Category Archives: Movies

At The Movies: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

If you enjoyed the hyper-intense action, crude humor, offbeat villains, dapper heroes, and frenetic energy of the 2014 spy-comedy-action thriller “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” well, the sequel serves up more of the same.

Based on a comic book by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar, “Kingsman” is about a top-secret British spy organization where everyone has cool-but-deadly toys and dresses impeccably. The film opens with a blistering fight/chase scene as our hero, Agent Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton), gets ambushed outside Kingsman headquarters.

Kingsman-Golden-Circle-intl-poster-600x887Eggsy — and the whole Kingsman organization — has become the target of this episode’s outlandish villain, Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore). Poppy is a drug kingpin who runs her secret criminal enterprise, The Golden Circle, from a hidden stronghold in Cambodia.

When Poppy wrecks havoc on the Kingsman operation, Eggsy and Merlin (a.k.a. the guy behind the computer, played by Mark Strong) are forced to flee to the U.S., where they hook up with their American counterpart — The Statesman. Operating out of a distillery in Kentucky, the group is led by Champagne, a.k.a. Champ (Jeff Bridges). Champ’s crew is made up of whip-wielding Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), gun-toting Tequila (Channing Tatum), and Ginger Ale (a.k.a. the gal behind the computer, played by Halle Berry).

Also hanging out at Statesman headquarters, much to Eggsy’s and Merlin’s surprise, is Kingsman supreme Harry Hart (Colin Firth) — presumably shot dead in the first film. Harry is suffering amnesia since being shot in the face, so Eggsy will have to wake up his mentor before they can team up and take down Poppy.

Directed once again by Matthew Vaughn, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is ridiculous and over the top in every way — just like its predecessor. Yes, it’s not as fresh the second time around but the movie still manages to pull off more surprises than most of today’s films. The action sequences are impressive and the actors are charming.

Once again the film’s main weakness is its villain — Moore is just as absurd as Samuel L. Jackson was in the first film — and not always in a good way. Batman villains in the Adam West days were more subtle. I suppose that’s the point but it is hard to take threats seriously when they come from such whimsically weird characters.

Some people will complain about the movie’s 2.5 hour running time, but for a change I am not among them. It really didn’t feel like that long a movie when I was watching it and usually I’m ready for a film to be over at the 90 minute mark.

 

 

 

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At The Movies: It

When did clowns get such a bad reputation? They used to be fun-loving jokesters — stars of TV, the circus and children’s birthday parties. Think Bozo, Ronald McDonald and Red Skelton.

Now, they’re better known for being creepy.

Some of the blame no doubt goes to Stephen King, whose 1986 novel “It” centers around a murderous, maniacal clown named Pennywise. It was made into a popular TV miniseries in 1990 and now comes the big screen version.

stephen_king_s_it__2017____poster___1_by_camw1n-daa4tl6Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) is an evil, magical thing that feeds on fear and comes up out of a well to terrorize children every 27 years. He meets his match, though, when he takes the little brother of Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher).

Bill is convinced his brother isn’t dead and spends the summer of 1988 searching for him in the small town of Derry with his loser friends — Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Stan (Wyatt Oleff), and Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer). They are later joined by the new kid, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the tomboy Bev (Sophia Lillis) and the outsider Mike (Chosen Jacobs).

Their tormentor – besides the killer clown – is town bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton). Bev’s father (Stephen Bogaert) isn’t very nice, either.

The kids just want to have a normal summer but horrifying visions keep getting in the way. Images that adults can’t see. This leads to not one, but two, showdowns with Pennywise in an abandoned house.

“It” is a decent, if long, old-school horror movie. It relies more on sudden shocks and scares — and actual character development — than gore and torture. I wasn’t all that impressed with the horror aspect of the movie, but there were one or two shocks. I was mostly interested in the kids and their relationships. The young actors were all pretty engaging.

The movie runs more than 2 hours which is a bit much for this sort of thing. And it’s clearly set up for a sequel so we can watch how the kids as adults deal with Penny. I’m betting we won’t have to wait 27 years for it.

At The Movies: The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Maybe “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” would’ve been a little better if they would’ve got Samuel L. Jackson to sing “I Will Always Love You.”

Maybe. But probably not.

