Review of Kingsman: The Secret Service

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James Bond meets Kick-Ass is how I would best describe Kingsman: The Secret Service. The movie features suave British spies who are armed with quirky gadgets (such as poisonous pens, semi-automatic brollies and taser rings) along with a smattering of comedy and heaps of brutal action. Kingsman’s similarities to Kick-Ass should come as no surprise given that both films share the same director (Matthew Vaughn) and both movies are based on a comic penned by graphic novel scribe Mark Millar. The question on everyone’s lips is whether Kingsman kicks ass or if it is painful to endure, like a kick to the gonads. Read on to find out.

OVERVIEW

In another movie Kingsman antagonist Richmond Valentine could have been classed as a good guy. He’s one of those trendy entrepreneurs who favour baseball caps and McDonalds over smart attire and Michelin star meals. How many villains do you know that abhor violence (bloodshed causes him to hurl, as he suffers from hemophobia) and lobby against global warming? Sounds like a stand up guy, until you learn that his plans for combating carbon emissions involve a mass cull of the human race. I suspected there was something sketchy about him. Why would a pacifist need the services of a secretary who slices up critics, with bladed prosthetic legs, after all?

MI5 and MI6 are too busy misplacing laptops, so it falls upon the Kingsman secret service to foil Valentine’s scheme. Veteran agent Harry Hart (codename Galahad) is assigned to the case. At the same time viewers watch as unemployed chav Gary Unwin (nicknamed Eggsy) tries to transform his life by applying to the titular clandestine agency. There’s just one vacancy up for grabs and stiff competition for the spot, in the form of posh candidates that hail from a military background. Recruitment into the Kingsman ranks is not for the faint of heart. The process, dubbed the most dangerous job interview in the world, tests applicants by seeing how they perform in various scenarios – including skydives with no parachute and an assassination mission, were the target is a cute puppy!

VERDICT

My rating for Kingsman: The Secret Service is a five out of five. It’s an exceptional movie that boasts a great cast. Newcomer Taron Egerton does a fine job playing Eggsy the loyal, yet rough around the edges, underdog. Colin Firth steals the show in the role of gentleman spy Galahad. Based on this performance, if the James Bond franchise decides to reboot back to the less serious days of Roger Moore, I think Firth would make a great 007. Samuel L. Jackson on the other hand proves that he can be entertaining, without resorting to his trademark yells, in his portrayal of Valentine. The star-studded lineup also includes Sir Michael Caine, who plays Kingsman leader Arthur, and a cameo appearance by Mark Hamill.

I think the movie appealed to me because the story has heart. One can’t help but root for Eggsy in his battle against the snooty toffs, who act like they are his superiors just because of their heritage. The mentor/pupil relationship that forms between Unwin and Hart is sweet. After growing up with an abusive step-dad it’s nice to see Eggsy bond with a more respectable father figure. Kingsman’s humour and action remind me a little of Kick-Ass, although Secret Service is more classy… possibly due to all the English accents. It was surprising how violent the action can get. The second act church slaughter reminded me of Kill Bill, but the carnage is so over the top that it comes across as cartoonish rather than gruesome.

Kingsman: The Secret Service proved to be a pleasant surprise. Based off the trailer, I didn’t expect to enjoy the movie quite as much as I did. Let’s hope the recently released sequel maintains the standard set by its predecessor. Have you seen either of the Kingsman movies? If so, what did you think of them? Let me know in the comments section below.

 

Review of Alien: Covenant

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Set a decade after the events of Prometheus, Alien: Covenant continues the prequel storyline of Fox’s sci-fi horror series. Ridley Scott retains the directorial reigns for the franchise he brought to prominence back in the late seventies. Public opinion on Prometheus seems to be divided. I thought the movie had its flaws, but overall was okay. At the very least I liked how it tried to do something different, with a plot that explored humanity’s origins. The designs of Prometheus’ extra terrestrials were pretty cool too. People don’t want originality though. Most moviegoers lamented how HR Giger’s Xenomorphs were absent from the film. That’s something Fox has addressed in Covenant… even if you have to wait until the final act for the titular aliens to make an appearance.

OVERVIEW

Covenant is the designation of a colony ship that is on a multi-year voyage across the cosmos. When the movie begins the space faring craft is slammed by a solar burst. The impact causes extensive damage and claims the life of the ship’s captain, who was incinerated inside his cryogenic chamber. Ouch. The burns he suffered rival my own skin, that time I ventured to Ibiza with scant regard for sun cream. Anyways, unpopular first mate Christopher Oram assumes command before choosing to divert the Covenant to a nearby habitable planet. Perhaps the crew can abandon their original mission and settle on this world instead? Sounds like a reasonable plan, but first they will need to investigate a mysterious transmission that is broadcasting from the planetoid’s surface.

