Tag: Blockbuster

Independence Day: Resurgence (Movie) Review

Independence Day: Resurgence (Movie) Review

No one asked for an Independence Day sequel. In fact, I’m sure that if there was a poll sent out to moviegoers asking which 90s blockbuster they never wanted to see get a sequel 20 years later, Independence Day would have been near the top of the list. However, that didn’t happen and director Roland Emmerich had a few unsuccessful movies in a row. So now, out of sheer desperation, Independence Day is back and boy does it ever feel like a movie that no one particularly wanted to make. Sloppily written, pedestrianly executed, and completely lacking in any sort of personality or nuance, Independence Day Resurgence is the braindead waste of time and talent that everyone assumed it would be. Yet perhaps worst of all, the movie isn’t even ironically amusing in its braindead excesses. Nope, this is just an annoying, empty shell of a sequel that offers nothing but the lowest common denominator. We can only hope that it isn’t successful enough to spawn the sequel set up in the closing scene.

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So, it’s been 20 years since the last Independence Day and humanity has rebuilt itself. Jeff Goldblum’s scientist character has spearheaded studies to adopt alien technologies, so now  there’s a weapons base on the moon, the army fires laser guns, and the president flies around in a hover-copter. But wouldn’t ya know it? Those aliens aren’t done with us yet. After sitting dormant for 20 years, one of the crashed alien ships starts booping and beeping and all of the captured aliens spring back to life. Bearded ex-president Bill Pullman rises from retirement because he can feel something is wrong and he needs to start spitting out inspirational speeches to everyone around him. Brent Spiner awakens from a coma with all sorts of alien mythology in his head that he needs to let loose. Judd Hirsch is also wandering around cracking wise for some reason.

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Will Smith refused to return, so his son (Jessie T. Usher) is now a pilot to fill in the roll in the overblown screenplay. Meanwhile Liam “Don’t Call Me Chris” Hemsworth plays a flyboy so wild that he was sent to the moon to be contained (they’ll need him). There are other new characters as well played by culty actors like Charlotte Gainsbourg, Maika Monroe, and William Fichtner, but they aren’t worth describing. No one plays an actual person here and they all barely fit into the convoluted plot. The key thing is the aliens return and blow stuff up, so the humans have to blow them up back; but how? Fortunately a secret orb appears offering all the answers. Why? I doubt even the five credited screenwriters could offer a satisfying explanation, so I certainly can’t.

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Yes, this is one big dumb stupid movie. Though to be fair, that was expected. In fact, that’s a requirement of this franchise. However, it’s also clunky and forced in ways that spoil all the bonehead charms of the last installment. Without a cozy disaster movie structure to lean on that connects the cast, characters seem to bump into each other at random and subplots cut into each other in ways that almost always disrupts both the narrative and action momentum. Obviously Jeff Goldblum brings his uniquely neurotic charms to the table. That guy is incapable of delivering anything less than a watchable performance. Everyone else just seems lost though, especially Bill Pullman who is so sullenly serious and emotional at all times that it looks like he’s about to have either a poo or a heart attack. The attempts at humour nearly always ring false and generally involve bathroom activities. The characters are so cardboard that there are no emotional stakes. Racial stereotypes are piled so high that this almost feels like a recruitment film for a nefarious organization. It’s sloppy, stupid stuff. The sort of thing that Trey Parker and Matt Stone could turn into comedy gold without changing a word, they just need to add sarcastic inflection.

Of course, no one was ever going to buy a ticket to an Independence Day sequel for the storytelling or characterizations. This is all about the boom-boom and even that disappoints. The big alien attack is so quick that pretty much all of it was revealed in the trailer. The war scenes are all fairly pedestrian with CGI ships crashing into each other willy-nilly and no particular style or focus to the staging. The alien design is still strong, but shown off in such dull detail that it looses all mystique. Worst of all, the realities of contemporary blockbuster production pretty much rob the movie of all scale. It’s essentially a series of increasingly uninspired CGI cartoons with a cast standing in small sets or next to green screens for reaction shots. There aren’t any impressively large models and there certainly aren’t many trips out too huge locations. The movie looks like it was made on a computer in a closet with a dumptruck full of money and there’s very little sense of wonderment.

