Top 15 Films of 2015, No. 8 – Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a British spy film directed by Matthew Vaughn, with a screenplay by Vaughn and Jane Goldman, which was adapted from The Secret Service, a comic book series by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. The film follows Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a veteran “Kingsman” spy agent, as he recruits “Eggsy” (Taron Egerton), a troubled youth from the poor streets of London. Eggsy takes part in a highly aggressive training program to become a Kingsman agent, just in time to pursue a global threat led by Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a maniacal tech billionaire.

Kingsman3Director Matthew Vaughn is the filmmaking genius behind one of my favorite comic-inspired action films of all time, 2010’s Kick-Ass. That film was filled with non-stop action and hilarious banter, not to mention a superfluity of profanity-laced dialogue. Vaughn adapted Kick-Ass from a comic series of the same name by author Mark Millar. In addition to creating the Kick-Ass series, Millar has penned the comic series Wanted (which was adapted into a film starring Angelina Jolie) and The Secret Service, the latter of which served as the source material for Kingsman. In his latest film, Vaughn has delivered his greatest filmmaking achievement yet—in fact, Kingsman grossed over $414 million worldwide, which made it Vaughn’s most commercially successful film. This film is obviously not one that is contending for any major accolades, but I assure you, it is some of the most fun you will have watching a movie!

2014, KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICEKingsman always knows what it is as a movie, and it thrives off never taking itself too seriously. Much like 2015’s Spy (starring Melissa McCarthy)—but done so far more magnificently—Kingsman straddles the line between the James Bond film series and Austin Powers. The film is never so serious as to be a real Bond thriller, but it also never completely sells itself out as a full-blown parody—Kingsman strikes a happy medium between the two. In one scene, Eggsy is asked how he would like his martini prepared, and he replies, “With gin…stirred for ten seconds while glancing at an unopened bottle of vermouth.” The line is entertaining, as it puts a cheeky twist on Bond’s infamous “Vesper Lynd” drink. Aside from the film’s sidesplitting repartee and vintage spy reverences, the action is out of this world. Kingsman2As the film progresses, its action sequences get more and more over the top—yet, it works, simply because the film never takes itself too seriously. One of the biggest set pieces is one of the most epic brawls/massacres you will ever see in a movie, all triggered by the villain’s lethal SIM-card plot. The scene is bloody, filled with blockbuster combat, and takes place in a church, nonetheless. It is madly exaggerated, yet it is one of the best things I saw all year—pure entertainment at its finest.

Kingsman5Kingsman boasts a wildly impressive cast, which is one of its most noteworthy feats. Colin Firth stars as Harry Hart (codename Galahad; all the Kingsman agents have knights-of-the-round-table names), and at first glance, the character is as archetypal as it gets for Firth. He wears a nice suit, speaks in proper English, and does not appear to have a violent bone in his body—and then the action starts! I was quite impressed with Firth’s portrayal of his character as one of the biggest badasses in the film—in one scene, he defeats an entire gang of hooligan-like gentlemen in a bar…with only an umbrella! In addition, newcomer Taron Egerton (who will star in Eddie the Eagle in 2016) fills the role of the snot-nosed, temperamental young recruit quite well. He has a certain charisma about him, and he holds his own next to the Oscar-winning Firth. Kingsman4The film also features solid supporting performances from the legendary Oscar winner Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Sophie Cookson, and Sofia Boutella. However, the best supporting performance comes from Samuel L. Jackson. In his role as the film’s villain (Valentine), Jackson plays the character brilliantly. Valentine wears flat-billed hats cocked to the side, has a vicious thirst for blood, and hilariously speaks with a pronounced lisp—Samuel L. Jackson nails it! Kingsman: The Secret Service is rated R for sequences of strong violence, language, and some sexual content.

Kingsman: The Secret Service trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kl8F-8tR8to

Academy Award nominations for Kingsman: The Secret Service:

NONE

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2015:

  1. Steve Jobs
  2. Creed
  3. ’71
  4. Room
  5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  6. Beasts of No Nation
  7. The Martian

Fall Preview 2015: No. 5 – No. 1

1-5 Header 2015

Happy Monday, film fans! The conclusion to my “Fall Preview 2015” is finally here. Over the past few days, I have shared with you my five Honorable Mentions and No. 10 – No. 6 on the list of my most anticipated fall film releases. But now it is on to the big reveal. So, without further ado, I give you films No. 5 – No. 1 on my Fall Preview 2015 list. Enjoy!

