Movie Review: Kingsman – The Golden Circle

I rarely go into movies cold.  I have usually read a review or two, seen a couple of trailers, and have a general idea of what I’m getting into based off the director’s previous work.  A few years ago, I went to see Kingsman after coming back from a deployment – I hadn’t seen any trailers, reviews, or even knew who the director was when I bought a ticket.  I just knew I wanted to go see a movie that day.

I was delighted by the film.  Matthew Vaughn had tapped into the irreverent energy and anarchic ‘anything goes’ vibe from Kick-Ass and created a stylish over-the-top movie of gentlemen spies in a modern era.  It was a great coming of age story with sly winks at the screen, violence as slapstick, and buoyed by impossibly cool performances from all involved.  I knew when it was over I wanted to see more Kingsman adventures.

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Two of these three statements are unfortunately true.

Unfortunately, I no longer have that feeling because the follow-up Kingsman:  The Golden Circle was awful.

This inferior sequel should have worked.  The Director was the same and it is buoyed by a strong cast:  Colin Firth, Pedro Pascal, Julianne Moore, Mark Strong – this should have been a slam dunk but between the insipid story and the bizarre performances, it drops dead on the floor early on and pretty much stays there.  Colin Firth and Taron Egerton brought none of their chemistry forward from the first film.  Julianne Moore tries hamming it up but the otherwise outstanding actress just comes across as clownish.  Pedro Pascal – a big draw for the ladies – demonstrates none of the charisma which is his signature.  Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, and Channing Tatum are wasted.  Only Mark Strong demonstrates any sort of presence in this otherwise dim film.

Oh, I like Elton John but keep him the hell out of movies if you can’t find a better use for him than this crap.

It may seem like I hate this film and you would be right – I had high hopes and I was very disappointed.  It didn’t have to be this way and I for the life of me can’t figure out how they screwed up so bad.  Even the trademark irreverence from the first film was absent – so absent that it linked a key plot point in the film to what amounts to a sexual assault.  The first film would have made such a thing work and had me laughing – the second film just left me uncomfortable and repulsed by it.

Ultimately, I just want to forget this movie exists.  I suggest you save your time and money for something else more worthwhile.

Movie Review: It (2017)

I went to go see Stephen King’s ‘It’ this evening with my young teenage daughter.  I expected to see a decently well-made horror movie of one of my favorite horror books – enjoyable but nothing extraordinary.  I didn’t expect what I got – one of the best coming of age stories I have seen in a long time and perhaps the best King adaption since ‘The Shawshank Redemption’.

Without going into too much details, something has been preying upon the children of Derry for centuries and the movie starts with the iconic scene of a kid encountering Pennywise the Clown at the storm gutter.  There are plenty of jump scares and grisly imagery though nothing too terribly gratuitous by today’s standards.  Though I have no doubt some will still be loyal to Tim Curry’s Pennywise, I think Bill Skarsgard’s interpretation of the character was closer to the book and the more frightening version.  It was an effective horror movie and I enjoyed those aspects of it.

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The Loser’s Club taking the battle to Pennywise

But much like the book, ‘It’ really isn’t a horror book as it is a story about kids coming of age, banding together and finding strength in each other, and facing their fears.  The kids were quite authentic in their acting.  I believed they were a bunch of kids going through puberty, sincerely talking and joking about sex without knowing what it really is about.  They were still at the age where swimming in the quarry in their white underwear and hocking loogies over the edge is great fun but then alarmed, confused, and thrilled when the ‘bad’ girl decides to join them. My 14-year-old daughter shrieked at the jump scares, but nodded knowingly at the interactions of the children and cheered when boys and girl expressed their friendship and love for each other.

One additional point in the movie’s favor.  They updated the setting from the 60’s to the 80’s and there was a very strong ‘Stranger Things’ vibe to the show – heck one of the main characters was Mike from the popular Netflix show.   The language and the music was the same and for me, it added a good nostalgic trip.  If you liked ‘Stranger Things’, this will definitely be more the same.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed this movie and think it was one of the best I saw this summer.  Minor spoiler but Stephen King’s book was a two-part story, the kids battling Pennywise and the second part taking place twenty-seven years later when they are adults in their forties.  There will be a sequel to this movie set in the modern day and both me and my girl are looking forward to seeing it.

Movie Review: Logan (Spoiler Free)

Now that I’m home from the movie, I’m reading the reviews. Rotten Tomatoes rates it as a 93% and I’d say that is appropriate. It’s not just a great superhero movie, it is a great movie with amazing acting. This was the reason I was so excited to see it in the first place. Hugh Jackman, since he says this will be his last, will be hard to replace as Wolverine. Hugh is Wolverine and this was by far his best rendition.

Whether on stage or on the bridge of the Enterprise, I have always loved to see Patrick Stewart perform and I must admit that I saw more Patrick in the “performance” than I did Charles. Regardless, it was the highlight for me in many ways and provided some occasional much-needed humor in the otherwise weighty plot. Bravo, Sir!

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Dafne Keen stole the show – impressive given her costars!

Surprisingly though, Dafne Keen stole the show. In the beginning, she doesn’t do much more than grunt (and kick a lot of ass), but by the end she is showing some amazing emotion for such a young actress. The character and writing was spectacular, sure, but the actress did an amazing job of bringing her to life.

 

This is the Wolverine I have been waiting for since Hugh put the spandex on 17 years ago. The action is intense and bloody, but for me the violence took a backseat to the story. It isn’t a “family story,” but it is a story about family. James Mangold did a great job writing, directing, and producing this film and I can’t wait to see it again to pick up on the dialogue, lore, and nuances I may have missed!

Should you see it? Absolutely! I’d love to hear what you think about it.

Should you bring your kids? If you’re ok with pervasive F-bombs, decapitations, impalements, a lot of violence against children, and limbs flying everywhere… Yeah, probably not, my daughter is going to wait – a long while.

I checked and there is not a mid or end-credit scene; honestly, the ending is perfect (especially the final ~5 seconds) and anything additional would do the movie a disservice.

Movie Review: Split

Once upon a time, there was a director I really liked named M. Night Shyamalan.  He made a movie called ‘The Sixth Sense’ and it was a hit.  It had atmosphere, suspense, and a cool twist.  The movie was very popular and the country was divided into people who were surprised by the twist and those who lied about seeing it coming.  His next film, ‘Unbreakable’, was one of my favorite superhero movies of all time precisely because no one knew it was a superhero film until the very end.  And then he made ‘Signs’ featuring a mopey Mel Gibson and had the result of making me afraid of corn fields at night.  M. Night Shyamalan became a director, much like James Cameron and Steven Spielberg, whose films I marked on my calendar as must watches.

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And then it all came apart.  ‘The Village’ wasn’t so much bad as it was underwhelming but everything afterwards was increasingly awful.  What happened?  I honestly couldn’t tell you.  Perhaps it was the stories became increasingly pretentious.  The actor choices became erratic.  The cinematography remained great and the usage of sound and camera angles, a Shyamalan hallmark, were impeccable but his movies became soulless and rote.  With the release of ‘After Earth’, it became official – M. Night Shyamalan was a hack.

Then a curious thing happened.  He made a good movie.  ‘The Visit’ wasn’t high cinema and had its flaws but for the first time in a decade, Shyamalan made something that was interesting and worth watching.  Once again, what happened?  I tend to believe Shyamalan had gotten lazy.  The studios let him make a movie but they took away his budget and gave him young unknown actors who were hungry.  They told him to shut up and work and I think it made all the difference in the world.

So where does that leave Shyamalan’s new movie, ‘Split’?  Is this low-budget movie the hungry Shyamalan or is it the lazy indulgent Shyamalan?

I’m happy to say it is a lot of old Shyamalan with just a hint of indulgence.  ‘Split’ tells the story of a guy with dissociative identity disorder whose mental illness results in twenty-three different personalities.  He kidnaps three teenage girls for a very specific reason and the movie is about how they must joust with the various personalities to survive.  There is a side story of the guy’s interaction with his therapist, a story which gives several clues as to where the movie is ultimately going.

Tonally, the movie shares a lot of similarities with last year’s excellent, ’10 Cloverfield Lane’.  It is mostly claustrophobic but the setting matters less than the interplay of the various characters.  It is really James McAvoy’s movie and it he tears into his role with relish.  Why wouldn’t he?  He gets to play two dozen different characters and it is quite clear he is having a good time and I really enjoyed watching him chew the scenery.  I wasn’t as impressed with the performance of the chief protagonist, one of the teenage girls with a bit of past in her past.  I initially thought her performance wasn’t energetic enough but in further reflection, her performance was subtle and restrained as befitting a character with her background.

Is M. Night Shyamalan back?  Can he sustain this second wind?  I think time will tell but I think studios have cracked the code.  Give him a smallish budget and force him to improvise and innovate – his technical expertise is as good as it has ever been and it appears he is back in the business of building chemistry with his actors again.  This is a movie worth seeing.

Oh by the way, there is a Shyamalan twist to this movie.  The only thing I will say is that he better be serious or I will kill him slowly.