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Josh Reviews Kingsman: The Golden Circle

I loved Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons comic-book mini-series The Secret Service, a delicious send-up of classic sixties-era James Bond spy capers.  I was a little less taken with Matthew Vaughn’s film adaptation, Kingsman: The Secret Service.  Mr. Vaughn is a terrific director (I love Layer Cake despite my dislike of its ending, and X-Men: First Class is one of the better X-Men films), and he had already made a movie adapting a Mark Millar comic-book series that was as good as, if not better than, the original.  (That would be Kick-Ass, a great comic and a great movie.)  But I thought Mr. Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service film muddled some of the original comic’s best jokes and ideas, and I found the anal sex joke in the final minute to be very distasteful.  But, I really like Matthew Vaughn and I like the idea of this series — taking the fun of those Classic Bond gadgets-and-babes adventures and bringing them into the modern era — so I was curious to see Mr. Vaughn’s second whack at this property.  (I must admit, I never expected to see a sequel, so I was intrigued to see what Mr. Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman had cooked up.)

At the very start of Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the Kingsman agency is mostly wiped out by a new enemy.  The surviving Kingsmen agents — young Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the Q-like “Merlin” (Mark Strong), and the miraculously resurrected after getting shot in the head in the first movie “Galahad” (Colin Firth) are forced to turn to their fellow spy agency, the U.S.-based Statesmen, for help.  The dapper British gentlemen spies and their cowboy-esque American counterparts together attempt to outwit the drug-lord Poppy (Julianne Moore) and her plan to unleash a deadly virus across the United States.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a fun time in the movie theatre though, like the first film, I once again feel Mr. Vaughn and his team have somewhat missed the mark.  The film’s strength and its weakness is that every single element feels dialed up to eleven.  The film is packed to overflowing with one crazy, outlandish sequence after another, and few characters are elevated above caricature.  (Seriously, is this the way Matthew Vaughn sees Americans???)  Some of these crazy sequences are fun, but it all gets to be a bit too much after a while.  (Like the first film, I think this sequel is about ten-twenty minutes too long.)

The cast comes to play, and the reason the film works as well as it does is this terrific cast.  Taron Egerton is very solid as the young super-spy Eggsy.  He steps effortlessly into … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Hail, Caesar!

The Coen Brothers have made some dark, violent films, and they have made some light, funny films, and they have made some films that seem to fall somewhere in between.  Their latest, Hail, Caesar!, is for most of it’s run-time one of the Coen Brothers’ lighter, more farcical films, though periodically the movie reminds us that it has something more on its mind than simple silliness.  Hail, Caesar! might, upon some reflection, be considered one of the Coen Brothers’ more minor works, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that this film doesn’t have a lot of fun to offer.


Set in Hollywood in the 1950’s, the film stars Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix, a studio exec and “fixer” who is trying to locate his kidnapped star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), before news of the star’s disappearance can make it into the papers.  Baird’s kidnapping, by a group of disgruntled Communist screenwriters, is only one of the many fires that Mannix has to try to put out as he tries to keep his studio afloat and all of his in-production pictures running smoothly.  The dim-witted Baird, meanwhile, finds himself somewhat taken in by his Communist kidnappers.

Hail, Caesar! is a very silly film.  “Silly” is a tone that is surprisingly difficult for many filmmakers to pull off, but the Coen Brothers have mastered the art of comedic goofiness.  They make it look so easy.  There are a lot of wonderfully funny moments in the film as the Coens gently skewer the art of making movies and the pomposity of Hollywood egos.  And say whatever you want about the film as a whole, but the fall-on-the-floor hysterical scene of effete director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) — whose very name is a subtle gag running throughout the film — trying to give a line reading to the dim-bulb cowboy actor Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is one of the greatest scenes they have ever created in any of their films.  I am not exaggerating.

One of my favorite aspects of Hail, Caesar is the way the film occasionally morphs into one of the popular styles of Hollywood films from the fifties, from Biblical epic to elaborate musical to peppy dance number.  Each one of these sequences is lovingly realized (Channing Tatum’s Gene Kelly-esque sailor song-and-dance number is particularly terrific) and they bring the film a great spark of energy each time they shift the movie into a different tone.  (Though I will say that while I loved Michael Gambon’s pompous narration at the start of the film, I could have done with a little less of it as the film progressed.)

Hail, Caesar!’s main film-within-a-film, the Roman epic in which Baird … [continued]

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Josh Reviews 22 Jump Street

I enjoyed 21 Jump Street but not nearly as much as many others seemed to.  I remember reading rave reviews of the film, and I saw it on several best-of-the-year lists.  I’m not sure what others saw in the film that I didn’t.  I thought it was an amusing diversion but not much more than that. (Click here for my original review.)  Still, I was interested when I heard that Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum were reuniting for a sequel.  Their chemistry was the best part of the first film, and I was curious to see where they’d take things in a second installment.

I wasn’t blown away by 22 Jump Street, though I certainly had a good time watching it.  This is not a very clever comedy but it’s funny and good-natured enough that it’s hard to find too much fault with it for being the dumb comedy it clearly is setting out to be.

The film takes a smart approach to being a comedy sequel in that it goes out of its way to repeatedly poke fun at the very idea of a comedy sequel.  I like this self-referential, tongue in cheek attitude, and it gives the film an endearing sense of playfulness.  Even though they make this same joke way too many times.

In fact, the film has two main jokes, each of which it pounds into the ground through repetition followed by more repetition.  Those two jokes are 1) the idea that they’re making fun of being a sequel in which everyone just wants the exact same story of the first film told again, and 2) the idea that the arc of Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum)’s relationship, their “bromance,” is just like the arc of a love affair between a man and a woman.  Both ideas are funny and good fodder for humor.  But both also grow tiresome when the movie makes the hundredth joke about each of them.  We get it guys!!!  We get it!!

Nick Offerman and Ice Cube return from the first film and both have a lot of fun with their scenes, especially Ice Cube who is a hoot.  There are a few new actors of note in this installment, particularly Amber Stevens as Maya, Schmidt’s new love-interest.  I wish she had more of an actual character to play.  Jillian Bell kills it as Maya’s roommate from hell.  She has one scene in particular with Jonah Hill, in which the two can’t seem to decide if they want to beat the shit out of one another or to make out, that is on its own a reason to go see this movie.

The funniest part of the … [continued]

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Catching Up on 2012: 21 Jump Street

I never watched the TV show 21 Jump Street, and though I was mildly curious about the apparently comedic take on the material in Jonah Hill & Channing Tatum’s 21 Jump Street film, I missed the film in theatres when it was released last spring.  I wasn’t too broken up about that.  But then I was shocked to start noticing 21 Jump Street on quite a few best films of the year lists at the end of 2012.  Had a really great comedy slipped by me?

Well, pardon me for disagreeing with what seems to be the generally accepted viewpoint, but no.

Maybe my hopes had been raised too high after reading so much praise for the film, but while I found 21 Jump Street to be a decently funny film, a comedy classic it is not.

The idea of turning what, to my understanding, was a fairly serious TV show — in which a squad of young-looking cops investigate crimes in schools — into a comedy is an interesting approach.  Perhaps one that is a little disrespectful to the source material, though on the other hand I was pleasantly surprised by the third-act surprise guest appearance in the film that made it clear that the film took place in the same universe as the original show, just set twenty-or-so years later.

I think Jonah Hill has a terrific comedic voice when used well (Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall would be my top two examples) and the idea of pairing him with the tall, buff, movie-star good-looking Channing Tatum is inspired.  The two have a great charisma together, and what works in 21 Jump Street is mostly due to the fun of these two playing off of one another.  (I also was taken by the sweetness inherent in the idea that the jock king of high school and the dorky geek could grow up to be best buds.)

The movie is funny, but rarely did I find it to be laugh-out-loud funny.  It’s a silly action movie, reminiscent of Hot Fuzz in the attempt to combine comedy with an over-the-top, Michael Bay-in- Bad Boys approach to action.  The film is certainly enjoyable but without any particularly brilliant comedic gags or surprises.  The story unfolds as you might expect.  Sent back undercover to high school, Mr. Hill and Mr. Tatum’s characters wind up reliving their own high school days, just from the opposite viewpoint: Mr. Hill’s character is suddenly cool, while Mr. Tatum’s character falls in with the geeks.  The two men start off working together, then have a fight, then reunite in time for an action finish in which they save the day.  It’s a simple story, but then … [continued]

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Summer Movie Catch-Up: Josh Reviews G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Growing up, my two favorite cartoons, by an order of magnitude, were The Transformers and G.I. Joe.  That makes it sort of hard to believe that this summer saw the release of  a live-action, big-budget movie version of both of those beloved (by me, at least!) old TV shows.

Wish I could say either one of them was any good!

Although, I must confess that I enjoyed G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra way more than I expected to, and a good deal more than the really undeniably terrible Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.  I mean, take a look at these two trailers:

Doesn’t Transformers look awesome, and G.I. Joe pretty terrible?  But the reality is that G.I. Joe wound up being a far-more entertaining and coherent film.

Heh.  Coherent.  That’s a funny word to use to describe G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, a film that is completely over-the-top and ridiculous from the first frame to the last.  But, whereas Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was a film that made absolutely not one lick of sense (and click here if you don’t believe me), with nothing even remotely resembling a logical progression from one scene to the next, G.I. Joe is actually a pretty straightforward adventure film.

Army grunts Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) witness the complete annihilation of their convoy by a highly advanced terrorist organization, and get swept up in the efforts of G.I. Joe, an elite multi-nation fighting force, to stop the bad guys.

Again, I realize the silliness of my calling this film “straightforward.”  Though it’s live-action, this movie is a complete cartoon, filled with soap-opera entanglements for almost all of the main characters and one crazily insane action sequence after another.  But in contrast to Transformers, there is a coherency to the plot.  There is some sense as to how one event leads into the next, and while I had to check imdb to figure out some characters’ names (for instance, I had no idea that Lost‘s Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje was supposed to be Heavy Duty), I didn’t have any trouble telling any of the myriad good guys and bad guys apart from one another (again, in marked contrast to Transformers).

The actors all seem to be having a lot of fun, and the cast is, for the most part, pretty solid.  I have never really understood the need for comic relief characters in films like this, but Marlon Wayans’ Ripcord isn’t too terribly annoying.  Channing Tatum’s Duke is fairly stiff, but I guess he’s supposed to be.  Dennis Quaid (looking more and more like Harrison Ford with each passing year) chews great scenery as General Hawk.  … [continued]