Sunday Rundown – That’s What She Read

Sunday Rundown – That’s What She Read

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)

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

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.

Tuesday’s Reviews – 6 Days (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – 6 Days (2017)

The problem with an actor playing an iconic role early on in their career means that they are forever carrying that character around on their shoulders. Look at Daniel Radcliffe who, despite seeming to take every random opportunity that comes his way, is finding it difficult to come out of the shadow of the Boy Who Lived. As much as I want to watch every new film he stars in as a new Daniel Radcliffe film I can’t help but see Harry Potter everywhere. Similarly, I have often had problems separating Jamie Bell from Billy Elliot. As such, every role that I’ve watched Bell play has just seemed more childish than it should have done. He’s tried to do plenty of serious stuff over the years but all I see is that young ballet dancer pretending to be a grown-up. Which is a massive shame because I really like Jamie Bell. He just hasn’t ever quite found that one role that changed the way people, or at least I, perceive him. For the last few years he’s done a variety of different thigns that have had varying degrees of success. He was perfect as the title character in The Adventures of Tintin but was recently in the reboot of Fantastic Four that never really worked. I admit that I was

unconvinced after seeing that he was going to star in a film as a member of the SAS. Would I ever be able to see anything other than Billy Elliot with a gun?

Going into 6 Days I didn’t really know a great deal about the Iranian Embassy siege that took place in London in May 1980 but, considering the number of recent terrorist attacks around the world in the last 12 months or so, it seems like a rather prescient story to make a film about. 37 years on, the world is facing even greater atrocities than the ones carried out at Princes Gate just 1 year into Margaret Thatcher’s government. On 30th April that year a group of Iranian Arab men stormed the embassy in Kensington and held 26 people hostage. Threatening the lives of those they hel, the group demanded the release of a group prisoners in Khuzestan and their safe passage out of the UK. The Prime Minister and her Tory government refused to agree to these demands so a siege ensued for the next 6 days. Whilst the SAS were on standby to storm the building, negotiators successfully saw the release of a handful of hostages by agreeing to a few of their more minor demands. It wasn’t until one of the hostages was killed that the special forces regiment carried out an assault and brought the siege to and end.

The siege was broadcast live for its 6 days and rocked the British people. It was eventually overshadowed after the Iran–Iraq War broke out a few months later but it did, however, bring the SAS into the public eye and showed the world how Thatcher would approach acts of terrorism. It was a pretty defining moment in British history but, if I’m honest, it doesn’t exactly seem like the one event that demanded being turned into a film. Especially one that is trying to sell itself as some kind of British Argo starring the kid from Billy Elliot and Inspector George Gently. But somebody disagreed with me and went and bloody did it. The structure is pretty straightforward: we start from the beginning of the siege and move between the action inside the embassy, a group of journalists looking on in horror, the police negotiators trying to reach a peaceful solution, and the SAS lying in wait next door. There are moments when director, Toa Fraser, tries to build the tension by showing the soldiers waiting outside doors with guns at the ready until another deadline is reached. However, there just isn’t that much drama here.
This is a very short film that, if I’m honest, feels more like a reconstruction that you’d be made to watch in GCSE history or something. It feels less like entertainment and more like the basic facts. There is so little time for develeopment that you don’t really know anybody or really understand what drives them. The closest you get is Mark Strong as Chief Inspector Max Vernon who speaks to one of the terrorists on the phone and attempts to keep the hostages alive. He has some emotional resonance as his connection with the man he’s talking leaves him hoping for a peaceful end. And I guess Jamie Bell does something in role as Lance Corporal Rusty Firmin, the man who ends up leading the assault on the embassy. Again, you don’t really get to know much about Rusty but Bell does a good job at portraying the brooding military man who believes he and his team are the only solution to this problem. He is a perfect mix between cocky young thing and highly focused killer. It’s a breakthrough role for him.
Still, 6 Days doesn’t really have a great deal going for it. It’s not bad, per se, but it doesn’t seem fully formed. It’s like there wasn’t enough in the real-life event to give any detail to the film. A lot of the performances end up being flat or forgettable; non more so than Abbie Cornish, as BBC journalist, Kate Adie, who is decidedly stiff in her portrayal. The details of this film are great and Fraser really does create a historically convincing reenactment. It’s something of period piece thanks to its interiors and set dressing but, beyond that, it just doesn’t feel like we needed to be retold this story. I get that there is a certain amount of tension between each possible assault and the instant return to silently waiting but this film really isn’t the thriller is tries to be. If we’d seen more of the SAS in their training and got to know more of the characters it would have felt more complete?
TBT – Stardust (2007)

TBT – Stardust (2007)