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Independence Day: Resurgence is 110% a bad movie. However, the worst thing is that it’s not even entertainingly bad. The whole thing is rather dull and there are no surprises. It’s exactly what you’d expect but not in a good way. The fact that it barely even ends, opting instead for a cliffhanger finale, doesn’t even give anyone a sense of closure to leave the theater with.  The whole thing is just one big dumb n’ dull waste of time. It won’t make you angry with the filmmakers, just frustrated at yourself for even bothering to buy a ticket. Who this movie is supposed to appeal to is a mystery to me (the target audience of 12-year-olds weren’t even born when the last movie was released), but hopefully they won’t show up. As painful as this unnecessary sequel is to watch, it’s safe to say the threequel would be worse. This is a product of Roland Emmerich and an overpaid team of filmmakers spinning their wheels. There won’t be any treads left for the next movie. It’ll be a pure trainwreck.

Hitman: Agent 47 (Movie) Review 1

Hitman: Agent 47 (Movie) Review

For those of us who love video games and movies, there is a hope that one day a game will be adapted into a movie worthy of the title. Things started off pretty rough for anyone with those dreams following the Super Mario Bros. and Streetfighter abominations, and too be honest, it’s rarely gotten better. The only ones to come close are the original Silent Hill movie as well as Paul WS Anderson’s watchable Mortal Kombat flick and his Resident Evil franchise that can charitably be labeled as hit-and-miss. Other than that, the adaptations have been pretty rough. Generally speaking, they are rushed productions run by disinterested filmmakers and produced only because the title is marketable. Rather than introducing popular properties and characters to non-gamers, they only tend to unfairly reinforce stereotypes about the mindless and tediously violent clichéd dismissals of gaming. Hitman: Agent 47 is the second attempt to get a Hitman movie off the ground, and somehow, it’s even worse than the horrendous 2007 failure. So the trend of craptacular videogame movies continues.
hitmanmovieinsert1Things kick off with an opening credit sequence that attempts to cram so much unnecessary backstory into a few measly minutes of screentime that viewers can be forgiven for checking out immediately. So, essentially, Rupert Friend plays the bald and red-tied assassin, Agent 47, whose organization of brainwashing and bioengineering assassin makers have been disbanded. However, a new company is starting to crank out emotionless and bio-enhanced killing machines and Agent 47 has kind of maybe been assigned to bring it down, or something? It’s hard to say. The story is that muddled. The other lead character is Hannah Ware’s possible target in Friend’s sights who can’t remember her childhood (which couldn’t possibly be linked to the companies who manufacture test tube assassins, right?). Then there’s also a mysterious character played by Zachary “that new Spok” Quinto who is also tracking down Ware. She can’t quite decide which man to trust, though the audience should figure things out pretty quickly given this movie’s title.

So, there is indeed a plot to this movie. Not that it seems to matter much or that the screenwriters Skip Woods (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and Michael Finch (Predators) put much effort into crafting it. They’ve taken a couple vague references to the game and slapped them to the most generic action movie plot they could come up with, hoping that somewhere along the line a movie would emerge. It’s hard to care about any of the characters, since they have no personality, and it’s difficult to get wrapped up in the story, since it doesn’t make much sense. The actors certainly don’t seem very invested, taking advantage of the fact that they are all playing characters incapable of emotion to deliver the most dull and lifeless line readings imaginable. It really is painful to sit through at times, almost like watching a collection of prisoners spit out the dialogue required to serve their sentence in a cinematic prison.
hitmanmovieinsert3The only time that the movie gets even remotely lively is during the action sequences. Don’t expect those to feel like the game though. Aside from a tacked-on sequence in which 47 teaches Ware how to sneak around security cameras, there is no stealth or silence. Nope, long-time commercial director and first-time filmmaker Aleksander Bach dedicates all of his energy to making things blow up and fetishizing gunfire. The man has no real sense of how to pace a story or work with actors, but he knows how to make a gun look pretty while it’s making a head explode, so he focuses all of his efforts there. To be fair, the action sequences are fine, sometimes even okay, but they are nothing special; just a bunch of slo-mo and pyro combined in sequences that at least look exciting, even though it’s impossible to care about why they are happening.

It’s hard to say whether or not Hitman: Agent 47 is indeed the worst videogame movie ever made, if only because the competition is so steep. Don’t get me wrong, this flick is a big boring disaster, but maybe not quite as unforgivably horrendous as such failures as Mortal Kombat: Annihilation or Max Payne. It does come awfully close though, probably even managing to be worse than the disastrous 2007 adaptation. In the end, you’re better off just replaying some of the old Hitman games again if you’re hungering for a revival of that franchise. The movie doesn’t add a damn thing. There is a chance that one day we will be treated to a worthwhile videogame movie, but we’ll have to wait at least one more year for someone to take the right material seriously. Or maybe it’ll be a few more decades until the day that studio executives are young enough to be nostalgic for the games they were raised on. One day it will happen. It’s just sure as fuck not happening today, because at the moment, we’re stuck with Hitman: Agent 47.

Fantastic Four (Movie) Review 2

Fantastic Four (Movie) Review

The Fantastic Four were Stan Lee’s first Marvel superheroes and the colourfully neurotic family of superheroes have been pillars of that comic book universe ever since. We now live in a world where Marvel properties have been established so consistently and successfully on the big screen that there are even Ant Man and Guardians of the Galaxy movies worth watching. Yet somehow, Marvel’s first family continue to get the shaft. It should be easy to make a FF flick given all of the decades of wonderful stories that already exist through colourful panels. Yet, thus far, we’ve only gotten one Roger Corman movie so brutal it was never released, two dreadful early 2000s blockbuster misfires, and now a dark n’ brooding reinterpretation that admittedly tries out some interesting ideas, but ultimately fails once more (just in all new and exciting ways).

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Chronicle director Josh Trank walks audiences through the Fantastic Four origin motions again, only this time with the genre shifted to sci-fi with hints of body horror. We meet Reed Richards as a kiddie scientist who invents what he thinks is a matter transporter along with his buddy Ben Grimm. It doesn’t do much beyond shut down the power in the neighbourhood, but years later Reed gets the machine working and takes it to his high-school science fair. The teacher thinks its BS, but scientist Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) not only knows it works, he realizes that it’s actually a window to another dimension. He quickly hires Reed to come to New York and help him complete his own dimension-hopping project. Reed is then partnered up with the doctor’s adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara), her ne’er do well brother Johnny (Michael B. Jordon), and the unfortunately named dark dork Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell). Together they make a fully functioning interdimensional portal, and after their bosses refuse to let them take it for a test ride, they get drunk and go anyway (along with Reed’s old buddy Ben). Unfortunately things go horribly wrong and Victor ends up trapped in the other dimension while the four others soon find themselves saddled with body mutating powers.

Aside from some pacing issues and failed attempts at humor, it has to be said that the first half of the new Fantastic Four flick is actually pretty compelling. Trank’s decision to shift genres out of the goofy Marvel superhero fair that’s so popular these days into speculative sci-fi is a clever one. It gives a familiar origin tale a new tone and style. When the gang comes back and find their buddies sullied with stretchy limbs, invisibility, flaming skin, and a rock monster physique, Trank plays it all as painful body horror in easily the best section of the movie. This isn’t Stan Lee’s gang of goofy scientists who accidentally turn themselves into a superhero team. It’s a group of unsuspecting kids going through tragically horrific mutations that just happen to be the same powers of the Fantastic Four.

“To be fair to everyone involved, at least the first half is pretty good before the movie completely flies off the rails.

