Kingsman: The Secret Service (Film Review)

Kingsman: The Secret Service (Film Review)

I guess I had been living under a rock, not having heard a single thing about Kingsman: The Secret Service until I saw it pop up as a new release on Netflix. I guess I was missing out.

The simple story is that Eggsy is a teen that seems to be headed down the right path, until his potential is recognized by one of the Kingsman, a type of James Bond-esque spies who are highly trained and are able to do some pretty cool stuff. Eggsy is recruited for training, and needs to stop the evil plan for a mass human killing spree to eliminate the problems of global warming, by the lisping Samuel L. Jackson, who serves as the primary villain of the film.

The Secret Service KSS_JB_D01_00106.tif

Colin Firth serves as the wily, elder Kingsman, who takes Eggsy under his wing. And he is pretty awesome, reminiscent of how cool Liam Neeson was in the first Taken film. An older actor-turned-action star, Firth gets to be the center of some pretty incredible, and hyper-violent, fight scenes that absolutely took me by surprise. I did not expect to see him walk in to a church and brutally eliminate an entire congregation.

But we get to see it, and it is pretty awesome, and endlessly fun to watch.

That goes for the entire film. It is just entertaining.

king3The training for the Kingsman recruits is pretty cool, set up like a competition where only one person will have what it takes to become a new member of the squad. The embark on fun adventures in attempts to prove themselves, and we get to see the transformation of Eggsy from street-wise youth, to trained killer. There is also one of the more fun villains in a while, Gazelle, who has prosthetic, blade-runner style legs that are equipped with deadly knives at the end. She provides great fight scenes, and impressive ability with her legs to dismember, or even decapitate, her opposition. Gazelle is a great henchman, and very watchable as the film progresses. Every time she appears, or tears her skirt off to reveal the deadliness of her legs, viewers can be sure that they will be in for a good time.

king4

I guess I had completely missed the boat on this film, but am happy that I had the chance to watch it. It is based of the comic series, The Secret Service, and creates a very memorable group of characters throughout, something that cannot be said for all comic book films. This one doesn’t take ages to establish characters and give them infinite back stories, which is thankful to the viewer who craves some blood, instead of too much story.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a fast-paced action film, and it doesn’t disappoint, pretty much right from the beginning. There is more than enough here to keep viewers entertained and happy, and makes for one of the better action films that have been released in the past while. It is surely set up for a sequel, so I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of the Kingsman.

Captain Phillips (Film Review)

Captain Phillips (Film Review)

Captain Phillips gets it going, right from the beginning.

For this film based on true events, I was expecting a lot of buildup before the actual events of piracy on the seas just off Africa would get rolling. Boy, was I pleasantly wrong.

The movie gets moving pretty quickly, and before we know it, Tom Hanks and his crew aboard a transport ship are under siege from four determined Somali pirates, and things have gone horribly wrong. Their ship is boarded, and they have had to deal with one crazy situation.

capt2I hadn’t read much about this film upon its acclaimed release, or in the months since, but I was treated to a very tense, entertaining film. The action is not that of the Michael Bay variety, but provides serious tension throughout the film. Once the Captain is kidnapped, and taken aboard the lifeboat, the film continues to get better, and stronger.

As he almost always is, Tom Hanks is highly capable and watchable as the lead in the film. He exudes a certain calmness as Captain Phillips, even when he has a gun pressed against his temple. He always seems to be in control, and he comes over as an amazing character as the film progresses. Even when the Somalis know that they are done for, and are on the verge of panic while US warships float just off the side of their tiny lifeboat, he is in control. Of himself, and at times, of the pirates.

Film Review Captain Phillips

There is a lot going on in Captain Phillips, and it never ceases to be entertaining and stressful. Not sure how the whole thing was going to wrap up, it was impressive to see the show of strength by the United States in the situation that they were faced with. Dispatching a Navy warship, and aircraft carrier, helicopters, and the highly trained SEAL team, there was no way that they were going to let the small orange boat ever make it to the shores of Somalia, whether the Captain was alive or dead. It always left the conclusion in doubt, as to how the whole thing was going to unfold.

It is increasingly rare for films to be able to hold tension for the majority of its run time, but Captain Phillips does exactly that.

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Barkhad Abdi, who plays the lead pirate, is exceptional in his role. He was justly nominated for a supporting Oscar, and won a BAFTA for his portrayal as the Somali fisherman who simply wants some money so that he can survive, but is crushed by his own ego, greed, and desire to obtain some semblance of the American Dream, even by the deplorable means of kidnapping. As his situation becomes more dire, he struggles to control his group of men, and knows that he is facing the longest of odds, but with grim determination, refuses to abandon his hopes of a successful attack on a US ship.

Captain Phillips is a very, very good film, and absolutely worth a watch. The running time flies by, and there are very few moments that will not leave viewers on the edge of their seats, wondering what is going to happen next. Very highly recommended.

Manson Family Vacation (Film Review)

Manson Family Vacation (Film Review)

Some families have secrets that are darker than others.

When straight-laced lawyer Nick has his odd, adopted brother Conrad come to town for a visit, things get a little weird with their family. Issues have arisen between them since their father passed away, and Conrad never went to the funeral. He had always been harboring thoughts that he was treated poorly by both his father and Nick throughout his life; that he had been treated like an outsider because he was the adopted one, and not really the true son or brother.

manson3This leads Conrad on an interesting path in life, as an artist and a bit of a wanderer. He sells all of his possessions, and ends up visiting Nick. From here, he convinces him that they should tour the sites of the Manson Family Murders, the ones that gripped the nation with fear, bringing evil into a simpler time in American history.

Conrad, played by Linas Phillips, is a quirky individual who would prefer to camp in the backyard rather than sleep inside, and is obsessed with the Manson murders. He wears Manson shirts, gets genuinely giddy at the sites of the Tate and LaBianca houses, and wants to get as close to “Charlie” as possible.

manson4There are, of course, reasons why.

Manson Family Vacation is a dark comedy, to say the least. The subject matter is consistently heavy, and the interviews with Manson interspersed with the film manage to elicit the creepiness that only he can, still, all these years later. There are moments of lighter humor, but it is never possible to disassociate with the fact that it is trying to make light of perhaps one of the grizzliest, most infamous crime sprees in the history of the country. Not something to take lightly, even if the film tries to.

manson2Conrad is always on the verge of taking things too far, and his flirtations with the Manson family, and the current members, is truly terrifying for Nick. Yet through the unlikely events, it allows the brothers to discuss their past, and realize the wrongs that they have committed, all while Conrad is trying to connect with his own demons, and his own past. In pretty much the least normal way possible.

Meet "The Family."
Meet “The Family.”

Manson Family Vacation was not as good as I expected it to be, but it provided some good moments, and some very surprising twists. It is an interesting film to be sure, and speaks to the odd connections that people are able to have, perhaps even if they have never met. It may not be funny enough to be considered a comedy, or dark enough to be considered a pure drama, but it lies at an awkward place in between. It is a good film, and one worth checking out. The characters are pretty interesting and generally likable, and the film does a good job of exploring the ways in which people need to reconcile their own pasts in order to be able to move forward as functional adults.

Purely based on the traumatic subject matter, Manson Family Vacation is worth checking out. It is a strange journey into a coming-of-age story that is definitely unlike many others out there.

Gravity (Film Review)

Gravity (Film Review)

It is hard to see a film that is so critically acclaimed, and then have a bunch of negative things to say about it. Such is the case with Gravity for me.

First off, it should be noted that I am a simple person who never saw this sci-fi film on the big screen, where it would have been a million times better than on my lackluster TV screen. Gravity is a massive film, and deserves to be seen on the screen. So I will not speak to the effects or grandeur of the film, since I never bore witness to it. Instead, I will focus on the film itself, instead of all the fancy effects and impressiveness of seeing everything on a massive screen in front of me.

gravity2For me, Gravity was a mixture of thrills, tedium, and preposterous situations. There were moments of this movie where you could feel yourself sliding to the edge of your seat, not entirely sure what was going to happen next. In the vast emptiness of space, it is easy to feel uneasy about being out there, all alone, with barely any hope to cling to. Yet that was balanced by a couple of characters (literally, two) that couldn’t really hold interest for too long. George Clooney, one of my favorite actors, was kind of annoying in this film, and his fate never seemed in doubt, even though there was no characterization or story as to why he would be such a heroic man. All we really know about his character is that he likes to talk and tell random stories, and he is obsessed with having the longest space walk record. Aside from that, nothing. We know nothing about his character as a man. And that plays as a huge flaw in the film.

gravity3The other star of the film, Sandra Bullock, received rave reviews and an Oscar nomination for her role as the scientist on board the doomed spacecraft. As with Clooney, we know next to nothing about her. The only revelation of her past is during the strange time when she and Clooney are shooting through space on the way to the International Space Station, when it is revealed that she had a daughter who died. It’s fine to create a fairly flat character, even in a lead role, but it made it more difficult to really care what happened to her in the end. When a film is based solely on two people carrying the movie, and hoping to enthrall the audience with emotions at their fates, they had better be characters that we really care about. In this sense, Gravity failed.

Sure, Bullock is good at demonstrating panic, and her fear comes across as very real. It is not a poor acting performance, by any stretch. In fact, she is very good with what she is given.

gravity4There is very little that I actually understand about science and space, but to me, so many of the things that transpired in the film seemed to be truly off-kilter. I’m sure there are plenty of space people who could say how realistic the film actually was, but to me, it came across as pretty far-fetched at points; especially around the ending of the film. This wasn’t a make-or-break thing for me, and I never mind suspending some disbelief, but I did feel like it took away from the film a little bit, since there were parts that I simply couldn’t believe, and get behind.

Gravity is a spectacle, and in the end, I quite enjoyed the film. But it is flawed, as a film on its own. I wish I could have seen it in the cinema, where I could have enjoyed the incredible visuals that garnered this film a good haul of technical Oscars.

But when it comes down to it, looking at Gravity simply as a story, it is just ok.

This Is the End (Film Review)

This Is the End (Film Review)

Recently released to Netflix Canada, the dark comedy This Is the End brings a little bit of Armageddon to the table for a group of Hollywood actors just trying to enjoy a good party at James Franco’s house.

end2Bordering between a black comedy and a gross-out comedy, This Is the End provides us with a fun view into a bunch of actors who are playing themselves in the film. A cast that includes modern funnymen such as Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, and Jay Baruchel, interact together after an apocalyptic event stuns the city of Los Angeles and most people are pulled to the sky with mysterious lights. The survivors do their bumbling best to survive in Franco’s house, with meager supplies, and their fair share of idiocy standing in their way of survival, and ultimately, salvation.

end3There are a few laughs in the film, and it definitely takes on a darker tone than most might expect from a film with this ensemble cast. As the story moved forward, it came with it a surprisingly religious twist that I was not expecting. This is not the funniest film of the year, by any stretch, but there are enough light moments to make it entertaining enough to watch. The high Netflix star rating surprised me, as did the Rotten Tomatoes score of 8.3, and even a strong review from Roger Ebert.

end4Taking the film beyond the comedy aspect, however, it is a pretty decent movie, better than I would have expected. Going into it, I expected a film serving primarily as actors stroking their own egos by playing themselves, and forcing us to care about what would happen to them, above anybody else, should the end of days truly approach it. Instead, we like the characters as they are. There are feuds and issues between them, and they are more than willing to parody themselves in order to accentuate the gags of the film. As an audience member, it is fun to imagine Jay and Jonah hating each other in real life, and everybody seeming to have a man-crush on Rogen, as he serves as the glue that keeps the group together.

Overall, This Is the End is a better film than I expected, albeit a less funny one. With that, it is still worth a watch. There are many enjoyable cameos to enjoy, specifically from the initial party, which is a who’s who of Hollywood at this point in time. Not bad for some slightly more cerebral entertainment than expected.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (Film Review)

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (Film Review)

Something very strange and unexpected happened when I decided to shut my brain off for a while and indulge in watching Hot Tub Time Machine 2.

