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Posts Tagged ‘Mark Strong’

Paul Rudd as Moe Berg

“THE CATCHER WAS A SPY” My rating: C+

98 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Crammed with famous faces and centering on a bit of real-life WW2 cloak-and-dagger that almost defies credulity, “The Catcher Was a Spy” is both a thriller and a flawed character study of a man who refused to be characterized.

Indeed, even before he was recruited by the O.S.S. and trained to be an assassin, Morris “Moe” Berg (portrayed here by Paul Rudd…probably too boyish for the role) was a bundle of puzzling contradictions.

Berg had degrees from Columbia, Princeton and the Sorbonne; he spoke seven or eight languages fluently and could get by in several others.

Yet he made his living as a professional baseball player, serving as the second string catcher for the Boston Red Sox.

As presented in Ben Lewin’s film, he is well spoken, erudite and bisexual, augmenting his domestic life with a live-in girlfriend (Sienna Miller) with visits to underground gay nightspots.

Shortly before the beginning of the war Berg was named to an all star team (Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig participated) on a good will tour of Japan.  While there he became convinced that war was inevitable and, on his own, climbed to the roof of a Tokyo skyscraper so that he could film military installations and harbor facilities.

He later presented his reels to William “Wild Bill” Donovan (Jeff Daniels), then running the O.S.S., the precursor to the C.I.A. Donovan was sufficiently impressed by Berg’s intellect, patriotism and facility with foreign languages to give him a job…but not before asking: “Are you queer?”

Berg’s answer sealed the deal: “I’m good at keeping secrets.”

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Colin Firth, Taron Egerton

“KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE” My rating: B- 

141 minutes | MPAA rating: R

For a movie that isn’t actually about anything, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is ridiculously diverting.

Those who saw the original “Kingsman: The Secret Service” a few years back will be treated to more of the same, only on steroids.  This sequel is bigger, faster, noisier and funnier than the original.

Plus, this time around writer/director Matthew Vaughn shows a surer hand at balancing the movie’s over-the-top violence with a refined comic sensibility.

Things begin with our hero Eggsy (Taron Egerton) trying to juggle his duties as a member of the super-secret Kingsman security apparatus against his romance with Tilde (Hanna Alström), an honest-to-God Swedish princess.  For a former car thief with a taste for a white rapper wardrobe (sweats, ball caps), Eggsy has come a long way in a brief time.

But it all comes crashing down when the entire Kingsman operation is destroyed in one fell swoop.  The only survivors are Eggsy (who was having dinner with the King of Sweden when it all happened) and the bald, tech-savvy Merlin (Mark Strong).

What happened? Well, an international drug lord named Poppy (Julianne Moore) and her Golden Circle gang are clearing the deck prior to a big push for world domination.  A nostalgia freak, Poppy lives in seclusion in the Cambodian jungle in her own private theme park…imagine Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A. redone with a “Happy Days” theme.

She’s even kidnapped Elton John (playing himself) so that he can perform her favorite hits at will. (This year’s best bit of celebrity casting.)

Seeking allies, Eggsy and Merlin travel to Kentucky where they encounter the Statesmen, their Yank counterparts, a band of American free agents posing as a distilling concern.  These cowboys — literally…we’re talking Stetsons, boots and electric bullwhips capable of slicing steel — have names like Champagne (Jeff Bridges), Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) and Ginger (Halle Berry).

Oh yes…the Statesmen have been providing shelter to an amnesiac who has suffered a rather nasty bullet wound in the noggin.  He is, of course, Harry Hart aka Galahad (Colin Firth), Eggsy’s mentor and a fatality (or so we thought) in the first film. (I’m not giving anything away here…Firth is all over the ads.)

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Colin Firth...the calm eye of the storm

Colin Firth…the calm eye of the storm

“THE KINGSMAN”  My rating: B- 

129 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE”

Tone is the secret sauce of cinema.

A film can have an interesting plot, good acting, great production values…but if the tone is off the whole thing sits queasily on the stomach like a cheap Mexican dinner.

Matthew Vaughn’s “Kingsman” has a lot going for it.  It’s a wicked spoof of Bondish spy films with tons of over-the-top action.  At its center it has a nifty mentor-student relationship.  And in Colin Firth and newcomer Taron Egerton it has a couple of hugely charismatic leading men.

And yet the tone is, well, iffy.

Borrowing the arched-eyebrow approach of Patrick Macnee’s John Steed from the old “Avengers” TV show, Firth plays Harry Hart, aka Galahad, a member of a super secret agency known as the Kingsmen.

Operating out of a men’s clothing shop in London (which explains why its agents are so nattily dressed with pinstriped suits, tortoise-shell glasses and deadly umbrellas), the Kingsmen were formed decades ago by a cabal of obscenely rich men who thought international security too important to be left in the hands of governments and politicians.

The story — adapted by Vaughn and Jane Goldman from the comic Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons — has two main components.

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Gary Oldman as George Smiley

“TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY” My rating: B+ (Opening January 6 at the Glenwood Arts)

127 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Gary Oldman is often described as an actor’s actor…which in his case apparently means an incurable ham.

Oldman’s career is heavily weighted toward over-the-top, push-too-far performances. Sometimes this is forgivable, particularly when he’s in a bad movie and his fierce scenery gnawing is the only remotely entertaining thing in sight.

Too often over the years, though, I’ve found him to be a jarring pothole in a movie’s narrative highway.

Now I can happily report that in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” Oldman gives a marvelously restrained, subtle and carefully modulated performance.

He plays British spymaster George Smiley, the owlish Cold War protagonis of several John LeCarre novels — a role essayed by Alec Guinness in the 1979  PBS adaptation of “TTSS.” And he is quietly wonderful.

The movie’s not too shabby, either. (more…)

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