Kingsman: The Golden Circle- Movie Review

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I’m apparently in the minority, but I wasn’t a fan of 2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service. As much as the film tried to convince us that it was self-aware, I found it to be a rather paint by numbers spy flick with little originality or substance, kept adrift only by some charismatic performances and memorable action scenes. It’s with this same feeling that I’m so happy to say that it’s sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, is a complete blast, filled with a kickass soundtrack, fun performances, and a surprising amount of heart.

After an attack on the Kingsman headquarters, Eggsy (Taron Edgerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) are forced to unite with the American Statesman in an attempt to stop the evil drug kingpin Poppy (Julianne Moore). Edgerton, Strong, and the revived Colin Firth continue the entertaining charisma that made the characters pop initially, and while The Golden Circle is definitely more ridiculous as its predecessor, the characters seem to have stronger personal dilemmas, and the film has much more heart, culminating in a particularly powerful moment for Strong’s character.

The Statesman are somewhat underused, but for as advertising as Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, and Halle Berry received from the marketing campaign, Pedro Pascal is the standout of the crew, providing a great relationship with Edgerton and some of the film’s best stunts. The characters and action were the two things the first film managed to nail, and The Golden Circle brings both to life, with an eclectic cast of characters and action stunt so ridiculous and goofy that they’re utterly delightful.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is perhaps about fifteen minutes too long, and features a few subplots that go nowhere (a particularly unnecessary amount of time is spent with Eggsy and his girlfriend), but where The Secret Service was a smug, generic film no more ridiculous or self aware than the Roger Moore Bond films it was parodying, The Golden Circle embraces the crazy, yet keeps the class. With a soundtrack including Prince, John Denver, and Elton John, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is one of the most delightfully weird and thoroughly enjoyable experience. Grade: B

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Mother!- Movie Review

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Mother! is an audacious, challenging, and ultimately frustrating work of art. Director Darren Aronofsky creates a brilliant allegory for the tenants of Christianity told through the tale of a writer (Javier Bardem) and his young wife (Jennifer Lawrence) who are visited by two mysterious strangers (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer). The tale Aronofsky tells, and his style of filmmaking, fits a very unique and brilliantly crafted metaphor, although not a particularly involving narrative.

Mother! ultimately feels like bubbling anger told over the course of two hours, and while the film’s allegorical story forms a full circle by the end of the film, it ultimately feels like Aronofsky’s college thesis imposed upon the audience. Yes, the film does a brilliant job at building tension and suspense, but unlike a filmmakers such as David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick, Aronofsky does not equally involve his narrative and his message. Yet, it’s an interesting film, and while I can’t pretend that I enjoyed the film as much as I did discussing it, and Mother! is certainly here to provoke debate. Grade: B

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

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When First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers opens to the Rolling Stones classic “Sympathy for the Devil”, it’s easy to harbor the fear that the film will be a glossed over from a tepid American perspective. Nothing could be further from the truth. Angelina Jolie’s finest directorial debut to date is a stirring and brutal depiction of the Cambodian massacre, told beautifully from the perspective of a 5 year-old-girl.

While the film isn’t neccessarily as all encompassing as a film like 12 Years a Slave or Schindler’s List, it’s completely emotionally overwhelming, and a stunningly accurate portrayal of a somewhat unknown historical tragedy. Jolie has patience with the film, letting each moment of tragedy play out without overdramatizing the events. It’s an effective historical document, and through the specific story of one girl’s journey, it’s an impactful narrative. Grade: B

It- Movie Review

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It isn’t just one of the best Stephen King adaptations of all-time, but the perfect combination of horror, adventure, mystery, and coming of age elements to create a vibrant and exciting film. The film combines a great relatable sense from moment one, introducing it’s eclectic gaggle of heroes in the summer of 1989, dealing with the issues of growing up, before dealing with the threat of Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard), a psychopathic killer responsible for the disappearance of the town’s children.

The film is obviously designed to scare, but by seeing what scares the film’s characters, director Andy Muschietti does a great job at shaping each individual personality. It also helps that the young actors are so brilliant; the R-Rating allows the film to explore a realistic depiction of adolescence, and for young performers the cast are likable and expressive, with Jaeden Lieberher’s role as Billy being a standout. There’s definitely a resemblance to ’80s adventure films, with E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and The Goonies being primary influences, but the film certainly doesn’t shy away from gruesome violence or scary visuals.

