Rocketman review

ROCKETMAN

Director: Dexter Fletcher
Cast : Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Stephen Graham, Gemma Jones, Charlie Rowe, Steven Mackintosh
Genre : Biography/Fantasy/Musical
Run Time : 2 h 1 mins
Opens : 13 June 2019
Rating : R21

           After Bohemian Rhapsody took home multiple Oscars, including one for Best Picture, all eyes were on the next high-profile rock star biopic on the slate, Rocketman. The film tells the story of one Sir Elton John, offering up a flight of fancy rather than a grounded documentary-style take, and is all the better for it.

Elton John (Taron Egerton, Kit Connor and Matthew Illesley at different ages), born Reginald Dwight, was raised in suburban 1950s England by his indifferent mother Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard) and his kindly grandmother Ivy (Gemma Jones). Reggie, as he is known, doesn’t have much of a relationship with his father Stanley (Steven Mackintosh), who serves in the Royal Air Force.

The film tracks young Reggie’s journey from his time as a student in the Royal Academy of Music to his gigs playing in a backing band for touring American jazz musicians. Reggie changes his name to ‘Elton John’, and is signed on to a music publishing company as a songwriter. Soon afterwards, he is introduced to lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), who will go on to become a long-time collaborator. Elton attains stratospheric success after a stunning American debut, but his personal life is in shambles. He is approached by music manager John Reid (Richard Madden) who pursues a relationship with him, but Elton finds little fulfilment, eventually becoming addicted to alcohol and drugs. It is up to Elton and those who care for him to turn his life around and ensure his talent doesn’t go to waste.

The rock star redemption tale told in Rocketman is a familiar one, and it hits all the beats one would expect: the initial struggle to get noticed, the breakthrough, a rocky personal life with relationship problems and substance abuse, and then a triumphant comeback. However, Rocketman turns this sense of familiarity into a strength, and benefits from its fantastical approach. Instead of being a staid biopic, the film is punctuated with fantasy sequences and musical numbers, and that’s where it’s able to become more than the sum of its parts.

While there are moments of Rocketman that are necessarily dark, director Dexter Fletcher infuses the whole movie with an unmistakable, almost childlike joy. Fletcher took over from Bryan Singer as director of Bohemian Rhapsody and being able to see the development of Rocketman from the ground up allows him to put more of his stamp on this movie. The film’s use of music and its placement of songs is impeccable. Because of the fantasy element, it’s not tied down to a strict timeline, allowing songs that were written later to appear earlier in the story. For example, “I Want Love” becomes a song about Elton’s childhood, and the yearnings of each member of his family.

Elton John is known for being outlandish and over the top, and the film embraces that while always emphasising his humanity. The film is produced by John himself and his husband David Furnish, and there was every danger that it could feel like a self-aggrandizing vanity project, but it’s clear that Elton John has a sense of humour. The film is an invitation to look at his life through his eyes, and while artistic license has been taken, there’s a moving honesty that flows through the movie.

At one point, Justin Timberlake was rumoured to be the frontrunner for the lead role, with Tom Hardy later attached to the part. Taron Egerton more than proves he was the right choice for the role. The Kingsman star showcases an impressive singing voice and inhabiting both the swagger and the secret insecurity that is key to bringing a part like this to life. In both his singing and mannerisms, Egerton doesn’t do a mere imitation of John and constantly seems dedicated to portraying all the facets of the singer, beyond the ones the public is familiar with.

Some of the film’s best moments are in its depiction of the friendship between John and Bernie Taupin. Jamie Bell’s portrayal of Taupin is sweet, earnest and withdrawn: John is the one in the limelight, with Taupin remaining behind the scenes, but there’s no denying the significance of his contribution to John’s music. The scene in which the two first meet and bond over their love of the country song “Streets of Laredo” is genuinely heart-warming, and the depiction of their major falling out is equally heart-breaking. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is reimagined as a duet between John and Taupin and is one of the film’s most effective emotional beats.

Rocketman doesn’t purport to be a balanced take on events, it purports to be John’s take on them. As such, several characters are portrayed as one-dimensionally nasty. Both of his parents come out of this looking bad, and Bryce Dallas Howard has fun with the role of John’s uncaring mother. One almost wants to reach into the screen and shake her, yelling “your son deserves your love!”

Richard Madden is supremely slimy as John Reid, who is depicted as heartless, manipulative and promiscuous. The same character also appeared in Bohemian Rhapsody, played in that film by Aidan Gillen. It is in the portrayal of Reid as an outright cartoon supervillain that Rocketman runs the risk of having its credibility questioned, but the movie has a built-in defence of all this being from John’s point of view.

Rocketman ends relatively early in John’s career, so events like John’s friendship with Princess Diana and his writing music for The Lion King are not shown – perhaps there might be room for a sequel. There are moments of Rocketman that are awkward and cheesy, but thanks to Fletcher’s palpable love for John’s music and Egerton’s stirring performance, its charm is irresistible. It’s a movie that tells John’s truth in the purest way, cheesiness and all.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Robin Hood (2018) review

ROBIN HOOD

Director : Otto Bathurst
Cast : Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Eve Hewson, Ben Mendelsohn, Tim Minchin, Jamie Dornan, F. Murray Abraham, Paul Anderson
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 116 mins
Opens : 29 November 2018
Rating : PG13

Robin Hood may steal from the rich to give to the poor, but he’s given Hollywood quite a lot since movies first existed. From Douglas Fairbanks to Errol Flynn, from Kevin Costner to Russell Crowe and from Cary Elwes to an anthropomorphic fox, this new trip through Sherwood Forest has Taron Egerton of Kingsman fame wielding the bow and arrow.

