Film Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle (dir by Matthew Vaughn)


Before I say too much about Kingsman: The Golden Circle, I do want to acknowledge a few good things about the movie.

First off, it doesn’t take long for the film to reveal that Harry (Colin Firth) didn’t actually die when Samuel L. Jackson shot him in the head in the first movie.  Undoubtedly, that diminishes the power of that scene but, at the same time, it also means that Colin Firth gets to come back.

Secondly, Taron Egerton returns as Eggsy.  The script really doesn’t give him too many opportunities to show what he’s capable of as an actor, largely because the character of Eggsy was fully developed by the end of the first movie.  Now that Eggsy is a fully trained and competent Kingsman, there’s not really much for him to do other than trade a few quips and take a few lives.  That said, Egerton is a likable actor and he’s fun to watch.

Third, Julianne Moore has a few fun scenes as the film’s main villain, Poppy Adams.  Poppy is the head of an international drug cartel.  She’s also obsessed with the 1950s and always amazingly cheerful.

Fourth, all of the Kingsmen still wear suits and Michael Caine-style glasses.  Colin Firth gets to use his umbrella as a shield.

Finally, Mark Strong is back as Merlin.

So, that’s five good things about Kingsman: The Golden Circle.  Unfortunately, all five of those things are somewhat obscured by the fact that the movie really, really sucks.

Admittedly, I had really high hopes for the movie.  I loved the first Kingsman film, which was a stylish satire that featured one of the greatest action set pieces of all time.  And I was excited to see that not only was Firth returning but Matthew Vaughn would also be directing the sequel.

But no.  This movie just doesn’t work.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle attempts to do everything on a larger scale than the first Kingsman.  That means more violence, more betrayals, and a longer running time.  This time, the movie not only features the Kingsmen but also the Statesmen, which is the American equivalent of the Kingsmen.  (The Statesmen all dress like cowboys and speak in exaggerated Southern drawls, which I got kind of sick of listening to after about three minutes.)  Along with the returning stars of the first film, Jeff Bridges, Emily Watson, Bruce Greenwood, Halle Berry, and Channing Tatum all have small roles.  Pedro Pascal (best known for playing Oberyn Martell on Game of Thrones) has a much larger role as a Statesman codenamed Whiskey.

Unfortunately, bigger is not always better.  The Golden Circle never comes close to matching the lunatic heights of the first movie.  There are a lot of action scenes but none of them match the church fight from the first film.  There’s a surprise death but it’s nowhere near as shocking or effective as Firth’s “death” in the first film.  Even the required barroom brawl falls flat.  Nowhere does The Golden Circle match the audacity of the first film.  The first film ended with exploding heads.  This film ends with the promise of more sequels.

But really, I think what really doomed The Golden Circle was that extended running time.  There’s really no good reason for The Golden Circle to last for 2 hours and 21 minutes.  Quite a bit of the film, especially during the first hour, felt padded out and, as a result, it seemed like took forever for the film’s story to actually get started.  Probably 40 minutes to an hour could have been cut from The Golden Circle without anyone missing it.

Ultimately, I think the main problem is that the first Kingsman felt like it was made by people who truly did love the material.  This film feels contractually obligated.  The Golden Circle has a lot of action but it’s just not very fun.

Trailer – Kingsman: The Golden Circle


Oh, yes, it’s on!!! Has it been three years already?

Matthew Vaughn’s (Layer Cake, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) MARV Films and 20th Century Fox has released the trailer for Kingsman: The Golden Circle. This time around, it looks like Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is out to solve another global incident with the help of (or is being opposed by) the Statesman. Are they the American version of the Kingsman?

Kingsman: The Golden Circle also stars Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges (both from The Big Lebowski), Mark Strong (a Vaughn favorite), Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, and Colin Firth.

Enjoy!

Guilty Pleasure No. 31: Hail, Caesar! (dir by the Coen Brothers)


Sometimes, I wonder if I was the only filmgoer who actually enjoyed Hail, Caesar! when it was released in February.

Oh, don’t met wrong.  I know that I’m being a bit overdramatic when I say that.  It got some good reviews from the critics, though the praise was rather muted when compared to the reviews that traditionally greet the latest film from the Coen Brothers.  I know more than a few people who have agreed with me that Hail, Caesar! was an entertaining lark of a film.

But I know a lot more people who absolutely hated Hail, Caesar!  Of course, no film is going to please everyone and the Coen Brothers have always had a tendency to attempt to deliberately alienate their audience.  But what has always struck me is the fact that the people who disliked Hail, Caesar seem to really, really dislike it.  Talk to them and you get the feeling that they view Hail, Caesar as almost being some sort of a crime against both humanity and cinema.

Taking place in a stylized Hollywood in 1951, Hail, Caesar! tells the story of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin).  Eddie is a shadowy figure.  As head of production at Capitol Pictures, Eddie’s job is to keep the “bad” behavior of the stars from getting out into the press.  (The press is represented by Tilda Swinton who, in a typical Coen Brothers twist, plays twin sisters who are rival gossip columnists.  If the thought of that makes you smile, you are potentially a part of the right audience for Hail Caesar.  If it makes you roll your eyes, you should probably avoid the film.)  Eddie is the most powerful man in Hollywood and he will do anything to protect the image of the American film industry.  He will lie.  He will cheat.  He will threaten.  He is so ruthless and so good at his job that even Lockheed Martin is trying to hire him away from Capitol.  And yet, at the same time, Eddie is also a family man and a Catholic who is so devout that he goes to confession on a nearly hourly basis.

(For all you non-Catholics out there, Pope Francis only goes to confession twice a month.)

Hail, Caesar! follows Eddie as he deals with a series of potential problems.  Temperamental director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) is upset because he’s been forced to cast Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich, giving the film’s best performance), a good-natured but inarticulate cowboy star, in his sophisticated comedy.  Synchronized swimmer DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansoon) is not only pregnant but unmarried as well!  (It’s the 50s, remember.)

However, the biggest crisis is that Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) has vanished from the set of his latest film. A mysterious group known as The Future has taken credit for kidnapping him.  It’s not really much of a spoiler to reveal that The Future is a cell of communist scriptwriters and they are determined to convert the rather dumb Baird to the struggle.  As opposed to most films about Hollywood in the 50s, the communist screenwriters are portrayed as being a bunch of self-righteous and rather cowardly nags, the majority of whom spend more time debating minutiae than actually trying to the overthrow capitalism.  In many ways, Hail, Caesar is the anti-Trumbo.

As you might guess from the plot description, there’s a lot going on in Hail, Caesar but none of it really adds up too much.  Nor is it supposed to.  We’re encouraged to laugh at these frantic characters, as opposed to sympathize with them.  Eddie Mannix and Hobie Doyle both emerge as heroes because they’re the only characters who remain calm and confident, regardless of what strangeness is happening onscreen.  Eddie may be ruthless, the film tells us, but at least he gets results.  Hobie may not be the smartest or most talented guy in Hollywood, we are told, but at least he doesn’t pretend to be anything other than who he is.

Hail, Caesar! is a bit of a lark, a celebration of style over substance.  As far as Coen Brother films go, Hail, Caesar has more in common with Burn After Reading than No Country For Old Men.  The film is largely an inside joke aimed at people who know the history of Hollywood, which is perhaps why some viewers reacted so negatively.  Inside jokes are fun when you’re in on the joke.  When you’re not in on it, though, they’re just annoying.

As for me, I thoroughly enjoyed Hail, Caesar!  It may not be the Coens at their best but it’s a lot of fun and it appealed me as both a history nerd and a lover of old movies.  The best parts of Hail, Caesar! are the scenes that parody the largely forgotten, big-budget studio productions of the 1950s.  This is the rare film that acknowledges that not every film made before the 1960s was a masterpiece.  The Coens love movies but that doesn’t keep them from getting a little bit snarky.  For example, check out this production number featuring Channing Tatum:

Is Hail, Caesar self-indulgent?

Yes.

Is it largely an inside joke?

Yes.

Did I absolutely adore it?

You better believe I did.

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Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen

Here Are the Reliably Boring Razzie Nominations!


Yawn!  The Razzies are always so boring!  Here are this year’s predictable nominations.  Talk about them on twitter and impress your friends.

Worst Picture
Fantastic Four
Fifty Shades of Grey
Jupiter Ascending
Paul Blart Mall Cop 2
Pixels

Worst Director
Andy Fickman, Paul Blart Mall Cop 2
Tom Six, Human Centipede 3
Sam Taylor-Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey
Josh Trank, Fantastic Four
Andy and Lana Wachowski, Jupiter Ascending

Worst Actor
Johnny Depp, Mortdecai
Jamie Dornan, Fifty Shades of Grey
Kevin James, Paul Blart Mall Cop 2
Adam Sandler, The Cobbler and Pixels
Channing Tatum, Jupiter Ascending

Worst Actress
Katherine Heigl, Home Sweet Hell
Dakota Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey
Mila Kunis, Jupiter Ascending
Jennifer Lopez, The Boy Next Door
Gwyneth Paltrow, Mortdecai

Worst Supporting Actor
Chevy Chase, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 and Vacation
Josh Gad, Pixels and The Wedding Ringer
Kevin James, Pixels
Jason Lee, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip
Eddie Redmayne, Jupiter Ascending

Worst Supporting Actress
Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip and The Wedding Ringer
Rooney Mara, Pan
Michelle Monaghan, Pixels
Julianne Moore, Seventh Son
Amanda Seyfried, Love the Coopers and Pan

Worst Screenplay
Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater and Josh Trank, Fantastic Four
Kelly Marcel, Fifty Shades of Grey
Andy and Lana Wachowski, Jupiter Ascending
Kevin James and Nick Bakay, Paul Blart Mall Cop 2
Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling, Pixels

Worst Remake or Sequel
Alvin and The Chipmunks: The Road Chip
Fantastic Four
Hot Tub Time Machine 2
Human Centipede 3
Paul Blart Mall Cop 2

Worst Screen Combo
Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara and Jamie Bell, Fantastic Four
Johnny Depp and his glued-on mustache, Mortdecai
Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey
Kevin James and either his Segway or glued-on mustache, Paul Blart Mall Cop 2
Adam Sandler and any pair of shoes, The Cobbler

Razzies Redeemer Award
Elizabeth Banks
M. Night Shyamalan
Will Smith
Sylvester Stallone

Playing Catch-Up: The Hateful Eight (dir by Quentin Tarantino)


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Remember how I said that it was intimidating to admit that The Big Short didn’t do much for me as a viewer?  Well, it’s even more intimidating for me to admit that I felt much the same way about The Hateful Eight as well.

Nearly everyone I know loves The Hateful Eight and, going into it, I really wanted to love it as well.  After all, this is — as the opening credits remind us — Quentin Tarantino’s 8th film!  Tarantino is one of my favorite directors.  I thought his last film, Django Unchained, was a masterpiece and one of the most important films ever made about slavery.  Like many of you, I’ve followed all the details of the making of The Hateful Eight, from the initial script leak to the controversy over Tarantino’s comments on the police.  I was excited because the cast looked great and was full of veteran actors — like Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Bruce Dern — who all seemed likely to benefit from the Tarantino touch.  (Say what you will about Quentin Tarantino, it cannot be denied that he’s given good roles to talented actors who are rarely given the opportunities that they deserve.)  When I heard that Ennio Morricone was going to be providing the score, I got even more excited.  Morricone and Tarantino; it seemed like the perfect combination for greatness.

Well, Morricone’s score is spectacular.  There’s talk that Morricone might finally win an Oscar for his work on The Hateful Eight and I certainly don’t have a problem with that.  (Hopefully, Morricone will have learned a lesson from the Golden Globes and, if he is nominated, he will either come to the ceremony himself or arrange for someone other than Tarantino to accept for him.)  And Jennifer Jason Leigh takes full advantage of her role, giving a truly ferocious performance.

But otherwise, The Hateful Eight just didn’t do much for me.  It’s not that I disliked the film.  There was a lot that worked but, for whatever reason, The Hateful Eight never enthralled me the way that past Tarantino films have.  The Hateful Eight left me saying, “Is that it?”

A lot of my reaction to The Hateful Eight has to do with the film’s length.  Taking place, for the most part, in only one location and structured more like a play than a film, The Hateful Eight would be a great 90 minute murder mystery.  Instead, it lasts nearly 3 hours and, at times, the film drags interminably.  As usual, Tarantino plays with time and, at one point, stops the action so that we can see what happened earlier in the day.  Unfortunately, as opposed to other Tarantino films, we don’t really learn anything new from this flashback and you get the feeling that it was included most because flaskbacks are a Tarantino trademark and because he wanted to find a way to work a somewhat pointless Zoe Bell cameo into the film.

As for Tarantino’s widely acclaimed script, I have to admit that I got kind of bored with this talky film.  Yes, the actors were all good and it’s always fun to listen to Samuel L. Jackson be a badass but the dialogue itself was largely repetitive and occasionally, the film itself threatened to turn into Tarantino-on-autopilot.

(Interestingly enough, Tarantino’s script features several creative euphemisms for oral sex and the characters come up with a handful of different ways to point out that Jackson is black but, when it comes to Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character, nobody can come up with anything more imaginative than repeatedly calling her a bitch.  While, unlike some critics, I don’t think The Hateful Eight is a misogynistic movie, I do have to admit that I was rolling my eyes around the fifth time that Leigh’s character was called a bitch and kept rolling them for the entire movie.  For a writer well-known for his ability to come up with colorful and memorable insults, Tarantino’s refusal to come up with anything more imaginative than “bitch” just felt lazy.)

What can I say?  The Hateful Eight just didn’t do much for me.  However, I do think that the film looked great and I certainly hope that Morricone and Leigh are at least nominated for their excellent work.  I look forward to Tarantino’s next film but I doubt I’ll be revisiting The Hateful Eight any time soon.

(By the way, with this review, I am now officially caught up on reviewing the films of 2015!)

Trailer: Magic Mike XXL (Teaser)


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I will be the first to admit that Soderbergh’s journey into the world of male strippers wasn’t on my radar when it was first announced and even when it finally premiered. Then again I don’t think I was the core audience.

Now, Lisa Marie did go see Magic Mike and to say that she enjoyed it would be an understatement. Her brief (no pun intended) but succinct review of the film could be summed up by it’s introduction:

“After me and my BFF Evelyn saw Magic Mike, I hopped on twitter and I tweeted, “Memo to single guys.  Go hang out around the theater when Magic Mike gets out.  You will get laid!”  Yes, Magic Mike is that type of film…”

So, we’re now three years removed from Soderbergh’s film. A sequel has been filmed and ready to be unleashed on the millions out there waiting to get back to the world of Magic Mike. While Soderbergh doesn’t return as director (he does go behind the camera as the sequel’s cinematographer and editor) the sequel does get Gregory Jacobs in the director’s chair. He was first asst. director during the first film and a frequent collaborator with Soderbergh (he pretty much has been Soderbergh’s asst. director in all his films).

Will Lisa Marie enjoy this sequel or will she return with a reaction of “seen it before” ennui? We’ll find out in a couple months.

Magic Mike XXL unveils for all this July 1, 2015.

Shattered Politics #92: White House Down (dir by Roland Emmerich)


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To say that the 2012 film White House Down is stupid is probably unnecessary.  After all, the film was directed by Roland Emmerich and Emmerich specializes in making stupid films.

And, in many ways, White House Down is prototypical Emmerich film, a long and self-important collection of mayhem and heavy-handed pontification.  In the case of this film, liberal President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) is pushing for a treaty that will magically bring about world police.  Naturally, a bunch of evil right-wingers (including characters played, somewhat inevitably, by James Woods and Richard Jenkins) don’t want world peace so they hire a bunch of mercenaries who attack the White House.  It’s all a part of a plot to force Sawyer to launch a nuclear attack on Iran because … well, why not?  Fortunately, aspiring secret service agent (and kick-ass combat veteran) John Cale (Channing Tatum) is there to work with the President and save the country.

And, since Emmerich is from the bigger is always better school of filmmaking, many familiar landmarks are blown up and it takes the film well over two hours to tell its simplistic story.  To be honest, if your action movie can’t get the job done in under two hours, then you’re going to have problems.  Once a viewer has spent two hours watching one movie, it’s inevitable that he or she will start to question the film’s logic.  If the film’s clever enough, all lapses and inconsistencies can be forgiving.  If the film is White House Down, it’s a lot less easy to be forgiving.

Of course, from a political point of view, Emmerich tries to have it both ways.  For anti-government types like me, it’s always fun to watch Washington D.C. blow up.  For those on the right, White House Down presents a situation that can only be solved by heroes with guns.  And, of course, Democrats can view White House Down as wish fulfillment, an alternative timeline where Barack Obama actually is as sincere and effective as they wish him to be.

In fact, if anything saves White House Down, it’s the chemistry between Foxx and Tatum.  Wisely, neither one of them appears to be taking the film that seriously and both of them seem to be having a lot of fun blowing things up.  Channing Tatum, in particular, deserves some sort of award.  How many bad films have been made tolerable by Tatum’s willingness to laugh at himself?  I’ve lost count but White House Down definitely benefits from his presence.  He and Foxx make Emmerich’s style of filmmaking as tolerable as it will ever be.