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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

Kingsman: The Secret Service evaded me when it played theaters—and it’s a humdinger of a movie, that’s for sure.

In this film based on a comic-book series, Colin Firth plays Harry, a member of a secret order of agents that saves the world from all kinds of bad guys. When a fellow agent dies (the agents are named after the Knights of the Round Table), Harry recruits Lee (Jonno Davies), the young son of a former agent and friend, to be the replacement.

Unlike James Bond movies, this one isn’t afraid of bad words and gory violence. One scene in which Harry executes an entire church full of hateful rednecks (set to the tune of “Free Bird”) has more gore than three average R-rated movies combined.

Firth is great here, as are Mark Strong and Michael Caine as fellow agents. Mark Hamill shows up briefly in a pivotal role, and Samuel L. Jackson gets a meaty part as the strangest of terrorists.

The film is loaded with surprises, as well as some fine action directed by Matthew Vaughn. It’s one of the best action films of the year.

Special Features: There are numerous featurettes on the making of the movie and some photo galleries.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Atom Egoyan, an inconsistent but sometimes brilliant director (The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica), delivers his very worst film with Devil’s Knot. The film is a dramatic representation of the child murders that were the subject of four documentaries (the Paradise Lost films and the Peter Jackson-produced West of Memphis). Egoyan casts Oscar winners Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth in major roles, yet everybody seems lost in a film that feels truncated with no sense of direction.

The story of the three little boys murdered in Arkansas, and the resulting witch-hunt that resulted in the wrongful incarceration of three teenagers for two decades, is powerful. Even though the story has been told in the documentaries, it could be the subject of an amazing film. However, what Egoyan delivers is a standard courtroom drama, featuring a stilted, confused performance from Witherspoon as Pam Hobbs, mother of one of the murdered boys. Witherspoon’s approach to Hobbs is muted and dull. She captures none of Hobbs’ personality.

The casting of the West Memphis Three (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr.) is uninspired, and the characters barely factor in the film. Instead, the movie spends most of its time with Firth as Ron Lax, a private investigator who doesn’t do much here other than act mildly appalled.

This film is a sad, tragic mess. The movie feels like a made-for-TV effort that the producers decided to make R-rated at the last minute.

Echols himself has publicly decried the movie. He couldn’t be more right about this one.

Devil’s Knot is available via various online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing