Kingsman: The Golden Circle

September 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn (“Kingsman: The Secret Service,” “X-Men: First Class”)
Written by: Matthew Vaughn (“Stardust”) & Jane Goldman (“The Woman in Black”)

Look, I’m all for genre subversion—I’m no stick in the mud—but someone needs to step in and get the point across to director Matthew Vaughn that just doing that for the entire runtime of an action movie isn’t funny or entertaining without something, anything to back it up. It’s just not enough. Hey, great, your stuffy British secret agents in “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and its sequel, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” say “fuck” a lot, brutally eviscerate bad guys, and gleefully engage in anal sex in the throes of victory—that’s funny! I mean for a little while, sure—what about the story? You know, the thing that threads together all the high-velocity fight scenes?

Oh, for a story beat you’re going to go with a limp set piece that involves our hero, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), having to finger bang the bad guy’s innocent girlfriend at a music festival in order to plant a tracking device inside her vagina?

Hoo boy.

Anyway, “The Golden Circle” kicks off with Eggsy coming to blows with a former would-be Kingsman Charilie (Edward Holcroft)—now a bad guy with a robot arm—who tries to kill him in a high-speed car chase through London. Thanks to a piece of his cybernetic arm left behind to hack the system, villainous, ’50s-obsessed drug kingpin Poppy (Julianne Moore) is able to destroy every Kingsman save Eggsy and gadget-whiz Merlin (Mark Strong). Activating their doomsday protocol leads them to seek help from the Statesman, another covert operation based out of a Kentucky distillery. Led by Champ (Jeff Bridges), agents Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) and Ginger Ale (Halle Berry), the Statesman offer up their services to the Kingsman, and reveal that oh, by the way, they have Harry Hart (Colin Firth), Eggsy’s Kingsman mentor—thought to be dead after the first movie—in their care. See, they swooped in and saved him, but he has amnesia and thinks he’s a butterfly scientist. Of course, since his help will eventually be needed to take down Poppy (who’s kidnapped Elton John, playing himself), Harry will need to have his memory restored as quickly as possible.

Like most of Vaughn’s movies, “The Golden Circle” thinks it’s way more clever than it actually is, and comes across pretty icky at times. Whereas one of the final shots of the first film was a POV shot of Eggsy looking down at a princess’ bare ass—prior to the aforementioned, eh, anal sex—the sequel ups the creep factor by having the camera follow Eggsy’s finger down the woman’s body as he slips on a finger condom and slides his hand into her underwear and then changing to a shot of the interior of the woman’s—you know, forget it.

Besides shit like that, the movie wastes its new stars. Hallie Berry brings nothing, Jeff Bridges chews up a few lines and Channing Tatum, introduced in a puzzling yet southern-fried scene, sits out most of the movie, with the heavy lifting of the Statesman done by Pascal’s Whiskey, one of the few bright spots until the script decides to deal with him otherwise. But hey, at least Elton John gets a couple of funny moments.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

July 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Colin Firth
Directed by: Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element,” “Lucy”)
Written by: Luc Besson (“Taken,” “The Professional”)

These days, original sci-fi at the movies requires a pretty big buy-in. The stuff with less fantastical elements, like “The Martian” or “Edge of Tomorrow,” tends to satisfy adult audiences with gritty, somewhat-based-in-a-possible-reality plotting, while the more “out there” stuff—think “Jupiter Ascending” or “John Carter”—lands with a thud. That any major studio is still giving money to directors to chase these wild geese into non-profitability is, I suppose, something to applaud, and even though these filmmakers have amazing visions, the fact is that the movies are either achingly bad and/or no one seems to give a shit about them.

As a master of Eurotrash action, Luc Besson is no stranger to ambitious sci-fi. From the delightfully weird “The Fifth Element” from 20 years ago or the godawful “Lucy” from 2014, his movies are at least unique if not always, well, any good. His latest film, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” is clearly a passion project, based on a French-Belgian comic you’ve never heard of called “Valerian et Laureline.” Besson has put together a visually amazing, inventive world—too bad his characters can’t carry the load.

After a prologue featuring the evolution of the International Space Station into an orbiting monstrosity known as Alpha set to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” “Valerian” diverts into a dreamy, sun-soaked day-in-the-life of a race of beach-dwelling aliens, who look like albino Na’vi from “Avatar,” wash their faces with pearls, and keep as pets colorful little creatures who eat and reproduce those same pearls. When destruction comes for their world in an intergalactic war they aren’t part of, one of the aliens sends a psychic signal out through the universe, rousing our hero Valerian (a sleepy, Keanu Reeves-sounding Dane DeHaan) from a slumber and some ill-defined almost-sex with his gorgeous partner, Laureline (bland, store-brand Emma Stone substitute Cara Delevingne). They’re both some sort of intergalactic special agents, tasked with stealing some artifacts from a Jabba the Hutt-ish crime lord in an interdimensional flea market and protecting the Commander (Colin Firth) as he tries to figure out just what the heck is going on with a surge of radiation in the core of Alpha.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is a wonder of production design and fairly wondrous set pieces—nearly undone entirely by a pair of low-wattage leads and too-frequent diversions into goofy Looney Tunes-style cul de sacs.  The aforementioned heist in the market that spans dimensions—shoppers wander around an empty desert lot wearing goggles and transporter boxes on their hands so they can see and interact with vendors in a parallel dimension—is an amazingly batshit idea that makes me smile just thinking about it, and Besson (as usual) peppers it with weirdo military agents and obnoxious American tourists. But then, at some point, we have to get back to DeHaan and Delevingne and listen to them flatly spar about potentially getting married, despite no clear evidence of chemistry between the two. Later diversions include singer Rihanna as a shape-shifting stripper who helps Valerian rescue Laureline from what might as well be a giant stewpot in a sequence that climaxes with a cartoony eye-cross-only missing tweeting birds—none of which has fuck-all to do with the plot (that feels lifted from “Serenity” anyway). Luc Besson, you madman. If you could focus (and cast better) you’d be a modern-day cinema hero.

Bridget Jones’s Baby

September 18, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth, Patrick Dempsey
Directed by: Sharon Maguire (“Bridget Jones’s Diary”)
Written by: Helen Fielding (“Bridget Jones’s Diary”), Dan Mazer (Bruno), Emma Thompson (“Sense and Sensibility”)

It’s never a good idea to milk a film franchise when the story has already dried up. Such seemed to be the case with 2004’s “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason,” the pitiful sequel to the highly satisfying original “Bridget Jones’s Diary” three years prior. As one of the best romantic comedies in the last 15 years, “Diary” set the bar so high (Renee Zellweger was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress), “Reason” really had no purpose for existing.

Now in an attempt to round out the trilogy and capture some of the appeal of the first film, original director Sharon Maguire returns to helm the third installation “Bridget Jones’s Baby,” a cheery and charming addition that might be considered “jumping the shark” if it was a TV sitcom.

Instead, “Baby” is a bubbly way to re-introduce audiences back to Bridget, now 43 years old and still single, but living life her own way and in less of a state of self-pity than before. After having a one-night stand at a music festival with dating website entrepreneur Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey filling in for Hugh Grant as the romantic foil) and hooking up with old flame Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), Bridget discovers she is pregnant but doesn’t know which of the two is the father.

Of course, with Bridget, things can’t be as simple as telling the men one of them is the father. Instead, she strings them both along allowing each of them to believe he’s the baby’s daddy. It’s not until she breaks down and reveals the truth to Jack and Mark and the two men decide to stay in it for the long run that “Baby” becomes less of a sideshow and more of a story about what is in the best interest of Bridget and the baby.

Without Grant’s character, however, all we’re left with is two good guys to cheer for until the very end. Sure, the narrative shouldn’t be as much about the men as it is about our title character and her bun in the oven, but there’s not much conflict when either of the possible men in her life would probably make fine fathers. It’s hard to find much fault in some of that dry British humor though. With Oscar-winning screenwriter Emma Thompson (“Sense and Sensibility”) thrown into the mix, “Baby” definitely takes a step up from where Bridget left off.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

February 13, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn (“X-Men: First Class”)
Written by: Matthew Vaughn (“X-Men: First Class”) and Jane Goldman (“X-Men: First Class”)

After going all out with the stylistic violence and edgy humor of “Kick-Ass,” director Matthew Vaughn may have seemed like a surprising choice to reboot the studio-run “X-Men” franchise. Despite this fact, “X-Men: First Class” was a massive success and widely seen as an injection of rejuvenation into the Marvel moneymaker. Perhaps old habits die hard, however, as “Kingsman: The Secret Service” sees Vaughn and writing partner Jane Goldman return to the adult-themed bloodbaths introduced in “Kick-Ass,” complete with a British spy twist.

After losing a valuable member of their spy service, the Kingsman set out to replace a lost member with Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a street kid with little potential. As his mentor, Harry Hart (Colin Firth) sets out to train Eggsy while trying to foil a billionaire Internet tycoon (Samuel L. Jackson) with a questionable plan to control humanity.

Firth might seem like the last choice for casting in a physical role as a badass, gun-toting spy, and that very well may be why it works so well. It is equal parts unexpected and fantastic as Firth is an unanticipated natural, especially in scenes that call for mayhem. As a lead, Egerton is a natural. Despite his relatively unknown state in American film, he is charismatic and charming, feeding off of Firth while also being able to stand on his own. Even though there are some memorable characters, “Kingsman” isn’t entirely successful on this front. Most notably, Samuel L. Jackson turns in a hammy performance as a villain with an inexplicable lisp that adds nothing to the mix other than its inherent eccentricity.

A lot of the faults of “Kingsman” fall on the screenplay, which struggles to find a steady tone. The first half of the film is almost entirely meant to evoke spy-films and training expertise, while the second half goes completely off the rails and is filled with adult-humor, often times skewing towards the juvenile. It is also worth mentioning that the villain turn and frankly, the entire villain plotline is flimsy at best, with an extremely general mind control device and a convoluted “global warming” explanation that is barely explored.

One thing that is undeniable, however, is that “Kingsman” is sleek and stylish. Taking its cues from its dapperly dressed leads, Vaughn creates quick-paced and visually gratifying action set pieces, none better than an incredibly well choreographed scene of chaos in a church set absolutely brilliantly to the soaring guitar solo of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird.” The visual effects may look spotty from time to time, but Vaughn shows a clear interest in tailor making a visually unique spy series.

If “Kingsman” has one thing going for it, it is that it knows exactly what kind of movie it is. It is filled with unapologetic, and at times, gratuitous violence. Ultimately, it has one mission, and one mission alone: to entertain by any means necessary. With that being said, your level of entertainment is likely to depend on the length to which you can buy into the film’s absurdity. If you’re in from the get-go, you’ll be able to strap in and enjoy the ride. If you’re like me and on the fence about it, the films climax goes a touch too far, and comes off as way too silly and over-the-top to be considered entertaining. There’s a lot to like about this take on the spy genre, but Vaughn traded substance, sense and characterization for pure bloody mayhem, which is likely to work for some, but not for all.

Magic in the Moonlight

August 14, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Simon McBurney
Directed by: Woody Allen (“Blue Jasmine”)
Written by: Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”)

With the amount of features filmmaker Woody Allen has consecutively written and/or directed over the last 30-plus years (at least one annually since 1981!), not all of them can be winners. For every Oscar-winning script penned like “Midnight in Paris,” there‘s a picture like “To Rome with Love” that fails to reach the level of intellect and wit one would hope Allen could recreate in every project.

After writing and directing last year’s wonderful character study of an emotionally unstable and neurotic woman in “Blue Jasmine,” which won actress Cate Blanchett her second Academy Award, Allen has once again quickly churned out another screenplay with “Magic in the Moonlight” It is, however, one that evokes his lesser attempts and is sure to garner little attention after it’s release. While “Magic in the Moonlight” is, at times, charming and beautifully shot, the humor, romance and sharp dialogue are sorely lacking.

In the film Oscar winner Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”) plays Stanley, a popular magician who performs under a stage name and behind a costume and is known for being able to debunk supernatural powers. Stanley is faced with his most challenging case when he meets Sophie (Emma Stone), a young woman claiming to be a spiritual medium who can connect with the dead and reveal things about someone’s past that would be impossible to know. Although Stanley refuses to allow himself to be cast under her spell and become a believer, he soon finds out there is more to Sophie than he first thought.

While the theme of logic versus faith is interesting, “Magic in the Moonlight” is far too predictable and lightweight to build on a fine performance by Stone, who shows some nice range as an actress coming into her own like she did in “The Help.” Firth, too, is substantial as he tries to separate what his heart and mind want. Without the dramatic confidence of some of Allen’s earlier films, however, “Magic in the Moonlight” sizzles out faster than Allen can type screenplays.

 

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

January 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy
Directed by: Tomas Alfredson (“Let the Right One In”)
Written by: Bridget O’Connor (“Sixty Six”) and Peter Straughan (“The Men Who Stare at Goats”)

Say the words “British spy” and most moviegoers would probably picture any one of the James Bond incarnations over the last 50 years performing death-defying stunts far above the ground. Whether it’s Pierce Brosnan bungee jumping from a dam in “GoldenEye,” Roger Moore skiing off the side of the Alps in “The Spy Who Loved Me,” or Daniel Craig leaping from construction cranes in “Casino Royale,” Brit and secret agents usually go hand in hand with exaggerated entertainment.

As much as an author like Ian Fleming has engrossed fans of the spy genre with feats of flight in his Bond series, author John le Carré has captured the same interest in a more atmospheric approach with his novels centered on British intelligence officer George Smiley. Think of Smiley as the anti-Bond. In fact, the only real similarity between the two is that Smiley is about as dry as the martinis 007 frequently orders. His subtleness is evident in the most recent of le Carré’s adaptations, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” a complex and sometimes confusing Cold War thriller that might actually require a few viewings to puzzle together all of the narrative’s intricacies.

Still, if you’re familiar with any of le Carré’s work or their cinematic counterparts (search out “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” now), his slow-boiling and meticulous storytelling is what makes his voice in the genre so distinct. Considered by many as one of the greatest British writers of espionage fiction in the 20th century, le Carré’s novels demand attention and refuse to provide easy avenues to maneuver between aggravating plot points. The sentiment couldn’t be truer than with “Tinker Tailor.” Adapting le Carre’s 1974 book (the first of what is considered “The Karla Trilogy” and one of seven works featuring the character Smiley), screenwriters Bridget O’Connor (“Sixty Six”) and Peter Straughan (“The Men Who Stare at Goats”) attempt to simplify the story without sacrificing the elaborate details that make the mystery so intriguing to solve in the first place. To some extent they’re able to play their version of the spy game (noted here as a kind of metaphorical chess board) without knocking over too many pieces.

The featured rook of this game of high-stakes chess is actor Gary Oldman (“The Dark Knight”) who plays Smiley, a retired agent of the Secret Intelligence Service (also known as “The Circus”) who is asked to covertly return to duty to expose one of his former colleagues as a Russian-planted mole rooting around at the highest levels of the SIS. Possible double agents include Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Toby Esterhase (David Dencik), and Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds). Also in the already-crowded mix is Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong), another SIS agent sent to retrieve the identity of the mole by the head of British intelligence (John Hurt), rogue agent and whistleblower Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy), and Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), Smiley’s inside man delegated to sift through file cabinets when no one’s watching.

Directed by Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson (“Let the Right One In”), “Tinker Tailor” is far from the sprawling BBC miniseries released back in 1979 starring Oscar winner Alec Guinness (“The Bridge on the River Kwai”). Clocked at a very reasonable 127 minutes, Alfredson’s version (his first English-language film) is most satisfying when we witness – through flashbacks – the evolution of a once powerful foreign intelligence agency into the equivalent of a whispery sewing circle. The contrast between old guard and new guard principles is a frightening look at how corruption is able to snake its way into even the most secured venues. The emotional aspects of these events do tend to have an impersonal bitterness to them, but it’s a fine complement to the bleak Cold War-inspired world Alfredson has set his players in. The emphasis on the grim atmosphere is made even more significant through the technical aspects of the film. Credit production designer Maria Djurkovic (“The Hours”) and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (“The Fighter”) for turning 1970s London into a place even the sleaziest spies wouldn’t want to wander.

The King’s Speech

December 23, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush
Directed by: Tom Hooper (“The Damned United”)
Written by:  David Seidler (“Quest for Camelot”)

While it’s natural for almost anyone to get a bit nervous when speaking in public, stumbling over a few words while giving a keynote address or losing your train of thought during a toast wouldn’t signify the end of the world. If you were the King of England in 1939, however, disappointing an entire nation at the brink of war was a definite possibility. No pressure, right?

Directed by Tom Hooper (“The Damned United”) from a script by 73-year-old screenwriter David Seidler (a former stutterer himself), “The King’s Speech” tells the little-known true story of King George VI (Colin Firth), known as “Bertie” by his family and friends, and his battle with a debilitating speech impediment that causes him to panic and freeze up every time he stands in front of a microphone.

