American Made

Now that we have talked about the foreigners, let’s discuss a home brewed concoction of history, baloney and Tom Cruise. “American Made” is the supposed true story of Barry Seal, who as a convicted drug smuggler negotiated a deal to assist the D.E.A. in in their investigations. The makers of this film, decide to splice the C.I.A., Iran-Contra and every president from Jimmy Carter up to George W. Bush into this story. I just hope that film goers recognize that Hollywood is a bad place to learn about history, even when it is a good place to make an engaging film.

All of the political material is nearly superfluous, since there is no real agenda in this movie other than to entertain us for a couple of hours.  The time line, characters and general insanity that take place are clearly the invention of creative minds rather than advocates with an agenda. In my opinion, this is the movie that “the Wolf of Wall Street” could have been if that film making crew had stuck to telling an interesting story instead of glorifying in excess and then pontificating at us. Director Doug Liman has the good fortune to have his personable con-man played by the personable Tom Cruise, who shakes off the unfortunate “Mummy” curse with a much more polished performance here.

The visions of excess here do not involve repeated episodes of drug use, sex and humiliation of other human beings. Rather, the situation attempts to lampoon the success of the drug trade by noting how problematic the issue of laundering the money would be. While there is one scene where Cruise as Seal gets covered in the imported product, he does not spend two thirds of the movie cranked up like Leonardo DiCapro. Instead, he is waist deep in cash and can’t find a way to hide the money as fast as he is making it. The story plays out like a comedy version of a double episode of “Miami Vice”. Seal and his wife argue over when he should rake up all the buried cash the dog has dug up. The town that he relocates to is flush with newly created financial institutions that seem to be serving a population of under 3000 with the kinds of banking services you’d find not too far off of Wall Street.

Domhnall Gleeson plays the imaginary C.I.A. recruiter who is supposed to have set Barry down the path to self destruction. He has a great American Accent, but not a very believable role. Sarah Wright plays the spouse of our gun running, drug smuggling, money laundering hero. I’ve not seen her before that I recall but she fits the part as written just fine. Caleb Landry Jones plays the misbegotten brother-in-law JB. Up to the point when his character exits the picture, the film plays like “Hogan’s Heroes” set in Central America. The movie takes a nasty turn after that and you will find that the real life BarrySeal had real life consequences to his actions.

I was a little nonplussed at the inclusion of a sequence that seems to have been taken from last year’s “Jack Reacher” film, also starring Cruise. I suppose the allure of Tom being so untouchable is just too much catnip to resist for film makers. I will however advise that they drop this soon to be Cruise Trope before the next “Mission Impossible”. I don’t think you want your Crown Jewel film franchise to be seen as cribbing from lesser works. Even if they are entertaining.

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The Foreigner

Doesn’t everyone like Jackie Chan? Although he has made some political statements over the last few years that I think are ill informed, I still love the guy. He is a true athlete with charisma to burn and even at his age he makes most younger action stars look like they are standing still. His new movie was produced by him and financed by Chinese media companies, but it is as slick an action spy film as you might hope to see for the price. As an added bonus we get two former Bond veterans to go along with it.

If you watch the trailer you might be expecting a straight action revenge film, but there is a lot more involved here. Quan is a bereaved father on a one man mission to take out the terrorists that killed his daughter. To do so he must squeeze whatever resource he can to find out who is at fault. Here is where the extra material comes in. Pierce Brosnan is a Deputy Minister for Northern Ireland, working for the British, he happens to be a former terrorist with the IRA who now seeks the best interests of the area in peace. There are conflicting goals for the people he represents and he is caught in the middle. The plot is full of multiple double crosses, switching loyalties and complex twists of real political events. It’s the usual spy territory and Jackie Chan just happens to have dropped into it.

