Furious 7

Furious-7

2015

Universal Pictures/Original Film/One Race Films/Relativity Media/Media Rights Capital

Directed by James Wan

Produced by Neal H. Moritz/Vin Diesel/Michael Fottrell

Screenplay by Chris Morgan

Based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson

I have a lot of admiration for “The Fast and The Furious” film series. The first movie “The Fast and The Furious” was little more than an unofficial remake of “Point Break” substituting street racing clubs for surfers. Gradually the movies changed and developed into crime thrillers, teenage coming of age dramas and heist movies. With “Fast & Furious 6” and now FURIOUS 7 they’ve become full tilt boogie action-adventure spectacles with international locations, larger-than-life villains, breathtaking fight scenes and mind-boggling stunts that easily match and yes, sometimes top what you would expect to see in a James Bond or Mission: Impossible movie. There a scene in this movie where silky smooth spymaster Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) tells Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel) “This is the world you’re in now, like it or not.” Which I interpret as a sly hint that this type of globe-trotting espionage capers is where the franchise is heading now. And if we’ve got more movies as good as FURIOUS 7 coming, then I eagerly await them.

It seems as if life has finally settled down for Dominic and his family. He’s helping Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) try and regain her lost memories. Ex-cop/Ex-FBI agent turned professional criminal Brian O’Conner has resolved to become a family man with his wife Mia (Jordana Brewster) and their son Jack even though he reveals to Mia that he misses the jazz of his dangerous life.

None of them have to worry about being bored. Dom’s house is blown up and he’s informed by his ally Luke Hobbs of the Diplomatic Security Service (Dwayne Johnson) that Dom and his crew are being hunted by Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) the older and definitely meaner brother of Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) the villain from the last movie who is now in a coma. Deckard is out for revenge and has already killed Han Lue (Sung Kang)

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Dom is contacted by Mr. Nobody who offers to help Dom catch Deckard if Dom and his crew will help him stop a vicious mercenary named Jakande (Djimon Honsou) from getting his hands on God’s Eye. It’s a frighteningly sophisticated computer program that can use any digital device in the world to track any individual (think of it as the little sister of the Big Brother-ish Machine from “Person of Interest’) and Jakande has the creator of God’s Eye, Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) After rounding up Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Chris Bridges) the band is back together and they set out to rescue the hacker, recover God’s Eye and save the world.

Well, maybe not save the world, but there certainly is that kind of feel as our heroes race around the globe from the Caucasus Mountains to Abu Dhabi and back to Los Angeles. And in each one these locals there are jaw-dropping action sequences that are insanely preposterous but I couldn’t help but watch with a goofy grin on my mug because dammit, that’s the reason why I go to see movies of this type. Give me the insane and the preposterous every time.

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What’s even more amazing to me is that all this astounding action is served up by James Wan, who as far as I know has directed mainly horror movies. Who knew that this cat had this kind of action movie in him? And now that we know, he should be given nothing but action movies to do. Seriously, FURIOUS 7 would be an impressive piece of work from a seasoned action director. But coming from Wan, who hasn’t done this genre before…well, he gets a standing ovation from me.

By now, everybody knows their characters inside and out and in a way, we all do as well. The team just isn’t a team. It’s a family as well and while that aspect may feel like it’s being beaten to death at times, it’s such an essential element of these characters that there’s no way a “Fast and Furious” movie can do without it. Especially not when the story has these kinds of stakes, what with Torretto & Co. being hunted by Deckard for personal reasons. James Wan isn’t afraid to slow down the action to develop emotional scenes between his characters and that gives resonance to the story in-between the cars flying through buildings and parachuting out of planes.

There’s a lot of great fight scenes in here, more elaborate than I can remember being in the other movies. Paul Walker and Tony Jaa as Jakande’s Oddjob go at it. Michelle Rodguez and Ronda Rousey have a memorable throwdown that while I enjoyed the hell out it also had me wondering since when did Letty become such an accomplished martial artist that she’s able to take down three other opponents at the same time before her main bout with Rousey’s character? We also get Johnson vs. Statham and Diesel vs. Statham. There’s your money’s worth right there, partners.

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So should you see FURIOUS 7? What, are you kidding me? YES. It’s a non-stop action extravaganza that’s not afraid to show heart and emotion, especially at the movie’s end which is both a truly moving tribute to Paul Walker and a sendoff for Brian O’Connor. If they never do another “The Fast and The Furious” movie, FURIOUS 7 is a more than satisfying way to end the series. This is the rare film series that has has gotten bigger and better with each new entry (I won’t mention “Tokyo Drift” if you won’t, okay?) and I hope it only continues to get bigger and better. Highly Recommended.

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137 Minutes

PG-13

The Gunman

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2015

Anton Capital Entertainment/Canal+/Silver Pictures/TF1 Films Production/Open Road Films

Directed by Pierre Morel

Produced by Adrian Guerra/Sean Penn/Peter McAleese/Andrew Rona/Joel Silver

Screenplay by Don Macpherson/Pete Travis/Sean Penn

Based on the novel “The Prone Gunman” by Jean-Patrick Manchette

Just going by the trailers I saw for THE GUNMAN I figured that Sean Penn was throwing himself into the same pool that Liam Neeson, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Costner, Arnold Schwarzenegger and their ilk are already swimming in: becoming a credible and legitimate Action Movie Hero even being over the age of 50. And actually, being over 50 works for Sean Penn in this role as he’s now got a face that looks lived in. It’s the face of a man who’s experienced life.

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Now to be fair, Sean Penn was never any rival to Rob Lowe or Keanu Reeves in the looks department even when he was younger. But one thing I like about the Over 50 Action Movie Hero is that these guys look like Men and not like little pretty boys playing Tough Guy. Sean Penn could have a career in Action Movies just going on physicality alone. Seriously, the cat has been doing some working out. In the theater I saw THE GUNMAN in, I heard quite a few gasps from the ladies during scenes where Sean Penn had his shirt off. His musculature is quite impressive. Such a shame that the movie itself isn’t as impressive. Halfway through the movie I also heard quite a few snores.  Liam Neeson’s got nothing to worry about. If THE GUNMAN is the best Sean Penn can come up with then he needs to rethink this whole Action Movie thing.

Movie review: 'Gunman' shows Penn preachy, violent and a bit out-of-date

Jim Terrier (Sean Penn) is a member of a covert black ops team of military contractors working in The Congo. They’re undercover, waiting for their opportunity to assassinate a high level minister who is standing in the way of a major western corporation lusting after The Congo’s mineral wealth they wish to exploit. It’s Jim who actually pulls the trigger on the minister and is forced to flee, leaving behind his girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca) to seek comfort in the arms of Jim’s friend Felix (Javier Bardem) who plays his role so broadly he does everything but wear a billboard saying: “You Will Curse Me For My Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal”

Years later, Jim is working as a volunteer in a African village and seems to have put his violent past behind him. Not. A hit team comes to take Jim out and instead gets took. Jim connects the dots based on things the members of the hit team said and their equipment and deduces that somebody wants him dead for the assassination he did. But who? Is it Felix who is now married to Annie and doesn’t appreciate Jim coming back to break up his happy home? Is it Cox (Mark Rylance) another member of the team who is now the CEO of his own international military contracting corporation? Whose side is Interpol agent Barnes (Idris Elba) on? Jim bounces from London to Barcelona and back, trusting only in the assistance of his former mentor Stanley (Ray Winstone) to help him figure out who’s trying to kill him and why.

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Sounds like exciting stuff, don’t it? And somewhere in THE GUNMAN there is a solid, pulpy action thriller. Unfortunately director Pierre Morel forgot the action and instead we get long stretches of dialog between Penn and the other members of the cast as they debate the morality of privatized military corporations, international politics, the raping of Third World resources by the U.S. and half a dozen other weighty subjects that are certainly relevant and need to be discussed. But not in a movie that bills itself as an action thriller and was directed by Pierre Morel, the man who directed the first “Taken” and “District B13” one of the best and most high octane Action Movies ever made.

