Film Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Release Date: September 18th, 2017 (London premiere)
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Based on: The Secret Service by Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons
Music by: Henry Jackman, Matthew Margeson
Cast: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Julianne Moore, Pedro Pascal, Halle Berry, Elton John, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Emily Watson, Sophie Cookson, Michael Gambon, Poppy Delevingne

Marv Films, Cloudy Productions, Shangri-La Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 141 Minutes

Review:

“Kingsman is crumpets!” – Poppy

I didn’t see the first Kingsman film until a few months ago. In fact, it was the trailer for this film that made me watch the original, which I had heard good things about but never got around to seeing. I wanted to see this one in the theater, so I made it a point to see the first. I loved the first.

This chapter in the series, which I hope will continue and not just end at two like Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass films, was a great follow-up to the first. It takes the established mythos, builds off of it and gets a bit crazier.

The film starts with the destruction of the Kingsman organization. Everyone is killed except for Eggsy and Merlin. Harry is still alive, as well, but the heroes still think he is dead after the events of the first film. It was kind of shitty seeing Roxy getting killed off early in the film because I was hoping to see more of her after the first picture.

The story then brings the Kingsman to the United States, Kentucky to be exact. They soon meet their American counterpart, the Statesman. The two groups form an alliance and discover the sinister plot that has been set in motion by Poppy, a crazy drug dealer with a nostalgic affinity for the 1950s. Julianne Moore is pretty friggin’ amazing in this role and it may be my favorite thing she has ever done.

The Golden Circle also features Elton John in much more than just a cameo role. He is in the film quite a bit, kicks some ass and delivers some great comedic lines.

Also joining the cast are the head of the Statesman, the Dude himself, Jeff Bridges. We also get Channing Tatum as Tequila, a Statesman agent that doesn’t have enough screen time, and Halle Berry as the Statesman’s equivalent to Merlin. Pedro Pascal is the Statesman that really steals the show, however.

Overall, this film is pretty much equal to the original. They are good companion pieces to each other and there is a real consistency in the quality, style and fun.

I feel that this chapter was more insane, even though the first was pretty ridiculous in all the right ways. You have a scene where the evil Poppy has a new henchman stuff an old henchman into a meat grinder and then she serves him a burger made out of the meat. It’s a moment that made me think, “As cool as this movie is and as much as I think she’d enjoy it, I won’t be bringing my mum to this.”

Even though these films have large ensemble casts with really talented stars, it is Taron Egerton that is the true star and is the glue of these movies. He doesn’t get the props he deserves but I hope doors open up for this kid because he’s incredibly talented and can carry a motion picture, outshining many of the stars around him. He has a presence and you have to take him seriously.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a lot of fun. It is exactly what I hoped for in a Kingsman sequel and I hope it is a sign that the series will maintain its quality, assuming it continues on. I really hope it does.

Film Review: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Release Date: December 18th, 1969 (London premiere)
Directed by: Peter R. Hunt
Written by: Richard Maibaum
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Ilse Steppat, Gabriele Ferzetti, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn

Eon Productions, United Artists, 140 Minutes

Review:

“Merry Christmas, 007.” – Ernst Stavro Blofeld

Is it weird that my favorite James Bond film of all-time stars my least favorite James Bond actor? Granted, he only did this one picture so there isn’t much to judge George Lazenby on but this was the finest picture in the franchise. But the reasons for that are many and Lazenby’s version of Bond was just sort of there for the ride.

To put it bluntly, this is the perfect James Bond movie. Now it isn’t a perfect film but it is as close as a 007 adventure has gotten. It has everything you want in a Bond film or at least, everything I want. It is less gadgety than other films in the franchise but I quite enjoyed that about this one. It was also the most serious film of its era. The stuff before it was getting a bit hokey and after it was Diamonds Are Forever, which is cheesy, albeit not in a bad way. Following that, we got the Roger Moore era, which was awesome but was also the most lighthearted and goofy string of films in the long franchise’s history. We actually wouldn’t get another serious feeling Bond film until twenty years later with the Timothy Dalton flick Licence to Kill, another one of my all-time favorites.

The thing that makes On Her Majesty’s Secret Service so unique is the fact that it does have some hokey moments but the serious tone of the picture balances things out. It is a best of both worlds scenario in regards to marrying the serious Bond and the lighthearted Bond.