 

I’ll make a confession here that will probably result in a few points being deducted from my “Man Card”. As  reference let me include this two and a half minute scene from the 1985 movie “VisionQuest”:

 

The way this character responded to Pele’, is the way I respond to Jackie Chan. I feel elevated as a human being when I see the stuff he is capable of doing. I teared up at “Rumble In the Bronx ” twenty years ago because Jackie Chan is so damn graceful and amazing. I didn’t choke up today, but I should have, because he is older than I am and he still does this incredible stuff. He is also a very solid actor in this part. There is no clowning around in the film. We don’t get a shot of that 1000 watt smile of his. Quan is nearly a broken man, and he fights back the tears and memories in a way that reminds us that Chan is not just an athlete but an actor as well.

Brosnan gets a chance to act as well. He is reunited with the director of his first 007 outing, Martin Campbell. Campbell has twice revived James Bond, first with “Golden Eye” and then a dozen years later with “Casino Royale”. He knows his way around material like this. There are some great action sequences true, but he also gets the drawing room show downs right as well. He may not be anyone’s idea of an auteur, but he clearly knows his way around a movie like this. Brosnan is good as the duplicitous minister with a hidden agenda that ties into the events but also shows how good outcomes can’t necessarily justify bad deeds.

 

“The Foreigner” is a well made , standard issue action spy film that is elevated by the presence of the two stars. It may not play well for MI-5’s public relations but those of us who like to see justice done in the cinema world, now have one more film to add to the list. Now can we please get that Jackie Chan, Liam Neeson, Jason Statham movie going? If Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell are available, let’s cast them too.

Happy Death Day

A horror film for 14 year old girls. It’s not particularly scary, it’s not as funny as it could be, and it is designed to mock those things that the Queen Bees do in belittling and mocking the other girls. It is so derivative of “Groundhog’s Day” that it actually mentions “Groundhog’s Day” at the conclusion of the film. There is little to recommend here despite the fun idea of stealing the Bill Murray premise.

From the moment the film starts, the screenplay fills every crevice with suspects. “Tree” our birthday girl, has what appears to be a drunken night with a handsome but apparently socially outcast stranger. Her sorority house is filled with women who might have reasons to hate her, or at least think they do She is having an affair with one of her professors who is a medical doctor, and she meets his wife when they are almost caught in a clinch. She is dodging her Father’s birthday call and brunch appointment. Oh yeah, there is also a serial killer who has been caught and is being treated in the hospital, we learn this from a news broadcast in the background.

If the repeated deaths that “Tree” has to endure were a little more creative, this could have been a lot more fun. It is only the automobile sequence that seems to care about providing thrills. The college mascot of the University she attends is “The Babies” which explains the creepy masks in every dorm, frat, office and locker room on campus. The murder sequences and red herrings are standard stuff and it just does not pop out at you the way these movies need to. This is another case of PG-13 undermining the point of the horror film.

The one thing that the film does manage to do is humanize “Tree” the same way that Bill Murray’s “Phil” learns a little humility. When the film starts, you are not going to have a lot of sympathy for her, but as it progresses, she starts to recognize the bad choices she has made. She can see the “bitch” in the mirror and she tries to rectify that persona as part of the process of discovering who it is that repeatedly murders her.It’;s not a great reason to see the film, but it does give it a little bit of emotional substance.

 

.happy_death_dayThe rules of the repeating universe she finds herself in are not very clear. The injuries she sustains disappear, except when they don’t. In one scenario she kills herself, and that seems odd. Her motivation for that action is partially explained, but why she thinks that solution is better that stopping the whole process is not clear at all.  I probably should not worry about inconsistencies in a movie like this, but sometimes those thoughts creep into your head and then the story premise gets undermined. I saw this on Friday, and there was a pretty big crowd, it’s so embarrassing to be part of a species that will see this movie but not bother with “Blade Runner 2049”.

Movies I Want Everyone to See: Into the Night

Inspired by this films recommendation on “The Forgotten Filmcast” I have slipped this in a bit earlier than it was scheduled to show up. This is another of my “Movies I Want Everyone to See” series that was originally published on the defunct site “Fogs Movie Reviews” in the Fall of 2013.

