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.

Two Night Stand

I’ll start of by saying I enjoyed this movie and only saw it on the recommendations of a friend. I say this because one or two others have not been too kind to the work. Directed by Max Nichols, this is directorial debut, and a good one at that. The premise is quite simple. Out of work and out of love Megan (Analeigh Tipton, Warm Bodies, 2013) is cajoled by her flat mate in to going out to a party, only to find she has no ID and cannot attend so back home. At home she decides to take the advice offered by everybody; get on line and find a guy.

After some time dithering about, she eventually cobbles together an on-line profile and enters the fray. Following a few minutes of the usual jokes she comes across “Alec” (Miles Teller, whiplash, 2014) who seems like a genuine guy; he does live on the other side of the city though, however she goes for it and heads over to Alec’s. after what is presumed to be a satisfying night Megan decides to slip out.

There are two issues with slipping out, firstly the front door is alarmed and causes here to jump back to bed before the siren sounds. This gets fixed only to have the morning after discussion with Alec rr as she mistakenly calls him; Alex. Many of the jokes/scenarios here are not new, but they are not hammed either. Indeed is their very recognisable nature which contributes to the scene, as we inevitably identify with various parts of the discussions. Finally leaving the apartment Megan has one last major obstacle to overcome; the New York snow, unfortunately the snow won as she is trapped inside , with no further option Megan returns with Alec to the apartment. What follows is the traditional awkward silence following the discussion they had earlier when they thought they would never see each other again. This is of course an ages-old gag; people insult each other only to be forced in to a situation together. What makes this work is the ability of both cast members to work well together and have a snappy script supplied to them by the screen writer (Mark Hammer, Skins episode 2011).

Having checked the weather , it looks like they are trapped together for at least another night, remember this is early morning. Eventually they settle done to a delicate “truce”, a truce which is put in jeopardy by Megan when she is in the bathroom and reads an article on the type of women who use dating sites for one night stands, she identifies as #2 – Damaged. Clearly still hurting she rips out the page and flushes it down the toilet. The only problem is the flood that follows. From here the disaster mounts. Alex has no plunger, but his neighbours have. The neighbours are away and Alex does not have a key, so the two of them gear-up and via the fire-escape go round to their neighbours’ apartment. The windows are frozen solid, normally a problem with the building’s windows would have meant they were open. Megan does what she needs to do and they get in, much to Alec’s shock and amazement.

Once the piece is recovered from the toilet, they have a discussion and the issue quickly passes, or does it? Following a smoke of a certain herb, they relax and after making a “blanket tent” relax for the evening. While talking they decide that their situation might allow for some Science – namely feedback on where they went wrong the night before. Queue night two. In the best traditions of love’s labours being lost, Megan leaves for home the next day, but under a cloud.

While Megan has been open about her relationships, Alec has been less so. What seemed like a budding friendship might just have failed at its second hurdle. Back at her apartment Megan’s flat mate, Faiza (10 Cent Pistol, 2014) and her boyfriend, Cedric (Scott Mescudi, Need For Speed, 2014) have news for her – she has 4 days to find a new place. Alex now has a similar predicament owing to items left in his apartment (see for yourself). So nothing else to do, it is time for the New Year’s eve party, which needless to say, is a bit of a damp squib for her, or at least it is until the police come looking for her. The consequences of her entry to Alec’ neighbour flat come back to haunt her. It seems as if this is Alec’s doing, she is in a holding cell and he’s trying to bail her out, unsuccessfully. The last few minutes of the movie you can check out for yourself.

This could very easy have been a painful saccharine affair (no pun) but with snappy script and delivery it turned the movie in to something well worth watching regardless of whether or not you are trapped behind a wall of snow.

A very solid ***

The Castle, 1997

Over the years Australia has managed to produce some excellent cinema, not least of all in comedy. Straight away The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (Stephen Elliott, 1994) or The Dish (Rob Sitch, 2000) spring to mind, indeed talking of Elliott, another movie comes to mind first; The Castle, which Scott directed in 1997.

The Kerrigan family headed by the father of the house, Darryl Kerrigan (Michael Caton, the Sullivans, 1976/77) are happily living their lives. Life is not perfect, but together they overcome any challenges that might pop-up. This is about the “typical” ordinary Aussie family.

Home, to the Kerrigans, is their house and “Castle” nestled between the airport runway and a high-voltage power line. Darryl’s wife Sal (Anne Tenny, Dead Heart 1996) is his perfect partner. With their three sons, one of whom is in prison and a daughter, newly married.