I laughed.

This was a bit of a surprise. But, there was definitely more than one scene in which I actually laughed out loud, which for me, made this comedy sequel actually funnier than the original.

I know. Who knew?

tub2Hot Tub Time Machine 2 focuses on three quarters of the original cast (minus John Cusack) as they are living it up in their new reality that was created by changing the past in the first film. When one of the gang is shot in the crotch, they must travel back in time (which is actually an alternate future) in order to stop the murderer. It’s a little bit convoluted, the whole story, but really, who needs to discuss the plot of a sequel to a film titled Hot Tub Time Machine?

As with any comedic sequel, there is a play on many of the jokes that existed in the first one, but this time around, they seem funnier. Some of the best laughs occur when the guys see themselves in the mirror for the first time in their new future, and go off on their “You look like…” jokes. We’ve seen it before, and will probably see it again, but it definitely elicited some laughs for me.

Maybe I am getting dumber.

The insanity of the TV game show they participate in is also kind of funny. Shockingly stupid, but kind of funny. That’s the gist of the whole film: impossibly stupid, but kind of funny.

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 - 2015 FILM STILL - Adam Scott is Adam Jr. - Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures/MGM  © 2015 Paramount Pictures Corporation and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

To replace the departed Cusack, Adam Scott plays a larger role in the film, and brings his standard style of wit to the film. He serves as a welcome addition.

In HTTM2, there is exactly what you would expect. Plenty of bathroom and sexual humour. A lot of swearing. Some naked breasts. Many jokes about film references (“This reminds me of Terminator.”). Messing with historical events. Drinking and drug benders that are pretty humorous.

Bianca Haase is Sophie in HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2, from Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures. HTTM2-FF-003
Bianca Haase is Sophie 

But at the end of the day, it does provide some laughs. This film is perfect for when you’ve had a long day at work, and want to do absolutely no thinking, but perhaps want to giggle a couple of times at how cruel these friends can be to one another, and the complete silliness that is the story line. Despite universally wretched reviews, I would actually say that this comedy is decent in comparison to the other slew of terrible comedies that are out there. It is tough to make people laugh, but Hot Tub Time Machine 2 did it for me.

And perhaps most surprising of all, I didn’t hate myself afterwards for watching this film.

Taken 3 (Film Review)

Taken 3 (Film Review)

The first major issue with the third installment of the Taken franchise is that nobody is taken.

Following the under-the-radar hit filled with insane amount of awesome from star Liam Neeson, and the semi-respectable action-packed sequel, Taken 3 has sort of run out of ways for Neeson’s daughter Kim to be stolen away. So they set it up that he is framed for the murder of his ex-wife, in a plot involving a former Russian Spetsnaz soldier-turned-gangster who is owed some money. Neeson must prove his innocence while eluding the police, while doing his best to hunt down the bad guys in the film.

taken3The plot itself isn’t too bad, but Taken 3 lacks where the other films excelled. There just isn’t that much action, and when there is, it pales in comparison to the thrills of the first two movies. Neeson is definitely getting older, and the hand-to-hand battles are definitely lacking. They simply aren’t that good anymore, and odd editing makes the scenes somewhat choppy and lacking the seamless quality of before. Even the gun play is below average, and we are forced to believe that one of the best trained soldiers on earth is a poor shot with a machine gun from only a few feet away, aiming at an older target that is definitely not moving very quickly.

taken2What has been created is a film that is more story heavy, which is fine, but doesn’t deliver the extreme payoffs that we have become accustomed to with the rest of the Taken series. This is a film that is supposed to create tension, but offers none.

Taken 3 ends the series in a whimper, despite being a watchable action film. It is by far not the worst thing out there, but it definitely isn’t the best, and there are surely better current action options out there to satisfy the car chase, fist fighting needs of viewers.

Wild (Film Review)

Wild (Film Review)

New to the Netflix Canada’s film lineup is the highly acclaimed Reese Witherspoon film, Wild, which in a way serves as the female counterpart to the excellent Into the Wild.

The story is about a bright, but very troubled young woman, who suffers after the loss of her mother to cancer. Once her mother dies, Cheryl goes off the rails, ruining her marriage through a number of meaningless sexual encounters, and a dark path towards heroin use.

wild3Needing to clear her head, Cheryl decides that she is going to hike the 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, one of the most difficult and lengthy trails in the United States. This gives her the chance to think about her life, about her self-destruction, and about the memories of her mother, that will keep pushing her feet forward on the arduous journey.

Wild is an excellent, and calming, film. It is sedate, allowing the viewer to undertake the harrowing journey with Cheryl. It is extremely well directed, and well edited. I will not often notice the editing in the film, but the way the flashbacks to her life are integrated with her journey is seamless, and manages to add realism and drama to her quest.

Pushed by the strong direction, Witherspoon gives a tremendous performance, which is more about her reactions and facial expressions than it is about the minimal dialogue that she mutters. Wild is a film, after all, where she spends the majority of her time on her own, so her dialogue is infrequent. It’s not about the talking, it’s about the walking, and the journey. She was nominated for an Oscar for this performance, and rightfully so. It is subtle, and introspective.

wild2As for the journey itself, it is filled with beautiful scenery and the fact that Cheryl is not an accomplished hiker. She makes many mistakes, including carrying a pack that she can barely lift, the wrong kind of fuel for her stove, and hiking boots that are the wrong size, causing her feet to appear out of a horror movie. We feel bad for her, at times, knowing that she is making a ton of rookie mistakes, but that is a part of it: to learn as she goes, just as it is with the recovery and acceptance of her mother’s death, and the stopping of her downward spiral.

It is quite the transformation to go from a sophisticated scholar, to a girl having heroin injected into her legs, to having sex with multiple men in alleyways, to taking off, alone, on a dangerous hike that has been able to make many experienced hikers call it quits. Her journey is a tough one, but her goal is simple: make it to the end, so that she can start all over again, even if that is a scary proposition.

Wild is a very good film. It is calm, and quiet, and allows us to see and understand the introspection needed by our main character in order for her to simply be okay. Definitely worth watching.

Staten Island Summer (Film Review)

Staten Island Summer (Film Review)

Man, there are a ton of films that focus on people growing up while spending their summers at pools, or water parks. They all have things in common: the glory of summer, the camaraderie of summer friends, the ending of eras, similar characters, the pursuit of girls, the coming-of-age while sitting poolside and watching over kids.

Staten Island Summer follows along with all of the cliches that have been created in this genre, as can be seen in other similar films, like The Way Way BackThe To-Do List, and Lifeguard. Honestly, there is very little that is new in this film, and much of it feels like we have seen it all before. And it feels restrained.

staten4The central aspects of the plot that are important are that this is the final summer for Danny, as he will be leaving for Harvard in the fall, and in a Superbad-esque way, he is leaving his underachieving best friend behind. Their goal is to throw the biggest end of summer party yet, and depart as friends, and as legends in their small town.

As always, the pool is full of a colourful cast of characters, including the archetypal dumb guy, fierce girl, goofy guy who is too old to be working there, and boss who serves as a primary nemesis in their plans for the party, the hot girl. There are no new characters here, and this is the main disappointment with this film. Sure, there are humourous situations, but even those are pretty much the same ones that have been shown time and again on the screen. Staten Island Summer also lacks the emotional depth of some of the other similar films, making it stuck somewhere between a teen party film, a coming-of-age-story, or a comedy. It touches on all genres, but never really develops any of them to make it fit firmly in one or the other.

staten3And this is a weakness.

It’s not emotional enough to make us really care about the characters and their struggles. It tries, at times, but never really succeeds.

It is not funny enough, and is far too restrained to be a gross out teen comedy, like American Pie, or films of that nature. They attempt to venture into this territory a couple of times, but it was as though they were trying far too hard to maintain a PG-13 rating (even though it is, of course, rated R in the US). Everything could have been taken further.

The relationships between characters have moments that can endear us, but they remain pretty superficial over the course of the film, again providing that lack of emotional depth to not only the characters, but the story as a whole.

statenStaten Island Summer is not a terrible film. It’s just that there are so many others that are similar, and much better. Viewers could do worse than watching this movie, but if you are looking for something that provides a strong coming-of-age story, watch The Way Way Back instead. If you are looking for more laughs, watch The To-Do List instead. If you want more of a drama, watch Lifeguard.

There are better options out there, and this is the simple issue with Staten Island Summer: it doesn’t distinguish itself at all from these other films that have so many identical things happening in them.

Wish I Was Here (Film Review)

Wish I Was Here (Film Review)

There are those who love the work of Zach Braff, and those who don’t. From his hilarious and often heartfelt turn as JD on Scrubs, to his generally acclaimed directorial debut in Garden State, he has surprisingly divided fans and critics. Some people believe that he is able to capture emotions incredibly well, and others feel that he is too weepy and introspective.

Wish I Was Here is his second turn behind the camera, in another film that he has written. And it is excellent. Especially those who are fans of Garden StateWish I Was Here is a must see. Sure, it does not veer off the path that was set up and established in his initial film, and much of the emotional baggage that his character carries along with him is similar. But it is an honest film, and it is emotionally great.

wish2The story revolves around Aidan, an out-of-work actor trying to get any job by going to auditions for terrible roles in terrible shows and films. He lives with his wife (played incredibly well by Kate Hudson, who is calm and cool, tinged with the right amount of cynicism and emotion, that she in a way, reminds us of what a grown up and bitten by the real world Penny Lane could be like), and two children, who need to be pulled out of their private school, since his ill father can no longer afford the bill. Aidan makes the decision to home school his children for the remainder of the semester, until they can figure out what to do with them. His fears of public school has scarred him enough that he doesn’t want his own children to go through the same pain that he experienced growing up.

With his father dying, played incredibly well by Mandy Patinkin (known best from his role on Homeland), it is up to Aidan to hold his family together, and try to bring back his estranged brother to his father on his deathbed.

wish5There are so many things going on for Aidan all at once, and he is weighed down by the responsibility of so many things at the same time. The pressure of his failed dream, the financial pressures he faces with no work, the burden put on his wife as the sole breadwinner, working in a job that she can’t stand, and where she is forced to deal with sexual advances from a co-worker, the difficulty in dealing with his quirky, shut-in brother, his ailing father, trying to teach his kids something about the world, and being the one relied upon to keep it all together makes for a traumatic period in his life. It is a lot for one man, let along Aidan.

The best part of Wish I Was Here is the acting performances. They come across honestly, and believably. The film is scattered with good actors, and they all do the emotional trauma justice, and Aidan is forced to come of age, and come up with one more act of bravery for the good of his family. Across the board, including the children, offer strong and emotional performances, which better than anything, are believable.

This image released by Focus Features shows Kate Hudson, left, and Zach Braff in "Wish I Was Here." (AP Photo/Focus Features, Merie Weismiller Wallace)

As with anything involving Zach Braff, there is a strong soundtrack that goes along with the film, filled with emotional indie music from bands on the cusp of being big. Consider how popular the soundtrack was to Garden State, and you have the right idea.

Not everything works perfectly in Wish I Was Here. There were some directorial choices that could be seen as questionable, and somewhat amateurish, but in all, Braff is a steady director, and he knows what he wants in order to bring his own words and performances to life. He directs with care, and is able to encompass the emotional instability of his characters through his style.

wish4There are many small parts to the larger story line in the film, but they all work together extremely well, and they never seem like they are set up and left behind. Braff does an excellent job in his script to provide all of his characters with problems that require a solution. This is not easy to do, especially in a film that is only two hours long. But he manages to do it seamlessly, and by the end, the audience is likely to care about the plight of all the characters.

wish6Wish I Was Here is a sad film, with droplets of humour and fun, and emotional saving. It was an excellent watch, and definitely recommended for those looking for something that is eventually uplifting after a lot of struggle.