Suspended Animation (Asking Alexandria, Asking Alexandria review)

It’s evolution baby.

And if you think an old dog can’t perform new tricks, you haven’t seen what a day at home alone and the treat of steak will do as a motivating factor.

If you’re still confused what that means for this weeks Watch Culture review, maybe just ask?

 

 

Asking Alexandria – Asking Alexandria

released December 15, 2017
******* 7/10

Asking Alexandria are an English rock band, comprised of lead vocalist Danny Worsnop (returning after a short one album deparature), guitarists Ben Bruce and Cameron Liddell, drummer James Cassells and bassist Sam Bettley.

Initially formed in 2006 by Ben Bruce, the band evolved into a six piece in 2008 and then adjusted their lineup one more time before their debut album in 2009 – Stand Up and Scream. Asking Alexandria released two more full length albums Reckless & Relentless (2011) and From Death to Destiny (2013), before the departure of Worsnop in January 2015. At that time Denis Stoff and the rest of the band released The Black in 2016. But Stoff didn’t last very long and left the band within the year, with Worsnop returning to lead live performances before his official return. And so we arrive at the fifth album and what a doozy it is. It’s self-titled and a very hard turn away from previous efforts, but it feels oh so fresh.

For starters, the self-titled album is much less metalcore and much more melodic hard rock in sound. When you listen to track no. 2 Into the Fire, you’ll immediately notice how they’ve dialed back on the guitars, and tried to fill that void with more electronics. Yes I ignored the track opener, which I’ll get back to in a second, because Into the Fire is the first single, and a signal that these guys have converted to full on arena rock.

Alone in a Room is a hallmark of high end production, multi layered sonics, and thoughtful lyrics, a typical hype machine to get you started with the tone of the rest of the record. Under Denver follows similar notes at the midpoint, and is a welcome pick me up.

The third and fourth songs are a bit of a wash (Hopelessly Hopeful, Where Did It Go?), with Where Did It Go? being particularly self-congratulatory… but when we get past the ego stroking, the next rack, Rise Up, is a sobering moment and way more naturally motivating to listen to.

 

For all of the effort to move away from their original successes, Worsnop and the rest of Asking Alexandria do make a point to nod to their past. When The Lights Come On features a lyrics form Stand Up, and Room 138‘s chorus is the same melody as the bridge from another song on that first record. On top of that, Room 138 is an excellent unofficial closer with lots of emotions packed into 3 minutes and 44 seconds.

 

Pros: Later tracks seem to fit the bill and redeem this tonal shift. Vultures, When the Lights Come On and Room 138 are all very enjoyable to listen to, and Under Denver will also grow on you if you give it some time.

Cons: Eve should have been a demonstration that Asking Alexandria still ‘had it,’ but the vocal work and backing instrumentals don’t stand up (pun not intended) and comes across weakly. Ironic given that it was the first song recorded. And I love combining rap and rock as much as the next guy, but Empire is hokey at best and offensive at worst.

Runtime: 47 minutes

Points of Interest: This is their first album working with producer Matt Good, a staple in the post-hardcore community. And Taylor Larson mixed the record, which is excellent, because because he played with Good in the band From First to Last for a couple of years.

It’s obvious that these guys enjoy making music together, and their creativity is alive and well, even if not all of the new songs gel well together. This is not the renewal of a sound we’ve heard before, and that’s going to upset some purists. But I really enjoyed the anthemic tone set and the risks they’ve taken to make this record, even if it doesn’t all work together perfectly.

theories Summarized

A great album to celebrate the return of Worsnop and an opportunity for them to explore a direction to take in this next chapter, deciding to self-title the album was a symbolic move and I appreciate the thought. I have a theory that this isn’t the last we’ve heard from Asking Alexandria. But I won’t tell.

Tim!

One Flight Stand (American Made review)

Criminal activity always seems oh so sexy, doesn’t it dear readers? But I swear it isn’t until the bitter end of the barrel that the people who live this way become regretful of their actions. A tale as old as time, but an entertaining one nonetheless.

 

American Made (2017)

Cast: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Caleb Landry Jones, Alejandro Edda, Mauricio Mejia, Fredy Yate Escobar
Director: Doug Liman
released on blu-ray January 2, 2018
******** 8/10

IMDB: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%, Audience Score 79%
The Guardian: ***/*****

Doug Liman is an American director and producer. He’s made Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Jumper, and The Wall, but he is best known for Swingers, Go, The Bourne Identity, Fair Game, and Edge of Tomorrow – because those last five movies are good and the others are just eh. Friends with Jon Favreau, he made Swingers for $250,000 and it made $4.4 million, launching the careers of its actors and Liman.

He also shot that commercial for Nike of Tiger Woods bouncing a ball on his club repeatedly before driving it. Just so you know that he is capable of both brilliance and drivel, he also made the garbage fire starring Hayden Christensen, known simply as Jumper.

Thankfully American Made is an excellent film.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

In the late 1970s, Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), a pilot for commercial airline TWA, is contacted by CIA case officer, calling himself Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson). He asks Seal to fly clandestine reconnaissance missions for the CIA over Central America using a small plane with cameras installed.

Later in the 1970s, Schafer asks Seal to start acting as a courier between the CIA and General Noriega (Alberto Ospino) in Panama. During a mission, the Medellín Cartel picks Seal up and asks him to fly cocaine on his return flights to the United States. Seal accepts and starts flying the cartel’s cocaine to Louisiana. The CIA turns a blind eye to the drug smuggling, but the DEA tracks Seal down. To avoid the authorities, Schafer moves Seal and his family to a remote town in Arkansas called Mena.

Later, Schafer asks Seal to run guns to the Nicaraguan Contras based in Honduras, Central America. Seal soon realizes that the Contras are not serious about the war and starts trading the guns to the cartel. The CIA set up a Contra training base in Mena and Seal flies the Contras in, but many of them escape as soon as they arrive.

Seal’s freeloading brother-in-law JB (Caleb Landry Jones) moves in, needing a job. Eventually, he starts stealing money from the Seals and is caught by Sheriff Downing (Jesse Plemons) with a briefcase full of laundered cash and is arrested. Seal gives him money and a plane ticket to Bora Bora so he can leave. JB demands weekly cash and insults Lucy. Barry tries to chase him but JB’s car explodes; it is implied Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda) had JB’s car rigged with explosives, killing him so that he would not snitch.

Eventually, the CIA shuts the program down and abandons Seal, who is arrested by the FBI, DEA, ATF and Arkansas State Police simultaneously. Seal escapes prosecution by making a deal with the White House, which wants evidence the Sandinistas are drug traffickers. They ask Seal to get photos that tie the Medellín Cartel to the Nicaraguan Sandinistas. Seal manages to get the pictures, but the White House releases them as propaganda against the Sandinistas. Seal is prominently shown in the pictures, which leads to his arrest, and to the cartel plotting revenge.

Seal is convicted but given a light sentence, 1,000 hours community service for the Salvation Army. Moving from motel to motel fails as a way of remaining in hiding because the community service is performed at the same building every night. Assassins sent by Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia) and the cartel easily locate Seal and kill him; the CIA then destroys all documentation and other evidence to avoid being implicated in drug smuggling. But in spite of this Herculean effort at covering everything up the CIA still becomes embroiled in the infamous Iran–Contra affair.

This is not a film of historical accuracy, the real Barry Seal was an obese man, who got his start smuggling marijuana and eventually upgrading to cocaine with the Medellin Cartel. He was not kidnapped by the Cartel, and he didn’t meet them in person until many years later, and he definitely didn’t crash land in suburbia. But that doesn’t stop if from being incredibly entertaining and well crafted to emulate the life that Seal led.

Tom Cruise always oozes charm, but this film just might be one of his better performances in the past couple of years. Yes he does great things in the Mission Impossible franchise, but something about working Liman gets that right mix of crazy and fun (read: Edge of Tomorrow). It’s a movie about drugs, guns, and a soldier of fortune, and it all works with the handycam voiceovers Seal supplies.

Pros: It looks like it was filmed in the 1980s, and the cheeriness of the film helps offset the grim nature of it’s subject matter, and the eventual death of Seal. Bonus points for Domhnall Gleeson and Sarah Wright as supporting cast, they do everything to elevate Cruise and play off him perfectly.

Cons: The peril that Barry Seal faced running drugs and guns never truly seems real on the screen, you don’t believe he’s in danger, until he actually is. Pablo Escobar doesn’t seem that scary either, and we all know better.

Runtime: 1 hour 55 minutes

Points of Interest: The man Barry speaks to in the hallway is George W. Bush, son of Vice President George W. H. Bush.. The title originally began filming under the title Mena. No one actually takes any cocaine in the movie, unless you count Tom Cruise wearing it after the crash.

It’s playful but shallow, and that’s where the movie struggles to maintain a perfect level of escapism, but if you can ignore the historical inaccuracies, and many won’t even bother to look into it, then you’ll very likely enjoy yourself watching this flick. It’s a period piece that sets a good standard for what a late summer blockbuster should look like.

theories Summarized

In short, yes I think you should watch American Made. Tom Cruise still has lots of star power to offer when he gets handed the right roles, and Doug Liman does an excellent job recreating the world leading up to the Iran-Contra scandal.

And for even more fun… you should watch my solo Watch Culture video review of The LEGO Batman Movie! I’ve got lots of love for this movie from 2017… so much so that I did both a blog post and then came back for the video version. Check it out! And don’t forget to leave a comment, subscribe and share!

I’ll see you tomorrow with my first School Of Thoughts post (formerly known as Wisdom Wednesdays).

Tim!

I’m In Your Face (Brawl in Cell Block 99 review)

As a child of the eighties I had the great misfortune to have missed out on grindhouse cinema. Sitting in a theatre all day, watching raw  and wriggling film seems like an excellent way to spend your time, but alas I will never get to have that experience. If only there were movies out there that could recreate that grit…

 

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)

Cast: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson, Marc Blucas, Dion Mucciacito, Udo Kier
Director: S. Craig Zahler
released on blu-ray December 26, 2017
********** 10/10

IMDB: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, Audience Score 74%
The Guardian: ***/*****

Steven Craig Zahler, known sometimes as S. Craig Zahler and also as Czar when performing, is a director, screenwriter, cinematographer, novelist, and musician.  He has written novels in a number of genres, most notably within the western, crime and science fiction arenas, and his work as a drummer, lyricist, and singer for Realmbuilder has garnered success with metal enthusiasts. In short, Zahler is a man of many talents.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 is his second film, but his first film (Bone Tomahawk) received critical acclaim and a positive response from the general public. I think this can be attributed to his broad interests and his ability to fuse genres together in an appealing way.

But best of all, he has managed to take an actor like Vince Vaughn, play to his comedic strengths and infuse a fresh perspective to his talents which allow a grindhouse crime film to work in a satirical state of Trump presidency.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Bradley Thomas (Vince Vaughn), driving a tow truck with a car in tow, pulls into the auto garage lot he works at. Soon after he arrives, he is laid off. He gathers his personal items from a locker and departs the garage in his car. As he arrives home, he sees his wife, Lauren (Jennifer Carpenter), sitting in her car in front of their house, using her cellphone. He approaches her and demands to see her phone, which she gives to him. As he is scrolling through it, Lauren admits to him that she has been seeing someone else. Bradley instructs her to go into the house, which she does. He then violently dismantles her car with his bare hands. When done, he enters the house to speak to Lauren about why she made the decision to cheat on him. Once the discussion ends, Bradley decides to forgive Lauren and to do more than just make ends meet. He makes the decision to return to drug dealing, a life he previously left behind.

Eighteen months later, Bradley and a pregnant Lauren living in a larger, more expensive home. Bradley’s boss, Gil (Marc Blucas), gives him a new assignment. Bradley is to go with two men to pick up a shipment. Bradley does not trust the two men, but is urged by Gil to do the job, as it will lead to more money and more business. During the job, Bradley and the two men pick up the shipment by boat. As they drop the boat off at the pier, one of the two men takes one of the bags and heads to the car as Bradley ties up the boat. Bradley takes the other bag, dumps it in the water for a later retrieval, and instructs them to do the same with their bags but they knock him down & run off with one of the bags. Suddenly, the police show up and engage in a firefight with the two men. Bradley has a chance to leave, as the police have not spotted him. But, aware that the deal was that no one was supposed to be harmed, he decides to stop the two men. One is killed by the police and the other is knocked out by Bradley. Bradley is taken into custody and ultimately sent to a medium security prison.

On the second day of his incarceration, he is visited by the Placid Man, (Udo Kier), who informs Bradley that he works for the boss of the two men that were killed in the shootout. He tells Bradley that Lauren has been kidnapped and that, unless he kills an inmate named Christopher Bridge, limbs of his unborn child will be surgically removed and sent to him. Bradley decides to take the job. The Placid Man tells Bradley that the inmate is in cell block 99 inside Redleaf correctional facility, a different maximum security prison.

Bradley picks a fight with a guard, brutally breaking his arm. As he is restrained and being taken away, Bradley fights with the other guards, until he’s overpowered and transferred to Redleaf. There, he meets Warden Tuggs (Don Johnson), who subjects Bradley to a cavity search outside of the prison entrance. Bradley is put into a horrible cell, where the toilet is clogged with feces. The smell being so overwhelming, Bradley is forced to take off his undershirt and wrap it around his nose. Eventually, he is able to go outside for yard time. When a fellow inmate informs him that Christopher Bridge is not located in this section of the prison, Bradley fights some fellow inmates and consequently is thrown into Cell Block 99.

Bradley is forced to wear a belt that gives him electric shocks at a push of a button, as punishment for the fight. His cell in block 99 is lined with broken glass. Bradley devises a plan and takes the lining from his shoes and puts them between his body and the belt to minimise the shocks. The plan works, but he accidentally kills one of the guards when he slams a door on his face when he tries to escape. Bradley locks the other guard in his cell. Bradley goes and meets with the boss of the men who he assaulted earlier (revealed to be the man who hired Bradley for the initial job that landed him in prison). Bradley fights with his henchmen, leading to him stepping on the back of one of the men’s heads and dragging it across the pavement, leaving that man’s face disfigured, with his skull showing. Bradley fights another henchman and slams his foot down on that man’s face, brutally dislodging his jaw, killing him. Bradley grabs the boss and takes him back to his cell. Bradley takes the man’s phone and calls The Placid Man to negotiate for Lauren’s freedom. Warden Tuggs arrives at the entrance to block 99, but Bradley threatens to kill the remaining guard, if he and any other guards comes in. Lauren is delivered to Gil, who in turn, kills The Placid Man. Bradley then speaks to Lauren for the last time, as well as sharing a few words with their unborn child.

After knowing Lauren is safe, Bradley grabs the boss and places his head over the crude squat toilet hole and stomps on his head, decapitating him. The captured guard runs from the cell, and Warden Tuggs enters into the cell. Accepting his fate, Bradley gives one last look at Tuggs, before Tuggs shoots Bradley twice, once in the chest and once in the head. The screen fades to black as we hear the third gunshot and Bradley’s body hit the floor.

It’s a simple premise taken to excess. A film that by all accounts shouldn’t exist, and yet macho ultra violence still features heavily in modern cinema. Quentin Tarantino should probably hang up his hat now, because Zahler is willing to take risks with his characters that Tarantino has taken since Pulp Fiction. Bradley is certainly mild-mannered at the start of the film. He takes losing his job like a champ, but when he learns his wife is cheating on him, a tiger beneath is hinted at, and so we see that there is so much more to his personal history and an inhuman kind of strength held at bay.

It’s not until the second act that we really see the full extent of Bradley’s abilities, but it is completely necessary to humanize him first, so that both the satisfaction as he moves towards his goal and irksome consequences of his actions stick with us after the curtain has lowered and the lights have dimmed on the blood-soaked floor of this epic.

Pros: Vaughan’s character is grounded in emotion and a loyalty to his family, and so the violence becomes intelligent played to accentuate the fantasy of a blue collar worker acting out.

Cons: For all of the detail and intentionally cheap practical effects, it isn’t always clear what the message of the film should be. But then again, wasn’t that true of most grindhouse films of the seventies?

Runtime: 2 hours 12 minutes

Points of Interest: …

It’s amazing to see Vaughn in such an intimidating role, because it also feels like he is invested in the role after a decade of being type-cast in loser man-child roles. I really enjoyed a lot of films that came out in 2017, with La La Land, Get Out, Logan, The LEGO Batman Movie and Baby Driver at the top of that list… but this seems to be the sleeper hit of the season, and one I’m glad to have stumbled upon.

theories Summarized

I’m not sure what the future holds for Vince Vaughn or for S. Craig Zahler for that matter, but I honestly can say that I hope both of them continue to make these kinds of intelligently constructed and entertaining worlds. Stories like Brawl in Cell Block 99 have a message within them, and that is one of quality over quantity.

That said, it seemed like a good time to share another of my favourite films with you in this week’s Watch Culture episode. A fun and quick overview of 2015’s The Gift, starring Joel Edgerton, Jason Bateman, and Rebecca Hall, with Edgerton in a first-time directorial role as well. It’s really quite excellent, and the film is top shelf too. But I’ll leave that final decision up to you. And as always… Comment! Like! Subscribe!

Tim!

Das Ist Gut (Dunkirk review)

Not every story told follows the same narrative path as what preceded it. I mention this because Christopher Nolan has been directing movies since 1989 but it wasn’t until 2008’s The Dark Knight that we began to expect a certain tone from his films.

 

Dunkirk (2017)

Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Barry Keoghan, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh
Director: Christopher Nolan
released on blu-ray December 19, 2017
********* 9/10

IMDB: 8.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, Audience Score 81%
The Guardian: *****/*****

Christopher Nolan is an English film director, screenwriter and producer extraordinaire. He also has dual citizenship in the United States. If you are unfamiliar with his work, he has also helmed the recent The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Interstellar, Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, and Following, his directorial feature length debut. There were three films he made before Following, but those were all short films.

An advocate for film preservation, Nolan’s films often explore themes of morality, the passage of time, and identity. He prefers to use practical effects where possible, incorporates wide angle shots to reduce the scale of his characters, and adjusts the narrative landscape through the use of gripping soundtracks (looking at you long-time friend Hans Zimmer) and by messing up the typical sequencing of scenes.

Dunkirk follows that tradition of Nolan’s films, but does so in such a way that the lead character becomes the evacuation itself, with Allied soldiers, Axis planes, and British civilians all helping to fill in for settings and props. I should be clear when I state that this is a war film, but the explosions, cries of pain, and bloodshed are not the focal points – it’s the magnitude of war and how it effects our personal decisions for right or for wrong.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

In 1940, during the fall of France, hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers have retreated to Dunkirk. Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), a young British private, is the sole survivor of a German ambush. At the beach, he finds thousands of troops awaiting evacuation and meets Gibson (Aneurin Barnard), who is burying a body. After a German dive-bomber attack, they find a wounded man. They rush his stretcher onto a hospital ship hoping to get onboard and escape, but are denied passage themselves. The ship is sunk by dive-bombers; Tommy saves Alex (Harry Styles), another soldier. They leave at night on a destroyer, which is sunk by a torpedo from a U-boat. Gibson saves Tommy and Alex, and they are brought ashore by a rowing boat.

The Royal Navy requisitions civilian vessels that can get close to the beach. In Weymouth, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) set out on his boat Moonstone rather than let the navy take her. Impulsively, their teenage friend George (Barry Keoghan) joins them. At sea, they rescue a shell-shocked officer (Cillian Murphy) from a wrecked ship. When he realises that Dawson is sailing for Dunkirk, the officer demands that they turn back, and tries to wrest control of the boat; in the struggle, George falls and suffers a head injury that renders him blind.

