“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” Offers More of the Same

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (Matthew Vaughn, 2017)

One of the finest aspects of both John Wick and the first Kingsman film was the worldbuilding. In each one, we encountered a fascinating secret society that operated just out of sight of the rest of us, in which hidden operatives made and carried out plans to alternately destroy (Wick) and save (Kingsman) the universe. With vivid panache, the directors created compelling characters who strutted their stuff through sometimes-awful mayhem, dapper no matter what (well, John Wick got roughed up a bit …). As soon, however, as the narratives strayed from the foundational design and into violence they lost what made them interesting. Their innovative mojo vanished when guns were drawn and/or fists raised, at which point they became just your average, generic action film, devoid of real personality.

That problem has not gone away in Kingsman #2, otherwise known as Kingsman: The Golden Circle, helmed, as was #1, by Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class). While there are some nice new touches in the netherworld of espionage, and a great new villain, at some point it devolves into the same old, same old. There is still a lot of fun to be had, but it begs the question: why must fight scenes all look the same? Where is Edgar Wright, who brilliantly revitalized car chases with Baby Driver this past summer, when you need him?

As this second Kingsman movie begins, our hero, Eggsy – rescued from cockney delinquency the last time around and trained for the independent secret-service agency known as … Kingsman – is immediately (as in, within a minute of the start) attacked by a disgruntled former Kingsman trainee and pursued through London in a high-speed, shoot-em-up drag race that ends in Eggsy’s triumph, or so he thinks. Unbeknownst to him, his attacker – a one-armed man – has left behind, in Eggsy’s vehicle, a mechanical prosthetic that hacks into the Kingsman system and reveals the whereabouts of all the agents, who are then quickly dispatched. The last man standing – with only his original trainer, Merlin, by his side – Eggsy must seek out the source of Kingsman’s demise, a journey that takes him to Kentucky and the sister agency of Kingsman, called Statesman. There, Eggsy joins forces with his American cousins to defeat the movie’s villain, Poppy.

We should say villainess, actually, as she is played with delightfully devilish flair by Julianne Moore (Still Alice). Poppy presides over a drug empire headquartered in Cambodia, her jungle lair designed in bright 1950s diner colors. Moore is one of the bright spots here, the garish design of her hideout complementing her “little-ole-me” false mask of helplessness. To add to the outlandishness of her plan for world domination, she has kidnapped Elton John, keeping him prisoner as her private pop star. The real Mr. John has a lot of fun spoofing some of his songs and flamboyant outfits, and does not embarrass himself.

Every surviving character from the first film (plus one who died) is back for round two: Taron Egerton (Eddie the Eagle), as Eggsy; Mark Strong (Miss Sloane) as Merlin; and Colin Firth (Magic in the Moonlight) as Harry (the one who died – see poster, above). New additions, on the American side, include Halle Berry (Kidnap), Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher), Pedro Pascal (Javier Peña on Netflix’s Narcos) and Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), most of whom, with the exception of Pascal, are wasted. Inexcusably, the movie sidelines, early on, the character of Roxy – the female rival for Kingsman acceptance in the first film – thereby removing one of the more dynamic relationships from the narrative.

Inventive at times, mediocre through most of its length, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is by no means a total loss, though at 140 minutes it overstays its welcome by at least 30 minutes. Interestingly, Elton John is not the only “John” featured in the film: John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” plays a big part towards the end, much as it did in Steven Soderbergh’s recent Logan Lucky (which, in a strange coincidence, also starred Channing Tatum). What should we read into this doubling? Nothing, except for a failure of imagination. It’s a pleasant-enough little earworm, though, so why not give it a listen?

1 Interview + 3 Reviews from Last Week: Janicza Bravo @hammertonail + “Good Time,” “Wind River” & “Leap!” @filmfesttoday

In the last week, I have written – and had posted – the following pieces: an interview with director Janicza Bravo (Lemon) at Hammer to Nail; reviews of Good TimeWind River and Leap! at Film Festival Today. Here are links to all four articles:

Enjoy!

