Kingsman: The Secret Service

While Mark Millar (Kick Ass, 2010) and Dave Gibbons (Watchmen, 2009) gave us the original comic book, Jane Goldman (Stardust, 2007) and Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class, 2011) gave us the screenplay for this movie. Vaughn also directed it.

This is an homage rather than a rip-off of the James Bond franchise. This is not just a cheap parody, it stands up as a spy-movie in its own right. As we know from James Bond, the world is full of secret evil organisations all vying for world domination but what we have here is a highly secret group of good guys who ensure the world’s governments can act. That said one might also comment on it being a parody of the poor guy/gal does good movie, whether My fair Lady (1964) or Pretty Woman, (1990).

About 17 years ago a young agent on the verge of completing his training was killed in action. He was Killed because agent Harry Hart, better known by his service codename “Galahad” (Colin Firth, The Railway Man, 2013) missed a trap. Now today that agent’s son is in a some trouble at home. Many years ago the agent’s widow was given a medal with a number on it and told to ring the number if there was an issue. Today in a police cell, the son, Eggsy (Taron Egerton, Testament of Youth, 2014) rings the number and almost immediately things happen. Now rescued Galahad suggest that the young Eggsy joins their organisation, he agrees.   The issue here however is , Eggsy’s social class, he is working class, most of the other agents are members of the aristocracy, for reasons best explained in the film.

All of this goes on against the background of mysterious dealings and missing people all somehow associated with billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson, Django Unchained, 2012), as the movie moves along both groups learn more about each other, the Kingsman agents striving to foil Valentine. Eggsy begins his training with his fellow intake, only to fail at the last hurdle, however as with any of these films that becomes a minor technicality and our hero goes on to save the day. The humour both through the situations and the script itself, with Galahad and Valentine musing about old “fun” spy movies.

The plot will not win any prizes for originality, but who cares. One of the reasons the film works is its speed, there is not a scene in the movie which should not be there, there is absolutely no padding. The support cast is first class, indeed we have Mark Strong (The Imitation Game, 2014) playing a “Q” type character, generally managing the secret agents as and their training progresses. I am still getting used to Strong playing good guys., while Sir Michael Caine (Interstellar, 2014) take the role of the head of Kingsman.

One other person who should be mentioned is Mark Hamill (Star Wars: Episode IV – a New Hope, 1977) who has the opening scene as Professor James Arnold, managing to set the tone for the film to come.Egerton, gives an excellent performance as the young man making the transition from drifting youngster to a highly trained agent. I could discuss the plot, but in reality the plot is secondary, we know from the start how the movie is going to go, the entertainment is in how they go to where they end-up. This is a smart movie which stands on its own as well as a parody of previous productions. I walked away wanting to check if there is material for a sequel, hopefully. It works as a spy-movie, a comedy and general all-round entertainment.

Another **** movie.


This must be one of the most intense movies I’ve seen in a long time. Written and directed by Damien Chazelle (Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, 2009), it tells the story of a first year music (drums) student, Andrew (Miles Teller, The Spectacular Now, 2013) who wants to be the best out there, he’s driven and not afraid of practice and effort. One day while practicing he is interrupted by Mr Fletcher (J.K. Simmons, Men, Women and Children, 2014); Fletcher is one of the College’s foremost lecturers, he’s a renowned Jazz musician and leader of the college’s Studio Band.

The college is one of the US’s top music conservatories, so those there are already a cut above the rest. Fletcher’s Studio Band is the cream of those students already ahead of the curve. Fletcher is a gruff un-mannered individual who pushes his students hard. From the very start we see the relationship between teacher and student is going to be a tough one. After being picked to attend the band practice, we see straight away how unorthodox the relationship is going to be. Told to be at practice for 6.00am, Andrew arrived only to wait until 9.00am before people arrived. His first impression is of military discipline among the students, down to and including them snapping-too when their Leader arrives in.

The relationship between students and master is not a particularly happy one. He is pushing them to perfection. At one stage another band member is out of tune, he notices and tracks down the culprit, however the culprit remains and another student who was convinced he was out of tune by Fletcher is thrown out, on the basis that he did not know whether he was out of tune.; this is in Fletcher’s eyes is worse than being out of tune.

As the training progresses we see how Fletcher pushes Andrew and the other students to and beyond their limits. It is vicious; there is no room for mistakes. In one particularly hard scene Fletcher drives Andrew to breaking while trying to get him to play to Fletcher’s Tempo. The manipulations and stress continue right up to a pre-competition breaking point when Andrew and Fletcher come to blows.

Out of the college, Andrew, now beginning to live a normal life, is persuaded by his father (Paul Reiser, (Life After Beth, 2014) to join an action against Fletcher, supposedly secretly. A while later Fletcher and Andrew meet in a jazz bar where Fletcher is playing and it would seem that the meeting was friendly, Fletcher even invites Andrew to play I a jazz band he is fronting at an up-coming jazz festival. Andrew agrees and turns up to perform.

What happens next is a mixture of pettiness, cruelty and public humiliation, betters by a fighting spirit and genuine talent. Fletcher excuses his actions by telling us how he is driving great artists to be even better, to be all that they can potentially be.

What does it take to be a world class musician, talent, strength, determination and   much more. This is a very intense movie and although centered around a college Jazz band it is a very engaging movie, which even had me sitting quite literally at the edge of my seat waiting for a wrong note or a breakdown.

This is an excellent movie which at time seems almost claustrophobic for the band members. I have absolutely no musical talent, and looking at this, if I had, I would keep it at a purely amateur level. J.K. Simmons who plays Fletcher give a master-class in how to be the bad guy, manipulating and bullying the students under his control, but all seemingly for the greater good. **** probably best described as an excellent, intense 4* production.

The Great Dictator

At a time when we are again questioned as to the importance of satire, and given that I recently rediscovered this movie in my DVD collection, I thought it might be worth commenting on. Much has been written on the background of this film and how it is positioned in the works of the Great Charles Chaplin (Modern Times, 1936). It is his first truly “talkie” movie, which when you consider it was made in 1940, essentially 10/15 years after everybody else went to sound it says something. Chaplin honed his craft in the silent era, and of course it shows, this is a very physically dramatic piece.

Chaplin directed, wrote and starred in this production, which for the seriousness of the subject matter is still capable of some classic comedy. Chaplin said in later life that had he known about the suffering of the concentration camps when he was making this movie in 1939/1940 he would never have made it. I can see his point, but looking further back in time, and viewing it against the evil it satire, I think it add value. I know if I had been around in 1940, I would have “qualified” for the camps, and I still think this work is worth doing and certainly worth seeing.

Written and produced before America entered WWII we see it start back in 1918 when one of our heroes (the nameless Jewish barber saving the military pilot, Schultz.   The Barber is however later injured and suffers from memory loss.

Years later the barber escape the hospital and is given shelter in the very ghetto no supervised by Schultz. Later Schultz is ordered to “ethnically cleanse” the ghetto but refuses.   Over all the plot is almost secondary to the message. The roles are often stereo-typed but this is a satire and so they may need to be, an example of this is the boot-boy thugs of the dictator.

Chaplin’s by no classic performance with the globe together with his addressing the people in a very Hitleresque (if there is such a word) style are equally heart stopping. We see his designs to conquer the world and make alliances very much reflecting the world around him at the time.   Some say “Modern Times , (1936) is a superior film, technically it maybe, but they are sufficiently different not to be too closely compared to each other.

The Great Dictator showed us that Chaplin was more than a tramp or slap-stick comedy actor. We know his business dealing from history and the impact they had on Hollywood, but The Great Dictator is a significant film, a classic and an important piece in the history of cinema.

It would be unfair not to mention Paulette Goddard (Hold Back the Dawn, 1941) who plays the Jewish neighbour in the ghetto who helps our barber , while Reginald Gardiner ( A Yank in the RAF, 1941) plays the part of Schultz, the rescued soldier who went on to command units of the Hynkel’s storm troopers until he, having witnessed the atrocities of the dictator, changes sides and protects his barber friend. One should also mention Jack Oakie (Little Men, 1940) who played the part of the Benzino Napaloni, Dictator of Bacteria, a not very veiled parody of Mussolini. Nominated for 5 Academy Awards, both Chaplin and Oakie received acting nominations for their roles here.

As powerful as this film was at the time, it has not lost any of its power and indeed is arguably as relevant today as ever, if not more so.

**** This is a level above the rest and should be viewed not just for the cinematic history but also how it fits in to the wider world.