As it is, this “Bodyguard” is just your garden variety action-comedy, heavy on the car chases and fight scenes but light on the funny.

hitmansbodyguard-poster1Ryan Reynolds stars as Michael Bryce, a man who used to run a successful private protection agency until he fell on hard times. His downfall was due to ace assassin Darius Kincaid (Sam Jackson), who put an end to one of Bryce’s high-profile clients with the collateral damage being Bryce’s career.

Kincaid eventually winds up in prison, but cuts a deal with the authorities in exchange for his testimony against Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman) the ruthless former dictator of Belarus.

But getting Kincaid to The Hague could be a problem since Dukhovich has his personal death squad situated all along the route. When Kincaid’s police escort is ambushed, Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung) – who just happens to be Bryce’s ex-girlfriend – realizes she can’t trust anyone on the inside to get her man to court.

So Roussel turns to her former lover for help. But Bryce wants nothing to do with the man who took several shots at him over his career. So naturally, in Hollywood odd couple/road trip fashion, the two men bond while dodging bullets and enduring torture as they try to get to the court on time.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is a thoroughly average affair. If you like watching Ryan Reynolds do his thing and Samuel L. Jackson do his thing and you’d like to see them play off each other, then that’s about all there is to recommend this. And this isn’t Reynolds or Jackson at their best. Jackson’s charming and amused demeanor doesn’t really mesh with someone who’s supposed to be an expert killer. Salma Hayek actually gives the most entertaining performance in the film, as Kincaid’s rough and profane wife.

The action is slightly better than the comedy, although some of the chase/fight scenes go on far too long. There’s nothing fresh or witty about “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.”

At The Movies: Atomic Blonde

It feels like it takes forever to light the fuse on “Atomic Blonde,” but once it finally goes off it’s pretty explosive.

Based on the graphic novel “The Coldest City” by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, “Atomic Blonde” is a spy movie set in late ’80s Germany just days before the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. The soundtrack features about every Berlin-flavored ’80s song you can imagine.

e1a4230933116bb7b8d295255eb39a21Charlize Theron stars as Lorraine Broughton, a tough-as-nails British secret agent sent to recover a secret list of secret agents before it winds up in the wrong hands and all the secrets are revealed. Her contact in Berlin is agent David Percival (James McAvoy), whose time in the city has made him a bit unhinged.

It’s a simple plot, until the end when it gets tangled up in double agents and triple agents. But then simple stories fueled by ultra violence, a damaged lead and a stylish look have become the trademarks of director David Leitch, whose previous credit is the wonderful “John Wick.”

“Atomic Blonde” wants to be the female equivalent of “John Wick,” and it comes close but close only counts in horseshoes and atomic bombs. It tries very hard to be stylish and edgy — a little too hard for my taste. It feels forced. And while “Wick” had some clever new takes on the assassin trade, “Blonde” doesn’t bring anything fresh to the table as far as spy tales go.

The film also moves pretty slowly in the first half for a film that’s being sold as action-packed. But once it finally takes off, it’s a tour de force of force. Give Theron credit for being a trouper. She (and her stunt double) are willing to take a beating, and she doesn’t shy away from having her lovely face and body covered in bruises and scars.

So, mixed review for me. I was impressed with the brutal fight sequences and action, thought the actors were fine, enjoyed the music, thought the pacing was off in the first half, don’t feel it’s as clever as it thinks it is.

 

 

At The Movies: Wish Upon

If you’re hoping that “Wish Upon” is a classic horror movie with chills, thrills, shocking twists and buckets of blood — wish again.

This is possibly the most pedestrian horror movie I’ve ever seen. The PG-13 rating ensures there won’t be lots of gore or shocking, horrific deaths, but who wants to watch an antiseptic horror film? And sure, you can make up for the lack of gruesomeness with a creepy, compelling story — but “Wish Upon” doesn’t have that either.

Joey King stars as Clare Shannon, who sits at the bottom of the high school social order with her two friends. Her mother is dead, her father is an embarrassment.

wish-upon-nuovo-trailer-e-poster-del-thriller-horror-con-joey-king-2One day while dumpster diving, dad (Ryan Phillippe) finds an antique Chinese music box, which he brings home to Clare. She can’t open it, and the only thing she can make out are the words “Seven Wishes.” Her first wish, since she’s a sweetheart of a girl, is that the most popular girl in school “go rot.”

