Category: FILM

FILM THOUGHTS: KINGSMAN – THE SECRET SERVICE

Kingsman_The_Secret_Service_posterI loved Mark Millar’s The Secret Service comic. It was weird and funny and bold for your standard spy-novel comic. I didn’t get to see the film adaptation when it came out, but heard a few people (I trust) say something very similar about the movie.

Film critics who had also read the comic made sure, however, to warn comic fans that the story deviated significantly from the book. I was glad for that warning – it protected me from fanboy shock and allowed me to enjoy the movie on its own merits.

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There are two types of spy-movie fans: traditionalists and anarchists. Traditional audiences are why James Bond movies still succeed. Even the most ambitious of Bond films still holds to a few types. A lone, solitary government agent who lives a life of almost perfect discipline and who is adept in every social context foils the plans of a unsuspicious individual whose desire for power and/or revenge has made him/her into a villain. Even spy movies outside the Bond franchise hold to these cliches.

Anarchists want to blow the whole system apart. Give us a messy spy, give us a spy who’s not good at his job, give us a villain we can’t sympathize with…make it weird! This is quite hard, it seems, because so few spy movies with surreal tones have succeeded in the world at large.

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In the comic, Millar’s the anarchist. He’s doing things we don’t expect and telling the story he wants to tell. It makes for a colorful, constantly surprising, laughable spy story (which are in short supply!) But no movie could be that odd and still go for a mainstream popcorn movie crowd, right?

This one does.

I loved Kingsman because it found a way to thread the needle. It kept the weird, dark, fantasy-world of the book but pillared them with solid spy-movie expectations. Consider a few examples (no spoilers) of tradition meeting anarchy.

  • The stoic, socially acceptable, impeccably trained spy does amazing things. As done his unprepared, offensive, intuitive counterpart. Neither one of them carry the mission alone.
  • The villain has an odd agenda but also has a comical henchman.
  • The spy agency has been influential in world affairs for years but has done so under weird auspices (even for a spy movie.)

This duality comes up again and again in the movie, which is perfect for the movie fan who likes both types of espionage storytelling. As to whether the world at large likes a movie that works so hard at straddling the serious and the surreal, who knows? But it was just silly enough to get this spy movie fan excited.

*One last thought. I don’t like to be the old man about stuff like this – you don’t often hear me going, “that movie would’ve been perfect without all them CURSE WORDS!” But I gotta’ say the sex joke that bookended the final action sequence was pretty lazy. Crude for sure, but also lazy. In writing, shouldn’t even our jokes propel the narrative? Do we really think Eggsy wouldn’t have gone running into battle without that joke setup?

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FILM THOUGHTS: PREDESTINATION

PREDESTINATION_27X40_R3MECH.inddI’m a sucker for time-travel movies. I freely admit that the mere mention of time-travel as a premise is enough to guarantee me as a viewer. I want my mind to be blown. The more confusing and vague, the better in my opinion.

Predestination didn’t disappoint in this regard, by the way. It’s a head scratcher. I kept me up way past my bedtime, simply because I couldn’t get my head around what had actually happened…and why.

If you watch a lot of these movies, you know what happens. As you think through the twists and turns, you start to notice similarities to other time-related films. You start to recognize tropes and arcs that have appeared in earlier works. That’s the fun of being a genre fan, I guess.

This movie was still rolling around in my head the next morning. I was enjoying the futile process of finding balance in the story, but something else was lurking just outside all my fun theorizing. For the rest of the day, it got stronger. What was bothering me so much about Predestination? It was great…mysterious, well-acted, creatively written.

But when it finally hit me, it colored the entire time-travel filmography in my head. I’ll try to do this without SPOILERS, but if you’r tentative about that sort of thing, maybe don’t read on…better safe than sorry.

Predestination fails in the same pace as other time-travel films – the premise. Watch 20 movies about jumping through time and you’ll find the same central idea over and over and over again: repetition.

Think about how many time-based sci-fi films simply loop on itself. It’s as if the only way they can keep us guessing is to make sure that the narrative folds in on itself in a way that can’t be logically justified.

There’s a part of me that wants to believe that filmmakers doing time travel stories are trying to make a bigger statement – that somehow by making all these movies cautionary and illogical, we’ll collectively learn that yes, actually, time-travel is a bad idea. It would be amazing if these sci-fi writers were trying to wave us off of these theories in an effort to protect us by writing movies that can’t be parsed in the end. But I don’t think that’s the case.