Poster 2

Review by Richard Kirkham

“Into the Night” is a film that I recommend for a somewhat narrow range of reasons. Although it is referred to as a comedy, action, thriller, it barely qualifies in each of those categories. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot that is funny about the movie, and there is some action and tension along the way, and what could be more thrilling than seeing Michelle Pfeiffer at the peak of her beauty and charm? The real reason to see this movie however is the tour of Southern California culture from the 1980s that you get along the way. It is a very loose film with some nice sequences and dialogue but as a film it seems to lurch forward and wander around the story at times, but oh what interesting times.

intothenight2

An essay over at A.V. Club, classifies this film and several others, as films which fit into a particular genre, actually called into the night films. The classification is based first on story line. The lead disappears into another subculture, usually starting with a night time excursion. The second point the essay suggests is that these mostly eighties films are sociological examinations of the conflict that the baby boomer generation feels over the rejection of the values championed by the counter culture of the 1960 and 70s by the preponderant culture in the 1980s. It is an interesting point and as a paper submitted in a graduate writing class in Cinema, it probably scored the author an A. Let’s extend their point for one more comment, all of the films that were mentioned (with the exception of two John Hughes films which probably don’t fit) were culturally marginal as well.

Henson_IntotheNight_001When this film was released it received quite negative reviews from the critics. The New York Times was very dismissive but Roget Ebert went one step further, giving the film a single star rating on his scale. Both reviews focused on the insider nature of the movie. The film features cameo appearances by a variety of Hollywood types, including at least 17 film directors. The suggestion here is that the film was mostly an excuse to get a bunch of friends together and have an extended party at the studio’s expense. It is not possible to say for sure that this was not the case, but it can be said that those guest shots are not distracting from the movie. While sometimes the interjection of these actors, directors and writers did turn the movie into a game of “spot the hidden celebrity”, that added to the fun of the premise and emphasized what the movie is about. The subject here is Hollywood itself.

IntotheNight251A quick plot summary: Ed Okin is an aerospace engineer suffering from insomnia and job burnout. After he discovers his marriage is even less than he thought it to be, he drives to the airport to clear his thoughts, maybe with the idea of going to Vegas for the night. Just as he starts to fall asleep in his car in the parking structure, a woman screams, jumps on the hood of his car and asks for help. Men are chasing her and guns are blazing and he reacts instinctively by driving her off. That woman is Diana and it turns out she is involved in a smuggling escapade. The two of them travel around Los Angeles for the next twenty-four hours, trying to figure a way out of the predicament they have become trapped in. The plot involves Elvis impersonators, high stakes gambling,film production, real estate, high end shopping and the fall of the Shah of Iran. As you can tell, the movie meanders and touches on lots of different elements.

Here is the real deal for you though. You have to pay close attention because it is not front and center of the movie. The subject of the film is how the City and the Hollywood community work. Jeff Goldblum’s character Ed, is an engineer in an industry in Southern California that the Hollywood people think is boring. They show him at his job, being disinterested, he complains about not caring himself. To the showbiz world, this validates their view of themselves. Unlike Ed, “We are exciting”, “We are different every day”. Diana is a beautiful woman who came to Southern California in all likelihood to be a star. Instead she falls into a relationship with a rich older man. There is a cliche of Hollywood that you can see everyday as you drive through town. Later, the older man seems to discard her, another Southern California dream gone bad.