No. 5 – Black Mass

Black Mass 3Black Mass tells the true story of Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp), a notorious mobster and infamous leader of the Winter Hill Gang, an Irish-American mob in South Boston. If you have not seen this trailer, quit reading this now and click the link to it below (no, seriously…it’s worth it). Johnny Depp stars as the villainous Bulger, and by the looks of the aforementioned trailer, he knocks this performance out of the park! I will be the first to admit that Depp is by far one of the weirdest tools in the Hollywood shed. In today’s world, his filmography is marred by oddball performances in films like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, The Lone Ranger, and Mortdecai. But most forget how truly talented Depp is as an artist, providing iconic performances in Donnie Brasco, Blow, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Public Enemies. I am hopeful that his portrayal of Bulger falls perfectly in line with his more acclaimed displays of acting dexterity—the trailer truly does give me hope!

Black Mass 2Other than seeing Johnny Depp own the role of a crazed, harebrained mobster, I am looking forward to Black Mass because I am hopeful that it redeems the deeply complex story of Whitey Bulger’s life that the 2014 documentary Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger so drastically mucked up. I was expecting big things from that documentary, but it merely provided a bore-fest that too blatantly revealed the filmmakers’ lack of access. Beneath the surface, an incredibly captivating story bubbles with deceit, violence, lunacy, and corruption, and I am confident that director Scott Cooper and Depp will bring that to fruition. Black Mass is set for a theatrical release on September 18, 2015.

Director: Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace, Crazy Heart)

Starring: Johnny Depp (Mortdecai, Into the Woods), Joel Edgerton (The Gift, Life), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, The Imitation Game), Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey, Need for Speed), and Kevin Bacon (Cop Car, R.I.P.D.)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CE3e3hGF2jc

No. 4 – The Revenant

The Revenant 2According to Entertainment Weekly, The Revenant “is inspired by the trust story of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a 19th-century hunter and fur trapper who was attacked by a bear and left for dead by his comrades (Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson), only to will himself across hundreds of miles of winter terrain to safety—and redemption.” This movie has SO much going for it in my eyes: the cast, the crew, and the director. For starters, it stars Leo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Domhnall Gleeson. Leo is my all-time favorite actor. Hardy is the greatest currently in the business. And with films like About Time and Ex Machina in his relatively small filmography, D-Glee is becoming one of my faves in the industry. Combine the talents of all three of these practiced artists and, in my humble opinion, you have a concoction of star power with unfathomable potential—this alone makes The Revenant a massive draw for me!

The Revenant 3Notwithstanding a wealth of talent within its cast, The Revenant piques my interest because of its director and cinematographer: Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lubezki. Iñárritu is an absolute genius filmmaker, as evidenced by his critically acclaimed 2014 film Birdman, winner of four Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Director for Iñárritu). He is obviously coming off an amazing year in film, and the fact that he is following up Birdman with an epic adventure that took over seven months to shoot in one of the most frigid locations in the world, Iñárritu is sure not letting off the gas pedal. Additionally, his Birdman cinematographer (Lubezki) is back for The Revenant, and that is reason alone to be excited—Lubezki has won the Oscar for Best Cinematography at each of the last two Academy Awards (Gravity and Birdman). The Revenant is set for a theatrical release on December 25, 2015.

Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman, Babel)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Great Gatsby, Django Unchained) and Tom Hardy (Legend, Mad Max: Fury Road)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRfj1VCg16Y

No. 3 – Sicario

Sicario 3Sicario, Spanish for “hitman,” follows Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), an FBI agent who is recruited onto a joint task force assigned to hunting down a drug-cartel overlord. Blunt is joined by Benicio del Toro (who plays a Mexican national) and Josh Brolin (who plays a government official). To put it simply: I absolutely cannot wait for Sicario.