I am sorry to report that the Covenant’s colonists are no brainier than Prometheus’ scientists. Upon shuttling down to their destination they opt against using respirators, as the air appears to be breathable. Does no one in the future fear bacteria? Well, needless to say a couple of the expeditionary team get infected and end up giving birth to pale skinned Neomorphs. Forget the natal discomfort caused by human babies or Chestbursters erupting from a ribcage. These buggers own the market on painful births, thanks to a spawning process that sees them rip through their host’s spine! Stranded, the remaining crew are forced to survive against the unfriendly parasites. They must return to the safety of orbit or else it will be “game over man.”

VERDICT

My rating for Alien: Covenant is three stars. Thanks to Ridley Scott’s gorgeous cinematography I would rank the film above Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection. It doesn’t however match the quality of the earlier Alien movies. Aliens had a more memorable cast and better action. In terms of terror Alien is way scarier. Scott’s original movie was creepy thanks to the suspense, which is something that Covenant lacks. Despite the advances in technology I must say that a guy, in a rubber suit, sneaking through dimly lit corridors is more frightening than a CGI alien snarling in broad daylight. Ironically, the Xenomorphs everyone was clambering for are less scary than the new Neomorphs. Their juvenile form is similar to a Velociraptor and the way they stand when fully grown is unnerving.

As is the case in these types of movie, most of the characters are stupid, underwritten and only there so the beasts have something to dismember. Katherine Waterston plays Janet Daniels – the poor man’s Ellen Ripley. She kicks arse in the final thirty minutes, but does little else before that. Michael Fassbender steals the show by portraying not one but two synthetics. The first of these is a friendly bot named Walter, who reminds me of Star Trek’s Data. Fassbender also reprises the role of David, who has gone off the rails since we last saw him in Prometheus. By utilizing Engineer tech, David plots to replace humans with what he considers to be superior life forms. Traitor! You cannot trust an Android. That’s why, when it comes to mobiles, I prefer an iPhone.

Review of Mad Max: Fury Road

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After a thirty-year hiatus Mad Max is back. This time however the titular Road Warrior (Aarrrggghhhhhhhh… What a Rush) is played by English actor Tom Hardy. Mel Gibson is still in the doghouse, so he doesn’t even get to make a cameo appearance in Fury Road. Perhaps I am being too nice but don’t you think sufficient time has passed, since Mel’s much-publicised misdemeanours, that we should give him a second chance? Most of us have done foolish things under the influence of alcohol after all. Even I have been known to perform gymnastics, on the concrete pavement, after one too many ciders!

OVERVIEW

War never changes. That’s what I thought when Fury Road started, because the movie is set in a post apocalyptic Earth reminiscent to the world depicted in the Fallout games. During the opening scene Max is captured by a band of War Boys and turned into an involuntary blood bank. A tyrannical cultist named Immortan Joe leads the group responsible for Max’s abduction. He’s a nasty chap that appears to have borrowed Hardy’s respirator from the last Batman movie. After an unspecified amount of time Max is able to escape from the War Boys’ clutches and joins forces with a badass chick named Furiosa, who has absconded from Joe’s citadel – taking his harem of wives in the process.

Joe is naturally miffed that the ladies, who are carrying his unborn children, have been taken so he gives chase. Gorgeous women are a precious commodity he can ill afford to lose – especially when you consider that most of the populace in Mad Max are either deformed, toothless, missing limbs or all of the above. What follows is a 120-minute vehicular pursuit between Max/Furiosa and Joe’s convoy of follicly challenged henchmen. There isn’t much plot in Fury Road, but to compensate for the lack of narrative you get copious amounts of blood splatter instead. No one should be surprised by the visceral content given that George Miller directed the movie. His previous writing credits include video nasties such as Babe and Happy Feet.

VERDICT

My rating for Mad Max: Fury Road is a three out of five. In retrospect I think I went into the movie with overly high expectations, which had been inflated by the film’s bevy of Oscar nominations and positive reviews. The movie is a solid action flick, but not the exceptional tour de force some people had led me to believe. Due to the script’s minimal use of dialogue I found getting attached to any of the characters a difficult task. The story is also disappointing. A simple premise followed by a chain of action set pieces. On the plus side the gunfights, car chases and fisticuffs were all exciting to watch. Said sequences are all the more impressive when you consider that they were supposedly recorded using practical effects and little CG.

