofia Boutella plays said henchwoman named Gazelle (yes, her name is Gazelle) and beside the fight scenes holds her own with Jackson.

 

The other supporting cast is rounded out by Mark Strong and very small role by Michael Caine. Caine plays the head of the Kingsman and pops in and out of the film to fill us in and drive home some of the more important scenes. Strong plays Merlin, the man overseeing the Kingsman recruits and eventually helps out with the final act. It’s a shame there isn’t more of Merlin in the film because he definitely is a great character. Also, for comic book and nerd fans alike, Mark Hamill pops in for a small role too.

 

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Now, I haven’t read the original source material so I don’t know if this particular scene is in the graphic novel or not, but Millar is known to push the boundaries in this work. The scene I’m talking about is the church scene that you can see in the trailers which involves Harry going at it with the churchgoers. Without going too much into spoilers, it is the first time Valentine uses his weapon and we see the full effect of it. Harry happens to also be effected and goes into full blown berserk mode, which shows how dangerous the weapon can be and how effective a killer Harry is. The basis of the scene is in question and could have some people talking. I don’t know really what to think about the scene. On one hand, the scene is a highlight action sequence (and in one take no less) and in the other, is the scene justified? Is Valentine just picking one random spot or is trying to prove something? Again, up for debate, but you argue that the scene is freaking great to watch.

 

All in all, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a ton of fun. It brings aspects of old spy films but brings them into modern times and flips them on their head. The cast and action to great to watch and overall it’s funny too. It won’t be for everybody and besides the church scene, there is another scene near the end that will make people laugh (I know my theater with me did) but it shows how far Valentine’s plan went. If you walk into Kingsman anticipating a good time, chances are you are going to get it. Also, there is a mid-credits scene which is a nice way to end the film.

 

Kingsman: The Secret Service

4.5 out of 5

‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For’ Review

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Dir: Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez

Cast: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Ray Liotta, Jaime King, Juno Temple, and Christopher Lloyd

Synopsis: Some of Sin City’s most hard-boiled citizens cross paths with a few of its more reviled inhabitants

 

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review*

 

 

It’s been almost ten years since Sin City came out, and at the time the movie made some bold statements. The film followed the graphic novels so close that it felt like we were watching the novel coming to life. It also took a huge leap, technology wise, in using green screen for just about the majority of making the film. The first Sin City was almost beloved by everyone, and everyone asked, where’s our sequel? Well, flash forward to now and we have Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, a prequel and sequel with the same set up as the first. A noir, over-the-top violent, narration and sexy story with four intertwined stories based in a city that will eat you up and spit you back out. But the question is if it’s any good. Well, sadly A Dame to Kill For hits all the same beats from the first, but it’s a little late for a sequel.

 

Like the first film, A Dame to Kill For features three stories that take place in Basin City – I mean Sin City. One features Johnny (Gordon-Levitt), a gambler who looks like he doesn’t think things through. Nancy (Alba) who is still stripping but is aiming for revenge for the death of Hartigan (Willis), and then the “Dame to Kill For” story that follows the “Dame” Ava Lord (Green) and Dwight (Brolin) trying to kill each other. While all the stories have their elements, they pretty much share two things in common, Senator Roark (Boothe) and Marv (Rourke).

 

Like I stated before, the movie is intertwined with these three stories and some of the transitions are a bit clucky and murky but the story that obviously takes up most of the screen time (and the middle) is the Ava and Dwight story. The story sometimes feels like a soap opera, but it feels deliberately and connects a bit to the noir theme but lucky Green, Rourke, and Dennis Haysbert as Manute (taking over after Michael Clarke Duncan’s passing) performances save, the otherwise, slightly more than average story. Which is a shame, since the story is probably one of the most famous and favorite stories from the graphic novels (next to Hell and Back).

 

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Brolin is okay as the pre-surgical Dwight. He brings his usual gruffness to the role and has a couple of standout moments but the segment belongs to Eva Green (which I’ll get to). Christopher Meloni and Jeremy Piven play cops Mort and Bob respectively but Meloni gets the better role of the two, in what turns out to be a weird and maybe unnecessary arc that really goes nowhere and is only there to show how powerful Ava Lord is. Mickey Rourke, who pops up as Marv throughout the movie, has his strongest outing during this part, as does Haysbert as Manute who comes off as a powerhouse, and seeing the two fight each other was pretty cool.

 

But like I said, this story and maybe the movie, belongs to Eva Green. I’m a fan of Green and not because she’s nice to look at, but because she brings something different to every role and although her character is a typical femme fatale, Green does her best to make Ava her own. However, if guys need another reason to watch the movie, you’d probably like to know that Green has the least amount of wardrobe than any character, maybe ever.

 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Johnny story is rather interesting. Gordon-Levitt brings his usual charm and makes Johnny a pretty likeable character. Although, it’s not that hard considering he’s surrounded by crooked cops and dirty senators playing poker in the back of a strip joint. But, Johnny’s story is really here for two reasons; to show how Sin City works, who runs it, and brutal it can be, and to show how viscous Senator Roark is. Other than that and a cameo by Christopher Lloyd as a “doctor” the story really serves no other purpose that prove Sin City is not a city you want to live in.

 

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The final segment is Nancy’s story. Alba’s Nancy is more matured in a sense; she’s still a stripper but now heavily drinks before, during, and after performing. All she wants is to kill Boothe’s Roark for driving Hartigan to kill himself so she can live. Bruce Willis pops in as a spirit for the lack of a better word, following Nancy and sees how hard it has been for her since he’s left. Alba is okay as the tortured soul but Powers Boothe as the villainous Senator Roark is great, but Boothe is always great as villain, but at least he has more to do than the first Sin City.

 

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While it might sound like I didn’t like the movie, A Dame to Kill For does have some cool moments. The whole movie is filled with essentially cool screensavers and some great performances by Green, Boothe, Gordon-Levitt, and Rourke. The fight between Marv and Manute was cool to see and could have been bland if it wasn’t for one particular instance. Then there is Miho, played by Jaime Chung who replaces Devon Aoki (because she was pregnant), who basically glides around with samurai swords and a bow-and-arrow and kills anybody that she looks at because, why not.

 

All in all, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is more or less of the same as Sin City. Whether that is a good thing is completely up to you when you watch it. I for one, didn’t mind the sequel, but considering we waited soo long for it, it lost some of its charm and effect on me, and it was kind of boring sometimes.

 

 

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

3.5 out of 5

‘Kick-Ass 2’ Review

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Dir: Jeff Wadlow (Cry Wolf, Never Back Down)

Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Morris Chestnut, Clark Duke, John Leguizamo and Jim Carrey

Synopsis: The costumed high-school hero Kick-Ass joins with a group of normal citizens who have been inspired to fight crime in costume. Meanwhile, the Red Mist plots an act of revenge that will affect everyone Kick-Ass knows.

 

*Review Note: This is a non-spoiler review as always. And if you want, stay after the credits for a quick scene.”

 

Kick-Ass was the little superhero movie that could. Shot on a relatively low-budget, introducing a comic-book character who was new, and featuring just one movie star in Nicolas Cage. The film nevertheless did something nobody thought it would do, get a cult following. Three years later we get a sequel that doesn’t have the same first-time charm the first had but still is a worthy sequel. The movie, like the first, isn’t just about normal people becoming superheroes but also about growing up and dealing with the consequences of their actions.

Mindy Macready aka Hit-Girl (Moretz) is now living her father’s former partner Marcus Williams (Chestnut) and is a freshmen in high school. Marcus tries to deal with the fact that Mindy can’t let go of her old life and all Mindy wants to do is be Hit-Girl and keep her fathers promise of protecting the city but also wants to make Marcus happy and do what he tells her. Marcus also wants Mindy to fit in at school which of course isn’t that easy for her.

Then finally there’s Chris D’Amico (Mintz-Plasse). Now donning an emo look and obsessing with getting revenge on Kick-Ass for killing his father. Chris with one of his family’s bodyguards Javier (Leguizamo) starts to put a team together that includes former convicts and killers. The standout of his evil super-team is Mother Russia played by Russian body builder Olga Kurkulina. Chris also has renamed himself “The Motherfucker.”

Meanwhile at the same time Dave aka Kick-Ass, now a high school senior, is bored with his life but at the same time wants something exciting to happen. Eventually, he pleas to Mindy to help him train and become a better fighter. After Mindy takes Marcus’ advice to stop being Hit-Girl, Dave finds himself wanting to team up and since he can’t have Hit-Girl he finds himself a group calling themselves Justice Forever.

They include a mob enforcer-turned-born again Christian Colonel Stars and Stripes, and his trusty sidekick dog Eisenhower played by Jim Carrey. The group also includes Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison), Night Bitch (Lindy Booth), Insect Man (Robert Emms) and a mother/father duo Remember Tommy. They aren’t Hit-Girl level superhero but Kick-Ass joins them anyways to help rid of the city of, as they put it, injustice.

Like I said before, Kick-Ass 2 doesn’t really have the same charm the first did. Probably because we didn’t know what to suspect in the first movie (unless you read the comics) and I’m not saying this is a bad thing. The movie works on its own levels and you really shouldn’t compare this to the first. The message is the same, the humor is still there, and violence is about to maybe a little more than the first. The one thing the movie does have more of is drama. With our main heroes Dave and Mindy having inner struggles to how they really are and having spats with their guardians – Mindy with Marcus and Dave with his father – the movie does slow down a bit so we can feel for the characters. We know who they are and what they can do but no one does.

We see Mindy falling to the pressures of high school and Dave taking responsibility for his actions as he becomes a man. It’s necessary but with the rest of the movie filled with violence and humor it makes the movie tonally a bit odd to take in.

The performances are stronger this time around with the main three cast members. Aaron Taylor-Johnson has some great comic timing and is a little more hands on this time around. Chloe Grace Moretz is better than ever as Hit-Girl. She shows and has the right combination of fearlessness and vulnerability. Christopher Mintz-Plasse goes through a complex journey if that’s what you want to call it. His character makes you both hate and possibly feel a little sorry for him.

The new plays are hit and miss but of course everyone will talk (and have been) about Carrey’s Colonel. Despite his wackiness and humor at times, he does give the movie a bit heart and soul in one particular scene. Wouldn’t say he steals the movie (some will and there’s nothing wrong with that) because I think that goes to Olga Kurkulina’s Mother Russia. She’s a force of nature almost and her fight with Hit-Girl near the end of the movie was definitely a standout.

All in all, Kick-Ass 2 is a ton of fun. If you liked the first movie then you will most likely like this one. It can even be described as a twisted coming of age story. Is the movie for everyone? No. But let’s face it a movie called Kick-Ass probably isn’t going to be for everyone.

 

Kick Ass 2

4 out of 5

Bullet to the Head

Dir: Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hours, Last Man Standing, Undisputed)

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Sarah Shahi, Jason Momoa, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

Synopsis: After watching their respective partners die, a New Orleans hitman and a Washington D.C. detective form an alliance in order to bring down their common enemy

 

Bullet to the Head tries to be multiple things at once. It has some elements of a buddy crime movie, a revenge movie and a graphic novel adaptation. Why a buddy crime movie? Well Hill is arguably one of the directors responsible for making that genre popular with 48 Hrs. This time we have the pair of the Sly Stallone and Sung Kang (from the last Fast & Furious movies).

The graphic novel it’s based on is a French graphic novel by Matz, of the same name that has the same story. A cop is forced to partner with a criminal in order to take down a crime syndicate.

Stallone stars as Jimmy Bobo, an tough as nails New Orleans-based hitman. Bobo doesn’t have any faith in cops (even hates them), and so he does his own form of justice: a bullet to the head. So why does he team up with detective Taylor Kwon (Kang)? Because the two want the justice but of course they want to do it their own way.

The movie starts out with Bobo and his partner Louis (Jon Seda) performing a hit but during it Jimmy lets a witness to the murder live, for a reason I won’t spoil in the review. From that moment on events begin to spiral out of control, and Jimmy realizes he’s being set up. The only person who can help him is a reluctant Kwon. Why is Kwon that way? Kwon has his own reasons for being in New Orleans and can be classified as “by the book” but he also doesn’t agree with Jimmy’s form of justice.

Unlike Arnold with The Last Stand, Sly doesn’t really have any rust when it comes to acting. He’s obviously stayed around after Arnold left but this is from what I can remember his first movie without any heavy hitters like his Expendables cast. However, this doesn’t mean Sly is giving award winning performances but sometimes that doesn’t matter. Sly is pretty intimidating with his physique despite being 66 years old and it’s in full effect when he shows up shirtless at a bath house. But what Sly lacks in acting (sounds means but I don’t mean it in that way) he makes up with humor. There is some back and forth between Jimmy and Kwon although not all of it works.

Kang does pretty good with Kwon and if it were anybody else it would probably been a one-dimensional characters. Shahi who plays Sly’s daughters does okay with her role too but really has nothing to do other than tell Kwon that her fathers isn’t really a bad guy. The criminals are an odd group. Christian Slater has a cameo as a financier who holds vital information but he’s meh. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is the criminal kingpin Morel who has the chance to say some pretty cheesy lines.

Then there his henchman Keegan played Jason Momoa who is the real villain in the movie. His attitude is to fight now and think later. Momoa, despite his appearance in the Conan The Barbarian remake and Game of Thrones, still lacks a bit of the charisma of action stars, such as Arnold, Sly, and Bruce Willis. But, he still holds his own but with the other villains still isn’t enough. He does have his moments when he goes into a bar and takes out a bunch of guys by himself and then fighting Sly with axes.

All in all, Bullet to the Head has some cheesy moments and although it isn’t perfect it does have it’s moments of good action.

Bullet to the Head

3.5 out of 5

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