Kingsmen: The Golden Circle (2017) Review

     The first Kingsmen film came along as one hell of a surprise; an exciting, funny love letter to the classic James Bond films that came before it. 

     Now we have the follow up, Kingsmen: The Golden Circle which sees the headquarters of the titular spy agency destroyed by the villainous Poppy (Julianne Moore) who wants to poison the world’s marijuana smokers and ransom the antidote. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) seeks help from the American branch known as The Statesman, run by Champ (Jeff Bridges). Soon though, Eggsy will discover the truth about one of his fallen comrades.

     I’m sure now more than ever, that any follow up to The Kingsman was sure to suffer by comparison. The original just kind of crept up on you, eventually winning you over with its humpr, charm, and ridiculously over the top action. 

     The Golden Circle isn’t a terrible film by any means, but it is a tad bit underwhelming when stood side by side with the first one. Its a bit of a design flaw for a sequel on that there are no real surprises this time around. Not as refreshing as the original. 

     One of the weaker aspects is the villain Poppy. Julianne Moore is a fine actress, but she’s not given much in way of personality or anything to do really. Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine in the first film was a parody of classic Bond villains, but he knew he was. Moore’s character plays it straight, but by doing so she comes off as bland. 

     Another crazy thing is The Statesmen themselves; they set up this fascinating agency, but don’t do much with it. An agent by the name of Tequila, played by Channing Tatum is criminally underused by the screenplay. He’s barely in it, but when he is in it, you love the dude. Same goes for Ginger played by Halle Barry, the woman tech genius. They were some hints that she might have experienced some sexism in her work, but its brushed aside, and that just frustrated me. 

     Now, there are some fun scenes to be had. The action still remains top notch, especially at the climax of the film, and there’s a sweet love story with Eggsy and his girlfriend who is the Princess of Sweden. But the best, truly the best part is the subplot with Elton John. Thinking about, he has the best character arc of anyone else in the picture. Film is totally worth watching for it and I can’t bare to reveal anything more about it. 

     While I laughed and was fairly entertained by this installment of the Kingsmen I felt myself wanting a bit more; from The Statesmen to the villain to fucking Elton John for God’s sake, the movie did too good of a job setting these great ideas that just came up short. For some not by much, for others it may not be worth it. 

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Top 5 Non-Horror Stephen King Films

     In honor of horror novelist Stephen King’s birthday, I spent some time putting together the best non-supernatural stories that he had written. Some completely underrated, some that are obvious, and some that will surprise you. So starting with…

5. Apt Pupil

     The story of a boy (Brad Renfro) who finds out that his old neighbor (Ian McKellen) is a Nazi war criminal and blackmails him into telling him stories of the atrocities that he committed which begins to affect the boy. 

     This is one of those “tough to watch” films in that the horrible shit discussed is rooted in such a real life evil. You see this boy decend into evil, while the Nazi begins to take delight in the influence that he has over him. The ending of the film (changed from the novella) speaks volumes about the corruption of the human soul, and the reaction of the character played by David Schwimmer (yes, that guy) is the devastating reaction that any decent human being would have. True monsters can be human sometimes. 

4. Secret Window

     The story about a writer (Johnny Depp) getting over a divorce, trying to write a novel to get over his troubles. But one day he is greeted at the door by a stranger (John Turturro) who claims that the man stole his story. 

     Here’s a movie that was sadly overshadowed by its somewhat predictable ending, but the journey leading up to it is nothing short of compelling. Depp gives one of those now rare performances where he is subtle, and calm. The backstory of how he ended up getting divorced is heartbreaking, and the discovery of all that stays with you. Especially once you realize what the title truly means. 

3. Dolores Claiborne

      An old woman dies under the care of housekeeper Dolores Claiborne (Kathy Bates), leading her to be the prime suspect in her alleged murder. When her daughter Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh) comes back into town, the truth starts to rear its ugly head. 

     If there is one movie on this list that more people need to see, it’s this one. Jesus Christ, is everything on point in this film, from the acting to the writing to the direction, just everything. But I do have to warn you folks, that the truth revealed is ugly as fuck. I mean, Stephen King doesn’t fuck around here. It made me uncomfortable, but it made me see things in an entirely different light, and that good and evil are not so black and white. 

2. Stand By Me

     A dramatic tale of a writer reminiscing about the one summer where he and his three friends went on a trek into the woods to find the dead body of a boy their age. 

     Yes, Stephen King wrote this one. This has been hailed as the ultimate coming of age movie, and they’re not wrong. Everything in the movie feels so true, so genuine, like a long ago memory. This is the prime example of King’s focus on characters over plot. It feels like you’re hanging out with these kids. The sad thing is the movie gets more difficult to watch as you get older; it’s a beautifully bittersweet reminder of those carefree summers. 