When it comes to romantic comedies I can’t say that I’m a huge fan. I’m much too cynical and, if we’re being honest, it’s all been done a thousand times before. Boy meets girl. Boy tries to make girl fall in love with him. Stuff happens. Happily ever after. I just never find it an incredibly inspiring to sit down and watch them so I avoid them. However, if ever there was going to be a writer who could change my mind about the whole concept it would be Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is the much loved fantasy, horror, science fiction, anything else you can think of writer who has penned such notable works as The Sandman comic book series as well as numerous novels and short story collections. Stardust is, in a way, Gaiman’s own The Princess Bride  (incidentally, this is one of the few romantic comedies that I genuinely adore). Now, I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m a fan of Neil Gaiman’s writing and I would recommend his books to anyone. His writing is like magic. There’s nobody quite like him. Yet, I’ve never really been a massive fan of any adaptations of his work. Well, that’s not quite true. I like them but I can’t say I love them. I could read and reread Gaiman’s work any number of times but I don’t think I’d ever watch one his films or TV shows more than once. Except maybe Coraline because that was fucking awesome. There’s something that just gets lost in translation and I don’t have that same connection with them. It’s why I never rewatched this film until I needed something to review for today… and it’s why I’m in no real rush to watch it again.

We’re all pretty familiar with swashbuckling romances, right? A handsome young man goes off on an adventure to win his fair maidens heart and must overcome all the obstacles in his way. Stardust follows that basic plot but gives it a decidedly Neil Gaiman spin. The plot, adapted from Gaiman’s original novel, follows Tristan Thorne (Charlie Cox) a resident in a quiet little village called Wall.The village has been named for the stonewall than runs along it that, legend tells, separates merry old England from the magical realm of Stormhold. Tristan has fallen in love with the beautiful but selfish Victoria (Sienna Miller) but is about to lose her to his rival Humphrey. Until, after spotting a shooting star in the sky, Tristan promises to bring his love the fallen star in exchange for her hand. Unfortunately, this means a trip beyond the wall and into the unknown.

It also turns out to be rather difficult as the star has turned into a stubborn and sassy young woman, Yvaine (Claire Danes) and Tristan has a hard time persuading her to come with him. Then you have the added problem of a trio of witches, headed up by the vicious Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer), who want to track down the girl, eat her heart and receive immortality. Finally, as if that weren’t enough, Yvaine has taken possession of a ruby that belonged to the recently deceased King of Stormhold (Peter O’Toole) who has declared that the first of his make heirs to find the stone will be the next rightful ruler of the land. All parties end up chasing down the hapless pair as they slowly make their way back to Wall before Victoria’s birthday.

That’s the main problem with Stardust really. There is a lot going on and it all gets a bit haphazard on screen. The plot manages to stay fairly faithful to the book but, in a desire to manage this, everything moves quite quickly. It gets pretty confusing and there are some liberties that are taken to ensure that some sort of narrative structure exists. Things don’t naturally fit into place and there are several awkward moments that are intended for the sole purpose of holding things together. It’s a tad messy and could easily have been fixed with a bit of careful editing.

There are plenty of star studded cameos throughout the film with supporting characters popping up to play their small part in Tristan and Yvaine’s epic journey. It is an inspired cast but some of these moments just feel unnecessary or uncomfortable. By far the best and the worst is Robert DeNiro as Captain Shakespeare, the man in charge of an airship that farms lightening. Though he has the reputation of a fearsome pirate, Captain Shakespeare is a campy relic that should have been left in the 70s. As fun as DeNiro is in the role his performance just feels a bit like an outdated relic.

Aside from that we have turns from fantastic British comedians and comedy actors which work in varying degrees. The ghosts of the the Kings dead sons, all of whom have fallen in the family tradition of brother killing brother in the race for succession, just about work as they hang around like Hamlet Snr. and weigh in on their siblings failures. Ricky Gervais’ time on screen just seems like a desperate attempt to let him be the same character he always plays. I could have done without it. Ultimately, it feels as though the sheer number of famous faces is a bit of a gimmick and it just adds to the already complicated nature of the film.

It tries desperately to let the narrative survive but it comes at the expense of good storytelling. There are obvious comparisons to The Princess Bride and the work of Terry Gilliam but Stardust neither has the original of Gilliam nor the heart and soul of Rob Reiner’s great romantic adventure. Stardust is a sweet and perfectly enjoyable film. There are some great moments and, thanks to Pfeiffer and Mark Strong, couple of incredible villains to amp up the tension. However, it loses itself in the scope of what it is trying to achieve. It’s trying to be a bit of every genre it can think of and it tries to flit between drama and comedy without any real thought. It’s silly but neither it’s not quite silly enough. It’s scary but not quite scary enough. It’s romantic but not quite romantic enough… oh, you get the idea. It’s not a bad film. It’s just not a great one either. I mean, it’s not a great sign when the thing I love most about this film is the Take That song that plays over the credits.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

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.