Feminists may wonder why Max Rockatansky gets top billing in this movie. Make no mistake; this is Furiosa’s adventure with Max tagging along for the ride. Charlize Theron handled the physical demands of the role very well and was very much Hardy’s equal in terms of ass kicking. When it comes to strong females, who can pull off a buzz cut and dish out pain, Furiosa is right up there with the likes of Ellen Ripley and Britney Spears. Mad Max: Fury Road may not have wowed me, like it did for some people, but the action alone made it a worthwhile two hours spent. I wouldn’t be averse to checking out another Max sequel. Hopefully we won’t have to wait three decades for the next instalment.

Review of Death Note (Netflix)

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Netflix, you have let me down! People have praised your superhero shows and I myself was impressed by your take on Castlevania. All that goodwill has however evaporated due to your treatment of Death Note. I no longer feel guilty about not subscribing to your service, after my free trial ran out. To be fair, Death Note is one of my favourite anime of all time. Regardless of how good this live action film would have turned out, it would have struggled to live up to the source material’s legacy. Perhaps the limited running time is partially to blame? I feel that a lengthy live action series, which follows the manga more closely, could be a hit with western audiences. That’s something we are unlikely to ever see though, after the negative reception this movie has rightfully received.

OVERVIEW

What would you do if a demon gifted you a notepad that can magically kill anyone whose name you scribble onto its pages? You could take over the world, refuse to write on it because murder is wrong or use the book to assassinate any traffic warden foolish enough to give you a ticket. After acquiring the titular tome, from a fruit eating death god named Ryuk, Light Turner opts to harness the Death Note’s power to rid Earth of evil. A bully, the mobster who killed Light’s mom and various criminals all receive punishment at the hands of Turner’s penmanship. Vigilante justice is frowned by society though, so the authorities soon get involved. A taskforce led by Light’s own father and a detective named L begins to investigate who is responsible for the recent underworld purge.

That premise alone is enough to carry an entire film, but the cat and mouse game between Light and the law gets even more convoluted when romance is thrown into the mix. Light elects to divulge knowledge of the Death Note to his girlfriend Mia Sutton, which aggravates matters further. Given the choice, Light would rather not get innocents involved in his mess. Mia on the other hand is more ruthless. If meddlesome cops try to interfere with their righteous crusade, against criminality, Mia is all for aiming the Death Note’s fatal sorcery at the police. Mia feels more like the anime version of Light than Turner does. Just like Light Yagami, she is corrupted by power and isn’t averse to manipulating friends as a means of achieving what she believes is the greater good.

VERDICT

My rating for Death Note 2017 is one star. I was going to give the movie a two, but the silly finale persuaded me to award it the lowest score possible. Some viewers may find Death Note entertaining, the idea of a killer book is cool after all, but having seen the story executed better in animated form I cannot be as generous. It was disappointing to see the Death Note turned into nothing more than a MacGuffin that turns people into brainwashed slaves that occasionally perish in gruesome ways. The film felt like a teenage horror flick from the nineties with its Final Destination style death sequences. Blood splatter cannot however disguise how boring the story was. I must confess that I nodded off a couple of times during the feature’s 100 minute running time.

I didn’t like how Light was portrayed. The studio didn’t seem to have confidence that western viewers would accept an evil protagonist, so they transferred most of Yagami’s traits to Mia. L wasn’t handled much better either. Rather than coming across as a savant he just seems to be a weirdo, who isn’t all that smart. Most of his deductions are just leaps of logic required to keep the plot going along. A cynic may remark that a black actor was cast as L to deflect the whitewash critics, who were already moaning about the setting’s transference from Japan to Seattle. The only thing that I enjoyed about the film was Ryuk. Willem Dafoe was the perfect choice for delivering Ryuk’s sinister quips and the visual effects team should be commended for their creepy creature design.

Ghost in the Shell detractors may want to revise their opinions, because Death Note is a far better example of an anime adaptation gone wrong. One concern I have is that Death Note’s conclusion leaves things wide open for a potential sequel. Hopefully the folks at Netflix will “kill” that idea in the bud, after the critical backlash the movie has received. Just to be safe I’ll jot down “Death Note 2” into my little black book.

Review of Kong: Skull Island

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Plagiarists! Tinseltown is full of them. Marvel took a chance by creating a shared cinematic universe, were their characters regularly crossover, and it paid off big time. Now everyone else is trying to replicate that profitable formula. DC has the Justice League in the pipeline, Netflix followed suit with the Defenders and even Universal is resurrecting their classic monsters for potential team up films. Not to be outdone Legendary Pictures has laid down the groundwork for a series of Kaiju blockbusters. First up was the 2014 Godzilla (directed by Gareth Edwards) and hot on its heels is everyone’s favourite climber of skyscrapers King Kong.

