Kingsman: The Secret Service

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I was watching Kingsman: The Secret Service a while back and I remember thinking, “Damn, this feels a lot like Kick-Ass.” Turns out, I surprised myself with my homing missile-like powers of observation because, as I discovered after the fact, Kingsman and Kick-Ass were both helmed by director Matthew Vaughn, also the man behind X-Men: First Class.

Kingsman is incredibly loosely based adaptation of a comic series simply titled The Secret Service, created by Mark Miller and Dave Gibbons. Kick-Ass, lest we forget, was also based on a comic series co-written by Miller as well, which is fine, in as much as we know, more or less, what to expect as far as Vaughn’s stylistic sensibilities are concerned.

The film is a throwback to a number of genres, chiefly the spy-thriller of yester-year, though part of the problem is that it’s trying to keep too many balls in the air at once. Part coming-of-age drama, part action comedy, and part spy thriller, the tone is all over the place like the results of a darts tournament for the blind. Perhaps the best illustration for this claim can be found within the first ten minutes of the film: the opening scene depicts a daring rescue mission, complete with blaring rock music and exploding typography loudly proclaiming the title; the second scene depicts a grieving widow soberly being given news of her husband’s death; and the third presents a Kick-Ass-esque action sequence with weirdly timed a presented comedic elements.

Screenwriting tip: the first few minutes of the movie are vital when it comes to setting the tone. It sets up what the audience comes to expect from the film, so that you can either go ahead with building your dramatic tension, or subvert the audiences’ expectations later on. Kingsman doesn’t know what it wants to be—and it shows— as it flits disconcertingly between largely unconnected aspects of the story. What am I supposed to be feeling, movie? You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Talking of story, I can’t seem to wrap my head around some of the more fantastical elements of the plot, mostly because the mostly sober interactions between Firth and his protégé, played by Taron Egerton, keep body slamming to tone back down again. The plot largely centers on a lot of nonsense involving Samuel L. Jackson as some sort of tech-geek cum eco-terrorist wanting to kill everybody, but in a more practical sense, it’s just a largely vestigial framework around which a bunch of contrived action sequences are strung like glimmering Christmas lights.

Frankly, it feels like writers Vaughn and Jane Goldman came up with all the big, showy set pieces, knocked off for lunch, and never came back. Significantly less attention has been afforded to the details of the plot, and it seems like no one really knew or cared how the characters got from point A to point B as long as some people got shot along the way. Sometimes it’s the little things that take me out of a story, as was the case here. From the jaw-dropping stupidity of the villain’s master plan to the way in which none of the cadets reacted in the slightest once they discovered that their training entailed killing them off in order to determine who among them was the most capable, my reaction was generally the same eye-roll and inward sigh of frustration.

But I can occasionally get behind a stupid premise if the idea is done with passion—the Roger Moore era James Bond movies spring to mind—but what I simply can’t abide is attempted humor that just isn’t funny. Nothing is more tortuous to sit though than a film that thinks it’s funny when it isn’t. Kingsman, unfortunately, is one of these movies. It really just drove me up the wall when joke after joke, obvious remark after obvious remark, kept falling flat. And Samuel L. Jackson’s lisp? I bet that was much funnier in the writing room, wasn’t it, guys?

Kingsman subscribes to that incredibly lowbrow, groan-inducing, lowest-common-denominator kind of humor that permeates shows like Family Guy, and I know I sound pretentious as hell right now, but the fact is that I wouldn’t have a qualm if Kingsman had actually made me laugh. But it didn’t. And now we’re here.

Some computer-generated special effects that scream, “Our budget dried up faster that we’d hoped,” certainly didn’t improve matters but, in truth, I had checked out long before that.

The bubblegum-pop infused, blood-lusty action sequences of Kick-Ass are here, but they’re stretched over a hollow, token framework of a story that has far too many plot holes and logical dead-ends for my liking. More than entertain me, Kingsman: The Secret Service just made me weary.

Rating: 2 out of 5

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Robocop Review

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I should have learned long ago that no intellectual property is safe from the scourge of unnecessary remakes; not even seemingly safe 1980’s cult sci-fi classics. Alas, the day has arrived for Robocop to be tied down to the sacrificial alter so that another generation of twitchy, attention deficit kids can be exposed to a cherished franchise in precisely the wrong way.

Robocop comes to us from Brazilian director José Padilha, chosen for the commercial success of his previous foreign language films Elite Squad and Elite Squad: The Enemy Within. Apparently, Darren Aronofsky was, at one time, slated to direct, though he ultimately declined so that he could direct his upcoming film, Noah. Now, since Aronofsky opted out of Robocop, The Wolverine, and a plethora of other recent films that otherwise would have doubtless been outstanding under his direction, I fully anticipate that Noah will be the single greatest cinematic endeavor in the history of the medium or I will personally set Darren Aronofsky’s house on fire. It’s difficult to say whether or not Padilha is fully responsible for the mediocrity of the final product, as, according to Wikipedia, he was quoted as sharing with City of God director Fernando Meirelles that the filming of Robocop was “the worst experience of his life” and “for every ten ideas he has, nine are cut” He further expressed that “It is hell here. The film will be good, but I have never suffered so much and I do not want to do it again”.

Joel Kinnaman stars as the titular Robocop, turning, as if by magic, one of the most cherished sci-fi heroes into one of the 21st century’s most generic action protagonists- which is saying quite a lot. In a departure from the 1987 original, Kinnaman’s entire face is actually visible for most of the film, now that he has the ability to retract his iconic visor at will- which, suffice it to say, does nothing to change that fact that he looks remarkably bored throughout the entire film in what is perhaps an impressive attempt to mimic my own expression during the two hour runtime. The thing about Kinnaman is that he’s not an offensively bad though still generic-looking actor like Jai Courtney, nor is he as surprisingly talented though just as generic-looking as Ethan Hawke. No, Kinnaman is a mediocre actor in a generic, white bread male’s body, which might prove to be the perfect visual representation of the film as a whole; a boilerplate, run-of-the-mill little experience that pales in comparison to the original but isn’t even offensive enough to provoke discussion.

Many critics have suggested that José Padilha and writer Joshua Zetumer didn’t have a clear conception of what made the original Robocop so successful in the first place, but I don’t think that’s entirely the case. Director Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 Robocop isn’t, after all, that difficult to deconstruct, but the beauty of it lies in the implementation. Rather, I think that Padilha and Zetemer didn’t trust those ideas enough to allow them to carry the film; a grave mistake, to be sure. In place of the original’s classic wit and charisma, we have a multitude of generic, bloodless gunfights, which seem to be par for the course as we progress further into a century marked by this increasingly vapid and psychopathically commercial film industry. Ironically, that visceral and cathartic gunplay that the 1987 Robocop was universally famous for has been completely removed in favor of a myriad of slick-looking but ultimately meaningless and frenetic shootouts that can be found in *insert one of about a million different tittles here* in an effort to keep the film at a safe (read: despicable) PG-13 rating. “Why would they want to do this terrible thing?” you might ask. I would reply, my voice thick with disdain “It’s so that they can sell a new line of action figures to the hateful, mewling kiddies, you idiot.”

After much deliberation, I think I’ve come up with the perfect analogy to sum up my opinion of the film while still staying within the established context; Robocop’s motorcycle. Let me explain. In this new adaptation, Joel Kinnamann’s Robocop drives around a sleek, high tech, futuristic-looking motorcycle that admittedly looks pretty badass. It’s one of those ultramodern bikes that probably goes about 300 miles per hour and can stop on a dime and Robocop looks really cool while he’s riding it. Now, let’s assume that he takes down a bad guy. It doesn’t really matter who, but the important thing to remember is that he’s programed to follow the letter of the law as part of his directives; a plot point, which, in this instance, would require Robocop to take the suspect back to the police station to be booked and jailed. Do you see the problem here? How is he supposed to take the bad guy to jail if he’s riding a motorcycle? It’s that kind of sloppiness that’s really indicative of the quality of the film as a whole. There are so many ideas added in simply because they look cool and flashy, and it’s clear that no one stopped during production to consider if it was the smart thing to do.

Subsequently, what we’re left with are the bones of a half-baked action flick which deserves nothing more than a noncommittal “meh.” I believe that if both Padilha and Zetumer sat down with Verhoeven’s Robocop and thought- really thought- about what they wanted the film to be and how they wanted to bring the deep and complex world of that film into the 21st century, that they might have come up with something really special. As seems to be so often the case, any heart and sparkle that we might have otherwise enjoyed has been stripped out and replaced with sleek but utterly hollow visuals in a crass, exploitative effort to appeal to the common denominator.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Netflix Movie of the Week #10: Black Snake Moan

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Well, it’s finally Friday, which means that it’s time, once again, to delve into that wretched hive of scum and villainy, the Netflix online selection. This week, we’ll take a look at a film that I’d always heard good things about, but had never actually seen until recently. Black Snake Moan, directed by Craig Brewer, is arguably the best example of his work to date. Highly sexualized and intentionally provocative at times, Black Snake Moan explores the relationship between two individuals from opposite worlds as they share their suffering after being thrust together by a twist of fate.

Starring Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci and including a cameo appearance by Justin Timberlake, the film follows the story of deeply religious Lazarus (Jackson) who finds sex addict Rae (Ricci) badly beaten and near death on the side of the road. Believing that it is his moral obligation to cure Rae of her sinful ways, Lazarus chains her to his radiator until she can prove to him that she has overcome her promiscuousness. What follows is a descent into the pent-up and suppressed suffering of both individuals and ultimately, they deliverance that they didn’t know they needed.

Jackson shines as the outwardly friendly but internally shaken Lazarus and performances can generally be commended all around. The surprising thing about Black Snake Moan, however, is that while the sexualization becomes almost fetishistic to a degree, it’s always done tastefully and adds weight to the story, rather than being a crass gimmick. Likewise, there is a gratifying amount of thematic subtlety to be found beneath the intentionally superficial sex. The soundtrack, likewise, is phenomenal, and plays heavily off of the bluesy influence of the deep south. If you’re looking for something a little different, yet still supremely satisfying, you could certainly do worse than Black Snake Moan.

Rating: 4 out of 5