Kingsman: The Golden Circle

For inSing

KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE 

Director : Matthew Vaughn
Cast : Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Pedro Pascal, Hanna Alström, Elton John, Sophie Cookson
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 2h 21m
Opens : 21 September 2017
Rating : NC16

The world’s most impeccably dressed superspies are back in the sequel to Kingsman: The Secret Service, and this time, they’ve got help from across the pond. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has completed his transformation from rough-hewn street hooligan to dapper Kingsman agent. Things are going well for Eggsy, who is in a loving relationship with Swedish Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström). Without warning, Kingsman headquarters is decimated, leaving Eggsy and gadget-meister Merlin (Mark Strong) to pick up the pieces. The perpetrator? Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a drug kingpin and the sociopathic leader of a secret society known as The Golden Circle. To prevent Poppy from committing murder on an unprecedented scale, Eggsy and Merlin rendezvous with the agents of Statesman, Kingsman’s American counterpart – they operate out of a distillery instead of a tailor’s. The group is led by Champagne (Jeff Bridges), to whom Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whisky (Pedro Pascal) and Ginger (Halle Berry) report. As the scope of Poppy’s plan is laid bare, the agents of both organizations must forge a partnership to foil her scheme. A spanner is thrown into the works when Eggsy and Merlin discover that Harry (Colin Firth), Eggsy’s mentor who was presumed dead, is still alive.

2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service is generally well-regarded by audiences and critics. It functions as director Matthew Vaughn’s ode to classic spy-fi films and TV shows of days gone by, while also containing his trademark acerbic wit, shocking violence, and bravura style. Unfortunately, much of what made The Secret Service so appealing is missing from The Golden Circle. The film is still entertaining and funny, and the action sequences are as slickly-staged and eye-catching as ever, but this movie has a bad case of ‘sequel-itis’. The first film was anchored by the Pygmalion/My Fair Lady-style arc of a gentleman spy training a young apprentice, and seeing the character develop as he is put through his paces. The Golden Circle doesn’t have that emotional anchor, and is tonally more all over the place than its predecessor. The moments which are meant to be sincere do not jibe with the wink-and-nod humour, which teeters on the edge of over-indulgence. If you’ve grown attached to the characters from the first film, you might not like how they’re handled here.

Egerton returns to his breakout role, and while he’s a fine leading man, he’s less interesting to watch now, since Eggsy has already arrived as a sophisticated gentleman. The friendship between Eggsy and Roxy (Sophie Cookson) is much more compelling than the romance between Eggsy and Princess Tilde, so fans of the first film might be frustrated that the latter relationship is given far more emphasis here than the former. We also must question the decision to bring Firth’s character back from the dead. Sure, Firth’s performance as Harry in the first movie was brilliant, but audiences have already gone through the process of accepting Harry’s death, a shocking moment which is one of the elements that made Kingsman so memorable. When it is explained how Harry survived, this reviewer turned to his friend and exclaimed “what a cop-out!”

As is often the case in sequels to successful films, more stars sign on, eager to be part of what appears to be a mega-franchise in the making. Moore’s performance as Poppy, a twisted businesswoman with an affinity for 50s Americana, is serviceable because she is such a talented actress. However, it’s just what one would expect from her, and nothing more – the Poppy character isn’t all that surprising. Similarly, her bionically-enhanced henchman falls far short of Sofia Boutella’s Gazelle in the first film.

Bridges does almost nothing, while Berry stands around next to Strong. Tatum isn’t in this nearly as lo ng as the advertising would have you believe. Instead, it’s Pascal who steals the show. The inclusion of Elton John as himself might strike some as being a touch too silly even for an outlandish comedy, but the singer showcases surprising, delightful comic timing – and yes, even gets a fight scene to himself.

Those who were impressed with Kingsman: The Secret Service’s subversive humour, stylish thrills and throwback spy movie vibe with a bit of an edge will find those elements present in the sequel, but will be disappointed by how much of a step backwards this feels. At 141 minutes, it is also much too long, losing some steam just before the final act. A third instalment has already been planned, and we hope the series gets its mojo back with that one.