1. The Shawshank Redemption

     The now classic story of prison inmates Red (Morgan Freeman) and Andy (Tim Robbins) and the bond they form over the years at Shawshank Penitentiary. 

     Maybe along with Stand By Me, nothing gets a more shocked reaction that this was written by Stephen King. The movie is just a drama; no creatures or superpowers in the mix, just the story of trying to live in prison. To me, there is no better life affirming film than this one. Hell I’m getting teary eyed as I’m writing this. I think back to this movie, and I think of the characters as my friends. Sorry, just thinking about the ending. The happiest ending that you’ll ever see in film, and the one movie that proves beyond all measure that hope is the best of things. I can never recommend a movie highly enough. 

     So there you have it, some movies that prove that Stephen King is not just about the supernatural. The man is a master storyteller, and these flicks are some of the best movies ever made. Give yourself a treat, and watch them. 
 

Mr. Mercedes: A Different Type of Stephen King Horror 

     Stephen King has been enjoying this bit of a resurgence lately, with It recently breaking box office records. Even though thw man has been known for his tale of the supernatural macabre, he does manage to find new ways to horrify you; and Mr. Mercedes is just that new flavor to get a taste of. 

     During a job fair, a man driving a Mercedes plows his way through the crowd injuring and killing many including a young mother and her infant child. Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) was assigned to the case but was never able to locate the killer. Two years later, now retired, Bill begins to receive messages from the killer (Harry Treadaway) taunting him, goading him to kill himself. He just didn’t count on one thing: Bill starts to fight back. 

     I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a Stephen King story that has both the elements of noir along with that of a cat and mouse game. As of this writing there have been 6 episodes (out of ten) and there is nothing supernatural about. Just the ugly depravity of human nature.

     The best thing about Mr. Mercedes is that it is a series so the characters are allowed to flourish under the episodic nature of television. Gleeson’s Hodges is a man broken, haunted by his failure to not only capture the Mercedes killer, but to keep his family together. The most shocking thing, as it were, about the series is that from the first episode we the audience know who the killer is. Treadaway’s Brady has that creepy vibe, but you can tell that he doesn’t want to be that way. Because of his introverted ways, he gets stepped on by his boss and mother, causing him to pursue a twisted sense of righteousness.  

     The series dives into some truly disturbing elements and images that will turn some people off, like the aforementioned job fair scene, but the quiet nature of the game that these to men are playing is just to juicy to pass up. These men have given themselves a perverted sense of purpose towards each other, and it’s only going to get worse for the both of them from here. 

     This time Stephen King has shown us that the monsters we should be frightened of don’t live in the sewers, but the ones that could live next door to us. 

It (2017) Review

     I was only in 7th grade when I read It by Stephen King. At over a thousand pages, it became the novel that brought me of age, much like the Losers Club in the novel. Even though this film adaptation only covers roughly half the novel (omitting everything from when they’re adult) it manages to cover the sheer terror of growing up, and no matter the time period, you’ll notice nothing has changed. 

     The film starts in 1988 and goes into the summer of 1989. Children have gone missing and there have been sightings of a mysterious clown known as Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) that may be linked to these disappearances. A group of 7 children known as The Losers Club band together to bring an end to Pennywise’s terror which occurs every 27 years. 

     Adapting Stephen King is no easy feat. As much as the 3 hour miniseries got the basic gist of the story, so much of the harsher themes, history of the characters, and disturbing violence had to be cut out (though to be fair to the miniseries, it was on network tv. In 1990). With the novel being the cinder block that it is, i can understand the first half being about the Losers Club as children. 

     The performances of all 7 kids hit the right notes, and I felt I was seeing my friends again. Like Finn Wolfhard as Richie was spot on.  He was always the smart ass and he did make me laugh which helps to ease the tension in some scene. Even Jaeden Lieberher’s Bill captured the sutter that will play a part in the next chapter of the story. I only truly feel that Chosen Jacobs’s Mike was the only that got short shifted the most. He’s a crucial character in the next part. Sophia Lillis is Beverly Marsh. Her storyline in the movie can be very uncomfortable, well if you see the flick you’ll know why, and Lillis plays it with a strength and confidence that made me notice she’s the heart of the group. Just as she was in the novel. 

     I know every single one of you is wondering about Skarsgard’s Pennywise. The man is no Tim Curry, but he isn’t trying to be. At times he comes off like a playful kitten, one that will devour your soul (like a real kitten). The key to Skarsgard performance, and what makes it so fucking unsettling, are his eyes. I came to find out he can actually move his eyes independently from each other, and nope! Fuck you. 

     But if I had to gripe about anything really is that knowing the story fully, the movie suffers from having only adapted the first half or not shooting both parts simultaneously. The real thematic meat of the story comes from the Losers Club as adults, and the underlying theme of coping and facing your childhood trauma. Saying that though, I didn’t feel cheated going to see this version. It actually manages to tell a complete story with a three act structure. 

     It left me thinking from the second the film ended, and it captured so many wonderful moments, and some seriously graphic violence. If the opening with Georgie and his sail boat doesn’t leave you in shock or cringe in horror, then you’re worst than Pennywise. Fucking monster. 

      

Don’t Be Upset That Twin Peaks Ended, Be Joyous That It Happened. 

     On September 3rd, Twin Peaks: The Return ended its run with a two part finale. I’m still reeling from so I will do my best to keep some sort of sanity in my thoughts. I sense that a lot of people royally pissed off over how it all transpired; the events, the use of the characters, the explicitly unanswered questions, just take your pick, its all valid. 

     If you find yourself upset, ask yourself this: 

     Do you even know David Lynch?

     The last two episodes (especially the second one) come off as some sort of fever dream that quickly spiraled into a nightmare. This is Lynch at his purest, most surrealist that he’s been in years. From the likes of Lost Highway to Inland Empire this is what the fimmmaker has always done; the dropped plot points, the strayed characterizations, I mean this is pretty common. 

     The final episode, to get back on track here, is a surrealist masterpiece. Based on that one viewing, I legitimately have no idea where to start to make sense. No matter though, when it comes to David Lynch I have come to learn that if you don’t know how to feel, just go with the music and the images. The use of negative space, think of the car scene at its climax, along with the lingering shots, create such a sense of unease, almost as of we’re descending into Hell. I feel a sense of loss, but I can’t even begin to tell you why. The ending just feels sad and open ended and that has always been Lynch’s style. 

     I do have a theory about what it could mean, but that requires some spoilers. 
     Based on the last few episodes, I believe that the events of this series of Twin Peaks all transpire in Audrey’s coma. I am fairly confident that in one of the early episodes it was mentioned that she was in a coma, but in a throwaway line. And then with her dance at the Roadhouse it became pretty apparent. But again that’s my immediate reaction. 

     What does it all mean, this new Twin Peaks? I believe it’s about the fact that you can never go home again. It just isn’t the same. And when you do go back, be prepared to face the demons you left behind. If not then all you’ll experience is the bleakest void imaginable. 

     This ending is going to stay with me for awhile. I knew that since the beginning. 

Death Note (2017) Review

     The anime Death Note is one of the most thrilling, shocking television series that has ever been released. With its densely layered plot, complex characters it leaves an impact unlike most television nowadays. Now we have a 2017 American adaptation that does manage to capture some of the themes and complexities of the characters. While it comes up short compared to the anime, the film manages to be fascinating, and grips you from the start. 

     Light Turner (Nat Wolff) is a smart kid in Seattle, Washington who is constantly being bullied at school. One day while minding his own business, he comes across a ledger called a Death Note. A mystical demon named Ryuk (Willam Defoe) tells him that he can write a name, imagine them, they’ll die. Now with a sense of power, Light starts to kill criminals which catches the attention of the authorities and a master detective only known as L (Keith Stanfield).

     This only covers the surface of the story. I think of this as a bit of a cliff notes version, but it is a damn good one. The performances are all spot on, especially Stanfield as L. He manages to bring an eccentricity to the character that actually comes off as endearing instead of off putting. He has a vulnerability that counterbalances his seemingly supernatural ability to keep up with Light. Wolff as Light had the embodiment of righteousness down, but due to cultural differences with Japan, he comes off as more of a victim than a lauded student. It works well for this version, and gives the film its own sense of identity. 

     Unlike this year’s Ghost in the Shell, director Adam Wingard (You’re Next) has a clear love for the material. Subtle nods and ingenious explanations for using elements that were clearly Japanese but moving them over to America which somehow managed to work. The film doesn’t shy away from the horror elements of the material, and along with the music, has a distinctive 1980s vibe that took me by surprise on how well that worked. 

     While in the grand scheme of things I do prefer the series over the film, that version shook me up pretty bad with its twists, the film exists as its own beast and exists as further evidence that apparently Netflix is where you’ll get some thrilling, just damn good movies. Few movies this year left an impact on me, but this one sure did, and I hope everyone sees this movie, and then check out the series. 

Note: I chose not to dive into the whitewashing controversy because I wanted to focus the films on its own merits and its source material only. 

