IT CAN'T GET OUT OF ITS OWN WAY
Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017): When their headquarters are destroyed and the world is held hostage, the Kingsman's journey leads them to the discovery of an allied spy organization in the US. These two elite secret organizations must band together to defeat a common enemy.
There's a lot to like in this movie. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is Matthew Vaughn's sequel to 2014's wildly successful Kingsman: The Secret Service. I wrote a review on that film, which you can check out here, and in it I said that while there was a lot to like in this film, there were some significant problems with it as well. Unfortunately, this sequel is more of the same. There's a lot to like about it, but there are some significant problems with it as well. More so than on the last go around. All of this is going to make Kingsman: The Golden Circle a below average film for me. Now before you say I don't know how to have fun at the movies, I implore you to listen to what I have to say about this film, because it's reaaaaally not that good.
But first, let's focus on the positives. There were two big things here that I looooooved. First off, there's the fantastic villain. Julianne freaking Moore had an absolute blast with this character, and was by FAR the strongest part of the movie. She stole every scene she was in by a long shot with her eccentric and fiendishly upbeat portrayal of the film's villain. Personally, I liked her far more than Samuel L. Jackson's villain in the first film. I also really enjoyed Pedro Pascal's performance as Agent Whiskey. If his portrayal of Oberyn Martell in Game of Thrones wasn't enough to convince you this dude has a bright future ahead of him, then this movie certainly will. Additionally the regulars of this franchise are good, with Taron Egerton leading the way. This dude needs more work, please! Finally, there was also a cameo in this movie that was amazing. I won't spoil it, but just know said cameo plays a big role in the movie, and it was hilarious and awesome. Unfortunately, this is all the film had going for it in my opinion.
NOW, let's talk about the bad, no, the downright AWFUL bits of Kingsman: The Golden Circle. First off, the cinematography. The action scenes of the initial film were extremely erratic, but I was still able to kind of appreciate/understand what was going on. However this time around, it's as if Matthew Vaughn watched the original film, liked how the church scene was shot from that movie, and made every scene of this movie look like that. That scene was meant to be chaotic because of all the bodies being thrown around in the sequence, but when you have three dudes going at it and the camera is moving all over the place up, down, sideways, this and that.....it's incomprehensible! To me it was even worse than shaky cam (which I despise) because whereas shaky cam is meant to ratchet up tension even though it's not needed.....here, Matthew Vaughn is just in love with himself too much! It is too over-the-top. You had no idea where anyone was at any given moment in correlation to anything else, and eventually I just gave up trying to comprehend these scenes. When the weakest part of your action movie are your action sequences.....that's not good. Additionally, what the heck is this plot trying to accomplish? Julianne Moore's character's incentives made no freaking sense, and the motivations of the president made even less sense. GEEZ DON'T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON THE PRESIDENT'S PLOT. It was so stupid! And its resolution had me literally laughing out loud at the film. Poor Bruce Greenwood and Emily Watson for getting sucked into that TERRIBLE storyline.
Let's see is there anything else? I think I hit on my biggest issues with this film. But those are some big problems! Ultimately, the biggest issue with Kingsman is that it tried to be too over-the-top. It can't get out of its own way and became too ridiculous for me to enjoy. I'm all for having fun with films, (heck look at my reviews of It and Baby Driver to find evidence of that) but it still has to maintain some level of credibility and sanity. Here, Matthew Vaughn just said f*** it and just went for the biggest, baddest thing he could think of. Oh! I almost forgot! Channing Tatum. Now let's talk about Channing Tatum. Can we talk about Channing Tatum, please? I've been dying to talk about Channing Tatum all day. I don't care if you think this is a spoiler, but you know how you've seen Channing Tatum in all the trailers for the movie? Ya. If so, you've seen all of the scenes that Tatum is in this movie for. He's just in this for the inevitable threequel, guys. Doesn't that bother you? Because it bothers me! He spends most of this movie on ice (literally) so that he can be good to go for the next film. I mean, c'mon guys! Whatever. I'm done talking about this movie. Hate me all you want, but Kingsman may very be the single most overrated franchise in Hollywood today. Hey. Maybe Matthew Vaughn will figure out how to get out of his own way in the threequel. But after this film, I'm not counting on it.
The Critique: Despite a great villain and an even better cameo, Kingsman: The Golden Circle fails to reach mediocrity thanks to horrific cinematography and a ridiculous, over-the-top plot.
The Recommendation: I know you're going to go see this regardless of what I say, but there are far better films to spend your money on in the theater right now. It, Mother!, Logan Lucky, and Wind River, to name a few.
