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

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Quick Reviews (November 2016)

There are a couple of movies that have come out recently that are worth checking out (The AccountantKevin Hart: What Now?) and one you should wait for on Red Box or not see at all (Keeping up with the Joneses). Here are some quick thoughts for the film critic and critic reader on the go.

keeping_up_with_the_joneses_filmKEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES At one point in the movie, during a neighborhood barbecue, Zach Galifianakis’ character hands Jon Hamm’s character a beer bottle. Hamm’s undercover secret agent uses his wedding band to suavely open the bottle with ease. When Galifianakis’ wholesome character tries to imitate, he ends up turning his hand into a bloody mess. There. That’s the only time I did anything more than a light chuckle while watching this movie.

There are other slightly humorous moments. Most of them are from the trailers and the rest you’ll forget as soon as you walk out of the theater. Keeping Up with Joneses,  a movie about a boring couple (Galifianakis and Isla Fisher) who get caught up in a generic spy flick with their undercover neighbors (Hamm and Wonder Woman), is as bland as can be. It almost feels like a Saturday Night Live parody of something more interesting. The plot has no twists or unexpected turns making it feel like something written in a day and even the action is less inspiring than Kevin Hart’s lousy Ride Along movies. FINAL GRADE: D- 

the_accountant_2016_filmTHE ACCOUNTANT Batman… I mean Ben Affleck, stars as Christian Wolff, a high functioning autistic who is an accountant by day and a highly skilled vigilante by night. When auditing a tech company lands him in the crosshairs of a dangerous assassin (Jon Bernthal), he and a middling company accountant (Anna Kendrick) must go on the run. Also on his trail are two government agents (J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson) who are coming close to uncovering his secrets.

The film is fun and entertaining until its final act, when it goes from thriller to predictable B-movie. Twists can be seen a mile away and the moment meant to be the biggest reveal (at the very end) seems too farfetched even more than the idea of an autistic superspy. But overall, the movie is exciting and filled with a likable central cast, headlined by Affleck’s admirable performance. The action is also as thrilling as a Jason Bourne movie. FINAL GRADE: B

fb_img_1424255884706KEVIN HART: WHAT NOW? Kevin Hart hasn’t made too many memorable movies, but his stand up specials are always laugh out loud funny. Hart returns to his niche with his latest stand up special taped at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. Complete with more bells and whistles than any stand up show should have, Hart navigates through hilarious stories about his family and newfound mega stardom.

The film opens up with a James Bond spoof where Hart works with Halle Berry to secure funds for his global tour. This part serves only to make the movie worthy of a feature length film, but it is just as funny as the stand up. Several actors make cameos and it actually made me wonder why Hart’s narrative films often aren’t as enjoyable. Some jokes aren’t as fresh as those from his older specials, and the repetitive need to create quotables is a bit too obvious, but nonetheless What Now? manages to have enough gut busting laughs to exemplify why he’s the current king of comedy. FINAL GRADE: B+

 

 

X-Men: Days of Future Past Review

14 years ago, Director Bryan Singer started a mini-revolution with the first X-Men movie. Once upon a time, superhero movies were just special effects laden cash cows. But with X-Men, studios realized that the superhero genre could be visually appealing while also providing strong social commentary and important messages.

ImageUnfortunately for the X-Men franchise, the series lost its way when Singer departed following 2003’s X2. While it has its moments, Brett Ratner’s poorly executed X-Men: The Last Stand is a disappointment compared to its predecessors and the less said about 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the better. But, as Professor X so eloquently states in this newest installment, just because you stumble, doesn’t mean you’re lost forever.

Bryan Singer makes his triumphant return to the franchise with its most ambitious film yet. Days of Future Past molds key cast members from the original trilogy (Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore) with the brilliant cast of the 2011 prequel X-Men: First Class (James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult). Time travel can be a tricky thing in science fiction, but Singer’s script uses it masterfully. Here, the remaining X-Men are now living in a dystopian future where robot Sentinels have triggered mutant holocaust. Their last hope is to send Wolverine (Jackman) into the past to lift young Professor X (McAvoy) out of searing depression and break young Magneto (Fassbender) out of prison in order to prevent Mystique (Lawrence) from assassinating a scientist (Peter Dinklage) and triggering their bleak future.

If you’re hoping to see X-Men 4, you might be a tad disappointed here. While the original cast provides some magnificent action sequences along with a few new characters (Fan Bing Bing’s Blink is my particular favorite), this is most certainly an X-Men: First Class sequel. That, however, isn’t a bad thing in the slightest. McAvoy and Fassbender are once again awe-inspiring. Fassbender’s portrayal of Magneto is so passionate that you want to follow him even if you realize he’s a dangerous extremist. McAvoy’s performance as a broken Charles Xavier searching for a reason to hope again is arguably the best in series history. They are the glue that holds the eye popping special effects and action sequences together to form a story of faith and redemption.

There is more plot and emotion in this film than any X-Men movie before it, but it still fits in some of the best action sequences ever seen on film (Just wait til you see Evan Peters’ Quicksilver). Singer not only manages to fittingly bring closure to the original films, but also provide us with a platform to reboot and improve the series going forward. The superhero genre is super profitable, so it is here to stay whether you like it or not. In fact, this is the third one in two months. Yet, Days of Future Past still manages to remain refreshing. It’s fitting that a movie with a message of hope is exactly what the franchise needed to revitalize itself and the genre.

FINAL GRADE: A