Film review – Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Starring Taron Egerton, Julianne Moore and Colin Firth

Certificate 15

There are so many belly laughs in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, it’s hard to know where to begin. Many of them involve the incredible returning cast, including Taron Egerton, Mark Strong and Colin Firth, and many involve a kidnapped rock legend.

After having been shot in the first Kingsman: The Secret Service, one of my favourite films of recent years, Firth is back as Harry, the gentleman spy who is a shadow of his former self.

Egerton’s Eggsy is still juggling dual lives as a chavvy John Steed-style character, while trying to keep his girlfriend, Princess Tilde (Hanna Alstrom), sweet from film one. Yes, the damsel in distress who came out with the most left field line of any heroine in a spy caper over the past decade.

While James Bond is all mature innuendo, Kingsman is his often foul mouthed, yet charming little brother, who cuts to the chase; a 007 for the channel-hopping generation.

It’s clear from the outset that director/co-writer Matthew Vaughn is ramping everything up with a bigger budget and more outlandish set pieces.

(I get the feeling co-writer Jane Goldman probably had a lot of input from husband Jonathan Ross).

Julianne Moore is terrific as Poppy, the insane antagonist who holds the world to ransom via a virus which leaves victims looking like they’ve been drawn on with a blue Biro. (Pity poor Keith Allen who bows out early in one of several gross out scenes).

Poppy has set up base in the jungle, residing in a strange arena of an archetypal US diner and shops inspired by Grease and American Graffiti.

As her plan becomes apparent and the Kingsmen are wiped out in sudden attacks, Eggsy and Merlin (Strong) discover a US branch of their organisation called Statesmen. It sets the scene for much stateside fun as our heroes gather enough intelligence and resources to go and beat Poppy.

While Channing Tatum, Halle Berry and Jeff Bridges have a ball, the secret ingredient in Vaughn’s special sauciness is Elton John. Yes, really.

When I heard he was making an appearance, I thought it was going to be one of those embarrassing cameos. The fact Elton provides several of the biggest laughs of the movie is astonishing.

Action scenes involving robot dogs could have been tiresome, but the choreography is superb. All slow mo, balletic gun fire and weird cutting like film one. The whole thing is so fast and frenetic, you don’t stop for a minute to realise how ridiculous it all is. Well, maybe I did at the film stopped half way through due to a technical hitch, which gave the five year old kids present a chance to scream and shout even more than they did throughout the rest of the movie. (I watched it in an Orlando theatre, which seems a lot more relaxed about letting little kids into 15 certificate movies).

With a terrific score by Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson, and some brilliantly inventive scenes, Kingsman: The Golden Circle isn’t the best film of the year, but it is one of the funniest, and occasionally most touching, mainly during a scene with Firth, Strong and Egerton in a padded cell.

I’ll happily go and see it again, hopefully without the tech problems or chorus of toddlers, and hope we don’t have to wait too long for a third movie.

Mr Bond. You have a lot to live up to.

8/10

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Travel: Yorkshire to Miami

I can’t get no satisfaction, with Milk Jigger. London to Miami.

It’s incredible what you can do with next to no sleep. After a 90-minute drive from Howden, Yorkshire to Manchester airport after a day at work, Mrs C and I arrive at our ’park and stay’ hotel with time enough for one hour’s sleep before we’re checking our and getting a complimentary shuttle to said airport. If that sentence sounds rushed, it’s intentional.

Thankfully after bag drop, we crash out at one of the posh lounges for breakfast and a chat with the staff. It’s ridiculously early-4.45am, though we arrive 20 minutes before it’s officially open.

Breakfast, a cheeky Disaronno and Coke leaves me feeling like a hypocrite after mentally tutting at all the lager drinkers in the regular lounges. “Alcohol. At this time in a morning? Outrageous”.

It’s freezing in the VIP lounge, which costs around £30 each. It’s worth every penny for the food, booze and chance to chill out.

We fly to Heathrow, go through security again and hang around waiting for the gate.

I’m in my Captain Scarlet tee shirt; it’s the 50th anniversary this week), and get chatting to an MoD ex-pat from Harrogate on his way home to DC. Obviously a fan, he wonders where he can get one.

Twenty minutes later we go our separate ways and queue for the gate.