The film opens in 1925 when our tongue-tied protagonist is about to deliver a major speech as the Duke of York during the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley. The scene becomes more and more devastating as a terrified Bertie – with speech in hand – opens his mouth and is unable to string two words together without his stammer reverberating through the stadium speakers. Painful as it is to witness, Bertie’s weakness is clearly evident through these awkward moments of silence.

Unable to overcome his stutter despite ongoing vocal treatments (one of his doctors encourages him to smoke because it “calms the nerves and gives you confidence”), Bertie’s supportive wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) sets up a meeting with Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Aussie-born speech therapist and amateur actor whose unorthodox techniques don’t initially impress the duke.

But with Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin looming in the east, the monarchy needs someone confident enough to speak to the masses. Although Bertie is not meant to be the next king, the responsibility is transferred to him when his older brother David (Guy Pearce ), who holds the title of King Edward VIII for less than a year, shocks the House of Windsor when he renounces the throne so he can marry a twice-divorced American socialite.

With all of Britain watching, “The King’s Speech” builds toward King George VI’s first wartime radio broadcast to the nation. As the ineloquent king, Firth is simply mesmerizing, as is the rest of the talented cast who bring to life this fascinating footnote in British history. Charming, humorous, and engaging throughout, “The King’s Speech” is easily one of the best films of the year.

A Single Man

January 26, 2010 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode
Directed by: Tom Ford (debut)
Written by: Tom Ford (debut)

While “A Single Man” is the most self-involved film in recent memory, debut filmmaker and fashion designer Tom Ford has created a work of art that is both flawless and haunting. Not only is it admirable for its pristine production value and attention to detail, actor Colin Firth gives the most gripping performance of his career. I would have loved this movie more if it could have stopped loving itself.

A Christmas Carol

November 6, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis (“The Polar Express”)
Written by: Robert Zemeckis (“The Polar Express”)

After dozens and dozens of retellings of the classic 19th century Charles Dickens story “A Christmas Carol” over the past century, you might think there would be nothing left to gain from another go-around with the timeless text. How many different ways can you say “Bah-Humbug” anyway?

But in Robert Zemeckis’ latest animated version, the director behind such films as “Forrest Gump” and “Cast Away” has created a brand new vision that’s much darker and visually pleasing than anything that has come before. Add to that an assortment of lively voice performances by Jim Carrey (“Horton Hears a Who!”) and “A Christmas Carol” is a holiday treat despite its emotional shortcomings.

While the film doesn’t hammer home the true importance of family or make a character like Tiny Tim a target for pity like others have done in the past, Zemeckis’ “Carol” still has an ace in its stocking. His name is Ebenezer Scrooge and the penny-pincher is grouchier than ever. The iconic Christmas character, who has been portrayed numerous times before, gets his first transformation into motion capture animation, the process Zemeckis used in his last two films “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf.”

In case you’ve somehow never heard the tale before, Scrooge, a bitter old miser living in London, is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley. Marley, who drags around weights and chains to signify the miserable life he once led, informs Scrooge that he will be haunted by three ghosts who will take him on separate journeys through his past, present, and future. The supernatural experience is supposed to reveal the true meaning of Christmas to Scrooge. It’s a life lesson that he could truly use. Not only does he snarl at the idea of paying his employee Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman) for personal time off for the holidays, he’d rather get frostbite on his beaky nose than spend time with his only nephew Fred (Colin Firth).

Carrey’s turn as Scrooge might not rise to the performances of actors including George C. Scott or Alastair Sim in their respected versions, but Zemeckis gives his character a bit more free range to be sillier and brasher than his usual personality traits allow him. Carry never overdoes it with his voice work either, which is crucial to Scrooge as an introvert. His gangly frame, much like Carrey himself, is more surreal because of the amazing attention to detail in the character’s face. The 3-D spectacle attached to the film only enhances the experience.

The animated film, however, might be a bit too intense for little ones. While Zemeckis unintentionally made “The Polar Express” frightening with his demon-looking elves at the end of the movie, he is well aware of the dark tone that hovers over “A Christmas Carol.” Depending on your own level of comfort for nightmarish imagery in your holiday movies, this one might trigger tears for some kids (then again, so does Santa Claus at the shopping mall).