Category Archives: Thriller

Kingsman: The Secret Service

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Director Matthew Vaughn has a very accomplished track record; Kick-Ass is a breath of fresh air amid the abundance of Marvel superhero flicks, X-Men: First Class is a hugely entertaining romp that serves as the franchise’s finest, and Stardust, despite being rarely mentioned, is a competent and non-formulaic addition to the fantasy genre. You can imagine my disappointment, then, at Kingsman: The Secret Service, a spy caper devoid of any heart or wit that we have come to expect of the director.

The flick follows ‘Eggsy’ (Taron Egerton), a low-life, criminal that is taken in by Harry Hart (Colin Firth), to attempt to gain a place in the ranks of the titular Kingsmen, via a series of testing, if superfluous trials. From there, it’s a bonkers (and for me, too ridiculous to stomach) third-act to defeat the menacing Valentine, a character annoyingly played with a lisp and without charm by Samuel L Jackson. Incorporated into its convoluted plot, we have a mad, violent killing spree in a church, a mission to shoot a missile-launcher at a satellite after being sent into the Earth’s atmosphere via pressurised balloons, and a unique fireworks display that involves mass genocide – including President Obama, himself. Sounds farcical and preposterous, doesn’t it? That’s because it is.

Sadly, Kingsman: The Secret Service is an amalgamation of contradictions. Its a spoof on the recent gritty Bond capers, but begs to be taken seriously. Amid its story overstuffed with chaos are scenes that should carry weight, or shock, or any emotion whatsoever. All the emotional heft is lost due to the frantic fiasco occurring on screen. Yes, the film is violent and destructive, but despite its plot that threatens to congest, it’s an empty film, where character development – or even the care to structure characters realistically in any way – are sacrificed for full-on mayhem. Its third act amps up the inane tenfold, resulting in an unbalanced mess.

Where the violence worked for Vaughn’s previous effort, Kick-Ass, it falters and stumbles magnificently here; there is always a looming sense of seriousness and tension involved with Kick-Ass, where scenes carry an overbearing sense of danger. In Kingsman, it’s incredibly difficult to be invested in the plight of the characters when henchmen often less than a foot away cannot aim at the protagonist. The mindless violence is shocking and chaotic for the sake of being shocking and chaotic – any depth that the film has is replaced with unrelenting tedium. Amid this influx of violence are actual, genuine, plot points, but the script seems to have decided that incoherent coincidences should decide which way the plot turns; the decision proving beneficial to the protagonist and antagonist in equal measures, but at the expense of fluidity.

And while the film has been critically commended for originality, it is unable to escape condescending stereotypes of the lower-class. It seems as if Matthew Vaughn took all the different exaggerated tropes of a lower-class Brit family and concocted them into a thinly-scripted and one-dimensional set of characters. Nor can the film come up with decent character motivation for its antagonist, settling for an incentive that can only be described as cliche.

In terms of acting, it’s a mixed bag. Aside from a horribly miscast Mark Strong that looks thoroughly hapless throughout the flick, and Samuel L Jackson’s confusing attempt to convey a mixture of Blofield and Rain Man, the cast is largely competent. Taron Egerton is charming and assured, Colin Firth is refreshingly energetic as Hart, and both Sofia Boutella and Sophie Cookson play their strong female characters (which is always a welcome sight) with aplomb.

Yes, Kingsman is undeniably entertaining in short bursts – a skydive without a parachute and the now-infamous church scene set to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Free Bird’ is a joyous, if unfulfilling romp. Sadly, its entertainment value cannot make up for a strained plot, wooden characters, and a frustrating script. And to top it all off, Kingsman is not nearly as funny as it thinks it is; most of its jokes fall flat – a huge surprise when looking at the director’s credentials. Unfortunately, Kingsman: The Secret Service, much like its final pre-credits scene, is ugly, hugely disappointing, and lacking in any subtlety.

– Gus Edgar

Nightcrawler

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“What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them? What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you?”