After a random security pat down (or was it random after my chat with Mr MOD?), we’re on board and right by the toilets of our 747. ’This should be nine hours of fun,’ I think.

It’s actually not the aromatic experience I’d feared.

Okay, it’s freezing and there’s no air nozzles, but the films are great. I sit through The Belko Experiment, which looks like an episode of Black Mirror. I told writer James Gunn as much during one of his fan chats; the sublime Anne Hathaway indie comedy Colossal, and a chunk of Alien Covenant and Life. Essentially the same movie with Life far better.

My head starts pounding two hours before landing, and dinner makes me nauseous so I try and sleep. Which happens briefly, but the thunderous clouds over Miami and unwelcome turbulence make me nervier than ever.

Irma has left its mark, so I have no idea what to expect as we finally touch down.

Thankfully customs, bag collect and shuttle pick up are relatively easy compared to a two-hour nightmare in Dallas a year before. I suspect some tourists are staying away, or we just got lucky.

After telling our shuttle driver we need to be dropped a couple of miles from our original destination, he finally finds the place and is thrilled to get a little extra on top of his pre-paid tip. That’s the thing about Florida. It’s a flexible state with some of the best service in the world.

We check in to the Courtyard Marriott on Fort Lauderdale beach (literally as sand is piled high feet from where it should be), and grab another hour’s sleep before freshening up and heading out for dinner with friends.

The first Uber of the trip whisks us to a terrific traditional pizza restaurant where we enjoy beer, wine, starter and pizzas for around £20 each, including a 20 per cent tip. Bargain.

Ft Lauderdale is rain-lashed by the time we leave. I’m feeling more human, my head has stopped pounding and the nausea has gone. This should be a fun trip.

Courtyard Marriott, Fort Lauderdale, September 2017

Day two

So, a year after meeting David Cook in Texas, the wife and I do the whole thing again in Fort Lauderdale, which is a great excuse to try out a Floridian place we’ve not been before, and see one of the nicest blokes in showbiz.

Before which, too much sun on the beach across the road from the hotel, and a calorific dinner at Bubba Gump’s (I still think it’s amazing that Forrest Gump spawned a successful food chain, though their shrimp Mac and Cheese is out of this world).

Meet and greet wth David Cook is a fun preamble as the uber fans line up behind me. I’m first in the queue, which is nice, and when he finally comes on stage, after terrific support act Kathryn Dean, the place goes wild.

Broward Center for the Performing Arts seems like a posh venue for a rock act, but it’s a great gig, even if there’s the obligatory crazies who have had too much booze, drugs or both. And they always seem to stand next to me.

After a night of semi-restless sleep due to Saturday night party goers and thumping music elsewhere, things settle.

Day three

Last day in Fort Lauderdale on a rain-lashed Sunday, so hopefully things will pick up as we set off for the semi epic trip to Orlando.

Breakfast in a freezing mezzanine cafe area means punters in shorts and tee shirts have to do a 180 and get another layer from their rooms. Me included.

Thankfully the food is pretty good at the Courtyard Marriott. Two hot teas, a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon and toast and another involving egg white frittata came to a reasonable $36, inc 20 per cent tip. My tip to them? Turn down the AC.

Wind River – Film Review

Wind River

Directed by Taylor Sheridan

Starring Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham

Certificate 15

I know three things about Wind River before I settle into my comfy cinema seat. It was scripted by Taylor Sheridan, who penned Sicario and Hell or High Water (two of my favourite films of recent years), and stars one of my favourite actors, Jeremy Renner.

Everything else is, aptly, a mystery.

As the movie opens, and I’m treated to vast snowy vistas at the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, we meet US Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert (Renner).

It reminds me of why I love cinema. You just don’t get that same emotional impact on TV or (obviously) on your phone.

And that wintry American landscape is a key character in this beautifully told, brutal, intelligent thriller based on a true story.

Lambert has a tragic past, a Native American Indian ex-wife and son. While hunting vicious wildlife he happens upon the body of a frozen woman with bare feet.

Enter ill prepared FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen, Renner’s co-star in the Avengers/Captain America movies).

She’s obviously in over her head and needs Cory’s skills as a hunter who knows the area and the locals. Assisted by the wonderfully deadpan Ben (Graham Greene – Dances with Wolves), the story takes its time offering pieces of the jigsaw which slowly slot into place.