The Defenders (2017) Miniseries Review

     The Defenders has that Avengers vibe going for it, and that’s a great thing. Here we have four distinct characters, all with their own style, so forgive the skepticism when I came into this, um, miniseries? Yeah, I’m going to call it that. 

     When the series picks up, Daredevil (Charlie Cox) is on his own, Jessica Jones (Kristin Ritter) takes up a case that gets her arrested, Luke Cage (Mike Coulter) is just getting out of prison, and Iron Fist (Finn Jones) is coming back to New York to face The Hand which is run apparently by Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver). After meeting in a brawl, they begrudgingly team up to take down The Hand once and for all. 

     The greatest things about this series is that the interactions between the four leads is just so much fun. The way in that they team up feels natural and no one acts out of character. Think about it, all four of them are lone wolves so having to trust strangers is just not going to be easy. 

     But easily the happiest part for me was the chemistry and banter between Luke Cage and Iron Fist. As a comic book nerd growing up, even I know the chance of seeing those two on a screen was going to be damn near impossible. These are the Heroes for Hire, man!!! What an age we live in. See the two of them laugh, starting to look out for one another just bleeds the comics. I already want their spin off series. 

     Marvel/Netflix keeps up their tally of having villains that are so much better than their big screen compatriots. Weaver just reminds you that no one can be so evil, yet calm, like she can. She actually has an arc, a motive, even an understanding of why The Hand needs to destroy New York. She holds your attention every damn step of the way. 

     At a brisk eight episode, the show doesn’t have time for filler, but it does drag on occation. But I have to say that while Finn Jones has gotten better in the role of Iron Fist, but Jesus Christ, does he have a way to go. He’s great opposite Luke Cage, hell with any of the other Defenders, but when he has to act tough or serious, he sucks. I actually yelled at my screen at him to lighten the fuck up, it just doesn’t come off natural, and you’re full of shit if that’s because of how the character is supposed to be. No. He sucks. Luke Cage needs to be in every scene with him so he can stop sucking so damn much. 

     Stupid Iron Fist moments aside, the show is just a lot of fun if you enjoyed any of the previous Marvel/Netflix series. I was truly apprehensive about The Hand being the antagonists, they were among the shittier things in Daredevil Season 2, and Iron Fist, but this actually made them compelling. The motives are now so clear and defined to put it lightly. It was great to see these characters again (except Iron Fist) and I already can’t wait for what comes next. 
     

The Dark Tower (2017) Review

     Author Stephen King has written many an epic tale, but none more so than The Dark Tower series of books. Imagine if Lord of the Rings were to meet a Spaghetti Western. Yeah, its weird but because King is fucking insane he makes it work. To adapt that as a film you need to be just as crazy as him or as passionate about the Gunslinger and his quest. The filmmakers got one of those right. 

     On Mid-World, The Gunslinger (Idris Elba) has been on a quest for vengeance against The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) for years, who has a goal of destroying the Dark Tower which holds together all of existence. If left in ruins all of reality with cease to exist as we know it. But a little boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) could hold the key to either its salvation or annihilation. 

     This verson of The Dark Tower is not the book series. Yeah it has the basic ingredients that do make it the series, but ita truly not. The books were more meditative, more about the existential pursuit of something that gives your life meaning and purpose. The movie is more action and conflict oriented because you need to get to the point when it comes to cinema. 

     A key missing ingredient in the film is the spaghetti western element from the books. The lingering shots of the landscape, the unspeakable violence and especially the music. This is more of a 21st century film problem, musical scores are just bland. Think of the score from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and that is the Gunslinger’s music. Drive around with that music playing and you’ll feel like a badass. 

     The best thing about the flick, hands down, is the casting of Elba and McConaughey in the lead roles. The presence that they both carry just commands your attention. Elba manages to embody Roland’s stoic yet vulnerable nature of a man who has essentially become ronin. McConaughey, fuck, I haven’t seen an actor have this much fun playing a villain in years. The guy chews up scenery like he ran out of bubble gum. There is no greater joy than seeing an actor just have fun being evil. These two guys alone are worth the price of admission alone. 

     Putting aside my love of The Dark Tower books, it works on its own even if the plot is flimsy at times. Fans of Stephen King should have a lot fun spotting the easter eggs from his other stories, and the flick just ain’t bad at all. I mean, once you see Maximum Overdrive you can only really go up when it comes to Stephen King film adaptations. It says so little, but it truly says a lot. 

Ka. 

The Importance Of George A. Romero. 1940-2017


     Filmmaker George A. Romero passed away last week, I’ve been thinking about his films and the contributios that he made to cinema. He did more than that. He changed the face of American horror films with his masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead. I could go on for days on how he invented the modern zombie, how he made them cannibalistic in nature and all that. How films like 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead would never had existed if it weren’t for Romero. 

     Instead I’d rather dive into something a bit more personal. It was close to Halloween 1998, and I was just learning about symbolism and allegory in stories. Late one Saturday night, Night of the Living Dead came on so I finally decided to see it. 

     I was absolutely devastated by the ending. 

     As anybody who knows the final moments with the protagonist of the movie, Ben play out in a bit of a slow motion in my mind as he takes the shot to the head and dies. That alone is enough to depress anybody but I caught something this time around. 

     It has to do with the fact that Ben is a black man. 

     I had know the history of the Civil Rights movement as well as a kid could at that age, so I knew about Dr. King, Malcolm X and even Medgar Evers and their tragic deaths. 

     I can’t tell you if this was the first time I ever saw Night of the Living Dead, but I can tell you it was the first time I caught the symbolism of the tragic ending, and it opened up my eyes to other works and their meanings. When I saw Ben lying there dead among the other corpses, the images of the Civil Rights leaders flashed through my head. 

     Romero did say during an interview that the ending was not supposed to evoke the assassinations of these black men, actor Duane Jones was simply the best man for the job, but he did admit that seeing it now he couldn’t deny the symbolism behind it. 

     Soon after I discovered his sequel Dawn of the Dead and holy shit was it a scathing social commentary on materialism in society. The dead are all aimlessly wondering around a mall. The man always had something to say in some form. 

     I have to give credit to Romero for changing how I came to view film from simple entertainment to an art form that speaks to countless people. I know he influenced so many artists. But speaking for myself, he was the one that caused me to look closer, and discover truth in filmmaking. Rest in Peace Mr. Romero. And thank you.  

Spider Man: Homecoming (2017) Review


     I remember the first time I saw Sam Rami’s Spider-Man back in 2002. The wow factor, the close proximity to the comics, even the joy that the movie made me feel. 

     Well, 15 years, six films, and 3 Spider- Men later I can say enthusiastically that the films finally got lighthearted and humorous which was something the franchise was sorely lacking. 

     Its been about two months since the events of Captain America: Civil War and Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is eagerly waiting for his next mission from Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) while trying to balance high school and being a friendly neighborhood superhero. 

     After foiling a robbery attempt by the crew of Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) a former government contractor, Spider-Man is put to the test if he’s actually cut out to be a hero. 

     I believe its safe to assume that a lot of fans of Spider-Man have mild reservations about giving this movie their time and money consider how underwhelming the last few entries were. And that’s fair. As someone who doesn’t mind seeing the same character on screen, I just always hope for a different take or story to make it worth my while. 

     And holy shit, I got that here. 

     First off, the origin story has been reduced to a couple of lines. Parker is 15 years old and still in high school. Like for the entire movie. A lot of the movie feels like (because it is) a high school movie that took some inspiration from John Hughes. They even have a school dance (a Homecoming dance…) in the flick, for God’s sake!

     Tom Holland as Spider-Man is the best interpretation of the character I have seen yet on film. Some of the movies gloss over or just plain ignore the fact the Spider-Man is just a child. He really should have no business being a superhero. Holland manages to play the awkwardness of the character to such perfection, that I accepted him readily as the character more than Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. Might have to do with the focus being on high school, but it was easy going for me. This is the first time in a movie where I actually felt scared for Parker, where in the third act especially, I saw the boy’s fear in his eyes, trying to be brave, but he’s still just a 15 year old kid. 

     The true revelation of the film is Michael Keaton as The Vulture. This should have been a thankless, bullshit paycheck role, oh but not with Keaton. He infuses his character of Toomes with humor, sheer villainy, pathos and humanity into his role that any lesser actor would have slept through. The man in many respects was too good for the role. I mean, its the fucking Vulture! He was B-level villain, and that’s being much too kind. Every single damn time the man just commanded my attention. I have to refrain myself from too many spoilers, but you’ll know the scenes I’m referring to because you won’t be able to blink. 

     I was certain that the Marvel Universe references would be a distracting nuisance, but it fit seamlessly into the story. Tony Stark felt organic, appearing appropriately enough that it doesn’t become less of a Spider-Man movie instead of Iron Man 4. It helps to know the players, but its more self contained as a story than other Marvel films. 

     Homecoming had a lot of hurdles to get through in my eyes, but it damn well got over them. It’s so different, so humorous, that when the credits rolled, I laughed out loud and had a smile on my face as I went home. 

     Welcome home, Spider-Man.