Lou Bloom, a hungry, sociopathic freelance crime cameraman played by the magnificent Jake Gyllenhaal is deeply unsettling. He’s a man on a mission; hell-bent on growing his ‘company’, he takes to the LA streets and hires a lowly intern (Riz Ahmed) to assist him in Lou’s endeavours to make as much money as possible by capturing horrific incidents. Yet as the film continues, Lou’s progression into insanity and lust for power showcases himself as the true horror…

This is Jake Gyllenhaal’s best performance of his career to date. With a mixture of Bale’s Bateman (American Psycho), Damon’s Ripley (The Talented Mr. Ripley)  and Robert De Niro’s Pupkin (The King of Comedy), Gyllenhaal is downright terrifying and virtually unrecognisable, playing his character with such menace that it’s easy to forget he’s acting. While Gyllenhaal faces stiff competition in this year’s Oscars race, he does more than enough to earn a nomination; whether the Academy recognise his performance is another matter entirely. Losing 13kg of weight for his role, Lou Bloom looks hungry both figuratively and literally; an unnerving presence on screen that imposes himself in every single shot. With the film focused on Gyllenhaal, it is easy to disregard the additionally stellar performances of Nightcrawler’s supporting cast; namely Riz Ahmed as Rick, whom Lou hires, and Rene Russo as Nina, a television news producer that befriends and inevitably gets out of her depth with Lou. Riz Ahmed is brilliantly hapless as Rick, where the final 30 minutes establishes himself as a sympathetic pushover that struggles to stand up for himself when Lou manipulates. Similarly, Rene Russo makes a welcome comeback as a hardened, occasionally-despicable character that bears many parallels with Lou (though at times this point is enforced rather too heavy-handedly).

Aesthetically, Nightcrawler is a beautiful film. With stunning scenery, dark, brooding cinematography and an impressive method of shooting each car chase from first-time director Dan Gilroy, the LA streets and landscape haven’t looked this impressive since Nicolas Winding-Refn’s Drive. And in terms of pacing, Nightcrawler ticks the boxes as it slowly descends from one act to an increasingly despicable other, crescendoing into a tense, fascinating, brilliantly-edited final 20 minutes that keep your eyes fixated on the screen. Nightcrawler is intense, disconcerting and progressively insane, but is not without its faults.

The main problem of Nightcrawler lies within the writing of Jake Gyllenhaal’s monstrosity of a character. It’s desperately difficult to conform to director Gilroy’s intentions and root for Gyllenhaal’s anti-hero when he does nothing to earn the audience’s sympathy. Without a backstory or reasoning behind the character’s actions, any empathy for him diminishes. Scenes early on in the film, such as when he’s disappointingly rejected a job, do nothing when the audience are aware beforehand of how evil a character Lou Bloom is by the film’s opening scene. Can we really support the character’s endeavours when he’s so detestable and unlikable? I found that a difficult concept to wrap my head around.

As a thriller, Nightcrawler works brilliantly. As a satire of media, it struggles; incredibly stubborn in the point it’s trying to make, Nightcrawler flounders due to the fact that the character epitomises everything wrong with the media’s lust for news is so inhumane, detracting from the film’s argument.

Yet despite Nightcrawler’s failures, it hardly burdens a fantastically-crafted story with a terrific performance from Gyllenhaal and a gripping finale that serves as one of the year’s best scenes. It may enforce its points a little too strongly, but the film is nevertheless an exciting, enjoyable flick that gives great momentum to both Gyllenhaal’s and its director, Dan Gilroy’s careers.

– Gus Edgar

The Maze Runner

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YA (Young Adult) flicks are going through a rather turgid time currently; Divergent‘s mediocre reviews and the similar reaction to The Giver is earning the profitable genre a bad reputation. And, presently, that’s what the genre represents: an easy way to churn out bog-standard productions and earn dosh following the startling success of 2012’s The Hunger Games. The Maze Runner is just another run-of-the-mill adaptation from a mildly popular YA novel in order to generate plenty of cash, right? Er, no actually. I’d go as far as to say that The Maze Runner is the best YA film in recent years, shadowing the might of even The Hunger Games.