Into the Night 2As you watch the film progress, you get a travelogue of L.A. area haunts, usually of the rich. The yacht of Diana’s older lover is in Marina Del Rey. She and Ed visit a set in Hollywood and meet up with one of her friends who got into the Biz, by sleeping with the producer. They suffer the indignity of being escorted off the set and of being rejected by her brother, whose connection to the entertainment business is as an Elvis impersonator.  Later in the film they stroll through Beverly Hills shopping district and spend some time in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. There is a car chase through Century City, in that most annoying of L.A. locations, a multi-storied underground parking garage. If you are from the Southland you know that a parking garage is a necessary anathema. This is a car culture and Ed and Diana end up in the most unlikely vehicle in L.A., a taxi. To make matters worse, the taxi is chased through a parking garage which residents hate, since free parking was at one time a birthright of Angeleno’s (those days are long gone). It wouldn’t be L.A. if there were not a beach scene, so we get a murder in Malibu. The whole movie is really a critique of the L.A. lifestyle.

into the night synwEverywhere in the movie are L.A. references. In the opening sequences there are radio shows playing in the background  and defining what the radio was like in Southern California. People from out of the area will not understand why they are watching references to car salesmen in commercials. Pete Ellis was ubiquitous  on TV at the time, he had car dealerships in all the major American brands at some point or another. Most of you probably have a commercial jingle or two stuck in your head. Those earworms are often a result of repetition. “Pete Ellis Dodge, Long Beach Freeway, Firestone Exit, South Gate.” It doesn’t sound all that memorable, but you put a catchy tune behind it and play it fifty times a day on the local TV stations it will be. Twenty five years after that dealership went away, the sound is still ringing in my head. Cal Worthington is famous in So. Cal for his silly TV commercials where he mocked another car dealer who put his dog in commercials selling cars. Cal’s dog “Spot” was a tiger, an elephant, a killer whale. He would do really loopy things like wing walking and then put them in the ads. “Into the Night” is filled with those late night TV ads in the backgrounds of several scenes.

Bowie Into the Night

Another odd reference to show business, is a fight to the death between two characters played by Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Carl Perkins and David Bowie. This was Perkins only screen appearance and he is a natural. Bowie of course had made several movies at that point and several more since. In the sequence where they face off, the TV is running in the background, playing an old Abbott and Costello movie. So two icons of pop music are dueling for attention with classic comedians who made movies. It is an odd juxtaposition but typical of this movie, directed by John Landis, a fan of horror films especially. If you were not aware of it, Landis uses the phrase “See You Next Wednesday” as a signature in all of his movies. Here it is on movie posters in the trailer that Ed and Diana get escorted out of. The line comes from Kubrick’s “2001”. It is no accident that movie references populate this film, even to the point of providing a distraction from a violent fight scene.

There are extended segments in Beverly Hills, both in the shopping district and in the residential neighborhoods. Fans of “Chinatown” know that the plot of that classic is mostly a giant real estate swindle, well it turns out that this movie is heavily involved in that same business. The jewels are supposed to help secure financing for a real estate deal being pursued by rich “Iranian” refugees. Large numbers of said refugees found homes in Beverly Hills and so the sound of Farsi being spoken in the stylish salons of Rodeo Drive was not unusual. It turns out that Jack, Diana’s rich patron, is also involved in real estate and that brings some strings of the plot together at the end.

intothenightscreen1The end of the film takes place at the location that most visitors first encounter the city, the Airport. LAX is always busy but we don’t typically have shoot outs there (although it has happened). The odd way in which the stand off resolves itself is again spurred on by Ed’s manner. Through the whole picture Jeff  Goldblum plays Ed as if he is exhausted and can barely be bothered to respond to the events taking place around him. The casualness is another one of those L.A. critiques, nothing really seems important to anyone, except the business. The rich and powerful control the political process, the lower level functionaries are corrupt, and the beautiful people get to make their own rules.

“Into the Night” is not an essential movie, but it is one that I always want people to see because it is a tour of the world that I lived in at the time. It features an odd leading man, and a beautiful leading lady, wandering around the city that I both love and hate. There are plenty of amusing bits and pieces that often have nothing to do with the story, they are just a chance to visit at a touchstone of 80s L.A. culture. The scene at Ships Coffee Shop has nothing to do with the story, and everything to do with where you can go in the middle of the night to get dessert. There is no reason to hide the jewels at the flower market, except that then viewers will get a chance to see the flower market. Jake Steiner is in the movie because he turned being a trainer for Harrison Ford into a career as a pitchman for physical fitness (and getting into the business). A movie with a different plot but a very similar look at L.A. almost fifteen years earlier is “Hickey and Bogs”. In the place of Goldblum and Pfeiffer, are Bill Cosby and Robert Culp. Maybe it will justify a little analysis down the road, right now I mention it just wanted to show that these sorts of films do repeat themselves and reflect the changes of the city over time. “Get Shorty” in the 1990s and this years “This is the End” cover the same themes. A lot of bad stuff can happen here but if you make it in the movie business , you’ll be alright.into the night publicityRichard Kirkham is a lifelong movie enthusiast from Southern California. While embracing all genres of film making, he is especially moved to write about and share his memories of movies from his formative years, the glorious 1970s. His personal blog, featuring current film reviews as well as his Summers of the 1970s movie project, can be found at Kirkham A Movie A Day.

Blade Runner 2049

I have a huge sense of Deja Vu with this picture. The advance screening we went to last night is foreshadowing some potentially unpleasant news for the studio that invested in this sequel. This is a movie that has been promoted all to hell, and at a 9:00 screening there were maybe two dozen people in the theater to see it. When I asked at the concession stand about the crowd that evening, the two girls said that there was a big crowd earlier, but they were all coming to see “Mully” , a specialty release. The employees didn’t even know what Blade Runner was. Thirty-five years ago, we went to an opening night screening of this new Harrison Ford film, and in a giant one thousand seat theater, there were maybe three hundred people. The 1982 Blade Runner tanked, and although it has a strong cult following and an impressive revisionist legacy, I’m a little concerned for how this new edition will do.

Director Denis Villeneuve was responsible for last year’s “Arrival” a film that placed highly on my end of the year list and the promise of Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford cemented this as one of the most anticipated films of the year. At least for cinema fans, as we are learning, there are fewer and fewer of us out there as every new movie platform launches. I hope I am wrong, because this is a solid film and deserves a wide audience, but I will understand if it follows it’s predecessor down the path of box office failure but cinematic glory. In many way it has the same strengths and weaknesses of the first film.

Blade Runner 2049 starts off with a cinematic technique that is not very encouraging. We get a title card with four paragraphs of exposition, moving on to the screen accompanied by the ominous score. If the film has to tell us what is happening instead of showing us, that is a danger sign. This movie doen’ even have a narration or character tell us the information, we have to read a preface. Once the story gets started however, things look a lot more promising. Actor Dave Bautista, who is rapidly becoming a favorite of mine,shows up in the opening section and there is a piece of action that seems about right for the start of the movie. The updated technology of the spinner car is displayed in bright light rather than in rain and the dark, and a mystery is introduced. So far so good. The follow up on the mystery is not so good. We do not ever understand exactly the relationship of Bautista’s character to the rest of the story, In fact, it is a red herring but a very confusing one. This is just the start of a great deal of muddled story that detracts from the characters and helps make the visual splendor of the film it’s main selling point. [This should start to sound familiar to all you fans of whatever cut of Blade Runner.]

“K” the Gosling character, is a different kind of Blade Runner. We find out when he first encounters his targets and that ask him how it feels to hunt down his own kind. I don’t think this is a spoiler since it comes up in the first few minutes of the film. His supervisor, the frighteningly stern Robin Wright, treats him only slightly better than a vacuum cleaner, although she clearly sees his utility and respects his work. Their relationship is set up like the traditional over bearing police supervisor and rebellious underling, except that “K” doesn’t really rebel and Wright’s “Madam”  doesn’t below as much as she scowls. They both participate in a reworking of the digital picture enhancement scene from the original film, and later Gosling repeats the procedure again in an outside context. Some more echos of the first film.

