Kingsman: The Golden Circle, 2017

Directed by: Matthew Vaughn

Starring: Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Pedro Pascal

IMDb

Took me a while to get around to this one, but I finally got to see Kingsman: The Golden Circle. I actually have a bunch I want to discuss, which isn’t all necessary to the criticism of this individual film, so I’ll do my mini review first.

Kingsman 2 is not really a “good movie” per se; it lacks the identity and “classic” qualities of the first one. That said, if you’re the type of person who can enjoy pure ridiculous insanity, there is a lot to enjoy. I had a really great time. It tried really hard to be ridiculous and fun, and it certainly succeeded. I recommend it pretty highly, just don’t go in expecting a quality story.

So what I really want to talk about are the elements that make it “bad”. Certainly its hyper-cliche’d story doesn’t help, but that seems to be completely intentional. The film seems to have no real interest in being “good”, and a lot of interest in getting a laugh out of dialling up the insanity to eleven, which seems to be a pretty common strategy for the film’s production studio: Marv.

Marv is responsible for a pretty inconsistent quality of film. On one hand, they made Stardust which I really loved, and Eddie the Eagle, which I’ve heard is pretty great. On the other, the were involved in the garbage fire that was Fantastic Four (2015). None of these films really fit in with what I would consider Marv’s signature style, which flourishes in the studios most lucrative series: Kick-Ass and Kingsman. I loved both Kick-Ass and Kingsman; they simultaneously contributed in and parodied the Superhero and Spy genres respectively, and they did it really well, delivering satisfying, funny, and extremely memorable films. Both films thrive on over-the-top, high intensity action scenes with creative and interesting cinematography and production, and they’re both a lot of fun, though Kingsman is technically a better film.

Kick-Ass 2, however, kind of sucked. It suffered from a version of ‘sequelitis’ that far too many Hollywood films do, making constant callbacks, often entire scenes, to its predecessor. If one element of the first film was particularly popular/ well recieved, Chloe Grace-Moretz’s profanely violent Hit-Girl in this case, it will be back in force, becoming the most major element of the sequel, where Hit-Girl effectively becomes the main character. This trend rarely ends well, as it usually misses the point of what made it good in the first film, and forces it to be something it’s not. Hit-Girl had a very simple story Arc, and a very simple character in Kick-Ass. Making her the main character of Kick-Ass 2, forced complexity on her, which unfortunately, as the film was a bit phoned in, resulted in her being pretty boring. Most of the film was like that. It tried its best to keep interest by being ridiculously over-the-top, but the cost of any interesting story developments was too steep. They tried to do “the same thing as last time, but bigger” and it backfired bigtime.

Kingsman 2 does the same thing, but is far more self aware. The film pretty explicitly states its thoughts on the crap-ness of its story, openly admitting that it doesn’t care, and just wants to provide pure bullshit insanity. There is more than one scene in this movie involving people being shoved into a meat grinder, both times without even a drop of blood appearing on screen. So if we’re not meant to take it seriously, can we criticise it for bullshit story? I probably wouldn’t, if it were a little more original, and didn’t make so many damn callbacks to the first scene. The “manners maketh man” bar scene is recreated, every major action scene evokes the “church” scene. The Swedish princess gag-character from the last movie is a supporting character now. Not to mention that her only memorable line from the first one is called back to two times. This movie has very very little identity of its own, and I doubt I’ll watch it again, I’ll invariably turn to its predecessor over it. It is, however, way better than Kick-Ass 2, and I think it’s its self awareness that led to this.

It did have some highlights though. Its opening fight scene in the cab was fantastic, and left me with a big smile on my face; the same applies to the film’s climax. The villain was fun, but not very memorable – bar the meat grinder. I had a lot of fun with the US government, despite the paper-thin plotholes in the president’s plan. I also liked the music, I thought the original soundtrack had a very ‘Avengers’ feel, which I thought fit pretty well.

Action movies have the capacity to be “good” and fun at the same time. ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ doesn’t even try to do this, and it somewhat suffers from this. There is a lot to enjoy, but turning your brain off is a must. I personally recommend it, but it’s not a must for seeing in cinemas.

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IT, 2017

Directed by: Andy Muschietti

Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis

IMDb

I saw IT, a horror movie outside of October, at an 8:45pm Monday night showing. The theatre was packed to the brim. So the question is: Why is IT so popular?

It really shouldn’t be. The 1990 version is pretty bad. Not only was it bad, but it was long, boring and had a disappointing payoff. Its only real saving grace was Tim Curry as Pennywise, who appears to be having an absolute riot at any given moment, as to be expected of Tim Curry. My answer really must come down to the iconography and meme-ification of Pennywise, the continuing prevalence of the fear of clowns, misplaced nostalgia and some pretty great marketing. Regardless of WHY it’s so damn popular, my recommendation is to take advantage of the popularity and see it in a big audience. The audience will scream, laugh and overall have a great time. IT is a literal crowdpleaser.

IT, however, is not without flaws. The biggest of which is its story. Excluding the prologue, the plot only really starts after a full hour, with that first hour being used for world-building and establishing the (rather large) list of main characters. And even then, some of the characters feel really underdeveloped, to the point where their inclusion more seems to be out of fear of backlash at their removal than an actual desire to utilise the character. Once the plot gets going, it still doesn’t deliver anything stellar. I liked the themes of grief and abuse specifically, but I don’t think anything else was really worth even bringing up.

Somehow, though, the film still remains highly entertaining all the way through. Performances were mostly great. All of the kids (especially Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard (Mike from Stranger Things) and Sophia Lillis) were very well played, except for the Stanley character, who stuck out like a sore thumb to me. This film made the excellent decision to cut the entire adult plot from the original and just focus on the kids, who were much more interesting and fun to spend time with. It was especially cathartic to see kids with realistic conversational language. The simple fact that I can’t recall another movie where I heard a kid make a ‘your mum’ joke made it funny. And this is a funny, funny movie. I also appreciated the 80’s aesthetic, this particular story would only be more dated by trying to modernise it. Plus it’s 2017, it’s only natural for me, being born in 1996, to be nostalgic for 1987 right?

Bill Skarsgard did a fantastic job as Pennywise. I personally prefer Tim Curry’s “I don’t give a shit” attitude, but this new Pennywise has just enough new to keep it fresh and just enough kept to keep it being the same character. Good adaptation. One nitpick I have is that they use this weird shaking effect whenever he’s running at someone (you can see it in the trailers) which I found really obnoxious, and I wish there was less of it.

Ultimately, IT was a good time and I recommend IT. I guarantee that IT will be a good time if you see it in a large group or in a big crowd. IT was a surprisingly good movie.

Marvel’s The Defenders S1 Review.

Creators: Douglas Petrie, Marco Ramirez

Starring: Charlie Cox, Kristen Ritter, Mike Colter, Finn Jones

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4230076/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Ok, so I just finished watching The Defenders. Strap in kids, this is gonna be a long one.
Normally I’m writing about 2.5 hours of cinema, but here it’s around 60 hours of television.

To those that don’t know, The Defenders is a follow up to four Netflix shows set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe where characters come together. I want to start this by outlining my thoughts on those shows. For some of these, it’s been a while, so these will mostly be general thoughts.

Daredevil Season 1 surprised the hell out of me. Fantastic action scenes, surprisingly good characters and dialogue and an amazing villain in Wilson Fisk – a truly interesting character in his own right. It went on a little too long (all of these shows do) but otherwise its story was really well contained. Great Start.
The second season, I felt was a little weaker, and this absolutely had to do with the villains, replacing the singular kingpin with an entire shadowy organisation of ninjas. That said, the writing was still on point, giving a real depth to the whole masked vigilante thing that movies simply can’t because it’s not in the runtime. The addition of Jon Bernthal as the Punisher was the real redemption of this series. He was awesome. The dialogue scenes between him and Daredevil were great.

Jessica Jones among my favourite TV shows full stop. David Tennant plays Killgrave, one of the most intriguing and entertaining villains I have ever seen in any medium. He’s creepy, he’s legitimately threatening and he’s a lot of fun to watch. The entire story arc of the season was centred so tightly around his character and the titular Jessica Jones (who is also played fantastically by Kristen Ritter) that I don’t really see how they can follow it. The show drags a bit when it switches its focus away from the core storyline, but the highs reach much higher than the lows ever sink.

Luke Cage the show was ok. Luke Cage the character is fantastic. All of these shows are super dark so it’s a breath of fresh air to see a guy who doesn’t walk around with a total chip on his shoulder. He comes off as the kind of guy you’d want to grab a beer with and that does wonders for watchability. The villains are a mixed bag here. There are four, and they range from great to bad. Guess which one ends up being the main baddie of the season? The show has a phenomenal soundtrack which aids in the creation of one of the most distinct locations I’ve ever seen on screen. This show *loves* Harlem. I remember when it first came out it had a pre-release available only to those who lived in Harlem and during that period of time the IMDb rating was almost 10/10. The show reeeaallly takes a long time to get going though, and the writing isn’t as strong as the two before it.

Iron Fist, in my opinion, is the first actually bad Marvel Cinematic Universe property. The closest contender would probably be some of the earlier seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but at least they had their moments and kept a generally fun vibe. First off, Danny Rand is straight up an unlikeable character and Finn Jones isn’t a very good actor nor martial artist. Huge issue for a character centric martial arts show. Additionally, the fight choreography isn’t very good either, and end up seeming to intentionally hide how crap it is by not letting us properly see it with shaky-cam. The show is also directionless, never sticking to a strict goal for the character, making the show really quite boring, and feeling like it’ll never go anywhere, which it doesn’t. Not helping is that the antagonists are the same shadowy organisation, ‘The Hand’ from Daredevil S2, who are even more boring here. The only thing that kept the show afloat at all, if you ask me, was David Wenham’s performance, which was so over the top that the show became enjoyable for his moments of screentime.

Ok, Now: The Defenders. It was good. Thank god. That wasn’t really ever going to be a certainty though, as nothing like this has ever been attempted. The writing and directing staff was essentially a ‘Dream Team’ of the better episodes of each series before it, which could have led to clashing, but it worked out fine. The obvious comparison is with ‘The Avengers’ but unfortunately it doesn’t give the same sort of climactic feel to this series of shows as Avengers does for its series of films.

I winced when it was first teased that the antagonistic force of the show would be my dreaded ‘The Hand’ from Daredevil S2 and Iron Fist, and yet at the same time wasn’t surprised at all. It only made sense, as all team up stories apparently require an army to fight. Fortunately though, they actually kind of pulled it off. Sigourney Weaver appears for the first time as the mysterious leader of ‘The Hand’, Alexandra, and while not as iconic as Killgrave or Kingpin, she is certainly very interesting and Sigourney does an excellent job portraying her. Most importantly though, she gives the whole ‘Shadowy Organisation’ thing some actual personality and character. Also, unlike in the previous two shows, we get actual insight as to what The Hand’s goals are, the people who run them, their motivations, a little of their backstories. You know, stuff that interesting characters have. Good performances are given by all of the other antagonists as well.

Much like this review, the show took quite a while to get the ball rolling. Despite there only being 8 episodes, none of the four core characters actually met one another until the very end of the second episode, the first acting as more of a reintroduction to all the characters we might have forgotten about since we last saw them. This may be the shortest of all of these shows, but it doesn’t speed up its pacing at all. It’s still quite slow, just less overall happens. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the show has a pretty clear sense of direction to it. It doesn’t really have proper subplots, it just starts in four places which slowly stream into one story. One word of warning though, the show relies relatively heavily on you having watched the previous shows. I recommend brushing up on Daredevil S2 and consulting wikipedia on the ‘plot’ of Iron Fist.

The show is at its best when it’s letting the four leads bounce off one another. Put simply, these are enjoyable characters to watch (for the most part) and Charlie Cox, Kristen Ritter and Mike Colter all bring their A material to the table. Finn Jones, however, is still unlikeable as Danny Rand, though not in the same way as before. It seems as though the show runners have decided to figuratively steer into the skid and made the Danny Rand character intentionally unlikeable, stupid and annoying. Pretty much everyone hates him and that brought a smile to my face on more than one occasion. He also sort of becomes a bit less insufferable by the end of the season.

My biggest criticism of the show would have to be with the side characters. The supporting cast of all the other shows are all also here, essentially trapped together and we incessantly cut back to them. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if these characters actually did anything. Towards the very end of the season a couple of them do actual things, but for the most part it’s just talking about stuff related to the plot, that has 0 bearing on the progression of the story itself, meanwhile not progressing even slightly as characters. It just takes up time and it’s kind of boring. These are good characters played by good actors. Either let them do something or don’t have them at all.

Beside the characters, the filmmaking was actually pretty admirable. Soundtrack, cinematography and editing were all solid, with a few moments that really shone. I also noticed a few allusions to classic films which I appreciated.

There really is just simplistic joy to seeing a team of characters that you like getting up there and kicking ass together though. Even though these shows have proven that they’re more than just that, we can’t deny that it’s the reason that The Defenders was ever even made. Thankfully, it’s done well. Makes the whole experience worth it. Overall this is a fun show, the humour is actually pretty great. Additionally, it doesn’t pull its punches. It gets intense, it has big reveals and it delights. It isn’t really *about* anything in the same way that the better of its predecessors were, but it’s still a solid show.