Life, however takes a side-step however when the airport next door announces its intentions to expand. And just where do they plan to expand? Exactly. Darryl and neighbours spring in to action and after trying some of their own actions, resort to the Courts. With this in mind they hire local solicitor Dennis Denuto. Dennis has one major failing; he is useless as a lawyer. With Dennis fighting their already seemingly hopeless case, there is not much they can do.

After trying things his own way and acquiring a set of “bloody good gates” along the way, they look to see what else they can do and just as when all seems lost, along comes barrister Lawrence Hammill, (Charles Tingwell,    Breaker Morant, 1980). This is very much a Little-Man versus the Machine movie and for the little-man to overcome the fight ahead of him he needs a very capable mechanic, in this case a first rate QC. Despite being completely different people from totally different backgrounds and against all odds Lawrence and Darryl overcome their social differences. This is perhaps just as important a part of the movie as the overall fight to protect a person’s home.

Darryl and Lawrence are two very different people, one schooled and polished, the other a diamond in the rough; one a working-class man who will not accept what he see a bullying, while the other is firmly a member of the establishment. Darryl’s naivety, or lack of diplomacy contrasts with the careful reserve of his barrister, but the two hit it off.

It will not be too much of a spoiler to know Darryl and family win their case, but watching the journey to the end point is a very enjoyable experience. I had seen this movie some years ago and have watched it since, enjoying it every time. Some evening when the world needs to be kept away for an hour or two, get the DVD or stream this movie and by the end (most certainly before that) you will have a smile on your face.

**** A simple honest classic. As I have mentioned before, I like situational comedy, comedy when despite the seemingly straight acting of the cast and their script in response is the comedy. The more mindless, slapstick type rarely works for me. This situational scenario works just nicely. Oh and have a look out for a young Eric Bana.

What We Do In the Shadows

Once more the folks from New Zealand have managed to provide anotherclassic and as with much of the output from New Zealand, there is a calm “home-grown” feel to the work. Mocumentary films have generally left me feeling unsatisfied whilst the Point of View or “discovered lost footage type films also generally do very little for me; although As Above As Below (2014) was a notable exception. Often these films try to be too earnest or try to achieve too much on too small a budget to disastrous effects.

What we have here is a perfect example of knowing what you can do and making it work. As the film starts we are introduced to the cast of characters through Viago (Taika Waititi, The Green Lantern, 2011) a 350 year old vampire who, we learn, came to New Zealand in search of the love of his “life” after she moved there. The fact that his servant put the wrong postage on the coffin meant that it took him 18months to reach there, by which time she had fallen for another. Such are the stories which brought Viago and his flat-mates to where they are. We have Anton (Rhys Darby, MIB 3, 2012) and Vladislav, (Jemaine Clement, Flight of the Conchords) the lothario or the group, but we learn his powers have been seriously weakened by his crossing paths with “The Beast” and Petyr (30 Days of Night, Heron, 2007) who is the oldest vampire and resembles the classical “Nosferatu” given to us by Max Schrek ( Nosferatu, 1922). Deacon (Jonathan Brugh The Almighty Johnsons, Mascot man, 2011) the youngest and most rebellious of the group, he has serious issues about doing the washing-up.

Together, they make up a “normal” group of flatmates who are basically trying to get on with life (or death) as normally as possible. We see the flatmates through various stereotypes ; organised & controlled, sloppy , “divil may care” etc. The plot as such is that of a camera crew following the guys in the weeks leading up to the Un-holy Masquerade Ball. This film should not be funny because many of the standard vampire gags which you might expect are all there and in many cases are well sign-posted. But for those that are sign-posted there are many other gags which also work just as well which are fresh to the production. We see the guys go about their lives and join them on their night’s out and feeding habits. Their feeding is facilitated by Jackie (Jackie van Beek, Shortland Street , 1999), Vladislav’s human Familiar who through her not very competent efforts finds them two not very virginal virgins to feed on, they subsequently end up turning Nic (Cori Conzalez-Macuer (Eagle v shark, 2007) in to a vampire, much to Jackie’s disgust as she has been wanting to be turned for quite some time. Nic has a friend Stu who he invites over to meet the guys and against their better judgement the they strike up a friendship with Stu who heads out with them on their nights’ socialising.