Three Spitfires head towards France. After their leader is shot down, pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) assumes command with a shattered fuel gauge. They save a minesweeper from a German bomber, but the other Spitfire is hit and ditches. Its pilot, Collins (Jack Lowden), is rescued by Moonstone.

Tommy, Alex and Gibson join a group of Scottish soldiers and hide inside a trawler until the tide rises. Her owner, a Dutch mariner, returns. German troops shoot at the boat for target practice; when the tide rises, water enters through the bullet holes. Alex, hoping to lighten the boat’s load, accuses Gibson, who has been silent, of being a spy and demands that he leave. Gibson reveals he is French; he had stolen the identity of the soldier he buried, hoping to evacuate with the British. Alex, Tommy and the Scottish soldiers abandon the fishing boat when it begins to sink. Gibson is entangled in a chain and drowns. Alex and Tommy swim towards a nearby destroyer, but it is sunk by a bomber. Moonstone manoeuvres to take on troops, including Alex and Tommy. Peter realises that George is dead; when asked by the shell-shocked officer, he lies that George will be fine. Farrier shoots down the bomber, which crashes and ignites the oil slick from the sinking destroyer. Peter reveals to Collins that his elder brother was a Hurricane pilot, killed early in the war.

Farrier reaches Dunkirk, his fuel exhausted. Gliding over the beach, he shoots down a dive-bomber to cheers from the troops below. He cranks his landing gear down and lands beyond the Allied perimeter. He sets fire to his plane and is taken prisoner by German soldiers.

At the beach, Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) watches the last British soldiers leave. He confirms that 300,000 have been evacuated, ten times more than UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill had hoped for. He remains to oversee the evacuation of the French rearguard. Alex and Tommy cross the English Channel and board a train in Weymouth. Dawson is congratulated for having saved so many men. The shell-shocked officer sees George’s body being carried away. Peter visits the local newspaper with a photograph of George; a front-page article later commends George as a hero. Alex expects public scorn as the train approaches Woking, but they receive a hero’s welcome. Tommy reads out Churchill’s address to the nation from a newspaper.

This is nightmare fuel. Beaches filled with men with nowhere to go watch in terror as German aircraft decimate them from above – the analogy of the boot stomping ants is sickeningly accurate in this case. The movie showcases the blender full of emotions in such a thoughtful way, allowing us to give pause and see faces filled with anger, others with pride, despite not connecting with anyone long enough to root for them. It’s an odd thing, given that Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, and Kenneth Branagh are all excellent character actors – Nolan only gives us a taste into each man’s personality knowing full well that war dwarfs our self-importance.

Pros: The action moves up and down, like a wave crashing on a beach. The sparse storytelling and tone of failure barely concealed by dumb luck work damn strong to force a response. It’s technically brilliant.

Cons: A lack of an emotional core, might be difficult to swallow. Tom Hardy’s Farrier could have been given a slightly larger role – showing his end at the hands of Nazi soldiers even. A lot of unanswered questions.

Runtime: 1 hour 46 minutes

Points of Interest: Thirty or so Dunkirk veterans attended the Long premiere – they appreciated the accuracy of the story, but felt the soundtrack was louder then the actual bombardment. Nolan cast young and unknown actors based on accounts of how inexperienced the real soldiers of Dunkirk were.

As far as a military effort, the Battle of Dunkirk was an epic disaster on a global scale. But the evacuation of almost 300,000 soldiers and the moral victory of the British is considered by many historians as the lynchpin in the Allied story of fighting against tyranny. By giving the soldiers and citizens an equal footing, Winston Churchill was able to foster a spirit of resistance within this nation, and turn a tragedy into a triumph, which is echoed in the final moments of the film by Alex as he is welcomed home in Woking.

theories Summarized

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this film as a I watched it, if I am being completely honest. Mysticque and I watched it together, and she was not a fan of it by any means. I try not to let other opinions effect my own interpretation of a film, but rather to enhance it. In this case it was invaluable, because Dunkirk is a film of competing emotions, many personal narratives drowned out by a larger message. I think you should see this film, especially given that stories like Saving Private Ryan and Pearl Harbour exist. A film like Dunkirk will help to expand your worldview and introduce a greater perspective on World War II, a time that that provided such cognitive dissonance for humanity, theories and all.