I have a relatively major criticism about the way the show ends, but for the sake of not spoiling it, I’ll talk about it another time. It doesn’t really impact on my overall thoughts of the show, however, which I thought was a good one. Not amazing, but not really disappointing either.

Spider-Man: Homecoming, 2017

Directed by: Jon Watts

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr.

IMDb

Spider-Man was a really big deal to me growing up, and to this day there’s still a simplistic glee to seeing a new Spider-Man movie on the big screen (even with Rise of Electro). So, I’ve been excited by the prospect of a new Spider-Man set in the Marvel Universe for years, even more so with the new direction that they’re giving the franchise. I mention all this to explain that emotions are high for me on this one, and I’m struggling to totally think about it objectively.

I really liked Spider-Man: Homecoming. It’s a load of fun. I love Tom Holland’s version, giving us something completely different from any other Spider-Man, even any other on-screen superhero. What got me excited about Homecoming from the start is that this version of Spider-Man is a teenager through and through. Despite Holland being 20 years old, he, and all of his co-stars look and act like teenagers. Sure, the previous incarnations’ first films took place in school, it was laughably unbelievable, and they ditched the school setting as soon as possible. Homecoming goes all the way with it, incorporating the themes of the film to the kind of struggles a teenager would go through while trying to be a superhero at the same time as his normal teenage life.

Something the film perfectly portrays is what it would be like if a kid got superpowers. The excitement, the fun, the inexperience and the consequences of that inexperience. It’s as a result of this that the character is really nothing like the previous two iterations, who’s conflicts are much more based around heavy heroic responsibility and dark broody revenge respectively. This new one is about Peter Parker discovering the role he fits in this larger universe. I feel this direction is more appropriate, given the context of its modern audience, and the character’s place in a world that is already full of superheroes. Spider-Man is less of a big deal in this universe than the previous, but he’ll get there.

Speaking of, this film relies heavily on its universe in its narrative, which I see as both a good and a bad thing. It heavily benefits me, being the super-nerd that I am about this franchise, having direct ties and assumed knowledge of The Avengers and Civil War, but less avid fans who just like Spider-Man might find themselves a bit lost in the first act. It doesn’t quite stand on its own in the ways that the other sideline Marvel movies do (Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Guardians). Additionally, I feel a little conflicted by the role Tony Stark/Iron Man has in this movie as a pseudo-father-figure. He’s definitely more of a plot device than he is a character, and without giving anything away, the way he influences Spider-Man’s costume I found a little troubling, as it almost has the character drift a little too far from his fundamentals. It doesn’t cripple the film or anything, and does sort of come full circle by the end, tying in with the themes nicely, but it still feels a little lost in amongst the bucketloads this movie has to go through.

Comparing to the other Spider-Man films, here are my thoughts. It’s better than both of the Amazing Spider-Man films. It’s better written, has better characters (villains in particular) and has more satisfying themes. While Homecoming is familiarly cluttered, it’s definitely better than Spider-Man 3. I don’t know exactly how to compare it to the original 2002 film, I think both have their strengths and shortcomings, the main thing letting the original pull through is how iconic and timeless (mostly) it feels; Homecoming focusses so heavily on its contemporary context that I feel it won’t age as well. Spider-Man 2 (2004), however, certainly remains the superior film, being the full package of endearing characters and themes, as well as excellent filmmaking.

I actually really liked Michael Keaton as the Vulture. While I was less of a fan of his goofy entourage, his motivation was pretty relatable and I liked how organically his animosity towards Spider-Man grew. The philosophy that he followed also had an interesting mirroring of Spider-Man’s. Also, without spoiling anything, a certain revelation about his character around the start of the third act led to my absolute favourite part of the movie.
Also, the irony of the whole Birdman thing isn’t lost on me. I love it.

Some minor complaints include some sloppy editing at the start of the film, especially in the High School scenes, some unconvincing CGI of the Costume, some of the humour doesn’t really land, and the entourage around the main villain is kind of lame. A bigger issue is the pacing; while it never gets all that slow, it ruins its own momentum by having three or four scenes that are so large in scale that they each could act as the climax, but don’t. It doesn’t have subplots that go nowhere like the Andrew Garfield movies did, but it does feel bloated.

Spider-Man: Homecoming does deliver on a fun Spider-Man story, featuring a vastly different character than what we’ve seen before though, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it quite a bit. Don’t go in expecting a masterpiece, as much as I wish I could say you should, but rest easy in knowing it ain’t bad.

Baby Driver, 2017

Directed by: Edgar Wright

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx

IMDb

Edgar Wright is one of the best comedic Writer/Directors working today, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint with his latest film, Baby Driver.

It’s the kind of movie probably best seen with as little knowledge about it as possible, so my very short review is to go see Baby Driver. It’s funny, fast paced and extremely well composed. It also has one of the best incorporations of soundtrack into film that I’ve ever seen.

For those who don’t care about not knowing, I’ll get into a little more detail.

My biggest criticism of Baby Driver is that it’s tonally inconsistent. The three acts are very distinct from one another, and can pretty much be judged individually. I adored the first act, I liked the second, and I really liked the third. I really want to emphasise that at no point did I stop liking it, but I feel like the differences, especially between the first two acts were quite jarring.

The first act is hilarious. It’s packed with everything I love about Wright’s style and is honestly a masterpiece of film composition. I laughed really hard. The stunt work, as well, was pretty damn fantastic.
The second act really slows down into more of a crime/action/drama. While it’s still filled with a lot of excellent film making, it’s undeniable that it’s less fun and therefore less enjoyable than its predecessor. What it lacks in comedy, it makes up for in tension, which to be fair don’t really go hand in hand, but it was just less satisfying. That said, its only real issue was that it followed the first act.
The third act breaks the tension from the second spectacularly, providing one hell of an action packed climax. The stunt driving, action and music use here are particularly excellent, and the ending is pretty satisfying.

If the film stuck to the style shown in the first act, I think it would have ended up my favourite Edgar Wright film. As it stands, it’s probably my number 3, behind Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim. It’s miles better, however, than The World’s End (and Ant-Man).

I’ve mentioned it a couple of times, but the soundtrack use was really excellent, appropriate given the importance of music to the protagonist. I’ve seen plenty of films do similar things, but Baby Driver runs with it and takes it to the nth degree. It’s awesome.

Along with the music, the cinematography and shot composition is also great, distinguishing itself from Wright’s previous films with its use of long takes, but pulls them off excellently, and never excessively. There is still plenty of the dynamic editing I’ve come to love from the director.

All the performances were good, Kevin Spacey was a little typecast I think, but worked effectively anyway. I especially enjoyed the chemistry between Ansel Elgort and Lily James.

Baby Driver is absolutely worth your time. Go see it as soon as it comes out next Thursday.

John Wick: Chapter 2, 2017

Director: Chad Stahelski

Starring: Keanu Reaves

IMDb

John Wick: Chapter 2 has an interesting title. On one hand, it’s very apt, as it implies a close link to the first film, which is absolutely true. The plot relies heavily on the set up provided by the first movie (not a bad thing at all by the way). On the other, it implies that the story of the first film was incomplete without this follow up. At this point I disagree.

John Wick is one of the tightest, most focussed action films I’ve ever seen. It excelled by getting you on board with the protagonist from the word ‘go’ by giving him a very sympathetic setup and just letting him loose on an extremely satisfying revenge plot. It also delivered on a very interesting world with very interesting characters that you naturally want to know more about. Despite this, John Wick ends in a satisfying enough spot. They could have ended it there.

They didn’t however, and now we have John Wick: Chapter 2. And thank god for that.

Chapter 2 ditches the tight, simple story for a much larger, more intricate one, allowing for some much larger action set pieces, raising the stakes and fleshing out the ever-interesting world a lot more. Depending on your point of view, this can be either a good or bad thing. For my money, I prefer the first movie, mostly for its more driven story and slightly better action (in my opinion), but I can see why someone might prefer the sequel. They’re both pretty great.

I do have major criticism for Chapter 2. The thing that strikes me about the first film is the deep set respect that everyone has for John, an element all too rare in a sea of action films that set their heroes as rebels to the system. John Wick works entirely within his system, he just happens to be the best, and everyone knows it, especially his enemies. The main antagonist of Chapter 2, however, does not. This could create an interesting dynamic to differentiate the two films, but in reality it makes you just want him to die a lot more. Not in the good way either, he’s just a lot less entertaining than the excellent Michael Nyqvist from the first film.

I really liked the rivalry dynamic with Common’s character. It was totally overdone, but it was a lot of fun. I honestly feel a little bad for criticising the film at all, as it was just a lot of fun. Lightning kind of struck twice with this franchise.

Final verdict: John Wick: Chapter 2 is a lot of fun. I personally prefer the first, but there’s still plenty to enjoy here. Biggest criticism: the Australian release date.