Skarsguard is terrifying as Pennywise, playing the character to the best degree of insanity without being overtly comical, and for a nearly two and a half hour film, the film nicely balances each character’s storyline to be continuously engrossing. The film’s dialogue is smart and witty, and throughout all the expertly crafted scares, room is left for some genuinely hilarious humor and moving emotional moments, with Lieberher’s closing monologue in particularly being a standout. It is a triumph, a great film about kids made for adults, and one of the truly great horror films of our time. Grade: A-

Death Note- Movie Review

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RedLetterMedia’s Jay Bauman recently tweeted that Death Note is “definitely at its best when cool music was playing and nobody was talking”, and I’m inclined to agree. Death Note has an interesting premise, and perhaps the worst first twenty minutes to a movie I ended up liking. It’s hard to fully recommend the film as a “good film”, but all things considered, the film plays an interesting game with its characters and delivers an enjoyable, and occasionally unintentionally hilarious, fantasy flick.

Light Turner (Nat Wolff) is a teenage loser, struggling with a difficult relationship with his police captain father (Shea Whigham). Light has a strange encounter with the death god Ryuk (Willem Dafoe), who reveals to him the Death Note, a book that gives him the power to kill anyone in the world, prompting Light to serve out his own form of vigilante justice. Wolff isn’t neccessarily miscast here, but the character isn’t particularly well-written, and for all the film’s failures, the relationship between Light and his girlfriend (Margaret Qualley) is the most glaring.

While the two leads are mostly bland, the film benefits from it’s abundance of strong character actors. Dafoe is gloriously hammy as Ryuk, and Whigham brings a great gravitas to the role of Light’s father, but the film’s standout is Lakeith Stanfield as L, a mysterious detective tracking the Death Note. Cast aside, director Adam Winguard is the film’s real star; Winguard’s fusion of creepy atmosphere, striking visuals, and an overabundance of ’80s soft rock are what make the film standout.

At the end of Death Note, Nat Wolff falls off of a ferris wheel in slow motion while “I Don’t Want to Live without Your Love” plays in the background. That alone should condone a recommendation of this film; I’m not sure if this is a “so bad it’s good” or simply a technically competent film with two boring leads, but I’m inclined to recommend Death Note, for better or worse. Grade: B-

The Hitman’s Bodyguard- Movie Review

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The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a great end to the end of the summer; yes, the film is completely ridiculous and follows many cliches, but the film has a great sense of humor, and a relentless amount of action. There’s not much that’s particularly original about the film, but the excellent chemistry between Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson carries the film, and only adds to the overall ridiculous nature of the film. It’s a two hours of pure enjoyment, and doesn’t pretend to be anything else.

Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is one of the world’s most renowned bodyguards, and following a personal failure, Bryce is left to create his own private business. When a dangerous hitman (Samuel L. Jackson) is under attack for testifying against a brutal dictator (Gary Oldman), Bryce reluctantly returns to his previous profession to protect a man who’s his complete opposite. Oldman is fun as a campy, over the top villain that feels plucked out of a ’90s action flick, and the film features a strong supporting performance from Elodie Yung as Bryce’s love interest.

Ultimately, the film’s strength is Reynolds and Jackson; while they may be just playing their offscreen persona, the two have such a great onscreen repertoire that each scene they feature in is essentially entertaining. While some of the humor misses, the banter between the two is fantastic, and the action sequences combine the perfect mix of cam and comedy. It’s not breaking any new ground in the world of action flicks, but its a fun ride, and a worthy showcase for its two leads. Grade: B

What Happened to Monday- Movie Review

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What Happened to Monday should be so much more entertaining than it actually is; the film has a great concept, and a charismatic performance in Noomi Rapace, but there seems to be no energy to the action, no excitement regarding the story, and no genuine emotion to guide the film’s dramatic moments. The sci-fi thriller has a high concept, but uses nearly every lazy exposition trick to convey the story to the audience, and the over emphasis on the plot (which lacks any reasonable logic) strays from what could’ve been a genuinely fun sci-fi flick.