If Trank had somehow convinced Fox to allow him to make a purely sci-fi horror reinterpretation of The Fantastic Four that ends with the four potential heroes locked up in abject misery, this would have been a truly unique and bizarre Hollywood movie worth celebrating. Unfortunately, since the flick is called Fantastic Four and superhero blockbusters are the biggest business in La-La-land these days, this thing has to become a standard issue superhero flick eventually. So, after the gang are locked up, they’re slowly encouraged to develop their powers for the government and eventually even fight off a CGI villain in a CGI landscape in a completely disposable finale. It’s hard to tell if Trank simply wasn’t interested in this aspect of the movie or if endless rewrites and reshoots watered down the third act until it became indistinguishable from every superhero movie from the last 15 years. Either way, the movie completely falls apart in the second half. There were rumours of production troubles on this flick and the final product sure shows that. Editing is awkwardly choppy, suggesting radical recuts; scenes from the trailer didn’t even make it into the final movie, and worst of all, it just feels dull after a certain point.

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Yep. Sadly, The Fantastic Four have been stuck with another disappointing blockbuster unworthy of the brand name. To be fair to everyone involved, at least the first half is pretty good before the movie completely flies off the rails. There are enough interesting ideas in play to suggest that the filmmakers were on the right path until whatever it was that went disastrously wrong happened. It’s a real shame because the goofy dysfunctional family dynamic of The Fantastic Four is loaded with potential for a great movie and you only need look at Brad Bird’s masterful The Incredibles to see that. At the very least, this frustrating feature is the best attempt at a Fantastic Four thus far. Even the cast is pretty good, so if the movie somehow makes enough cash to justify a sequel, there’s a chance someone could right the ship and give fans the Fantastic Four flick they deserve. Sadly, that’s unlikely to happen though. Superhero blockbuster fatigue has already set in amongst most viewers, so they will likely balk at an FF failure, given that they only have to wait a few months until the next superhero flick anyways. What a shame. This project had potential, but whatever curse was placed on The Fantastic Four by the movie gods clearly ain’t going away anytime soon.

San Andreas (Movie) Review 1

San Andreas (Movie) Review

It was inevitable that Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson would one day star in a disaster movie. After all, the mountain of a man and former wrestler towers over every puny human costar he faces on screen. There’s rarely any suspense involved in a movie fight scene when The Rock is involved. The guy is going to win or at least end the fight in a draw for the sake of Vin Diesel’s ego. So, the only way to set up a fair fight for The Rock is to pit him against Mother Nature. San Andreas might be the title of Dwayne’s latest movie, but it really should be called An Earthquake Vs. The Rock. That’s the fight that audiences will pay their hard earned cash to see and that’s exactly what the movie delivers. Aside from the title match, there really isn’t that much to the movie to be honest. Like all disaster flicks, few of the pesky non-explosive elements in the movie like plot or characterization register. It’s a deeply dumb movie, but also kind of a fun one if you can shut your brain down and admire all of the pretty explosions.
sanandreasinsert2Dwayne Johnson stars as the greatest damn rescue worker in California. He can fly a helicopter and help out innocents like nobody’s business. The only thing he can’t save is his marriage, which has fallen apart at the seams. Following the death of his youngest daughter, The Rock’s ex-wife (Carla Gugino) and now-only daughter (Alexandra Daddario) leave big poppa bear and move in with some rich jerk. It hurts The Rock deeply, but he’s too nice of a man to do anything about it. At the same time, Paul Giamatti plays a super-scientist specializing in earthquakes who develops a new system that can actually detect earthquakes before they happen (because of magnetic waves or some other such movie-science nonsense). Unfortunately, Giamatti can only predict these earthquakes minutes in advance. So he gets the machine working just in time to notice that the biggest earthquake in history is about to hit California. Sure, he gets on the news to warn people, but that just means they expect it when the entire West Coast crumbles, not that they’ll survive. Wouldn’t ya know it? Both the Rock’s ex-wife and daughter end up caught in the catastrophe. I wonder…if he were able to save both of them, do you think that might mend his broken family? Hmmm…

Chances are, you can plot out the entire movie in your head following that brief first act summary and I’ll wager that whatever you’ve come up with is actually better than the script a team of writers actually sold to Warner Brothers. There’s no getting around it, San Andreas is a deeply, deeply stupid movie. At best, characters are two-dimensional cartoons. For the most part, the actors have only a single dimension to work with. The movie isn’t destined to win any screenwriting or acting awards any time soon. It may as well have been written by a computer program that mixed and matched scenes from previous disaster movie screenplays until it reached 100 pages. However, dismissing a movie that features a pro-wrestler and an earthquake as being stupid is missing the point. Of course San Andreas is a dumb movie. It would almost be disappointing if it wasn’t. The real question is: Is the movie any fun?
sanandreasinsert3Answer: Yes. Yes, it is. The Rock reteams with his Journey 2 director Brad Peyton, who can’t exactly be described as an artiste but is certainly a guy who knows his way around a brightly colored CGI action scene. The massive crumbling 3D city destruction sequences in San Andreas are indeed quite impressive. Sure, the audience is essentially watching millions of people die at once, but as long as The Rock saves his family it doesn’t matter. They are the only characters viewers need to care about and if they get out ok, who cares about a few million lost lives as long as the explosions look good? Yeah, it’s probably deeply irresponsible and unprofessional for the greatest rescue worker in California to ignore all of the civilians and steal a rescue chopper just to save two people, but hey! Family values are restored at the end of this $100 million series of blow-em-ups, so what more do you want? Folks who simply can’t get behind braindead popcorn fodder will scoff off San Andreas and with good reason: it’s a dumb and generic movie. However, anyone excited to see The Rock kick an earthquake in the nuts will have a good time. This might be a dumb and generic movie, but it’s also fun, hilarious for those who enjoy the ironic appreciation of trash movies, and The Rock is in it, who never disappoints. Not a bad popcorn cocktail for those in the mood for mindless entertainment. A completely forgettable blockbuster and also a painless one.

Chappie (Movie) Review 1

Chappie (Movie) Review

Few filmmakers from the last decade have burst onto the scene with the parade of deserved accolades that Neil Blomkamp received for District 9. His debut sci-fi/horror/mockumentary/social commentary was both an unexpected hit and a Best Picture Oscar nominee, instantly establishing the commercial directing veteran as a major new voice in blockbuster filmmaking. Unfortunately Blomkamp’s follow up Elysium bore all the unfortunate markings of a sophomore slump, so the pressure was on for him to live up to his reputation with his third effort. That movie is finally here in Chappie and it’s unmistakably the work of Blomkamp’s distinct imagination as well as a remix of elements that worked in his first feature. Unfortunately, it’s not a rousing new cult hit that can be described as an impressive return to form. Nope, Chappie is far too messy for that. However, it is an unconventional and ambitious stab at achieving something interesting within the framework of blockbuster filmmaking. The movie might fall on its face as often as it soars, but at least it’s a thoroughly wacko and ambitious movie striving to do something (even if it’s not always entirely clear what that something is).
chappieinsert3Chappie kicks off in an eerily similar manner to District 9. So much so that you might briefly wonder if you’re watching a sequel. Some mock-doc interviews set the tone for a tale exploring the nature of artificial intelligence before the audience is thrust into a vaguely futuristic vision of contemporary Johannesburg with a sci-fi twist. No giant alien aircrafts this time though. Instead, it’s a South Africa with a robot police force that’s helped significantly cut down on crime. Dev Patel stars as the scientist responsible for creating the metallic drone force, while a freshly mulleted Hugh Jackman plays an army vet enemy who wants to destroy the program to launch his own human controlled crime-busting robot. In his spare time, Patel also goes ahead and creates artificial intelligence and is desperate to try out the experiment on one of his robocops. Unfortunately, his boss Sigourney Weaver refuses that request. So Patel steals one of his bots to plug full of consciousness. Things get even worse for Patel when a pair of thugs kidnap him and his soon-to-be-sentient robot (the thugs are played by Ninja and Yolandi of Die Antwoord. If you’re unfamiliar with their music, don’t worry. Their songs take up most of the soundtrack and they even wear their own merch to avoid confusion). Patel gives his robot life and hopes to teach it to become a loving, learning being. Ninja and Yolandi name him Chappie and hope to turn him into a metallic gang member. For a while, they battle over Chappie’s fate until he evolves into a lovable scamp pitched somewhere between both extremes. Eventually it all builds towards a machine gun boom-boom climax versus bad guy Hugh Jackman, because why not?

Clearly burned by the compromises and disappointments of Elysium, Blomkamp has filled Chappie with so many ideas, styles, and tones, that it’ll make your head spin in good ways and bad. First the good news, Chappie himself is an undeniably wonderful creation. Blomkamp’s eccentric star Sharlto Copley delivers an Andy Serkis caliber motion capture performance that’s funny, eccentric, and oddly touching (especially in the character’s early infantile stages). The CGI wizards responsible for delivering the final robot also deliver remarkable detail and characterization that makes the hunk of metal feel far more alive than Johnny Five. Through the character, Blomkamp teases out themes about the nature of consciousness that he never fully answers (much like all of the racial allegory in District 9). Yet, there are some fascinating ideas in play that the filmmaker explores with surprising earnestness and insight while still mixing and matching genres and tones at will. Chappie is at once a comedy, a think piece sci-fi, a sleazy action movie, a bitter blast of social commentary, and a heart-warmer. The film strives to find the middle ground between Robocop and E.T. and when it hits the high notes comes damn close to succeeding. In particular, the guns n’ ammo finale is a genuinely visceral thrill ride that never undermines all the humor, thematic resonance, and sweet heart-tugs surrounding the spectacle.
chappieinsert5Unfortunately, while all of the various fascinating threads competing for attention are the film’s greatest strength, that lack of singular focus almost undoes the entire movie. Chappie is a mess. At times Blomkamp seems to be in complete control of all his wacky ideas and at times you’ll wish he had narrowed in on making one movie rather than five at once. In particular, the filmmakers admirable commitment to keeping his blockbuster rocketing forward at a fast clip often creates plot holes, logic gaps, and dangling thematic threads. Just like Elysium, it feels like the filmmaker was still a few drafts away from completing his ambitious script when he was rushed into production and never managed to iron out all of the problems. While most of the actors fair well amidst the weirdo spectacle, his biggest casting risk doesn’t quite pay off. While Die Antwoord were essentially asked to play versions of their already exaggerated stage personas, the duo aren’t actors and it shows. Sure, at times their raw, raging presence is unpredictably compelling, but more often than not the duo deliver posturing over performing and feel more than a little stilted. It was likely a mistake to give the duo such major roles in a big Hollywood production, but also the type of wild risk that needs to be taken to deliver something unconventional.

There will be mountains of hate piled onto Chappie since Blomkamp’s sudden rise to prominence created an army of doubters looking to bring him down and this confused blockbuster will give them plenty of ammunition. However, to dwell on the flick’s flaws while completely ignoring its strengths is a mistake. Chappie is a big crazy movie made by a filmmaker more interested in serving his own voice and ambitions than playing into Hollywood conventions. When the movie fails, at least it fails on its own terms. When it succeeds, it feels like nothing else that’s been on screens since District 9. At the very least, this is definitely a blockbuster that deserves to be seen and discussed in serious terms, which is in and of itself a rarity.
chappieinsert9The verdict might still be pending on whether or not Neil Blomkamp is a major new talent or a one-hit wonder, but at least he continues to prove that he can turn $100 million spectacle into movies worth thinking about. That’s at least something and hopefully Chappie brings home enough bucks to keep him toiling away in blockbusters for the foreseeable future. If nothing else, his impending Alien sequel promises to be completely insane and that alone should inject a little lifeblood into a franchise that needs it. After that, it’s pretty much inevitable that he’ll end up in charge of a comic book property at some point and it’s nice to know that there’s an experienced blockbuster practitioner in line for those sorts of jobs who we can guarantee will take risks. Say what you will about the strengths and weaknesses of Chappie. At least Neil Blomkamp strove to make something unique and insane. We need a few more people willing to take those risks with popcorn fodder.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (Movie) Review 2

