Grant, Tomei Highlight “The Rewrite” ; ‘Kingsman’ A Comical Comic Spy Story

the rewrite
Movie Review – ‘The Rewrite’

MOVIE INFO

Once upon a time, Keith Michaels (Hugh Grant – About a Boy, Love Actually) was an Award-winning Hollywood screenwriter, but divorce and a string of unsuccessful films have left him with nothing but bad debts and blank pages. So when his agent arranges a job as guest screenwriting professor at a remote university in upstate New York, a desperate Keith can’t say no. Initially hoping to give minimal effort to actual teaching so he can focus on his next script, Keith unexpectedly finds himself becoming invested in his students lives, including Holly (Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler), a single mom looking to start her own new chapter. The Rewrite features an all-star cast, including J.K. Simmons (Whiplash), Allison Janney (“Mom”), Chris Elliott (Groundhog Day) and Bella Heathcote (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies).

Rating:Unrated

Genre:Comedy

Film Review: ‘The Rewrite’
The Rewrite

Marc Lawrence’s affable writer-in-crisis comedy is heavily dependent on Hugh Grant and Marisa Tomei’s combined charms.

Guy Lodge
Film Critic – www.variety.com
@guylodge
A screenwriter has to be mightily confident in his script to christen it “The Rewrite,” a title that begs jaded critics to suggest it may have needed another pass or two. Marc Lawrence’s affable but under-inflated romantic comedy does little to fend off such punchlines: The story of a faded Hollywood scribe seeking to regain his creative mojo via a small-town teaching job, the film finds its own writer-helmer struggling to match the bubblegum snap of earlier works. What it does have is Hugh Grant — a standby collaborator for Lawrence, and not an asset to be underestimated. Happily paired with the ever-game Marisa Tomei, the British star hardly tests himself with yet another study in high-class bumbling, yet his breezy effortlessness is precisely the kind that’s in overly short supply here.

Given its easy digestibility and an ensemble speckled with familiar faces — including erstwhile “Juno” spouses Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons, on hand to punch up the comedy in reliably sardonic fashion — it’s surprising that even this relatively uncorrected “Rewrite” waited four months following its Shanghai Film Festival premiere to find U.S. distribution. (Image Entertainment ultimately picked up the rights.)

Perhaps Lawrence’s latest seems too quaint a prospect to auds and bean-counters alike: As cannily repurposed footage from the actor’s Golden Globes acceptance speech reminds us at one point, it’s been a full 20 years since “Four Weddings and a Funeral” announced Grant as the most engagingly eccentric romantic lead of his generation. While the new pic’s mature casting and oatmeal Pottery Barn aesthetic are comforting in their own way, there’s something inescapably ’90s about the whole enterprise — and if the lackluster returns following last month’s U.K. release are any indication, viewers aren’t yet feeling the nostalgia.

Unlike Grant’s character Keith Michaels — an Oscar-winning writer living on the fumes of universal acclaim for a 1999 smash — Lawrence’s strengths haven’t been lavishly acknowledged. His script for 1999’s Sandra Bullock starrer “Forces of Nature” had a kind of postmodern screwball vim; his directorial debut, “Two Weeks’ Notice,” the first of his four films with Grant, had similar pep and polish, though neither film met with much critical respect.

“The Rewrite’s” snapshot of the Hollywood screenwriting racket, then, is suffused with both sympathy and scorn for its protagonist. Noting the diminishing commercial returns of his filmography thus far (culminating in 2009’s misjudged “Did You Hear About the Morgans?”), one could speculate that Lawrence’s own frustrations with the industry are mirrored in Keith’s plight, as he hits a wall with youth-fixated studios. Nevertheless, Lawrence’s script does take a perverse pleasure in making Keith’s own work sound cheesily over-reaching: It’s hard to imagine anyone in the real world scoring awards and adulation for a high-concept theological melodrama titled “Paradise Misplaced.”

With rent and alimony to pay and scripting gigs in perilously short supply, Keith reluctantly accepts a wild-card job dug up by his harried agent (Caroline Aaron): teaching a screenwriting course at the local university in Binghamton, N.Y., a quiet, rain-sodden community whose antique carousels form its liveliest selling point. A firm believer that his craft can’t be taught — and that teachers are little more than gainfully employed failures — Keith regards the assignment with such contempt that he doesn’t even bother reading his students’ applications, instead filling his class with Facebook-vetted eye candy. Worse still, he begins a colossally ill-advised affair with precocious student Karen (Bella Heathcote); matronly Jane Austen scholar and ethics committee chief Professor Weldon (Janney) looks on with venomous suspicion, while weary dean Dr. Lerner (Simmons) tries to keep the peace.

Sunny salvation arrives in the form of Tomei’s unflappable mature student Holly, a hard-working single mother and aspiring writer who bullishly talks her way into the course, where she’s the only protegee old enough to detect the insecurities behind their teacher’s airs. Keith, for his part, manages only temporary resistance to her unashamedly corny talk of self-belief and second chances; it would appear that the secret to life, as to writing, is learning which cliches not to dismiss out of hand. It’s an epiphany that effectively mirrors the one achieved by Grant’s comparably desolate songwriter character in Lawrence’s “Music and Lyrics.”

