David Reid

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Kingsman: The Secret Service Review


Excellent

With virtually the same tone as they used in their superhero spoof Kick-Ass, filmmakers Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman take another riotously adult approach to pastiche, this time tackling the James Bond genre. Essentially they have made a 007 movie that refuses to tone itself down for the PG-13 audience, indulging in the profanity and excessive violence other films shy away from. So it doesn't really matter if the plot itself isn't quite as rebellious as it pretends to be.

Kingsman is a top-secret spy agency located in a Saville Row tailor, beholden to no corporation or government. Led by Arthur and Merlin (Michael Caine and Mark Strong), these gentlemanly super-agents use the names of the knights of the Round Table. And when one of them dies, they know it's time to get with the times and recruit someone young and hip. So they set up a rigorous school for trainees, with one lucky graduate set to earn a spot at the table. Harry, aka Galahad (Colin Firth), chooses rough East End teen Eggsy (Taron Egerton) as his candidate. The son of a former agent, Eggsy shows considerable promise even if he lacks the expected refinement. Then just before the final selection is made, they discover that mobile phone billionaire Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) is up to something nefarious. So Eggsy and fellow rookie Roxy (Sophie Cookson) kick into action to figure out what he's up to, and stop him.

Despite constant reminders that "this isn't that kind of movie", it clearly is. Every Bond element is here, including the crazed villain with an elaborate lair and a technically augmented sidekick (Sofia Boutella's vicious blade-footed henchwoman Gazelle). The only difference is that where Bond hints cheekily at violence and sex, Vaughn and Goldman go for it. This film is packed with outrageous, over-the-top carnage and intensely rude dialogue, delivered with relish by the expert cast. Firth, Caine and Strong are terrific at combining tweedy propriety with public schoolboy naughtiness, while Jackson merrily plays around with Valentine's god-complex.

Continue reading: Kingsman: The Secret Service Review

Kick-Ass 2 Review


OK

New writer-director Wadlow (Never Back Down) makes one severe misstep with this sequel to Matthew Vaughn's snappy 2010 Kick-Ass: he loses the irony. Now everything is played for goofy laughs and indulgent grisliness. There's no longer any subtext, nothing original in the structure or premise and a clear fear of being politically incorrect. Even so, it's an entertaining romp with a steady stream of funny gags.

After the craziness of the first film, Dave (Taylor-Johnson) has hung up his Kick-Ass costume and is trying to be a regular teen at school, but he's jealous of Mindy (Moretz) secretly carrying on her training as Hit Girl. So he asks her to team up and teach him some new tricks. But when her guardian (Chestnut) finds out, she promises to give up the violence and go back to school. Now Dave has to find a new partner, so he joins a lively team of underground heroes led by the gung-ho Captain Stars and Stripes (Carrey). But Dave's old nemesis Chris (Mintz-Plasse) still wants to avenge his father's death, so he abandons his dodgy heroic alter-ego Red Mist and instead becomes a supervillain called The Mother F**ker, with his own butler-assistant (Leguizamo) and a crew of minions.

Wadlow briskly leaps from one action set-piece to the next, and each scene has a witty sense of humour about it, even if the extreme violence is played for rather glamorised fun rather than the shock-value of the first film. Through everything, the dialog is packed with amusing lines that keep us laughing. And Mindy's parallel plot has its moments as well, throwing her in with the school's mean girls, who clearly don't know who they're messing with. Moretz plays Mindy so well that she makes everyone else feel scruffy and simplistic by comparison. Carrey's muscled meathead is a startlingly against-type role that strangely refuses to go anywhere. But Glen is rivetingly sharp in one key scene.

Continue reading: Kick-Ass 2 Review

Kick-Ass Review


Excellent
The team behind Stardust brings us the superhero movie we always wanted: brazen, raucous and without a single politically correct moment from start to finish. And yes, it's both wildly rude and great fun.

Dave (Johnson) is a shy New York teen who wonders why no one sticks up for each other. So he creates a secret alter-ego, Kick-Ass, and sets out to make a difference. Of course he gets beaten to a pulp. But he also catches the city's imagination. The problem is that gangster Frank (Strong) thinks he's to blame for a series of setbacks and helps his son (Mintz-Plasse) create a rival hero, Red Mist. But Frank's nemesis is actually a man (Cage) who has turned his 12-year-old daughter (Moretz) into a killing machine.

Continue reading: Kick-Ass Review

Telstar: The Joe Meek Story Review


Excellent
As chaotic and energetic as a 1960s British comedy, this film traces six years in the life of the world's first truly independent record producer. It doesn't say anything new, but the story is remarkable.

In 1961, Joe Meek (O'Neill) runs his music empire from a flat above a shop in Holloway Road, North London, where his landlady (Ferris) tries to ignore the ruckus upstairs. Joe surrounds himself with beautiful young men that he crafts into pop sensations, reaching the peak of success with the UK and US chart-topper Telstar. But Joe is also a victim of bad organisation, paranoia and depression, which leads him to alienate the talented people around him, including both musicians and his financier (Spacey).

Continue reading: Telstar: The Joe Meek Story Review

Layer Cake Review


Excellent
Matthew Vaughan, producer behind the entire Guy Ritchie oeuvre (Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, and... er... Swept Away), makes his directorial debut with Layer Cake, another tale from the British criminal underworld that thankfully avoids any association with aging pop icons. Instead, Vaughan opts to take some of the elements of Ritchie's earlier work - colorful deviants, dark humor, Seinfeld-esque coincidence - and give them his own, slightly more somber spin. The result is an engaging 104 minutes that stakes its own claim on the genre.

Daniel Craig is credited as "XXXX" (oh, if only he were the new "XXX"), a "businessman," as he puts it, whose name we never learn. His business just happens to be cocaine. He plays by a strict set of rules - pay connections on time; keep a low profile, etc. And, like every other lowlife with whom we're supposed to sympathize in a gangster film, he's just about to retire. Until his boss, Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham) throws him two curveballs that shoot his plans all to hell.

Continue reading: Layer Cake Review

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