2 Reviews from Last Week: “Ingrid Goes West” @hammertonail + “The Glass Castle” @filmfesttoday

For this Friday, I have nothing new to review (though I am working on a review of Good Time (for Film Festival Today), which has already opened in New York and Los Angeles and opens in Baltimore on August 25. For now, then, here are two reviews I ran last week: Ingrid Goes West (at Hammer to Nail) and The Glass Castle (at Film Festival Today):

Enjoy!

4 Reviews of 4 Recent Films of (Uneven) Interest: “Detroit,” “Girls Trip,” “Landline” and “The Little Hours”

Here are brief capsule write-ups for four recent films that I did not review for their respective opening weekends.

Detroit (Kathryn Bigelow, 2017)

Director Kathryn Bigelow (Point BreakThe Hurt Locker) has always been something of an adrenaline junkie, so it should surprise no one that even in her ostensibly more serious fare she cannot avoid the temptation to go deep into the fetishistic side of violence. That was one of the many flaws of Zero Dark Thirty, in which Bigelow turned what could have been a sharp examination of America’s post-9/11 obsession with torture into an unintentional celebration of enhanced interrogation. Here, in Detroit, Bigelow’s staged reenactment of the Detroit Riots of 1967, there is no such triumphalism – and how could there be, since it’s all about horrific police overreach? – but there sure is the same fetishism. As we watch young African-American characters – and a few young white women, too – mistreated and/or killed in scenes that go on and on and on, it’s hard not to wonder whether Bigelow (and the material) would have been better served by not teaming up with her usual (white) screenwriter, Mark Boal (who also wrote The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty), just to bring in the perspective of actual people of color, rather than that of white liberal guilt. It is by no means an unworthy film, shedding light as it does on an issue still with us today, but it treats the people on screen more as dramatic constructs than as actual human beings with their own agency.

Girls Trip (Malcolm D. Lee, 2017)

Speaking of the perspective of people of color, bring on Girls Trip, which had a very good July. To be honest, it’s kind of a stupid movie, but there is nothing wrong with it that is not also wrong with films that feature overgrown adolescent white boys – like The Hangover or every comedy starring Will Ferrell – or white gals – like Bad Moms or Bridesmaids (Maya Rudolph notwithstanding). Director Malcolm Lee (The Best Man Holiday) has made a career out of the kind of overlong, soggy comedy on display here, yet he is not without talent and always provides  plenty of fun to go along with the excessive sentiment. In Girls Trip, we get four college friends, now drifting apart as middle age approaches, brought together for one last good time in New Orleans. Regina Hall (Think Like a Man Too), Jada Pinkett Smith (Magic Mike XXL), Tiffany Haddish (Keanu) and Queen Latifah (Last Holiday) all shine as said friends, especially Smith and Haddish, whose characters let loose the most, literally spraying the crowd with their good vibes. Though the pat resolution is a bit of a bummer given some of the manic joy of earlier, the movie still leaves one with the delightful lingering image of all four leads, in multi-colored wigs, throwing down their best moves in a second-act dance-off that is the highlight of the affair. Did I say dumb? Does it matter?

Landline (Gillian Robespierre 2017)

From director Gillian Robespierre (Obvious Child) comes a mostly solid sophomore film about a family in New York, in 1995, where everyone is in some kind of emotional crisis. Dad (John Turturro, Fading Gigolo) may be cheating on Mom (Edie Falco, Showtime’s Nurse Jackie), while oldest daughter Dana (Jenny Slate, My Blind Brother) is having second thoughts about her fiancé, Ben (Jay Duplass, Amazon’s Transparent), and the youngest, high-schooler Ali (Abby Quinn, The Journey Is the Destination), is, well, in high school, with all of that attendant existential/hormonal mess. The beauty of the movie is that much of what happens on screen is unexpected, with characters defying easy categorization. Unfortunately, they also spend a lot of time telling us exactly how they feel, leading to many on-the-nose stretches of dialogue where we wish Robespierre had spent some time learning the value of subtext. The actors all deliver heartfelt performances accompanied by no small amount of humor, and the overall experience of the story is a pleasant one, even if the journey is messy.

