Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Kingsman Golden Circle poster

I thoroughly enjoyed the mad romp that was Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014), turning the spy genre (which was particularly over-represented in the cinema for a couple of years) into a much more fun and madcap place. This sequel attempts to take that pace, that irreverence, that sense of out and out fun, and turn it up to eleven. Million!!!!

Eggsy (Taron Egerton) seems to be settling in to his new life nicely, taking over the Galahad title from poor Harry Hart (Colin Firth) and all loved up with his Swedish Princess, Tilde (Hanna Alström). But when the world’s biggest and most successful drug dealer ever, Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) decides she’s no longer happy hiding in the shadows, her first step is taking out those pesky Kingsmen.

And so, with only Merlin (Mark Strong) to keep him company, Eggsy must turn to the American branch of the private spy world: The Statesmen. Can they help – will they? And, in fact, can they be trusted?

There is a lot of gleeful, romp-worthy, tongue in cheek nonsense going on here which makes Kingsman 2 a heck of a lot of fun. The action sequences are top notch, the way everything pokes fun at Bond is a delight, and then there’s the Bigger Location budget. Bigger Stars budget. Bigger EVERYTHING – yee haa!! – all of which is very obvious on screen.

BUT I think this is possibly the problem. All those big names seem to be practically cameos – I was left a bit confused, as I thought (from the trailers and interviews) that e.g. Channing Tatum was actually in this movie, not just, y’know, in it a little bit. Jeff Bridges’ role is even slighter, and while Halle Berry’s character gets more screentime, it’s a little meh. The actual cameos – Keith Allen and a having-a-fabulous-time-of-it-darling Elton John are a lot of fun, but overall there’s just too many familiar faces with not a great deal to do.

Talking of familiar faces, it’s no secret that Colin Firth manages to reprise his role despite the end of the last movie. I suppose it’s not the most ridiculous come back in cinema history o_O However, while the movie would not have worked without him, the character didn’t quite seem to… fit… somehow? Hmm. Perhaps if there’d been less distraction with all the shiny new Big Names?

Overall, I’m left having really quite enjoyed K2, even at the longer-than-it-should-have-been running time (which, I will admit, allows for quite a rounded story and not just the usual ‘make everything faster’ blur), but at the same time a bit disappointed. Just because you can throw everything and everyone in, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should.

Still, would I go see a third installment? Ye hah, darlin’ – lasso it on it over! 🙂

Released: 20th September 2017
Viewed: 2nd October 2017
Running time: 141 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10

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American Assassin (2017)

American Assassin poster

When Mitch Rapp loses his new fiancee in a terrorist attack, he sets out to get revenge. Training himself in mixed martial arts, knife throwing, and shooting, his ability to infiltrate the jihadist terrorist cell also gets him on the radar of the CIA. Offered the chance to ‘fight with the big boys’, can Mitch put aside his personal vendetta and follow the rules?

I actually quite enjoyed this movie and its combination of a moody look, strong acting, and lots of action. However, I struggle to give it a particularly good rating: it’s just a bit bland. I suspect that in a month, this’ll be added to the list of action-thrillers I sort of vaguely remember going to see, without it having left much of an impression overall.

The big problem is probably the plot. It starts strong, but ends up a bit so-so and without much of an overall cohesiveness. The suspension of disbelief is also severely challenged, with Mitch a bit too much of a maverick to ever actually be allowed to continue – let alone be feted so highly by at least one superior. Yes, it adds tension, but it really hits the suspension of disbelief.

Overall: a diverting couple of hours (although it felt a bit longer at points – not a good sign!) but if you’ve got options for your cinema budget, probably aim them elsewhere.

Released: 14th September 2017
Viewed: 22nd September 2017
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: 18

My rating: 6.5/10

American Made (2017)

American Made poster

In the late 1970s, pilot Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) is approached by the CIA to take aerial reconnaissance photos over South American’s less-than-stable regimes. Picked up by a drug cartel after stopping to refuel, Barry might be forgiven for thinking he’s in hot water – but instead, the cartel offers him a ton of cash to use his CIA status to help smuggle their drugs back into the USA.

Playing both sides keeps Barry a wealthy man, and indeed, the most fun moments come as the character struggles to find places to stash his cash. However, while his life is on the up, you can’t help but know there’s likely to be a cliff-drop at some point – and possibly no plane to keep Barry aloft.

This is a fun movie, no doubt, but I have to admit to being a little bored during the opening half hour or so. I can only suggest that perhaps the film makers left in a few too many of the “based on a true story” details at the expense of pace. Still, things do get more exciting as the film progresses, although there was just a sense of predictability for me.

It’s an odd time for cinema, methinks: I seem to spend my time rating movies as slightly-better-than-average, but either talking up ones that have been otherwise slated (Dark Tower, Valerian, Hitman’s Bodyguard) or finding myself disappointed with things that sounded like they were doing better (Atomic Blonde). This, sadly, falls into the latter category: high hopes of fun, turned out just a little ‘meh’.

That said, it is very well made, and the actors all seem to be having fun. There are a few stylistic additions, from the 70s-esque opening credits to a few fun maps animations, which I thought added something positive in small doses. Oh, and try to count future presidents 😉

Overall, a decent enough, fun flick, but I personally thought it took a while to get the wing flaps up and get going.

Released: 25th August 2017
Viewed: 26th August 2017
Running time: 115 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10

The Dark Tower (2017)

Dark Tower poster

We seem to be living in a time when the old adage, “The book was much better”, doesn’t always apply. Fantasy in particular has come on in leaps and bounds, from Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones – we know that such adaptations can be, well, pretty darn fantastic. It’s a shame, then, that Dark Tower comes along to remind us that the transfer to the big screen is still a process fraught with dangers, and doesn’t always quite reach those dizzying heights.

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

I don’t have to look those words up. This is an opening line that is stuck in my head, opening an 8-book story that has near-mythical status for me. As a teen, finding two previously unheard of books (yes, I do predate the internet LOL!) by my then-favourite author was the stuff that dreams are made of (literally: I dream variations on this scenario to this day). That I had to wait eight years between books 3 and 4 puts even GRRM to shame! 😉

Roland Deschain is a gunslinger, one of Midworld’s peacekeepers (and more); in fact, the last gunslinger: his is a world that is slowing down and growing thin. But Roland has one last mission: to reach the Dark Tower, the nexus of all worlds, to keep it safe lest the whole universe collapse. Or, at least in this movie, to catch up to the Man in Black and get his revenge for the slaughter of everyone he ever knew.

A potted version of all this is sort of squeezed into the hour and a half of movie, and I think that’s the first disappointment: of all the richness of the world built up over eight books, we get to see so little of it. I was thoroughly baffled by the choice of focusing the movie on Jake (a youngster having dreams about the Tower et al) rather than on Roland (Idris Elba), and setting large chunks in New York rather than Midworld. Bah!

“One more time around the wheel, old friend.”

While Idris is his usual wonderful self (but who should definitely be getting meatier scripts!), and the lad playing Jake is thankfully largely unannoying, the real stand out performance for me was Matthew McConaughey as Walter (O’Dim? Paddick?), aka the Man in Black. Oozing menace, he flicks his fingers and commands people to kill, or simply to stop breathing, purely because he can. Of all the changes made from the source, throwing more of a spotlight on Walter was a good one, I’d say. Without spoiling anything from the books, he seems to have more of a continuity to his story, which was actually quite interesting to see.

What was less interesting, however, was the cliched “let’s destroy the world” plot. I just kept thinking about the line from Guardians of the Galaxy: why would you want to destroy the universe when you’re “one of the idiots that lives in it?” Argh!

Through the piece there are little nods to both the books and the wider Stephen King bibliography (not that the two aren’t entwined, of course!). Look out for the fairground attractions – Pennywise and Charlie the Choo Choo – or the graffiti urging us to “All Hail the Crimson King”, or the talking raccoons in the commercial (Oy!). I was in two minds about these: they’re somewhat pointless if you’re not a fan, but if you are then in a way they’re little reminders of all that we’re skipping.

I have a feeling I could waffle on about this movie, or at least the books, for another 90 minutes myself! So, let me summarise: The Dark Tower is absolutely not the huge mess that some earlier reviewers wanted to make it out to be. If you go in expecting a straight adaptation of the wonderful books, then you will be disappointed. If, however, you can view this as… a different way the story could have played out, perhaps… then it’s at the very least rather interesting. And if you’ve never read the books at all, then it’s still a decent if short fantasy-action flick telling a fairly self-contained story with some intriguing characters.

Personally, I enjoyed it despite the flaws. I wish there could be eight movies, to tell it all ‘properly’. But this little slice is a nice addition to the overall world, which I still hope to see more of from the rumoured TV series, even if it’s not with the great pairing of Elba and McConaughey.

Released: 18th August 2017
Viewed: 22nd August 2017
Running time: 95 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017)

Hitman's Bodyguard poster

When Belarusian President, Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman), is brought to trial for crimes against humanity, potential witnesses against him start dying like flies. The last chance to stop the monster going free is cutting a deal with captured hitman, Darius Kincaid (Samuel L Jackson). But getting him to court will be no easy feat – so enter top bodyguard, Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds), with an almost perfect record of guarding not-so-nice people. Almost 😉

I was completely surprised to read some absolutely scathing reviews of this, having walked out of the cinema feeling thoroughly entertained. I’m a big fan of both the leads, and given that they’re both playing their usual characters that’s probably a good thing! Is the movie amazing art? No. Is it something fresh and exciting? Nope. But it *is* a lot of fun, with plenty of action and laughs along the way.

Some of the complaints against this have suggested the action sequences are over long, and that’s possibly true from certain viewpoints. Certainly, one boat scene goes on long enough to make the lack of people getting shot seem beyond ridiculous.

Another criticism is about the chemistry between the leads – I didn’t feel this was a problem at all. There’s not exactly fireworks, but rather a more subtle approach in the relationship going from hatred towards better understanding. And while RR’s romance subplot bored me somewhat, the addition of Selma Hayek as Darius’s foul mouthed, psychotically violent wife was a high point.

So why the hate? Well, it seems like audiences are enjoying the movie, and it’s the critics turning their noses up. I do have to say, when one respected (by me, too) movie magazine talks about the action going from the UK, to Italy, to the Netherlands, I do have to question (a) how much attention the reviewer paid in watching the movie (there is a bus load of Italian nuns, yes, but the journey with them starts and ends in the UK), and (b) what their sense of geography is o_O Is it perhaps just disappointingly not Deadpool? Well, no, it’s not. But nor is it anywhere near the kind of stinker RIPD was.

Last word: nowhere near perfect, but it was fun. Suck it! 😉

Released: 17th August 2017
Viewed: 18th August 2017
Running time: 118 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10

Atomic Blonde (2017)

Atomic Blonde poster

November, 1989. The Berlin Wall is about to come down, but there are still East Germans desperate to defect. One – codename Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) – has a list of covert operatives to sell for his freedom. French, Russian, American, and British agents descend on the city-in-chaos, all trying to get their hands on the list first.

One such spy is Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), sent to rendezvous with the embedded section head (James McAvoy) and retrieve the body of the colleague who last had the list. However, it seems that someone is spying on the spies – and she’s soon punching, kicking and shooting her way across the city, searching for the list, the defector, and possibly a double agent. As her superiors warn her: trust no one.

The first thing to really love about this movie is Charlize Theron, kicking ass like a demi-goddess. The action is brutal: no punches pulled – pun intended – in showing the reality of being in a fight. No one shrugs off blows to the head as in so many action-lite movies: this is more Bourne than Bond, with a large dash of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Of course, this also means that there’s a fair bit of flinching for the not-so-hardened audience – surprised this is still a 15, and that’s before we get to large amounts of naked flesh!

The music is another big plus. I’m a little weirded out that the era of my childhood is now ripe for ‘period’ settings – ouch, quite frankly! – but the 1980s soundtrack is just brilliant. There’s a mix of original and remixed songs from the era, the latter giving a darker tone to some pop classics, and very appropriate to the piece.

The assembled cast is rather impressive, too, from those already mentioned to Sophia Boutella, John Goodman, Toby Jones, and Bill Skarsgard. My only complaint here would be Theron and McAvoy out-plumming each other with their respective English accents.

And finally, this is another movie that just looks amazing. The colour palette switches between drab, bleached-out misery and eye-popping neon glow, often thrown across the face of a Debbie Harry-esque leading lady.

Alas, for all those positives, there is a large dollop of style over substance here. I really wanted to come away feeling entertained, but was rather more confused and/or a touch disappointed with the somewhat messy plot. As it becomes increasingly convoluted, I did feel attempts at twists were there because they could be, rather than making the story any stronger – or making sense for the character development we don’t quite see.

Still worth a watch, but don’t do what one person did in my screening and run out the first time the screen goes dark! 😉

Released: 9th August 2017
Viewed: 15th August 2017
Running time: 115 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 6.5/10

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Valerian poster

Based on a French comic book, Valerian and Laureline, this movie sees these two Special Agents trying to save the titular City of a Thousand Planets – that is, a space station peacefully hosting hundreds of different alien species – from a mysterious threat.

Reviews have been pretty scathing about Valerian, and I would have to agree with most of them: the plot is both weak and convoluted, the acting is barely adequate, and even the title is insulting, leaving out the other main character who turns out to be probably more kick-ass than her male counterpart. Pfft. And as someone said: removing the painful attempts at ‘romance’ would have made for a far superior movie – it’s borderline creepy at points, tbh.

And yet, it’s still worth the watch. In fact, despite saying all of the above, I’d still go back to see it tomorrow – because it looks gorgeous. So yes, I can put up with a so-so plot and meh characters, and sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

Knowing this comes from Fifth Element director, Luc Besson, perhaps explains some of the visual marvel. I don’t think this is anywhere near as good – mind, I do love FE – but it’s definitely going to be one I leave on when it’s on the telly, purely to look at.

The one part of the movie I did think they nailed absolutely is the opening montage. Perfectly accompanied by the wondrous Space Oddity (David Bowie), we see the next 800 years of human space exploration encapsulated in a series of meet’n’greets aboard the growing ISS. It’s a hugely touching reminder than humanity can be non-jerks, at times.

The rest drifts off a little into a series of semi-random adventures for Valerian (a wooden Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne and her power eyebrows), including a subplot about a dream that feels like it’s from a different draft of the movie. Still, there are some fun alien species along the way, some well-realised (virtual) sets including a marketplace in another dimension (the future of Amazon, perhaps?), and a pretty good score to keep the feet tapping.

Go in – as I did – with low expectations, and have a little fun!

Released: 2nd August 2017
Viewed: 9th August 2017
Running time: 137 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10