It’s not a film that feels in a rush, and director Sheridan keeps the attention throughout.

Yes, there are action scenes, and a lot of footage of Renner on a snowmobile, which keeps the energy up when it could start to flag.

The most important thing here is the performances and the dynamic between Renner and Olsen. Obviously they gelled in the Marvel movies, but while she’s all wide-eyed inquisitive and wet behind the ears, his face is a relief map of experience and buried pain. He’s cut from the same cloth of iconic heroes of old like Steve McQueen and Harrison Ford in his prime.

Not sure about Nick Cave’s soundtrack, which sounds like a drunk had stumbled into the recording studio when no one was looking, but it does add a spiritual element to the movie mirroring the Native American theme.

I’d quite happily watch this again as a double bill with Hell or High Water. Sheridan has a knack for crafting great thrillers with compelling characters, and if there’s any justice, Renner should get an Oscar and BAFTA nomination for his turn. It’s one of his best performances since The Hurt Locker.

Laced with humour to alleviate the tension, it ticks over beautifully with well realised characters and a breadcrumb trail that leads me and the audience further into the mystery.

The movie closes with a chilling statistic about the fact the FBI does not have statistics on missing Native American women, whose numbers remain unknown. It could be preachy but isn’t.

The fact I stay through most of the closing credits is testament to how good the film is.

Some critics have called it one of the best films of the year. I’d have to agree.

8/10

It (2017) Movie Review

It (2017)

Directed by Andy Muschietti

Starring Bill Skarsgard, Sophia Lillis, Jaeden Lieberher

It’s 30 years to the month since I first read It, Stephen King’s 1100 page epic about a bunch of kids terrorised by an evil force.

Though overlong, and filled with some unnecessary scenes that outstay their welcome, the core of the story was compelling.

King took his time breathing life into his eclectic characters, and due to the length of the book, I didn’t so much read it as inhabit that world.

Decades after Tim Curry’s superb turn as the evil clown Pennyswise in a pretty good TV movie, we finally have the big screen version.

I’d expected a disaster, especially seen a few weeks after the car crash that was The Dark Tower adaptation.

So it’s a relief to report that not only is It (2017) one of the best King adaptations so far, it’s also one of the best horror films of the year.

Blessed by a terrific cast of young actors, including standout turns from Finn Wolfhard (that kid from Stranger Things) and Sophia Lillis (in a star-making turn) as Beverly, just about the only likeable female character in the movie, It sucks you in from the achingly sad pre-credits sequence.

Reading the novel in 1987, I didn’t empathise much with the young character who introduces us to the demonic Pennywise, but age changes a lot.

I will him not to go near that storm drain, and to just carry on running and live a happy life, but that would be a pretty short and very different film.

Of course the star of the show is Pennywise, a stunning performance from Bill Skarsgard. Playing it with a mix of mischief and malevolence, his drooling, grinning, leering character is the most memorable screen villain since Heath Ledger’s Joker in 2008.

There’s so many jump scares in the movie, and plenty of laughs too, the tone is just right. A laugh here, a scream there.

However, the format is also a little annoying. Every young character once they’re alone suffers visions and hallucinations, so there’s not much of a surprise when monsters jump out. Thankfully it’s also very weird in places. Once the kids find the obligatory haunted house (art directed to within an inch of its life), the scene is set for a thrilling showdown.

Secondary characters such as the inevitable young thugs who terrorises our heroes are also well cast. Whether coincidence or intentional, the lead villain has that air of the psycho Sid from Toy Story, while the shadow of other King adaptations looms large over the movie. The main influence is Stand By Me, and there are also nods to Carrie and The Shining, but without being the obvious Easter eggs displayed through The Dark Tower.

Of course compressing 1100 plus pages into two plus hours of screen time means something is going to get jettisoned, and with the door left open for a sequel – or the rest of the actual novel – it means both fans of the source novel and newcomers shouldn’t feel short changed.

Wisely updated to the late 1980s, though it still feels like it’s set in the 1950s or 1960s, this is one of those movies that will easily makes its budget back and may even become the most lucrative King adaptation so far. It will give some nightmares, and make others spill their popcorn.

What more do you need from a successful horror movie?

8/10

To see my video review: https://youtu.be/fKxx3CIolSs