OVERVIEW

Kong: Skull Island is set in the year 1973. Thanks to advances in satellite technology the United States have discovered an unchartered isle that agent William Randa (a slender John Goodman) wishes to explore. Using funds procured from the senate, Randa assembles an expeditionary force comprising of scientists, an award winning photographer and a former SAS operative that specializes in tracking. Given the risk that the mission carries, a platoon of soldiers is also recruited to guard the team. Samuel L. Jackson (star of Snakes on a Plane) plays Preston Packard, the commanding officer of said military outfit.

Lieutenant colonel Packard hates serpents on planes so he chooses to transport the explorers via helicopter. After braving a storm, that surrounds their destination, the team arrive at Skull Island. Kong wastes no time in greeting the uninvited guests to his home. Like a chimp tossing faeces, the giant primate downs the choppers by hurling tree trunks at them. Randa, Packard and the remaining survivors now find themselves stranded in an inhospitable land. Their only means of escape is a rendezvous point situated on the northern coast. Unfortunately for them carnivorous creatures called Skull Crawlers patrol the passage. Skull Crawlers? Yeah, even the movie remarks that their name is corny.

VERDICT

My rating for Kong: Skull Island is a three out of five. An entertaining popcorn flick, but I’m not sure there is enough substance here to birth a franchise of creature feature sequels. The movie’s biggest problem is that the characters are so forgettable. Brie Larson, who plays the photographer, contributes little to the story other than looking fine in a tight vest. Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of an ex-SAS soldier reminds me of the Predators protagonist. Both of them are accomplished survivalists who are totally devoid of personality. Most of the other actors are just fodder, waiting to be devoured by Skull Island’s assortment of bugs and flying reptiles.

I suppose Samuel L. Jackson was okay, as the crazed leader who is more concerned with killing Kong than getting off the island. Given that the ape slaughtered many of his men I can understand why he would be motivated by revenge. Retreat is also not on his agenda, as he recently toured Vietnam. After that fiasco he is not keen to abandon another war zone. My favourite character was a chap named Hank Marlow, who has been marooned on Skull Island since the forties. He’s a funny guy and I rooted for his safety, so he could reunite with the family he hasn’t seen in decades.

Even if the flesh and blood actors didn’t wow me their CG co-stars did at least leave a positive impression. The battles between Kong and Skull Island’s wildlife are spectacular. Based on this film and Planet of the Apes, it’s safe to say that Hollywood has mastered the art of animating virtual simians. Unlike Godzilla 2014, the makers of Kong are not shy about showing off the titular giant at every opportunity. Just as well. I see no point in teasing audiences with glimpses of the headline act. No one pays to watch the dull humans go about their business. We want to see the monkey bash stuff and in that regard Kong: Skull Island delivers.

This review is dedicated to the memory of Harambe. May 1999 to May 2016.

Review of Saban’s Power Rangers

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Millions of years ago Rita Repulsa betrayed Zordon and the rest of her fellow Power Rangers. Driven by a thirst for universal dominance, she battled her former teammates on Earth. At stake was possession of a mighty artefact, dubbed the Zeo Crystal. The conflict ended in a stalemate, with both sides perishing when a comet dropped on their heads. Said blast eradicated the dinosaurs too. How sad. If praying flower girls existed back then perhaps our reptilian ancestors could have been saved from a meteor-instigated extinction? Anyways, fast forward to modern day Angel Grove. Rita is resurrected when a fishing trawler uncovers her corpse. The ex-Green Ranger resumes her plan to acquire the Zeo Crystal, even if it means destroying the globe in the process.

OVERVIEW

I must confess that I never was a big Power Rangers fan. Back in the nineties I would watch the occasional episode, whilst waiting for the latest X-Men cartoon to begin, but that was about it. Many other kids were however obsessed with the show. After the Ninja Turtles craze had died down there was evidently still hunger for martial art superheroes. Given that Hollywood is on a mission to resurrect anything nostalgic it’s no surprise to see a cinematic rebirth of America’s take on Super Sentai. These new Power Rangers have a budget so gone are the cheesy costumes, replaced instead with Iron Man style armour and CG enemies. Political correctness also means that the casting has undergone a shuffle. The yellow ranger is no longer Asian!

What we have here is an origin tale. Five teenagers stumble upon Zordon’s lair, where they locate medallions that morph them into the titular heroes. After assuming the Power Rangers mantle they are tasked with foiling Rita’s scheme, but first they need to train and learn the virtues of friendship. Despite a lack of recognizable names, the actors who were hired to play the Rangers all did a commendable job. These versions of the characters have much more depth than their TV counterparts. Jason is the prankster who is given the responsibility of leadership. Kimberly is dealing with the guilt of hurting friends. Autistic genius Billy is vilified by a “replace the I in his name with a U.” Zack makes wisecracks to mask the pain of living with a terminally ill mother. Trini meanwhile is unable to communicate to her family that she is a lesbian.