In the future, overpopulation threatens the future of Earth, and families are restricted to having one child. After the death of his daughter, a scientist (Willem Dafoe) breaks the rule, and raises his daughter’s seven identical daughters (all played by Noomi Rapace), raising them in secret, and shielding them from the government forces that threaten their lives. Rapace gives a terrific performance, and while the script doesn’t offer any real distinctions between the characters, Rapace does her best effort to make each character unique.

Unfortunately, the film’s plot gets so contrived, and the themes behind the concept become preachy, that the film rarely seems to build a unique world, or develop the characters and their bond. While Rapace gives the material her all, the film is a constant bore, failing to live up to the admittedly cool concept, or really any expectations for that matter. Grade: C-

Logan Lucky- Movie Review

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Logan Lucky is one of the best movies of the year, a dynamic and often hilarious heist filmmaker that never loses touch with its blue collar roots. The film has its dramatic highlights, but the film is all about character, and as per usual, Steven Soderbergh assembles an amazing ensemble of actors, all of whom add unique and interesting voices to the film. It’s briskly paced, with some clever gags and fun callbacks, serving as a hilarious cultural meditation disguised as a star studded studio movie.

Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is recently fired from his construction job, and in an effort to forge a better life for his estranged daughter, recruits his brother (Adam Driver), sister (Riley Keough), and an eccentric criminal (Daniel Craig) to pull off the ultimate heist: robbing the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Tatum does some of his best work here; he’s believable as a father and honest man, and the sibling dynamic he creates with Driver and Keough is brilliant. However, the film’s standout is easily Daniel Craig, who’s hilarious and brave performance as the veteran thief Joe Bang is worthy of an Oscar nomination.

Logan Lucky is full of personality, and between it’s hilarious gags, witty anecdotes, and great one liners, the film still has time to find heart, specifically in the relationship between Logan and his daughter. It’s a smart heist film, a great vehicle for an acclectic group of stars, and overall just one of the most fun experiences anyone will have at the movies this year. Grade: A-

Wind River- Movie Review

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Wind River is a strong directorial debut from acclaimed screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, a dark and very disturbing thriller. Sheridan not only uses minamalism to heighten tension, but the slow burn pace and whodunit set up allow him to focus on the characters, as well as the social themes the movie addresses. It’s not always an easy film to watch, but it’s an impressive effort, and a moving contemplation about grief and loss.

Set in the isolated Indian Reserve in Wyoming, a young FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) is tasked with finding the killer of a brutalized teenage girl, and enlists the help of local tracker (Jeremy Renner) to hunt down the killer. Renner gives the best dramatic performance of his career here; he’s downright heartbreaking as a father overcome by loss, and his determination to solve the crime is leveled by an incredible amount of subtlety and strength. Olsen is good here, but she seems miscast, as perhaps an older actress may have been better suited to portray the FBI agent.

The film concludes on a thematically somber note, and while it could’ve been much more preachy, the films message never gets in the way of its story. It’s a grim tale, and despite a few loose ends, it’s a worthwhile film that allows its audience to interact with it emotionally. Grade: A-

Brigsby Bear- Movie Review

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Brigsby Bear is so wildly weird, so wonderfully eccentric, that it’s no wonder it works so well; a film that’s this “out there” has to be made with an incredible passion and dedication. It’s a quintessential story about creativity, inspiration, and collaboration, and the not only is the film completely committed to it’s bizarre story, but surprisingly sincere in its emotional core. Creators Dave McCary and Kyle Mooney have crafted a beautiful story of self discovery that speaks to the creative soul in all of us, and if that wasn’t enough, the film is relentlessly funny.

James (Kyle Mooney) has been raised his entire life in a small bunker by his adoptive parents (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams), who’ve kept him separate from the outside world, with James’s only escape being the weekly television show “Brigsby Bear”, a show produced only for him. When James escapes his old life, his brought to meet his original family, and must begin to assimilate into the larger world he’s never experienced, while finishing the journey that he’s grown up watching.

Brigsby Bear is sharp in the rules of its world, using the story’s uniqueness to craft clever humor, but never does the film stray from James and his coming of age story. Kyle Mooney delivers a breakout performance as the awkward, excitable lead, and is accompanied by an eclectic supporting cast, with Greg Kinnear in particular being a standout. This is a film that grasps its audiences heart with its instantly lovable characters, providing an age old story of the power of storytelling. Grade: A