Movie Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

The first Kingsman was pretty good. It followed a comic book of the same name by Mark Millar, a fellow Scotsman and writer who sold out years ago. His stories are glorified spec-scripts designed to be adapted and Matthew Vaughn was up to the task with Kick-Ass and Kingsman. What makes the first movie great is how straight it plays the Bond inspired set-up, juxtaposed with violence and dark humor. Vaughn comes from British crime thrillers that share the same formula and he does it well. Kingsman was a perfect balance of stylish action and a sense of heart thanks to Taron Egerton’s Eggsy and Samuel Jackson being crazy. It was a fun, cathartic film and I have a good feeling about The Golden Circle.

After the Kingsmen are wiped out in Britain Eggsy and Merlin, played by Mark Strong, go west to the United States. They slowly unfurl a plot involving a drug kingpin holding the world hostage with a deadly virus.

It sucked.

Picture Anchorman 2; it is not a bad movie, but unlike the first it went headlong into crazy far too quickly. The previous installment built up to the insanity, letting the humanity and realism of the comedy take control. Now imagine if Anchorman 2 was Austin Powers in Goldmember and you get Golden Circle. If you feel the sudden urge to kill yourself, no one will blame you.

There is no juxtaposition, no sense of seriousness to back up the touches of humor and stylish violence. The last film took after Bond, but it was in no way a parody. The premise was a foundation for the transformation into something new and different. The self-aware quality of the first movie that was thankfully not acknowledged makes up the entirety of Golden Circle. From the get-go no one is serious about what is going on because they know they are in a movie. It is just a game and a bad one at that, yet they try so hard.

This comes through in many places, one of which being the extended cameo of Elton John. Instead of keeping him around to scream at other characters because that was actually funny, he had an action scene where he was mugging for the camera while “Saturday” played in the background. You also do not care about what is going because there is no reason. Without the seriousness, how can the audience care if the film does not either? Eggsy had a girlfriend that was infected with the virus, but the lack of urgency and a feeling that shit is real made it totally pointless. And do not get me started on the President character or the scenes in Italy.

Jesus-fuck-my-ass.

There is no finesse or narrative flow to keep the story moving at a decent clip. Scenes just happen in a disparate fashion, one on top of the other with no sense of direction. It was as though the story had a checklist of conditions that had to be met. Rather than construct a smooth narrative where each piece flowed into the other, the editor assembled it according to the list like a doctor performing a routine check-up.

All simple stories are linear, but you can have each plot point happen with some semblance of a clean transition. There is no build up to the villain’s grand plan, the Kingsman’ investigation of said plan, and nothing especially interesting about how it all happens. Then Merlin gets killed off, Channing Tatum is frozen virtually out of nowhere, and Colin Firth is cured of amnesia 10 minutes after he is reintroduced for no reason. It does not feel good to experience, like watching a montage that was ripped apart and edited out of order.

The only good parts are the action scenes. Vaughn has not lost his touch with a ton of faux long shots and slow motion. It looks great with nice choreography and grappling that was cool, despite my desire to see that whole move-set struck from existence. The performances were also acceptable with everyone doing their part. Julianne Moore did her best as the boring villain and Halle Berry was surprisingly okay.

That is all.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is terrible. It is disappointing, not fun, and not worth your time and money. If anyone says it is somehow good they are either stupid or lying (looking at you, IGN). Wait a couple months for the action scenes to appear on YouTube and watch those instead. Better yet, watch the first Kingsman because it is fantastic in every way the sequel is not.

Movie Review: Atomic Blonde

Spy movies are not my thing. Between cool moments with gadgets and action, they are just boring. Most consist of the spy going undercover, maintaining their cover, and hooking up with a beautiful woman. Then comes the final confrontation with the bad guy and a happy ending. I know not all films are created equal, but that is how spy movies tend to play out. Mission Impossible 5, Man from UNCLE, and Archer are the exception. Does Atomic Blonde belong among them or in the garbage with 007?

Working for British Intelligence Lorraine, played by Charlize Theron, is dispatched to East Berlin to track down a list of agents currently working undercover. At the same time, elements from both sides of the Iron Curtain are after the same thing.

