Kingsman: The Golden Circle

kings2I quite enjoyed Kingsman: The Secret Service, a confident, zany twist on the James Bond spy genre based on a popular comic/graphic novel from Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. It enjoyed considerable success and a sequel was quickly greenlit, which I’m a little late finally getting to (I think they are currently filming a prequel).

In the tradition of sequels, this one is bigger, louder and zanier, and while on those terms its enjoyable enough it simply isn’t better– indeed, it’s quite inferior to the original film. Something is missing. I suspect it’s just too bigger, louder, zanier, going far over the line into the ludicrous – sort of dafter, sillier, madder. I’m pretty sure it has its fans and in some ways those fans that loved the first are just as likely to love the second for exactly the same reasons that I found it lacking.

But any film that can waste Jeff Bridges has a bad mark against it in my book. It could be anyone playing his part in this and that’s a crying shame, and it’s somewhat curious to see Halle Berry in a largely wasted role too – with talent like this involved, the film really should have been better. Which is to say nothing of the waste of Julianne Moore as the villainous drug dealer Poppy Adams, a daft pantomime performance that Moore likely thought was fun but leaves the film lacking the balance and drama of what I would consider a proper villain/bad guy. She’s crazy in the grand tradition of many of Bonds’ daftest megalomaniacs but she’s surprisingly bereft of any threat. Sure, she promises the death of millions of people but these are reduced to blatantly animated CGI characters (there’s actually far too much CGI in this, distancing us from any real dramatic tension either in the OTT fights or the grand establishing shots that look false and cartoony- only accentuating the strange distance I felt from the action). Indeed, it slipped uncomfortably close to the kitsch camp of the Adam West Batman show of the 1960s, and that may have been intentional, but it didn’t help the film at all in my view. Afterall, when a bullet to the brain doesn’t mean death, how seriously can you take anything that happens, or much less even care? I half-expected to see Mark Strong limping around in a post-credits sequence…

 

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

bad1How I loved this. You know how, sometimes, just right from the very start you know that a film is just right for you, right from the very first shot you simply know it’s going to be great, right up your street? That’s how it was for me watching this- there’s a static shot, a long single scene shot from one fixed camera, of a hotel room. A figure walks past the window outside and opens the door, hurriedly steps inside, furtively carrying two bags of luggage. The room is sparsely furnished and has period decor, 1950s. Plays period music om the radio. moves bed and furniture, rolls up the carpet, lifts up a section of floorboards, hides one of the bags in the gap underneath, nails the boards back down, rolls back the carpet, restores the bed and furniture. Camera hasn’t moved. Its dark, stylish, there’s something noir about everything. Its raining hard outside. The man changes clothes, waits. There’s a knock at the door, he opens the door, recognises who stands there, turns his back on them and walks into the room, letting them in, relaxes. I won’t write what happens next- indeed, this is one of those posts where I really can’t say much of anything about the film. Its full of twists and turns and surprises and overlapping timelines and flashbacks and it’s all part of the fun of watching the film.

Now, I won’t attempt to suggest that this film is perfect. There’s certainly plenty of detractors online: its overlong, there’s too many twists, the last third doesn’t live up to the promise of the first, the film sags in the middle, Chris Hemsworth is terrible. Well, I’d have been happy with another half-hour, I can’t understand how the attention-span of some gets worn thin these days by anything north of two hours (I’d love to be able to soak in an extended cut, even). I thought the ending was fine, if the film kept on piling up the twists and turns it could have become a farce, really- it’s a fine line as any Tarantino film will suggest. Hemsworth does seem a particular item of contention but actually I think he has the charisma to pull it off, he’s an OTT nod to the nightmarish magnetism of a Charles Manson. The whole thing is bizarre-noir, it’s all part of the pulp-noir flavour of it all, but sure, I can understand how it doesn’t click with some. Its just that kind of divisive movie. But I love movies like that, marmite movies I guess you could call them.

bad2The cast- it’s a great cast. I don’t think Jeff Bridges has been quite this good in years (and Bridges in great form is a joy to behold), Jon Hamm is great (its funny how he just seems to physically ‘click’ in anything set in the 1960s, which reminds me, I really have to finish Mad Men), while Cynthia Erivo is just extraordinary, frankly, and no doubt destined for Great Things.  The film features a brilliant soundtrack of period songs complimented by a fine Michael Giacchino score (someone else who seems to thrive with 1960s-set movies). Its got some really jaw-dropping art direction… I fell so in love with the whole setting and the design work involved in bringing it all to life, the hotel is simply a wonder to behold, and the widescreen compositions really bring the best out of it.

I watched this on something of a whim as a £1.99 rental on Prime, and I’m really fighting the urge to just go out and buy the 4K UHD (the common-sense voice in my head is just reminding me to wait for a sale to drop). Yeah, I really, really liked this movie. I just can’t really go into the details about why, all the individual moments, the clever sleight of hand of the director or the surprises in the script or just the great turns by the cast, because it would possibly spoil the experience of watching it for the first time. So maybe I’ll come back to those details when I buy the disc and rewatch the film. I’m certain it will reward repeat viewing: I liked the gaps; there’s an awful lot alluded to or suggested that the film really doesn’t elaborate upon and it’ll be interesting to rewatch and ponder/examine them. Maybe people are irritated by those gaps- the film doesn’t explain everything and sections of the narrative are deliberately vague, and I know some hate that kind of thing. I think films can really benefit from being vague – afterall, the whole ‘is he/isn’t he a Replicant’ never hurt Blade Runner.

bad3.jpgIt isn’t for everyone, evidently (I was actually surprised, after watching the film, when I then went to see some reviews and saw just how negative many are). Its funny, really, as I wasn’t as impressed by director Drew Goddard’s previous film, The Cabin in the Woods, which did get all the critical/popular acclaim but to me didn’t really work, it seemed a bit too clever for its own good. But this one certainly did; maybe it was the style, the setting, the mood. Contender for one of the best films I’ll see this year, I think.

The Big Lebowski 4K UHD

big2There’s something wonderfully endearing about this Coen Brothers film, that gives it the feeling of a warm blanket- its a film to wrap yourself in, enjoy the great cast, the wonderful dialogue, the gentle whimsy of it all. Nothing feels, well, convincingly real somehow- it’s all very dreamlike, a fable, or perhaps an adult fairytale. Even though it’s only twenty years old, it feels oddly old-fashioned, a reminder of a period when I saw films like this and Boogie Nights and Magnolia– great films, I was being spoiled back then and I didn’t appreciate how much. Its curious how much these three films in particular shared a common cast, how, say, Aimee Mann turns up in a cameo in this and then her songs form such a backbone to the mood and soundtrack of Magnolia.

Indeed, maybe it’s those twenty years but there is such a tangible feel of the ‘good old days’ here. Hearing Shawn Colvin’s cover of Viva Las Vegas over the Big Lebowski end-credits was a call-back to me buying her albums back then; I was a huge fan of her Fat City album in 1992, and have bought all her albums since, but hearing her voice here was a sudden jolt. I don’t recall her song from watching the film before. Yeah, I know, twenty years. Its a bit like how surprised I was to see Aimee’s cameo, I didn’t remember it at all. Aimee was another favourite singer of mine from that era (discovered from her featuring in Time Stand Still, from Rush’s 1987 album Hold Your Fire (it’s one of my favourite songs)) so again, rewatching this film brings back all that stuff.

Where did all those years go? The cast, too, is a blast from the past- Jeff Bridges has always been a favourite, but I’d forgotten that Philip Seymour Hoffman was in this- he looks so young here, so while it was a shock seeing him here, it was also a painful reminder of his untimely passing.  Of course he’s one of the cast members who turned up in Boogie Nights and Magnolia. Christ he was a brilliant actor. He’s kind of young and bubbly in The Big Lebowski and it’s a sweet role for him. John Goodman nearly steals the film, which is saying something considering the cast around him- I think this is possibly one of his best performances, it just clicks. I suppose much of this is the perfect chemistry between him, Bridges and a shockingly young-looking Steve Buscemi (what a cast this film had!). The scenes these three have together (“shut the f–k up, Donny!”) are brilliant slices of perfection.

So anyway, The Big Lebowski– maybe you’re here to see how the 4K UHD holds up. It looks brilliant, a fine example of what the format can add to catalogue titles. Maybe stating that the film has never looked so good is beyond stating the obvious- detail is great, colours are vibrant. There is a lovely texture to it, the grain being captured and maintained without any DNR that I could see. There is a nice use of HDR in this too, which is something people look for, while forgetting that these films originally didn’t have any HDR treatment either theatrically or on DVD or Blu-ray releases. It certainly adds a nice vibrancy and ‘pop’ but I do sometimes wonder if its wholly warranted- it works here anyway, not distracting at all, it just adds to the visual quality of the film.

I only bought the film before on R1 DVD back when it first came out, and haven’t seen it in years, so can’t really comment on how it compares (an unfair comparison anyway, really). I did try the accompanying Blu-ray, which I hadn’t seen before. This is an old disc so based on an old master, but it’s where all the extras lie hence it warrants its inclusion with the UHD.  Even with the Blu-ray being automatically upscaled to 4K (any comparisons I make between Blu-ray and 4K are hamstrung by this) its clear there are issues with the master or encoding with the Blu-ray. It looks pretty ugly. Ouch, I sound like a 4K snob.

Regardless, I’m sure The Big Lebowski would work brilliantly on VHS on a b&w television. Its just a great film. The dude abides, indeed.

On that last thought, if I admit to feeling guilty even mentioning it, can I get away with wishing for a ‘twenty years later…’ sequel?  I just can’t help but be curious regards the dude now, what the hell would he think of America, and the world, where would he fit in, how would he even survive, out on the fringes, on the outside looking in on the current madhouse? I think we need the dude.

Only the Brave (2017)

brave1Sometimes, expectations are everything: Only the Brave is a frustrating film. Oh, its sincere enough, and a noble attempt at telling its true story with respect and surprising restraint- this isn’t the huge Hollywood effects spectacle that might be expected. It just doesn’t, sadly, ignite (sic). Its such a strange thing- competently staged and with a really great cast (Josh Brolin, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connelly)… actually, maybe that cast is the problem, maybe its just too good a cast, with too much cinematic baggage behind them that carries all sorts of expectations in itself.

I was surprised to see that it was directed by Joseph Kosinski,  of Tron: Legacy and Oblivion fame, as that in itself would suggest a big, spectacular and horrifying canvas would be put up on the screen but Kosinski seems to deliberately play against those expectations. Its just a different sort of movie than his previous films might suggest. Yeah, there’s those confounded expectations again.

But it isn’t an intimate character-driven piece either, possibly because those big-name actors, or that visually-adept director, aren’t exactly an arthouse cinema bunch. Its therefore caught somewhere in-between, and so intent on treating the real events and people caught up in them with proper due respect that the film just… exists, without really saying anything.

It reminds me rather a great deal of The 33, another film based on true events that impacted on a reasonably large group. While Only the Brave mostly centers upon Josh Brolin’s character, it also tries to flesh out the rest of  the Granite Mountain Hotshots that he leads in the firefighting, and like The 33, the film suffers from not having enough time, or perhaps the script isn’t finely honed enough, to do so many characters justice.

I don’t know, its really a strange one. Its a good film, but it just lacks that essential spark, if you’ll forgive one more fire metaphor. I’m tempted to suggest the issue may lie with the score, funnily enough. I just find myself thinking of the film Glory, and James Horner’s magnificent score. Sure the music and the film were perhaps overly manipulative but the combination of film and music involved me, made me feel something.  I didn’t really feel anything with Only the Brave; I enjoyed it and found it very worthwhile but it didn’t engage me emotionally. It might seem odd to suggest blame lies with the music score but film music isn’t what it used to be, and the industry has lost something of the genius of the likes of Goldsmith and Horner and that kind of film music, no longer in vogue, certainly worked back in the day.

So a missed opportunity then, unfortunately, but certainly a sincere enough effort.