Monthly Archives: February 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service: Kick-Ass meets James Bond on Drugs

Kingsman; Matthew Vaughn, Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Michael Caine

The Secret Service Kingsman

In Kingsman, a pug is named J.B, as in not James Bond or Jason Bourne, but the initials stand for Jack Bauer (the lead character from television series 24). The film is Matthew Vaughn’s royal homage to the secret agent genre in Kick-Ass meets James Bond on drugs style of action. It finds the right balance between absurdity and hilarity and succeeds in producing, in literal meta fashion, not just an ordinary spy tale.

In one of his interviews, Vaughn described the film as a modern-day love letter to all the spy films he grew up on. In fact, it visually quotes from the spy movies that came before it and plays with audience’s memories and nostalgia. Kingsman is all that a Bond or Bourne film can’t be. There’s certain amount of seriousness you associate with most secret agent films which you won’t find here. It isn’t too funny like the Austin Powers franchise either. But there are some genuinely funny moments till the end credits.

All the tropes of a classic spy film have been dealt with some mischief in Kingsman. Beyond the improbable gadgets, far-fetched plot, a crazy villain’s plan for world domination and bloody elaborate fight scenes, there’s something instantly likable about the film. Samuel Jackson for instance plays a villain with a pronunciation lisp, dresses up like a hip-hop star and can’t fathom violence in front of his eyes. He’s cerebral. He leaves all the physical intimidation and killing to his henchwoman, with deadly blades as legs. He actually wants to save the world from itself and also wants to take out a good deal of the population in the process. Another likable aspect is that the relationship between the hero and the lead female character is mostly platonic for a change. And there’s extremely funny reference to My Fair Lady.

What’s really cool about Kingsman is the action! It’s mostly tacky and gory to the finest detail but it somehow goes with the mood of the film. Had it been your regular spy film featuring Daniel Craig, you may have had problems digesting what you see on screen. But who gives a damn about Colin Firth playing Harry Hart, a secret agent of a covert international group that acts outside of any government control. But what works in favour of Kingsman is the casting of popular actors in roles against their type. An action scene in a church featuring Firth will leave you giggling and squirming at the same time in your seat. Caine is surprisingly given a shade of grey which he portrays fittingly.

The film acknowledges all of those stupid spy clichés and then it ditches them all. The best example of this I can give is in the opening sequence of the film -there is a glass of whiskey, a lot of people die and there isn’t a drop of the whiskey spilt. The film successfully reinvents just about every stereotype imaginable in a spy film.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is weirdly entertaining without being disrespectful to the genre. You may love it for all the weird reasons.

Four stars

Leave a Comment

Filed under Action, comedy, English

St. Vincent: Celebrating Imperfectness

St. Vincent; Theodore Melfi, Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Terrence Howard, Kimberley Quinn

Saint Vincent

As part of classroom project at St. Patrick, school children, including young Oliver, are asked to research about a saint they know of in real life. According to biblical definition, saints are human beings we celebrate for their commitment and dedication to other human beings. For the project, Oliver chooses his neighbor, war veteran, Vincent (Murray), who used to babysit him while his mother worked late and the two eventually struck up an unlikely friendship. On the surface, as Oliver points out, Vince is the least likely candidate for sainthood.

When you’re introduced to Vince, in the beginning, he sure doesn’t feature any qualities of a saint. He’s broke, abuses a bank teller merely for doing her job, finds an opportunity and cons his neighbor into paying for his broken fence. He’s not a happy person. He doesn’t like people and not many like him too. He’s grumpy, mad at the world and full of regrets. He drinks, smokes, gambles, lies and cheats. He spends most of his time with a hooker, Daka, played by Naomi Watts. These are things you see about Vince at first glance.

Through the eyes of, say a 10-year old Oliver, director Theodore Melfi gives us an opportunity to celebrate the imperfectness of Vince, a man beyond his faults. As a growing up kid, Vince learned all the things kids aren’t supposed to know – fighting, cursing and gambling. He teaches exactly the same things to Oliver, and by learning, Oliver is wary of it. In a scene, when Vince sees Oliver getting bullied by his peers, he teaches him to fight and the next time when he gets bullied, he breaks the nose of his bully, earning both detentions for fighting. In the process, Oliver and his bully get to know each other and eventually become good friends. By teaching Oliver things he’s not supposed to learn at his age, Vince, in a weird way, helps the young boy embrace the imperfectness around him. He embraces his imperfect bully friend, his imperfect mother (who’s mostly busy working in a hospital), and in a touching scene, when Maggie (Melissa), Oliver’s mother inquires about the fight her son got into at school but never told her, Vince says she’s not around mostly for him to even discuss.