The Verdict: 4/10 Below Average
Creative to a fault
Mother! (2017): A couple's relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.
Mother! is a tough film for me to review. For those who don't know, the purpose of this blog and my reviews has always been to try and provide a casual moviegoers critique on the latest Hollywood film. Now, admittedly that becomes increasingly difficult to do when you've reviewed about 350 films in just over 4 years, (wow I didn't know I could be that committed to anything!) but with a film like Mother! I feel both sides pulling me in opposite directions. The critic (and I still use that word loosely) in me sees this film and thinks....."Wow. That was another spectacular Darren Aronofsky film. I wonder what it meant? I need to sit here and do nothing but think about this film for the foreseeable and ultimately write my review at 1 AM in the morning when I can't sleep and try and figure out what happened with this film and I will LIKE IT!" (With that bit of aggression at the end too, of course. Also I'm tooooootally not doing that last part) While the casual film-goer in me keeps it simple and is saying....."WHAT THE F*** DID I JUST WATCH?" So which part of me do I listen to? The critic? Or the fan? Why don't we go on this journey together and see who wins, shall we?
First off, let's have the "critic" talk about the good. I love how this film is shot. Yes, we're leading with cinematography here. The entire film is shot from Jennifer Lawrence's perspective, which leads to a discombobulating and disorienting experience when the film kicks it up to eleven, but it's a unique and interesting way to shoot a film, especially one like this. It's as if Aronofsky saw Hardcore Henry and said....I see what you're doing, now let me just make it, well, infinitely better to the point that it would be considered laughable that I just compared these two films. Hey, you never know....he could've said that! In addition to shooting this film from Lawrence's POV, most of the film is shot with headshots and over the shoulders. (A la Les Mis, but also better) That's probably 90% of the film's cinematography. The entire film is also shot inside a single location. That means the film needed to nail the set design, and nail it they did. Thanks to some great sound as well, the house almost feels like a character in and of itself in this film. All of this is like ingredients in a wonderful recipe that makes the film feel INCREDIBLY claustrophobic. At least early on. The tension is there, particularly in the first and second acts, and until the third act I was on the edge of my seat loving every second of this film. Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Domhnall Gleeson are all fantastic. But then the third act happened and this film got WEIRD.
Aaaaaaand that's where the casual moviegoer takes over. This is not my first rodeo with a Darren Aronofsky film. His films are out there. But Mother! is out there even for him. Aronofsky turns this film up to a 15 in the third act and abandons all semblance of sanity and unfortunately loses me in the process. He abandons the feeling of claustrophobia for over-the-top, borderline unnecessary shock value, and went for an uber meta ending that is certainly up for interpretation, I'll give him that, but.....what? What are you trying to do here, man? People say this ending is beautiful because of its ambiguity. It's up to you to decipher it, and there are already a lot of opinions out there for sure about the statement Aronofsky is trying to make here. Because of this I think this film is destined for cult status, which is familiar territory for this director. But for me? I don't mind having to figure things out in a movie, but there's a limit for me and we found said limit here.
Ok, so this part I'm writing in the morning after thinking about this film for most of the night. Mother! is a weird film. It's certainly not for everyone, however if you're the kind of person who's fed up with the constant barrage of Hollywood sequels and reboots and are looking for something unique, creative, and new that a big studio actually put some money behind.....Mother! is for you. I would strongly advise watching some of Aronofsky's previous work if you haven't already before jumping into this one, but it's definitely the most unique film in cinemas right now, and not a bad way to spend a Friday night by any means. Oh! And make sure you've seen The Fountain before you watch this film, because Mother! definitely operates on Fountain rules.
The Critique: The most unique and creative film in cinemas right now, Mother! features beautiful cinematography and great set design, but ultimately falls short of greatness thanks to an incomprehensible final act.
The Recommendation: Here it is. Aronofsky fans will probably love this film like its predecessors, but everyone else? Start with another of his films before moving up to this one. But if you like creativity it is worth seeing!
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 6.5/10 Almost Good
Tried to find a middle ground there but if anything the critic won out there
Oscar Talk: I think there's a chance this film gets a few shout-outs from the Academy when January rolls around. There's potential here for Hollywood's favorite poster child, Jennifer Lawrence, to receive another nomination for acting, but I'm not sure if that's gonna happen or not. Also look for potential nominations in set design and cinematography!
It Floats Too
It (2017): A group of bullied kids band together when a monster, taking the appearance of a clown, begins hunting children.
I LOVE this movie. One of the most anticipated horror films of the past few years, It is a big-budget horror movie that is a remake (I know......another one) of a 1990 TV movie bearing the same name. But, believe it or not, the film lives up to the hype. Personally, I have not seen the original, but that allows me to look at this film in a vacuum and not compare it to the original in any way. But after seeing this version I am going to change that very soon, because if it's anywhere near as good as this film is I will have an absolute blast watching it. The short summary is It is one of my favorite movies of the year, and is well worth the time of anyone who even kind of likes horror films. Sure there's some studio tomfoolery here, and sure it's yet another remake of an existing property, but somehow this film overcomes its major potential shortcomings and becomes a surprisingly strong film in its own right. So, without further ado, let's dive into what makes It so great!
What makes It one of my favorite movies of the year? There are several reasons behind this, but the top one is without a doubt Pennywise the DANCING Clown. Played brilliantly by Bill Skarsgård, (this will probably be one of my top performances of the year, by the way) Pennywise is a menacing and terrifying villain, stealing every single scene he's in. (Or may be in) The delivery of the character from Skarsgård is fantastic....he is completely unpredictable, and from his small mannerisms with his body to his emphasis on certain words, (it's not Pennywise the Dancing Clown, it's Pennywise the DANCING Clown) this really is one of the best villains I've seen on screen in a long time. Skarsgård has said in interviews about playing the character that Heath Ledger's legendary performance of The Joker was one of his biggest inspirations for Pennywise, and looking back at it I can certainly see why. Pennywise is easily worth the cost of admission alone, but there are several other reasons for why I like this movie so much.
Besides Pennywise, the big thing this movie has going for it is character development. So many horror films nowadays do not take the time to slow done and flesh out its characters: they're mostly about going from one pop scare to the next. But It is 135 minutes long, and much of this time is spent developing each member of The Loser's Club. There are 7 members of this club, and yet it feels like each and every one of them is given their moment to shine. I kind of expected Finn Wolfhard, coming off his huge success with Stranger Things, to steal the show here, (he kind of does) but for the most part everyone is given equal screen time. Director Andy Muschietti and co. did a great job ensuring that every one of The Loser's Club has their individual encounter with Pennywise, and that really helps ensure they each have believable incentives for banding together. Seriously though.....this film does a better job fleshing out its characters than The Hobbit franchise did, and there Peter Jackson had 9 hours of film to do it! Ughhhhhh why did The Hobbit get broken into 3 films.....? Anyway, back on track. This movie also does a great job with its visual effects. While there were a few swings-and-misses in this department, I really think overall (and for a horror film) the effects were fantastic. Finally, I loved the score! Benjamin Wallfisch did a great job creating the perfect score for this movie. Too many horror films nowadays forget that having a good score makes your horror film that much scarier, but Wallfisch's score certainly adds to the ambiance as a whole.
That said, this film does have a few problems. First and foremost.....you remember how I complimented the film for taking the time to flesh out The Loser's Club? You know who loses a lot of screen time because of this? Pennywise. I know, you're stuck between a rock and a hard place on this one, but Pennywise is undoubtedly the best part of the film, so I wish he had received more screen time. Also, this film has a very rushed side story about a bully separate to Pennywise that doesn't really go anywhere. I'm guessing it's from the original novel and they wanted to keep it around, but it doesn't seem to do much other than give the film an unnecessary second villain that isn't even on the same planet as Pennywise. Finally, sequel-baiting! I guess this was inevitable, since this film's studio is Warner Brothers, but of course we have to bait the unavoidable sequel that will likely turn into three films after WB stumbles into an absurd amount of money with this film. The last few moments of this film just made me shake my head as we have to, yet again, put up with a studio trying to make as much money as possible. (Can you say a WB horror cinematic universe? Because knowing WB they're certainly going to try!) Fortunately, though, the sequel-baiting wasn't enough to deter the film as a whole for me. In conclusion, despite a few missteps, It delivers on the scares and is the best horror film I've seen since 2014's It Follows. Go see it if you even remotely like horror flicks!
The Critique: Anchored by an incredible performance from Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise, It is one of the best horror films in recent years, combining great character development and terrifying scares.
The Recommendation: A must-see for anyone with an inkling for horror films. And a great date movie! Right......?
The Verdict: 9/10 Awesome
Oscar Talk: Yes, it's time for one of the first Oscar Talks of 2017! I only include this because I how the Academy remembers this performance from Bill Skarsgård come January. Best Supporting Actor can sometimes be a weak category and if it is this year Skarsgård should have a great case for being included. We'll see!
By: Peter Kosanovich
Wind River (2017): An FBI agent teams with a town's veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation.
Taylor Sheridan is batting three for three with his recent screenplays. 2015’s Sicario earned him a Best Original Screenplay nomination with the Writers Guild of America. 2016’s Hell or High Water garnered further acclaim with another Writers Guild of America nomination and an added Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. This year he took things a step further with Wind River, by not only writing the screenplay but also making his feature length directorial debut. Let’s just say Mr. Sheridan is a man of many talents.
Wind River stars Jeremy Renner as Cory Lambert, a US Fish and Wildlife Service agent, his job is to hunt predators that kill livestock in and around the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. One day Lambert discovers the body of an 18-year old girl from the reservation, laying face down in the snow covered in her own blood, having escaped some ordeal before freezing to death in the snow. At this time rookie FBI Agent Jane Banner, played by Elizabeth Olsen, is brought in to oversee the investigation – taking place on a reservation creates interesting jurisdiction, as it does not fall under traditional United States law enforcement, but instead a combination of the FBI and tribal police. Upon Banner’s arrival it is revealed that the victim, now identified as Natalie Hanson, was raped prior to her death.
Being a total outsider, Banner requests the aid of Lambert to help track down the potential rapists and murderers. While the pair, along with Tribal Police Chief Ben, begin their search the audience is treated to some absolutely stunning cinematography courtesy of Ben Richardson; it demonstrates how beautiful and yet utterly bleak the area can be. It paints a portrait of life that is both stunning and haunting. After questioning the various members of Natalie’s family, her father and her drug-addict brother, Lambert, Banner, and Chief Ben learn of Natalie’s new boyfriend. But it is not long after that they find him dead too – and not just dead, but also his body has been scavenged by the wildlife. At this point the search intensifies to discover what happened to both victims.
This is easily one of Jeremy Renner’s best performances – a return to The Hurt Locker and The Town, but more tonally more akin to his performance in last year’s Arrival – he carries the film at points, and does so marvelously. Elizabeth Olsen plays her “fish-out-of-water” FBI Agent to a T, and even if her material was not greatest, she still nailed it. Each of the supporting cast were absolutely phenomenal! Gil Bermingham’s grieving father lent an emotional weight to a role that could have easily felt one-note – he truly lives in the character of a man on the verge of losing it all, while also trying to preserve the traditions of his fading heritage. Graham Greene portrays a likeable and completely believable Tribal Chief. Kelsey Asbille absolutely lives in Natalie’s skin, exuding the fight to survive mentality, and while her screentime was limited, it was worth every second. And Jon Bernthal, no spoilers, gives an incredibly tragic performance that continues his remarkable streak of recent credits.
While this was a tragically beautiful story with exceptional direction from Taylor Sheridan, it is not without flaw. The overall pacing of the film was on the slow side, which does not bother me in the slightest, but there was one scene in particular around two thirds through the film that dragged and continued on for too long. Aside from that, my biggest complaint was Elizabeth Olsen’s character. Olsen’s performance was what we have come to expect from her, exceptional, but the writing left something to be desired. Structurally Oslen’s character Banner sat in her “rookie-fish-out-of-water” role for too long and never really progressed out of it. Yes, she jumped into action and did not hesitate to assume her role as the lead FBI investigator, but the depth of her character made her rely on Jeremy Renner’s Lambert too often, allowing him to often dictate the search. That being said, the story was told from the perspective of Lambert, so it is not necessarily surprising that Olsen’s arc took a bit of a backburner to Renner’s, I just wish her character had not been written so wide-eyed for so long.
The rest of the screenplay was stunning – sparse where it needed to be, emotional at all the right moments, intense where appropriate – and the direction matched it perfectly. Taylor Sheridan truly knows how to build tension, and even when you predict what is going to happen it still shocks you! And he truly cares for each of his characters – Olsen’s character might not have been the strongest, but she still resonated with the audience and you believed her in the situation. Sheridan is one of those rising stars that needs to be noticed and taken seriously, whatever project he picks. He is structurally sound and emotionally poignant, and Wind River is a hell of a debut!
Rewatchability: High, but only if it’s your kind of movie. I know, that’s a caveat, but it’s an accurate one.
Recommendation: Definitely! Parts may be a little difficult to watch, but the subject matter is undeniably important. The film was dedicated to Native American women, who are make up the largest demographic of unreported crimes.
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