Very much as “The Force Awakens” mirrors the first “Star Wars”, 2049 is hitting some of the same beats as the original film more than three decades later. “Luv”, the assistant to the owner of the company that makes the replicants which are now more compliant than their older versions, is a combination of three of the characters from the first film, Pris, Zhora and Roy Batty himself. Ultimately you will hate her but there is a strange attractiveness about her methodical manner and diffident smile. Niander Wallace is the blind genius behind the new version of the Tyrell Company, and since he uses floating electronic eyes to see, he feels like a combination of J.F. Sebastian, Chew, and Tyrell himself. He speaks in obscure terms and platitudes. Jared Leto comes across as creepy villain but one who will rely on his creations to carry out his dirty work.

There are three or four plots going on all at once, but they don’t always gel into a coherent story. “K” loves “Joi” a virtual reality companion. Luv is protecting “K” at times and attacking him at other moments. Lt. Joshi, referred to usually as Madam, seems to be aware of a plot, but unwilling to pull the curtain back to reveal it. There is also the thread of a replicant revolution in the offing. The procedural of following leads is sidetracked by new sub-cultures or  background world building that gets more and more obtuse. It may all ultimately make sense but it will probably take the average person two or three viewings to figure it out. The question is whether anyone will be motivated to do so. This movie is almost three hours and it is not a fast three hours. This again mirrors the original film, which was deliberately paced and not action heavy. There are lengthy discussions between characters which are often meant to be so high context that the audience might well believe they are supposed to be excluded from the conversation.

 

So far it probably doesn’t sound much like I enjoyed the movie. In fact I did and it is marvelous in a lot of ways. I just want to be out front in pointing out that the story is problematic and the script not very engaging. What is engaging however are some of the performances, the great visual design of the film, and some of the world building that was only hinted at in the first movie. The combination of effects and characters are fascinating in several places. There is a great scene when a pleasure model replicant and  the virtual reality companion, share space so that “K” can have a tactile relationship with the object of his desire. It was a great creative moment and the effect looks a little like a misaligned 3D shot. The set designs in the future abandoned Las Vegas are also pretty spectacular. Hinting at the future of our current obsession with drinking, gambling and old time entertainment.

The women in this film make the strongest impressions. Villeneuve manages to make an initially lovely villainess more and more reptilian as the story develops. actress Sylvia Hoeks provides a face that is made for molding into beauty and fear at the same time. Ana de Armas is the virtual Joi and she feels like the most real character in the plot. She is a voice of reason, a love object and the lady in distress all at the same time. Gosling is a fine actor and holds his own against the ladies, up until the arrival of Harrison Ford in the last hour of the movie. Ford’s Deckard is familiar from the first film. He wants to remain detached, he is very smart but also has some of the limitations of humans, and he has had three decades to drink all the whisky he wants. Ford manages to upstage everyone else in the film even though his screen time is very limited. His scenes with Leto have a James Bond quality as he is interrogated, but he does not have any bravado or fear to throw up as a defense, he simply has his own weariness to assure him that he will win out in the end. Ford seems physically formidable for his age and there are none of the acting crutches that he uses in his other performances here. He did not phone it in for this one.

If you treasure the first film than you will probably love this one as well. Once you get used to the bombastic electronic score from Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, you will be able to delight in the dense city backgrounds, stark farming landscapes and idiosyncratic technology of the future. It is a smart science fiction film with some good notions of what makes us human, but it is layered in a story that is murky and slow.

American Assassin

 

Certainly not fun in the way the “Kingsman” films are, never the less this is a satisfying spy thriller with enough of a story to keep us engaged and a couple of characters that give us some rooting interest but not a lot of sympathy. The action is reminiscent of  the style of the Joh Wick movies but without the irony and gore fetish of those movies.The film is so serious that modern audiences might not recognize it, because it is not a parody or a send up or pastiche, it is a drama. It is told in a straightforward manner and I don’t think these is a single moment in the film where you will catch anyone winking at the audience.

American Assassin is not for everyone. I have read two or three of the Vince Flynn novels that feature the lead character Mitch Rapp. He is not James Bond. He is a dedicated killer, committed to wiping out threats to America. There is no nuance to his attitude and people looking for the grey zones between who is right and who is wrong should seek their entertainment elsewhere. Mitch is just going to kill the bad guys, and he is not stylish about it but he is efficient. Young Dylan O’Brien does not look like the Mitch Rapp I had in my head, but this is an origin story and if the series gets a chance to continue I’m sure he will mature into the role more. Seven years ago, Taylor Kitch would have been the choice for Mitch in this film, instead of the bad guy “Ghost”. So it makes sense to cast him in the role of a former agent that has gone rogue.

The plot is not particularly unique except in the way it can visualize a world where Iranian operatives might cooperate with the CIA. The ultimate target of the attack is also somewhat interesting although it seems a by inconsistent with the character. The opening scene with an attack on tourists at a beach resort is brutal and may seem a little too real in the way it is depicted. The terrorists are indifferent machines, going through the process of killing as many people as they can. The personal psychological trauma inflicted on our nascent “hero” is understandably sufficient motivation to shed himself of the humanity, a characteristic that distinguishes Rapp from other characters in this genre. Much of this film takes place in the light of day and I enjoyed getting a tour of Istanbul that was maybe a little brief. The more extended tour of Rome was a nice compliment to the nighttime tour we got in “Spectre” a couple of years ago. Both of these cities are highly photogenic and they are different enough for this type of film to tale advantage of.

The real draw for people who make an effort to see this will be Michael Keaton. I really appreciate having him as an onscreen presence in films so much more often these days. Those of us who remember his debut in “Night Shift” will be amazed at the spectrum of characters he has ended up playing. As the hard as nails CIA trainer Stan Hurley, he manages to be believable, even when he is being tortured. His no nonsense approach to personnel will probably not endear him much to real CIA recruiters but as a film character he is exactly right.

Most of the film is SOP when it comes to these sorts of stories. There is one really great fight scene in a speedboat that makes a creative contribution to how these stories are told There is a solid use of real physics in the fight that is the closest we come to a cinematic shot in the film. As the high speed boat rockets across the water and it encounters a large wave, the combatants are thrown into the air and off of their attacks momentarily. It’s not something I’ve seen before and that’s why I appreciated it so much. Frankly, I’m not that complex when it comes to this kind of film. I root for the Americans, I enjoy the revenge plot and I was satisfied with the action beats. This is not a film that you would call artistic or great, but it is one that will leave people who want to have this kind of experience, sated.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Upfront I want anyone reading this to know that I am a big fan of “Kingsman:The Secret Service“. I am a sucker for British Spies and that maniacal dip into comic laced espionage was one of my favorite films of 2015. The cast was great and the over the top violence made the film feel very cartoonish in a good way. As a consequence, “The Golden Circle” enters this year’s movie experiences as one of my most anticipated films. I looked forward to further adventures and there was a promise of a returned Colin Firth, which made me want to know how they were going to pull that off. The advance information also tipped us to the fact that we would connect with the American counterpart of the private intelligence agency, so this stoked my interest even more. The director, Matthew Vaughn, has made several films that I really enjoy, including my favorite film of 2010, so I had great confidence in his ability to pull this movie together. Such confidence has been rewarded my friends. “The Golden Circle” is what you hope it will be for the most part.