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Sean Penn is certainly game and his (few) fight scenes and gunfights show that he’s got the chops for this kind of stuff. But the painfully slow pace of the movie and the overcooking of the plot works against him. Sean Penn’s acting certainly isn’t at fault here. Like Liam Neeson, he actually can act and that gives an Action Movie of this sort more gravitas than it actually needs. But Neeson knows how to make that work for him and Penn hasn’t mastered that yet. THE GUNMAN could have done with less with speeches about corporate imperialism and the destabilization of the Congo and more with a goofy dose of pure adrenaline. Wait for this one to show up on Netflix.

Rated R

115 Minutes

Kultus

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2015

Global View Productions

Written and Directed by Thor Moreno

Produced by Annette Duffy/Chris McAninch/Shawn McAninch

I’ve been following the career of Thor Moreno for a couple of years now with a great deal of enjoyment and entertainment. He’s a director who is not interested in trying to impress with bizarre and ultimately meaningless camera tricks to distract the viewer. He wants to tell a story and he wants to communicate that story as best he can with zero confusion. And as a writer he understands that there’s no reason for the actors to tell the audience what it is that they’re looking at on the screen. So instead he uses it to clarify and illuminate character and communicate information that we can’t see.

This works very well in KULTUS which is a mystery wrapped in an enigma and it’s one that I particularly enjoyed because I’ve been desperately missing the kind of mystery film where the investigator has to solve the crime using brainpower, life experience and a keen understanding of the human psyche instead of with computers and DNA. The pair of investigators we follow in KULTUS do indeed both have more than their share of brains, understanding and experience and it’s just as interesting seeing how they work together as it is to watch them solve the mystery.

The mystery begins with the disappearance of Beverly, a writer (Annette Duffy) who is trying to get out from under the cloud of alcoholism. She picks up on the story of a family found murdered in a house located on a North Pacific Indian reservation. The family’s mother is missing and she’s presumed to have either committed the crime herself or was carried off by whoever did it. Beverly thinks there’s more to it than that and moves into their house to try and discover what happened to them. Pretty soon she’s so far into the mystery that she suspects the solution may be more terrifying than the mystery itself.

Beverly herself goes missing and FBI agent Curtis (Jason Rainwater) is teamed up with civilian consultant Agatha (Kim Grimaldi) a woman of multiple protean talents and fearsome intelligence to find out what happened to Beverly and by extension, the family as well. It’s a case that will prove both baffling and frightening as well as highly personal for Agatha.

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There’s an awful lot I liked about KULTUS. The location shooting in Eureka, California is quite beautiful and contrasts very well with the darkness of the story. Annette Duffy and Kim Grimaldi both walk away sharing the acting honors for this one. Annette Duffy has a wonderfully expressive face and eyes that work together to convey a variety of emotions, all at the same time that easily gets across on the screen that Beverly’s screws are coming loose the longer she stays in the house. For a while we don’t know if there’s something really going on in the house or if Beverly just wants to get back to gettin’ her drink on. Miss Duffy is a tremendously appealing actress who provided me with something that doesn’t happen to me often when I’m watching a movie of this genre: she made me jump out of my seat twice. The second time is in a blood-freezing moment that I’m positive is Thor’s homage to a similar scene in “The Exorcist III”

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By the time the movie was over I wanted to watch another one with Kim Grimaldi’s Agatha solving another mystery. We’ve seen this kind of character before: the hyper-intelligent social outsider who has a short-circuited emotional switchboard. But I don’t recall ever seeing this kind of character played by a woman. And thanks to Kim Grimaldi’s talent, we never look at Agatha as just being a man with breasts. She never lets us forget that Agatha is quite a woman indeed. Especially in two interrogation scenes. In one, Agatha demonstrates a great deal of empathy towards a child and in the other, just watch her facial expressions as a woman describes to Agatha and Curtis how her son killed her husband. I dunno know if Miss Grimaldi intended it to be funny but I sure as hell laughed.

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Don’t let me give you the impression that the rest of the cast slouch on their jobs. One of the best things about a Thor Moreno movie is his casting. His people in his movies look like…well, like people. The men aren’t impossibly handsome or the women supernaturally beautiful. They look like people you could conceivably see walking on the streets where you live. His actors have faces that have experience and been lived in. It gives an added weight to the movie and draws me deeper into the story I’m watching because these people look real, know what I mean? And they play it real. There’s a lot of good actors in this movie who deserve to be better known.

KULTUS isn’t out in theaters yet but it’ll be in limited release in June. I’ll keep you posted as to exactly when and where but in the meantime, look for Thor Moreno’s other movies. They’re available on DVD or online at: https://www.indiereign.com/

 

 

Run All Night

 

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2015

Vertigo Entertainment/Energy Entertainment/Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Produced by Roy Lee/ Michael Tadross/ Brooklyn Weaver

Written by Brad Ingelsby

Sunday rolls around and as usual I check out the results of Biff Bam Pop!’s box office predictions. On Friday they predict the box office numbers for whatever movies are opening that weekend and then Sunday they post the actual numbers. It’s always fun seeing what they got right and just as much fun seeing what they got wrong. They’ve also got a truckload of other fun stuff going on there that you should check out at your earliest opportunity (like, after you finish reading this review. Nudge nudge wink wink)

Anyway, they predicted that RUN ALL NIGHT, the newest Liam Neeson action movie would take in $14 million. It actually made $10. Which kinda surprised me as Liam Neeson has been a dependable action movie star since 2008’s “Taken” Yes, I know he’s been a badass in movies long before that in movies such as “Rob Roy” and “The Phantom Menace” but for the sake of this discussion let’s stick with contemporary action movies, okay?

Can it be that audiences are growing tired of Liam Neeson in action movies? Sure, he’s made a couple of stinkers. Most recently “Non-Stop” and “Taken 3” but he’s mostly delivered solid, entertaining B-level action movies that I appreciate as homages to Action Movies of the 1980s. And RUN ALL NIGHT (which I would have gone to see just for the title) is one of his better ones. Of his recent movies it’s not as good as “A Walk Among The Tombstones” but it steps all over “Taken 3”

Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) once a feared hitman working for Irish mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris) is now considered a joke by the other members of Shawn’s gang. So deadly and dangerous was Jimmy back in the day that he was known as ‘The Gravedigger.’ Even though Jimmy hasn’t whacked anybody in years, NYPD Detective John Harding (Vincent D’Onofrio) is still looking to put him away. Jimmy almost wishes somebody would put him out of his misery. Consumed with guilt and despondent after the death of his wife, he’s drinking what’s left of his life away. Shawn looks after him, makes sure Jimmy has booze and walking around money. You get the impression in the movie’s early scenes they have together that Shawn maybe thinks that their positions could very easily have been reversed.

In a truly convoluted series of events that reminds me of Rule #19 of ‘Pixar’s 22 Rules For Phenomenal Storytelling.” Shawn’s son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) ends up dead, killed by Jimmy. Shawn promises that Jimmy’s son Mike (Joel Kinnaman) will die before Jimmy but Mike’s got his own problems as he’s wanted by the police for the murders of a cop and a pair of Albanian heroin dealers. Mike’s a working stiff with a wife and two daughters who wants nothing to do with any of this and wants to turn himself in but Jimmy asks for just one night to make everything right. It’s not easy convincing Mike as he absolutely hates his father and his life as a criminal. But he soon realizes that he’s now in a pool of sharks his father used to swim in with ease as he used to be the biggest shark of them all.

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Huh? Where’d all that come from you may well ask. I told you it was convoluted. But it’s a good convoluted. There’s a meaty plot at work in RUN ALL NIGHT and you have to pay attention in order to keep up with what’s going on. But I didn’t mind. This is an action movie that’s more concerned that you understand the relationships between the characters rather than how much real estate can be blown up or how many shootouts can be crammed in for no good reason at all. That’s not to say that there aren’t shoot-ups and explosions enough to satisfy any respectable action junkie. There is. But the movie really wants to say something about the relationship and obligations between fathers and sons and the lengths fathers will go through to redeem themselves for the sins they pass onto their sons.

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Weighty stuff, right? Well, don’t worry. It doesn’t get bogged down in all that for long. Thanks to an exceptionally strong supporting cast including Bruce McGill, who makes a definite presence in the movie despite the fact that I believe he has only two lines. And no, I’m not trying to be funny. Common is an assassin named Mr. Price and there’s a surprise cameo by an extremely well known actor that may well have you shaking your head, muttering; “Who the hell let him in this movie?”

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And at the center of the movie are the really excellent performances of Liam Neeson and Ed Harris. They’re terrific at playing a pair of criminals who have lived this life for a long time and know how their current situation has to play out. But they take no joy or pleasure in it. In fact, there’s a lot of grief and regret on both sides. But they know no other way to resolve this tragedy other than with more death. There’s a scene they have in a restaurant that may remind you of a similar scene between Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro in “Heat.”  No, I’m not saying it’s that good but there’s the same kind of vibe at work there. If you see the movie you’ll know what I’m talking about.

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So should you see RUN ALL NIGHT? If you felt burned by “Taken 3” by all means don’t let that stop you from seeing this one. It’s a solid crime thriller backed up with a firm story and performances that elevate the movie a few notches above what you might expect. Well worth your time and money.

Rated R

114 Minutes

Kingsman: The Secret Service

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2015

Marv Films/Cloudy Productions/20th Century Fox

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Produced by Adam Bohling/David Reid/Matthew Vaughn

Screenplay by Jane Goldman/Matthew Vaughn

Based on “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons

People will often email me or in a phone/Skype conversation or even face-to-face ask me: how  do I write my movie reviews? Do I write them right after I’ve seen a movie or do I sit and think about them for a while before writing them? Do I write reviews of every movie I’ve seen? And if not, why not? How do I decide which movies I write a review of?

My answer is probably more mercenary than most would be comfortable with and it goes like this: if I were being paid to write reviews of movies then yes, I would write a review of every single movie I saw regardless of whether I liked it or not. Because that is what I’m being paid to do. And I come from that generation where nobody really cared of you liked the job you’re doing or not. You’re being paid to do a job. You came to us for the job. Not the other way around. So do it. End of story. And before you ask; yes, it is a way of thinking I believe in and subscribe to. YMMV.

However, living in this enlightened Internet age of ours, I can write reviews on movies that I really do care about one way or another and hopefully enrich the movie education and enjoyment of those of you good enough to give valuable time out of your busy day to read these reviews. Which brings me to KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE.

I saw it about two weeks ago and as usual on our drive home from the theater, my wife Patricia asked me was I going to write a review about it and what would I say in it. I told her that I honestly didn’t know if I was going to write a review because I honestly didn’t know if I liked it or not. What KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE gets right it gets spectacularly right. But what it gets wrong it gets wrong in equal spectacular fashion. My Better In The Dark co-host Tom Deja and I talked about the movie over the phone we agreed that it’s absolutely astounding how schizophrenic this movie is. It’s actually almost brilliant in that respect. But it still left a very bad taste in my mouth after I saw it.

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Internet billionaire and philanthropist Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) announces a world changing plan to give away SIM cards which will grant unlimited free access and use of the Internet and cell phones. But Valentine is also linked to the disappearances of many heads of state, diplomats and VIPs. This brings him to the attention of The Kingsmen. They are an elite corps of espionage agents, based on the concept of The Knights of The Round Table. Led by Arthur (Michael Caine) who is assisted by Kingsmen trainer and technical wizard Merlin (Mark Strong) The Kingsmen uphold the highest tradition of gentlemen spies. Impeccably dressed, extraordinarily polite and sophisticated, The Kingsmen are also supernaturally lethal, armed with the most cutting edge of technology and weaponry.

The Kingsmen’s top agent is Harry Hart also known as Galahad (Colin Firth) who recruits Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, the son of his deceased partner. Harry feels he owes this to Eggsy’s dad to try and pull his son out of the delinquent life he’s heading for. There’s an opening for a new Kingsmen agent that Eggsy will have to compete with a dozen other hopefuls but Harry believes that Eggsy can do it, based on the scores he got during his time in the Royal Marines and his aptitude tests that indicate Eggsy’s I.Q. and physical abilities are off the charts.