There are fantastic parts of Predestination, by the way. There are lots of fresh ideas and performances. But in the end, it’s the same time-travel movie you’ve seen before.

I’m glad I watched it. But I’m a glutton for punishment.

FILM THOUGHTS: LOCKE

locke_movie_posterI agree with the critics.

“[Hardy’s performance is] the reason you’d see Locke, and the reason you may remember it fondly, long after the ride ends.” – Time Magazine

“Yes, it sounds like a gimmick. But Tom Hardy is so compelling, multilayered and terrific in the title role, this one-man show is never dull.” – New York Daily News

“The spare scenario may not sound inspiring, but Locke’s attempts to keep his life from unraveling during a series of telephone calls make for a suspenseful and impressive experience.” – Daily Mirror UK

This sparse, tense film hits on every level – Hardy’s “Ivan Locke” is as nuanced and compelling as a protagonist can be; both the score and cinematography maintain a taut, cringing expectation from scene 1; and the themes presented are universally understood and feared.

I’m not surprised people enjoyed Locke. I’m more interested in WHY.

The draw isn’t Hardy’s fantastic acting or even the well-paced story points. The beauty of Locke is that all of those elements orbit a bigger, more central aspect of daily life: voices in your head.

We’re reachable 24/7. We’re always running late. We’re surrounded by stuff and stimuli and circumstance. And yet, in that car…we’re alone. Even if we’re tuned to talk radio or have podcasts plugged into our ears, we can’t get away from our thoughts. No matter how loud the music or fast the freeway, these are the moments where we feel the pressure to face down what’s speaking loudest in our heads. Like Ivan Locke, we’ve all gone to war with ourselves during a long, terrible drive.

When you read critics talking about how “universal” Locke is, this is what they’re trying to say. Ivan Locke is a man at war with lots of things and we can’t look away. Would we risk everything Ivan risks just to make the moral choice?

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*It shouldn’t be lost on us that all of Locke’s phone calls happen over speakerphone. The filmmaker could have just as easily let us hear the audio while Ivan has a phone pressed to his ear. Even in so many dialogues, Locke is always alone.

FILM THOUGHTS: BOYHOOD

LMV5BMTYzNDc2MDc0N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTcwMDQ5MTE@._V1_SX640_SY720_ike a lot of people, I was instantly interested in Boyhood. Richard Linklater has a strong track record of engaging, creative, surprising films and the sheer ambition of this one was enough to suck me in.

In the internet age, this is common. We are intrigued by films long before the projector starts running. This is why most of us could never be film critics – the goal of objectivity is too far beyond our reach. We go see these movies because we want to see them. We want to like them.

I loved this movie. Even though it’s not very good.

Two problems reveal themselves over and over in the film – acting and structure. I think the dialogue felt fake. The “campout” scene in particular had the pacing and delivery of a church youth group sketch. Structurally, Boyhood has a hero gap. We don’t know who the hero is. As much as we want Mason Jr. to be the hero of the film, he isn’t. He’s a roving camera – a sponge – and we’re watching the whole time waiting for that one person who’ll step in and impact Mason’s life. This is the sort of hero narrative that we’ve come to know and expect from movies and it wasn’t in Boyhood.

So why did I love it? Because none of that stuff matters.

Linklater’s movie proves that when you care about a character, you’ll follow that character anywhere – through bad dialogue, through failed relationships one after the other, even through a movie where nothing really happens as we’re conditioned to expect. It also proves that we don’t have to build movies around movie stars. Linklater has Ellar Coltrane portray Mason so painfully honest that in moments, the movie resounds more like a documentary than a fiction narrative.

There are a few other things to learn, too.

Boyhood also reminds us of how powerful music can be. Watch it again and see how many of the music cues do more than just set a tone. In almost every “transition” between years, a song clues us in. Those song placements do more than set a time. They remind us of a feeling – music is a portrait of the past.

Lastly, the role of Ethan Hawke’s character cannot be understated. The real growth in this movie comes in the life of Mason Sr., of all people. And I was reminded over and over again just how skilled Ethan Hawke is at making us care about him and pull for him – whether he’s winning at life or not.

Mason Jr.’s life isn’t like a movie. Mine wasn’t. And yours wasn’t either. Boyhood shows us that each and every story being lived out is plenty compelling and difficult and dramatic enough without Hollywood turning into something fake and plastic,