VERDICT

My rating for Saban’s Power Rangers is two and a half stars. For the most part the movie was okay, but it began to lose me towards the end of its two-hour running time. I liked the early scenes, which are rich in character development. The finale was too juvenile for my taste though. A golden creature battling against a mech may sound cool on paper; in actuality however it felt like a kid friendly Pacific Rim. That would be fine if the movie was marketed exclusively at children, but it isn’t. Some of the raunchier gags are suitable for teens or older only. Then there is also the small matter of Rita’s violent murders. She kills a cop and also liberates a hobo of his false teeth, in a most gruesome manner. Parents who have offspring that fear the dentist will not approve.

Given that I don’t class myself as a Power Rangers fan it’s tough to evaluate how aficionados of the franchise will regard this movie. Viewers that watched the TV series, back when it aired, are now adults who may well appreciate the film’s more mature tone. On the flip side it could be argued that the movie falls into the 1998 Lost in Space trap. Replacing the campy humour/effects with a more sombre script and lavish CGI removes the essence of what Power Rangers originally was. I for one think that the guys in rubber suits have more charm than the sterile CG monsters found in this flick. Like a teenager with attitude, the Power Rangers have morphed into something different. Whether the change is good or bad will come down to your own personal taste.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

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Talk about a demotion. In their last adventure Drax, Star Lord, Rocket Racoon, Gamora and treant toddler Groot saved the universe. When this sequel begins we see that the titular Guardians of the Galaxy have been reduced to the role of security guards. Hired by a race of walking Academy Award statuettes, called the Sovereign, our quintet of heroes are tasked with protecting some glorified Duracells from a giant tentacle monster. In exchange for their services the Guardians secure custody of Gamora’s cybernetic sis Nebula, who is currently languishing in a Sovereign prison. Things go smoothly until furry bandit Racoon helps himself to some of the batteries he is supposed to be safeguarding.

OVERVIEW

After detecting that some of their energy cells have been pilfered, the Sovereign Empire sends out a fleet of remote controlled craft to destroy the Guardians. Outnumbered and outgunned, it appears that Star Lord and pals are doomed. Thankfully for them, at the very last second, a mysterious ship turns up on the scene and annihilates the Sovereign forces – rescuing the Guardians from certain destruction. One crash landing later, the identity of the Guardians’ saviours is revealed. The pilots of the unidentified spaceship are an antennaed female empath named Mantis and her bearded master Ego, who claims to be Star Lord’s long lost alien daddy!

Furious over the Guardians’ escape, Sovereign leader Priestess Ayesha recruits the Ravager space pirates and orders them to track down Star Lord’s band of misfits. Led by blue skinned whistler Yondu, the Ravagers manage to apprehend Groot and Racoon, who were in midst of repairing their downed ship. The remaining Guardians are elsewhere, visiting Ego’s home planet. Can Star Lord, Drax and Gamora save their chums from Yondu’s clutches? Regrettably that will have to wait, because they have other concerns to deal with. A shocking discovery calls into question whether Ego truly is the benign parent he claims to be. Never trust a pop that has failed to pay child support in thirty years I say.

VERDICT

My rating for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is four stars. I am going to go against the grain by proclaiming that Vol. 2 is slightly better than its predecessor. For me the sequel was funnier, which is saying a lot given that the original was no slouch when it came to comedy. Like the previous movie, Vol. 2 has a soundtrack rich in golden oldies and some top-notch action. I was impressed by the UFO dogfights, laser gun shootouts and a sequence were Yondu fells an entire army with a single arrow. Despite the plentiful hysterics the script isn’t devoid of drama. I thought the father/daughter bond that formed between Drax and Mantis was rather sweet and the movie’s finale succeeded in tugging at the heartstrings.

Like with most modern films the running time could have done with a trim. The fairly straightforward plot didn’t warrant a 136-minute running time. Director James Gunn could have easily reduced the duration by shortening the overly long final battle and lowering the ridiculous number of after credit skits. Exorcising the pointless Star Lord/Gamora romance, which lacked chemistry, would have salvaged a few more minutes too. Their feelings of love felt more artificial than the green screen environments. Shame that the pairing flopped, because the camaraderie between the other characters is one of the movie’s biggest strengths… along with Groot’s cuteness. Disney is going to make a tree-mendous amount of money selling adorable Groot merchandise.