Kingsman: The Golden Circle (Full Review)

2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was stylish, campy, action packed, outrageous fun. It was a refreshing call back to the James Bond films of old and it ended up being a surprise hit and one of my personal favorite films of that year. But if Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that following up a hit is not an easy task.

Kingsman_The_Golden_CircleKingsman: The Golden Circle once again follows Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the young agent of the Kingsman tailor shop in London that moonlights as an undercover intelligence agency. When a former rival (Edward Holcroft) resurfaces and compromises the agency, Eggsy and Kingsman tech guru Merlin (Mark Strong) are forced to journey to Kentucky and team up with their American sister agency, the Statesman (Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal). With their resources combined, the Statesmen and Kingsmen will have to work together to stop Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a deranged Martha Stewart-esque leader of a drug cartel.

The new characters, mainly the Statesmen, all feel like caricatures. But in a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, that isn’t a problem at all. As for the new villainess, Julianne Moore’s performance isn’t quite as charismatic as Sam Jackson’s in the previous film, but her actual motives are a bit more inspired and nuanced. Where The Golden Circle slips is in its narrative flow. There is a needless twist that the movie could do without and the story often creates loose threads that are tugged at but never fully explored. There’s also such a thing as overboard when it comes to quirky cameos (Elton John has entirely too much screen time).

But with Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class) thankfully back in the director’s chair the tonal aspects of this film are almost identical to its predecessor. The action, humor, and style of this sequel all feel organic so there’s no real reason to dislike this film if you had any sort of appreciation for the first. Colin Firth (in an only moderately forced return) is a welcoming presence as Eggsy’s mentor Harry. Taron Egerton once again brings boyish charm and sincerity to the lead role and Mark Strong again feels like the cool, British uncle we all wish we had. With camaraderie and some brisk action choreography, Kingsman: The Golden Circle has enough of what audiences will ask for to offset any lingering side effects that inevitably come with being an unnecessary sequel.

FINAL GRADE: B

Advertisements

The Hateful Eight (Full Review)

I consider myself a fan of Quentin Tarantino. Pulp Fiction is one of my favorite films of all time, and I absolutely loved the Kill Bill movies, Django Unchained, Inglorious Bastards, and Reservoir Dogs. But 2007’s Death Proof, his only film I flat out despise, also showed me that the films by the stylistic director can sometimes be an acquired taste if you’re not used to him and irksome even if you are.

The_Hateful_EightTarantino’s newest film, The Hateful Eight, takes place in post-Civil War Wyoming where union soldier turned Bounty Hunter Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) crosses paths with famed Bounty Hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his $10,000 bounty Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in the midst of a blizzard. The weather causes the two men and the prisoner to seek refuge in a small haberdashery with a dopey, newly elected Sheriff (Walton Goggins), an English hangman (Tim Roth), a quiet loner (Michael Madsen), an old Confederate General (Bruce Dern), and a Mexican caretaker (Demian Bichir). But it doesn’t take long for the two bounty hunters to realize that one of their new counterparts is in cahoots with their prisoner.

The film serves mostly as an old western/mystery. That unique quality alone makes it intriguing. But it does feature all of the things many find irksome about Tarantino’s films. For one thing, the director is excessively methodical, from the film’s dialogue to the often 90 second tracking shots, it’s clear QT has no respect for your notions of a proper film’s runtime. Then there’s Tarantino’s trademark gore and rampant use of the ‘N-word’, neither of which bother me and if you saw and liked Django Unchained, they shouldn’t surprise or distract you either.

Negatives aside, as I mentioned before, I consider myself a fan of Tarantino. And as such, I can recognize all of the elements that make him, in my mind, one of the best working Directors in film. From the costumes, to the attention to character details, to the scenery, The Hateful Eight carries an authenticity and tangible nature about it that makes it feel as if you’re right there with the characters. The acting is also solid, thanks to wonderfully charismatic performances by Jackson, Russell, Goggins, and Roth as well as a gross and gritty, yet lovable job by Jennifer Jason Leigh.

If you’re unfamiliar with Tarantino then the violence and three hour runtime with often slow pacing will make you want to leave halfway through The Hateful Eight. But if you’re familiar with the director’s style, then there’s plenty to love about his eighth film. It’s certainly no Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill, but the latest film is certainly another worthy addition to Tarantino’s impressive archive.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Jupiter Ascending… aka CGI nonsense (Full Review)

'Jupiter_Ascending'_Theatrical_PosterI was a fan of the Wachowski siblings. They are the bright minds responsible for The Matrix. They also produced the screen adaption of V for Vendetta. I found 2013’s Cloud Atlas to be an absolute masterpiece, though many others thought differently. So, I knew how good the Wachowski’s can be. Then I saw Jupiter Ascending.Unfortunately, I now know how terrible they can be.

Let’s start with the interminable plot. Mila Kunis stars as lonely, boring Jupiter Jones, who cleans houses along with her Russian family of idiots. After being saved by an exiled animal hybrid, super soldier from outer space (Channing Tatum), she discovers that she is the reincarnated mother of the Universe’s royal family and that the Earth is hers to inherit. The three heirs of the royal family (Eddie Redmayne, Tuppence Middleton, Douglas Booth) compete to abduct her and gain control of the planet even though the movie establishes early on that there are several other planets just like Earth. In a nut shell… it is the story of a petty, space sibling rivalry with Mila Kunis caught in the middle because she looks like their mom.

You can tell that the Wachowski’s put a lot of thought into all of this because there is loads of terminology, fancy technology, and weird alien worlds involved. But it is simply too much. So much information is crammed into the movie that it feels as if it is trying harder to establish its universe more than it is to actually produce a worthwhile story. Dull/annoying characters don’t help either. Jupiter is inconceivably naïve, and Mila Kunis can do nothing to save a character that spews dialogue like she’s Bella in Twilight. Eddie Redmayne (somehow the same guy who has been nominated for two Academy Awards) is downright insufferable as the film’s primary antagonist, who flamboyantly whispers every line for some reason. I’m guessing they wanted him to feel intimidating, and yet Mila Kunis physically beats him on more than one occasion.

When the movie isn’t shoving random aspects of its overly vast universe down your throat, it’s bombarding you with one loud, soulless CGI-laden action sequence after another. One scene, a chase through downtown Chicago, seems to go on forever. And even the action scenes provided by Channing Tatum’s Caine Wise, are ruined by an overkill slow motion effect. The character also seems to be a thorn in everyone’s side other than Jupiter’s, and yet everyone seems to do as little as possible to dispose of him (Why eject a person out of an airlock to kill him when you’re holding a gun?)

Make no mistake, this is no Star Wars or Fifth Element. It is CGI nonsense filled with B-movie characters and the most cliché action you can find. It’s 2015… at this point, any movie with a decent budget will have beautiful special effects, so here it hardly seems like a saving grace. It almost feels like going on a date with someone gorgeous, but who can’t spell their own name. Eventually you get tired of looking at them, and you just want to go home.

FINAL GRADE: Don’t waste time or money on this one…. F

22 Jump Street Review

22_Jump_Street_PosterThere are different ways a sequel can fail. Having a less challenging plot, a weaker cast, or just flat out going overkill on a premise that never was meant for a sequel (*cough* Hangover 2 & 3). If ever there were a movie that understands these potential pitfalls, it is 22 Jump Street.

From the jump (no pun intended), Jump Street knows exactly what it is. In fact, it might just be the most self referential, tongue and cheek comedy I’ve ever seen. Literally at the beginning of the movie, the police captain tells Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) to do the exact same thing as last time. So… that’s pretty much what they do, only instead of infiltrating a high school to find drugs, this time they’re infiltrating a college campus.

Though it still manages to be funny, it’s debatable whether this installment is an upgrade from the first. The supporting cast is a bit forgettable. The exception is Jillian Bell as the annoying roommate to Hill’s college girlfriend (Amber Stevens). And as comedies go, some of the bromance jokes can get stale. We get it, Tatum and Hill’s relationship is borderline homosexual. It isn’t necessary to keep acknowledging that in every scene. But for every misfire, Tatum, Hill and Ice Cube are there to make up for it with a ton of laugh out loud moments. The last half of the movie is packed full of hilarious moments.

Just like with the first movie, the sequel is a mixture of Buddy Cop movie, spoof comedy, and romantic comedy. Ironically enough, it manages to avoid the predictability of those genres by acknowledging them before hand.  In fact, there is a point in the movie where the entire plot is rundown for us, clichés and all. And the credits, chock full of cameos, pokes fun at a possible series franchise. It always helps when you can laugh at yourself. And it certainly makes it more fun for the audience.

FINAL GRADE: B