Category Archives: Movies

From Hilarity to Heartbreak and Back Again: some Thoughts on Seeing “Kingsman: the Golden Circle”

When news broke that “Kingsman: the Secret Service” (2015) would be followed by a sequel, my initial reaction was one of skepticism. I only became a convert after the trailer dropped at this year’s comic Con, and I approached the film much as I approach any film that falls somewhere on the parody spectrum—fully intending to embrace it for what it was without allowing my hyper-critical eye to interfere with my enjoyment. When I finally saw “Kingsman: the Golden Circle” on opening weekend, I didn’t expect my emotions to run the gamut from hysterical laughter to heartbroken in what amounted to 2 hours and 20 minutes of emotional whiplash.

In short, after the Kingsman headquarters are destroyed, the agents journey to America and team up with their “American cousins,” the Statesman, and work to bring down a drug cartel known as the Golden Circle.

*****WARNING!***** Some of what follows is shamelessly spoiler-y. I make no further apologies. Read on at your own risk.

Given that the first film left me reeling, I recognize in hindsight that I should have braced myself for the roller-coaster. Even after having weeks to reflect and process, my emotions are still spinning madly in multiple directions, so what follows amounts less to a review than a list-style breakdown of the key takeaways for me.

Happy-Making Things

Eggsy- When I reviewed “Kingsman: the Secret Service,” I observed that Taron Egerton held his own remarkably well amongst the likes of seasoned actors including Mark Strong, Samuel L. Jackson, and Colin Firth. In “The Golden Circle,” Egerton owns the screen. Now adorably awkward, now authoritative, Egerton has matured both as a Kingsman agent and as an actor. Committed to putting his training into practice and living out Harry’s legacy (more on that later), he still maintains a certain tenderness beneath his toughened armor that made us first fall in love with and cheer for Eggsy.

Merlin- Mark Strong brings immense depth to this character. Alternating between tough and tender, he’s clearly shouldered the responsibility of filling (or at least trying to fill) the void that losing Harry has left in Eggsy’s life. Beneath the repeated remonstrances to “remember your training,” Merlin’s respect for Eggsy not as a mentee, but as a fellow agent shows itself markedly when the pair find themselves the only survivors after their headquarters are destroyed and together they must bear the grief of their lost colleagues as they continue the work they’ve set out to do. Not to mention (SPOILER ALERT!) you can’t help but admire a man who can muster the strength to belt out a chorus of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” in his final moments as he stands on a landmine.

Harry Hart- Once again, Colin Firth delivers an exquisitely nuanced performance. With seamless precision, he balances tender timidity with—there’s just no other way to put this—ass-kicking authority. The scene in which Eggsy uses the puppy to trigger Harry’s memories demonstrates this balancing act most effectively; in the instant that Harry regains his awareness, we can almost hear a click in Firth’s brain as he activates that switch. Can I just say here that their embrace, with Harry cradling the puppy in one arm, is pure hurt/comfort fanfiction gold? My heart crumbled like a warm brownie straight from the oven.

Admittedly, the idea of resurrecting Hart by injecting fluid into the brain after covering the eyes with something that resembles the plastic wrap in my kitchen cupboard stretches the boundaries of plausibility, but Matthew Vaughn never promised us plausible. On the contrary, from the moment we learned that Harry Hart would be returning from the dead, Vaughn was basically saying “check plausible at the door. Here are your suspension of disbelief glasses. Have fun.”

Poppy- Julianne Moore makes a delightfully devilish villain, and this is quite possibly one of my favorite of her performances. Saccharine sweet and smooth-talking, she utilizes every moment of her screen time to hypnotize her audience. If she can convince one of her henchman to swallow a bite of a meat pattie consisting of one of his own dismembered limbs, the rest of us don’t stand a chance. Go home, villains of the world. Poppy’s got this one covered.

Critical Concerns

Storyline- admittedly, the plot is all over the map. from Eggsy’s relationship with Princess Tilde (Hanna Ahlstrom), to Harry’s Amnesia, to the war on drugs, we never quite know where to look. Despite this fact, however, the film still works, because what it might lack in plot continuity, it more than makes up for with character dynamics. These characters—and the actors who portray them—have established such clearly authentic bonds of friendship that we want to spend more time with them in whichever wacky direction they choose to take us. Most of those adventures predictably involve some heavily alcohol-lubricated, testosterone-charged male bonding, but when you give me Colin Firth cuddling a puppy, my iron feminist resolve will immediately crack. I’m sorry, but you can’t read the words Colin Firth and puppy in the same sentence and not feel, just for a moment, that nothing bad will ever happen to the planet ever again. Don’t judge. On that note, though…

Ginger Ale- In an otherwise scathing review, the New York times pointed out, not altogether unfairly, that The Golden Circle is a man’s film, and women have to get behind. Unfortunately, this proves largely true in the case of Halle Berry’s brilliantly-played Ginger Ale. Intelligent and capable, she can clearly hold her own amongst the male agents and can handle far more than tech support, yet she constantly gets passed over for field work when Agent Whiskey (excellently portrayed by Pedro Pascal) votes her down. In fairness, however, “The golden Circle” manages a challenging balancing act in a film that’s part-parody, part-tribute to the spy genre—a genre that has a notorious reputation for being less than kind to female characters. Of course, Ginger Ale does get her moment of glory in the end, and while I’d have liked to see her character developed further, her promotion gestures toward that potential development since whispers have already begun circulating about rounding the franchise out into a trilogy.

“The Golden Circle” also boasts performances from Jeff Bridges (Champ), Channing Tatum (Tequila), and a hilariously outlandish appearance by the one and only Elton John. If audiences continue to respond well to the film, the likelihood of that third sequel materializing will increase. It finished first in the box-office on opening weekend, grossing $39 million in the U.S and $100 million worldwide, and its earnings have since nearly doubled its $104 million production budget. Despite mixed critical reviews, fans have clearly not been disappointed, and I for one am already on board with Eggsy, Harry, and the rest of the gang in whatever adventures await them.

It Isn’t Only a Diary: How Bridget Jones Helped Me Find Myself

Dear Bridget,
I’ve wanted to write this for some time now, but whenever I sit down to draft a letter, the words get stuck between my brain and the page. It seems odd, really, to suffer an attack of writer’s block when addressing a woman who was once famously accused of verbal incontinence. You, with your candor and ready wit and your lack of (or perhaps refusal to activate) your brain-to-mouth filter, have often inspired me to practice greater honesty in my life, with others and, more importantly with myself. I have also discovered, as have you, that alcohol, while a seemingly effective tongue lubricant for confessing honesty, occasionally does more harm than good. Over the years, I’ve tried to express to others how much your story means to me, but nothing I’ve ever said has felt like an adequate tribute, so in honor of the 20th anniversary of your story’s publication this year as well as your return to the silver screen this month, now seems a fitting moment to thank you.

I first met you as an overwhelmed, twentysomething, budding feminist graduate student in English Lit, between crying over my inability to grasp Michel Foucault and eating entire cartons of ice-cream. When not slaving over novels that I seemed destined never to finish reading and feeling intellectually inadequate because I couldn’t use the word epistemological in a sentence, I gradually discovered that my social life had slunk off into the darkness, crawled beneath a pile of dirty laundry, and died. As I slumped on the sofa with a bottle of wine and a bag of pretzels, I convinced myself, in a fit of despair reminiscent of my elementary school days, that no one wanted to befriend the strange, bookish blind girl; never mind that I was pursuing a graduate degree in English and was entirely surrounded by strange, bookish people. I imagined everyone was attending swanky wine and cheese parties on Saturday nights and couldn’t be bothered inviting me because no one wanted to give me a ride. The fellow graduate student on whom I’d been crushing turned out to be a Mormon divorcee with three kids who flirted blatantly with me while being engaged to another woman and then tried to set me up with one of his friends. Had I known the textbook definition of a fuckwit at that time, I might never have landed in that particular mess, but I digress. To add insult to injury, my roommate (an undergraduate who was also blind) told me one night that “you dress like a woman twice your age, and it’s really off-putting. People think you’re older than you are.” So now I was not only unpopular; I was so criminally unfashionable that even other blind people shunned me.

Thus I found myself, during winter break after that first semester, de-fogging my brain with your diary. As you poured your heart into my lap, counting calories and alcohol units, self-consciously scrutinizing yourself in dressing-room mirrors, and worrying about dying alone and being eaten by an Alsatian, I realized something. Your struggles, your insecurities, your doubts, your fears were mine too. When I agonized over whether or not the size of my butt was the reason I couldn’t get a date or sulked about not being invited to any fabulous parties, you were doing the same. For one of the few times in my adult life, I experienced the thrill of bonding with another woman over the struggles of, well, simply being a woman.

I had spent most of my life struggling to fit comfortably in my own body, let alone fitting in everywhere else. Rationally, I knew that I couldn’t bow to the stigmas of disability; I couldn’t conform to the image that many people associated with a blind person who groped every day for one of three identical pairs of jeans to avoid a citation from the fashion police. How though, I wondered, could I construct a body image that reflected my personality without having my physical appearance and fashion trends filtered through the eyes of others? Trips to the mall were my personal purgatory, spending hours in front of a mirror that reflected nothing to me, relying on others to tell me honestly whether or not horizontal stripes made me look like a circus tent. This reliance on the judgement of others’ opinions of my body, believing that I couldn’t construct a self-image without the ability to see my own reflection, instilled me with a deep sense of self-loathing. I believed that if someone else told me that I was too tall, or too fat, or my hair looked like a bird’s nest, then it must be true, because they could see what I couldn’t. My body was disabled, abnormal, and therefore unattractive, and this, I gradually learned to believe, explained why I seemed to be a social pariah.

Then, Bridget, I met you, and I felt, for the first time, that someone understood me. My struggles, my self-scrutiny, my feelings of inadequacy had nothing to do with my disability and everything to do with the realities of being a young woman trying desperately to keep up with, as you put it, “Cosmopolitan culture.” You, Bridget, helped me to recognize that what I see in the mirror every day is as much a projection of what I believe my self-image to be as what is actually reflected there. On the one hand, you critically yet comically revealed a sadly enduring pressure on women to maintain unrealistic body image standards; on the other, you revealed to me that I wasn’t alone in my insecurity. My seeming inability to maintain a steady, healthy relationship with a mature adult male had nothing to do with my so-called disabled, abnormal body or the circumference of my thighs and everything to do with the fact that I simply hadn’t met the person who was ready and willing to love me just as I am; moreover, it didn’t (and still doesn’t) matter if I ever do, because being a woman of substance means loving myself with all of my flaws, not defining myself in terms of how others, especially others of the opposite sex, choose to see me. You gave me the courage to believe that if I choose to pursue love, I should settle for nothing less than someone who celebrates my strength and values me as a strong, independent woman; if I choose to remain single, my life and my work make no less valuable contributions to society because of that choice.

In the same way that you dramatically imagined that everyone had forgotten to invite you to their Christmas parties, I allowed my acute loneliness to exaggerate the perfection of everyone else’s lives. I imagined that everyone else had a successful job, a fashion magazine-approved BMI, glamorous circles of friends, and wildly sensational sex lives. Their reality, I gradually discovered, was far closer to my own. You gave me what I’d spent most of my life searching for: the validation that my lived experiences as a woman were, in many ways, no different than those of other women despite sometimes being constructed through the lens of disability.

After connecting with your story, my life didn’t magically change overnight, but that reading experience opened a space for me within the communities of women I began to encounter. You helped me to find a voice to participate in the narratives that women told and bonded over every day, from agonizing over the seemingly unattainable quest to find a perfectly-fitting pair of jeans to wondering if the barista at Starbucks who always gave me extra foam was hitting on me. Having reached this realization, I gradually found myself forming deep, enduring female friendships with women who have loved me, laughed with me, cried with me, eaten countless trays of chocolate chip cookies with me, drunk through enough bottles of wine to fill a black hole, and endured hours of agonizing dressing-room scrutiny and relationship analysis as only women can. You, Bridget, with your self-deprecating humor and your willingness to keep buggering on, taught me to embrace the wonderful, tumultuous, imperfect beauty of simply being a woman.

5 Times We Fell in Love with Colin Firth

He’s left audiences spellbound with his Academy Award-winning portrayal of King George VI in “The King’s Speech.” He’s displayed a surprisingly impressive set of stunt skills in Matthew Vaughn’s “Kingsman: the Secret Service.” He carved a permanent place for himself in the hearts of women the world over with his tenderly authentic portrayal of Mark Darcy in “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” But there’s a bit more to Colin Firth than a dive into a lake and the fact that thanks to him no one else can ever win an ugly sweater contest ever again. Ever.

Photo of Colin Firth as Mark Darcy wearing his reindeer jumper in Bridget Jones's Diary
Colin Firth as Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), image credit Miramax

In honor of his birthday today, here’s a look at 5 times the world fell in love with Colin Firth.

1. His 2011 Golden Globes acceptance speech

When he scooped up his Best Actor award at the Golden Globes in 2011 for “The King’s Speech,” the first of many accolades, it was easy to forget for 50 seconds that Firth was drawing on the talent for which he was being awarded. Nonetheless, post-gameshow press recaps praised him for essentially showing showbiz how it’s done.

Go home, Hollywood. Colin’s got this one covered.

2. His moment of gallantry at the 2012 BAFTA Awards

Colin Firth doesn’t break the Internet very often, but we all remember flailing when Meryl Streep, in an adorable if inadvertent Cinderella impression, lost a shoe while mounting the stage to accept an award, and Firth, in true Prince Charming mode, retrieved it for her while his wife Livia looked on with an expression that clearly said, “Sorry, ladies. This one’s mine.”

On a side note, reenacting this scene in the rain while running to teach a class doesn’t conjure Colin from the shadows to save you, as I discovered, to my acute embarrassment. But that’s another story.

3. His jab at Ricky Gervais at the 2012 Golden Globes

Colin Firth is the king of deadpan, and that is all. When Ricky Gervais, albeit jokingly, called him a racist kitten-puncher at the 2012 Golden Globes, this was Firth’s response.

Colin Firth 1, Ricky Gervais 0.

4. His moment of appreciation for Jane Austen

In a 2006 interview, when asked to name the women in his life, Firth replied, “my wife, my mother, and Jane Austen.” While some of us have since speculated that this was largely a tongue-in-cheek jab at the fact that his role in the BBC’s wildly popular adaptation of Pride and Prejudice forever entrenched him in Darcy mania, I have to confess that despite my healthy skepticism, I allowed a tiny piece of my heart to drop into his hand at that moment. You’ve said it, Mr. Firth, and you can’t take it back.

5. His flawless improvisation as Mark Darcy

We’ve all seen “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” We all remember that fateful snowy kiss that was likely the primary catalyst for my decision to drag my last boyfriend with me to a wedding in Wisconsin in the dead of winter in the hope that he might be similarly inspired. (He wasn’t. Because you were wondering. And he’s not my boyfriend any more, for entirely unrelated reasons. Let’s be clear on that). But many people don’t know that Firth ad-libbed Mark Darcys forever classic line at the conclusion of that snowy kiss scene.

Pro tip, nice boys: that’s how it’s done.

So, Happy Birthday, Mr. Firth!

Question

What are your favorite Firth moments?

“Kingsman: the Secret Service” Movie Review

Ever since the 20th Century Fox panel at the 2014 Comic Con in July featured Matthew Vaughn’s upcoming film, “Kingsman: the Secret Service,” starring Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, and Samuel L. Jackson, social media and the popular press has been abuzz with speculation, and the question at the tip of every tweeter’s tongue has been: since when is Colin Firth an action hero? After months of anticipation, debates over the film’s supposed hyper-violence, and teasing trailers featuring Firth displaying an impressive set of stunt skills with—of all things—a weaponized umbrella, all questions were finally put to rest this past weekend with the film’s release. Take a look:

The story, based on the 2012 comic book series by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, tells of a secret, gentleman spy organization and how Harry Hart (Colin Firth) works to train a troubled-but-promising street boy, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) to work for the organization. As a debt of honor to Eggsy’s father, who had been a part of the organization and had lost his life to save Hart’s, Hart rescues the boy from a life of petty crime to mentor and train him. At the same time, the world is under threat from the villainous Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a comically-twisted tech genius hell-bent on destroying the planet.

With film-producing credits like “X-Men: First Class” (2011) and “Kick-Ass” (2010) to his name, Matthew Vaughn clearly knows his genre and his audience well. At once hilarious and hair-raising, the film both satirizes and pays homage to the spy films of the 1960s and 70s; indeed, several scenes in which Hart and Valentine casually and comically converse about the genre, referencing such touchstones as the iconic James Bond movies, might just as easily be Firth and Jackson nostalgically reminiscing about such films. For me, the scenes involving Hart and Valentine were some of the most rewarding to watch; there is something deeply satisfying about seeing two seasoned actors at the top of their game facing off against one another and clearly enjoying every minute of it. The action sequences, which have raised a few concerned debates about hyper-violence, are no more than one would expect from a film of this genre; the weaponized umbrellas, explosives inconspicuously imbedded in a gentleman’s ring, and heads exploding spectacularly to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance” are all just tricks of the trade in the world of comic book heroes and gentleman spies.

Firth and Egerton have incredible screen chemistry, the mentor/mentee relationship between long-time actor Firth and newly-rising star Egerton lending a layer of realistically tender authenticity to the almost father-son bond that Hart and Eggsy form. Egerton shines brilliantly amidst the likes of Firth, Jackson, Mark Strong, and Michael Caine. Aside from the impressive action sequences, Firth’s role is not as much a departure from his usual work as speculation has led us to believe, for Hart’s character is deeply rooted in the trope of the English gentleman that often times seems as much Firth himself as the characters he portrays.

Vaughn has masterfully assessed his audience with this film, casting a wide enough net to ensure that there would be something for everyone to enjoy—especially on an intensely competitive box-office opening weekend, when the date-night entertainment tossup was a choice between “Kingsman” and “Fifty Shades of Grey.” While Vaughn’s latest film scored second in the President’s Weekend box-office total (with $42 million compared to “Fifty Shades’s” $94.4 million), it earned considerably more than “Kick-Ass,” which took in an estimated $19 million on opening weekend according to Entertainment Weekly’s latest report. Comic book and espionage film enthusiasts will appreciate both the action and satire of the genre, and Colin Firth fans will applaud his seamless transitioning between bespoke-suited gentleman and action hero. All in all, a well-rewarded wait for a much-anticipated movie.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Some Thoughts on Finally Seeing the Film

After months of following press coverage and whetting my appetite with trailers and snippets, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” adapted from the John LeCarre novel of the same title, has finally arrived in my local theater.

It is the early 1970S, in the midst of the Cold War, and the head of British Intelligence, “Control” (John Hurt), has stepped down after a failed operation in Budapest, Hungary. Control suspects that one of four senior British agents has been acting as a Russian agent—”The Mole”—and that the operation in Hungary was an attempt to identify him. George Smiley (Gary Oldman), who retired after Control’s resignation, is asked to investigate a claim by agent Ricky Tarr (Tom Hardy) that a mole does in fact exist. Smiley’s investigations—aided by the young and ambitious Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) lead him down a twisted trail of deception to Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong), an agent believed to have been killed in the failed Hungary operation who is at the center of the fiasco and holds the key to the identity of the mole.

Boasting a cast including Gary Oldman and Colin Firth as well as promising, young talent like Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy, this is a film that seems at times to call more attention to showcasing the skill of its actors than on plot detail. Gary Oldman and Colin Firth are as usual on top form; Oldman in particular is the perfect fit for George Smiley. With a quiet, understated authority, he has the bearing of a man both accustom to and weary of living in a world where mistrust and suspicion are the order of the day, and betrayal often comes at the hands of those you thought you knew. Firth’s characterization of Bill Haydon yet again displays his mastery of the ability to capitalize on very little screen time to create a character who, despite flitting along the outskirts of the story, maintains a mysteriously pervasive presence. Haydon is a character whose casual machismo and wily charm readily lend themselves to the aura of intrigue that surrounds his absence from much of the film.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Peter Guillam IS especially rewarding to witness, as seemingly enamored of Oldman as Guillam is of Smiley, and yet holding his own alongside his seasoned co-stars. Given Cumberbatch’s oft-quoted claim in an interview in The Observer that the call sheet for Tinker Tailor is one he will frame and keep forever, he plays that acknowledged admiration to his advantage to cultivate the relationship between hero and hero-worshiper that exists between Smiley and Guillam. The film also boasts strong performances by Tom Hardy as Ricky Tarr, Mark Strong as Jim Prideaux, as well as Kathy Burke as Connie Sachs and Svetlana Khodchenkova as Irina.

For viewers who’ve read LeCarre’s novel, the film sustains the basics of the suspenseful plot with a few minor departures, and some of the more poignant scenes—particularly those that lingered on facial expressions and wordless but heavily coded gazes did homage to Lecarre’s fluid, descriptive writing. To those unfamiliar with the original story, the plot is summarized concisely, if confusingly at times—mostly due to the challenge of adapting such a complex story into a two-hour film—but the frequent flashbacks and oft-jarring scene shifts lend themselves well to the air of suspense. The real enjoyment, however, comes from watching a selection of talented actors conquering a cast of complex characters.

Film synopsis partially taken from IMDBand thanks to Cumberbatchwebfor posting the article in The Observer.