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If you thought 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was a bit over the top—and you liked that aspect of it—you’ll be happy to know that things were just getting started with Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of the Mark Millar/Dave Gibbons graphic novel, The Secret Service.

Sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle pulls out all of the stops, goes into severe overkill mode, and then somehow holds together nicely; it delivers a fun time for those who like their movies a little nasty. It’s over-long at 141 minutes, and a pug dies—but the action snaps with expert precision, and the cast kicks ass.

That cast includes Taron Egerton as Eggsy, the young recruit of Harry Hart (Colin Firth) from the first film. The Kingsman—an underground, sharply dressed spy agency in England—remains in operation after the death of Harry, who took a bullet to the head in the first chapter. Eggsy has settled down with a royal girlfriend (Hanna Alstrom), and has segued comfortably into the life of a secret agent.

As it often goes when you are just starting to enjoy your job, things start sucking badly as missiles destroy Kingsman headquarters and strongholds, leaving behind only Eggsy and techy Merlin (Mark Strong). Eggsy and Merlin wind up in America, where they meet the Statesman—secret allies doing a similar spying service for the U.S. The task force includes Tequila (Channing Tatum), Ginger (Halle Berry) and Champ (Jeff Bridges).

The two organizations join to battle Poppy (Julianne Moore, gloriously crazy here), a rich drug dealer who can afford to build a compound that looks a lot like Disneyland’s Radiator Springs in the middle of a jungle. She’s also wields enough power to kidnap Elton John, who is a very colorful hostage in her music hall.

Poppy has hatched an evil scheme to poison all of her drugs. When she calls the president of the United States (Bruce Greenwood) and demands that he pay a price for the antidote, POTUS proves to be 10 times meaner than Poppy. (An evil, selfish, conniving president? That’s just crazy!)

Does it sound like there’s a lot going on in this movie? Well, there is, and it’s probably enough to command two films; Vaughn should’ve practiced a little more restraint. This is a good, fun movie—but it could’ve been great. It still achieves greatness in some of its sequences, including a ski-slope fight that goes to dizzying extremes; just about every fight scene in the film is a decent pulse-racer.

If you’ve seen the commercials, you know that Colin Firth returns for this movie. I won’t give away the nature of his return, but I will say it’s good to have him back. Speaking as a fan of the first movie, I can accept the ridiculous plot twist that puts Firth back in the character. He’s an important part of this franchise.

Like its predecessor, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is very violent, super-profane and steeped in dark humor. This is a movie in which men wind up in meat grinders and are cooked into hamburgers for other men to consume under duress. It takes a director with chops to pull this sort of stuff off and even make it funny. Vaughn is up to the task.

While Bridges, Tatum and Berry do fine with their smallish roles, Moore basically steals the movie by portraying one of the year’s greatest, most-memorable villains. Poppy is a sick hoot, and her penchant for cooking manburgers and terrorizing Elton John make her a unique kind of evil. Moore is no stranger to getting laughs, and she gets a lot of them in this movie.

If you liked the first movie, you will like this one just fine, so go see it for a nice blast of sick action as autumn kicks off. Also … if this movie is any indication, you should be very careful to never, ever piss off Elton John.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

A gang of losers plots to rob a NASCAR racetrack during one of its busiest weekends—and they do it in a hackneyed way that makes absolutely no sense in Logan Lucky.

Steven Soderbergh comes out of retirement to direct Channing Tatum as Jimmy Logan, a former football player who has fallen on bad times, and then suddenly gets it in his head to rob the racetrack. His plan involves sneaking people out of prison, blowing things up with gummy bears, and using secret allies within the establishment.

Soderbergh did the Ocean’s Eleven movies, and the first one included a reasonably fun and inventive heist. Well, this is sort of Ocean’s Eleven for rednecks—but it’s hard to believe this group would have the ability to pull off the heist.

The film is almost saved by some of the supporting performances, including Daniel Craig as an incarcerated safe cracker who digs hard-boiled eggs, and Adam Driver as Jimmy’s one-armed brother. But for every character who is a plus, there’s a lame one, like Seth MacFarlane’s heavily accented millionaire who is not as funny as he thinks he is. Hilary Swank shows up in the final act in a role that feels tacked on.

The movie doesn’t come together in the end, and its robbery scheme is too cute to be realistic. The big reveals feel like a cheat rather than a unique twist.

It’s good to have Soderbergh back in action, but this is just a rehash of something he’s done before—with the addition of a Southern accent. It’s much ado about nothing. There are a few laughs here, but not enough to justify seeing Logan Lucky in theaters.

Logan Lucky is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

So Hail, Caesar! is a film with virtually no plot, but it gives Joel and Ethan Coen a chance to adapt the styles of films from the ’40s and ’50s into their weirdo universe?

Hell yeah. Sign me up!

The Coen brothers bring a blast of creativity to early 2016 with a movie that, frankly, had a lot of their fans (including myself) a little worried. Its release was moved out of the 2015 award season and dumped into February—usually a cinematic graveyard. It wasn’t screened for critics until a couple of days before its release, a tactic usually reserved for the likes of Deuce Bigalow and Transformers movies, not the Coens.

In truth, this movie probably will score the highest with diehard Coen fans—those who react with glee to the notion that it takes place at a studio called Capitol Pictures. That’s the same fictional place where Coen creation Barton Fink suffered writers’ block all the way back in 1991.

While there are obviously nods to Barton Fink, the film Hail, Caesar! feels most like from the Coen collection is The Hudsucker Proxy, another period piece that featured fast-talking caricatures, unabashed silliness and astonishing period detail. Like Hudsucker, Hail, Caesar! features a bunch of great performers playing with great writer-directors in a movie that looks great.

It follows a day in the life of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a studio enforcer at Capitol Pictures tasked with keeping stars out of trouble and assuring moving pictures stay on schedule. In the middle of filming a biblical epic, huge star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is kidnapped by Hollywood communists, who demand $100,000 in ransom money.

Mannix must figure out how to get his star back while dodging two gossip columnists (both played by Tilda Swinton, in increasingly hilarious wardrobes), navigating the latest scandal of studio star DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) and comforting director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), who has had a marble-mouthed stunt actor named Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) forced into his romantic comedy.

The plot is paper-thin, but it does give the Coens a chance to do their quick interpretations of old-timey movie Westerns, screwball comedies, Esther Williams-style pool epics, overblown Bible movies, Gene Kelly-type musicals and more. The film includes of short homages to all of these cinema genres, and each one of them is a total blast. The movie features communist writers in a manner far less serious than the recent Trumbo.

The Coens have a way with making minor moments so grandiose. While Hobie Doyle waits for a date, he opts to play with his lasso in a way that reminded me of the kid in Hudsucker sampling a hula hoop. Fiennes and Ehrenreich have an exchange over a simple movie line that is easily one of the funniest things the Coens have ever put to screen. A close second is a moment involving a scarf and Coen staple Frances McDormand. And if you don’t laugh when Clooney’s Whitlock beholds the Christ, well, there’s something wrong with you.

In a show-stopping homage, Channing Tatum does career-best work in an On the Town-like bar sequence that has him dancing and singing up a storm. It’s at once gloriously perfect and seriously demented—the kind of thing only the Coens could pull off.

I wish the Coens had a lot more time on their hands, because it would be a delight to see the further adventures of Mannix, Hobie Doyle and DeeAnna Moran. They each deserve their own movie. Hail, Caesar! gives total silliness a grand treatment, and reminds us that nobody does silly better than the Coens.

Hail, Caesar! is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Steve Carell disappears into the role of John du Pont, the real-life crazy rich guy who took it upon himself in to shoot and kill one of the wrestlers on a team he created.

Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo are heartbreakingly good in Foxcatcher as Mark and David Schultz, two Olympic gold medal-winning siblings who, unfortunately, worked for du Pont when he had his breakdown. Down on his luck and living on ramen noodles, Mark gets a call from du Pont, who invites him out to his Foxcatcher farm. Mark finds a sense of purpose working with du Pont, and eventually summons his brother and his family to Foxcatcher.

What follows is a descent into insanity for the attention-starved du Pont, who lives under the chastising eye of his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) and is obsessed with controlling others. The madness eventually ended with the death of one of the brothers, and du Pont living his final years in prison.

Carell is amazingly good here; one only needs to watch a few minutes of the real du Pont on YouTube to know he nailed the characterization. Tatum and Ruffalo are equally good as the confused brothers.

Mark Schultz is currently protesting director Bennett Miller’s portrayal of him in the film, and he might be in the right on a few aspects of that portrayal. Still, Foxcatcher is a great film that will leave you with an appropriately sick feeling in your stomach.

Foxcatcher is now playing at the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews

I totally lost it thanks to a laughing fit during 22 Jump Street. There’s a pivotal scene in this always-funny sequel that had me laughing to the point where tears were coming out of my eyes, and I couldn’t breathe.

I noticed that a lot of folks around me were having the same problem.

I won’t tell you about the scene; you’ll know what I’m talking about when it happens. I will tell you that this sequel is as good as the film that birthed the franchise.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, an unlikely duo if there ever was one, basically repeat the same steps of the very funny 21 Jump Street, and they do it in a way that keeps things fresh—while recycling the same plot. This film acknowledges what it is—a run-of-the mill sequel—for its entire running time. It’s a self-mocking technique that works well thanks to its stars and the deft comic direction of returning directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. (Lord and Miller are on a roll; they also directed this year’s The Lego Movie.)

This one picks up where the first film left off, with Captain Dickson (Ice Cube, in serious comic overdrive) giving Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) an undercover assignment at a college, where they will do exactly what they did in the first movie: Infiltrate the drug-dealers, and find the supplier.

Once they show up in college and put their stylin’ beanbag chair in their dorm room, Schmidt and Jenko set about making friends and looking for the new drug of choice, called WHYPHY. Of course, the two ingest the drug at one point, which leads to a hilarious trip in which Schmidt ends up in some sort of hell where Creed plays on the loudspeakers, while Jenko has a more pleasant time involving rainbow colors and getting tickled.

Schmidt continues to be the only one who gets lucky in the Jump Street universe, this time scoring with Maya (Amber Stevens), who, much to his surprise, happens to be related to somebody prominent in his life. Jenko definitely has a better time in college than he did in high school, hitting it big with Zook (Wyatt Russell, son of Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell), the football team’s quarterback. Jenko becomes a star athlete while Schmidt has girl problems and eventually finds himself ostracized.

Some of the film’s best gags occur while Ice Cube is on the screen; there’s also a great bit involving Maya’s roommate, Mercedes (Jillian Bell), and her hilariously deadpan observations after having to endure sex noises all night. Twins the Lucas Brothers (that’s how they’re credited) play Keith and Kenny Yang, Schmidt and Jenko’s odd neighbors across the dormitory hall, who share thoughts and are responsible for Schmidt and Jenko’s surprise WHYPHY trip.

As for cameos, Rob Riggle makes a triumphant return as Mr. Walters, who lost a very important piece of his anatomy in the first movie, and Dave Franco is back as Eric the drug dealer, who’s living a life of pure hell as Mr. Walters’ cell-block husband. Stick around for all of the credits for a final joke involving those two, as well as a short cameo by Richard Grieco as Booker, a vet of the 21 Jump Street TV show. Nothing beats Johnny Depp’s cameo in the first movie, but Riggle and Franco’s cameo come close.

Some of the film’s biggest laughs occur during the credits, during which Schmidt and Jenko keep getting assigned to new schools (magic school, dancing school, etc.), with accompanying fake movie posters.

It seems as if the post-credit future-premise jokes exhaust all ideas for new installments. Please don’t let this be true. I want more Schmidt and Jenko movies.

22 Jump Street is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Director Roland Emmerich has made fun trash before (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012). He’s a modern-day Irwin Allen, and I often get a kick out of his silly disaster movies.

But White House Down, starring Channing Tatum as a lawman who happens to be touring the White House when terrorists take over, is a complete bust. It’s too stupid to be fun, and it doesn’t offer enough cool special effects to offset the moronic storytelling. (The Capitol getting destroyed is the only memorable moment of carnage.)

Jamie Foxx plays the president as sort of an Obama clone; he’s taken hostage in a homeland-terrorist scheme that is beyond impossible. Throw in a precocious daughter (Joey King) and James Woods doing his James Woods routine, and you have a movie full to the brim with useless clichés.

Tatum, so much fun in 21 Jump Street, is left stranded in a movie that couldn’t be dumber if it tried. Emmerich has given us one of the summer’s biggest bombs.

White House Down is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The first half of Side Effects, director Steven Soderbergh’s alleged feature-film swan song, is excellent. Unfortunately, the second half is merely passable.

Jude Law stars as a doctor treating a depressed patient (Rooney Mara) who is given an experimental drug—with some nasty results. The film is at once a mystery and an indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, and it hums along nicely for a good chunk its running time.

Then, it suddenly becomes mediocre, as the mysteries start getting solved.

Good things happen before it unravels, with Mara doing some nice work alongside Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Unfortunately, there’s a subplot with Zeta-Jones that stops the movie in its tracks whenever it’s playing out.

Soderbergh says this is it for him and feature films. (His excellent made-for-TV Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra, is currently running on HBO, and he’s calling that his last film of any kind, period.) Hopefully, he just takes a couple of years off and finds himself back behind the camera someday. This movie is OK, but I would like to see him go out on a better note.

Special Features: You only get some fake commercials and a very short look behind-the-scenes. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Yes, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is an improvement over the original, but don’t get your hopes too high.

Dwayne Johnson joins something like his 18th franchise, as does Bruce Willis, in this confusing yet sometimes entertaining follow-up to G.I. Joe: The Sucky First Movie. There are some good action sequences, including a snowy-cliff sword battle and the destruction of London. There’s also a lot of clatter about Cobra Commanders and Snake Eyes and a bunch of other toy names.

Channing Tatum and Johnson have a great rapport, and a whole movie with them together could’ve been fun. Unfortunately, Tatum makes an early exit, making way for The Smirk. Willis is OK, but he doesn’t add all that much. Jonathan Pryce is fairly menacing as two characters: the president of the United States, and his evil impostor.

I’d tell you some plot details, but that would be a waste of space. Just know that if you plunk down for this, you will see a couple of good action sequences and a whole lot of mindless crap.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

While watching this, I got to thinking that male strippers have done so much better at the movies than female strippers. Men get this almost-cerebral treatment when they take their clothes off; they also get cleverly funny stuff like The Full Monty.

Women get Striptease and Showgirls.

Channing Tatum, who is having a terrific year, stars in this stripper tale, based a bit on his own story before he became a big-actor type. It’s funny and even a little dark, thanks to the work of one Steven Soderbergh, a director who rarely has a misstep. Matthew McConaughey is also on hand as the mentor to the strippers, and, I must say, he’s the best-looking dude in this movie with his shirt off. Sorry, Channing … Matthew is in killer-diller shape!

It’s a fun watch, but don’t rent this one thinking it’s proper for a bachelorette party. It’s an actual movie with drama and lines and stuff. If you are looking for straight-up dancing naked male dudes, you might have to opt for calling up the real thing.

This is a good vehicle for Tatum, who gets to show off his comedic, dramatic and dancing chops—as well as his butt.

SPECIAL FEATURES: All you get is a featurette of the dance sequences, some extended dance sequences and a quick behind-the-scenes look. Virtually nothing went into this.

 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing