REVIEW: “THE KING’S MAN” (2021) 20th Century Studios

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Having seen this one over a month ago, but not being able to even speak about it till Dec 6th, made me almost forget I’d even seen it. Or maybe that was just a wish that didn’t come true. Having highly enjoyed the original Kingsman: The Secret Service, and even somewhat Kingsman: The Golden Circle – I found myself looking forward to it’s prequel “THE KING’S MAN” as I was looking forward to some high paced fun. Instead for the first 45 minutes of this film I felt like I was in seventh grade history class and we had a substitute teacher who decided to show us a film all about what led up to WWI and who Rasputin really was. And not in a good way, but in an almost odd, campy way.

It starts with father and son, the Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes), the title character, and Conrad (Harris Dickinson), and wanders slowly through the beginnings of their relationship. Fiennes’ Duke of Oxford is at the right hand of King Edward (Tom Hollander) just as WWI is about to break out between England, Germany, headed up by Kaiser Wilhelm, also played by Tom Hollander, and the Czar of Russia, also played by you guessed it, Tom Hollander. Add in Rhys Ifans as Grigori Rasputin, the team of servant spies, including Polly (Gemma Arterton) and Shola (Djimon Hounsou), who are part of the few who can protect the Crown, and Matthew Goode as Morton, the good guy/villain. Add in a lot of camp with it’s first fun, action moment coming in right around the 60 minute mark, where by then three people had walked out of the screening, but Rasputin finally gives us this, and moments where you can actually see Fiennes action double take over, then this is your movie.

Honestly the main issue with The King’s Man is the script. It’s all over the place type jumbled and difficult to keep up with what the plan was because of everyone involved. The first half of this film feels like it’s moving slow because of everything that is being set up. Then, once they get into the actual story, it loses its footing, goes off the rails and tries to get into way to many storylines all at once. It felt like Conrad and the Duke’s relationship played a more important role than saving England from villains. In the end, both narratives end up fizzling out and the film never really creates any emotional connection to the original Kingsmen agency, or even father and son story which it goes into huge depth trying to explain to you in the first hour as well.

It was nice to see the who developed the agency as it at least gave Arterton a strong take in it all, but the story wasn’t executed well enough to make it as enjoyable as the others were. I think it there might be the camp who didn’t like the first two that will enjoy this one, and those that enjoyed the first two more, maybe won’t have the same feelings on this one and share mine. Who knows. But I can credibly say the campy nature of the espionage and the cheesy dialogue did not suit the era at all, which made some moments incredibly awkward and just overall, not my movie.

Grade: D+

‘THE KING’S MAN” is coming to theaters Wednesday, December 22, 2021

REVIEW: “HOW TO BUILD A GIRL” (2020) IFC Films

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Teenage girl Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein) is a talented copywriter and not popular at all in her school. At home, Johanna has a “Wall of Gods” featuring photographs of her literary and historical heroes, including: Sylvia Plath (Lucy Punch), Elizabeth Taylor (Lily Allen), The Bronte sisters, Sigmund Freud (Michael Sheen), and Maria von Trapp (Gemma Arterton). Johanna speaks to these photos, and the fact that they answer her makes for some early fun. Johanna’s family hustles to stay just above poverty. Her dad, Pat Morrigan (Paddy Considine), still has dreams of rock stardom even though they have long passed, and now he breeds black market Border Collies. Her mother Angie (Sarah Solemani) suffers from post-partem depression after giving birth to unexpected and unprepared for twins.

 

After winning a local TV spot as student poet (in a quick turn as a show host is Chris O’Dowd) turns mortifying, Johanna’s brother Krissi (Laurie Kynaston) suggests she audition for a London magazine’s opening as music critic. She unironically writes up a piece on the soundtrack to Broadway’s “Annie”—which nabs her an interview, but only as a joke. Undeterred, she overwhelms the smarmy hipster editor (Frank Dillane) into an assignment and gets the full fledged opportunity to work for a rock magazine.  They however are less than impressed when she writes what is essentially a teenage love crush fluff piece on her first big interview piece about musician John Kite (Alfie Allen) and she gets the hatchet.

With that Johanna decides to sharpen her claws and it’s here where, low and behold, she does a complete reinvention of herself and evolves into persona ‘Dolly Wilde’. It’s no surprise that Dolly’s hatchet jobs become a cause-celebre’ hit. Celebrating the idea of “A nice girl gets nowhere, but a bitch… A bitch can make a comeback,” she gradually rises to become the most hated person in the industry including winning ‘Asshole of the Year’ journalism award.

Performance wise, sometimes it’s left to ponder who Considine’s representation is as he can be fantastic actor, but at times picks roles where he fails to bring any expectation to the character he’s playing. Feldstein, being American, has a somewhat thick British accent here and aside from a few struggles with said accent, commands your attention at all angles. There are times when even though you don’t really believe she is fully pulling the character off – you still root for her – follow her – even if her figure character becomes almost unbearable in between. Nevertheless, Johanna has her heart in the right place and so this comedy is quite a decent affair – and not only for girls. That’ll help you miss some of the weaker elements. Minor characters are allowed little opportunity to develop and the story feels boiled down to the most obvious plot points. There is nothing superficial about Johanna, but the film itself fails to dive far enough beneath the surface to do her justice.

While the film doesn’t work perfectly Director Coky Giedroyc does a perfectly acceptable job of making it a fine watch. I do hope to see Feldstein break out of this typecasting of roles and move towards ones that she can really sink her teeth into. All in all “How to Build a Girl” is more of a cutsey, fun watch than maybe the book by Caitlin Moran was meant to be as Moran’s audacious humor sometimes feels muted. There is also something quite fun as well in a film that decides it is up to every girl to build and/or rebuild herself in any images she so chooses.

Grade: C+
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Media Review link courtesy of IFC Films

“HOW TO BUILD A GIRL” hits select drive-in theaters and VOD on Friday, May 8, 2020