“Kingsman: The Secret Service”
After proving that he could go the straight superhero route with great success in “X-Men: First Class,” Matthew Vaughn returns to the mixture of humor and mayhem that made “Kick-Ass” such a blast with “Kingsman: The Secret Service” (wide release). Unhappily, he does not get the balance quite right this time around.
In terms of genre, the movie — based on a comic book — might be called “Teen Bond.” It revolves around a lower-class English kid nicknamed Eggsy who is recruited for an ultra-secret, independent group of sartorially natty superspies called the Kingsmen by dapper, debonair Harry Hart, aka Galahad (Colin Firth), who is determined to break the aristocratic hold on the organization. Eggsy’s training is juxtaposed with Hart’s effort to sabotage the schemes of a flamboyant telecommunications mogul (Samuel L. Jackson) who has a dastardly plan to save the planet from humanity’s abuse of earth’s resources.
Firth, playing against type, is the perfect embodiment of the old school British agent, and though his lisping act gets tired by the end, Jackson has a ball as the maniacally high-minded bad guy. For an hour or so the lighthearted stylishness of the movie is disarming.
Unfortunately, at roughly the halfway point “Kingsman” turns disturbingly dark and violent with a long, savage sequence of mass violence in a church, much of it done in bloody slow-motion, and it never fully recovers, despite a big, action-packed finale. There is so much good stuff in Vaughn’s picture that it is a pity that in the end he does not pull off his “Kick-Ass” trick a second time.
Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner” has been in theaters for a while, and is now showing only at the Prestonwood Look Cinema in North Dallas. However, anyone interested in art should seek out this extraordinary biographical portrait of J.M.W. Turner, the English painter whose later work, with its emphasis on light and shadow, was a precursor of impressionism unappreciated in its day.
Timothy Spall is remarkable as Turner, presented as a man of no social graces entirely obsessed with his very personal vision of things. The care with which Leigh and his crew have recreated the period is equally admirable.
And the fact that the film was fashioned in the writer-director’s idiosyncratic way — through extended improvisations by actors who had steeped themselves in research on their characters, from which Leigh then wrote the finished script — makes the achievement all the more astonishing.
“Mr. Turner” is quite simply one of the best films about the creative process ever made.
“Song of the Sea”
Connoisseurs of superb 2-D animation will embrace “Song of the Sea” (Angelika), another visually entrancing feature from Irish studio Cartoon Saloon and its chief auteur, Tomm Moore, whose mesmerizing “The Secret of Kells” was a medieval adventure tale centered on the fabulous Irish manuscript from that monastery.
The plot of this follow-up, derived from Celtic folklore, concerns the race of selkies, seals that shed their skin and walk on earth in human form. In Moore’s story a selkie has wed a lighthouse keeper and borne him two children, but returns to the sea after the birth of their infant daughter.
Years later, older brother Ben must help his sister find her voice and liberate the underwater realm to which their mother belongs from the grip of magic that has robbed it of emotion. The mission takes the children to the keep of a witch responsible for the spell, who threatens the girl’s spirit as well.
Filled with astonishing images accompanied by a lovely Celtic music score, “Song of the Sea” is also an emotionally rich fable that treats loss, grief, responsibility and rebirth in a mature yet touching way. It makes most examples of Hollywood animation look positively slapdash and vacuous by comparison.
“Fifty Shades of Grey”
“Fifty Shades of Grey” (wide release) is a tame, tepid and unrelievedly tedious adaptation of E.L. James’ unaccountably successful novel about a young woman tempted by a handsome billionaire’s invitation to enter his S&M world.
By all accounts the book was atrociously written. By contrast the film is a thoroughly professional job from a purely technical standpoint, boasting classy production values and glossy, if inordinately monochromatic, cinematography.
But the narrative lacks the slightest hint of psychological depth, with characters who are barely sketched in, let alone fully fleshed out, and the constant banality of the dialogue challenges one to keep from laughing. Yet except for a few instances of rather lame humor, the whole thing is played in deadly earnest, and the acting is uniformly atrocious.
There may be fifty shades of grey here, but every one of them is drab.