“Kingsman: The Golden Circle”

Given how the kinetic and talented Matthew Vaughn (Kingsman: The Secret Service) directed Kingsman: The Golden Circle, it’s no wonder he doesn’t like doing sequels.

Set a year after Eggsy (Taron Egerton) thwarted the apocalypse in The Secret Service, a new diabolical villain named Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) surfaces with a plot to legalize drugs. Poppy destroys the Kingsman headquarters and kills several agents, forcing Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) to partner with the Statesman, their American counterpart. They also find Harry (Colin Firth) alive, who joins them on their mission.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle was one of my most anticipated movies since I was a big fan of its predecessor and Vaughn stayed committed to the sequel. While The Golden Circle has its moments, Vaughn still commits the biggest sequel sin: he tries too hard to top the first one. The Secret Service is a thrilling spy movie tribute that was an even balance of hardcore violence, political satire, and heart. The Golden Circle has some of its predecessor’s heart and satirical elements, but disappointingly focuses on violence and juvenile humor.

The action is undeniably impressive in The Golden Circle and Vaughn wastes no time throwing us in the middle of it. The opening car chase/fist fight in Eggsy’s cab is a fun, frenetic action sequence; the climactic gun fight at Poppy’s headquarters is a gadget-filled fact-paced spectacle reminiscent of the infamous church scene in The Secret Service (not as good, though).

There were complaints about the level of violence in The Secret Service, but I personally felt the gore was used sparingly and had greater impact; the film still focused on interrogation, covert ops, and surveillance with action thrown in the middle. The Golden Circle uses violence nonstop and there’s almost no spy sequences, save for one that’s a prolonged, offensive rape joke.

It’s great seeing Firth back as Harry; he’s once again a fun, competent action hero. Watching Harry struggle with coordination made his sequences exciting to watch. Egerton is once again likable as the underdog Eggsy. Some viewers will hate that the film focuses on his relationship, but I felt it was refreshing since Eggsy was growing up.

Like Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine, Julianne Moore is a great blend of scary and funny as Poppy. Her plot to control drug distribution is a sharp political commentary on the War on Drugs.

I could have done without most of the Statesman characters. Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, and Channing Tatum play the American agents, but they’re only on screen for a few minutes each. If you saw the trailers, you saw all of their scenes. On the other hand, the great Pedro Pascal (Oberyn Martel from Game of Thrones) is a blast as rogue Statesman, Whiskey.

The Golden Circle excels when it focuses on the Kingsman and their character arcs. Had Vaughn just focused on Harry and Eggsy and kept the new characters and their screen time to a minimum, The Golden Circle could have been as good as its predecessor.

Grade: C+

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“Mother!”

The brilliant Darren Aronofsky is obsessed with three topics: religion, obsession, and surrealism. Mother! is a psychotic depiction of the three.

An unnamed couple (Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem) live in a countryside rustic mansion. She’s obsessed with remodeling the home while he’s obsessed with overcoming writer’s block. When a series of uninvited guests including a dying man (Ed Harris), his alcoholic wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), their dysfunctional sons (real-life siblings Domhnall and Brian Gleeson), and an unhinged publicist (Kristen Wiig) disrupt their paradise, things escalate to pure insanity.

Mother! is already the year’s most controversial film due to its metaphorical screenplay and gruesome finale. Kudos to Aronofsky for not caring if we love or hate this polarizing film.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Mother! is a surreal commentary on religion and the environment; Lawrence is Mother Nature focused on her paradise while Bardem is God writing a biblical novel. When Bardem’s following disrupts and wrecks their home, Lawrence’s character grows increasingly unstable, symbolizing a disaster.

The film is full of allegories and and the final thirty minutes covers the fall of man and christening of Jesus. If you thought Aronofsky couldn’t top the amputation and “ass-to-ass” sequences in Requiem for a Dream or the transformation sequence in Black Swan, guess again! The climax features burglaries, an orgy, a rave, an armed raid, and the most disturbing cannibalism act put on film. It’s a visceral finale that left me exhausted and nauseous.

As ambitious and transgressive as Mother! is, I wasn’t completely blown away since it’s similar to Aronofsky’s previous works. Lawrence’s character is both insecure and obsessive like Natalie Portman’s Nina in Black Swan. Unlike Black Swan, our Mother! protagonist doesn’t have depth or growth. I felt tired of watching her trying to please everyone and yelling over the destruction of her home.

Bardem, Pfeiffer, and Wiig all have the best on-screen moments. Bardem is charismatic and devilish as our unnamed poet; he’s possibly the film’s most tragic character. Pfeiffer delivers a potential career-reviving performance as a guest that doesn’t understand boundaries. She’s funny, invasive, and slightly terrifying. Wiig only has a few minutes of on-screen time, but shows great range in such little time. She’s funny, quirky, deranged, and homicidal; I hope Wiig gets more horror roles.

I recommend Mother! to the arthouse film lovers and Aronofsky fans. Those expecting a traditional horror film will be disappointed since Mother! is not that at all. Those who are easily squeamish, you better stay away from this one.

Grade: B+

“It”

Bill Skarsgård has reshaped Pennywise the Clown’s image in It. Tim Curry’s performance is now a thing of the past. If you watch It, you’ll float, too!

Set in a small town in Maine (like all of King’s stories), It focuses on a group of kids called the Losers Club. There’s the guilt-ridden stutterer Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), overweight Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), sole female member Bev (Sophia Lillis), wisecracking Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Jewish Stan (Wyatt Oleff), homeschooled outcast Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer).

They just want to enjoy their summer vacation, but a mysterious clown named Pennywise (Skarsgård) stalks them. They realize Pennywise has been around for years and linked to several children’s disappearances, including Bill’s brother. Can the Losers stop Pennywise and save themselves?

I posted my top five best Stephen King adaptations last month; I need to revise that countdown and include Andy Muschietti’s It on there. Muschietti’s adaptation isn’t just an improvement over the miniseries, but an improvement over the book, as well.

It scraps the novel’s more perverse moments (no child orgy or dog killing here), allowing more focus on the coming-of-age themes. As a result, we get more funny and heartfelt moments from the Losers than expected. Each kid does a terrific job and their chemistry feels natural.

This adaptation also excludes the novel’s second half about the adult Losers, focusing solely on them as kids. I couldn’t be happier with this choice since the kids’ segment is more emotionally satisfying.

Don’t be fooled by my description of It; this is still a no-holds-barred horror film with some terrifying and admirably bold sequences. People will be talking about Pennywise’s introduction scene, but that’s not even the scariest scene. In fact, it’s hard to choose. Skarsgård disappears into Pennywise; there’s nothing funny about his laugh or stare. The makeup work and production design attribute to his menace.

The scariest moments aren’t with Pennywise, but the kids’ hallucinations. Pennywise uses each kid’s phobias to his advantage, causing them to see some gruesome and frightening figures including a demonic woman and a deteriorating man. The effects can appear amateur at times, but on a retro 80’s horror level.

I know my readers are skeptical to watch It and I don’t blame them. If you can handle horror movies and want a rare one with heart and humor, see It this weekend.

Grade: A

Top 5 Worst Stephen King Adaptations

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Welcome back! So, It comes out tonight and leading up to my review, I thought I’d share my top 5 worst Stephen King adaptations. Here we go!

5) Secret Window (2004) – “The most important part is the ending… And this one is perfect.” Not the case in David Koepp’s self-indulgent and predictable thriller. Johnny Depp was good at least.

4) Pet Sematary Two (1992) – Pet Sematary Two isn’t an official adaptation, but it’s an unnecessary sequel. It seems the screenwriter amped up the animal and child deaths while missing the point of its much scarier predecessor.

3) Thinner (1996) – While King is a great writer with some terrific books under his belt, Thinner is one that didn’t need to be adapted. The book centers on a morbidly obese crooked lawyer who’s cursed by a Gypsy to lose weight until he dies. The film adaptation is equally ridiculous and even more disjointed than its source material.

2) Dreamcatcher (2003) – Aliens, psychics, alter egos, a genocidal army general, and an autistic man with the key to saving the world? Talk about unrestrained. The effects are 90’s Sci-Fi Channel-level awful while the dialogue is something out of M. Night Shyamalan’s worst movies.

1) Maximum Overdrive (1986) – Fun fact, King wrote and directed this 80’s crap fest while high on cocaine. It shows! It’s hard to tell what King wanted between a Cold War satire, a 50’s B-movie homage, or a machine gun-fueled Ac/Dc music video. Either way, I don’t even think King knows.

Stay tuned for my review of It.

“Good Time”

The Twilight days are long over for Robert Pattinson. The man is now at chameleon status, disappearing into the role of a blonde sociopath in Good Time.

Connie’s (Pattinson) a lowlife. He lies, cheats, and steals to survive in New York. After his latest heist lands his autistic brother Nick (played by co-director Ben Safdie) in jail, Connie desperately attempts to bail out Nick. He’s ten grand short and most of his loot was ruined by a dye-pack, so now what? Credit card fraud, an amusement park robbery, and selling an acid-laced Sprite bottle sound like a good time.

Ben and Josh Safdie direct Good Time as a fast-paced, neon-drenched heist film. This is a product reminiscent of the 70s New Hollywood and 80s Indie eras. It’s gritty, violent, mesmerizing, and exhausting. It’s also an acquired taste, depending on the viewer’s tolerance of trash cinema.

Good Time begins and ends in Nick’s point of view. His scenes are semi-heartbreaking given he doesn’t understand what’s going on. When Connie interrupts Nick’s therapy appointment, that’s when Good Time is Connie’s show. Pattinson chews up every scene as Connie, whether we root for him or not.

That’s where Good Time suffers. We watch Connie take advantage of his girlfriend’s credit card, make out with a teenage girl, and later sell her out to police. There aren’t any redeeming qualities for Connie as he’s an immoral sociopath. When there is supposed redemption, Connie isn’t there for us to witness it, lacking power.

What Good Time lacks in substance, it makes up in its style. The score is a hypnotic techno score, each shot is filled with color and kinetic energy, and every chase is a thrilling blend of shock and dark humor.

Grade: B+