Kingsman: The Secret Service (Movie) Review

A couple of years ago we all celebrated James Bond’s 75

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anniversary with Skyfall, a delightful romp through the iconic superspy’s long history with one foot in winking homage to the past and one foot in the gritty post-Nolan blockbuster future. It was a great Bond flick and an even better moment in the nerdy realms of Bond history. And yet, on a certain level, Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service is an even more satisfying forward-thinking homage to everyone’s favorite MI6 misogynist. For one thing, all of that dour Jason Bourne-ification of the Bond mythology is gone. The name and the martini might not make an appearance, but this love letter embraces all of the goofiest aspects of the series while lovingly pissing all over it. As a work of naughty and knowing R-rated spy fun, this is about as good as glossy Hollywood entertainment gets.
kingsmeninsert2The titular Kingsman are a super-secret organization of super-dapper British spies. You know the type: their suits are immaculate, their Oxford educated vocabulary exquisite, and their skills with dispatching a baddie or bedding a lady are unparalleled. Of course, such an organization would have no purpose without a supervillain and a dastardly plot to foil. So we get that too in a lisping Sam Jackson playing a dot com billionaire psycho with a bizarre world domination plot and a colorful henchwoman (sporting running blades that give new meaning to the term). Of course, the nature of that plot must be kept secret until the third act. So while the dependably dapper Colin Firth slowly works out the details for his superior Michael Caine (obviously, especially given Sean Connery’s retirement), we’re also introduced to a new recruit. With a Kingsman freshly killed in the early going, there’s an opening for a new agent and Firth picks up the lower class lad’s lad Eggy (newcomer Taron Egerton) to fill the role. Along with a handful of competitors, Eggy dives headfirst into death-defying training. Eventually all roads lead to a hidden evil layer with uniformed henchman, though thankfully director Matthew Vaughn ensures that audiences get exactly what they want through ways they wouldn’t necessarily expect.

Vaughn (along with writer partner Jane Goldman and comics guru Mark Millar) have been down this sardonically sincere road before. It’s impossible not to think of their last three-headed collaboration Kick Ass as all the madness unfolds. That’s not to say that the gang are repeating themselves by any means, just that they’ve found a way to bring a striking aesthetic to a genre that needs a kick in the pants even more than superhero shenanigans. As sincere as Vaughn and co. are in their unapologetic love for secret agent globe-trotting and gallivanting, they are also acutely aware that it’s old timey entertainment in need of an upgrade. So they mock the well-worn conventions of the form while conforming to them and the sick comedy tone employed is perfect for it. In particular, Vaughn has a knack for crafting nasty cartoon action sequences that truly shines here. In one viciously thrilling scene, he has Firth brutally murder more people in a church than anyone would have assumed the Pride And Prejudice star would tally up over his entire career. Then in the climax, Vaughn turns the sight of exploding heads into a twistedly funny fireworks display. There’s an edge to the film’s approach to ticket-shilling action, walking a fine line between gentle subversion and goofy crowd-pleasing that’s not easy to achieve. For anyone with a sick sense of humor and a sweet tooth for mainstream entertainment, the magical mix of Kick Ass has been revived.
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It also doesn’t hurt that there’s one hell of a cast bringing it all to life from stalwarts like Caine and Jackson perverting their iconic images, Taron Egerton bursting onto center stage with style, Mark Strong doing his chameleon thing, Mark Hamill doing his in-joke cameo thing, and above all else Firth inverting his image in ways that just might expand his career if he feels so inclined. For genre nuts and graphic novel nerds (the film stays close to Millar’s original book while also redefining itself as something new), Kingsman is a dirty delight to cherish. However, it would be a lie to claim that everything plays out perfectly. The hodgepodge of satire, parody, homage, light social commentary, and dense spy plotting leads to lumpy structure as often as an unpredictably wild ride. The filth-friendly humor quite often dips too far into bad taste. And all of the nerdy winking keeps audience investment too distanced for much genuine emotion or empathy. Ultimately, it’s all one big party trick at James Bond’s expense made by a filmmaker indulging in the fact that he strung together enough hints to get Hollywood to finance his wildest flights of fancy with little concern for conventional entertainment. However, if that sounds like an in-crowd party that you want to join, I can’t recommend seeking out this sardonic spy silliness enough. It’s easy to complain about the over saturation of brainless, boring, blockbuster fluff, but every so often a big middle finger to tasteful entertainment like Kingsman sneaks through the cracks to remind us all why that industry is worth keeping around.

 

Jupiter Ascending (Movie) Review 1

Jupiter Ascending (Movie) Review

If there’s one thing that the Wachowskis have proven time and time again, it’s that they never do anything small. If the duo are going to make a movie, they are going to make the biggest and craziest movie they possibly can on the off chance that they are never allowed to make another one again. We saw what happened a few years ago when that went wrong in the fascinatingly flawed Cloud Atlas and obviously saw it all go right with The Matrix. Now the directing duo have decided to try their hand at a lil’ space opera. Their latest film Jupiter Ascending could be described as the Wachowskis’ take on Star Wars were it not for the fact that it’s also their take on Dune, Flash Gordon, Heavy Metal, Brazil, and a Disney princess story amidst at least a few dozen other inspirations. They’ve gone for full on goofy entertainment this time too, sneaking substance in as subtext in a giddy sugar rush of blockbuster entertainment. Their film is far from perfect and is quite often even laughably off-key. However, the sequences that work are so strong and everything surrounding them so outrageous that you can’t help but be charmed by the movie at least a little bit, even if it pummels you into submission.

jupasinsert1Mila Kunis stars as a Russian immigrant who cleans toilets all day and struggles to accept her family at night. She has an obsession with stars that she can’t quite explain, so much so that’s she’s agreed to sell her eggs at a fertility clinic just to afford a telescope.  Then once she’s about to undergo the surgery the doctors turn into aliens that try to kill her. In the nick of time, a half-albino/half-wolf/all-hunk Channing Tatum shows up wearing rocket boots and kills all of the aliens with a laser gun. From there, it’s time for a pretty astounding fight-or-flight action scene in the Chicago skyline. After that, it’s time to meet Sean Bean (obviously he’s in this movie) who lets Kunis know that she’s actually the reincarnation of the queen of the universe or something. How does he know? Because bees really like her and he’s got a house full of bees. Why, you ask? Well…Wait! There’s no time to explain. At this point the whole gang flies out to the farthest reaches of the universe where Kunis meets her several-millenniums old children (Tuppence Middleton, Douglas Booth, and Eddie Redmayne). One-by-one they all turn out to be evil, which can only mean one thing. It’s time for a big ol’ fight with the fate of the universe hanging in the balance. You know, that old story.

If you got lost during that plot summary, don’t worry. The actual movie is even more complicated. However, as convoluted as the narrative can get, Jupiter Ascending is never impossible to follow. The Wachowskis make pop after all. If it’s tricky to figure out what’s what, that’s because it’s supposed to be. All will be revealed for those who pay attention, even if some of the dialogue is as difficult to squirm through as some of the weakest monologues shat out of David Lynch’s brain while adapting Dune. And with dialogue that rough comes some pretty ridiculous and histrionic performances. Eddie Remayde might be a great actor under normal circumstances, but when asked to deliver tediously expositional dialogue through snarls and eyeliner, even he turns into a ham. Yep, there are plenty of things that go wrong here, but thankfully more than go right.

jupasinsert4In particular, some sequences in Jupiter Ascending sees the Wachowskis at the peak of their pure visceral entertainment powers. Working in 3D for the first time and embracing it fully, the Wachowski’s craft a handful of eye-gougingly great action scenes that will leave you breathless without a moment’s confusion about what’s blowing up or why (ahem, Michael Bay. Take notes please). Likewise, their pop culture pastiche style is on overdrive like it hasn’t been since The Matrix. This kitchen sink movie throws everything at the screen from walking dinosaurs to leather-bound princesses and an entire sequence paying homage to Brazil topped off with a Terry Gilliam cameo. It’s as if the sibling directors read the reviews for the underrated Speed Racer and the not-at-all underrated Cloud Atlas and thought, “Oh, so you want more Matrix style movies, huh? Well, here’s a full mini-series worth of them crammed into two hours. Try to keep up.” God bless those whacky filmmakers for going for broke, even when they fail. It might be as messy as it is mesmerizing, but Jupiter Ascending is certainly something worth seeing. Your jaw will be agape from start to finish for all the right and wrong reasons. Confusion and scoffing might occur in some viewers, but at least there will be no boredom.