Lord Robin of Loxley (Taraon Egerton) is in love with Marian (Eve Hewson), a woman of a much lower social status. Their romance is rudely interrupted when Robin is drafted to fight in Arabia in the Third Crusades. While at war, Robin meets the Moor Yahya/John (Jamie Foxx), who is on the opposing side but who admires Robin’s principles and sees potential in the young nobleman-turned-soldier.

Robin returns to England to find the people being taxed to the breaking point by the treacherous Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn). Under John’s guidance, Robin forges himself into a vigilante called the Hood, who steals from the Sheriff’s coffers and who eventually inspires a revolution. Alongside Marian, Will Scarlet (Jamie Dornan) and Friar Tuck (Tim Minchin), Robin leads the townspeople of Nottinghamshire in an uprising against the Sheriff and the Cardinal (F. Murray Abraham).

Because Robin Hood has been a mainstay of western popular culture for centuries, every time a new movie or TV version is announced, the first reaction is wont to be “do we really need this?” In a bid to prove its relevance, this new Robin Hood movie must set itself apart, aesthetically and otherwise, from its forbears. As a result, we get plenty of anachronistic costumes and an overtly political story – this version casts Robin as a soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder who leads proletariat protesters in a clash on the streets against what are essentially medieval riot police. There is quite a lot here to inspire an eye roll or two, but surprisingly, this Robin Hood is not altogether charmless and is reasonably entertaining.

The film begins with a voiceover that might as well go “this isn’t your grandfather’s Robin Hood”. Visual cues appear to be taken from the Arrow TV show (which is a little funny since the DC Comics character Green Arrow was directly inspired by Robin Hood), Assassins Creed and Game of Thrones. The action sequences are sufficiently propulsive and engaging, and the brutality does push the PG-13 rating a little. Despite the historically inaccurate costumes, the film doesn’t look cheap thanks to location filming in Croatia, Hungary, France and Morocco.

Taron Egerton pushes his Robin just an inch away from the stock boring hero type. The back-story given to Robin is familiar but mildly affecting, and this version plays up Robin’s status as an elite himself. Robin breaks bread with the upper crust by day and fights for the little guy by night, a little like the Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro or Batman. Egerton brings the right amount of endearing boyishness and hunky physicality to the part.

Jamie Foxx’s Little John is one of the story’s big departures from traditional tellings of the Robin Hood myth. It’s a serious turn for the actor and the character suffers some real losses within minutes of his introduction. There’s something vaguely inspiring in seeing Robin and John put aside their obvious differences to fight the oppressors, even if the seeing the beginnings of the merry men isn’t as thrilling as the filmmakers imagine it to be.

Maid Marian is often side-lined in Robin Hood stories, and while there is an attempt to give the character some agency, she still doesn’t get a whole lot to do. As played by Eve Hewson, Marian is kind of a community organiser who feeds the poor and rallies the people, and she winds up being instrumental in the revolution. The love triangle between Robin, Marian and Jamie Dornan’s Will Scarlet adds minimal dramatic tension and is one of the cheesier parts of the film.

Ben Mendelsohn has carved out a niche in Hollywood as the go-to guy for middle management supervillain roles, and the Sheriff of Nottingham falls right into that niche. It’s nothing we haven’t seen him done before, but it’s still some of the best bits of the movie. Mendelsohn alternates between sneering and screaming in a way that’s reminiscent of Gary Oldman’s many memorable villain roles, and it is a joy to hear the Sheriff of Nottingham go “they’re taking my money! KILL THEM!”

Tim Minchin adds a dash of Python-esque comic relief as Friar Tuck. This is clearly not the best use of Minchin’s myriad talents (the man composed the Matilda musical), but his presence in the movie does help keep things from being too self-serious.

2018’s Robin Hood deserves some – maybe most –  but not all, of the cynicism it has been expectedly greeted with. We’ve seen studios try and fail at turning public domain characters into a comic book movie-esque franchise and Robin Hood’s sequel-begging is a little embarrassing, but in all its attempts to be ‘hip’ and relevant, this movie isn’t as entirely annoying as it could’ve been.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

For inSing

KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE 

Director : Matthew Vaughn
Cast : Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Pedro Pascal, Hanna Alström, Elton John, Sophie Cookson
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 2h 21m
Opens : 21 September 2017
Rating : NC16

The world’s most impeccably dressed superspies are back in the sequel to Kingsman: The Secret Service, and this time, they’ve got help from across the pond. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has completed his transformation from rough-hewn street hooligan to dapper Kingsman agent. Things are going well for Eggsy, who is in a loving relationship with Swedish Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström). Without warning, Kingsman headquarters is decimated, leaving Eggsy and gadget-meister Merlin (Mark Strong) to pick up the pieces. The perpetrator? Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a drug kingpin and the sociopathic leader of a secret society known as The Golden Circle. To prevent Poppy from committing murder on an unprecedented scale, Eggsy and Merlin rendezvous with the agents of Statesman, Kingsman’s American counterpart – they operate out of a distillery instead of a tailor’s. The group is led by Champagne (Jeff Bridges), to whom Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whisky (Pedro Pascal) and Ginger (Halle Berry) report. As the scope of Poppy’s plan is laid bare, the agents of both organizations must forge a partnership to foil her scheme. A spanner is thrown into the works when Eggsy and Merlin discover that Harry (Colin Firth), Eggsy’s mentor who was presumed dead, is still alive.

2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service is generally well-regarded by audiences and critics. It functions as director Matthew Vaughn’s ode to classic spy-fi films and TV shows of days gone by, while also containing his trademark acerbic wit, shocking violence, and bravura style. Unfortunately, much of what made The Secret Service so appealing is missing from The Golden Circle. The film is still entertaining and funny, and the action sequences are as slickly-staged and eye-catching as ever, but this movie has a bad case of ‘sequel-itis’. The first film was anchored by the Pygmalion/My Fair Lady-style arc of a gentleman spy training a young apprentice, and seeing the character develop as he is put through his paces. The Golden Circle doesn’t have that emotional anchor, and is tonally more all over the place than its predecessor. The moments which are meant to be sincere do not jibe with the wink-and-nod humour, which teeters on the edge of over-indulgence. If you’ve grown attached to the characters from the first film, you might not like how they’re handled here.

Egerton returns to his breakout role, and while he’s a fine leading man, he’s less interesting to watch now, since Eggsy has already arrived as a sophisticated gentleman. The friendship between Eggsy and Roxy (Sophie Cookson) is much more compelling than the romance between Eggsy and Princess Tilde, so fans of the first film might be frustrated that the latter relationship is given far more emphasis here than the former. We also must question the decision to bring Firth’s character back from the dead. Sure, Firth’s performance as Harry in the first movie was brilliant, but audiences have already gone through the process of accepting Harry’s death, a shocking moment which is one of the elements that made Kingsman so memorable. When it is explained how Harry survived, this reviewer turned to his friend and exclaimed “what a cop-out!”

As is often the case in sequels to successful films, more stars sign on, eager to be part of what appears to be a mega-franchise in the making. Moore’s performance as Poppy, a twisted businesswoman with an affinity for 50s Americana, is serviceable because she is such a talented actress. However, it’s just what one would expect from her, and nothing more – the Poppy character isn’t all that surprising. Similarly, her bionically-enhanced henchman falls far short of Sofia Boutella’s Gazelle in the first film.

Bridges does almost nothing, while Berry stands around next to Strong. Tatum isn’t in this nearly as lo ng as the advertising would have you believe. Instead, it’s Pascal who steals the show. The inclusion of Elton John as himself might strike some as being a touch too silly even for an outlandish comedy, but the singer showcases surprising, delightful comic timing – and yes, even gets a fight scene to himself.

Those who were impressed with Kingsman: The Secret Service’s subversive humour, stylish thrills and throwback spy movie vibe with a bit of an edge will find those elements present in the sequel, but will be disappointed by how much of a step backwards this feels. At 141 minutes, it is also much too long, losing some steam just before the final act. A third instalment has already been planned, and we hope the series gets its mojo back with that one.

Summary: Bigger and flashier than its predecessor but losing too much of its charm, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a sequel that is mostly going through the motions. Director Matthew Vaughn’s flair for filming action sequences is still evident, though.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Sing

For F*** Magazine

SING 

Director : Garth Jennings
Cast : Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Tori Kelly, Taron Egerton, Nick Kroll, Nick Offerman, Garth Jennings, Peter Serafinowicz, Jennifer Saunders, Jennifer Hudson, Beck Bennett, Leslie Jones, Jay Pharaoh
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 1h 50min
Opens : 8 December 2016
Rating : PG

sing-posterIllumination Entertainment aims to unite all creatures great and small through the power of song in this animated musical comedy. Buster Moon (McConaughey) the koala is running out of options. After a string of flops, the showbiz entrepreneur’s theatre will soon be foreclosed upon. Moon and his business partner Eddie (Reilly) the sheep mount a singing competition to save the theatre. The contestants include harried housewife Rosita (Witherspoon) the pig, the flamboyant pig Gunter (Kroll) who is paired with Rosita, an arrogant jazz crooning mouse named Mike (MacFarlane), punk-rocker porcupine Ash (Johansson), stage fright-afflicted elephant Meena (Kelly), and Johnny (Egerton), a mountain gorilla who goes against the wishes of his criminal father Marcus (Serafinowicz) by pursuing his passion for singing. As Moon seeks the financial assistance of wealthy diva Nana Noodleman (Saunders), Eddie’s grandmother, this motley crew of animal performers must sing to save the theatre.

sing-group-shot

“Hey, let’s put on a show!” is a stock trope as old as Hollywood itself. To save an orphanage/theatre/hospital/school from being demolished, an unlikely group must draw on their talents and mount a fund-raising production. Babes in Arms, starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, codified this formula. Sing adds funny anthropomorphic animals and top 40 hits to the mix, but the results feel rote. Illumination Entertainment is quickly gaining on the big boys like Pixar and Dreamworks, what with the Minions taking over the world and all. Sing is the studio’s second film this year, following The Secret Life of Pets. Sing is probably Illumination’s most Dreamworks-like film yet, with its celebrity voice cast and surfeit of pop tracks. For a studio trying to set itself apart from the competition, perhaps that’s not the wisest move.

Sing suffers immensely for being released in the same year as Disney’s Zootopia. The design of Zootopia was thoroughly thought through, and each frame was bursting with clever, amusing details to notice. In Sing, anthropomorphic animals are plonked into a non-descript coastal city. While some might appreciate an animated film that isn’t hyperkinetic, Sing lacks dynamism and forward momentum. There’s a nicely staged set piece in the middle and the film’s climax is enjoyable, but Sing lacks the energetic visuals and propulsive pacing of Zootopia or The Secret Life of Pets. For a film with lots of dancing in it, it feels oddly static in parts.

sing-buster-moon-and-miss-crawley

As a tribute to old-fashioned movie musicals, Sing seems half-hearted at best, and the selection of songs isn’t especially inspired. There are shades of A Chorus Line and The Producers, but there’s no thematic cohesion to the musical numbers, and Sing often feels like an animated variety show with a bit of plot tacked on. If you roll your eyes whenever a cheery pop ditty shows up in a Dreamworks movie, prepare to cringe through a good amount of Sing. This reviewer did appreciate that Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure makes an appearance, when it seems more likely that the filmmakers would’ve gone with the Under Pressure rip-off Ice Ice Baby.

To accommodate the large cast of characters, most of the arcs are simplistic. McConaughey delivers an amiable, earnest performance, but seems miscast. There’s the dissonance of a Texan drawl coming out of a koala’s mouth – perhaps Hugh Jackman would’ve been a better fit, especially since Jackman has more of a slick, old-school showman vibe than McConaughey does. It might be difficult for kids to care about a character who can’t pay the electric bill to keep his theatre operational – there’s a difference between mature themes and adult worries.

sing-gunter-and-rosita

Rosita is the overtaxed stay-at-home mom who struggles to care for her 25 children and jumps at the chance to break out of her routine and embrace her inner diva. It’s a predictable arc and Witherspoon’s performance isn’t distinctive. MacFarlane’s character is smug and self-important, with a penchant for big band jazz – we can’t argue with that casting. Johansson’s Ash is spurned by her boyfriend and is out to prove that she can make it as a solo act – shooting quills into the audience while rocking out is pretty punk. Director Jennings’ cameo as Miss Crawley, a senile green iguana with a glass eye who works as Moon’s assistant, might not be a patch on Brad Bird as Edna Mode in The Incredibles but it has its moments.

sing-ash

The big revelation here is Taron Egerton of Kingsman: The Secret Service fame, who shows off some impressive pipes. We’ve often seen the archetype of a kid who marches to the beat of his own drummer, much to the chagrin of his parents – Johnny the Gorilla is not unlike Lenny from A Shark’s Tale, who wanted out of the mob headed by his father. The Cockney street tough accent sounds right coming out of a gorilla.

sing-johnny

If you were moved by Tori Kelly’s rendition of Hallelujah during the In Memoriam segment at this year’s Emmys, you’ll get to hear her sing it again here – never mind that the song is overused. Since Kelly is the one professional singer in the principal cast, it’s a shame that Meena sings as little as she does. Jennifer Hudson, as the younger version of Nana Noodleman, gets to open the film with a soaring rendition of Golden Slumbers, and then is absent from the rest of the film.

Sing isn’t just clichéd, it’s a gathering of lots of clichés in one place. If singing and dancing cartoon animals are all you’re looking for, then Sing has you covered – but then again, the history of animation is filled with singing and dancing animals. Sing has several entertaining sequences and a talented voice cast, but is too generic for its own good.

Summary: You know how this song goes: Sing’s “let’s put on a show plot” doesn’t offer any surprises, and will inevitably be compared to stronger animated films from this year.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Eddie The Eagle

For F*** Magazine 

EDDIE THE EAGLE 

Director : Dexter Fletcher
Cast : Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Jo Hartley, Keith Allen, Christopher Walken, Tim McInnerny, Jim Broadbent
Genre : Biography/Sports
Run Time : 106 mins
Opens : 31 March 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Sexual References)

Michael “Eddie” Edwards (Egerton) always dreamed of being an Olympian. Since childhood, he’s been repeatedly told by many, including his father Terry (Allen), that he’s just not cut out for sports. And it all went downhill from there, so to speak. Against the wishes of his father but with the support of his mother Janette (Hartley), Eddie sets out to a ski jumping camp in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany to train. He is mocked by the other more experienced jumpers at the facility, but catches the eye of drunken snowplough driver Bronson Peary (Jackman). Bronson was once a member of the U.S. ski jumping Olympics team under the renowned coach Warren Sharp (Walken), but was later seen as a disgrace to the sport and became an alcoholic. Eddie convinces Bronson to coach him so Eddie can qualify for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. Dubbed “Eddie the Eagle” by the media, Eddie has to prove to the world that he’s a serious contender and not merely the silly underdog.

            If the term “feel-good movie” makes you roll your eyes, you’d be better off giving this a wide berth. Eddie the Eagle is a film that revels in its cornball sensibilities and adheres to all the sports movie clichés in existence. The jaded might scoff at it, but there’s definitely something very appealing here, you’ll just have to wade through the schmaltz to get to it. Most of us know what it’s like to be rejected or told we’re not good enough at some point or another, and Eddie’s irresistible combination of perseverance, chutzpah and endearing goofiness make him exceedingly easy to root for.

This is based on a true story, but the real-life Eddie Edwards has publicly stated that the film is only “about 5%” accurate. We completely understand the concept of dramatic license, but the liberties taken with the facts do make Eddie the Eagle feel inauthentic. There are many moments when the film comes off as cartoony, particularly in how all of Eddie’s fellow skiers, even those on the British Olympic team, are depicted as exceedingly stereotypical bullies. There’s no doubt that the real Eddie faced considerable obstacles in pursuit of his dream, but the underdog-ness is dialled up to the point where he might as well have to fend off an actual dragon on the way to the 70 metre jump.

The biggest fabrication is Jackman’s Bronson Peary, a character created from whole cloth by screenwriters Simon Kelton and Sean Macaulay. Edwards was actually coached by Americans John Viscome and Chuck Berghorn at Lake Placid; turns out they weren’t quite colourful enough for the filmmakers’ tastes. The swaggering Bronson’s glory days are behind him and he has the chance to make up for his fall from grace by taking on a protégé – yet more familiar tropes. That said, Jackman is extremely watchable in the role. He simply radiates charisma and reminds audiences yet again why he’s a bona fide movie star. He also excels at the several moments of physical comedy the character is given.



Egerton is poised to hit the big time after starring in last year’s Kingsman: The Secret Service; that film’s director Matthew Vaughn is a producer on this project. He piles on the “aw shucks” factor as Eddie and looks to be having fun playing the earnest, dorky, very unlikely national hero. Unfortunately, Egerton is prone to over-acting, though this can probably be pinned on director Dexter Fletcher too. There is so much squinting and lopsided grinning going on to emphasise the character’s awkwardness that it often feels like Egerton is merely mugging to the camera. This is yet another movie about a wide-eyed dreamer in which the mum is supportive and the dad completely isn’t, but we suppose that’s how it is in real life a lot of the time too. Walken’s barely in this; like Bronson, his character Warren Sharp is fictional too.



Famed second unit director Vic Armstrong stages some spectacular stunts, with professional ski jumpers re-creating some heart-stopping leaps off the ramp. The 80s atmosphere is suitably evocative, amplified by Matthew Margeson’s synth-heavy score. Eddie the Eagle is spirited, entertaining and even genuinely thrilling in parts, but it’s hard to shake the niggling sense that everything’s been packaged a little too neatly and tweaked for maximum crowd pleasing effect.

Summary: Eddie the Eagle will be too treacly for some and the staggering liberties it takes with the true story undermine it somewhat, but stars Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman ensure it makes that landing.

RATING: 3out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong  

Legend

For F*** Magazine

LEGEND

Director : Brian Helgeland
Cast : Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Christopher Eccleston, Taron Egerton, Paul Bettany, David Thewlis, Chazz Palminteri
Genre : Drama/Crime
Run Time : 132 mins
Opens : 12 November 2015
Rating : M18 (Violence and Coarse Language)
After going Mad earlier this year, Tom Hardy’s going Kray-zy in this gangster biopic. Hardy plays both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, identical twins who ruled the London criminal underworld in the 60s. Reggie is the savvy businessman while institutionalized Ronnie is the unhinged, unpredictable loose cannon. After threatening a psychiatrist into declaring Ronnie sane, the pair rise through the ranks, running protection rackets and buying up nightclubs. Reggie falls in love with Frances Shea (Browning) who eventually marries him, much to the disapproval of her mother (Tara Fitzgerald). In the meantime, Ronnie openly pursues a relationship with Teddy (Egerton). The twins become business associates of Philadelphia crime family don Angelo Bruno (Palminteri) and are pursued by Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent Leonard “Nipper” Read (Eccleston), intent on putting an end to their reign of terror. 
Legend is based on John Pearson’s biography The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins. The twins were the subject of the 1990 biopic The Krays as well as the straight-to-DVD 2015 film The Rise of the Krays, the latter apparently made to ride the coattails of this film. Writer-director Brian Helgeland earned his crime movie bona fides with 1997’s Oscar-winning L.A. Confidential and the Kray twins’ colourful history and trail of violence makes them attractive true crime biopic subjects. While Legend is a superb showcase for its star, it falls short in almost all other departments. Like many period gangster movies, Legend all too frequently invokes the classics of the genre while feeling like a mere echo. Its portrayal of 60s London is at once stylish and slightly artificial, Helgeland never achieving the authenticity he strives for. 
The film falls into a pattern of Ronnie doing something despicable and outrageous with Reggie cleaning up after him, the twins often coming into conflict with each other and those around them. It’s odd: even though the film spends a lot of time with its central characters, it doesn’t dig very deep into the psychology of the twins and by its conclusion, we only actually understand very little about them. It is eventful, but sometimes difficult to follow, everything tied together with a voiceover by Browning’s Frances. The voiceover is often heavy-handed and there are some clumsy attempts at breaking the fourth wall. In the end, it feels like the main purpose this voiceover serves is to give Frances some semblance of agency, since for most of the film, she is just there, just “the wife”.
Hardy has emerged as an A-lister who can headline big-budget blockbusters and prestige dramas with equal ease, and his dual role here is plenty impressive. Of course it’s gimmicky, but it’s a gimmick that works. With the help of body double Jacob Tomuri (who was Hardy’s stunt double in Mad Max: Fury Road and the upcoming The Revenant) and some clever visual effects trickery, two distinct versions of the actor co-exist and after a while, the sleight of hand becomes truly seamless. When Ronnie and Reggie come to blows during an especially heated argument, the fight is spectacularly convincing. Affecting an East End dialect, Hardy is able to play both twins as distinct characters, the end result far less stilted than when Armie Hammer’s head was duplicated and pasted onto Josh Pence’s body to play the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network. Reggie is the tortured antihero and Ronnie is the wild-eyed, mal-adjusted psychopath. In very loose terms, Reggie is the “good” twin, though that is of course relative. 
The afore-mentioned Browning looks gorgeous, appropriately retro-chic in a selection of 60s ensembles, but is given little to do beyond fretting over her husband’s illegal activities. Christopher Eccleston huffs and puffs as the cop on the Krays’ case, but Helgeland doesn’t seem too interest in the cat-and-mouse cops vs. criminals aspect of the story. Egerton, having made a splash in Kingsman: The Secret Service earlier this year, is also underused as Ron’s boy toy. Paul Bettany pops up very briefly as rival gangster Charlie Richardson. The British character actors who make up the Krays’ criminal posse come off as sufficiently tough and unsavoury, with Palminteri adding a touch of American mob movie cred. 
Given how Legend has been positioned as an awards contender, the film ends up surprisingly superficial. Even more so than other gangster films, it revolves around relationships, given its main characters are twins, but few of those relationships are satisfyingly developed and explored. Slick but formulaic and often unfocused, Legend offers very little real insight into the lives of the fascinating Kray twins. 
Summary: Tom Hardy’s dual role is dynamite stuff, but Legend is hampered by its heightened glossiness and is ultimately too shallow to pass as a gripping biopic. 

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars 
Jedd Jong 

Kingsman: The Secret Service

For F*** Magazine

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE 

Director : Matthew Vaughn
Cast : Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Taron Egerton, Sophie Cookson, Sofia Boutella, Jack Davenport, Mark Strong, Michael Caine
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 129 mins
Opens : 12 February 2015
Rating : M18 (Coarse Language and Violence)
The gentleman spy – judging from Hollywood’s preoccupation with rough-and-tumble gritty action thrillers, it might seem like an archetype that has gone out of style. Kingsman: The Secret Serviceendeavours to bring it back. Colin Firth plays Harry Hart, codename “Galahad”, a member of the elite independent clandestine organisation Kingsman. When it comes time to recruit a new Kingsman, Harry sets his sights on Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Egerton), a ne’er do well from the wrong side of the tracks. Eggsy is put through his paces, subjected to the rigorous Kingsman training and selection process, picked on by most of the other recruits but finding a friend in the form of Roxy (Cookson). In the meantime, a global threat surfaces in the form of megalomaniacal tech billionaire Richmond Valentine (Jackson), hell-bent on unleashing a catastrophe only Kingsman can foil.

            Kingsman: The Secret Service is adapted from the comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. Director Matthew Vaughn previously collaborated with Millar on Kick-Ass, to smashing results. Just like the bespoke tailored suits showcased in the film, Vaughn is a perfect fit for the source material. Between this and X-Men First Class, he more than proves he’s worthy of directing an actual Bond movie. While Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman have changed a fair bit from the comics, there are still nods fans of the book will enjoy, such as Mark Hamill playing a supporting role – Hamill was one of the kidnapped celebrities featured in the comic. Kingsman: The Secret Service is filled with playful homages to classic spy-fi staples, such as The Avengers, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart (listen out for the line about the shoe phone) and of course the early Bond films. There are even shout-outs to Dr. Strangelove and The Shining. In the midst of making all those references, Vaughn manages to imbue the movie with an identity all its own, tossing several surprises into what seems like a very familiar spy yarn.

            Kingsman: The Secret Service is a throwback to the above-mentioned shows and movies and in a Tarantino-esque way, spy movies pop up as a subject of discussion in the film itself. Of course, Vaughn was never going to play it straight and that wicked, subversive streak he displayed in Kick-Assis in full force here. Vaughn takes palpable delight in juxtaposing the cultured high-society world of countryside mansions, 19th Century brandy and Saville Row tailors with lots of swearing and graphic brutality. Brace yourself for impalements, severed limbs, exploding heads and even someone getting bifurcated by way of bladed prosthetic leg. Most likely on the strength of Kick-Ass, Vaughn has managed to convince the studio bigwigs to let him go the full, gleefully R-rated hog instead of having to pull his punches and deliver a softer, friendlier product.

            The single sentence “Colin Firth kicking ass” is really all the promotion and marketing this movie needs. Expertly playing on his public persona as an evergreen Mr. Darcy, it is an absolute thrill to see the Oscar-winning thesp take out a bar full of street toughs with calculated efficiency. The physical training that the actor underwent pays off, and it really doesn’t feel as if Firth sat out the action sequences for a stunt double to take his place. One jaw-dropping, blood-soaked scene has been compared to the martial arts in The Raid, the camera-work kinetic and jittery yet stopping short of incoherent and nausea-inducing. Firth is able to bring a lot more to the role past that casting gimmick, admirably lending genuine pathos when it is required.

            This reviewer was worried about how Taron Egerton would come off in this film, as the role of the “unrefined mentee” who is taken in and shown the ropes is usually played one of two ways: insufferably annoying or just really bland. Egerton manages to be neither and does make for a convincing street kid, possessing just enough bad boy swagger without it being ridiculous. As Roxy, Sophie Cookson is appealingly spirited and cool; it’s to Vaughn and Goldman’s credit that they don’t force a predictable romance between Eggsy and Roxy into the movie, their relationship actually more satisfying for it.

            Samuel L. Jackson has the time of his life here – for an actor who’s in everything from direct-to-DVD dreck to the biggest blockbusters, he isn’t given to sleepwalking through roles. His lisping, charismatic supervillain is a hoot – it’s to Jackson’s credit that he’s able to balance the menacing and funny sides of Valentine. It also helps that Valentine’s henchwoman Gazelle (Boutella), giving new meaning to the term “blade runner”, is distinctive, graceful and terrifying. Mark Strong lends a gruff authority and trustworthiness to the role of Merlin, Kingsman quartermaster and the supervisor of the recruits’ training. It’s also fun to see Michael Caine in this – this reviewer assumed that he would merely show up as the Kingsman head and not have much to do beyond that, but there are a few more layers to “Arthur”.

            If there’s one major element that lets Kingsman: The Secret Service down, it would be the film’s reliance on sometimes-unconvincing computer-generated imagery. Sure, it’s heightened and has no aspirations to realism, but cheap-looking CGI can still pull an audience out of it. This is most noticeable during a scene set at the edge of space involving a satellite that has to be shot down. Still, the intricately-choreographed stunt work, including Firth’s martial arts mayhem and one of the most exciting skydiving scenes in recent memory, do make up for it. In Kingsman, genre aficionados will find a spy flick that’s as fresh as it is nostalgic and will come away thoroughly entertained.

Summary: An edgy, entertaining, genre-savvy spy movie filled with winks, nods, carnage and Colin Firth kicking ass.
RATING: 4 out of 5Stars

Jedd Jong

By Royal Command: Kingsman: The Secret Service press conference

As published in Issue #60/61 of F*** Magazine

Text:

BY ROYAL COMMAND

F*** is at Comic-Con to hear the stars and creators of Kingsman: The Secret Servicediscuss the spy movie
[San Diego Exclusive] 
By Jedd Jong 
                Further into 2015, a certain famous fictional spy will be embarking on his latest cinematic adventure. But in February, moviegoers can look forward to kicking off the year with a different kind of espionage movie in the form of Kingsman: The Secret Service. In the film, Colin Firth plays Harry Hart, a dapper middle-aged gentleman who just happens to be a member of an elite covert organisation known as “Kingsman”. Harry plucks ne’er-do-well Gary Unwin, nicknamed “Eggsy” and played by newcomer Taron Egerton, off the streets to become a Kingsman recruit. The young man is put through his paces as a threat emerges in the form of maniacal biotechnology magnate Valentine, played by Samuel L. Jackson.
The film is based on the 6-issue comic book series The Secret Service by writer Mark Millar and artist Dave Gibbons. Millar is known for working on Marvel Comics titles such as Marvel Knights Spider-Man, Ultimates Fantastic Four and Civil War, in addition to creating Wanted and Kick-Ass. Matthew Vaughn, director of Kick-Ass, reunites with Millar on Kingsman, Vaughn working from a screenplay he co-wrote with writing partner Jane Goldman. F*** is in attendance for the press conference held at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, with Millar, Gibbons, stars Firth, Jackson, Egerton, Sophie Cookson and Sofia Boutella on hand to discuss the movie.
                This writer steps up to ask the panel a question regarding the tone of the film and the balance struck between that of an homage to 60s-style spy fiction and the exciting, sometimes-shocking panache director Vaughn is known for. This writer can’t help but feel a little nervous as Samuel L. Jackson replies “who do you expect to have the answer to that question?” It seems Vaughn would be best-suited to answering the query, but he is not on the panel. Luckily, Mark Millar steps in.
                “He’s a genius so he had no problem with it at all,” the Scottish author says of Vaughn. “He’s a big fan of all this stuff [spy-fi] growing up and like all of us here, probably, he’s into that eclectic pop culture, like Quentin Tarantino, [who] takes all the stuff that he loves and puts it into one movie.” It is a good move invoking Tarantino, seeing as Samuel L. Jackson is an oft-collaborator of the director and will also appear in his upcoming film The Hateful Eight. Millar reveals that the seeds for The Secret Service were planted when he and Vaughn chatted about old-school spy movies on the set of Kick-Ass. Millar credits the Roger Moore-starring The Spy Who Loved Mewith igniting his love of spy movies and bemoans how contemporary entries in that genre have become too self-serious. “When I was a kid I used to go see James Bond and say ‘I want to be him when I grow up’ and now you go and see James Bond and he’s crying in the shower!” He remarks, referencing 2006’s Casino Royale, to laughter from the crowd. Granted, Bond was comforting Vesper who was crying in the shower, but we see where he’s coming from. “I think you want to see a spy movie where you don’t want to kill yourself after!”
                Much has been made of how this will the first big action film for Colin Firth, who like fellow esteemed British thespian Helen Mirren, has gone from winning an Oscar for playing royalty to “kicking arse” in a comic book adaptation. He describes his character Harry Hart as “the Henry Higgins of the spy world.” “It was great fun,” he says of getting to play a deadly action hero. “I’ve never had to do anything this physical, unless you include having to pull Hugh Grant’s hair,” he quips to laughter from the crowd, referencing Bridget Jones’ Diary. Firth worked with various experts including gymnasts, martial artists and ex-Special Forces soldiers to prepare for the part of the superspy. “The training was extraordinarily intense and unfamiliar to me. It was long and incredibly gratifying by the end. I wish I had done more of it.”
                Firth grew up in England in the 1960s, right in the middle of the spy-fi boom. “I think to a very large extent, in terms of style and the character of the spy movies that I fell in love with, [it] has its roots in the ‘60s,” he says, name-checking The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the Harry Palmer films, The Avengers and of course the early Bond flicks. A lethal streak hidden beneath a composed, proper surface appeals to Firth: “It’s the guy in the suit who seems slick and cool and capable but very, very contained – but you cross him at your peril.” Firth reveals that he had been “sitting here waiting for the offer on Bond for long enough” and recalls, “he [Vaughn] came to me and said ‘I think you’re the last person on earth anybody would expect to kick anyone’s ass and I think it would be a big surprise but I would want you to really do it.’” Vaughn and Goldman hadn’t finished the script when they approached Firth, but the comics were enough to sell him on the idea. “I loved it, I couldn’t put them down.” Vaughn told him up front that the training process would be an arduous one but Firth was up for the challenge. “He wanted me to

really do it, to be able to really sell it, not just cut to a stuntman. He wanted it to really be me, to be utterly, convincingly me.”

                Though certainly not a traditional “action star”, Samuel L. Jackson has markedly more experience in the action genre than Firth. When asked if he offered any advice to his co-star, Jackson recalls when Vaughn showed him Firth’s big fight scene. “I was sitting there slack-jawed. I was like ‘that’s Colin Firth? Really?!’ So he didn’t need any help from me.” Like Firth, Jackson was attracted to Kingsman because of the escapism of the spy action genre. He reminisces about playing pretend with his friends when he was growing up. “I get to do it as an adult on a grand scale. I get to have a real gun in my hand and it shoots fake bullets but now, when I shoot somebody, unlike my friends who always go ‘you missed me’, their chests explode. I love that.” 


Jackson has something of a reputation for giving reporters a hard time – he egged film journalist Jake Hamilton on to say the “n-word” and decimated a news anchor for confusing him with Laurence Fishburne. Today, we get a taste of that when a reporter’s mobile phone, placed on the table to record the press conference, starts ringing. Jackson answers. “No, this is Sam. What’s going on? Who’re you looking for? You know, whoever you were calling was in the middle of a press conference and had their phone on the desk as a voice recorder and you just f**ked that up. So you want to call him back in like 30 minutes? Awesome.” The crowd is amused; the owner of the phone probably less so. “Come on, don’t be ashamed,” Jackson chides. “Claim your f**king phone.”
It must be thrilling for the younger actors to go toe-to-toe with these titans of cinema, not to mention the other big-name supporting players Michael Caine and Mark Strong. Sophie Cookson, literally fresh out of the Oxford School of Drama, plays the lead female role of Roxy, a Kingsman recruit alongside Eggsy. She concedes, “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly intimidated but we were all in it together and we all wanted to make the film as good as possible and have as much fun doing it and doing it with titans such as these has been an absolute honour and we’re very lucky.”

          Algerian dancer and actress, Sofia Boutella, known as the face of Nike Women, plays Gazelle, henchwoman to Valentine. In the comics, Gazelle is male. The film retains the character’s deadly bladed bionic legs. Echoing Cookson’s sentiments, she says of getting to act alongside Firth and Jackson, “it was absolutely amazing. I think it was such an honour for all three of us to get to work with them and could not believe what was happening to us, to be honest. They’re all really, truly generous and they were absolutely amazing with us on set. It was a great experience.”

               Welsh actor Taron Egerton seems a little overwhelmed by just being at Comic-Con and stays quiet through most of the press conference. He starts to answer a question about the training he had to undergo in preparation for the part of Eggsy, but is cut off by the afore-mentioned phone call. However, we do get the feeling we’ll be hearing a lot more from him soon. As a young actor, he is understandably thrilled to be in the film with Firth and Jackson. “I think the two gentlemen next to me, I think it’s probably fair to say are the quintessential living English and American movie stars and for me, getting to do scenes with both of them was not only wildly different but also completely wonderful in different ways and is something I’ll always remember.”