Tag Archives: Colin Firth

On With the Show

Empire of Light

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

There are certain actors – you know the ones – who seem to put out a film every year right at awards season. The people who somehow never have a straight-to-VOD indie or a summer romp, just yearly Oscar vehicles.

For at least one of these people it is a welcome return visit, year after year.

Hello, Olivia Colman.

Seriously, is there anyone who does not love her? Any filmmaker, any actor, any moviegoer? Her performances are shamelessly, giddily human, authentic to a chilling degree. Her force of nature in Sam Mendes’s ode to the cinema, Empire of Light, is no different.

Mendes’s 2019 epic 1917 showed him a master of pacing, understated emotion and visceral thrill. Back in 2012, he made an almost Shakespearean Bond film, easily the strongest in the entire franchise with Skyfall. For Empire of Light, the filmmaker ­– who also wrote the script ­ – returns to the more sentimental content of his earlier career.

Colman is Hilary, the troubled, often melancholy manager of a coastal England cinema in the very early 1980s. A wonderful supporting cast – from the kindly Toby Jones to the prickly Colin Firth, the tender Michael Ward to surprising Tom Brooke ­– surrounds Colman with sparring partners up to the challenge.

Mendes’s tale, at its heart, revels not just in the magic of the movies, but of the movie house itself. Most of the patrons seem to come to the screenings alone, looking to escape the loneliness, the mundane, or the rising tide of extremism right outside those glass doors.

And though the crowds aren’t as large as they once were, the theater still has something to offer – as does Hilary. Her dutiful existence is shaken by the younger Stephen (Ward, outstanding) joining the crew, and together they start exploring some forgotten areas of the once majestic cinema.

The metaphor isn’t subtle, and the film’s tone is overtly nostalgic, but because Colman’s character is anything but typical, Mendes punctures his own sentimentality before it can become overbearing. Gorgeous framing from the great Roger Deakins doesn’t hurt, bathing it all in a grand beauty that reinforces what power can come from that certain beam of light.

The pandemic has drawn out no shortage of filmmakers who’ve been understandably inspired to assess their life’s work. With Empire of Light, Mendes is wearing his heart on his cupholder, imploring us to value what the theater has to offer.

This film can offer the exquisite Colman and a stellar ensemble, and that’s just enough. Through them, Mendes finds impact in his sweetness, rising above the moments that seem engineered for an ad that runs right before the one telling you not to talk or text.

Shooting Stars


by George Wolf

Sometimes, just watching two master actors at work is worth the price of admission. And though Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci are not all that Supernova has in the win column, they are what keeps the film engaging throughout a fairly familiar narrative.

Firth is Sam and Tucci is Tusker, two longtime partners who have hit the road with their beloved dog, traveling across England in an old RV.

The two men have been in a committed, loving relationship for over twenty years. Now, after Tusker’s diagnosis of early onset dementia, they’re taking the time to catch up with cherished family and friends while they revisit some favorite spots from their past.

For his second feature, writer/director Harry Macqueen is on familiar ground as well, returning to some of the themes that drove Hinterland, his 2014 debut.

Like that film, Supernova becomes a road trip through wonderfully picturesque landscapes, as two souls appreciate the chance to share the beauty – and the heartbreak – that life brings.

But here, with older characters connected by more than just friendship, Macqueen adds a layer that is made beautifully resonant by the warm chemistry and fully formed characterizations of Tucci and Firth.

Every glance and subtle movement between them reflects the preciousness of the time that Sam and Tusker have left. And though its predictability has you wishing Supernova had something a bit more luminous to say, the two shooting stars in the lead are not to be missed.

Indirect Message


by George Wolf

War. Maybe you’ve heard of it lately.

Taking inspiration from the past, director Sam Mendes has crafted an immaculate exercise in technical wonder, passionate vision and suddenly vital reminders.

The inherent gamble in crafting a film via one extended take – or the illusion of it – lies in the final cut existing as little more than a gimmick, spurring a ‘spot the edit’ challenge that eclipses the narrative.

1917 clears that hurdle in the first five minutes.

It is WWI, and British Corporals Blake and Schofield (Dean Charles-Chapman and George MacKay, both wonderful) are standing before their General (Colin Firth) amid the highest of stakes. Allied intelligence has revealed an imminent offensive will lead straight into a German ambush, and the corporals’ success at traveling deep into enemy territory to deliver the order to abort is all that will keep thousands of soldiers – including Blake’s own brother – from certain death.