Sicario 2Earning rave reviews from critics at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Sicario is most fascinating due to Emily Blunt being cast as the lead protagonist. I have always somewhat enjoyed her work, but ever since her badass performance in last year’s Edge of Tomorrow, I am officially on Team Blunt for life. She has just as much charisma as any other leading lady, but it is her penchant for action that now truly sets her apart. Speaking to EW, director Denis Villeneuve said, “I didn’t want a woman who would act like a man. I wanted a woman who would find her strength in a masculine world.” I believe Blunt is up to the task, and that is one of the biggest reasons I am so stoked for this movie’s release.

S_D037_09788.NEFThe supporting cast is also a major draw. Benicio del Toro is a veteran in the game, and with performances in films like Traffic and 21 Grams, he knows how to most effectively evoke mystery, thrill, and suspense. Josh Brolin is another experienced actor that is sure to bring his trademark demeanor to the picture in order to add to the film’s drama. Lastly, I greatly enjoyed 2013’s Prisoners, directed by Villeneuve. He provided an unprecedented level of tension for that film’s entire duration, and I look for him to do the exact same thing in Sicario, hopefully expanding the scope of this apprehensive style of filmmaking. Sicario is set for a limited theatrical release on September 18, 2015 and a wide theatrical release on September 25, 2015.

Director: Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy)

Starring: Emily Blunt (Into the Woods, Edge of Tomorrow), Benicio del Toro (Inherent Vice, Guardians of the Galaxy), and Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XLQ1bkSLDo

No. 2 – Spectre

Spectre 2Spectre is the 24th Eon-produced 007 film, and it picks up where its predecessor, Skyfall, ended: following the fatal attack by Raoul Silva that claimed the life of M (Judy Dench), James Bond (Daniel Craig) must move on to thwart impending threats (by the criminal organization SPECTRE) at the direction of the new M, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes). I am an avid fan of the James Bond series, and although my loyalties were always to Sean Connery as the preeminent Bond, Daniel Craig has definitely won me over; I now hold Craig out to be the best 007 of all time! Skyfall set a new bar for Bond films, surpassing (almost) every single one that came before it—Goldfinger is still the, pardon the pun, “gold” standard for 007 flicks! With Bond and his cohorts back in action for a fourth installment in the Daniel Craig era, I am hard-pressed to find any reason why this film should not be regarded as one of the biggest, baddest, and most anticipated films of the fall film season!

Spectre 3What is the one thing that could possibly propel Spectre past Skyfall for the second greatest 007 movie of all time? Two words: Christoph Waltz! The two-time Oscar winner is set to play Oberhauser, the apparent mastermind of SPECTRE, who claims some sort of personal connection to Bond. Bringing into the Bond fold one of the premier actors in the film industry is simply the best news for the franchise, and with Waltz in the mix, director Sam Mendes may find a cinematic classic at his fingertips. Spectre is set for a wide theatrical release on November 6, 2015.

Director: Sam Mendes (Skyfall, Away We Go)

Starring: Daniel Craig (Skyfall, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Christoph Waltz (Big Eyes, Horrible Bosses 2), Léa Seydoux (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Blue Is the Warmest Colour), Monica Bellucci (The Wonders, Love & War), and Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Skyfall)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ashLaclKCik

No. 1 – The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight 2The Hateful Eight follows John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) as he escorts Daisy “The Prisoner” Domergue to Red Rock to face justice for murder. Along the way, the two come across six very unique characters: The Bounty Hunter (Samuel L. Jackson), The Sherriff (Walter Goggins), The Mexican (Demián Bichir), The Little Man (Tim Roth), The Cow Puncher (Michael Madsen), and The Confederate (Bruce Dern).

The Hateful Eight 3Where do I start? I have been looking forward to The Hateful Eight since late 2013 when writer/director Quentin Tarantino said that he was working on his next movie. I have long been a fan of Tarantino, and considering (1) Inglourious Basterds is my all-time favorite movie, and (2) I own every single film Tarantino has ever made, it is no surprise that The Hateful Eight finds itself at the No. 1 spot of my Fall Preview. I am stunned this movie ever got made to be honest. In 2014, after his initial script was illegally leaked, Tarantino said that he was abandoning the project. However, he later changed his mind, rewrote the script, and voilà—we get a Christmas-day release in 70 mm of The Hateful Eight!

