Sunday Rundown – That’s What She Read

book haul, books, Colin Firth, currently reading, Daniel Craig, James Bond, Kristen Bell, Mark Strong, Netflix, recently watched, snow, spy
Up here in the good old North of England we were promised a snow storm to end all snow storms. Okay, nothing that dramatic but if Ned Stark had been here he would have forever been saying “Winter is coming”. It was getting so bad that everyone I work with was starting to panic about how they would get to work. Except me, obviously. It’s just a bit of snow. The other night, as I was putting the bins out after work, I stepped I felt super Christmassy as the snow fell gently around me. Snow is too magical to be a pain in the arse. I love the way British people react so strongly to changes in weather. Our weather is hardly extreme but suddenly, at the mere mention of a blizzard, society starts to collapse. Imagine if we did start experiencing the kind of freak weather that other countries face so often? It’d be like Lord of the Flies or some shit. Take public transport, for example: you get a slight snow fall and suddenly the trains are all running super late. It’s not like we’re dealing with The Day After Tomorrow levels of snowfall here. I mean, we don’t need to be start sending Gerard Butler into space anytime soon. Other countries manage to get by with more snow than we do. How is it so hard here? It makes me laugh every time we get to December. People start treating the word “snow” like it’s Macbeth and they’re all about to go onstage. We should just get it over with and start calling it “the white weather”.

Weekly Blog Posts

  • TUESDAY’S REVIEWS – Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

I’ve wanted to see the sequel to Kingsman for bloody ages but it never happened. Cinema trips with friends got cancelled and then we missed it at out local cinema. Urgh. So I finally managed to see it this week but would it live up to my expectations? Find out here.

  • BOOK POST – Review of The Underground Railroad

It feels nice to finally be able to review a book again. Find out what I thought after finally finishing this book here.

  • FBF – Spectre (2015)

You watch one spy film and suddenly you start to crave all the spy films. I decided it was finally time to watch Spectre after it kept popping up on my Netflix feed. Find out what I thought here.

Currently Reading
  • Autumn by Ali Smith
Not even going to pretend I read anything this week. I’ve not picked this book up since I returned from London. I’m a failure. I know. I’m going to get better. I have Christmassy things to read goddammit!

Recently Purchased 
  • The Grip of Film by Richard Ayoade – Okay, I’ll level with you. I didn’t actually buy this book this week but I forgot to put in last week’s rundown. I’ve not actually bought a single book this week. I’m feeling pretty smug. I’m concentrating more on Christmas presents cause I’m so fucking selfless. Nah, just kidding, I’ve just been super busy all week. Book shopping has taken a back seat to everything I’ve had to do.
Recently Watched 
  • Netflix Binges: Friends from CollegeThe Good Place, QI
I’ve watched quite a few new shows this week. It’s a new thing for me. I’d been drawn to Friends from College for ages because it had a great cast. Now I’ve watched it I’m not sure what to think. It wasn’t bad but I don’t think it was good either. Maybe I need a rewatch? However, The Good Place was fucking amazing. I managed to be genuinely shocked by the revelation in the season 1 finale and it made everything so much better. I can’t wait for more episodes. I ate these ones up too quickly.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

British, Channing Tatum, Colin Firth, comic book, comic books, films, fucking funny, fucking weird, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, Mark Strong, Matthew Vaughn, reviews, spy

I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed the first Kingsman movie. It was an insane but really enjoyable spy film that even managed to make Colin Firth seem edgy and cool. I never would have thought it was possible but I guess Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman did the same thing with Nicolas Cage in Kickass. Kingsman is one of those weird films that everyone seems to love. Even my mother watched it when it was on Netflix. It had the benefit of being batshit crazy, incredibly funny, and well-made. It was perfectly over-the-top and a perfect antidote for the decreasingly self-aware Bond franchise. In recent years, James Bond has gone from being a camp British icon to something of a Hollywood bad boy. He no longer feels the need for insane and unnecessary gadgetry and, instead, uses her sheer muscle mass and martial arts skills to get the job done. Kickass took us back to a time when spies were gentlemen carrying umbrella guns and exploding pens. It was great. So, I was pretty gosh darn excited by the prospect of the second one. Especially when it was announced that Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges and Halle Berry were all joining the cast as an American version of the UK’s Kingsman organisation. All 3 of those actors are, in their own way, incredibly talented. As you probably know if you’ve read some of my stuff before, I have developed a love of Channing Tatum since I discovered he has a sense of humour about himself and now I long to see all of his films. I swear it’s all about his comic timing… there’s definitely nothing of interest to me underneath his shirt. No way. Never.
The sequel to Matthew Vaughn’s 2005 spy film, Kingsman: The Secret Service doesn’t so much try to carry on the great things as it tries to overshadow them. There is no sense that the second film in the series is going to take things lying down. It is bigger, brasher, more violent and even sillier. Yes, that’s right, even sillier than a film starring an assassin with blades for legs. This one does star Elton John though. Considering how weird the first film is, it’was incredibly unlikely that I’d ever be able to sit and say the second film makes it look almost normal in comparison. But it does. The Golden Circle could certainly do with some refinement but it still contains the same breathtaking stunts and camera work that made the first film so entertaining. As long as your basic requirements for this film revolve around good guys kicking the arses of bad guys then it’ll be satisfying enough.

The Golden Circle sees the unlikely hero from the first film, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), coming up against a dangerous drug baron, Poppy (Julianne Moore), who is essentially holding the world’s drug users to ransom. When Eggsy has a near-death run in with former Kingsman applicant Charlie he finds himself on the tail of the Golden Circle; a drugs cartel who rules the world’s drug trade. When Poppy poisons her merchandise, drugs users all over the globe start showing signs of an illness which leads to a quick and horrible death. Poppy plans to make a deal with President of the United States but, after the rest of the Kingsman were taken out, Eggsy seeks help from his American counterparts, the Statesmen, to bring her down.

It is the introduction of the Statesmen that gives this film such a different feel. Once the majority of the orignal cast have been dispensed with, Eggsy is left with only Merlin (Mark Strong) for company. So we are introduced to American agents in the shape of Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry and Pedro Pascal. All these characters show great potential but they never quite excite as much as the original cast. There is a certain amount of chemistry missing between the newbies and the olds here. You’ll miss the interactions between Eggsy and his mentor Harry (Colin Firth) or his fellow new Kingsman Roxy. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Pedro Pascal’s face but even watching him utilise an electro lasso doesn’t make up for the absences.

There is a lot of bloat in this second film that really slows the film down. Not only have we got to go through the process of finding and introducing the Statesmen, which messes with the pace, but then we find out Harry is alive. It’s not exactly a spoiler because he’s been all over the promotional material but, yes, after his grizzly death in the first film Harry is back… kind of. I like Colin Firth in the first film but his return here takes way too much time away from the main story. It ultimately doesn’t add enough to justify lengthening the film that much. No matter how cool Firth looks in an eye patch.

It is not until late on that the film really gets going. After the opening fight scene, that’s where we see most of the super impressive and visually stunning fight scenes that the first film got so right. I mean, speaking critically, I could have done without the rehash of the original’s “manners maketh man” scene but Pedro Pascal is so phenomenally sexy that I can forgive it. It is these insane and completely cartoon-like fight scenes that make the Kingsman films so fantastic. The visual gags, stunts and CGI all come together to create something so absurd yet so appealing. The filmmakers know what they’re doing by now so they’re all pretty by the book but they will still capture an audiences’ attention.

I can’t say that I liked this film more than the original but I did like this film. Well, most of this film. There is a horrible, creepy and unnecessary plot strand that sees Eggsy have to plant a tracking device in an incredibly intimate area that just feels misjudged…. especially in this current climate in Hollywood. However, the rest of the film is silly and funny enough to keep fans of the first film relatively happy. Even if Channing Tatum is horribly underused and overdressed for the duration.

TBT – A Single Man (2009)

Colin Firth, films, fucking beautiful, fucking tragic, Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult, TBT

As I mentioned in my previous posts this week, I’ve been away for a few days this week. I got back home yesterday evening and it was my intention to watch something for today’s post once I was unpacked. What actually happened was me lying in bed for an hour unable to do anything. There was a point when I had no energy or inspiration to even contemplate completing something to post. Still, as I’m such a consummate professional I managed to get my act together and rewatch a film I hadn’t seen in ages. Following on from Tuesday’s review of Carol I wanted to revisit another beuatiful film that deals with LGBT issues… cos, you know, neatness. A Single Man was a film I loved when I first watched it but, clearly, just never felt the need to watch again. I’m the kind of person who watches certain films to death and eventually start to resent them for being so familiar. Although, the films in that category don’t tend to be the best films. They’re normally the guilty pleasures that I have a craving to watch. As much as I’d love to watch Oscar winning films again and again, my love of cheese and simple humour overrides everything. So, it turns out, this TBT post is actually doing me a favour and giving me the chance to remember films that I might otherwise have never watched again. It makes me super glad I summoned up the energy to get this review written.

I have a confession to make: I’m not the biggest fan of Colin Firth. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate his skills as an actor but I’m just a bit biased against him. I think it’s mostly due to how many women fawn all over him because of Pride and Prejudice. He was a fine Mr Darcy but I definitely didn’t go weak at the knees when he emerged from that lake. I kind of feel that Firth’s misplacement as a sex symbol has affected my opinion of him. I’m not saying it doesn’t make me a terrible person but it’s the truth. So, I never get too excited about seeing him do something dramatic and serious. I forget that, actually, he’s really good. There are moments in Tom Ford’s A Single Man in which the actor is effortlessly able to get a complex mixture of emotions across to the audience without ever opening his mouth. It’s quite breathtaking.

In A Single Man, Firth plays George, a college professor, who is still dealing with the death of his partner, Jim (Matthew Goode). The film marks one day in George’s life as he goes about his daily tasks having just accepted that they will be his final moments on Earth. As George sets about sorting out the loose ends in his personal and professional life, he flashes back to his life with Jim and the massive hole he has been unable to fill. In between the final errands, he has encounters with his lifelong friend Charley (Julianne Moore), who has been in love with him for years, and his young student, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult). George starts to see the world in a different way and isolates the brief moments of beauty and life that he sees, supposedly for the last time.

A Single Man is one of those films that, on the surface, seems simple and unexceptional. However, it has the ability to get into your head before you know what’s happening. It will speak to so many familiar and long-forgotten feelings in everybody. The way it handles the themes of life, love, and loss make them all seem new instead of the same old thing. A Single Man takes a fairly ordinary story and allows it to transcend to something greater. The main reason for this being Colin Firth. His performance is the thing that holds the narrative together and gives every scene such depth. So much of this film is held on Firth’s face and it manages to hold back everything whilst telling us everything we need to know. George, as a gay man in 1960s America, is used to hiding his true feelings but, after being shut out of Jim’s funeral, he has finally reached a point where he no longer wants to be invisible. Firth’s performance is strong, affecting, and heartbreaking.

Of course, everything about this film is beautifully put together as one would expect from fashion designer Tom Ford. However, despite what a few miserly critics may have said at the time, this isn’t just style of substance. Yes, the aesthetic in A Single Man has been carefully considered and is fantastic but it all serves a purpose. This is a film about people who paint a picture for the outside world to hide the truth bubbling away under the surface. It is a film that deals with the most gut wrenching grief and portrays it in such an astonishingly beautiful way. Ford understands the bitterness to this story and the visuals only help to make them stand out. We see George acting as the person that he needs to be to get through his life and that includes the picture perfect lifestyle. In order to remain safe and invisible, everything in George’s life must be perfect. It is only in his grief that things start to fall apart and George’s actions start to stand out against the picturesque backdrop.

A Single Man might seem like the kind of film that you don’t need to watch a second or third time but, as it turns out, is exactly the kind of film that you should watch again and again. There are so many details and minutiae to the tale that demand a better look and the performances are definitely worth repeated attention.

TBT – Mamma Mia! (2008)

Amanda Seyfried, Colin Firth, fucking awful, Meryl Streep, review, TBT

I went to university in Lancaster with the Lake District basically on my doorstep. I love the Lakes and, as a steadfast Romanticist, should have spent every weekend exploring the part of the world beloved by William Wordsworth. As it happens, I only went there once because I was too fucking lazy and probably drunk. That one time I stayed one night at a campsite full of awful teenagers whilst sharing a three man tent with three of my flatmates. I got absolutely no sleep and, because I like in the UK, the second day was a complete fucking washout. Probably the reason I never ventured back that way. Anyway, the reason I bring it up now is because our trip’s soundtrack was provided by the big Hollywood sensation that I’m about to discuss. As the only person in the car who hated the film, I was forced to listen to the great Meryl Streep and the almighty Bronhom murder ABBA songs for hours on end. I think the fact that I’ve watched the film so many times since is more than enough evidence of Stokholm syndrome.

Mamma Mia! is the hit stage musical written by Catherine Johnson. It genuinely boggles my mind that a musical based around the musical stylings of ABBA has grossed over $2 billion worldwide since 1999. Who the fuck is so desperate to see this shit? People lap it up though, which is why the show made its way to the big screen back in 2008. Getting the inimitable Meryl Streep on board was a stroke of fucking genius and the film easily became the highest grossing musical of all time.

It’s fucking insane. The plot is at best irrelevant; at worst insultingly contrived. Donna (Meryl Streep) lived a wild youth and slept with so many men that she simply has no idea who fathered her daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried). Although, actually there are only three real candidates and they’re played by the least likely musical stars ever. Pierce Brosnan plays Sam, Colin First is Harry, and Stellan Skarsgard is Bill. All three of these gentlemen had wild pasts with Donna but have set those lives aside.

For some fucking stupid reason, Sophie invites her three potential fathers to her wedding on the family’s Greek island and, for an even more ludicrous reason, they all fucking turn up. Sophie goes all Sherlock Holmes to try and work out who she shared DNA with but learns absolutely fuck all of any use. In the end she doesn’t even find out who the father is?! The entire narrative is fucking pointless!

Whilst this is happening, Donna and her old chums Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters) are catching up on old times. Not only is this trio the least likely group of friends I’ve ever seen on film, they are highly irritating. Their entire purpose is to talk about their lost youth and lament they bad luck in love. Of course, by the end of the film all three desperate woman have been successfully paired off in a suitably dancey manner. This menopausal pursuit of love is the closest thing we have here to an actual purposeful plot. How fucking depressing is that?

Even more depressing when you consider all of these nonsense narrative strands are all crammed full of every ABBA song the writer could remember. I’m not saying that I mind the music so much: I mean there’s a time and a place for a good ABBA boogie. I just take umbrage with the shitty ways they’ve been shoehorned into the plot. It’s pathetic.

There’s just not much skill on show in the film. The writing is abysmal; the singing is either mediocre or laughably bad; the choreography is even worse than my Taylor Swift inspired awkward dance parties; and the love stories are anything but romantic. Before Mamma Mia, director Phyllida Lloyd was more used to directing stage productions and not Hollywood movies. She really does nothing inspiring with the material and offers very little to help her actors flourish.

There’s something so rage inducing about watching Meryl Streep flounder during the ‘The Winner Takes It All’ scene; I know she’s Meryl fucking Streep but at least help her out a little bit. She looks so lost that I sort of hate the fact she ended up in that position. Mamma Mia is, without a doubt, one of my least favourite film experiences. It’s a film that just gets everything so wrong, except the location. Although, to me, there’s something comforting about that. It’s nice to know that in an age of such great talent in this industry, there are still some people out there that are fucking it up.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

Colin Firth, comic book, Mark Strong, Matthew Vaughn, Michael Caine, review, Samuel L, spy, violence
There are plenty of films that I get excited about but am too embarrassed to admit to. No matter how much I try and hide it, I’ll always have the soul of a 12 year old boy. The bottom line is that swords, guns and explosions are fucking awesome and if your film trailer is full of them then I’m gonna want to see it. It’s led to a lot of misguided film experiences and is the main reason that I don’t completely hate Michael Bay’s Transformersfilms. Upon first seeing the trailer for Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, I knew it was the kind of film I wanted to see but without anyone finding out about it.