Mendes dedicates the film to the stories told by his grandfather, and it stands thick with the humanity of bravery and sacrifice that ultimately prevailed through the most hellish of circumstances.

Blake and Schofield head out alone, enveloped by ballet-worthy camerawork and pristine cinematography (Roger Deakins, natch) that never blinks. The opportunities for edits may be evident at times, but the narrative experience is so immersive you’ll hardly care. We’re not merely following along on this mission, we’re part of every heart-stopping minute.

Anyone who’s seen the actual WW1 footage from Peter Jackson’s recent doc They Shall Not Grow Old (an irresistible bookend to 1917) will recognize a certain sanitation to the production design, but the trade-off is a fresh majesty for familiar themes, one that’s consistently grounded in stark intimacy. Mendes and Deakins (buoyed by a subtly evocative score from Thomas Newman) brush away any dangers of “first-person shooter” novelty with a near miraculous level of precise execution that succeeds in raising several bars.

1917 is absolutely one of the best films of the year, but it’s more. It’s an unforgettable and exhausting trip, immediately joining the ranks of the finest war movies ever made.

Everything Except Temptation

The Happy Prince

by Hope Madden

“Why does one run toward ruin? Why does it hold such fascination?”

Oscar Wilde, by way of writer/star Rupert Everett, wonders these potent lines partway through The Happy Prince, director Everett’s biopic of the infamous decadent/undeniable genius.

Everett’s tale flashes backward and forward but mainly focuses on the period between Wilde’s 1897 release from prison and his death in 1900. A rather bleak time in a very rich and colorful life, but Everett’s execution never forgets the heights, and his performance is haunted with the fall.

Upon his release, Wilde finds support with sometime lover and literary agent Robert Ross (Edwin Thomas) and writer/friend Reginald Turner (Colin Firth – delightful, especially when his character is not the focus of a scene). But Wilde cannot or will not deny his desire for Alfred “Bosie” Douglas (Colin Morgan).

It is a perfect vehicle for a film that lays bare this particular genius and that rumination on running toward ruin. Only a few years earlier, Wilde’s ego required recompense from his lover’s father, who’d libeled him. Wilde’s suit, however, only uncovered his own then-illegal dalliances and instead of recompense he found himself facing hard labor.

And yet, even with emotional support from his friends and financial support from his wife jeopardized by the decision, Wilde joyously takes Bosie back and the two travel to Naples to misbehave.

Everett’s film more than forgives Wilde’s wildness, though it doesn’t go so far as to fully admire it. His lead performance is colored by an understanding of the difference between living lustily when you have everything, and when all that you once had is forever out of reach.

As a writer and director, Everett tries too hard to use Wilde’s short story The Happy Prince to create a running metaphor, perhaps suggesting that Wilde’s end, like the story’s, reaches transcendence. It’s a tough sell, passing off the short’s image of voluntary self-sacrifice as analogous to Wilde’s fall from grace.

Otherwise, though, the first-time filmmaker delivers a vision edged with the melancholy of a brilliant mind never again able to see the world as bountiful and beautiful. It’s as touching as it is resonant, and nothing in The Happy Prince articulates this tragedy as beautifully as Everett’s performance.

It’s a performance simultaneously full of life and of death. You see the enormous loss, but more than that, the deflating ugliness of this world etched on Everett’s face, echoing in his every gesture.

Everett’s instincts behind the camera come as a nice surprise. With more than 70 acting credits to judge by—many of them quite fine, some even awards contenders—the real surprise is that he had this performance in him.

Like the Beat from a Tambourine

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

by Hope Madden

You may be asking yourself, is Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again just 90 minutes of second-rate, b-side Abba songs? All those weird songs that no sensible story about unplanned pregnancy could call for? Songs like Waterloo?

Nope. It is nearly two full hours of it.

Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) wants to open her mother’s crumbling Greek hotel as an upscale island resort. She’s so terribly angsty about it! Will anyone come to the grand opening? Will her mom be proud of her? Can she handle the pressure if her husband’s traveling and two of her three dads can’t make it?

Transition to a simpler time, a time when her mom Donna was young (played by Lily James), bohemian and striking out on her own. She has chutzpah. She has friends who love her. She has great hair.

The majority of the sequel to Phillida Lloyd’s 2008 smash looks back on the romantic voyage that created the three dad business of the first film.

James is a fresh and interesting a young version of the character Meryl Streep brought to life in the original. Likewise, Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies make wonderful younger selves for Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters).

The three dads have young counterparts as well, though only Harry (Colin Firth/Hugh Skinner) lands a memorable characterization. Firth is reliably adorable while Skinner’s socially awkward young man is as embarrassing and earnest as we might have imagined.

Also, Cher.

Expect an awful lot of needless angst and long stretches without humor. Whether present-time or flashback, the film desperately misses the funny friends. Desperately. But when they are onscreen, Here We Go Again cannot help but charm and entertain.

The story is weaker, although there is a reason for that. While the original gift-wrapped an origin story to plumb, the plumbing is slow going when you still have to abide by the Abba songtacular gimmick.

The sequel’s musical numbers rely too heavily on slow tunes and stretch too far to make the odder Abba songs work, but in a way, that is, in fact, the movie’s magic.

Your best bet is to abandon yourself to the sheer ridiculousness of it. There is literally no other way to enjoy it.

Whisky Dicks

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

by Matt Weiner

There was a fleeting moment early in Kingsman: The Golden Circle when I thought that the new film might be atoning for the biggest misfire in the first one. One hour and one novel use of an inside-the-body POV shot later, I realized I should have known better.

Just like first movie, Kingsman: The Golden Circle (again directed by Matthew Vaughn, and written by Vaughn and Jane Goldman) delights in its attempts to set up the familiar contours of a spy movie and then gleefully take the piss out of them, to hell with audience expectations.

Unfortunately, the film also doubles down on everything—the good, the bad and the truly repulsive—from the first one.

We barely have time to be reunited with Eggsy aka “Galahad” (Taron Egerton), Merlin (Mark Strong) and the rest of Kingsman before the two men find themselves all alone against a worldwide threat yet again. (This would be a good time to point out that for a super-secret highly trained spy agency, it sure seems easy to wipe them out every few years.) Following the only lifeline they’ve got, Galahad and Merlin head to America to revive a special relationship with Statesman, their booze-swilling, Southern-drawling counterparts.

The Statesman universe is an American funhouse of Kingsman, complete with a lone Q-type (Halle Berry) somehow serving the entire agency. While the Statesman introduction gets in a few digs at us bumpkins across the pond, it’s hard not to sense that the main purpose is to tease some big names for future installments. That, and also—spoiler—to explain the resurrection of Eggsy’s mentor, Harry Hart (Colin Firth).

Working together, Kingsman and Statesman cut, shoot and lasso a swath of carnage across the globe in pursuit of drug lord and big-time Elton John fan Poppy (Julianne Moore) attempting to murder hundreds of millions.

I want to like the world of Kingsman. I really do. The first film was fresh, briskly shot and gave its characters enough room and heart to make you overlook the script’s shortcomings. And despite the runtime bloat in The Golden Circle, the kinetic violence and over-the-top parody keeps the action moving.

But for a pastiche that has no reservations transcending its source material when it comes to sending up action and plotting, it’s impossible to ignore how the same can’t be said for the movie’s treatment of women.

This is, after all, a film where dogs play a more emotional role in the narrative arc than most of the female leads, and a running bit about reluctant anal sex is no longer the grossest punchline in the franchise. So congrats on that distinction, I guess.

But that’s not cheeky. It’s just dull. And it’s unforgivable in any film—but especially in one that so desperately wants to be seen as clever.

Bridget Jones, Back in Medium-Rare Form

Bridget Jones’s Baby

by Matt Weiner

It’s been over a decade since Bridget Jones last went through an embarrassing series of personal and professional mishaps on the way to learning that opposites attract after all. Anyone expecting a change in formula will be disappointed, but there are worse ways to spend two hours finding Mr. Right (again) than with Jones, thanks in large part to Renée Zellweger.

Zellweger grounds Jones this time around as quirky, confident and—more or less—competent TV news producer. Colin firth returns as the priggish Mark Darcy, and Patrick Dempsey steps into the Hugh Grant point on the love triangle as the charming Jack Qwant. (Metaphor alert: Qwant made a fortune off a dating website but hasn’t found his own perfect match.)

Jones has one-night stands with both men, getting pregnant by one of them and setting off a competition between the suitors to prove their worth as potential fathers—and win Jones’s heart in the process. (A fear of needles rules out the in-utero test that would’ve made for a much briefer film.)

Despite the tension the film wants to set up between Darcy and Qwant, the best running theme for much of the movie is that Jones doesn’t need either of the boobs vying for her. And it’s a credit to the film that the madcap finale turns out some of the movie’s biggest laughs without cheapening everything Jones has done to get to that point.