The Hateful Eight 1One thing Tarantino has always been known for is his recurring collaborations with actors—The Hateful Eight is no exception. Other than Jennifer Jason Leigh and Demián Bichir, Tarantino has previously worked with each of his stars. The Hateful Eight will be his second collaboration with Kurt Russell, Walter Goggins, and Bruce Dern, his third with Michael Madsen, his fourth with Tim Roth, and an astounding sixth with the legendary F-bomb king Samuel L. Jackson. Tarantino’s professional rapport with these actors can only benefit the movie, and I am so eager to see what this mad scientist has cooked up next! The Hateful Eight is set for a 70 mm film release on December 25, 2015 and a digital film release on January 8, 2016.

Director: Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds)

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Kingsman: The Secret Service), Kurt Russell (Furious 7, The Art of the Steal), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Welcome to Me, The Spectacular Now), Walter Goggins (American Ultra, Mojave), Demián Bichir (Dom Hemingway, Machete Kills), Tim Roth (Selma, United Passions), Michael Madsen (Ashley, I’m in Love with a Church Girl), and Bruce Dern (Cut Bank, Nebraska)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnRbXn4-Yis

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 5 – Django Unchained

Django

Django Unchained is a film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.  The film is set in the South before the Civil War, and the story follows Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave who is bought by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German-born bounty hunter.  Django teams up with Dr. Schultz to hunt down some of the most renowned, murderous men in the slave business.  Django’s main goal, though, is to search until he finds his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who was sold into slavery many years before.  When Django and Schultz finally track her down, she is in the confinement of a sadistically ruthless slave owner named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).  The two men must put on an act in order to gain the trust of Candie, but when Candie’s house slave (Samuel L. Jackson) becomes suspicious of their intentions, all hell breaks loose.

To say the very least, I absolutely, unequivocally loved this movie.  I have always been a fan of Tarantino’s work, and his creation of Django ranks right up there with some of his best of all time, including Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Inglourious Basterds (my favorite film of all time).  The film takes place during one of the most controversial periods of American history—the years of slavery before the Civil War.  If you have seen the way Tarantino recreated the history of the Nazis during World War II in Inglourious Basterds, then you are in for an equally hilarious depiction of the racist slave owners of the 1800s.

His film has been met with both critical acclaim and controversy, but then again it seems most of Tarantino’s movies are met with this same mix of emotion from critics and the general public.  He has been chastised by many, including the annoyingly outspoken Spike Lee, about his usage of the “N” word during the film, but in order to accurately depict this period of history, Tarantino would have been doing everyone a disservice by avoiding the word and sugarcoating the times.  His script is violently gruesome, but honest, and like most of his films, it is downright hilarious—the scene with the white-hooded horsemen will forever go down as one of the funniest I have ever seen in a movie.

The tour de force that is Tarantino’s screenplay for Django Unchained is assisted by an ensemble of actors and actresses creating unique and illustrious portrayals of their dynamic characters on the screen.  Jamie Foxx gives one of the best performances of his career, ranking behind only his roles in Collateral and Ray, in my opinion.  Surprisingly, Foxx was not nominated for any of the major awards despite his excellent performance.  Christoph Waltz once again collaborates with Tarantino, and like in his role as Col. Hans Landa in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, Waltz brings his incomparable and articulate diction to the role, coupled with his fascinatingly comical wit.  His performance makes him a strong frontrunner for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for which he is nominated.

Some other strong examples of exceptional acting are illustrated by Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen the house slave, Kerry Washington as Broomhilda, Don Johnson as Big Daddy, and Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie.  I was quite upset when both Jackson and DiCaprio were snubbed for Oscars because after seeing nearly every nominated film this year, their performances stood out way above the rest.  DiCaprio has turned in a very triumphant career thus far, but he has yet to receive an Academy Award, and before nominations were announced, I was sure this would be his year.  Django Unchained is rated R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language, and some nudity.

Django Unchained trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUdM9vrCbow

Academy Award nominations for Django Unchained:

Best Picture (Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin, and Pilar Savone, Producers)

Actor in a Supporting Role (Christoph Waltz)

Cinematography (Robert Richardson)

Sound Editing (Wylie Stateman)

Best Original Screenplay (Quentin Tarantino)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

6. Life of Pi

7. Amour

8. Les Misérables

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild

10. Looper

11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

12. The Dark Knight Rises

13. Flight

14. The Master

15. Argo