The Little Hours (Jeff Baena)

Apparently loosely based on The Decameron, Giovanni’s Boccaccio’s 14th-century collection of ribald tales (which I have never read), The Little Hours is set in an isolated convent filled with lusty, foul-mouthed nuns who spout obscenities as eagerly as they seek sexual gratification. Needless to say, this is hardly a film for the devout Catholic not blessed with a healthy appreciation of satire. With a cast that includes Aubrey Plaza (The To Do List), Alison Brie (Sleeping with Other People), John C. Reilly (Kong: Skull Island), Dave Franco (Nerve), Molly Shannon (Other People) and Fred Armisen (IFC’s Portlandia), among others, The Little Hours promises many zany shenanigans, and then delivers inconsistently on that promise. Franco plays a young servant who has been sleeping with his master’s wife. When the affair is discovered he is forced to escape to the nearby convent, where the Abbot (Reilly), in need of a new helper, hires him on the condition that he pretend to be mute, believing that this will shield him from the attentions of the raucous nuns. These ladies, led by the boldest of them, Sister Fernanda (Plaza), find the young man too attractive to resist, with predictable (if quite funny) results. “Get thee to a nunnery” has never been so wildly inappropriate. Unfortunately, too much of the pacing is uneven, and the script refuses to commit, long-term, to the manic pace of its earliest scenes. Writer/director Baena (Joshy) has a fine way with his actors but can’t quite sustain the bawdy tone and comic mayhem throughout. Still, flawed though it may be, The Little Hours is delightful when it works.

@BaltimoreSun’s @RoughlySpeaking Podcast on the 50th Anniversary of Notable Films of 1967

On Friday, August 4, 2017,  Linda DeLibero – Director, Film and Media Studies, Johns Hopkins University – and Christopher Llewellyn Reed (that’s me) – Chair and Professor, Department of Film & Moving Image, Stevenson University – joined Dan Rodricks on his Baltimore Sun podcast, “Roughly Speaking,” to discuss notable films of 1967, with special emphasis on 5 of them (all of which won some kind of Oscar): Bonnie and Clyde, Cool Hand LukeThe GraduateGuess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night, the last two featuring two of three major performances that year from Sidney Poitier (the third was in To Sir, with Love). Here is the link to the show. Enjoy!

2 Reviews + 2 Interviews – for “An Inconvenient Sequel” and “Menashe” @hammertonail & Review of “Atomic Blonde” @filmfesttoday

Last week, Hammer to Nail published four more articles of mine: a review of An Inconvenient Sequel, just released, but which I had previously seen at the recent AFI DOCS; an interview with its co-directors, Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk; a review of Menashe, also just released, which I had seen at the Washington Jewish Film Festival; and an interview with its director, Joshua Z. Weinstein, and star, Menashe Lustig (with both of whom I spoke by phone, hence no photo of the interview, above). In addition, Film Festival Today published my review of Atomic Blonde. Here are links to all five pieces:

Enjoy!

More AFI DOCS Pieces – Interview (“Strad Style”) + Review (“ACORN and the Firestorm) – and Criterion Blu-ray (“Cameraperson”) @hammertonail & Review of “Dunkirk” @filmfesttoday

Last week, Hammer to Nail published three more articles of mine: another review from the recent AFI DOCS festival, this time of ACORN and the Firestorm; an interview (also from AFI DOCS) with Stefan Avalos, director of Strad Style; and a review of Criterion’s new Blu-ray release of Cameraperson.  In addition, Film Festival Today published my review of Dunkirk (I seem to be one of the rare film critics who did not adore the movie, though I liked parts of it). Here are links to all four pieces:

Enjoy!