Saturday, February 21, 2015

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service: A Bloody Good Time

It's fair to say that James Bond is the staple of the secret agent spy genre.  It's a franchise that's been going for over fifty years.  Since then, there have been several different variations to the spy genre, several homages to the Bond/spy genre, and several parodies of the genre.  Somehow, Kingsman is a combination of all three.  It takes the already established spy genre (in an almost entirely meta fashion) and tweaked it to fit it's own story.  Then, while doing so, it is able to pay homage to the classic Bond films as well as parody all of them collectively.  The result ends up being a fast-paced, yet never unsophisticated, hilarious action romp that delivers on nearly every beat it serves.  It's fun and wildly entertaining... and that's all you can ask for when searching for a good secret agent spy film.

Based on a comic book, or graphic novel, I don't really remember or care because it's still infuriating that Hollywood is now essentially refusing to release original scripts anymore so everything has to be based on something else.  Whatever.  It's source material had pictures... I think.  Anyway, the Kingsmen are a secret spy organization based in the deepest catacombs of England.  They work on their own in the utmost secret having little to no government affliliation and are essentially modern day Knights of the round table.  Enter Galahad (Colin Firth) the top agent looking to recruit a new agent into the Kingsman to replace a fallen spy.  He chooses Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the son of a fallen spy who, 17 years prior, saved the life of Sir Galahad.  Eggsy is a troubled teen, always in trouble with the law, who still has a good heart and a likable persona.  Galahad sees potential in him and recommends him to the Kingsman society.  Most of the film is him training with other recruits in order to get the coveted position.  During the training, billionaire genius Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) is up to something sinister, but not yet explained.  However, it's apparent that some wild shit is going to go down.  Now, without spoiling anything... yes, shit happens.  And yes... Eggsy and Galahad are involved.  But, why spoil all the fun here?  It's a blast to watch.

The best part about Kingsman is how balls out it goes.  Helmed by director Matthew Vaughn whose prior films include X-Men: First Class and Kick-Ass... this is not uncharted territory for him.  He has a style all his own and when he's free to let loose and spill as much blood as possible is when his films succeed.  Kick-Ass never would've worked as a PG-13 vehicle.  It was glorious watching a 12-year-old girl spurting heinous profanity and dismembering countless bad guys.  The same works here for Kingsman.  Yeah, it isn't nearly as graphic as Kick-Ass, but the two scenes where Vaughn channels his inner 16-year-old thirst for onscreen blood is where the movie hits its peak of fun.  It's bloody.  Oh, is it bloody.  And graphic.  And choreographed to perfection.  Those who are squeamish may want to get some more popcorn, but those who can take it are in for a treat.

Colin Firth, as always, is the most fun to watch.  He's able to bring a sophistication to the Kingsman that makes Bond even look like a hooligan.  Samuel L. Jackson is also quite good-- though the character is a little strange.  He's a madman... with a lisp (which, I'll admit, does nothing to the character, but if you can get past it, it's not so bad)... who is squeamish at the sight of blood and death.  But, it's Taron Egerton as Eggsy that really steals the show.  I'm unfamiliar with his prior work, but he's brings a troubled charm to the character that really allows the audience to sympathize with him instead become ambivalent.

There's always a red flag when a film which was supposed to come out in summer is pushed back to the next year's winter line up.  This is usually due to poor test screenings leading to substantial reshoots that do absolutely nothing to improve the quality of the overly shitty film (I'm looking right at you Seventh Son).  However, thankfully, this is not the case for Kingsman.  As far as I can tell it was pushed back to winter so that it wouldn't have to compete with the blockbuster movies of summer and have the ability to own the winter weekend when nothing but complete trash is posted on the marquee (this absolutely includes 50 Shades of Grey).  So, if you haven't been to the movies in awhile... which I'm sure is the case because there's nothing worth watching right now... this is the film to break that streak.  It's fun.  It's funny in a very tongue-in-cheek kind of way.  It's action-packed.  It's got great characters, a great story, and everything you could want to be entertained for a solid two hours.  I thoroughly enjoyed this film.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Big Peck's Cineflex Awards Edition III: Oscar Winner Predictions

So, last year I had much better luck on predicting the winners.  This is something that I'm not necessarily proud of because this means that the Academy has become that predictable.  I want to be surprised.  I want to expect the period piece drama to win and then the comedy or the horror or the low-budget, yet quirky indie movie to come out on top.  I hate the predictability that has become the Oscars.  However, this year... while the nominations were standard and not incredibly surprising... the winners of most of the categories are actually pretty hard to choose.  So, I'm going to do my best to pick what I think the old farts are going to pick for their favorites this year.

Best Picture:

American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

What's cool about this year is that nearly every movie nominated for Best Picture deserves to be up there.  Last year, there were some good ones and some very obvious ones, but nothing (other than Wolf of Wall Street) really stood out as a movie that would last for years to come.  This year is a different story.  There are so many good movies, so many underrated and under-seen films this year that it's honestly hard to tell what's going to win.  Seven of the eight movies could win and I wouldn't be upset with it at all.  The eighth, however,   The Theory of Everything, does NOT deserve to be among this list.  That spot should've been given to Nightcrawler.  I don't necessarily think it would've won, nor do I think Theory is going to win... but it was much more deserved than the film that took its spot.

What's Going To Win: Birdman...or...Boyhood...Um...yeah...Birdman
What Should Win: Birdman or Boyhood or Whiplash or Selma or Grand Budapest

This one is going to be tough.  It's about predicting what I think the old farts in the Academy building will select as Best Picture and not what I believe the Best Picture Winner should be.  However, hopefully that will be the same.  Birdman was my favorite film of the nominations followed very closely by Whiplash and Selma.  However, it's not a guarantee to win Best Picture.  Boyhood was gaining steam in the BP department and even won the Golden Globe.  But, Birdman has essentially won everything else.  In the past eleven years, whichever movie wins the Producer's Guild Awards for Best Picture is essentially a lock for BP.  Birdman has officially done that.  But, remember who the Academy are.  They are more likely to take a very small indie film that had a substantial story behind the movie-- the twelve years it took to film it-- and it looks like the more obvious choice.  I'm looking at history here, and of course, a little bias, but I'm going with Birdman this time around.

Best Actor:

Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)
Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

Again, any of these guys could win the Gold and I would be fine with it, but there's still someone missing.  Yeah, it's Jake Gyllenhaal.  Never did I think I'd be picketing for JG to get an Oscar.  It wasn't until Nightcrawler that I saw something truly remarkable from the kid.  I don't understand what the Academy's recent hard-on for Bradley Cooper is, but he was fine in American Sniper... but JG kicked his acting ass.  He should've been in there over Cooper.

Who's Going To Win: Michael Keaton
Who Should Win: Michael Keaton

This category is just as difficult to predict as Best Picture because it comes down to two guys, not just one.  You've got Keaton, a Hollywood staple that everyone loved, who dropped out of the limelight for years only to make a triumphant return in an amazing film while delivering a performance we haven't seen from him... maybe ever.  Then, there's the bio pic kid-- Eddie Redmayne.  I don't want to take anything away from Redmayne, he was beyond incredible in The Theory of Everything, and he's the reason that movie is even watchable.  The way he had to transform every piece of himself to become Stephen Hawking is jaw-dropping.  He could easily take the gold... and, again, these old geezers in Hollywood that vote for this category eat bio pics up.  But, they also love a good comeback.  I think Keaton's got the edge on this one.

Best Actress:

Marion Cotillard (Two Days One Night)
Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

It's nice to see Rosamund Pike get a nomination for Gone Girl even though it was my favorite movie of the year (which actually now might be second favorite to Whiplash... don't quote me on this shit... I'm a fickle critic).  But the rest... well, not to take anything away from these extraordinary actresses... but I'm not sure anyone actually cares who wins this one.

Who's Going To Win: Julianne Moore
Who Should Win: Reese Witherspoon

This is also a little bit biased because I haven't actually seen Still Alice and I actually have zero desire to watch it.  Watching someone, a linguistics teacher no less, begin to start losing themselves slowly to Alzheimer's is not exactly my idea of a good time.  I've seen the trailer a few times and Moore looks pretty good in it, and I've read that she's actually marvelous, but I actually saw Wild and let me tell you Reese Witherspoon's performance is something to behold.  Moore probably deserves it, but from what I saw from RW... man, that would be cool if she got some recognition for it.

Best Supporting Actor:

Robert Duvall (The Judge)
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
Edward Norton (Birdman)
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Robert Duvall may be my favorite actor on that list and who knows how much time he's got left being one of the most underrated actors of many generations.  I love that man and I tip my hat to the Academy for recognizing him in a role he deserved to be recognized for.  Give that man all the awards to everything.  He's one of my favorites truly.  But......... yeah, he's not going to win.

Who's Going To Win: J.K. Simmons
Who Should Win: J.K. Simmons

Yeah, hands down, no question is J.K. Simmons going to win this year.  And good for him.  He's another under-appreciated actor in Hollywood who was relegated to character acting, quirky fathers, and insurance commercials.  Not until Whiplash did we get to see the reason J.K. Simmons is actually employed on a regular basis in Hollywood.  There's no one else on this list that even stands a chance.  And if you still haven't seen Whiplash then you don't know why I'm claiming this as a 100% lock to win, but those of you who have... you probably haven't even read this far because you're already in agreement with me... you don't even need an explanation.

Best Supporting Actress:

Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Laura Dern (Wild)
Kiera Knightley (The Imitation Game)
Emma Stone (Birdman)
Meryl Streep (Into The Woods)

Hey, look everyone, it's the annual obligatory Meryl Streep nomination.  Don't get me wrong here, I love everything about Meryl Streep, but Jesus, can we help anyone else out the way we help out Meryl???  To me, actually, the supporting actress category isn't all that hard to figure out and it isn't all that impressive, either.  I mean, Kiera Knightley?  Really?  She wasn't bad in her role, she just didn't... do... anything in the movie.  Laura Dern... yeah, she cries a little and dies a little... but anyone could've done it.  I'm actually pretty happy to see Emma Stone on the list.  She was a little spark plug in Birdman and it's about time she's getting noticed.

Who's Going To Win: Patricia Arquette
Who Should Win: Uh.... Patricia Arquette?

I mean, yeah, sure she was good and giving twelve years of your life to one project is a lot of effort most people wouldn't put into something, but she did.  It's just that while watching Boyhood I never stepped back and went, "damn! Patricia Arquette is killing it!"  She was good, but she's got that high pitched whiny voice like someone still hasn't told her that she's a legit actress people pay money to see.  So, I don't know...  I mean, she was good... I guess she should win... Not a real strong year for supporting actresses I suppose.  God, you guys think I'm a total douche misogynist don't you?  Get your own blog and bitch about it.

Best Director:

Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Alejandro G. Inarritu (Birdman)
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)
Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

Fuck you Academy.  Fuck you so hard for this.  This is some really messed up shit you pulled with the director category here.  You're going to purposefully and knowingly NOT nominate Ava DuVernay for Selma even though you have it nominated for Best Picture, but instead give it to Bennett freaking Miller whose movie ISN'T EVEN NOMINATED FOR BEST PICTURE!!!  That is some cold shit, Academy.  Like, unforgivable shit.

Who's Going To Win: Richard Linklater
Who Should Win: Richard Linklater

My instinct tells me that I should go with Inarritu because of the ambition he had when filming Birdman as one continuous shot... but Linklater saw that ambition and raised it eleven extra years.  What Linklater did was stunning.  He committed to a twelve year project, never letting it fade out and put together a comprehensive and amazing film.  He had to constantly re-write the script, be constantly updating the times of this boy to when he was filming.  The number of ways he should've failed is exponential, but instead he actually filmed a boy growing up and it had something to say.  Like Birdman, Boyhood was not a novelty of a film and either director could win it... Linklater should.

Best Animated Feature:

Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How To Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of Princess Kaguya

You stabbed me in the back with the DuVernay snub, Academy, but you're twisting it so much by completely freaking ignoring The Lego Movie.  Are you serious??  I don't care what kind of weird japanese anime crap film you thought was bold and beautiful... there's no way either of the two last movies were as close to as funny or as poignant as The Lego Movie.  I'm starting to think you guys are just dicks.

What's Going To Win: How To Train Your Dragon 2
What Should Win: The Lego Movie

Who cares?  It's not The Lego Movie.

Other Predictions:

Best Original Screenplay:
What's Going To Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
What Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Adapted Screenplay:
What's Going To Win: Whiplash
What Should Win: Whiplash

How Many Categories I'm Going To Pick Correctly:
I'm Going To Get: 3/9
How Many I Should Get: 9/9


While it didn't feel like an overly extraordinary year for film, the movies and performances recognized for the best in their field is certainly much better.  Save for neglecting Nightcrawler, The LEGO Movie, Gone Girl, and Ava DuVernay (you racist bastards!) it's a pretty exciting year for film awards.  At least, unlike the last few years, there aren't as many bland movies.  They're movies that folks actually want to talk about that actually mean something and have something to say.  The last few years have been a bunch of The Theory of Everything's and it's been kinda boring to watch the obvious choices to win.  I know the picks here are still a little obvious (I mean, clearly, Grand Budapest isn't going to just sneak by and win Best Picture), but at least there's still a little excitement when it comes to which two of the list are going to win the battle... or is it the war?  Eh... go watch The LEGO Movie... or Whiplash.    

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Whiplash: Full Metal Drums

Whiplash is a phenomenal film.  That's it.  That's the review.  So, now, you can stop reading, find out if it's playing anywhere near you, get out to a theater and see this movie.  It's brilliant.  Convinced yet?  Go!  Get out.

Okay, now that we've gotten rid of the stragglers who are behind on seeing the movie, we can talk about it.  How great was Whiplash?  What an unexpected surprise being able to watch a movie in January or February that wasn't pure garbage.  It is a character driven movie, but it is so well directed that it comes as close to a perfect film as one could ask for, especially around awards season.  I especially loved Birdman and Selma, but if Whiplash somehow rose from the darkness to take the Best Picture gold, I would fine with that too.  I don't know how many of you felt this way before, but when I saw the trailer for Whiplash months ago, I though it looked like boring indie crap.  I really like JK Simmons, but I'm especially adverse to Miles Teller.  I've seen the dude in two movies (Project X and 21 and Over) and he seems like an Apatow-reject wannabe.  True, I haven't yet seen The Spectacular Now, but I have seen the preview for That Awkward Moment which only solidified my dislike for him as an actor.  However, now that I've seen Whiplash, I may have a newfound respect for the kid.  What I'm trying to say is that Whiplash is a powerhouse of a film that everyone and anyone should see.  It's that good.

Whiplash, for those who aren't privy yet, tells the story of Andrew (Teller) a first year music major at Shaffer Conservatory Music school, the top music school in the country.  Terence Fletcher (Simmons), the head of the studio band (the top tier class at the school) discovers Andrew and invites him to sit second chair in his band class, to which Andrew graciously accepts.  He's aware that if he succeeds in this class he will be what he aspires to be above anything else: the greatest drummer there ever was.  While in Fletcher's class, Andrew, as well as the rest of the students are physically and emotionally abused in order to be pushed beyond their limits as musicians.  He slings insults and profanity at the students quicker, wittier, and faster than the Drill Sargent in Full Metal Jacket.  He's a mean son-of-a-bitch that truly believes he can make someone the best if he forces them to reach far beyond their grasp... but it's not exactly effective.  The rest of the film plays out as a battle of student vs. teacher, good vs. evil... sort of.  I won't ruin it for those who have yet to see it, but the end is something magnificent that is truly groundbreaking in film.

It's not exactly a happy film either.  No one is happy in it.  Andrew strives so hard to be the best that he ostracizes everyone around him.  He has no friends, he's lost his girlfriend, and he practices so hard to impress his teacher that he drums his hands bloody every night.  His father, played by the very underrated Paul Reiser is a very simple character and works as a foil to Andrew's dream and eventual self-destruction.  His father is a simple man who enjoys being a high school teacher and going to the movies every week with his son.  He's the simplicity of America that Andrew strives to be above.  There's hardly any humanity in Fletcher whatsoever, and even when there are glimmers of humanity in him, you find yourself wondering if they're genuine or not.  The film is a discussion on what it takes to be the best at something.  Is being the best worth selling your soul to the Devil?  Andrew somewhat answers this question.

The true praise of the film goes absolutely to JK Simmons who delivers one of those performances that will stand the test of time.  It's a performance that will be remembered and compared to for years to come.  He's absolutely brilliant as the menacing Fletcher.  He's got a aura of grim reaper surrounding his appearance, the veins in his head burst out during his diatribes, and he could be considered as one of the most devilishly evil characters in film... like Nurse Ratchet evil... it's not as apparent as most movie villains... it's a subtle evil that takes time to flesh out.  Miles Teller shows that after a few terrible films, the kid actually has acting chops.  You root for him, but you're not entirely sure if you should.  You enjoy every scene of Simmons chewing out his students because you're waiting to see what crazy shit will come out of his mouth and at the same time you're terrified of him.  He's the perfect balance of subtle and crazy that makes him a very complex and brilliant character, as well as an actor.  If he doesn't win the Best Supporting Actor award (which he will) it will be a disservice to film and acting in general.

The movie will be out to rent or purchase in the next couple of weeks.  See it as soon as you can because this is one movie that is not to be missed.