Lazenby did a good job with the material but I think Sean Connery would have brought this script to a whole different level with added gravitas. I also feel that Lazenby was often times carried in scenes by the veteran Telly Savalas and Ilse Steppat. Also, Diana Rigg was the one that shined in her scenes together with Lazenby. Although, Lazenby could have probably been a fine Bond had he stuck around. Timothy Dalton didn’t nail the role in his first film but he became a really good Bond in his second.

Telly Savalas was the real star of the film though and for good reason. He took the character of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, a guy who we had already seen in a half dozen different incarnations up to this point, and made him an exceptional villain.

While I love the work that Donald Pleasence did in the previous film, You Only Live Twice, it was this Blofeld that became the real foil in Bond’s life. Savalas played the roll more seriously and wasn’t just a villainous caricature. Also, he is the first villain to severely hurt 007, adding a level of hatred towards the character that had never been there previously. Unfortunately, he and Lazenby never returned and we never got to see justice served in a satisfying manner following this film’s ending.

The Bond Girls have always been an important part of this franchise and this film features the most ladies, by far. Granted, James Bond still only sleeps with two of them but he had a huge group of women to explore in this chapter in the series. Also, he does end up in bed with the evil Irma Bunt but it’s a trap.

The Swiss location was another element of this film that made it great. While Bond seems to do less traveling in this picture and spends the majority of his time in the Swiss Alps, it actually keeps the picture really grounded. The geography is amazing and the tone of the film is enhanced by the cold surroundings. I feel that revisiting this area in Daniel Craig’s most recent Bond outing, Spectre, was an homage to this picture and tried to tap into the magic it bestowed on the franchise.

The icy stock car race is also one of the best action sequences in the entire Bond franchise. It was well shot, the action well handled and it made a Bond Girl come off as bad ass and not just some damsel in distress like most of them are. There is a reason why Bond wants to marry this particular girl and it is because she saves his ass and can hold her own alongside him.

The fight choreography was a bit different in this chapter. In fact, it was heavily edited with quick cuts and fast movement. It made these scenes feel more gritty and realistic. I liked the director’s approach to these moments but the series would revert back to a more traditional style of shooting these sequences, after this picture.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the finest film in the James Bond oeuvre. While many will probably disagree with me, I think it is because a lot of people just aren’t as interested in a film with a James Bond actor that isn’t as established as Sean Connery or Roger Moore. It is a weird film wedged between two Connery chapters and then the Moore era starts just after that. I think that a lot of fans just sort of forget about this movie. It certainly doesn’t get the play on cable television whenever networks do their big week long Bond marathons. At least when compared to the amount of play of those Connery and Moore films get.

This is an odd installment for the film series that kind of exists on its own and unfortunately, never got a proper followup. It was the one film that needed a proper followup, though. Get to that ending and you’ll see why. I’m still kind of pissed at Telly Savalas and Ilse Steppat.

Film Review: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Release Date: July 7th, 1977 (London premiere)
Directed by: Lewis Gilbert
Written by: Christopher Wood, Richard Maibaum
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: Marvin Hamlisch
Cast: Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curd Jürgens, Richard Kiel, Caroline Munro, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell

Eon Productions, United Artists, 125 Minutes

Review:

“Mmm, maybe I misjudged Stromberg. Any man who drinks Dom Perignon ’52 can’t be all bad.” – James Bond

It has been a really long time since I’ve seen this particular James Bond movie, which is why I wanted to pop it into the DVD player. My memories of it weren’t spectacular but I really enjoyed it this time around and I now rank it really high in the Roger Moore era.

But what’s not to like?

You have Roger Moore, who is Roger friggin’ Moore. Then you have Barbara Bach as the female Soviet equivalent to Bond. This film also introduces Jaws, played by my favorite giant (after Peter Mayhew), Richard Kiel. Plus Curd Jürgens’ Karl Stromberg is one of the best non-SPECTRE villains in the entire Bond franchise. And I certainly can’t forget the apple of my eye, Caroline Munro.

One thing that also makes this entry into the massive Bond franchise so great is the locations. I loved all the stuff that was filmed in Egypt. The scene with Bond and Amasova tracking Jaws through the giant pillars is one of the best sequences in the entire film series. Also, the scene during the pyramid light show has some of the coolest shots and cinematography in the franchise.

Additionally, the set of Stromberg’s underwater fortress was well built and designed. The place looked sinister as hell and had a very brooding vibe, as it sprouted from the ocean surface.

This film, looking at it now, features the best tandem of Bond girls, in my opinion. Bach is perfect in her role as Major Anya Amasova a.k.a. Agent XXX. She owned the part and was much more than just a pretty face needing to be rescued. Of course, she did need to be rescued in the end. Caroline Munro, who is incredibly stunning, looked like she was having a blast as the helicopter pilot trying to kill Bond and Amasova. She had the right mix of sexual allure and sadism. I just wish she had more time to shine in the picture.

The fights between Bond and Jaws were well executed and the fisticuffs played out well. I was glad that they created Jaws as this unstoppable character that survives the craziest situations only to stand and fight, again and again. I was really glad to see him return for this film’s direct sequel Moonraker.

My memories of this movie weren’t great but this is one of the Bond films I have seen the least. I’m glad that my memory was wrong and that I got to see this in a different light. Or maybe I’ve been watching so much crap lately, that anything with a semblance of quality would’ve made me happy.

Film Review: Die Another Day (2002)

Release Date: November 20th, 2002 (UK)
Directed by: Lee Tamahori
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, John Cleese, Judi Dench

Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 133 Minutes

Review:

“I have been known to keep my tip up.” – James Bond

Die Another Day is the film I consider to be the worst James Bond picture of all-time. While I felt like it played better than I remembered, having revisited it for the first time since its release a decade and a half ago, it still takes the cake, as far as bad Bond movies go.

While Pierce Brosnan was a damn good Bond, his movies are borderline abysmal, minus Goldeneye, his debut.

The Brosnan films came out in a time when motion pictures were getting more serious and less campy. Unfortunately, these play almost like parodies of the very playful and sometimes hokey films of the Roger Moore era. It also didn’t help that the Austin Powers franchise came along and sort of dumped these movies on their head. All of this is why the character of Bond went away for four years after this film and came back revamped and more serious with the start of the Daniel Craig era.

Like every other movie from the Brosnan era, this was a marketing machine, made to sell a bunch of shit that was featured in the picture. Unfortunately, regardless of how much money you have in your bank account, you can’t buy an invisible Aston Martin. And the fact that that is a thing in this movie, should tell you how ridiculous this flick is, even for James Bond standards. This is the movie that really jumped the shark with its use of gadgetry.

The film is also mired by the inclusion of Halle Berry as the character Jinx, which was done in an effort to create a spin-off franchise for her. That franchise never saw the light of day because she truly sucked in this film and despite trying to sell her as a female bad ass, for the most part, she was just another Bond damsel in distress. Ultimately, she was unconvincing regardless of how cool and tough they tried to make her seem. I don’t necessarily blame Berry for this though, as the character was poorly written and the director seemed to be dialing it in.

The stunts were a mixed bad of good and god awful. The CGI effects were friggin’ atrocious, even for the time. Just look at the scene where Bond is kite surfing a giant wave and try not to cringe.

Also, the film’s plot is just a bit of a rehash of Goldeneye. It’s story doesn’t justify its existence and the pens behind this tale really should have given us something better than another killer satellite story.

There are a few small positives, however.

The first is the opening sequence in North Korea. It was really well done and felt like a classic Bond sequence. Of course, everything goes completely downhill after the credits.

Also, I really liked Rosamund Pike as Miranda Frost. I thought she was a better than decent Bond girl and much more interesting than Berry’s Jinx.

Lastly, the film features Pierce Brosnan, the man who is usually the biggest highlight of any film that he is in.

The last big gripe however is in regards to the villain. He’s a North Korean general’s bratty kid who gets plastic surgery to look like a smarmy elitist white dude. The whole thing is just stupid. Although, the henchman with the diamond face was cool and had a classic Bond villain vibe to him.

Die Another Day is a film that shelved the franchise and caused it to be rebooted and reinvented. It is awful in just about every way. There are literally two dozen Bond movies that are better than this pile of crap.

So does it deserved to be ran through the Cinespiria Shitometer? Of course it does! And the results speak for themselves! What we have here is a “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely Liquid.”

TV Review: Agent Carter (2015-2016)

Original Run: January 6th, 2015 – March 1st, 2016
Created by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Christopher Lennertz
Cast: Hayley Atwell, James D’Arcy, Chad Michael Murray, Enver Gjokaj, Shea Whigham, Dominic Cooper

ABC Studios, Marvel, F&B Fazekas & Butters, Walt Disney, 88 Episodes, 41-43 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2016.

With the success of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers franchise, ABC gave us a period piece spin-off with Agent Carter.

Before the debut of the show, I was excited. I really liked the character and thought Hayley Atwell was fantastic. I also liked the time period and the fact that it seemed like it was going to be a bad ass female hybrid of James Bond and Indiana Jones fighting the evil Hydra – laying the groundwork for the formation of S.H.I.E.L.D. Now while the show is a bit of all those things, it falls short for some reason.

I am now most of the way through the second season and I find the show to be a chore to get through, at times. This season, especially, has been lacking for me. Sure, everything feels like a winning formula. However, the finished product is just dull.

I love Atwell and I thoroughly enjoy James D’Arcy and Dominic Cooper (when he shows up) but it isn’t the actors’ fault. The writing is just drab and even though a lot happens in the show, it still feels uneventful and like small potatoes compared to everything else in Disney’s Marvel Universe.

I wanted something more fun, more energetic and certainly more about a bad ass chick being a bad ass chick. And while Atwell’s Carter is bad ass, it just isn’t connecting.

The show is supposed to be somewhat of a commentary on the sexism of the time but the characters are too one-dimensional and predictable. It’s as if you know how the issue of gender is going to be addressed in every situation and there isn’t much, as far as surprises or developments in that regard. It doesn’t seem to matter that Peggy Carter was a war hero for the U.S. and the British and fought alongside Captain America, she is still just a woman and not worthy of being seen as anything more than a secretary. Maybe that’s realistic for the time but I had hoped the show would break the mold and flip it on its head.

I want this show to be so much more but after nearly two seasons, that is probably just wishful thinking at this point. And I’ll be surprised if they green light it for a third.

TV Review: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013- )

Original Run: September 24th, 2013 – present
Created by: Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Bear McCreary
Cast: Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Brett Dalton, Chloe Bennet, Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge, Nick Blood, Adrianne Palicki, Henry Simmons, Luke Mitchell, John Hannah, B.J. Britt, Mallory Jansen, Ruth Negga, Adrian Pasdar, Kyle MacLachlan, Powers Boothe, Mark Dacascos, Blair Underwood, Constance Zimmer, Patton Oswalt, Bill Paxton

ABC Studios, Marvel, Mutant Enemy Productions, Walt Disney, 88 Episodes (so far), 41-44 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2015.

I remember watching the pilot to Marvel’s Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D. when it premiered and I wasn’t a fan of it. I immediately lost interest but as that first season rolled on, I started to hear good things. When the series entered into the phase of setting up Captain America: The Winter Solider, people couldn’t stop talking about it.

So once the first series came to an end, I binge watched it. I have now also watched season two in its entirety.

One thing I can say about this show is that it took about half a season to find its footing but even then, it is pretty inconsistent.

The show has high points and it has some very low points. If you are a fan of Joss Whedon’s style, you will probably love the show. I’m not a Whedon fan however and I find the style to be superfluous, predictable, forced and tedious at times.

The characters are likable enough but no one stands out. You don’t truly care for any of them and as great as Phil Coulson was in the movies that came out before this series, in the show he just becomes an uninteresting one-dimensional character. In fact, each episode almost serves as a way to forcibly remind the audience of how cool Coulson is supposed to be.

Most of this show just rides on by and none of it feels as important as the producers and many of its fans make it out to be. I get that it is used as a vehicle to develop more background to the plot of upcoming Marvel films but in that it falls victim to itself and feels more like a show on rails than something free to go its own way. It gets distracted from dealing with its own separate narrative, as it is forced to tie into the plots of the films. While that worked well the first time around with Captain America: The Winter Soldier it didn’t work so well with Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The second season was pretty uninteresting and the highlight of the series was the last third of the first season, which dealt with the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the aftermath of that. While the show is now establishing the mythos of the Inhumans, who will be getting their own Marvel movie several years from now, the plot and the execution hasn’t been as cutting edge and exciting as the showrunners have anticipated.

This isn’t a bad show, there are things I like and I will continue to keep watching in an effort to watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe continue to unfold but I would almost rather binge watch the seasons after they end than force myself to sit down and watch this religiously every Tuesday night at 9 p.m.

At its very best, this show has had great moments. I just hope that there are more of those in the future and less filler and drawn out plots that could be dealt with much quicker. I also hope that at some point Patton Oswald becomes a full-time cast member because his contribution to this show is the best thing about it. I also hope we haven’t seen the last of Kyle MacLachlan’s Mr. Hyde, as he was the highlight of season two.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has promise and potential and if it fulfills that, it could become a stellar show. As of right now, it falls below its superior sister show Agent Carter and it can’t hold a candle to CW’s The Flash or Netflix’s Daredevil.

Update:

I have now gotten through four seasons of this show. Season three was really slow and just a bore overall. However, season four introduced Ghost Rider to the Marvel cinematic mythos and things really got interesting. Season four was broken into three parts, where the middle bit wasn’t interesting but the end caps were stellar. In fact, the last third of season four, titled Agents of Hydra, was the absolute high point of this show and you actually discover that you care about these characters more than you realize. If the momentum can continue on from the last portion of the fourth season, then this show could be one of the best on television. Unfortunately, it has a long history of inconsistency.

Film Review: Atomic Blonde (2017)

Release Date: March 12th, 2017 (SXSW)
Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Kurt Johnstad
Based on: The Coldest City by Antony Johnston, Sam Hart
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, Bill Skarsgård

Denver and Delilah Productions, Closed on Mondays Entertainment, 87Eleven, Focus Features, 115 Minutes

Review:

Let me preface this review by stating that this has been one of the best summers for movies in a long time and honestly, I wasn’t expecting much apart from one or two films. But the thing that has really set this year apart is the smaller films, not the massive blockbusters. This film, along with the magnificent Baby Driver are two motion pictures that I will continue to enjoy for years to come. Both will eventually make it into my permanent library.

So based off of the preceding paragraph, it is safe to assume that I really liked Atomic Blonde. While I thought that I would like it and was excited for it, the film was just a great marriage of several things I love: fantastic action, energy, style and a fantastic soundtrack. Plus, I’ve always had a soft spot for Cold War period pieces, especially those set in the 1980s.

One really cool aspect of the film, is that it takes place in Berlin – starting a week before the fall of the Berlin Wall and leading up to it actually coming down. The film shows life on both sides of the wall and the cultural differences and shifts between all the people in this 1989 Berlin bubble. There is even a casual reference to David Hasselhoff arriving in Berlin. Do I need to remind anyone of his famous Berlin Wall performance, as that concrete beast came crumbling down?

Atomic Blonde is a spy espionage thriller but starring a woman, which just doesn’t happen enough with the genre. It isn’t a groundbreaking concept or anything but after decades of James Bond movies and their male dominated clones, a stylized and high octane version of the concept starring Charlize Theron was music to my soul.

Theron does not disappoint but has she ever? She is perfect as the agent sent to Berlin to battle brutish KGB agents while engaging in a playful cat and mouse game with the always fantastic James McAvoy. In fact, the chemistry between Theron and McAvoy is uncanny and I wish that they actually had more screen time together.

Theron also has fantastic chemistry with Sofia Boutella and I’m glad to see Boutella getting meatier roles because she was exceptional in this. Also, you get to see both women naked in this. Sorry, but that’s a high point for anyone crushing on Theron for years and anyone that is currently crushing on Boutella, as she works here way up to bigger things. Both actresses are stellar in this, boobage or not.

The film employs an 80s new wave soundtrack, for the most part. The music style is fitting, as this takes place in 1989. It is the selection of songs that is most impressive, however. From David Bowie’s “Cat People” to Depeche Mode’s “Behind the Wheel” to the incredibly effective use of George Michael’s “Father Figure”, the music is just on point. Even Marilyn Manson’s cover of Ministry’s “Stigmata” works its magic with the visual smorgasbord it’s synced to.

The choice not to use any music during the climactic final brawl was a good one. Despite the stylized nature of the film, it grounds this scene back into reality and showcases the grittiness of the situation. The fights are brutal, especially the last round of fisticuffs. It is an impressive sequence that not only showcases Theron’s athleticism and toughness but it proves how hard she is willing to work to create movie magic. I already respect her but her dedication to these scenes, in particular, brings that respect to a new level.

The director, David Leitch, has a background in stunts and it shows. He’s been the stunt coordinator or stunt actor in the Bourne movies, TRON: Legacy300V for Vendetta, the Matrix series, Fight Club, Blade and several others. He is also the director of the upcoming Deadpool sequel and proves, with this film, that he will be able to handle those duties. I’m actually really enthused about what else Leitch can give us behind the camera.

Atomic Blonde is fantastic. There really isn’t anything to complain about or to dislike. It was explosive and even the slower parts kept your attention, as it doesn’t waste any time on things not integral to the plot. I hope that this becomes a series as checking in with this character every few years could be a lot of fun.