Tim!

Pretty To Look At, But No One Is Manning The Chair (Kingsman: The Golden Circle review)

What do you do with a drunken sailor? What do you do with a drunken sailor? What do you do with a drunken sailor, early on the morning?

You kick him to the curb and tell him to sober up. Geez. It’s not that difficult people.

 

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Cast: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Elton John, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Pedro Pascal
Director: Matthew Vaughn
released on blu-ray December 12, 2017
***** 4/10

IMDB: 7.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 51%, Audience Score 68%
The Guardian: */*****

Matthew Allard de Vere Drummond, better known as Matthew Vaughn, is an English director, writer and producer. He is best known for directing Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, Kingsman: The Secret Service and most recently, Kingsman: The Golden Circle. A pretty good track record if I do say so myself. Given that I own all of those movies, almost all of them are well rated, and I also like most of them. Unfortunately, The Golden Circle is the odd man out in this case – ironic, given the reason that the first Kingsman movie did so well.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

A year has passed since Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton) and the secret organisation Kingsman saved the world from Richmond Valentine’s neurological wave broadcast. He has since taken his late mentor Harry Hart’s (Colin Firth) title of Galahad and lives with Crown Princess Tilde (Hanna Alstrom) of Sweden. On his way home from the tailor shop, he is ambushed by Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft), a former Kingsman trainee who lost his arm and vocal cords during the Valentine incident. Eggsy evades Charlie with his henchmen in a car chase across London, but Charlie’s severed cybernetic arm hacks into the Kingsman servers through the car’s computer system. While Eggsy is away in Sweden, a volley of missiles destroy the Kingsman headquarters and wipe out all of the agents in Britain, including Eggsy’s best friend Roxy. Brandon, a non-Kingsman friend of Eggsy’s, is also killed in the attack.

Being the only surviving agents, Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) follow the Doomsday protocol, which leads them to Statesman, a secret American organisation posing as a Bourbon whiskey distillery in Kentucky. There, they discover that Harry survived Valentine’s gunshot a year earlier, but is suffering from amnesia. Eggsy and Merlin are briefed by Statesman head Champagne (Jeff Bridges) about a secret terrorist organisation called The Golden Circle. They begin their mission by following Charlie’s ex-girlfriend Clara Von Gluckfberg (Poppy Delevingne). When Statesman agent Tequila (Channing Tatum) develops a blue rash, he is replaced by agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) as Eggsy’s partner. Eggsy manages to plant a tracking device on Clara during an encounter, but his revelation of the mission to Princess Tilde strains their relationship. After several failed attempts to cure Harry’s amnesia, Eggsy triggers Harry’s memories by threatening to shoot a Cairn Terrier that resembles Harry’s late dog.

Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), head of the world’s largest drug cartel, broadcasts a message telling the world about a toxin she laced within every recreational drug available, which causes users to develop blue rashes before progressing through mania, paralysis, and ultimately, death. She also demonstrates the antidote on a captive Elton John and offers it to the world if the President of the United States ends his country’s War on drugs and offers her organisation immunity. The President decides to have every affected user quarantined, including his Chief of Staff, Fox, with the intention of letting them all die and therefore ending Poppy’s career. Eggsy, Harry, and Whiskey head to the antidote factory in Italy after intercepting a phone call to Charlie by Clara. Eggsy manages to steal an antidote sample, but it is broken by Whiskey during an ambush by The Golden Circle’s henchmen. During the gunfight, Harry shoots Whiskey in the head, as he suspects that Whiskey is playing both sides, but Eggsy saves him with the same alpha-gel that Statesman had used to save Harry. Princess Tilde calls Eggsy in a state of mania, revealing that she has been affected by the blue rash. Eggsy, Harry, and Merlin discover the location of Poppy’s hideout, “Poppy Land”, in Cambodia and fly there to steal the remote control which deploys the antidote drones.

