Movie Review ~ The King’s Man

The Facts:  

Synopsis: As a collection of history’s worst tyrants and criminal masterminds gather to plot a war to wipe out millions, one man must race against time to stop them. 

Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander, Harris Dickinson, Daniel Brühl, Djimon Hounsou, Charles Dance, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Stanley Tucci, Valerie Pachner 

Director: Matthew Vaughn 

Rated: R 

Running Length: 131 minutes

Trailer Review: Here 

TMMM Score: (7.5/10) 

Review:  Back in 2014, Kingsman: The Secret Service was one of the real delights of the year.  An out-of-left field adaptation of a comic book by Mark Millar, director Matthew Vaughn turned it into a high-octane thrill ride and firmly introduced Taron Egerton to audiences in the process.  The 2017 sequel, subtitled The Golden Circle, promised way more than it delivered (i.e. we got far less of the American sector of the spy ring, including Channing Tatum than we were originally thought) and even I was surprised a third entry, a prequel, was greenlit by the studio.  Then the 20th Century Fox merger with Disney happened and, once complete, the pandemic lockdown hit…so it’s been a whole five years since our audiences last travelled to the Saville row shop which acts as home base for this ring of crime fighters.

With all these delays and having to introduce series fans to an entirely new cast of players, how surprising, then, to find that after two raucous films, The King’s Man is often more of a historic war drama in a similar vein to 1917 with a revisionist edge. Chock-a-block with cameos and not above a major rug pull impossible to predict, an already intriguing universe expands…and quite nicely.  If the previous films were more party than hearty, this one prefers to take its time and arrive fashionably late to the festivities.  It may be later than series fans want, but I found the wait to be worth it.

After an opening prologue in turn of the century South Africa that sets up some of the lasting relationship issues between aristocrat Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes, No Time to Die) and his son Conrad (played as an adult by Harris Dickinson, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil), we jump ahead to the early days of World War I.  Due to his status, Conrad wouldn’t have to sign up to fight but it’s what he desperately wants.  Orlando, on the other hand, isn’t willing to let his son be served up for sacrifice because of a war started (as we are led to believe thanks to Vaughn and Karl Gajdusek’s loose screenplay) by a three-way tantrum between royal cousins manipulated by an unseen enemy pulling the strings from a mountaintop lair. It falls to the men to stop the ring of spys preventing the U.S. from entering the war with Europe if there is to be any hope of the U.K. surviving.

Aside from dealings with King George, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Tsar Nicholas (all played by Tom Hollander, Bohemian Rhapsody), Mata Hari (Valerie Pachner, A Hidden Life), Woodrow Wilson, Lenin, and another historical figure revealed so close to the end that I’d classify it as a spoiler, the films somewhat centerpiece revolves around a meeting with the infamous Rasputin.  Played with typical over-the-top delight by Rhys Ifans (Spider-Man: No Way Home), the character is marvelous in its design to be crass and creepy while still working within the context of the movie.  Your eyes will definitely bug out at one point during his meeting with the Oxford men – especially in one particular moment of craziness that’s become typical of any Vaughn film.

Overall, The King’s Man is playful, if violently wild with its tonal tidal shifts. Throw out whatever adherence to history you may come in with because the movie isn’t interested in accuracy in the least and its breezy way of tearing up the textbook approach becomes more fun if you just go with the flow. Best to report is the positioning of Fiennes as a quite appealing hero, proving again he’s always game for subversive fun. Same goes for Djimon Hounsou (A Quiet Place II), an eternally underrated supporting player. I’d re-up for another adventure with these two, but you can leave Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace) off the roster.  While I always appreciate having a female perspective in the boy’s club, there wasn’t much happening with this character or Arterton’s performance that made much of an impression. Capping off the threequel is a dandy song sung by FKAtwigs that would have been perfect had it been accompanied by a creative end credit sequence. If you liked the first two entries in the Kingsman franchise and are prepared for measured change, this one should suit you nicely

Movie Review ~ Spider-Man: No Way Home

The Facts:

Synopsis: With Spider-Man’s identity now revealed, Peter asks Doctor Strange for help. When a spell goes wrong, dangerous foes from other worlds start to appear, forcing Peter to discover what it truly means to be Spider-Man.

Stars: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jon Favreau, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Alfred Molina, Jamie Foxx ,Willem Dafoe, Rhys Ifans, Thomas Haden Church, Tony Revolori, Angourie Rice, J.K. Simmons, Benedict Wong, Paula Newsome

Director: Jon Watts

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 148 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: At a recent gathering of friends, the talk turned to movies (I only keep the best company, naturally) and we got to discussing the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Aside from a heated debate comparing the movies made within the MCU with those that come from the realm of DC Comics, a few well-rounded film fans expressed a feeling of exhaustion when it came to these extravaganzas, and I can’t say I didn’t agree. Look, I’m plopping my tush into a theater seat as fast as the next person when the newest chapter in the seemingly endless series of interconnected superhero adventures is released but a feeling of sameness has seeped in for a while now. The bright spots are fewer and farther between, so when you look far ahead on the Marvel slate and see films scheduled out literally years in advance there’s less to get wowed about.

That was a discussion I had the Saturday night before I saw Spider-Man: No Way Home.  Three nights later I was leaving the screening fighting the urge to skip a little bit back to my car because Sony and Marvel have jointly delivered one of the collective franchise highlights to date.  It’s essentially an entertainment package aiming to please without coming off like it’s building a bridge to “what’s next”.  Though it certainly is a gateway to…something…it wastes little time with one foot out the door or an eye on the exit sign.  Instead, director Jon Watts and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers keep the focus on hyper-immediacy which makes this third film featuring Tom Holland (Cherry) as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man the absolute best one yet.

While plot points are discussed below, rest assured there are no spoilers included (anywhere on this page) that have not been already revealed through marketing.

At the end of the previous film, for his final act of treachery Quentin Beck / Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) revealed to the world that Peter Parker was Spider-Man.  Framed for Beck’s murder, Peter is hauled in with his family and friends by a shadow government agency before being released back to public scrutiny.  Assimilating to daily life under the eye of a cruel society based on unfounded judgement is easier said than done, however. Hatching a plan to make the world forget they ever found out his truth, Peter calls on Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Mauritanian) for his assistance, but the spell he orders gets complicated and winds up opening the multiverse, bringing forth everyone that ever knew Peter Parker was Spider-Man.  With the multiverse cracked, it allows villains from previous Spider-Man films not starring Holland to enter this realm…Big Baddies Spider-Man will have to track down and send back to where they came from.

It’s always odd when a different actor starts playing a role in an established franchise.  The first Spider-Man reboot saw Andrew Garfield take over for Tobey Maguire and I remember thinking at the time how weird it would be to see another actor in the role.  It was even more discombobulating when Holland stepped in so rapidly when the Garfield era came quickly to a close.  To have elements from the Maguire and Garfield films cross over into this third Holland one was a big risk but it comes off so well, it’s got to have other studios wondering how it could work in their own franchise tentpoles. 

What great possibilities this made into reality. Seeing Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina, The Water Man) from Spider-Man 2 appear to greet Holland is one of those movie moments you can really get excited for.  I felt the same about O.G. villain Willem Dafoe (Zack Snyder’s Justice League) as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin acting the heck out of his role. Actually, it’s kind of incredible to see all of these legendary foes back together sharing the screen.  Even if the two Garfield villains are sort of lame (sorry Jamie Foxx and Rhys Ifans, but thank goodness Paul Giamatti didn’t show up), it’s more than a little thrilling when they’re all standing in the same room.

Most notable in Spider-Man: No Way Home is a true devotion to hitting as many emotional beats as action-heavy ones.  For as many spectacular scenes as there are, Watts and his team are willing to give Holland (who has never been better) and equally aces co-stars Zendaya (Malcom & Marie), Marisa Tomei (Frankie), Jon Favreau (The Wolf of Wall Street), and Jacob Batalon (Banana Split) the space they need to deal with some major events that happen during the extended run time.  I don’t know if you’ll have a similar experience but darn it if I didn’t get a little misty on a least two separate occasions.  Fans that have waited a while for this will be more than pleased with the developments that take place and movie-goers in general who have held back from entering a theater will be sufficiently satiated by the feature. 

The Silver Bullet ~ The King’s Man



Synopsis
: As a collection of history’s worst tyrants and criminal masterminds gather to plot a war to wipe out millions, one man must race against time to stop them.

Release Date: September 18, 2020

Thoughts: In 2014, the spy adventure Kingsman: The Secret Service was a surprise hit with audiences and critics and presented a cheeky fun alternative to the wise acre superhero franchise films that were multiplying like rabbits.  It also helped to introduce the public to Taron Egerton who would return in 2017 for the go-big-or-go-home sequel before hitting the big time with his hopefully Oscar nominated turn in 2019’s Elton John biopic Rocketman.  With Egerton’s star on the rise and booked out on other projects and with the franchise having bankable legs, 20th Century Fox was in a bit of a tough place with director Matthew Vaughn on how to continue the story of the elite gentlemen’s agency that battled boffo baddies in style.  The answer?  Go back to the beginning. Recently moved from it’s original February release date, September 2020 will now bring us The King’s Man, tracking the original formation of the organization featuring Ralph Fiennes (Official Secrets), Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace), Djimon Hounsou (Charlie’s Angels), and Harris Dickinson (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil).  I’m sure I’ll miss the Egerton-factor but this second trailer feels in the same spirit as the two previous films with action packed intrigue to spare.  Looks like royal fun.  

Movie Review ~ Official Secrets


The Facts
:

Synopsis: The true story of a British whistleblower who leaked information to the press about an illegal NSA spy operation designed to push the UN Security Council into sanctioning the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Stars: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Matthew Goode, Matt Smith, Indira Varma, Adam Barki, Conleth Hill, MyAnna Buring, Rhys Ifans

Director: Gavin Hood

Rated: R

Running Length: 112 minutes

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review:  You can almost set your watch by it.  Every year, the moment the summer movie season has made its last gasps (and with Brittany Runs a Marathon and Ready or Not sneaking in, what a fulfilling final breath it was!), the more serious-minded films are staging a not so stealth attack at cinemas.  It’s time to set aside the imaginary heroes that vanquish villains in other galaxies in favor of stories of true to life tales of champions of a different nature.  Come hell or high water, you will be exposed to one or more of these films in the next several months and you can only cross your fingers and hope it’s as entertaining as it is informative.

The first movie to step up to the plate is Official Secrets, a long gestating project that at one time was set to star such A-listers as Anthony Hopkins, Harrison Ford, and Martin Freeman.  When it failed to materialize, the work bounced around until it was picked up by Academy Award winning director Gavin Hood (Eye in the Sky) and attracted another tantalizing cast of UK favorites.  Taking a familiar page out of the Spotlight handbook and exploring a cover-up by that reaches deep within the government, Official Secrets has everything the equation of a pot-boiler needs to succeed.  What it doesn’t have is any spark to get a fire going.

In 2003, Katharine Gunn was a translator working at a British intelligence agency who is copied on an e-mail from the chief of staff of the NSA.  The memo sought to identify support for the illegal surveillance on six nations within the UN that could tip the scale in favor of war with Iraq.  Though information Gunn, her colleagues, and her bosses had about Iraq clearly indicated the reasons for the proposed war were flawed, there was little Gunn could do to stop a determined train that had already left the station.  However, she could expose the lie…but to do so would cost her everything.  Leaking the memo to the press, Gunn was eventually arrested and charged with violation of the Official Secrets Act.

While Gunn’s story is compelling and her bravery with sticking her neck out is to be applauded, I’m not entirely sure a feature film was necessary.  The screenplay from Gregory and Sara Bernstein doesn’t exactly make the case either, with the movie often devolving into a fairly standard David v. Goliath tale.  The only interesting wrinkle in this courtroom drama (that rarely sees the inside of a hall of justice) is that Gunn’s hands were often tied in her defense, since she would run the risk of violating the Official Secrets Act every time she discussed the case with her lawyer.  On the other side of the coin, Hood shifts focus to the offices of The Observer, the publication that got a hold of the leaked document and printed it as a cover story.  The characters at The Observer are arch, like a UK version of The Paper, and while the actors often acquit themselves nicely you can’t get around the feeling you can predict the next line of dialogue at any point.

With the screenplay lacking in dramatic heft, it’s up to the actors to do the heavy lifting and that’s where the movie finds a few sparks.  As Gunn, Keira Knightley (A Dangerous Method) clocks a solid performance, shedding her normal period attire for a modern-ish drama where she can show a range that sits in a comfortable spot.  It’s not a huge performance, it’s not a muted one…it’s evenly pitched and effectively grounds the movie in some realism even as it starts to drown in cliché.  I also liked Matt Smith (Terminator Genisys) playing Martin Bright, The Observer reporter that breaks the story and almost gets swallowed up by the wave of backlash it incurs.  Continuing his streak of showing fondness for quirky, rumpled roles, Ralph Finnes (Skyfall) turns up as Gunn’s human rights attorney that goes to bat for her.

Less successful is Adam Barki, MyAnna Buring, and Rhys Ifans (The Five-Year Engagement) in underwritten roles that eventually become distractions.  Barki, in particular, has little chemistry with Knightley so their husband and wife characters never seem to gel.  When the movie implores us to care about this relationship, it becomes a big ask.  With Buring (Kill List) as, actually, I never quite understood what her relationship was to Knightlely, only that she was part of the group that helped get the memo out in the open. I’ve been intrigued by Buring in her previous roles and wish she had been given more to do. And Ifans, what can I say?  The Blustery Reporter with Conviction has been done countless times in better movies, though I did respond positively anytime we spent time in the offices of The Observer.

What’s good about Official Secrets when all is said and done is that it serves as a reminder that governments are not above the law or beyond reproach.  Some may look at what Gunn did as treasonous but in this current time of frustration with the truth being hidden behind a smoke screen of lies, there’s a particular thrill in seeing someone rebel against it all.  I’d have liked it if Hood had sharpened the movie more – it was never going to be a political mystery thriller but there was room to turn the volume up a bit.

The Silver Bullet ~ She’s Funny That Way

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Synopsis: When an established director casts his call girl-turned-actress in a new play to star alongside his wife and her ex-lover, a zany love tangle forms with hilarious twists.

Release Date: August 21, 2015

Thoughts: You know what’s not funny?  How many times this movie has changed titles and release dates…never a good sign for an impending release.  Though it’s directed (and co-written) by Peter Bogdanovich, from the looks of the trailer She’s Funny That Way appears to have been made in the style of Woody Allen, acting as almost a sequel to Bullets Over Broadway.  Bogdanovich can do this type of backstage shenanigans well, as evidenced in the flop big screen adaptation of the Broadway play Noises Off! but this whole thing looks beneath nearly everyone involved.  With stars Jennifer Aniston (Cake), Owen Wilson (The Internship), Kathryn Hahn (Bad Words), Imogen Poots (That Awkward Moment), and Rhys Ifans (The Amazing Spider-Man) mugging their way through the trailer, it suggests that this could be a guilty pleasure of a watch…but then again it could be another forgettable exercise at one director attempting to capturing the magic of another.

The Silver Bullet ~ Serena

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Synopsis: In Depression-era North Carolina, the future of George Pemberton’s timber empire becomes complicated when it is learned that his wife, Serena, cannot bear children.

Release Date: November 12, 2014

Thoughts: Here’s one that I’ve been hearing about for well over a year and while some may find it perplexing that a film with two of the big A-List stars could struggle for a release date you can only blame their white hot careers.  See, both Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: Days of Future Past) and her American Hustle/Silver Linings Playbook costar Bradley Cooper (The Hangover: Part III) have been churning out several films a year and the timing for Serena is important.  Without a major studio behind it (currently), if the film is to have any chance at being a part of the end of the year awards circuit it has to wiggle in to theaters at precisely the right time.  Sounds like this dark drama will see the light of day before the end of 2014 – I’m hoping it was all worth the wait.