Summary: Bigger and flashier than its predecessor but losing too much of its charm, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a sequel that is mostly going through the motions. Director Matthew Vaughn’s flair for filming action sequences is still evident, though.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

For F*** Magazine

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 2 

Director : Francis Lawrence
Cast : Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Natalie Dormer, Donald Sutherland
Genre : Fantasy/Adventure
Run Time : 2 hrs 17 mins
Opens : 19 November 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

The Mockingjay sings her last in the conclusion of the Hunger Games saga. The nation of Panem is in the throes of a revolutionary war, with Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) continuing to bear the burden of being the symbolic figurehead of the uprising, the Mockingjay. Katniss teams up with a group of her closest allies – including Gale (Hemsworth), Finnick (Claflin), Cressida (Dormer) and Peeta (Hutcherson) – to infiltrate the palace of President Snow (Sutherland) and assassinate him. After an extended period of captivity in the Capitol, Peeta is deeply shaken by the psychological torture he was subjected to and becomes hostile towards Katniss. District 13’s President Alma Coin (Moore) and her right-hand man Plutarch (Hoffman) are counting on this final assault to be the tipping point that allows them to overthrow Snow. As Snow becomes increasingly obsessed with destroying Katniss and putting a stop to the revolution, Katniss realises that as high as the stakes were before, they are ever higher now, with the future of Panem in her hands.
                The expectations are high for the final instalment in the Hunger Gamesfilm series, not just because of the massive following the Suzanne Collins novels and the films themselves have gained, but because the filmmakers went the route of splitting the last book into two films, increasing the build-up for Part 2. Typically, movies that close out a blockbuster series promise colossal, epic battles and a surfeit of spectacle. For both better and worse, Mockingjay Part 2 takes a different route. The emphasis is on the politics, an element which has set the Hunger Games series apart from most teen-aimed properties. From the word “go”, this is an appropriately bleak affair, an unrelenting downer. True, The Hunger Games was never meant to be particularly happy or uplifting, but Mockingjay – Part 2 will alienate or even confuse viewers who aren’t 100% invested in what has come before. Audiences are expected to be familiar with the preceding films and, preferably, the books as well.
                The Hunger Games series has taken a considerable amount of risks that have been rewarded critically and at the box office. After all, the basic premise of the first movie/book is a tournament in which kids kill each other for the entertainment of the masses. Finally overthrowing the tyrannical rule of President Snow should be a rousing triumph, but for a society as far gone as Panem, a quick fix simply won’t cut it. That the film not only acknowledges this but delves into the myriad ramifications of the revolution is admirably mature, if not viscerally exciting. Particularly during the first act, things can be a bit of a slog, and Mockingjay Part 2 struggles to gain momentum. The action sequences, in which Katniss and the District 13 Unit have to navigate booby-trapped stretches of the Capitol and fend off all and sundry threats that are flung at them, feel more perfunctory than truly thrilling.
                Jennifer Lawrence’s ever-rising star has paralleled Katniss’ journey from starving District 12 girl to bearer of the Mockingjay mantle, though we imagine being J-Law in real life is generally more fun than being Katniss. In a way, it’s a good thing that Jennifer Lawrence won’t be playing Katniss indefinitely and that she’s given an opportunity to see the character’s arc through to completion. Even more than in the earlier instalments, Mockingjay Part 2 asks the question “is this too much for one girl to handle?” point blank, answers “yes” and shows us all the ways in which it is too much. In the film’s opening scene, Katniss is trying to speak as she is being tended to by a nurse, after Peeta nearly crushed her windpipe in the previous film. There are many films about “finding one’s voice”, but instead of manufactured optimism, the Hunger Games series serves up unflinching brutality and Jennifer Lawrence’s final bow as one of this generation’s defining heroes is expectedly affecting and stirring.
                We also get a resolution to the love triangle, which director Francis Lawrence tries his darndest to couch as something secondary to the turning cogs of revolution. The wounded, feral quality that Peeta takes on is heart-rending and does give Hutcherson more shades to play, as well as switching up the dynamic between Peeta and Katniss. Gale’s bond with Katniss as a childhood hunting buddy is played up a little more in this one; Hemsworth has repeatedly demonstrated that he’s not an actor with immense range but not too much is demanded from him here.
There is quite literally an army of supporting players, so it is natural that some will get shorter shrift than others. This reviewer did enjoy that the film is packed with badass female characters in addition to Katniss, including Dormer’s Cressida, Patina Miller’s Commander Paylor, Gwendoline Christie’s Commander Lyme, Michelle Forbes’ Lieutenant Jackson, Jena Malone’s Johanna Mason and Moore’s President Coin. Moore is especially fun to watch as we see President Coin making increasingly questionable but decently justified decisions. Elizabeth Banks, clad in increasingly fanciful ensembles, seems to be crying out from all the greyness that surrounds her. Sutherland proves he was the ideal choice for President Snow from the beginning, exuding a deep malice that is several layers past idle moustache-twirling villainy and making us all the more eager to see Snow get his comeuppance.
In an age where series finale blockbusters seem almost mandated to include no-holds-barred clashes of epic proportions, the Hunger Games series’ more cerebral conclusion is welcome. However, if one has a particularly short attention span and isn’t fully immersed in the world of Panem as established by the earlier films, it is possible to become bored and frustrated by the ponderous proceedings. This is sure to be a smash hit (at least until Star Wars invades cinemas), so we hope Lionsgate doesn’t try to futilely stretch things out with spinoffs and a reboot, though, like the fall of Panem, that does seem depressingly inevitable.
Summary: The Mockingjay’s last song is resonant if not especially rousing, the final chapter of the Hunger Games series largely satisfying but at times overwhelmingly downbeat.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong

            

Seventh Son

For F*** Magazine

SEVENTH SON

Director : Sergei Bodrov
Cast : Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Ben Barnes, Djimon Hounsou, Alicia Vikander, Antje Traue, Olivia Williams, Kit Harington
Genre : Action/Fantasy
Run Time : 103 mins
Opens : 31 December 2014
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence And Brief Coarse Language)
Swords and sorcery, dragons and shape-shifting mages, a young apprentice destined for greatness studying under the wizened master – it never gets old – until it does. John Gregory (Bridges), a.k.a. The Spook, is the last of the ancient order of Falcon Knights. When his nemesis, the treacherous and powerful witch queen Mother Malkin (Moore) resurfaces, Gregory goes in search of an apprentice. Tom Ward (Barnes), supposedly possessing magical powers as he is the seventh son of a seventh son, is chosen by Gregory. Tom becomes besotted with the beautiful Alice (Vikander), who happens to be the niece of Mother Malkin, complicating things. Gregory and his pupil must defeat the cabal of supernaturally-gifted assassins sent after them by Mother Malkin to eventually storm her stronghold of Pendle Mountain and cease her imminent reign of terror.

            Adapted from John Delaney’s novel The Spook’s Apprentice, the first in his Wardstone Chronicles series, Seventh Son has had its release date pushed back several times after being originally set to open in February 2013. This is rarely a good omen and the result is a film that is profoundly middle-of-the-road. It’s not a flat-out train wreck, but there’s every chance it would’ve been more entertaining if it actually were one. “Remember, all you need is inside you. Just don’t be afraid to look,” Tom’s mother tells him with all the sincerity actress Olivia Williams can muster. It’s as “seen it a million times” as it gets.

Past the story, the film offers precious little in the way of genuine visual spectacle. Sure, the requisite battles with otherworldly creatures, chases through forests and leaps off sheer cliff-faces are all in place and there are even several effective, entertaining 3D effects, but it all just feels so perfunctory. By now, you’re probably tired of hearing critics and fanboys alike knocking computer-generated imagery, so allow us to say that we do acknowledge the effort that goes into creating the many CGI sequences in movies like Seventh Son. Industry giant John Dykstra is the visual effects designer here and Rhythm and Hues, the effects house behind Life of Pi, did most of the animation. However, it is clear that director Sergei Bodrov is desperately trying to recapture the magic of the fantastical stop-motion animated monsters created by Ray Harryhausen in the fantasy flicks of yore. Though considered quaint and dated by now, they possessed a real soul-stirring charm that masses of pixels just do not have.



Jeff Bridges is the surly old master whose glory days are behind him. Naturally, the character is at its most entertaining when glimmers of the Dude surface (such as when Gregory takes swigs from his trusty flask), but for most of the film Gregory is stern and grim. Ben Barnes, who has experience with fantasy flicks from playing Prince Caspian in the second and third Narnia movies, is handsome and bland like so many leading men are these days. Tom knows he is destined for greater things and doesn’t want to be stuck on a farm feeding pigs for the rest of his life. It’s so familiar that one almost expects him to break out in song, arms outstretched, declaring “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere!”

Julianne Moore, currently receiving Oscar buzz for Still Alice, is evidently not above revelling in the other end of the spectrum, chewing the scenery with expected relish while her retractable CGI tail swishes for all it’s worth. The thing is though, there appears to be only one way to play a witch in these fantasy action flicks and a long line of actresses including Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, Michelle Pfeiffer and Famke Janssen have delivered just about the same performance in movies past. Antje Traue, who memorably went toe-to-toe with Superman in Man of Steel, has little to do here as Mother Malkin’s sister Bony Lizzie, her major action scene involving the shape-shifted dragon version of her instead. Alicia Vikander and Ben Barnes seem to share little chemistry, with the “forbidden romance” coming off as little more than tacked-on.

Perfectly content with being nothing special, Seventh Son will likely hold special resonance if you’re a kid who’s never seen a fantasy film before (and who isn’t attached to the book series). For everyone else however, it will hardly register, drifting away in a cloud of its own mediocrity.
Summary:Late on the Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings bandwagon by over a decade, even the likes of Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore can’t make this also-rans fantasy flick worthwhile.
RATING: 2out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong