Taron Egerton

Kingsman: the Golden Circle

24/09/17

Marmite movies – you wait for ages and then two come along at once.

No sooner has the Twitterverse stopped ranting about Darren Aronfsky’s mother! than they are virtually foaming at the mouth over this sequel to Kingsman: the Secret Service. The way people talk about it, you’d think the original was some kind of cinematic masterpiece. It certainly wasn’t that, but it was, in my opinion, great fun – an adrenalin-fuelled Bond spoof. This first film covered the induction of straight talking street-kid, Eggsy into the suave and sartorially elegant ranks of the Kingsmen, a secret society pledged to defend the world from evil.

Inevitably perhaps, the sequel is bigger and flashier, with such a starry cast that Taron Egerton finds himself in the uncomfortable position of being third-billed in what is ostensibly his movie. Director Matthew Vaughan and writer Jane Goldman have clearly decided, this time out, to pursue an even more audacious plot line, cranking the old silly-o-metre up to maximum override – in the process, I’m afraid, making the whole thing a tad too ridiculous even for my taste.

Drug kingpin, Poppy (Julianne Moore), based in a secret hideout in the South American jungle (aren’t they all?), is seeking to enslave the world with her own brand of opiates. She even inserts a special ingredient into her produce that turns its users into blue-veined freaks with a life expectancy of just a few days. While she’s at it, she also unleashes a series of vicious attacks on the Kingsman headquarters, killing off most of its key operatives. The only two survivors, Eggsy  (Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong), head off to Kentucky and the headquarters of Statesman, the American equivalent of their own organisation. There, they team up with Tequila (Channing Tatum), Ginger (Halle Berry) and Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) in a bid to find an antidote to Poppy’s drugs and save millions of people from an untimely death…

As I said, the plot is so borderline-deranged, it’s hard for an audience to feel any sense of jeopardy – and no amount of guest appearances from the likes of Elton John, Jeff Bridges or Poppy Delevingne can prevent this from feeling like an over-inflated soufflé, all style and very little substance. It’s not a total write-off, mind you. Vaughan still has a winning way with an action set-piece and there are several here that periodically ramp up the excitement, but all too soon we’re back to robot dogs, people being made into hamburgers, Eggsy knocking around with a princess and introducing her to all his mates on the estate… and then there’s the little matter of a character who was murdered in the previous film still being alive. How do they explain that one? Well, they do try. I can’t help feeling that a storyline that kept a little closer to some kind of reality would help no end.

Look, here’s the bottom line. If you didn’t like the first film, you’ll hate this – and if, like me, you enjoyed the first one, you might just be willing to accept everything being ramped up to number eleven. But as far as I’m concerned, this is where I bale out.

3 stars

Philip Caveney

(By the way, what’s with the John Denver thing? Here’s yet another movie that employs Take Me Home, Country Roads for one of its key scenes – about the fourth or fifth I’ve seen in as many months.)

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Eddie the Eagle

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Eddie The Eagle

07/04/16

The British public loves an underdog and nowhere was this trait better exemplified than in the case of ‘Eddie the Eagle’ (real name Michael Edwards), who, at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, caught the attention of press and public alike by competing in the ski jump. He always knew he would finish last (though it should be said that at the time, he did set a new British record) but his hapless, charming manner somehow managed to make him an overnight star.

Dexter Fletcher’s watchable biopic fashions an entertaining (albeit, as has been suggested, somewhat inaccurate) account of the events leading up to his ‘triumph.’ It begins with Eddie’s childhood and his obsession with one day representing his country at the Olympics – in one sport or another – much to the chagrin of his plasterer father, Terry (Keith Allen), who urges him to get a sensible job. Soon enough, young Eddie has grown up to be Taron Egerton, gamely trying to disguise his good looks behind a series of gurning facial expressions. Eddie fails to make the Olympic skiing team, largely because of the sneering disapproval of team leader, Dustin Target (Tim McInnery), who clearly thinks that the sport should not be open to the working classes. But then Eddie discovers that the British don’t actually have a ski jumping team, and this seems to offer him a golden opportunity to compete without any, um, competition – so he hotfoots it to Gstaad. Here he comes to the attention of former champion ski jumper, Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), now a washed up alcoholic. Eddie begs Bronson to coach him and eventually he succumbs…

This is a charming if unchallenging film, that galumphs along at breakneck pace, rarely pausing to draw breath. Fletcher’s challenge here was to create suspense in a story that we all know the ending to and he largely succeeds, taking us to vertiginous heights and sending us straight down the slope. The story is essentially a bromance, the chemistry between Egerton and Jackman is a winner and there’s a last minute cameo by Christopher Walken, which is always a bonus.

The film doesn’t go beyond Calgary, which is probably just as well, as the reality is that Edwards is now working as a plasterer, the very trade that his father always urged him to pursue. Fame is fleeting of course, but this may be Eddie the Eagle’s second moment in the spotlight and it’s well worth the price of admission.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Testament of Youth

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27/01/16

What a useful thing Netflix is; a handy way of catching up with all those movies you somehow managed to miss on the big screen. Testament of Youth is one such film. Overshadowed by bigger, brasher options on its initial release, it slipped quietly through the multiplexes of our green and pleasant land, making barely a ripple. Luckily, it works well enough on the small screen. Based on Vera Brittain’s landmark book, we first meet Vera (Alicia Vikander) on Armistice day, looking decidedly distraught, while all around her are celebrating. Then we slip back in time to discover the string of incidents that have brought her to such a state.

Here is an England of eternal summers, where the upper classes bathe in lakes and wander in meadows with barely a care in the world. Vikander certainly looks the part of the English Rose, even if her accent occasionally gives her origins away. Vera is a ‘bluestocking’ who wants nothing more than the chance to study at Oxford, like her brother, Edward (Taron Egerton), even if their father (Dominic West) would rather see Vera bashing the keys of a piano and hunting for a suitable husband. But she sticks to her guns and passes the University’s entrance examination. Fairly soon, she meets Roland (her Game of Thrones co-star, Kit Harrington) and love starts to blossom between them. But of course, the advent of World War One is lurking in the wings and with barely a pause for breath, Roland and Edward enlist in the British army and march away to do battle; whereupon, Vera throws in her course at Oxford, enrols as a nurse and eventually ends up at the Front, nursing soldiers, many of them German.

It’s a handsomely mounted film, that manages to resist being too chocolate-boxy – scenes of soldiers with their arms and legs blown off soon see to that – and if it’s not the most hard-hitting dramatisation you’ve ever seen, nevertheless its compelling enough to hold your attention for a couple of hours and to confirm the notion that, yes, war is a terrible thing and wouldn’t we all be a lot better off it the powers-that-be could just agree to get along with each other? If also offers the opportunity to spot a whole string of notable actors in cameo roles, always a bonus.

If like me, you missed this on the big screen, here’s your chance to catch up with it. It’s well worth your attention.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Kingsman: The Secret Service

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31/1/15

Matthew Vaughan, creator of Kick Ass, has made no secret of the fact that he’s long held a desire to direct a Bond movie. With Kingsman: The Secret Service, he may just have gone one better, creating an irreverent spoof that’s surely strong enough to become a franchise of its very own. Actually, in tone, it’s probably closer to long running TV series, The Avengers, a surreal blend of action, espionage and dark humour, but whatever it’s inspiration this works brilliantly, setting off at a brisk canter and accelerating into a full gallop.

Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is a teenager on a sink estate who’s life seems to be heading rapidly down the toilet. He’s surrounded by thugs (one of whom has got his grips on Eggy’s Mum (Samantha Janus) and his future looks decidedly bleak. But little does he suspect that he has an ally in Harry Hart (Colin Firth) a member of a secret organisation known as Kingsman. A pre credits sequence has revealed that Hart owes his life to the action of Eggsy’s late father, a member of the same organisation. Hart has vowed to take care of his son. So Eggsy finds himself invited to undergo the society’s ruthless initiation course, coached by Merlin (Mark Strong) a kind of Q figure, with access to all kinds of state-of-the-art weaponry. Along the way, the world faces destruction at the hands of Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) a communications billionaire with a fiendish plan to stamp out global warming and…

You know what? The ins and the outs of the plot hardly matter. Suffice it to say that Kingsman ventures into areas that the Bond franchise wouldn’t dare to tread. Based on a graphic novel by Dave Gibbons and scripted by Vaughan and Jane Goldman, the film is an inspired mix of action, comedy and cartoon violence that never falters and never loses it’s grasp on an audience’s attention. Firth convinces as an action hero with more than a passing nod to John Steed, a secret agent who is as concerned about the cut of his suit as he is about nailing the villains. Newcomer Egerton (looking eerily like a young Leonardo Di Caprio) clearly has a bright future ahead of him and should Vaughan decide to go this route a second time, I for one will be first in the queue to watch it. Superlative stuff.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney