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.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

September 30, 2016 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Tim Burton (“Big Eyes”)
Written by: Jane Goldman (“X-Men: First Class”)

Filmmaker Tim Burton has made an entire career out of being “peculiar.” Even when its putting his own spin on an established franchise, Burton’s gothic, eccentric stamp (at least stylistically) is an omnipresent factor in most of his films. Even when making poor films, Burton is hired to be Burton and is rarely a director for hire. Perhaps that’s why it is so surprising that his new film, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” has zero identity.

After the loss of his grandfather, Jake (Asa Butterfield) decides to investigate a place that he has only heard about and seen in pictures. As a home for kids with certain “peculiarities,” Jake explores the vast land of special powered children and their leader, Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). He finds, however, that as special as these children are, danger within them also lies ahead.

For having a decent cast of well known actors, nobody other than Green really makes a mark. Butterfield looks and feels too old to be convincing as the age of the character he is playing, Samuel L. Jackson hams it up as the main villain and Ella Purnell, while certainly looking the part, is bland. It isn’t entirely the fault of the actors, as the script is generic and boring.

“Miss Peregrine’s” feels like an odd hodgepodge of popular young adult series, and sort of meanders for its way too long run time. It flirts with some interesting concepts, and “powers,” so to speak, but at the end of the day, nothing happening on screen is interesting in anyway. The dialogue is dull and stilted and, narratively, the film goes nowhere.

There’s a scene at a boardwalk that is actually one of the very few, but very fleeting bright moments of the film. Bringing out some odd skeleton characters for a big battle, there is at least something intriguing happening on the screen that feels at least mildly entertaining. It is here, and only here, that the film actually feels like a Tim Burton movie.

When watching the film, Burton fans will be looking for his fingerprints, but will find nothing. In fact, it is the film that bares the least of his characteristics than any of his career. There is nothing special, let alone exceptional about any of it, and it truly feels like it could have been directed by anyone else. His artistic vision is unquestionably unique, but for Burton to be successful, his movies need to match his vision with a sense of whimsy. This film, however, is dead on arrival. The most peculiar thing about “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is how soulless it really is.

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.

The Woman in Black

February 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciáran Hinds, Janet McTeer
Directed by: James Watkins (“Eden Lake”)
Written by: Jane Goldman (“X-Men: First Class”)

There’s a reason why censorship boards cut the scene in the 1931 horror movie classic “Frankenstein,” where the Monster tosses a happy little girl into a lake and drowns her. No one wants to see an innocent child die (even if accidentally), especially in the spirit of entertainment. Eighty years later, not much has changed on the mainstream horror front.

While there are a few exceptions (Gage getting leveled by a semi-truck in “Pet Sematary”) most are anomalies, which is why in “The Woman in Black” when three little girls in frilly Sunday dresses do something terrible just moments after playing tea party it leaves such a disturbing impression. As more of these incidences follow, one might think they’ve walked into one of the gutsiest horror movies ever made. Hell, even Stanley Kubrick didn’t let Jack Nicholson bludgeon the troubled tike in “The Shining” (“redrum, redrum”) to death. Unfortunately, beyond the unsettling idea of children doing creepy stuff they shouldn’t be doing, “The Woman in Black” manages to slump back into conventional storytelling and does so in the most monotonous fashion.

In his first film post Harry Potter fame, actor Daniel Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps, a widowed lawyer sent to a house in a remote village to sift through the estate paperwork of the recently deceased homeowner. Upon arrival Arthur begins to realize no one wants him poking around, for fear he will unearth the vengeful entity haunting the residence and trigger horrible incidents for the families in the area.

Based on the book of the same name by Susan Hill, which was adapted into at TV movie in 1989, “The Woman in Black” hits on most of the clichés of any typical ghost story and never lets up until the predictable ending. During most of this gothic horror, we watch Radcliffe tiptoeing down long hallways in real time, investigating creaky noises around corners, and starring dolefully out windows at the English marshland. Not even the woman dressed in black, who occasionally appears to him, brings much tension to the script. It’s unfortunate, since the murky look of the film and collection of eerie set pieces – which include rickety toys and ominous statues – add to the miserable atmosphere.

Radcliffe, who can probably steal a few roles away from British actors like James McAvoy and Jamie Bell in the future, will be fine without his Potter safety net. But it’s going to take more than a few cheap scares from a dowdy ghost lady before anyone takes notice.

The Debt

September 2, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastin, Sam Worthington
Directed by: John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”)
Written by: Matthew Vaughn (“Kick-Ass”), Jane Goldman (“Kick-Ass”), and Peter Straughan (“Sixty-Six”)

A friend turns to me an hour into the stimulating espionage thriller “The Debt” during a scene when retired Mossad secret agent Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren) deplanes in the Ukraine only thinking of her intended target.

“It’s Jason Bourne’s grandma,” he tells me as Mirren bobs and weaves like a spy 30 years too late for the start of the Cold War. I’d join in with a couple of old-lady jokes if I wasn’t so convinced Mirren could probably Krav Maga my ass into couscous.

All teasing aside, Mirren proves she is one tough homemade cookie as she continues to explore more vivacious supporting characters. It was only a year ago in the action comedy “Red” when she showed us how trigger-happy she could be as a contract killer behind a semiautomatic. In “The Debt,” which is based on the 2007 Israeli film “Ha-Hov,” Mirren loses the smirk and gets serious when a dark secret from her paramilitary past is dug up after the death of a colleague.

Constructed by intense scenes shifting back in time to a young Rachel (Jessica Chastin) and her male cohorts (Sam Worthington and Marton Csokas) hunting down a merciless Nazi monster (Jesper Christensen) in East Berlin in 1965, director John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”) allows the leisurely-paced narrative to unfold naturally when their mission goes awry.

Chastin carries most of the film’s emotional weight although a melodramatic love triangle doesn’t do the script any favors. Her interaction with Christensen in their handful of unnerving encounters set the tone, which is elevated by some dank-looking cinematography and grim location choices, specifically for the flashbacks.

Unpredictable throughout, “The Debt” may harp on the fine line between fact and fiction a bit much, but with Mirren in the passenger’s seat, there’s little chance the film isn’t going to reach its final destination with some style, class and riveting insight.

X-Men: First Class

June 4, 2011 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn (“Kick-Ass”)
Written by: Ashley Miller (“Thor”), Zack Stentz (“Thor”), Jane Goldman (“Kick-Ass”), Matthew Vaughn (“Kick-Ass”)

As much as you’d like to get the bad taste out of your mouth cause by director Brett Ratner’s 2006 sequel “X-Men: The Last Stand” and director Gavin Hood’s 2009 prequel debauchery “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” adding “X-Men: First Class” into the series lineup isn’t going to do much good unless you consider yourself a diehard fan of the mutant mythology. “First Class” is another prequel in the franchise and director Matthew Vaughn (“Kick-Ass”) doesn’t let you forget it for a moment. Want to know how each mutant gets his or her name or how Beast becomes a, well, beast? It’s all right here in this flat, overdone blockbuster. While “First Class” has a bit more style than the last two movies, there is a lack of intrigue no amount of shoddy CGI can save. Come for actor Michael Fassbender (AKA Magneto). He is the saving grace of the film when there’s nothing left to save except the world.

Kick-Ass

April 19, 2010 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Nicolas Cage
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn (“Stardust”)
Written by: Matthew Vaughn (“Stardust”) and Jane Goldman (“Stardust”)

When did it all of a sudden become cool again to rip off from Quentin Tarantino? When filmmakers were doing it back in the late 90s, everyone scoffed. Now, they just slap “Tarantinoesque” on it and praise it for its stylized violence. While “Kick-Ass” boasts some of the same campiness as “Kill Bill,” it’s not nearly as fun. Besides the scenes where Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) goes medieval on the bad guys, there is not much behind the rather dull story about a geeky high school kid (Aaron Johnson) who becomes a wanna-be superhero. This should have been a movie about Hit Girl and her father (Nicholas Cage). Instead, the script devotes most of its time to the most uninteresting characters of the bunch.