Such is the friendship that he is invited to the Ball by the guys, the fact that he is alive does not go down well with a number of the guests, including “The Beast”. A subsequent run-in with some of the local werewolves provides for a minor comic twist near the end, capping out the story.

The movie works for a number of reasons, the script is sharp and flows well with some quit finny lines spread through-out. Dealing with a subject matter of vampires one might expect hugely expensive visual effects or indeed attempts that are so pitifully awful they make us cringe. Not having the budget for the former and too much class for the latter Clement and Waititi who both directed the film struck the right note. The special effects are kept to a level which does not over-extend their abilities while at the same time restricting them for best comedic effect.

This is not an overly long movie, which moves quickly while bringing you with them all along the way. The jokes follow the situations with some excellent delivery. **** movie.

Housebound

Ah, yes, you can always trust the New Zealanders to do the right thing. Housebound is one of those rare events; a comedy horror movie which actually delivers on all fronts. We start off at a bank, where our star Kylie and her boyfriend are failing miserably to rob an ATM. The court later sentences her to 8 months home detention. And so she arrives home to her Mother’s house far out from her city life. As it happens the security guard, Amos, (Glen-Paul Waruto) monitor her is a local, something that proves useful.   As she begins to settle in, or not settle in she also has to talk with Denis, her court appointed counsellor , yet another annoyance.   One of her biggest annoyances is her mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata, Sons and Daughters, 1982) Miriam runs an ordered house along with her second husband, Graeme (Ross Harper, The devil Dared me to, 2007) and both “lazy” daughter and “uptight “ mother are having to come to terms with each other.

In to this mix is her mother’s belief that the house is haunted, she accepts this as a fact and is not too bothered by it, by standards. Kylie is having none of this nonsense, or at least nothing until she notices some strange sounds and happenings. Through the usual disasters Amos is brought in and together they eventually go ghost hunting.

What they find is a mystery which might involve a young girl who died many years ago when the house was a care-home, maybe she is the disturbance, or is it the strange boy/man who used to live next door, the same boy nobody has seen for over 10 years.

Kylie is now convinced there is something in the house, there is, and on one particular night when Denis and her doctor are present, there is an attack, Denis is injured and taken away to hospital.

Kylie and Amos try to find out what happened, as they do the mystery deepens – but here is the important part, never overly darkens.

This is not a big movie with a huge story line, loads of sets and special effects, no it is a simple ghost story type movie told well and with a sense of humour. The sense of humour is important, it is excellently carried through without changing the essential nature of the movie or taking away from the suspense.

I’m deliberately not giving too much away. The cast is typically understated and calm as is with many of the ANZAC offerings, the suspense works and the story never gives too much away before it needs to. You will sit down and enjoy this film. It is good old-fashioned fun, with perhaps a subtle message about appreciating what we have and not rushing to judgement.

7/10 purely because it kept me entertained without having to get too bloody or too silly.

Man About Dog

Set in Ireland it is the story of three perpetual losers, who despite their many schemes are still as broke as ever and find themselves driving the length of the island trying to pull of that One scam which will set them up. Events kick off in Belfast where the guys, looking for a few pounds, agree to interfere with a greyhound race, in return for a greyhound to them from a local bookie, the kind of bookie (Sean McGinley, Republic of Doyle, 2010) who you do not want to owe money to and things go downhill from there. Directed by Paddy Breathnach (I went Down, 1997) and staring Allen Leech (The Imitation Game, 2014), who is nominally the brains of the outfit, Ciaran Nolan (dead Men Walking, 2008) the superstitious and unlucky unfortunate who at least tries to do something; and of course “Cerebral Paulsy” the grass smoking, brain fried one of the three constantly catching up.

Having been sold a pig-in-poke as it were, the dog they were given is useless and not capable of doing any good. This of course provides a whole set of challenges for the boys. Their luck might be changing though. They have been noticed by others. The wealthy widow of a former dog owner has a dog that can do what is needed, she gives them the dog, as a means to destroy their not so friendly bookie.

They enter the dog I a race only to find it did not even leave the box at the start. As if their day could not get any worse, the bookie finds them, kidnaps them and lets it be known that he finds them personally responsible for the race they nobbled and demands £50,000 from them. Not having this, they need to produce it fast.   They head south to the Republic to try the dog but to no avail. About to give up, they sell the dog to travellers (Pat Short, Garage 2007) where they quickly realise the dog is actually guite good, it is just that he does not chase plastic hares, only real ones.

