2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was a decent romp, a comic book action film with a number of good performances, a huge sense of fun and a number of welcome digs at classism and movie tropes, notably Bond films, even if it itself indulged in quite a few. The sequel, Kingsman The Golden Circle_, was terrible, but still managed some humour and some likeable performances. While there was a gulf in quality, one of the things they had in common was a complete lack of taking themselves seriously: their stories of a clandestine, independent spy agency taking extra-judicial action to protect the world saw them tackling Samuel L. Jackson’s scenery chewing tech mogul, ending with the heads of many of the world’s heads of state exploding in multiple colours, to the strains of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance, and in the sequel, defeating Julianne Moore’s crazed drug dealer, with her robot dogs, Soylent Green hamburgers and imprisoned Elton John.
In this unwanted prequel, which shows the origin story of the Kingsmen, something that I don’t believe anyone was asking for, the whole thing is entirely serious and involves World War I. You know, the real thing, in which millions of people really died, and which led to World War II, in which even more millions died.
Director Matthew Vaughan returns, but notably, and perhaps the reason for such a change in tone, his screenwriting partner on the last two films, Jane Goldman, does not, the script this time being co-penned by former Stranger Things showrunner, Karl Gajdusek.
Here, some shadowy, definitely-not-SPECTRE-honest group, wants Europe to go to war, and millions to die, so that England will be destroyed to make up for 700 years of the English monarchy subjugating Scotland. I really don’t know where to begin with that, whether it’s the fact that the United Kingdom, and not England, that was a belligerent in the First World War; that any invading army would be unlikely to stop at the Scottish border; that it suggests a completely lack of knowledge of or interest in the complex history of Scotland and England; that, unlike Germany or Russia, the monarchy had little real power in the UK by this point (thankfully); or that the whole thing is just offensive, and offensively stupid.
Tying your fictional plot to real world events, especially ones as significant as World War I is dangerous at best, but it can be done – even Wonder Woman managed it reasonably well, but that film sensibly kept its involvement around the edges of the conflict. But this film has the entire war as its plot. It can do one.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s latest, Bigbug is a science fiction outing coming to us courtesy of Netflix. No, stop, come back, this one might not be awful, bringing their running total to one. After all, Jean-Pierre Jeunet gave us the likes of City of Lost Children and Amelie. There’s surely some benefit of the doubt left, even accounting for Alien Resurrection?
Bigbug rattles us forward twenty to thirty years to a suburbia that’s at once very different and much the same as now, with rows of very externally similar looking homes encasing a lot of the same human dramas as we have today, just with added robot helpers, from the likes of the simple cleaning and surveillance drones, to Claude Perron’s Monique, the robot maid, or the entirely evil looking and much more advanced Yonyx android things, played by a cross between François Levantal and a set of sentient oversized dentures, who definitely aren’t going to overthrown humanity and imprison them.
Oh no! They’ve overthrown humanity and imprisoned them, locking people in their homes. One such home belongs to Elsa Zylberstein’s Alice, recently divorced, who had been hosting her new lover, Stéphane De Groodt’s Max and his son Hélie Thonnat’s Léo, when her ex, Youssef Hajdi’s Victor shown up to bring their adopted daughter, Marysol Fertard’s Nina home, with his new lover slash old secretary Claire Chust’s Jennifer in tow. Added to this clearly volatile mix is their neighbour Isabelle Nanty’s Françoise, visiting when the doors seal.
As such, after our brief introduction to the characters the rest of the narrative is broadly, or perhaps nominally, driven by the human’s attempts to escape their home, although mostly it is about exploring the character interactions that swing between charming, prickly, annoying and amusing in more or less equal proportions. There’s also a B-plot where the house robots, not part of the Yonix rebellion, decide to become more human in order to appear less threatening to our cast, led in this endeavour by Victor’s old AI creation, Einstein, voiced by André Dussollier.
So, a lot of this is less about the dangers of artificial intelligence and instead about what it means to be human, and what is worthwhile about the human experience in this world that’s in a lot of the more important senses not all that far extrapolated from our current one. How much it has to say about it at the end of the day is rather up for debate, but at least the effort is appreciated.
I’m perhaps surprised to see how negatively received this has been, admittedly just by looking at aggregate star ratings and the like. I suspect any review of more than a couple of sentences will acknowledge the same things I’m going to, like the strong directorial style and visuals that instantly mark this out as a Jeunet film. Shallow as it is, there’s not many scenes in this film that aren’t visually interesting, particularly the lovely details on Einstein, or the overarching weirdness of the Yonix, and their obvious joy taken in humiliation humans on what’s implied to be a long-running TV show, which you’d think might have clued people into their intentions a little sooner. Anyway for an alleged budget of $13 million, this looks great, with only a few ropy CG flourishes betraying that frugality.
The question I was left immediately after watching this was, essentially, “what was that trying to be”, and I’m not altogether sure that’s the right question to be asking of it. There’s certainly enough angles of attack to level at Bigbug – if it’s a character piece, there’s not enough characterisation, if it’s a drama narrative, there’s not enough happening, if it’s a comedy, there’s not enough laughs, if it’s about the world building, there’s not enough being told. It’s a lot easier to point at the stools it has fallen between than identify exactly where it is, and part of me wishes I had enjoyed it less so I could say it’s left floating with the stools, so I will make a note of that for future less-likeable hot messes.
Still, I can’t give a full throated recommendation to Bigbug, particularly if you’re not already a fan of Jeunet’s almost cartoonish style and whimsy. I, however, am, and so this coasts quite far on charm alone, even if it’s not his finest outing. In that regard, the middling to negative review scores are I suppose accurate, but if you have Netflix already I’d encourage you to give this one a look-in. You might not think it to be quite your cup of tea, but it’s worth taking a swig of to find out for sure.
Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World is a romantic drama crossed with a coming-of-age tale, though with that coming-of-age period shifted to somewhat later than is typical, taking place a year or two either side of the psychological milestone of thirty. The person coming of age, who may or may not be the “person” of the title, is Renate Reinsve’s Julie, a millennial unsure of what, or who, she should be.
We meet her first as a medical student, before she leaves medicine to pursue psychology, loftily telling her mother that her passion is for the soul, not the body, and then eventually giving that up to become a photographer. But she also fancies being a writer, something perhaps mirrored in the film’s format, composed of twelve chapters, a prologue and an epilogue, each of which feels like a complete… well, not a complete story, but a cohesive idea or thought process, functioning in isolation but also being an integral and progressing part of the overall whole.
Julie’s photography sees her start a relationship with one of her subjects, before unceremoniously abandoning him at a party after meeting the much more interesting Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), an “underground” comic book artist 15 years or so her senior, with whom she soon moves in.
A combination of different desires and the fact that Julie doesn’t really know what she does desire sees her leave Aksel, in a scene both sad yet magical, that, in a typical romantic comedy, would seem cloying and even twee, yet here reads as a visual personification of hope and the greener grass on the other side. That grass isn’t, as you might expect, greener, and Julie begins to realise that if any grass more verdant is to be found she might do so inside of herself, or at least that’s where she’ll find the grass… greeninging stuff? Look, I’m not a gardener, and I realise now I shouldn’t have stretched this particular metaphor out this far, but here we are.
I don’t think my description so far is really doing the job of distinguishing this from any number of similar-sounding films, but it really is different. There’s an incredible honesty and reality to the characters, their actions and their speech, brought to life by an astonishingly good performance from Reinsve, and an almost equally good turn from Anders Danielsen Lie as Aksel, particularly when the artist is forced to face his past, his future and the summation of his own life and work.
The film belies the notion that arbitrary milestones, such as turning thirty, mean anything, and that anyone actually has any idea what they’re doing at any age, and, rather, that we’re all on a continuum, each moving at their own pace, learning from some mistakes, repeating others. In other words, it feels much closer to real life, and less like a movie.
Like real life there’s also quite a bit of humour, and some poking of fun at the concerns (and sometimes hypocrisies) of the middle class, as well as a reflection, albeit brief, on the differences in opportunities and expectations of Julie’s female forebears.
It’s also beautiful: though I’m far too lacking in familiarity with that city to say yay or nay to others’ interpretations of its depictions and how strong of a character Oslo itself is in the story, it is striking how clean and beautiful the city looks, yet how empty it often seems. And while I’ll leave any meaning that may or may not have up to your own interpretation, I will just mention the wonderful, soft light we enjoy in these Northern latitudes, and which cinematographer Kasper Tuxen has captured so well, leaving me yearning.
It’s a wonderful film, and I thoroughly recommend it.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
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