Kingsman: The Secret Service

This is one of those meta experiences that so often crop up in films these days. It is a film about spies that references James Bond, Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer, yet it engages in the same over the top story telling and effects that it is simultaneously lampooning. Having done the same thing to Fairy Tales with “Stardust” and Comic Books with “Kick Ass”, director Matthew Vaughn now turns to a new genre with this hyper violent exercise in adrenaline based movies. Oh, and just so you know, he pulls it off brilliantly.

The opening credits will make you giggle with the use of exploding pieces of an ancient fort, blowing onto the screen to form the credit titles. All of this is scored with Dire Straights “Money for Nothing”, yeah that’s the way you do it. Colin Firth is is Harry Hart, codename Galahad, an agent of the privately organized intelligence and espionage agency that borrows from every cartoon spy film of the sixties and makes the idea of a gentleman spy come to life. Firth was once imagined as a James Bond replacement, and the fact that his boss “Arthur” is played by Michael Caine, the working class Bond of the Harry Palmer films, makes the whole thing even more delicious.

Newcomer Taron Egerton plays the hard knock, working class son of an earlier protege of Galahad, rough around the edges but ready to be polished. Early parts of the movie and recurring sequences focus on the recruitment and testing process of likely “Kingsman” material. As the job interview begins, a threat to the world by well meaning but crazy billionaire tech guru Valentine, sends the regular agents out in the field to investigate. Samuel Jackson plays a George Soros/Al Gore hybrid with a distinct lisp and an aversion to seeing the violence that he himself wants. As Hart crosses swords with Valentine, they engage in a parody of cliches from most spy movies of this variety. In their interactions they even discuss the Bond films that feature megalomaniac rich guys who play villain to the English spy, and they both play with those roles effectively.

If your liberal sensibilities are easily offended, you may want to stay away from this. Jackson’s character is a rich genius with an evil plan to save the world from global warming. He attempts to recruit influential leaders and celebrities from around the world to be part of his new world order. Visualize the Socialist/Green/Celebrity Environmentalists as the dupes that will populate the Earth like Drax’s genetic specimens in “Moonraker” or Stromberg’s mermen in “The Spy Who Loved Me”. This is the biggest drubbing of liberal sacred cows since “Team America”. The Kingsman might seem reactionary to some, invoking as they do the names of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. They even use a piece of equipment supposedly part of the loathed Strategic Defense Initiative [referred to as the Star Wars satellite system] to fight back against the plans of the villain.

Since Star Wars does get mentioned here, it is fun to note that a nearly unrecognizable Mark Hamill appears as a kidnapped scientist. Mark Strong, who has been in most of Vaughn’s previous films, plays “Merlin” the aide de camp to the Kingsman.  There also seems to be a CGI version of an American Leader with prominent ears, who plays along with the scheme. At this point some audience members heads will explode, but hold on because that will not be the end of the fireworks. This movie also parodies the Westboro Baptist church crazies, the aristocrats of Great Britain, and dog lovers everywhere. Some of the humor is broad, such as the meal served by the suspected billionaire to the agent posing as another billionaire. It is either biting satire or great product placement.

The young leads get to take over the action at the end and they are just as effective as Firth was in his moments of glory ( or maybe I should say gory). This movie takes “Kick Ass” violence to new levels with some sick jokes mixed in. Imagine the damage a flying marital artist with razor sharp blades for feet can do, and then expect to see it on the screen. The slow mo, fast action styles explored in other films of this ilk are used here to good effect, but if you are over that approach, there are plenty of other bits of violence to delight you.

In all honesty, this is a movie that was genetically designed to tickle my funny bone and stimulate my adrenal glands. If “Kick Ass” and “James Bond” had a love child, this would be it. The film never takes itself too seriously but sometimes it plays with that idea as well. There is classic rock on the soundtrack, Colin Firth, Samuel Jackson and Michael Caine on the screen, and there is enough violence for ten movies. I was in love with this film when it was being hatched in the minds of the comic book artist who created the concept and the person who is responsible for putting Matthew Vaughn in charge. To quote Harry Hart: “Manners maketh man. Do you know what that means? Then let me teach you a lesson”. I consider myself well schooled after seeing this.

Oscar Nominated Shorts 2015

Theater chains often get a bad rap because they play the same films as every other chain, on multiple screens, and they are for the most part faceless entities lacking a distinctive ambiance. In 1998, a thirty screen complex opened in our neck of the woods and it was a better experience than that. They held onto movies for a longer period of time, they programmed in the occasional independent film, and while it does look a little too corporate planned designed, there was a cool space station motif to the decor. A few years ago, after opening another venue even closer to us, the thirty screen theater had such a drop off in business that they closed thirteen of the theaters, basically the south wing of the facility. AMC has continued to try and keep the theater more than just a shopping mall extension, by showing classic films, special event programming and continuing to host the Best Picture Showcase. This year our local venue added the Academy Award nominated shorts to its weekend screenings. We did not get the documentaries but we did have the Animated and Live Action shorts to watch.

The animated shorts were a complete delight and they added three or four honorable mentions to help fill out the program.

A Single Life

This was the shortest of the shorts, a piece of computer animation, Pixar style, with a funny premise and a couple of sly winks at the regular movie industry.

FEAST

An Actual Disney film, I think we saw it playing last year with “Big Hero 6“, but it might have been another film it was with. Beautiful story telling and a heart warming payoff, just what you expect from the crew at the most reliable animation studio in the world, and of course it has a dog.

Me and My Moulton

The animation style reminds me of the films I used to see in the seventies and early eighties at the annual Tournee of Animation that we went to at the Rialto Theater every year. The story centers on three Finnish sisters and their desire to have a bicycle. It’s another short coming of age story that works well despite some of the odd Finnish touches.

The Bigger Picture

This tackles a tough subject, the care of an elderly parent and the conflicts between siblings that it engenders. It has the most strikingly different visual style and will affect those who have gone through this experience like I have.

The Dam Keeper

This is a parable about bullying, misunderstanding and friendship. It is done in the softest style using water colors and drawings that often look like impressionistic art. It is sixteen minutes long, the lengthiest of the five nominated films.

Prediction: I have no idea how the animation branches of the Academy see things, but I suspect that “Feast” will be the winner because it is the most complete concept and it is extremely polished.

The Live Action Shorts are all longer and they are very different from one another. I am not well versed in this field, although I have encountered Live Action Shorts on occasion. This is an outsiders perspective so I hope you will make allowances.

Aya

This was the longest film at almost forty minutes. It is basically an odd conversation between two strangers in a car in Israel. How they come to be in the car and who they are is part of the charm. I’m not sure what it all means but it was enjoyable.

Boogaloo and Graham

Two boys in Belfast are given chickens as pets by their feckless father. Mom is not as enamored as they are and complication ensue. This was a relatively brief film at fourteen minutes, it was also my favorite of the five.

Butterlamp

Of all the shorts today, this was the one that was most esoteric. A Chinese Photography crew takes pictures of rural, maybe Mongol or Tibetan families in front of a variety of backdrops. That’s it. There are some amusing picture combinations and a couple of humorous interactions, but in the long run it did not feel very meaningful.

Parvaneh

An Afghanistan girl struggles to earn money for her family back home while working illegally in various jobs in Switzerland. She speaks German but has some basic cultural issues that make being clear a bit odd. She needs the help of a resident with the right I.D. to get Western Union to wire the money home. The solution to her situation is a great story in overcoming cultural barriers and establishing friendship.

The Phone Call

A crisis intervention phone operator attempts to provide solace to a painfully lonely man on the brink of ending his life. Sally Hawkins, a nominee for Best Supporting Actress from “Blue Jasmine” gives an affecting performance as a woman who doesn’t judge but empathizes with her client. Jim Broadbent is the disembodied voice on the phone.

Prediction: Although I liked Boogaloo and Graham the best, my guess is that the message of “Parvaneh” will trump with an Oscar win. We’ll see next Sunday.