Upon their arrival at Poppy Land, Eggsy steps on a land mine, but is saved by Merlin, who sacrifices himself while taking the lair’s guards with him. Eggsy and Harry storm through the lair and Eggsy kills Charlie while Harry destroys Poppy’s robotic attack dogs with the help of Elton. They secure the briefcase with the access code to the drones and inject Poppy with a more potent dose of her toxin. She gives them the password before succumbing to an overdose. Before they can activate the drones they are stopped by Whiskey, who, having previously lost his pregnant wife to a crossfire from two methamphetamine users, is revealed to be working alone to ensure that all drug users are eliminated. Eggsy and Harry battle and brutally kill Whiskey in a fight. They release the antidote drones, saving millions of lives around the world.

In the aftermath, Chief of Staff Fox has the President impeached for conspiring to commit genocide on the drug victims. Champ announces that Statesman has acquired a distillery in Scotland to help rebuild Kingsman. To avoid the confusion of two Kingsman agents using the codename “Galahad”, Champagne offers either Eggsy or Harry the agent title of Whiskey, but they decline. Instead, Statesman tech support agent Ginger Ale (Halle Berry) steps in to take the role. Eggsy marries Princess Tilde, and Tequila moves to London to work for Kingsman.

There is a lot going on in this movie, and that is not necessarily a good thing. The plot remained unfocused throughout much of the journey, and given that it clocks in at just over two and half hours, it makes it difficult to even sit through. Some critics are saying that the movie is more conservative others are saying its more bombastic, and both are correct. The movie takes more of the ridiculousness of the first film and amps it up immeasurably, but at the same time, all of the interest in dissecting the spy genre, challenging why we like these movies in the first place, and reinvigorating our interest in the broad strokes… none of that is present.

I’m tired of watching movies that pretend to be a new take on an old formula, and then refuse to deliver the goods. Just because you use a sexual encounter in a weird context (in this context a spy needs to seduce a henchman’s girlfriend to find the henchman. Because obviously the tracker only works if it’s attached to the mucus membrane, and so into the vagina it goes. And to top it off Egerton then argues with his Swedish princess girlfriend for five minutes before he can proceed.

It’s not edgy, it’s not funny, and quite frankly it’s offensive to anyone who cares about monogamous relationships and/or gender equality.

Pros: It’s entertaining to watch this star-studded cast use CGI to beat each other up. Colin Firth, Pedro Pascal, and Mark Strong do a lot to to bolster the audience and engage with the story, heck even though most of the other performances are phoned in, you can tell everyone had fun interacting with each other and pretending to be spies.

Cons: On top of all of the incredible misogyny, that Vaughn claims is a subversion of James Bond cliches, Taron Egerton cannot act to save his life. And unfortunately for us, he is the main protagonist of this film. What makes it worse is that it’s a long film, which takes less chances, and lampoons almost everything to ill effect.

Runtime: 2 hours 21 minutes

Points of Interest: This is the first sequel that Matthew Vaughn has directed. Julianne Moore, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, Colin Firth, and Elton John are all Oscar award winners. The movie originally had a runtime of 3 hours and 40 minutes, and it was suggested to split the movie into two parts, which didn’t happen. But there is a third Kingsman movie planned, with a Statesman movie spin-off in talks.

I think one of the biggest challenges of this movie that I haven’t addressed yet is the size of it’s ensemble. The first film had a fairly tight group of actors all working together to ground the story, despite the surrealistic nature of its tale. The Golden Circle is so encumbered by cameos, code names, and robotic canines, that it loses so much of it’s charm. It chokes on it’s own chutzpah.

But enough with the C word alliteration.

theories Summarized

The big question I still have is, is this movie worth watching? I would argue that for many people, it’s a great pop corn flick with lots of CGI and silliness. But if you expect more from your cinema, ie stories with a good plot, thought provoking themes, and interesting characters, then you can probably leave Kingsman: The Golden Circle on the shelf to age a few more years, theory or no.

That said, I can absolutely, and with 100% confidence recommend you check out Get Out. This early 2017 horror from first-time director Jordan Peele is everything that Kingsman: The Golden Circle is not, and then some. Please please watch this movie, it deserves awards!

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Tim!