Movie reviews: American Sniper and Kingsman: The Secret Service

KingsmanIt’s February and the sun is shining so of course the best movies are released at this time of year. Seriously, living in the Southern Hemisphere does have its downsides sometimes eh? Still, there are worse things to complain about than a plethora of good movies. This week I am reviewing one Oscar contender and another film that did its best to offend every member of the Academy – but had an incredibly fun time doing so. One I loved and one I was thoroughly underwhelmed by. Read on to find out which is which…

American Sniper

Nominated for best film and best actor (for Bradley Cooper aka Rocket Raccoon) at this year’s Oscars, I should have had high hopes going into this Clint Eastwood directed flick. And a few months back – after seeing the trailer – I did. The trailer showed a scene – the first in the movie it turns out – where a sniper (Cooper, playing real life sniper Chris Kyle) is forced to decide whether to take out a small child brandishing a grenade and approaching a group of US soldiers. It was a gripping two minutes – both in the trailer and in the film. Unfortunately though, the rest of the film just didn’t live up to that early promise.

I had lowered my expectations significantly by the time I actually saw the film – having read a few reviews and also articles about the actual guy the film is about. But, I still hoped to enjoy it. It was being touted as a return to form for Eastwood, who has directed a string of very average flicks in the past few years. And as a film, it was fine. It told an interesting story about a sniper getting kind of addicted to war while at the same time knowing it is ravaging him mentally – and the impact this has on his home life with his new wife and young children. It should have been fascinating. But instead it was just a pretty perfunctory, by the numbers and incredibly lacking in suspense war story.

It’s a real shame, as the story could have been explored in much more interesting ways. Without giving too much away, there is an Iraqi sniper who is part of the story – and I couldn’t help but think it would have been much more compelling if the story had been told from both of their perspectives. But the movie is based on Kyle’s own autobiography, and doesn’t even begin to even conceive of another side of the story. It is Clint at his most gung ho America, and it just made me angry by the end. I didn’t really care what happened to Kyle, and I really wanted to get home immediately so I could watch Black Hawk Down again and remind myself it is possible to make an incredibly compelling, emotionally intense and engaging war movie, with more than one side depicted. 2 M&Ms are all this sniper gets from me.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Probably the only thing this film has in common with American Sniper is body count and gratuitous violence. But they couldn’t be more different. Kingsman is brought to us by the makers of Kick-Ass, which famously parodied the superhero genre while inventing new ways to offend people – most famously by having a 12 year old girl kill an entire room of people after emitting the ‘C’ word. So yeah, I knew going into Kingsman – a parody of all things secret agent, in particular Bond – that this was going to be a confronting film. But by god was it funny.

Colin Firth plays a member of an elite group of British secret agents – who all dress in the finest Saville Row suits while dispatching bad guys in the most creative of ways. I have never seen Firth play a role like this before – and he has absolutely gone up in my estimation as a result (to quote Tina Fey – I would definitely go there for a ‘polite amount of time’). When a spot fills up in their agent roster, Firth recruits a young kid named Eggsy – yep, not a typo – who has a history of petty crime and a pretty crappy life in a housing estate. Firth sees potential in the kid, and also has some history with his father, so puts him into training with a group of toffee nosed whippersnappers who all want to join the service too. The interaction between Eton kids and street kid provides more than a few laughs early on.

But the fun really arrives when Samuel L Jackson joins the fray as a megalomaniac billionaire with the most hilarious lisp ever. Yeah, if you have a lisp, you might be offended – but join the cue as so will most people by something in this film. Action then centres on preventing Jackson from carrying out his evil master plan, which is just as insane as any Bond movie. Michael Caine and Mark Strong provide excellent support – with Strong in particular seeming to be having a particularly fun time embracing his Scottish jack of all trades character. Things get crazy, and violent, and out of control, and hilarious – and some have found it all a little too much. There is one scene in particular that people have found uncomfortable, but that was surprisingly one of the highlights for me. There were other, much smaller, things that offended me a little – but all in all I didn’t care as I was just having too much freaking fun. Go and see this film – just don’t take it too seriously. Four and a half multi-coloured M&Ms from me, and this goes straight to the ‘must own on DVD’ list.

Back next week with some more Oscar reviews for you!

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