Movie Review: Kingsman: the Golden Circle

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” begins as did the prequel with a really rocking showdown involving a bespectacled British man in a bespoke suit (Taron Egerton) and a bad guy (Edward Holcroft) set to a cheesy eighties’ hit (Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy”). Naturally, the good guy wins the first round, although there are more than a few hairy moments, involving dueling high technological gadgets and some low ones, as well. When the movie opens, Taron is still active in the Kingsman, a top secret spy group that operates out of a ritzy tailor shop, and in a relationship with the Swedish princess (Hanna Alstrom) he rescued in the last movie. However, the British arm meets an untimely end, forcing Taron and his colleague (Mark Strong) to emigrate to the US, where they hook up with the Statesmen (the American branch), headed by grizzled, chin-stroking, whiskey-sipping Jeff Bridges. All the American members have code names after alcohol, such as Tequila (Channing Tatum) and use gadgets like a lasso (which Taron mistakes for a skipping rope) to defeat evil. This time, evil arrives in the form of Julianne Moore, who plays a drug kingpin with a fifties-nostalgia fetish currently operating out of Cambodia, who sets in motion a possibly fatal drug epidemic and the President of the US (Bruce Greenwood) (who apparently was elected after movie Barack Obama’s head exploded last time). There’s also the possibility that one of the good guys is – get ready – a double agent.

When Taron and Mark arrive, they unexpectedly discover that their colleague (Colin Firth) who died taking out a church of rednecks in the last film, is alive, although suffering from amnesia and believing that he is actually an expert on butterflies. With Halle Berry aiding them by doing high tech computer stuff, Taron manages to cure (or semi-cure) Colin, and then the two, along with Channing, head out to the snow-covered slopes of Italy (Taron apparently returning after “Eddie the Eagle”) to track down the antidote that will cure all the people currently infected with the virus that Julianne has set in motion. Although Bruce is supposed to be on the side of the American people, he’s actually not, which is apparent every time he speaks with the Southern Drawl of Nefarious Motives. Eventually, as the body count increases, Taron, Colin and Mark visit Julianne’s lair, where she has kidnapped Sir Elton John and is forcing him to perform for her, and she also has two Transformer-like robot dogs on steroids to protect her. Anyway, the good guys manage to figure out how to foil all the baddies, so the main crew lives to see another day – and likely another sequel. There is so much action in this installment of “Kingsman,” that you only realize how absurd the plot is after you leave the theater. I also decided, somewhere around the fourth shootout, that if I am ever recruited by the Statesmen, I would like my code name to be Bacardi. Hey, it can’t be any cheesier than “Tequila.”


A Look Back: Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

When I was still very young, I noticed a decidedly odd thing about orphans – whether in book or film – that so many seemed to be blessed with amazing musical talent. (A majority also had red hair.) This did not make a great deal of sense when you sat down and considered it, but I went with it because why not? At the time, I did not have a series like Lemony Snicket’s (alias for Daniel Handler) “A Series of Unfortunate Events” which would have clued me in that not all orphan characters possess the ability to turn their woes into song, dance or impromptu gymnastics. The series, which stars three orphans who lose their parents in a suspicious house fire, and was made into a movie starring Jim Carrey, is honest enough to inform the reader from the start that the books are terrifically depressing and that the reader would be better off reading something else. Which of course, works as reverse psychology, as the series was quite successful.

In each book, the reader – while faced with the truth that life for the young is often unpleasant and/or unpredictable – can be assured of three things. One, that each orphan – played in the movie by Emily Browning, Liam Aiken and twins Kara/Shelby Hoffman as their infant sister – will be faced with dealing with their nefarious “uncle” (Jim Carrey) who is determined to get his hands on their fortune, and who has a seemingly endless array of disguises. Two, that when the children realize what their nemesis is up to, they will be disregarded if not presented with absurd reasons for why this truth is otherwise. And three, that while they will be able to use their unique skill sets (they are an inventor, a bibliophile and a biter respectively) to wriggle out of trouble – more will simply await them in the next installment.

The movie of “A Series,” stays true (at least at the beginning) by the narrator (Jude Law) recommending that the viewer seek another film to watch, and then gets down to business by having the children’s new guardian (Timothy Spall) meet them on the beach with the unfortunate news that they will now be living with Jim Carrey who is soon dismayed at the fact that he can’t get the fortune until Emily turns 18 or the trio croaks, and pawns them off on another guardian (Billy Connelly), a herpetologist, who seems benign until Jim shows up in disguise. From there, it’s curtains for Billy, forcing the trio to move in with an aunt (Meryl Streep), who is deathly afraid of everything, lives in a house overlooking a leech-filled lake, and who also meets an untimely end. The third act has the orphans living with Jim, who decides to engineer his marriage to his niece, by putting on (why not?) a play with his equally awful allies.

Luckily, the orphans manage to foil every unfortunate event that comes their way – though the movie’s end, which allows the children to take revenge on Jim that never arrives in the early books, is more Hollywoodish. Apart from that, it’s true enough to the books, although if a child watches it with an adult, they probably will be treated to a series of, “Hey, isn’t that so-and-so?” Life is tough when you’re an orphan, but as hokey as it sounds, sticking together and pooling your talents will help you survive in the long run.


Movie Review: Home Again

A quick question: If you’re looking for an ideal babysitter for your young girls who could use a dose of learning life lessons, you should pick _.

a) Someone with multiple references or at least highly recommended.
b) A family friend or neighbor that you’ve known for some time.
c) A trio or pair of well-meaning, mostly good-looking single guys who are fast friends.

If you are a child of the eighties like me, you probably chose c) or at least would guess that that’s the ideal choice for a character on a sitcom or movie set in that era. Shows like “Full House,” and films like “Three Men and a Baby,” explored the dynamic of adult men who are suddenly forced to care for – high jinx alert – a child, sometimes multiple ones, and/or teens. Because presumably the male species lacks the natural parenting instincts that women do. Or something. But they’re more fun!

In “Home Again,” Reese Witherspoon plays the kind of character found in chick flick movies like these – a newly separated single mom of two daughters (Lola Flanery and Eden Grace Redfield) whose lifestyle is an extended exercise in adorableness. Reese even looks adorable sobbing in the bathroom, which she does at the film’s start because it’s her fortieth birthday, she needs a job, and she’s single again. But she perks up because she has to be strong for her daughters, and soon there’s another reason as well. On a ladies-night out with her two friends, Reese bumps into Nat Wolff and his two buddies (Pico Alexander and Jon Rudnitsky) who are a director, actor and scriptwriter respectively looking for their Big Break. When the six of them head over to Reese’s to call it a night, the trio discovers that Reese is the daughter of a famous film director, and they’re thrilled to run into Reese’s actress mom (Candice Bergen) the next morning. One thing leads to another, and suddenly Reese has three new houseguests in the home her dad left her. Sexual tension runs high, one of the group helps her older daughter find the courage to submit her play to a school contest, and everything (except Reese’s interior design job to a prima donna) is going swimmingly until Reese’s ex (Michael Sheen) shows up at her doorstep. Now there’s a whole new brand of tension added to the mix.

None of the guys really adds up to a whole, multi-dimensional character – though this is probably the fault of the script – so Reese’s final decision (spoiler – to forgo – more or less – all of them) isn’t a huge surprise. The movie mostly relies on montages to move things along, and none of the conflicts goes anywhere really dark. “Home Again,” presumably based on the saying of Tom Wolfe’s (“You can’t go home again.”) is like a soufflé, not a bad way to spend your time consuming, but not really anything of substance.

Quiz: Can You Survive Being a Horror Movie Character?


Do you have what it takes to make it to the end of a horror movie safely without requiring years of trauma therapy? Take this quiz and find out.

1. Your family is going on a trip and needs accommodations, so you choose:
a) A hotel or motel, depending on your budget
b) Nearby family in the area or friends.
c) A dilapidated house on the outskirts of town in which your hosts have been recluses since a tragedy years ago.

2. If you choose c) and your hosts inform you not to wander around in a certain part of the house, but you hear noises coming from there at night, you:
a) Put in your earbuds and go back to sleep.
b) Bring up the topic in a casual way the next day at breakfast.
c) Get out of bed and go investigate! Without turning any lights on while you’re at it.

3. Again, if you are staying in a dilapidated house that’s behaving oddly, it takes _ to get you to leave.
a) A member of your party having a bizarre, not easily explainable accident.
b) The gruesome death of a domesticated animal.
c) Nothing – not until you’ve solved the mystery, damn it.

4. The best time to investigate odd noises, lights, sounds, etc. is _.
a) Never. Ever.
b) Mid-morning or afternoon.
c) Midnight or in the middle of a thunderstorm.

5. If you are on an investigation, and a piece of key gear malfunctions, such as the flashlight going out, you should:
a) Turn back immediately.
b) Keep going but only a short distance.
c) Plunge boldly forth into the darkness in the direction of the most eerie sounds.

6. If you notice a voice coming from a sewer, and it’s a clown, you should respond by:
a) Pretending not to hear anything until you’re a safe distance away.
b) Offering to call the fire department if the individual is indeed in distress, but that’s as far as you’ll go with the Good Samaritan stuff.
c) Stopping and having a conversation as if this is perfectly normal behavior for anyone, much less a clown.

7. If you plan on exploring a sewer, you should first _.
a) Get a hepatitis booster.
b) Arm yourself with a flashlight, a backup light source, a water bottle and trail mix in case you get lost, plus a heavy weapon.
c) Tell yourself and your companions that you owe it to whoever last fell prey to a mysterious, unsolved crime to investigate.

8. If the town you have moved your family to starts falling prey to gruesome crimes involving kids, which you yourself have, you should _.
a) Not let them wander around outside alone under any circumstances.
b) Start checking the real estate listings.
c) Behave as if this is perfectly normal and give your child a long leash. You can always have more kids, if you lose a couple of yours.

9. If the town you have moved to starts falling prey to gruesome crimes, you should also _.
a) Listen to and obey the authorities if they install a curfew.
b) Report any suspicious crimes right away to the authorities (even if they sound odd).
c) Spend lots of time on your own in deserted places like the basement of your library, alleyways or the woods.

10. A disheveled stranger approaches you and insists that you are in grave danger and should get rid of a particular object. You should _.
a) Take his advice, no matter how bizarre the whole thing strikes you.
b) Quiz him for further explanation, but then do exactly what he says.
c) Decide that he’s unstable and dismiss his warnings.

11. If you manage to figure out which object in your life is possessed by a demon, the next step is to _.
a) Destroy it completely, using a fail-safe method such as burning.
b) Turn it over to a priest and let him handle the whole thing.
c) Throw it into a cistern, place a board across the top and skip off merrily into the sunset.

12. The best person to hang around with if you’re experiencing lots of disturbing supernatural incidents and you’re a kid, is _ .
a) A priest or at least a protective adult.
b) A detective or a cop.
c) Your nerdy best friend who loves to solve mysteries.

13. If you choose to explore, and you finally do come face-to-face with the supernatural spirit, you should say _”
a) Nothing. Who in their right mind starts a conversation with a demon who’s been trying to murder them?
b) “So you’re the guy whose been scaring the bejeesus out of me? Nice.”
c) “Who are you? Where did you come from? Did you kill so-and-so?”

14. When you do come across the evil spirit, you should best fight it with _
a) Nothing. You’re human, how can you possibly win? Run like hell instead.
b) The latest technology – if you can’t destroy it, at least maybe you can document it.
c) Anything at hand – even if the spirit has the ability to shape-shift, fly, turn invisible, etc. Also try making a speech.

15. If you’re the mayor of a town experiencing supernatural incidents, you should definitely do _ to the dilapidated house that no one has lived in for years.
a) Bulldoze the place. It’s a health hazard anyway.
b) Put yellow police tape around the house and install heavy barriers.
c) Nothing. Just let it be because it’s not harming anyone, even if it is an eyesore.

Answers: If you chose mostly a) or b) responses, you probably have a good chance of making it to the end of the film alive. Good going.

However, if you chose mostly c) responses, you’re in grave peril and should try being more cautious. Good luck!


Movie Review: It (2017)

Humor columnist Dave Barry once wrote a piece in which he described going to see a scary movie with Stephen King (with whom he played in a band called the Rock Bottom Remainders) and their spouses. Barry was anxious because, according to him, he tends to clutch the person sitting next to him during particularly frightening parts, but as it turned out, he didn’t have to worry about embarrassment because King was doing the same to his wife Tabitha.

Even horror fiction writers, it seems, are human. I myself did not clutch my neighbor as I watched the remake of “It,” (novel: Stephen King; movie: Andy Muschietti), but that might have been because I went alone, plus it’s hard to grab anyone when you’re in a Barcalounger-like extended seat. But it was still scary. From now on, I solemnly vow to avoid all bathroom sinks, sewers, untethered balloons and ramshackle abandoned houses at the edge of town. That should do it.

“It” begins when Jaeden Liebeher informs his adorable little brother (Jackson Robert Scott) that he can’t join him in sailing a paper boat in the pouring rain because he’s “dying.” I half-expected Jackson to reply that Jason wasn’t dying – he just couldn’t think of anything good to do, but it’s not that kind of movie. Anyway, soon Jackson meets a clown (Bill Skarsgard) and disappears without a trace. Fast forward to the end of the school year, when Jaeden, the only one who believes his brother is still alive, gathers his friends together to try and solve the mystery. The group eventually grows to the size of seven, including Sophia Lillis (the only girl, bad reputation, creepy dad); Chosen Jacobs (black, orphaned in fire); Wyatt Oleff (neurotic, Jewish); Jack Dylan Grazier (hypochondriac, creepy mom); Finn Wolfhard (mouth permanently in overdrive); and Jeremy Ray Taylor (portly new kid, unrequited crush on Sophia). Each kid has their own angst to deal with, and if that’s not enough, there’s bully Nicholas Hamilton, whose dad is the town cop and who also falls under Bill’s spell.

Derry, Maine where they live, is a town where kids go missing with some regularly, but the adults are oddly blasé and do little but post “Lost” notices. (Derry is also a town whose residents must have the world’s lowest collective electricity bill since no one ever turns on their lights.) But when Jeremy confides in the group that there seems to be a pattern to the years when the town children disappear, they realize that the creepy experiences they have solo have a shared supernatural cause. This leads to lots of scary encounters in abandoned houses and sewers, featuring Bill popping out at the gang when they least expect it. When the seven “losers” realize that they’re stronger together – strong enough to defeat Bill, that’s when things turn around.  “It” features special effects that weren’t possible when the original movie came out, but it’s the bond between the kids that elevates the film and makes it worth seeing. If you’re not clown-phobic, that is.





A Look Back: Bring It On

Priscilla: OK we’re down a cheerleader for Friday night’s state game against North Compton and that squad always tries to bring it!

Ashley: Bring what, Priscilla?

Priscilla: Bring IT

Ashley: Right but, what is IT?

Priscilla: IT’s just what they bring OK?

[rolls her eyes] – From “Not Another Teen Movie”

When you’re getting ready for the first day of high school, there are multiple necessary preparations to be made, but if you’re a confident, uber-sexy blonde cheerleader like Kirsten Dunst in “Bring It On,” one might suppose that there wouldn’t be too many hidden pitfalls along the way to having a successful one. However, Kirsten – fresh from summer cheerleading camp (although she did – gasp – fumble the Spirit Stick there) – discovers that not only has her squad captain (Lindsay Sloane) had an accident that puts her out of commission, but that “My entire cheerleading career has been a lie!”

“Look on the bright side – it’s only cheerleading,” her new squadmate (Eliza Dushku) replies dryly.

“I “am” only cheerleading,” Kirsten moans, inconsolable.

Why such melodrama? Well, first Kirsten and her troupe must do the dirty work of holding auditions to replace Sloane, which brings a number of comically untalented wannabes out from the woodwork, including one lad who confuses them with the auditions for “Pippin.” Luckily, they manage to recruit the reluctant new girl (Eliza) who joins only because the school lacks a gymnastics team. (Obviously, Eliza is cut from the same mold as Missy Peregrym’s character in “Stick It,” as she is unapologetically a badass.) Anyway, once Eliza gets a look at their routines, she starts calling plagiarism on them, including the ones that have won them the National Championships last year. Although Kirsten is disbelieving at first, she gets backup evidence by going over to an inner-city school squad, led by Gabrielle Union, who does indeed confirm that Lindsay stole the routines. Now what should she do, especially as some of the squad really doesn’t see a problem?

Well, eventually, Kirsten decides to do the right thing and hires a new coach to help whip the squad in shape who serves as temporary comic relief, although the movie characters shoot out one liners like they’re going out of style. This, however, turns out to be a less-than-ideal solution down the road. Also, Kirsten has a crush on Eliza’s brother (Jesse Bradford) who is kind enough not to burst out snickering when she asks him if his t-shirt featuring The Clash is his own band. And Gabrielle’s squad is qualified, too, for Nationals but needs to raise the money in time. It all culminates at the Big Event, with predictable results, though the movie is a lot of fun. And an eye-opener for someone whose high school cheerleaders were much more land-bound, shall we say. (Those are some truly spectacular air flips.) If your high school football team always loses, as it does in “Bring It On,” it’s always good to have backup.

Movie Review: Annabelle: Creation

Whenever I hit a slow point in watching a horror movie, such as “Annabelle: Creation,” sometimes I amuse myself by compiling a list of lines that you will never hear in one because otherwise it would be much shorter and the body count much less. Such as:

“Before you decide to visit, I should tell you that our house is possessed, and our resident spirit is pretty volatile about changes – but if that doesn’t bother you, come on over!”

“Guests, you are all welcome to stay in my creepy abode, but if you start messing around with rooms that are supposed to be locked, you’re out of here, no excuses.”

“I’m having second thoughts about this place – unless someone can provide a reasonable explanation for the lights going out at key times, the dried blood on the walls and the screams at night, I’m leaving.”

“Okay, be honest with me – Is the fact that our host wanders around at odd hours scowling whenever we encounter him bother you enough to actually leave?”

“I don’t care if we have nowhere else to go, I’m getting the hell out of this creepy house right now because risking non-supernatural danger beats getting murdered or possessed.”

Surprisingly enough, none of the characters in “Annabelle: Creation,” utter these lines, so they are all in for a rough ride. Once upon a time, there was a dolllmaker father (Anthony LaPaglia) and mother (Miranda Otto) who had an adorable little girl (Samara Lee) who died in a tragic accident that also left Miranda disfigured and unable to walk. Years later, the couple agrees to let half a dozen girls and their guardian (Stephanie Sigman) stay at their house, in lieu of an orphanage, hoping to atone for the evil that’s about to be unleashed again. The girls, including Talitha Bateman who is recovering from polio, and her best friend, Lulu Wilson (who also appears in this year’s “Ouija: Origin of Evil”), are initially delighted at the spacious house, but after all the usual suspect signs in such movies that their host is hiding a dark secret and someone not of this earth is trying to reveal one, they are decidedly less enchanted and begin wondering certain things.

Such as: If our hostess can’t walk and our host keeps the room locked, who the hell keeps opening the door to the Chamber of Secrets? And: How is it possible for a child to scream repeatedly without being heard by any of the other residents who are sleeping in rooms nearby? Answer (spoiler alert) it’s Annabelle, a demonic doll possessed by a spirit that the couple originally believed was their dead child (next time, ask for references) who is determined to make mischief. Also there is a creepy scarecrow whose origin I never figured out but who also does major psychic damage to the girls and their guardian. (Maybe he just wanted in on the fun?) “Annabelle: Creation,” is a pretty typical horror movie that’s a good enough way to spend two air-conditioned hours in the summer, though I’ve never seen the original movie, so I can’t say how they compare.