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While Eggsy is desperately trying to survive his Kingsmen training, Harry investigates Valentine. What he learns is utterly horrifying: Valentine considers humanity a virus and The Earth, being a living organism is resorting to global warming in order to kill of the virus. Much in the same way that a human body generates a fever to get rid a flu virus. Valentine’s plan is is to broadcast a signal to the entire world to his SIM cards via his satellite system. This signal will cause humanity to become homicidal berserkers and they will kill off each other enough to cause The Earth to cease global warming.

Now, I gotta be honest…that’s James Bond Supervillain level thinking we got going on here and I give credit to the writers for that. See, now that’s a plan. Batshit insane, you betchum…but you can’t beat it for creativity and ambition.

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But here’s where the bad taste in my mouth comes in. And it did begin earlier with the unnecessarily dropping of the F-bomb every thirty seconds and the wretched sleaziness of the situation Eggsy’s mother finds herself in. And then there’s the already infamous slaughter in the church.

Those of who that know me and have read my reviews and stories know that I’m far from being a prude when it comes to violence or language. When it’s in the appropriate movie. While watching KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE I had a mental note pad where I was checking off the stuff I felt was Matthew Vaughn which I liked and the stuff that was Mark Millar which I didn’t like. On one hand I was getting a wonderful throwback to 1960s spy movies I was loving with all my heart. And on the other I was getting this truly vile and despicable ultra-violent, mean-spirited movie that seemed bent on sucking away all my good times. If the slaughter in the church had taken place in a Quentin Tarantino movie I wouldn’t have blinked an eye because it would have been appropriate for his kind of movies, you get me? I wanted the 1960s spy movie with Colin Firth playing a badass British secret agent who could easily give John Steed a run for his money (and what wouldn’t I give to see Matthew Vaughn writing and directing a movie with James Bond, John Steed and Harry Hart as students attending Eton) and that delightful 1960s spy movie was continually being interrupted by this really repulsive ultra-violence and vulgar language that wasn’t needed to make the story stronger because it already was strong.

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I will say that KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE has some of the best and most astonishing fight scenes I’ve seen in movies recently, especially the slaughter in the church which is a masterpiece of editing. It truly has to be seen to be believed. And if anybody had told me that Colin Firth had this kind of performance in him before I saw it, I wouldn’t have believed it. He’s no less than magnificent. And Samuel L. Jackson and Sofia Boutella are equally magnificent as perfect Bond level villain and henchwoman. Sofia Boutella has bladed prosthetic legs that she uses with frightening lethality. Especially in a showdown battle with Eggsy that’s a lot of fun to watch and should be seen by those so called “action directors” working today who are so in love with their cursed shaky cam.

When KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE is about Harry Hart and The Kingsmen organization it’s the best 1960s spy homage/spoof you can imagine. I would love it if Matthew Vaughn would do more Harry Hart movies or even do Matt Helm or Derek Flint movies set in the 1960s. But there’s lot of KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE that I found disappointing and sleazy. When it’s good, it’s off the chain. But when it’s not, it’s downright appalling in how far it falls away from what it could have been.

Rated R

129 Minutes

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

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2015

Blueprint Pictures/Participant Media/Fox Searchlight Pictures

Directed by John Madden

Produced by Graham Broadbent/Peter Czernin

Written by Ol Parker

Based on characters from the novel “These Foolish Things” by Deborah Moggach

If you go to see THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL I strongly suspect it will be solely because like me, you went to see the first one and liked it. Or maybe you’re a movie lover who is retired and in their golden years like the characters in this movie and you’re not interested in going to see a movie with a lot of sex, cussing and stuff blowing up. Fair enough. I myself appreciate and heartily endorse movies like this one because there are a lot of retired and elderly folk who enjoy going out to see a movie. And they aren’t interested in superheroes or excessively violent and sexually explicit action extravaganzas with all that naughty language. Again, fair enough. When we talk about diversity in our entertainment, let’s not forget our retired and elderly. They deserve to have movies made for them playing in theaters featuring actors playing characters their age and dealing with issues they themselves may be going through.

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And to be honest, it wouldn’t hurt some of you whippersnappers reading this to get your head out of all that angry sex and hyper-violence once in a while. Dark movies that are grim and despairing and full of angst are okay and all but you don’t have to revel in your wallowing in it, okay? Watch something cheerful and life-affirming to cleanse your mental palate. Trust me, it’s better for you.

The thing that makes THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL a good sequel for me is that it actually continues the story of the characters we met in the first movie and gives them new challenges  and takes their lives in new directions, building and expanding on what happened to them in the first. Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench) has suddenly and amazingly found herself with a whole new career on her hands. She’s been offered a job to purchase textiles in India and ship them to her native England as she’s become a whiz at haggling for the best prices with the local merchants. Co-owners/managers Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) and Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) have ambitious plans to expand The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel that depend on them impressing the representative of an American hotel chain they hope to get financing from. The problem is that they don’t know if the representative is the somewhat mysterious Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) or the cheerful Lavinia Beach (Tamsin Greig)

Douglas Ainslie (Bill Nighy) has become a tour guide. A job made all the more difficult as he doesn’t have the slightest idea of the history or architecture he’s supposed to be an expert on (his solution to the problem provides some of the best laughs in the movie) Aging playboy Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup) fears that while during a drunken venting session with a cab driver he may have mistakenly put a hit on his unsuspecting girlfriend Carol (Diana Hardcastle) Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) is juggling two suitors, both of them immensely rich and both capable of providing her with the financial security she craves. But is that enough for her?

Yeah, that’s a lot of subplots elbowing each other for space. Throw in the upcoming wedding of Sonny and Sunaina (Tina Desai) and the romance between Guy and Sonny’s mother (Lillete Dubey) and that’s a lot to keep track of. But I didn’t have a problem doing so as I was invested in these characters and genuinely wanted to see how things were going to work out for them. And the multiple plots doesn’t give you time to get bored. We’re constantly going from one plot to another and that makes for a rather lively pace.

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That doesn’t mean the movie was all that. The relationship between Evelyn and Douglas gets a bit tiresome as there’s no real reason for them not to consummate it. She obviously likes him and he obviously likes her. Hell, even Douglas’ estranged wife Jean (Penelope Wilton) asks Evelyn, “What the hell are you waiting for?” I missed the insights in Indian culture and the scenery we got in the first movie. After I saw the first movie I wanted to jump on a plane and go to India. I didn’t feel like that after I saw this one and I missed that feeling.

But we do get an absolutely wonderful performance from Maggie Smith who with such brazen ruthlessness steals every scene she’s in. She has all the best lines in the movie, including one I’m going to put on a T-shirt. Her relationship with Dev Patel’s Sonny is for me, the sweetest and most heartfelt one in the movie. It’s a great friendship, one that doesn’t feel forced or contrived. It’s a testament to the acting talent of both Smith and Patel that we buy 100% into this oddest of odd couples.

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So yeah, I’ll admit that THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL is little more than a Lifetime movie on steroids. But I can’t find it in my heart to dislike a movie that has so many characters that I genuinely like and enjoyed spending a couple of hours revisiting. The cast is so enormously talented and elevates the material in such fine fashion that I feel they gave me my money’s worth of entertainment. Highly Recommended.

Rated PG

122 Minutes

The Poseidon Adventure

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1972

20th Century Fox

Directed by Ronald Neame

Produced by Irwin Allen

Screenplay by Stirling Silliphant and Wendell Mayes

Based on the novel “The Poseidon Adventure” by Paul Gallico

 

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE didn’t create The Disaster Movie genre. If you go all the way back to 1937 you can find “The Hurricane” which I suppose could classify as a Disaster Movie since the climax involves the mother of all hurricanes devastating a South Seas island paradise.   But even though it may not have created the genre, over time it has emerged as the undisputed Champion of Disaster Movies. Yes, there have been Disaster Movies with far bigger budgets, more spectacular special effects, better received by critics and have grossed more at the box office. But I guarantee that if you ask anybody what their favorite Disaster Movie is, they’ll say THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. It’s the “Citizen Kane” “Gone With The Wind” and “Star Wars” of Disaster Movies.

The S.S. Poseidon is on her last voyage. This luxury liner, once the queen of the ocean has been retired and is scheduled to be scrapped. She’s heading from New York to Athens at full speed at the insistence of Mr. Linarcos (Fred Sadoff) who represents the ship’s new owners. The Poseidon’s captain (Leslie Nielson) warns that the ship is heading into rough weather and does not have enough ballast to ride out a severe storm.

During the New Year’s Eve celebration, The Poseidon is indeed hit by a tsunami that capsizes the ocean liner. Despite the insistence of the ship’s purser that help will be coming, a small group elects to undertake a perilous escape route through the now upside down vessel from the dining hall to the hull and hopefully they will be able to get out near the propeller shaft where the hull is the thinnest. Their decision proves to be the right one since it is quickly and horrifyingly apparent that The Poseidon is sinking. Slowly, yes, but still sinking.

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The group is led by the charismatic yet heretical Reverend Scott (Gene Hackman). Mike Rogo (Ernest Borgnine) is a tough, old school NYPD detective. His wife Linda (Stella Stevens) is an ex-prostitute he married to keep her off the streets. Susan Shelby (Pamela Sue Martin) and her little brother Robin (Eric Shea) are travelling by themselves, on their way to meet their parents. Manny and Belle Rosen (Jack Albertson and Shelley Winters) are a retired Jewish couple going to Israel to meet their two-year old grandson for the first time. James Martin (Red Buttons) is a lonely, shy man who seems like the last person in the world who would go on a trip like this. Nonnie Parry (Carol Lynley) was the lead singer of the band entertaining during the celebration. Acres (Roddy McDowell) is a waiter who’s knowledge of the ship is essential to the group’s survival. It’s a desperate race against time and it tests the group to the limits of their spiritual and physical strength. Some of them rise to the challenge. Some don’t. Some live and some die.

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THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE is one of those movies that I simply will not hear a bad word against. I saw this in the theater way back in 1972 and I fell in love with it the first time I saw it. I watched it today on Turner Classic Movies for what must have been the twentieth time and I was still just as engrossed in the characters and the story as I was the first time.

The performances are absolutely first rate. You’ve got no less than five Academy Award winners in the cast and they all give it all they’ve got. And it’s the performances that sell the movie as everybody takes this material as serious as cancer. Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine are especially good fun to watch as they bark and bite at each other like junkyard dogs. Shelley Winters and Jack Albertson may come off at first as if they’re playing a stereotypical old married Jewish couple but they get in nice little bits of characterization that display a lot of understanding of this particular type of couple they’re playing.

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And yes, this is the movie where Shelley Winters gets to play one of the greatest, most classic death scenes of all time. And the reason why it’s so great is that Shelley Winters knew what she was doing with Belle in each and every scene that leads up to the death scene. So by the time we get to it, it’s a real gut punch. Yeah, other people die in the movie but it’s the death of Belle Rosen that we actually feel.

But it’s Red Buttons that always stands out for me. I can’t say that I’ve ever been a fan of his comedic roles or his stand-up. But when he’s in a dramatic role I can’t take my eyes off him. His quiet little haberdasher character surprisingly turns out to be quite the man of action when he’s put to the test and I really like the scene where he’s the one who jumps in between Reverend Scott and Mike Rogo when they’re about to come to blows and makes them stop their squabbling. And when Mike Rogo has given up and Susan breaks down into hysterics, it’s James Martin who steps up to the plate and takes charge.

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Technically you couldn’t ask for anything better. It must have been an absolute nightmare to have filmed on those upside down sets, many of them filled with fire or water or in some cases fire and water. And it’s obvious that the cast did a whole lot of their own stunts, especially Shelley Winters and Gene Hackman in those truly tense underwater scenes. And of course everybody knows the iconic theme song; “The Morning After” but did you know that the movie’s score was composed and conducted by a young up and coming composer named John Williams?

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE is one of those movies that I simply cannot imagine anybody who claims to love movies saying that they’ve never seen it. It’s got a preposterous premise that is given real life and real suspense by the superior performances of the cast and the technical expertise that totally convinces you of what you’re seeing on the screen. It’s quite simply one of the best movies of its kind ever made and there’s a good reason it enjoys the reputation it enjoys today.  It earned it.

PG

117 Minutes