The next day Miss Popular winds up in the hospital with a flesh-eating virus. At the same time Clare’s beloved dog dies. Coincidences? Maybe. But after a second wish comes true, Clare begins to believe.

Now a sympathetic character, upon realizing what’s going on, would’ve used her next wish to reverse the first wish, and maybe wish for world peace or a new president. Instead, Clare wishes for popularity, a boyfriend, and that her dad not be such a loser. Concurrently, bad things — like dying horribly — are happening to people around her.

With help from a potential love interest, Clare learns the rules: Every wish must be paid off with a blood debt; everything will go back to normal if you get rid of the box; if you complete seven wishes you will die.

Now the audience has figured this out long before Clare has. And the audience would not proceed to do any of the stupid things that Clare does. The movie plods its way to its inevitable ending and you’re left thinking “I wish I had gone to ‘War for the Planet of the Apes.”

In addition to being totally predictable and toothless, the film suffers for not having any characters you can root for. Clare makes so many bad choices you can’t feel sorry for her and her best friend is so obnoxious you can’t wait for her to get what’s coming to her.

Now that I think about it, teenagers may really like this.

 

At The Movies: Spider-Man: Homecoming

“Amazing” and “Spectacular” are the two adjectives most often used in conjunction with Spider-Man. But in recent years they haven’t really applied to his movie career.

The first two films by Sam Raimi and Toby Maguire fit the bill, but then the third one was a mess. The franchise was rebooted with Andrew Garfield, but that series was so misguided they didn’t even complete the trilogy.

As a result, in true comic book fashion, Sony Pictures (which has the rights to make Spider-Man movies) did a team-up with Marvel Studios (the movie arm of Marvel Entertainment, birthplace and comic book home of Spider-Man) for a third reboot of the wall-crawler.

Spidey would go back to his teenage roots and would become a member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He made his MCU debut in “Captain America: Civil War” and is now fronting his first (for this incarnation) solo movie.

The result is amazing. And spectacular.

MV5BNTk4ODQ1MzgzNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTMyMzM4MTI@._V1_UY1200_CR80,0,630,1200_AL_Tom Holland stars as young Peter Parker, and we first encounter our hero through a home video made by Peter that gives us a humorous inside look at his role in “Civil War.” But now that mission is over and he’s itching for the next one.

His mentor, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) doesn’t feel Spider-Man is ready for the A-team, and he’s too busy to coach him, so he leaves Peter in the hands of his trusted friend Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau).  Happy isn’t too happy with the situation and ignores Peter’s frequent phone calls.

Elsewhere in New York, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) has been building a good business by hoarding alien technology left over from the Chitauri invasion and using it to create new weapons that he can sell on the black market. One weapon he’s kept for himself is a flying suit that earns him the name Vulture.

Needless to say, Spider-Man and the Vulture are going to come to blows. In dizzying, dazzling, summer movie fashion.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” proves that you really can take a movie franchise that has been beaten down and seen better days and revive it into something fresh, funny and exciting. Director Jon Watts has put together a perfect blend of action, comedy, special effects, surprises and characters that you care about.

A large part of making the franchise fresh was the decision to take Peter back to his teen years and jettison or render unrecognizable a great deal of his supporting cast. Marisa Tomei is not your grandmother’s Aunt May. Uncle Ben is nowhere to be seen. J. Jonah Jameson and the Daily Bugle have not yet entered the picture. Peter now has a best friend (Jacob Batalon) and a multi-cultural lineup of high school comrades. One thing hasn’t changed — the Parker luck when it comes to women, in this case Liz (Laura Harrier).

“Homecoming” solidly brings Spider-Man into the Marvel movie world. If you haven’t been following the Marvel Studios films then you may feel a little lost, but then what are the odds you’re going to a Spider-Man movie and aren’t already well versed in the MCU?

This isn’t an origin story, a brief mention of being bitten by a spider is all you get. And that’s a good thing, because everyone knows Spidey’s origin by now, so best to just get down to business. Funny, amazing, spectacular business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At The Movies: Baby Driver

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By Paul Kennedy, guest reviewer

Driver of the Baby was great, and very stylish.