Blonde is all style. The visuals, action, and soundtrack are in service to looking cool. It is shot and edited at a fast-pace not unlike a Guy Ritchie film with neon supers and an omnipresent blue tint. Before the ending, there are three long shots disguised as one in an extended action scene. It starts from the top of a building and works its way down into a short car chase. It was the best and only worthwhile part of Blonde.

The issue of style versus substance is universal. You can strike a balance between the two or focus on either one. More often than not, taking the style approach leaves a lot to be desired. Want more character, more meat on the bones of your movie? That is substance. If you leave it out, you will have a very superficial experience.

Despite the action and soundtrack, Blonde is pretty mediocre. It takes forever to get to the good stuff with all the setup and tropes in between. There is undercover stuff, losing tails, and subterfuge that you have seen before. You can probably figure out what happens without actually seeing the film. With the lack of substance, there is nothing to hook you in and help suffer through the monotony.

The meandering from point to point would have been tolerable if we actually cared about those involved. Theron has the screen presence to sell the character, but she has no personality beyond “I like being deceptive.” Know why Punisher is never the focus of a MAX book? Because he is a void of pure rage and instinct whose sole desire is to kill criminals. A movie all about him is like if No Country for Old Men was about Anton Chigurh. Theron is so one-note, I had to look up her character’s name afterward. The surrounding cast does their best, but even James McAvoy’s charisma could not salvage the situation. Nor could John Goodman or Sofia Boutella.

And that is Atomic Blonde. It is not the worst thing ever, but there is not much to say. The cool action scenes and soundtrack were not a good motivation to stick around. You need to give audiences an incentive to care. I cannot recommend it for any reason beyond those two aspects. Check out the soundtrack online and wait two months for the action sequences to appear on YouTube.

Movie Review: Baby Driver

New Edgar Wright movie. How can anyone say no? Was Baby Driver another stellar entry in his filmography or has the limey genius reached his pique?

While playing getaway driver for a crew of professional thieves Baby, played by Ansel Elgort, dreams of living a normal life with a waitress named Debora, played by Lily James. Shortly after his last job his boss Doc, played by Kevin Spacey, pulls Baby back in.

As I said in my Ant-Man review, I like all of Wright’s films. They are tightly written with fantastic comedic timing, great characters, and they just happen to feature pretty decent action. The style of his movies, however, is somewhat understated. The camera work, use of music, and editing make them standout out from their respective genres. The snap-zooms and insert shots on mundane actions give Wright’s a signature edge that is all his own.

Driver is the culmination of these stylistic choices. Everything you have seen in his previous work is brought to the fore and multiplied. Close-ups, long shots, and elaborate timing make the movie what it is. It has a lot in common with a musical where the action is in synch with the beat. More often than not gunshots sound at the same time as a string of notes. Certain edits and shots are also determined by the tune in question.

For all its style, Driver does not have much in the way of substance. That is not to say it is entirely superficial. Generic is the operative word where the characters, their desires, and motivations are a vehicle for all the good stuff. Baby’s tinnitus is there to justify the use of music. Debora’s goal of a road trip into the unknown was meant to give Baby a reason to want to escape his life of crime. Basic though it may be, the sparse substance provides short breaks between what matters most.

As for the performances, everyone gave it their all despite of the lackluster material. Elgort and James worked very well together, especially come the last third of the film. Jamie Foxx was at his most intimidating as the insane Bats while Jon Hamm was the cool-headed Buddy with a subtle mean streak. Most of the cast was fantastic, but Spacey grabbed the movie by its balls. If he had more scenes, he would have stolen the whole show.

Been a while since I have written a short review. Those I save for the good ones and Baby Driver is pretty great. If you can set aside the lack of real substance, you better not miss this one. The style alone is reason enough to buy a ticket

Movie Review: Free Fire

This week I was faced with a bit of a conundrum. The Promise and Free Fire were coming out at the same time and I was interested in seeing both. Obviously, if you want to maintain a budget, seeing two movies in a single week is a terrible idea. I was forced to choose between the two based on limited information. Free Fire is Ben Wheatley’s follow up to High Rise about a shootout in a warehouse. Promise is about the Armenian Genocide, a subject that gets very little attention in film.

Both stand on their own merits, but there can be only one. The subject matter of Promise is important when it comes to understanding history. Genocide is bad and the more we acknowledge and study atrocities of the past the less likely we will commit them in the future. The movie is banking on its subject, while the premise falls to the wayside. Not unlike Titanic and Pearl Harbor, Promise is a romance set against a tragedy. On the trailer alone I knew what was going to happen.

Look, the Armenian Genocide was terrible, but I do not need a film about it to know it was terrible. The fact it involved the Armenians and Turks is inconsequential because no matter which way you look at it, mass murder and/or ethnic cleansing is awful by default and must be prevented. The played-out premise did not help the movie’s chances either. The only people who should see Promise are those interested in learning about a historical event and Cenk Uygur, founder of The Young Turks. And since I am already familiar with the Armenian Genocide, that title has more offensive subtext than Cenk’s fat buffalo ass. For those reasons, I chose to see Free Fire instead.

When a group of IRA terrorists attempt to buy rifles from a Rhodesian gunrunner, the two sides start shooting at each other over a misunderstanding. Trapped in a warehouse, they try to kill each other through the night until there is only one left standing.

Free Fire was fantastic. The acting was exceptional, writing tight and funny, and the action set pieces inventive. It is not the Second Coming, but in a world of remakes and reboots, I will take anything that is original and pretty good over total garbage. Ben Wheatley returns to his small-scale roots with the bulk of the story taking place in one location. The cinematography is more personal with hand-held shots that stay close to the characters crawling through dirt and debris. It was also a breath of fresh air seeing real blanks used in real gun and squibs that are not digital.

And that is all I am going to say.

I do not want to tell you anything except to buy a ticket as soon as possible. I always try to promote original works and it is not often that they are actually good. Though not entirely without flaw, Free Fire was great and it is not based on anything. The more we see films that are wholly original, the more they will become relevant in the future. If you want a good laugh and contribute to the cause of originality, look no further.

Movie Review: Underworld: Blood Wars

A lot has been going on with my job that has affected my ability to write. Last week I watched and reviewed Silence in the span of two days in which I also worked 10 hours on 5 hours of sleep. Upon looking at the finished piece, I was not at all satisfied with what I had done. I believe I did not put forth as much effort as I used to in an attempt to reach a deadline and deal with fatigue. Silence was a beast of a movie and I feel I did not do it enough justice. For this reason, I have decided to increase my daylong review-delay to a whole week. This will eliminate the relevance factor, but at least I will be happy with the end result. Hopefully so will you. And now, here is why Underworld: Blood Wars sucks my balls.

After surviving the events of Awakening Selene, played by Kate Beckinsale, is pursued by Vampires and Lycans who want the location of her daughter to turn the tide of their eternal war.

There is a lot you can say about the Underworld series. They are a part of a dying breed of serious-ironic action movies that came about in the late 90s. Mummy, Pitch Black, and Resident Evil were totally ridiculous and stupid, but they knew it and were fun to watch. Underworld follows that same formula with very anime inspired elements that reveal series’ writer Kevin Grevioux to be a giant otaku. He clearly loves Vampire Hunter D and Hellsing (have you watched Ultimate yet?) and did his best to integrate similar concepts into his work.

Underworld also has cool ideas that evolved our understanding of the Vampire Mythos. As a student of microbiology and genetic engineering, Grevioux took the science of blood and applied it to movie monsters. He made vampirism and lycanthropy diseases spread through blood, genetic memories shared through its consumption, and because both kinds are changed in DNA, made their blood carriers of their powers, leading to the overarching Vampire/Lycan hybrids narrative.

Blood Wars uses those same ideas in service to the most technically horrendous film I have seen in years. I am baffled that it came from a major company and cost 35 million to make what amounts to an extended LARP campaign starring a bunch of Czechs with airsoft guns and terrible wigs. Putting aside story details that did not make sense and a magic bath of plot convenience (I am not joking), Blood Wars fails utterly on the technical front.

The editing is the chief flaw where whoever cut the film wanted to finish it as soon as possible. The opening in particular was jarring with flashes and black frames that punched me in the brain. What looked like a decent motorcycle chase was turned into hammered shit by an editor that did not care. Following the chase there was a conversation between two characters in a calm state and it was just as bad. When one finished their line, there was a very quick cut to the next character, followed by another cut until the scene was over. This bastardized editing continued throughout Blood Wars.

While a merciful 90 minutes, the editing makes the movie agonizing to sit through. Even without knowing how a film is supposed to be cut, a typical audience member knows what looks good and what looks bad. Blood Wars is technically bad even with the acceptable parts.

There is one scene that was so confounding I do not believe it was real. Perhaps I imagined this, but at the climax there is an extended sequence where two characters are staring at each other in slow motion, and their vocal gestures (grunts, sighs, and moans) are all you hear. It was like someone took all the groans from a terribly dubbed anime and put them together in a scene for no reason. Why it was included I have no idea because the film just moves on like it did not happen.

Other technical issues are peppered throughout. Similar digital effects were repeated in a couple scenes. There was also one shot of a car pulling up to a mansion that was used twice. Then there was Beckinsale’s narration at the beginning and end that explained things we already knew. For the fifth entry in the series, I doubt anyone in attendance does not know the backstory. It was worse at the end where she retells the movie, explaining the epilogue as it plays out on screen, and sets the stage for a sequel that will never happen.

Many of these issues could be attributed to the absence of Len Wiseman, who was involved in the series from the start. In fact, everyone from the previous movies was present in name only. Those guys knew exactly the kind of film they were making and put real effort into the production. What goes unnoticed is the horror atmosphere that went hand in hand with the action elements not unlike Mummy. Blood Wars tries to be all action and coupled with the horrible technical issues, negates any element of horror that could have elevated the material.

For all the bad there are some good things I feel are worth mentioning. The action scenes were okay and a little creative at the end where riot shields were included in an intense shootout. Charles Dance was a nice addition like his small role in Awakening before they killed him after 10 minutes of total screen time. Beckinsale was also great in a role she made her own. It is also important to note that she remains impeccable since the first movie 14 years ago. It is a shame she is not in more films that are actually good. And that is about it.

“Fuck You, It’s January” has officially begun. Underworld: Blood Wars is the epitome of studio apathy; a film no one wanted but they had it, and needed to recoup costs. I expect nothing less from Sony and this is not the end of their cinematic bowel movement. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, one of Underworld’s contemporaries, will close out the month in a grand finale of trash. Until then, I must dig deeper into this ever-growing landfill of movies.

Movie Review: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Coming into a series without seeing the prior entries is never a good idea. Narrative information is carried from one installment to the next in a shared continuity, the lifeblood of serialized media. Granted, I saw Scorch Trials before Maze Runner and I doubt the logical inconsistencies would have made seeing the first worth the effort. I did not see the previous Jack Reacher because it looked boring. If my criticisms of Never Go Back are justified by what happened in the original, I apologize in advance for my ignorance. Was I wrong to skip the first movie or was I proven right?

While trying to form a relationship with Major Turner, played by Cobie Smulders, Jack Reacher, played by Tom Cruise, learns she was imprisoned for espionage. After setting her free the two discover a conspiracy involving the military and a private security firm and decide to bring it to light.

I am going to cut to the chase and proclaim Go Back the worst Tom Cruise film I have seen. It is not so much his fault, but everything around him. Smulders and the rest of the cast somehow get by mostly unscathed. The problems include the editing, action, story, and everything that should not be an issue. This is particularly alarming because director Edward Zwick is more than proficient at his craft. Here he is just about brain dead.

I understand action movies are supposed to have many quick cuts because it maintains the momentum of a scene. About five minutes in, there was a cut every half-second when there were two or more people on screen. When one character said their line, cut. When another character did their prescribed action, cut. Maybe there was a rush to get scenes over with, but it absolutely murdered any artistic finesse that might have been salvaged. It was like watching a YouTube video blog made by someone who sucks.

This problem affects action scenes that perpetuate the cinematic epidemic of shaky cam. I wish I could describe the handful of fights, but the camera was jerking harder than an awkward Canadian porn star, and the editing prevented me from taking in the spectacle or lack thereof. Half the time I did not where anyone was in a scene because there was cut before I had a chance to get a lay of the land. What is funny is after I got home Terminator 2 was on TV to remind me that action movies used to be well made.

Because I am making liberal use of similes, the story of Go Back is like a bad episode of NCIS… all of them. What started as a fairly decent mystery gets out of focus quickly after the introduction of Reacher’s possible bastard daughter. That story (spoilers) became superfluous after we find out they are not related, making half the film pointless. The subplot with Turner trying to take charge of the situation despite Reacher’s expertise was more interesting. It had a man versus woman feel that was not patronizing or stupid. The movie would have been great if about their conflict whilst solving the mystery, especially without the daughter character.

Any other Tom Cruise film is better than Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. I know he has a habit of phoning it in, but at least he does it with charisma. He tried his best with this one, as well as the rest of the cast, yet the sum of its parts is not enough to warrant consideration. Instead, I recommend Edge of Tomorrow, Rogue Nation, Magnolia, or anything else that is good.

Movie Review: The Accountant

Sorry for the absence last week on here and on the Drunken Odyssey if you follow my videogame reviews. With Hurricane Matthew I was more or less paralyzed with anxiety over my home getting destroyed and looted by my asshole neighbors. While the storm passed and nothing was broken, I am stricken once again by our current political climate. In mere weeks I will go to the polls and pick which scumbag is best for our country. Either choice I make will have the same outcome, but I cannot shake the feeling that one is decisively better for our country than the other. I will be forced to set aside by personal bias and make my choice for the sake of America and the world. The result, good or ill, will ripple across history, and I am scared to death at what that will mean.

Jesus, that was a depressing introduction. Anyway, was The Accountant good or should you see Girl on the Train instead (review incoming; I promise)?

As a vigilante accountant Christian, played by Ben Affleck, uses his high-functioning autism to un-cook the books of criminal organizations before turning them over to the authorities. When one job threatens his cover, Christian’s skills are put to the test.

To describe Accountant as “Rain Man with guns” is apt. Christian is on a spectrum of autism that allows him to understand numbers on par with the greatest mathematicians. He is so proficient at math that he is legendary, but there is an interesting twist. While growing up, his active duty father taught him to control his disorder through intense combat training. As an adult, Christian has very clear-cut morals that he applies to his work as a vigilante using his skills as an accountant. The whole of Accountant is focused on how Christian sees the world, what he is like as a person, and what he does. The actual story is just a hook to hang the character upon and show him off. It is acceptable for the most part until you consider the method in which the story is told.

For everything exceptional about it, the movie has the absolute worst pacing. There is so much information it wants to convey and makes sure it tells you everything without finesse or theatric brevity. Spread throughout is a number of flashbacks to give you information on Christian. At the same time, you follow three other subplots that are all over the place in how they play out. First you are dealing with Christian’s latest endeavor, then his past, followed by an investigation by the FBI, and then a visit by Jon Bernthal as a hitman. There are so many moving parts that it becomes difficult to follow.

However, the story is only half the film with all of the attention is focused on Christian. If the character is not great, then there is nothing left to keep you invested. Thanks to Affleck’s performance, that half of Accountant is the reason to buy a ticket. He was totally convincing as this socially awkward savant that happens to be an expert marksman. His ticks, mannerisms, and speech exude the qualities of a man driven by obsessive precision that is his being. His interactions with Anna Kendrick’s Dana further define him as he struggles to open up and escape the confines of his own psyche. It also helps that they have the best on screen chemistry I have seen in a long time.

As a lite action movie it is passable. The very few set pieces were decent except for the very annoying shaky cam that I wish would stay out of my action films. At least it did not give me a headache like the dread-fest Jason Bourne. The pistol battles were not as awesome as John Wick and the grappling melee fights that everyone stole from Iron Man 2 were not impressive.

That being said, The Accountant is more about Christian being a high functioning autistic vigilante accountant. The action and story are just theatric devices to show you who he is. On that merit it works and Affleck absolutely sells it. If that piques your interest, buy a ticket. If the issues are a deal breaker, I highly recommend Girl on the Train as a substitute.