The quality of The Maze Runner lies within the fact that it chooses not to conform to the stereotypes of the YA genre. It’s incredibly refreshing to watch a YA flick without worrying about distracting love triangles, numerous extravagant settings and an easygoing tone that doesn’t quite fit with the material and messages it attempts to send. No, The Maze Runner sets itself apart from its competition – and it would no doubt be receiving much better review if it were not for the negative connotations that its genre has garnered over time.

The plot is deceivingly simple at first – a teenager (Dylan O’Brien) find himself dazedly placed in a maze where other teenagers like him reside, in the same situation. They are trapped in a box – known as The Glade, where an impressive and colossal maze surrounds them, preventing their escape unless they find a seemingly non-existent exit. Here, disputes occur and tension rises, toppling over as the only girl is introduced into the fray (Kaya Scodelairo). As the walls to the maze then refuse to close, the terrible inhabitants of the maze known as Grievers come out to play…

Basically, think a modern version of Lord of the Flies.

One of the film’s greatest strengths is the tone and mood it creates; there is an overbearing sense of urgency, which comes across fantastically to the audience. While many YA flicks don’t encapsulate the looming, dread-foreshadowing tone that may be more suited to their source material (instead resorting to cheap jokes or melodramatic romance), The Maze Runner captures this perfectly. Scenes such as the sprint to escape the closing walls of the maze, and the introduction to the hideous Grievers, are incredibly tense and increasingly stressful (and enjoyable) to watch. The Maze Runner takes itself very seriously, and while that approach has been misused in recent history (Man of Steel comes to mind immediately), it’s masterfully used here to squeeze the largest amount of intensity out of the film as it can muster. Yet while the film is gripping, it’s also contemplative and intriguing, where many loose strands that the plot begins with urges the audience to remain focused.

Another impressive aspect of The Maze Runner is the acting of the main characters. Dylan O’Brien plays both the confused and the increasingly-confident hero extremely well, where his understated performance contains exactly the right amount of both bravado and pretense at knowing how to deal with the situation he’s in. Will Poulter, hot off last year’s BAFTA Rising Star Award, plays fellow trapped teenager Gally with a bullish confidence, his antagonistic intentions contradicted by his good intentions. While he may serve as the antithesis to O’Brien’s protagonist, his performance is both sympathetic and easy to relate to. Thomas Brodie-Sangster (He’s 24! 24!) plays second-in-command Newt with subtle kindness, acted out well enough but mainly used for expositional purposes. Similarly impressive is relative newcome Ki Long-Hee, who plays the main action figure of the film, Minho. His performance carries an air of competence and physicality, a facade that protects his feelings of helplessness towards the situation he finds himself in.

Less impressive is the supporting cast, where the line deliverance is robotic and devoid of any empathy. It’s a compliment to the main cast’s acting (or inversely, an insult to the supporting cast’s) that their performance is so prominent in how lifeless they are. And while the plot is simple, it unravels rather quickly into many loose strands, where only a small amount are tied up (of course, there is 2015’s sequel to look forward to). Finally, despite the stunning CGI, where the maze in particular looks epic both aesthetically and in scale, there are a few short moments where the effects are clear and obvious, though that shouldn’t detract from the film too much.

One of the film’s main criticisms stems from its ending, and how anti-climatic and nonsensical it seems. Of course, the fact that the film is merely the first of a trilogy is neglected, where critics are too hasty in their distaste of the amount of questions the film leaves open by the end of its running time. In terms of its underwhelming nature, it’s representative of its refusal to abide to the YA stereotypes, instead choosing to end on a sombre, intriguing note that will give the audience goosebumps. The Maze Runner is a refreshingly intense, gripping and unique movie experience that will have the audience salivating for more.

– Gus Edgar