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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Better Late than Never Reviews

The_Duff_posterTHE DUFF Every generation deserves at least one good teen movie. Now those “loveable” millennials have theirs in this film about a young girl (Mae Whitman) who discovers that she is the Designated Ugly/Fat Friend to her two attractive and popular high school buddies. With the help of her Jock next door neighbor (Robbie Amell), she sets out to shake her label and fend off her cyber-bully nemesis (Bella Thorne) in time to woo her class crush (Nick Eversman).

This movie isn’t quite funny enough to be Mean Girls or Can’t Hardly Wait, due in large part to Bella Thorne’s flat performance as the primary antagonist. She’s like a thrift shop version of Rachel McAdams’ Regina George. Ken Jeong’s annoying portrayal of a high school teacher could’ve also been left out. But, the movie does strike the necessary chords to be memorable. Relative newcomer Mae Whitman is magnetic in the lead role and her back and forth chemistry with Robbie Amell is undeniably refreshing. So, while The DUFF may not be a classic, it certainly deserves credit for being witty and for managing to effectively refresh the genre for the newest generation of teenage moviegoers. FINAL GRADE: B+

 

Still_Alice_-_Movie_PosterSTILL ALICE Julianne Moore stars as a Linguistics professor and mother of three (Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish, and Kristen Stewart) going through early-onset Alzheimer’s. Alec Baldwin co-stars as her fellow collegiate professor husband trying to keep her from losing herself as she battles this devastating, memory effecting illness. From the start, it is easy to see why Moore won the Oscar for Best Actress as she gives an emotionally powerful performance that guides what could’ve been a bland narrative.

Kristen Stewart (yes, Twilight Kristen Stewart) is the obvious weak link here. She isn’t quite terrible throughout, but any time she is asked to monologue or show more than the average dose of emotional depth, she absolutely flounders and kills the vibe. Ironically, her character is an aspiring actress. But luckily for us, Julianne Moore’s Alice Howland is our focal point and she gives a performance that may just leave you in tears of sorrow and joy as she shows how one can confront a debilitating disease with dignity and love. FINAL GRADE: B

 

SB-2_posterSPONGEBOB: SPONGE OUT OF WATER Nickelodeon’s longest running cartoon character returns to the big screen for his newest dizzying adventure. This time everyone’s favorite whimsical sponge must team up with his arch-rival to bring back the missing recipe for Bikini Bottom’s most coveted fast food sandwich before the town falls deeper into chaos. Spongebob’s mission takes him on a journey through time and even above water to challenge Antonio Banderas as the new villain, Burger Beard.

It should go without saying, that if you don’t like Spongebob, this movie will be the most annoying two hours of your life. But if you’re familiar with the show, and how it can borderline on inappropriate for young ages in the same vein of Ren and Stimpy, then there will be plenty of tongue and cheek laughs. Don’t expect the story to be nearly as coherent as my plot summary and if you’re prepping to see CGI superhero action like what’s promised on the poster and in the trailer, expect disappointment there as well. The vast majority of the film takes place in the usual animated setting of the TV show. I am a quasi-fan of Spongebob fan, so I found it watchable enough, but parents of young children should beware. FINAL GRADE: B-

Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1… Full Review

Thanks to Harry Potter and Twilight, we can get used to having the final installment of every young adult book being split into two separate films. While the studios justify this by claiming they want to do the finale justice, it’s more about milking out every precious cent from these cash cow franchises. Mockingjay, the third and final installment in Suzanne Collins’ young adult book series, is the newest victim of this trend. And just like all of the part 1’s before it, it’s all about the build up.

MockingjayPart1Poster3If you need me to explain that the story follows Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) or what the Hunger Games were, then there’s no need to read this review or watch this movie. You have catching up to do. Mockingjay Part 1 picks up where the previous film left off. After being rescued from the games by former head gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Katniss and refugees from District 12 are taken to District 13, a military district once thought to be destroyed decades ago. There, they meet President Coin (Julianne Moore) and Commander Boggs (Mahershala Ali) who plan on using Katniss’ image to ignite the already rising tides of rebellion. The only problem is that Katniss can’t take her attention off of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) who is President Snow (Donald Sutherland)’s prisoner and weapon against the rebels. Other familiar faces return, including Katniss’ snarky mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), her best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth), former Hunger Game victors Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), and former Capitol escort Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks).