At a more elevated level, one might say this resolution carries mild pro-populist echoes of Preston Sturges’ “Sullivan’s Travels.” The idea, however, is sold short in Lawrence’s sweet-but-sluggish script, which gets bogged down in incidental subplots while revealing little of its characters’ inner lives — beyond one brief, affecting scene, played by Grant with an impeccably light touch, of parental testimony. Keith and Holly’s chaste if pleasingly grown-up relationship is similarly never developed past the repeat-meet-cute stage, though the stars can’t be faulted. It’s a rare pleasure to see Tomei in a lead role, and she fills out the short cuts in Lawrence’s characterization with wry warmth and a hint of swallowed disappointment.

Keith is presented upfront as such an obnoxiously self-oriented, morally wayward figure that Grant’s fidgety charms have to work overtime to sustain audience engagement with its big-fish-out-of-water narrative. The filmmaking, meanwhile, is low-energy by Lawrence’s standards: There’s a curious, canned quality to the scoring, while Ken Eluto’s deliberate editing leaves a little too much room between the (often funny, occasionally droopy) quips. It’s a ploy that only pays off during the film’s occasional dips into Larry David-style comedy of embarrassment.

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kingsman

Movie Review – ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’

 

Critics Consensus: Stylish, subversive, and above all fun, Kingsman: The Secret Service finds director Matthew Vaughn sending up the spy genre with gleeful abandon.

MOVIE INFO

Based upon the acclaimed comic book and directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass, X-Men First Class), Kingsman: The Secret Service tells the story of a super-secret spy organization that recruits an unrefined but promising street kid into the agency’s ultra-competitive training program just as a global threat emerges from a twisted tech genius. (c) Fox

Rating:
R (for sequences of strong violence, language and some sexual content)

Genre:Mystery & Suspense

“Kingsman: The Secret Service”

BY ANTHONY LANE
www.newyorker.com
Colin Firth plays a British agent in a movie directed by Matthew Vaughn. The template is early-to-mid James Bond.

The conceit upon which “Kingsman: The Secret Service” rests is a simple one. The service in question is international, filthy rich, and independent of any government, although it is based in London and staffed by British agents. They are modelled on the Round Table, with sobriquets to match: Arthur (Michael Caine), Galahad (Colin Firth), Lancelot (Jack Davenport), and so on. They fight evil, crime, and other caddish deeds, and the front for their headquarters is a tailor’s called Kingsman, in Savile Row. The name is cunningly wrought, combining hints of sovereignty, and of Firth’s most lauded role, in “The King’s Speech,” with the actual firm of Huntsman, in the same street. Some scenes were filmed at the Huntsman shop. You can drop by anytime and order a bespoke suit, should you have seven thousand bucks going spare.

In case all this sounds too decorous for its own good, be advised that the director is Matthew Vaughn, who made “Kick-Ass” (2010), and whose idea of decorum, as far as I can gauge, involves switching to slow motion, in the wake of a savage punch, the better to show us an uprooted tooth sailing gracefully by. The appeal of “Kingsman” depends on a calculated clash between this unbridled mayhem and the decency of the nicely bridled spies. In the cruellest sequence, Firth, diverting slightly from his role in “Pride and Prejudice” (1995), goes berserk in a church, shooting or stabbing half the congregation, burying a hatchet in the skull of one woman, and impaling the preacher on a stake. Heaven forfend! If you deem it unbecoming that Mr. Darcy should conduct himself thus, the film has got you right in the britches. Your shock is part of the plan.
The narrative parades its own absurdity. Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a working-class London lad whose father once spied and died for Kingsman, is encouraged by Galahad to apply for the Round Table, jockeying with a bunch of better-bred candidates for a single vacant spot. Meanwhile, a lisping Internet billionaire named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) has imprisoned various global leaders and is preparing to brainwash the wider population into a mass homicidal brawl. The template is early-to-mid James Bond, as borne out by the trappings: exploding cigarette lighters, poisoned pens, and a villain’s lair, complete with a landing strip, hewed into the side of a mountain. In case we’re slow on the uptake, Galahad and Valentine agree, over dinner, on the sullenness that has infected late-period Bond and his kind. “Give me a far-fetched, diabolical plot any day,” Galahad says. Few recent movies have fetched quite as far as “Kingsman,” and countless viewers will relish the brazen zest of its invention. When one man’s head exploded, in David Cronenberg’s “Scanners” (1981), we felt the pressure of some uncontainable horror. When a hundred heads explode, as they do in “Kingsman,” bursting with the colors of the rainbow and trumpeted by Elgar’s “Land of Hope and Glory,” we are meant to rise and applaud a pretty sight. What’s not to like?

Well, for one thing, the striking of mean political poses. Take the dinner, chez Valentine, at which a silver carving dome is opened to show Big Macs and fries. Would a white baddie have been saddled with a similar gag? Female characters are no more than also-rans, and most of the male ones are stiff with stereotyping. Eggsy aside, the lower orders are feckless louts, while the look and the sound of their posh counterparts seem to have been devised by someone leafing through a copy of the Tatler from 1983. This is pitiful stuff, and, like the violence, it eats away at the blitheness for which “Kingsman” strives, leaving an aftertaste of desperation that the Connery of “Goldfinger,” say, would not have dreamed of bequeathing. The sadness is that Firth, alone in the film, does raise the spectre of those days, radiating a lightly amused reserve amid the havoc. I loved the sigh that he emits in a pub, having put down his pint of Guinness, before laying into a squad of angry assailants. It is the sigh of a gentleman—of a gentle man—who is obliged to play rough, in a tiresome world that is made for naughty boys.

 

 

 

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