Back in 2010, Matthew Vaughan and co-writer Jane Goldman re-imagined the world of superhero movies with Kick-Ass and introduced us all to the profanity spouting Chloe Grace Moretz. It was a fucking superb film that achieved massive success and spawned a less than great sequel. Obviously feeling comfortable adapting Mark Millar’s work, Vaughan and Goldman are back to reinvent the classic spy film by bringing The Secret Serviceto our screens. No matter how fucking amazing Skyfalland the rest of Daniel Craig’s Bond reign has been, there has been something lacking of late. No longer is there any room for the raised eyebrows, timely quips and batshit crazy gadgets. Thankfully, Vaughan has noticed a gap in the market and adapted Millar’s story to fit the bill. Kingsman does for Roger Moore era James Bond what Guy Ritchie did for Sherlock Holmes… only better.
Kingsmanis refreshingly self-aware and is littered with cheeky nods to all aspects of pop culture. Colin Firth’s suave Harry Hart wear Harry Palmer-style glasses, wields an umbrella in a way that John Steed would be proud and casually references 80s classic Trading Places. Of course, it is Bond that prevails over all and Ian Fleming’s much-loved agent is regularly alluded to or mentioned out-right. In an attempt to make amends for a past mistake, Harry takes urban youth, Eggsy, under his wing to turn him into a gentleman and a trained killer. The first part of the film is a delightful mix of My Fair Lady, The Apprentice and The Ipcress File. The moments between the pair are full of chemistry so it’s a massive fucking shame that the plot strives so hard to split them up.
For, whilst Eggsy is taking part in the most stressful job interview ever, Harry’s time is spent trying to find out what internet mogul Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) is planning. Valentine is a megalomaniac with a keen interest in environmentalism. As classic spy villains go, he isn’t up there with the best but does provide a few memorable moments throughout the proceedings. Ultimately though, he is woefully eclipsed by his blade-legged, assassin side-kick, Gazelle. A powerful opponent who can easily chop you in half with her prosthetics: the paralympics meets Kill Billif you will. Of course, regardless of his ranking in the super-villain hall of fame, Valentine is a pretty good foil for Hart and the rare moments that they appear on screen together are fucking brilliant. I’m never normally sure what I think of Colin Firth but there is no doubt he had the time of his fucking life. There is the now infamous scene set in an extremist Church when Harry, not fully in control of his senses, takes out an entire congregation of angry Christians. Graphic it may be but fun it most certainly is.
That’s the thing about Kingsman, the fact that it was independently funded meant that Vaughn was able to get away with more without fear of censorship. The violence is perhaps over-the-top but is handled in such a cartoony way that it might not matter. For every potentially dubious moment of unnecessary there is the fucking genius scene of henchmen’s heads exploding in time to Land of Hope and Glory. Whatever your thoughts on the violence argument that will always be raging within Hollywood, there is no doubt that Kingsmanis a stylish, brash and incredibly fun film. The only real let-down that I can see is Vaughn’s treatment of the class system. He makes several attempts to openly criticise the upper-classes whilst simultaneously celebrating their lifestyle. Kingsmanplays with a certain tradition of spy thrillers and inadvertently places the men at the centre of that genre on a pedestal. This is understandably at odds with all of Harry’s reassurances to Eggsy that it is the man underneath that counts. Still, it makes little difference in Matthew Vaughn’s joy-filled celebration of a certain style of cinema. You’ll make it through to the credits perfectly happy and, if you’re like me, excited for the next one.