I have read all of the Hunger Games books, but just as I did with my Catching Fire review a year ago, I’ll try and do my best to judge this movie as a separate entity. And as a film, it starts off feeling like what it is; half of a whole that was meant to be a half. We spend the better part of the first hour watching Jennifer Lawrence ironically doing her best job to be a bad actor as Katniss is prepped and filmed in hokey propaganda adds. These moments don’t nearly equate to the riveting build up of the games in the previous films. Katniss is also at her whiniest and most melodramatic. We realize these are devastating times, but does she have to act like such a brat towards the people who are clearly trying to help?

But like the first two films, once the action comes, it is entertaining. This time around though, these enthralling moments come from every character that isn’t Katniss. We’ve known that these are trying times in the country of Panem throughout the series, but for the first time, we get more than just glimpses of riots and protests. We get dam bombings, air strikes, and violent resistance from un-armored civilians willing to die for their cause. For the first time in the Hunger Games series, the action feels more real and much more powerful.

The early moments might seem dull and dreary, making Mockingjay Part 1 likely the weakest link in the chain, but there is still plenty to like. Harrelson is still a breath of fresh air anytime he’s on screen and Elizabeth Banks adds welcomed warmth (Effie only appeared in the book at the very end). Even Gale is much more likable than in previous films thanks to a noble performance from Liam Hemsworth. Fans of the book will also be pleased with casting of the numerous new characters. And if you’re one of those people who loved Hunger Games for the actual action of the games and might dose off once or twice, don’t worry, because the games are just beginning.

FINAL GRADE: B

DON JON… Full Review

Don Jon is a man’s movies. It is, for all intensive purposes, THE man’s movie. To women who have ever wondered how “manly men” talk, act, interact, rationalize, and think about everyday things when no woman is around… Don Jon is your window into that world. But don’t misinterpret that, for this film contains valuable lessons for both sexes. Brace yourselves ladies and gents for the quasi-romantic comedy that is Don Jon.

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The film follows the life of Jon Martello, played with facetious gusto by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, Looper, 500 Days of Summer, The Dark Knight Rises) who also wrote and directed the film. Jon, nicknamed “the Don” by his two best friends for his ability to get any girl he wants, is your stereotypical Italian-bred macho man. He has slick black hair, he constantly hits the gym, has an egregious temper, and loves his “ride” and his “pad”… yet he is also an avid church goer and a devoted son and brother. He does however, have one not so little quirk; His excessive love of pornography. And when I say excessive, I mean EXCESSIVE.

From there we have our story. Jon affectively goes day to day, navigating through his addiction to live the seemingly normal bachelor life. That is until the vivaciously sexy Barbara Sugarman comes into the picture (Could there have been a better cast here than Scarlett Johansson? I think not). In Barbara, he finds his first challenge; a woman who won’t give it up on the first night and, more importantly, a woman who finds his favorite pastime to be revolting and unacceptable.

This movie hysterically deals with the awkward connection between men and pornography. But wedged within the hilarious moments is valuable commentary about the unrealistic and unhealthy nature with which our society approaches relationships. Jon’s relationship with Barbara is a prime example of how men can mistake overwhelming desire for genuine love. He changes for her, for better and worse, not because he has a genuine connection, but because she is more difficult to obtain than the rest. Julianne Moore is also magnificent as Jon’s troubled night classmate, who gets him to question whether his addiction might be distorting his views toward woman and real romantic interaction. Women should also be weary of becoming Johansson’s Barbara, a narrow minded “princess” (thanks to romantic comedies) who desires a man to manipulate into her own distorted vision of perfection. Her character also pokes holes in the common misconception that “holding out” is an effective way to ensure that men will fall for you or even respect you more in the long run.

Sure the film’s characters can seem over the top at times. But it’s a comedy. And In 2013, it’s almost unbelievable that there are movie concepts out there that have never really been touched in any medium. Low and behold, it is a film about men’s love of porn that brings us a story and perspective that we have seldom seen, but one that is without a doubt worth telling. Enjoy the laughs, but be sure to pay attention along the way.

FINAL GRADE: A-