They guys decide to rob back the dog. Needless to say this does not exactly go as planned and a night of mayhem ensues. The rest of the film is about the three boys making their way south to the coursing fares and in the process trying to raise cash to enter the dog in the necessary races while at the same time avoiding Belfast bookies and various travellers.

Eventually as they get set-up at the Clonmel Coursing festival, their bookie and the travellers are also there and all want their share of the guys. The dog proceeds to win its races and of course draw the attention of said folks. Ultimately the boys are trapped in to a corner which Scud manages negotiate themselves out of.   The negotiations work for them, and the film closes with us seeing how the guys are finally seeing some success.

What Breathnach manages to do is not only to pull together the story by Pearse Elliot (Shrooms) who he wrote with a number of times, but managed to do it so well. There are a number of set-piece situational gags, some excellent one liners and even a couple of continuing character jokes. The movie works well, some of the gags are sign-posted but that possibly adds to the enjoyment as we have a certain sense of expectation. It might be tempting to compare this movie to others such as RocknRolla (Guy Ritchie, 2008). On the surface they are both drama comedies but are very different styles, Dog is more of a series of well stitched together sketches while with RocknRolla the humour flows differently, bit excellent comedies, but both very different comedies both is style and nature. Man About Dog needs to be viewed as an Irish comedy and with the associated style.

Adam & Paul, 2004

Often for a movie to work it needs to work on a number of levels dealing with the characters, the environment and the story itself. Adam & Paul is one of those movies. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Frank, 2014). The screenplay is by Mark O’Halloran ( Garage, 2007) who also plays the part of Adam alongside the late Tom Murphy (Man about Dog, 2009) who played Paul. Broadly speaking Adam & Paul is a comedy following two drop-out drug-addicts. On another level it is about following our two eponymous heroes on their journey through typical days in the lives of our two friends.

The two are life-long friends, whose decline in life is mirrored in each. Adam, is the slightly smarter of the two with Paul often looking to him for a form of leadership. The film follows the two as the wake in field on a mattress only to find that Adam is glued to the mattress. Having resolved this difficulty , they proceed to stock up on their drug supply only to have a run-in that requires their immediate exit. This more or less sets the scene for the day as they meander through Dublin, escaping dogs, meeting old friends, who it turns out are not happy with A&P as they missed the Month’s Mind of a friend earlier that morning. The guys are made to know just how unwelcome they are. In the course of the meeting one of the girls let’s slip that there will be a reception in the memory of their old friend, to which they are not invited. A lack of invitation will not stop them from attending.

Through-out the day Paul has a series of mishaps, from injuring his leg with a moped, to hurting his arm in an attempted smash and grab. The day is punctuated with misadventures and attempts to steal the funds they need for their drugs. As the day progresses, they head over to the apartment of an old friend, one they have been told to stay away from . When they arrive the door is open but thetre is nobody at home. Showing that there is really no honesty between thieves, the guys are ready to steal from her when they hear a baby crying, this stops them and when their friend returns.

This takes us up to about half way through the film and so far so good in relation to our two friends. Carefully written we have had the luxury of being observers, but they carefully shot scene of them mugging a young man with down-syndrome shows us that their actions are not as amusing and “harmless2 as first thought. They later meet-up with Crank who is not pleased that the story is around that he owes them money. He gets them to keep lookout as he and another get up to no good in a local garage, Adam & Paul, needless to say mess this up and do not notice the police arriving, Crank & Co. are arrested.

Without giving a blow by blow account of their travails, the two, having found a dumped TV decided to try and sell it. With the help of another guys, they go to a housing project to sell it to a particular person, the sale falls through and as they are leaving they pass the apartment of one of their dealers which is being raided by vigilantes. Moving past the two hangout in the common area outside the project. As they do the attacking vigilantes destroy the drug-dealer’s home throwing his belongings , including his drugs out onto the ground below where the two guys are cooling their heels. As they are two bags of the dealer’s drugs land near them. Christmas!

Adam & Paul leave to enjoy their new found luck. We next see them early morning on the beach as Paul wakes up only to discover his friend dead, having over-dosed. Paul takes his drugs and leaves.

What might be seen at first glance as a comedy of errors relating to a day in the life of two feckless idiots, might also be seen as a carefully scripted work showing that these two are not as harmless as they seem, death, injury, mistrust and pain follow them. By the end of the movie our view of the two is changed completely and far less forgiving than what it was at first.

I’ve been lucky enough to cross paths with Mark O’Halloran, he’s a person serious about his craft and it shows.