Bridget Jones stands on her own far more in this film than the previous two, with most of the supporting characters—from best friend Miranda (Sarah Solemani) to Darcy and Qwant—simply along for well-timed banter or convenient plot devices. Two exceptions are Bridget’s father, Colin—filled with a depth of emotion that far exceeds Jim Broadbent’s criminal lack of screen time—and Bridget’s physician, Dr. Rawlings (Emma Thompson). Thompson delivers every line and fixes every stare with the tart awareness that reduces the men in Bridget’s life from masters of the universe to emperors with no clothes.

Bridget Jones’s Baby is directed by Sharon Maguire—who also directed the first Jones film, Bridget Jones’s Diary—and the latest entry is a welcome improvement on 2004’s inane Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. But the film has little of the light touch and keen observation that made Bridget Jones’s Diary a refreshing romantic comedy back in 2001.

This latest installment doesn’t break any new ground for romcoms. The satire is easy, toothless and, somehow, already dated. But this marks a comfortable return for Bridget Jones. She’s hard to root against even in bad times. Maybe it’s unfair to grade on a curve, but we’ve seen Jones much worse off than this. It’s hard not to crack a smile when she’s on top.




All the Kingsman

Kingsman: The Secret Service

by Hope Madden

Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman work well together. The writing/directing team produced two new era superhero movies – Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class – and now they want to create a new kind of spy movie with Kingsman: The Secret Service.

Based on comics by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, their screenplay hips up the old Bond-style gentlemen agent when Code Name: Galahad (a very fit Colin Firth) introduces a talented street kid to the world of espionage.

Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is Galahad’s candidate to join the Kingsmen – a nation-agnostic spy organization as old and as prim as they come. If Eggsy makes it through training and beats the other candidates, he will take his place alongside Galahad as the group’s newest member, Code Name: Lancelot.

Unless, that is, some lisping billionaire (Samuel L. Jackson) takes his super villain role too seriously and ends the world before training is over.

Firth is a charmer and a joy in the mentor role, and though Jackson’s lisp comes and goes, he makes for a fun villain and his odd-couple onscreen chemistry with Firth is priceless. Egerton, who shoulders much of the film, is an effortlessly likeable presence.

But Vaughn is the star of this film. Kingsmen is often vulgar and crass but always fun and sometimes shockingly funny. The whole affair feels a tad like a British version of Kick-Ass: lovable loser turned unexpected hero, affectionate nods to cinematic forebears, brash new ideas taking familiar genre tropes in excitedly sloppy new directions. Aaah, the refreshing chaos of youth.

The comic timing is fresh and the action sequences are a blast There’s one scene in particular of hillbilly church service carnage set to Skynyrd’s redneck classic Free Bird that is magnificent.

Not every joke lands well. Some fly off in crass directions, but none more than the Bond-esque romantic entanglement that finishes the film. It starts off a saucy little homage, turns questionably but forgivably rank, then, quite unfortunately takes that ugly joke two steps further. Maybe you always thought Bond has too much respect for women? This is not that film, bro.

But, you know, leave after that last bit with Jackson and this movie is really good!


Still Waiting for the Magic


Magic in the Moonlight

by George Wolf

I don’t know how productive you’ve been this week, but Woody Allen finished three more screenplays before lunchtime on Tuesday.

The man just keeps cranking them out, which is good, because the sooner there’s another charmer like Midnight in Paris, the sooner we can just forgive the dud that is Magic in the Moonlight.

Allen continues the world traveling we’ve seen in his recent scripts, setting the latest in France near the end of the roaring twenties.

Master illusionist Stanley (Colin Firth) has agreed to help his old friend and fellow magician Howard (Simon McBurney) in the quest to expose a scam artist. A young cutie named Sophie (Emma Stone) has been passing herself off as a clairvoyant, completely captivating a rich American family living on the French Riviera.

It seems Howard has observed Sophie’s “gift” in action, and hasn’t been able to pick up on the tricks she’s employing, but Stanley, full of smug conceit, is confident he’ll expose her in no time.

The rest goes pretty much as you’d expect, which would be fine if the film delivered even a hint of what the title promises. There’s no magic here, regardless of how hard Stone and Firth try to muster it.

It’s more contrived than charming, more forced than fun. Character development is kept to the bare minimum, apparently to leave more room for banter that snaps loud and says very little.

Throughout his storied career, Allen has often played with different genres and styles of filmmaking, and even when the results fall short, the ambition is commendable. Magic in the Moonlight is his attempt to marry the wit of Noel Coward with the inspiration of George Bernard Shaw.

OK, worthy idea, but the result feels like he lost interest half way though.

So did I.