One of the things that I find attractive about the series is that it is not afraid to be a little politically incorrect. James Bond might be a sexist pig, but his attitude is always tempered by a PG-13 rating. Kingsman goes all out in using sexual exploitation for humorous purposes and that might make the series unappetizing to film goes who want their movies to be socially just. In “The Secret Service” there is a punchline based on a promise of a forbidden sex act. It’s just the thing a 12 year old mentality would laugh at and the film is upfront about that. That joke was one of the widely criticized moments of the first film. Writer/Director Vaughn has taken that joke and turned it into a plot point for this film. I really appreciated that the Princess Tilde returns to this franchise in a greatly expanded role and with a lot more dignity. That however allows the original tasteless joke to be a background to two sexually inappropriate moments of humor in this film, one of them involving Elton John. The other moment will be the focus of criticism by haters for this film. It involves a GPS device and the mucus membrane, and it certainly is a sequence that will make delicate sensibilities squirm. That plot point aside, most of the rest of the film is standard comic violence with over the top moments of gruesomeness.

There is a second aspect of this film that I really appreciate as well. The plots of both of these movies turn trendy social issues on their heads and use them as the motivation for the villain’s plot. Global Warming was the theme of the first film, Drug Legalization is the driving force for this movie. The aptly named Poppy, played by Julianne Moore, is motivated to make her product socially acceptable through the use of international hostage taking. It is a creative plan that to a large degree mimics the plot of the first film but still manages to allow some twists in the story. There is a great shot against the U.N. that puts the U.S. President in the story. Unlike the feckless Obama impersonator in the first film, this character gets lines and is played by a recognizable actor, Bruce Greenwood. His approach to the plot is as deranged as Poppy’s so the two intelligence agencies here are caught between a rock and a hard place.  The only thing missing from this is a satisfying comeuppance for the players, in the manner of the delightful head exploding climax of the first film.

 

Restoring Harry Hart to the storyline of the Kingsman is tricky. Being shot in the face is a pretty definitive exit for a character. I appreciated that the solution here was not a quick fix and it ends up being a secondary plotline in the story. There is a pivotal point with a dog and that also insures additional pleasure for most viewers.  Colin Firth adds so much class to the project and in future episodes (should they be made) his character will lend gravitas to the proceedings. We do lose a couple of characters that really could have made future stories great as well, but in the long run the films have to circle around Taron Egerton’s Eggsy and Firth’s Harry Hart.

The Statesmen organization has several good characters to add to the film. Jeff Bridges is a welcome addition to any film and Halle Berry is a fun match for the American version of Mark Strong’s character of Merlin. At the moment, these are background players, the really active American counterparts are played by Pedro Pascal and Channing Tatum. The major drawback that I have with the film is the under utilization of Tatum’s character “Tequila”.  After a solid introduction, he is sidelined for the remainder of the picture. Pascal’s “Whiskey” has to carry the American load and does so effectively for most of the picture. There are some twists that feel a bit forced but they do make for a rousing conclusion to the movie.

While there is nothing as excessive as the church scene from the first film here, there are some great action scenes that use the mix of slow motion and accelerated filming that the church sequence used. This style appears to be Vaughn’s signature touch and although it might be a bit cliched if over used, I thought it was reasonably judicious here. A cab chase at the start of the film and the final attack on the secret lair both take advantage of that style and it works well in those scenes. Much of the rest of the film is presented more traditionally, including initiation rituals for the bad guys and Elton John’s scenes. Oh yeah, did I mention that Elton is in the movie? He is pretty funny sending himself up in feathered costumes and parodying his own drug troubles. Julianne Moore gets to abuse him a little but he verbally gives it right back in great comic form.

This movie can’t quite reach the satisfaction level of the original, few sequels manage to do so. “The Golden Circle” however does entertain and it meets our need to have the action a little bit bigger and the comedy a little bit broader. It is jammed with characters that complicate the story but also provide a lot of jokes. They have managed to bring back a character from the dead in a credible way for an improbable, over the top, spy adventure. I don’t know that it will win over many converts. If you disliked the first film you will certainly not care for this movie. If however, you are like me and took fiendish pleasure in the undermining of political correctness and the shear joy of silly violence just for the comedic effect, than the Kingsman Golden Circle is tailored perfectly for you.