A selling point for any comedy is the ability to make the viewer really laugh. Not giggle, not smile from the film’s cleverness, but an erupting, uncontrollable laughter that captures your mind in bliss. Time after time, St. Vincent made me laugh out loud. It runs the gambit over all methods of comedy: physical gags, one-liners, the banter between actors, situational comedy, and awkward moments.

Murray is at his best and there are moments he makes you laugh as well as cry. If the script had a bit more heft, he could’ve probably garnered some Oscar consideration. In a departure from her regular obnoxiously funny roles, McCarthy deserves notice for her performance as a hapless single mother on the brink of losing custody of her child.

Agreed the film is flawed like Vincent’s character and quite slow, but you never lose interest thanks to Murray.  Despite the imperfections, St. Vincent is a lovable film that grows on you with every passing minute. It could easily be one of the underrated films you may have missed last year.

We may not be perfect but this makes us realize that our flaws make us, in other words, a saint.

Three stars

Leave a Comment

Filed under comedy, Drama, English

Whiplash: “Good Job”

Whiplash; Damien Chazelle, Miles Teller, J.K Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist

whiplash

A snare erupts, the cymbals whisper, the bass kicks in gently, the tom toms remain silent and the blood drips onto the drum kit. Throughout whiplash the tension is as palpable as a Michael Mann gangster flick, tangible and waiting to erupt. Director Damien Chazelle says that he made Whiplash based on his memory of being a band student in his high school. Hopefully his memories aren’t as sharp and sometimes as traumatizing as the lead character Andrew Niemans.  The movie being Damien Chazelle’s debut, one wonders how much of a push he would give himself, ‘Whiplash’ being one constant push towards excellence, a tough hard push that does not wait for wounds to heal.

Miles Teller, whose last enjoyably transformative performance was in ‘The Spectacular Now’, plays Andrew Nieman in what could be for his career a massive qualitative boost. Notwithstanding the fact that he plays Stretch in the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot, ‘Whiplash’ would definitely provide him enough rooting in the drama genre to not be labelled a comic movie actor. Wikipedia tells us he has been drumming since he was 15 and practiced more intensely for his role as a first year student of the top music school in New York, Shaffer Conservatory. Also present in said school is Terence Fletcher, conductor of the best Jazz band in the school and naturally Andrew wants to be a part of the band. His perseverance is tested in 106 minutes of sharply cut ear-drum pleasing jazz goodness that gets a little nerve wracking from time to time. This brings us to Terence Fletcher, as played by J W Simmons – a no-nonsense Jazz expert who can spot tempo differences and match a 300 beats per minute tempo with around the same number of expletives when he finds a single instrument out of tune or a single beat missing in his score. While he has a quick ear for talent and attempts to use as much pressure as the earth’s crust on a spare bit of coal to bring out the diamond in his rare protégés, he does not care that he appears to everyone else a monster.

I confess I was physically intimidated while watching Simmons’ kind face (that I remember from Spiderman and Juno) transition into spittle-flying, rage contorted, suture-like-vein-lined profile while he yelled into a face and drilled their impotence into them. As of last night Simmons holds 40 nominations (according to Wikipedia) out of which 34 have won him best supporting actor awards and 3 including the honor from the Academy are pending. Sadly for the other nominees, this visceral performance that matches some of the best efforts from the previous Academy category winners even matching some of the best method acting by the likes of Christian Bale in ‘The Fighter’ might just have the edge over them.

Damien Chazelle has accomplished something that isn’t exactly new but is definitely novel in that there are sequences where he manages to bring in the same amount of tension as a life or death situation to the interaction between a band conductor and his musicians. Miles Teller under the ably driven direction of Damien makes us appreciate the literal blood and sweat that goes into the percussive goodness that’s always a little under-appreciated in most music. Jazz is something I am new to and to get a hit of what it sounds like while being put through the roller coaster that is ‘Whiplash’ is an experience that, if you are like us, will leave you clapping really loudly when the end credits roll (which we did, even though there were just the two of us watching the movie). The life of anyone who chooses to excel at something they love doing is not going to be simple. Add to that the best mentor that life can offer you being the person you want to be able to make proud but his methods aren’t exactly orthodox not to mention, well, human.

The two words that are capable of most harm in the English language are ‘Good Job’ says Fletcher while ruminating on his methodologies. In an age of over appreciation where every kid gets a gold medal for participation and every average job is given appreciation unquestioningly, Fletcher’s quote will resonate with almost all of us who strive for excellence. But how far can one push and be pushed until one loses ones humanity in the quest for perfection. ‘If you don’t have ability, you wind up playing in a rock band’ says a poster of Buddy Rich. Would you rather play in a rock band and enjoy what you are doing or would you skin your hands on your sticks playing that perfect ‘Whiplash’ so one of the best conductors of Jazz can smile at you with his eyes? The question is definitely not rhetorical and neither is it a simple yes or no. That in a nutshell is ‘Whiplash’, one of the best movies of 2014 and a movie that made me gain a little more respect for drummers.

 Four stars.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Drama, English

Birdman – A thing Is A Thing, Not What Is Said of The That Thing

Birdman; Alejandro González Iñárritu, Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough

The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance appears as an alternative title to Birdman. Walk into the theater having known nothing about the movie and the virtue of ignorance will dawn upon you as well when you walk out. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and his merry men have crafted a movie of such supreme emotional impact that the end, if you are like me, it will leave you both dejected and elated. The fifth feature film to be directed by Inarritu is a layered dramedy dipping into the darkly comic nature of human ego and psyche, self deprecating, uplifting and sublime all around. The director shares writing credits with Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dineralis Jr and Armando Bo all of whom will end up being quizzed about its ending for quite some time to come.

In casting Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompson, a washed up post middle age actor who has not done anything of significance since playing titular comic hero in three movies, Inarritu stages his first coup. While Keaton assures us that his life is nothing like Riggans, people will make the unfortunate comparison and it does not help that there are numerous easter eggs pointing to little things that I am sure you will have fun identifying. But that does not make Birdman special, what does is a few unique things that Inarritu knew would make or break the movie. The treasure box cast, apart from Keaton, includes Ed Norton, Naomi Watts, Andrea Risenborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone and Zach Galifianakis. And no, it isn’t the simple fact that the cast is stellar. The almost magical quality of the movie comes from the delightful but painfully difficult process of combining extra long takes seamlessly to showcase the movie as one long continuously shot video. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki(of Gravity fame) and Inarritu come up trumps in this department and score a fantastic win because of the way the comedy and the drama work in spite of the movie running like one long shot.

‘Birdman’ lampoons notions of blockbuster movie making and along the way a number of big names are dragged down into the satirical genius of the dialogue that goes on between the troubled actor, who is acting/directing/co-producing an adaptation of a Ray Carver’s plays, and his friends/crew. ‘Ambitious’ says Ed Norton to Keaton, spouting the first of many brash truisms while playing a method actor and probably pulling his own leg. A quick read up or a quick viewing of the many making-of featurettes available(though I don’t recommend this before you watch the movie) will give one an idea of the painstaking amount of choreography and rehearsal that has gone into achieving the end product. Delving into one characters reality while maintaining the reality of things taking place around that character is difficult enough to achieve without having to keep the interaction between the other characters fresh. That is where the stellar quality of the cast really shines through. Most of the movie occurs within confined quarters(New York’s iconic St.James theater) with the climax alone leading us away from the square.

For a change(especially after Babel and Biutiful), Inarritu seems to have had a lot of fun with ‘Birdman’. Have I said enough about the movie being made to look like one continuous take? I can see your urgent nod and so I shall stop about that. He takes us through narrow corridors, backstage areas, make up rooms, theater balconies and Broadway rooftops on a journey of magical realism. And while he walks us through there is the punch of a fresh score by Antonio Sanchez that is mostly just drums and cymbals urging us on. Why the Academy of Motion Pictures thought it should be rejected is beyond me. Be it as it may that most of it is just classical music, putting music together for a movie like this is award worthy by itself. While Keaton gives us a forceful performance as Riggan with a moving and almost lacerating delivery of histrionics, Edward Norton (did I mention this before as well?) makes fun of himself while challenging Riggan and his quest. Naomi Watts’ character making her debut as a Broadway actress excels in a role which while neurotic has brilliant light and heavy themes. Zach is barely himself but still shows his acting chops in a character that seems to have been written for him (Scorsese you say, ah well maybe..). Emma Stone (incidentally the actor who according to Keaton and Norton messed up the most in the long takes) gives us another peek into her brilliant side playing Riggans troubled daughter with youthful ease.

When the end credits roll, and the last ‘fuck you’ has been directed by one indignant personality to another, the sense of exhilaration resulting from being a part of something unique is powerful. What is clear is that this is a movie that has come forth from a lot of hard work and maybe a greater amount of love. And when there is true labour of love, the end result is usually spectacular, only ‘Birdman’ is a little more than that. In making me consider that it might just surpass ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ this year in terms of its cinematic excellence, Birdman takes us on the ultimate flight of fancy!

Five stars

Leave a Comment

Filed under comedy, Drama, English