VICTORIA & ABDUL review

Say what now?! This is a sequel?! *Wikipedia search* Well skin me alive and call me naked, this is a sequel! Specifically to the film MRS. BROWN (1997), and Judi Dench is reprising her role as Queen Victoria. I guess if you wanted to make another movie about her and her wacky adventures in her later years, why not make it a sequel? Oh, and it’s also based on a book? Jeez, this Queen certainly gets around in media.

The story looks like it’s about Victoria and she’s become tired with her life and role. But then she meets a young Indian servant and the two strike up a friendship, asking him to teach her all about his culture and reinvigorates her love of life. But it comes at a cost. Her peers start to think that she’s lost her mind, playing nice with a servant. Hence the conflict. It looks like it could be decent and anything Dench touches is golden, so I’m all on board.

Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Judi Dench (TULIP FEVER [2017], CASINO ROYALE [2006], SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE [1998], and the upcoming MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS [2017]) and Ali Fazal (FURIOUS 7 [2015] and 3 IDIOTS [2009]). In support, we have Eddie Izzard (ROCK DOG [2017], ACROSS THE UNIVERSE [2007], and THE AVENGERS [1998]), Michael Gambon (KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE [2017], THE GOOD SHEPHERD [2006], and SLEEPY HOLLOW [1999]), Tim Pigott-Smith (JUPITER ASCENDING [2015], V FOR VENDETTA [2005], and CLASH OF THE TITANS [1981]), Adeel Akhtar (THE BIG SICK [2017], PAN [2015], and THE DICTATOR [2012]), and Olivia Williams (MAN UP [2015], PETER PAN [2003], and THE SIXTH SENSE [1999]).

Now for the crew. Directing is Stephen Frears, known for FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS (2016), THE QUEEN (2006), and HIGH FIDELITY (2000). Penning the screenplay is Lee Hall, known for WAR HORSE (2011) and BILLY ELLIOT (2000). Composing the score is Thomas Newman, known for PASSENGERS (2016), WALL·E (2008), THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994), and the upcoming THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE (2017). Finally, the cinematographer is Danny Cohen, known for FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS, ROOM (2015), and PIRATE RADIO (2009).

Overall, I’m very curious. Not super hyped, but call me eager.

This is my honest opinion of: VICTORIA & ABDUL

(SUMMARY)

Set in early 1900. Queen Victoria (Judy Dench) is still a revered queen, now serving as the longest running monarch in history. However, she’s grown tired of her position. Her loved ones have passed on and she’s become both apathetic to her own appearance and position. But all of that changes when she meets Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), an Indian servant, who eventually becomes Victoria’s closest friend, teaching her of Indian culture and slowly regains her love of life, despite the deeply rooted arguments from her staff.

(REVIEW)

This was a really good movie. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

The movie opens on a pretty humorous line. “Based on real events” pause for a second, “… mostly.” This movie had me at “hello” and I was already giggling.

However, and this is pretty consistent for the first half hour or so, the movie loses its momentum. There’s clichés, like the intro of the protagonist running late for work, and the movie isn’t all that funny for awhile. I mean, some gags land, like when a servant tries to wake up Victoria, but all she does is groan. I thought that was hilarious. But for awhile, the humor really falls flat. Hell, fifteen, maybe even twenty minutes into the movie is when the title of the movie appears. That was weird. Why bother by that point?

Having said all that, there is a… I’m not sure how to describe it, but a level of engagement to Dench’s performance in the beginning. She’s so tired, possibly bored, and gives zero shits about everything that’s going on around her. She eats at her own pace, forcing her peers around her to eat quickly, or else their food will be taken away.

About the only saving grace in the film’s comedy in the beginning is Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar), who coud have so easily been that panicky hysterical character that no one likes, but for whatever reason, his exaggerations of what he believes the English do in their spare time is so funny. He does get a little grating later in the film, but he has a bad-ass scene that makes up for all of it.

But honestly, after that first half hour of lackluster comedy, the laughs, as well as the story, pick up immensely. Abdul is impossibly charming and likable. You immediately feel for Victoria and everything that she’s lived through. All of her loved ones are gone and all that’s left is her position and her ambitious and unlikable children who want her power. But meeting Abdul, she learns to find happiness and learns about the Indian culture. There’s this infectious chemistry that Dench and Fazal share, an energy that constantly makes you smile as he describes the Taj Mahal, or teaches her Indian languages and how her eyes light up as she learns, it’s such a beautiful connection that they share. At some point, Dench’s performance gets a little hammy, but it’s so brief that you almost have to remember that it gets there, and it’s not like it isn’t explained (she gets a little drunk), but this is what makes up the entire movie: their friendship and it is really heart-warming to watch just how much she defends him despite all the criticism from those around her.

As much praise as I have with the film, there are a couple elements that I complain about.

A smaller issue is that we never see enough of Abdul and Mohammad interacting. Every scene they share is Abdul being excited, and Mohammad being nervous. We don’t see enough of the two actually being friends. Sure, that would take away from the focus of the relationship between him and Victoria, but it still would have been nice to dedicate a five minute scene of the two men really interacting like friends.

But the bigger issue I took was Abdul’s wife. I believe her involvement in this story is pure fluff. We don’t see hide or hair of her, or even get a single reference to her existence until the one hour mark, and even when she does show up, for all the build-up to her, she barely contributes to the story. Sure, sure, you could argue that it’s all a set up to learn about Abdul’s… procreation issues, or whatever that was, and Victoria’s council to try and get him sent back to India, but I feel like this is where creative liberties would have been needed and find something more sensible to get that kind of information.

Also, there were two incidences that involve Victoria being upset with Abdul. One being when she discovered that it was Muslims, or another Indian group that I can’t remember, were at the head of some revolt that took the lives of British soldiers and then later for another reason that I can’t remember either. All I remember is that these two scenes were resolved as quickly as they were introduced and happen pretty close to each other, so I kept wondering why the writer didn’t just pick a problem and go all the way with it, or combine the two problems into one dramatic scene.

Overall, I really liked this movie. The core characters are ridiculously wonderful to watch and hang out with, it’s funny, dramatic, all around fun for anyone even half interested in this story. I highly recommend this in theaters. It doesn’t have the widest of releases, so you may need to really look for it, but I say it’s worth the effort to see in theaters. History’s most unlikely friendship is arguably one of its most endearing.

My honest rating for VICTORIA & ABDUL: a strong 4/5

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KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE quick review

For those not in the know, “Kingsman” is based on a comic book series of the same name. Actually, I think the original title for the comic was “The Secret Service” but changed the name to tie in better with the 2015 film. Fun fact of the day, this comic series actually takes place in the same universe as the “Kick-Ass” comic books, as they’re written by the same writer, Mark Millar. Something about Kick-Ass referencing something that took place in the Kingsman series.

But we’re not here to talk about comics. We’re here to talk about movies. The first film, KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2015) was wildly popular with audiences upon its release. It shot Taron Egerton to the stars, gave us one of my personal favorite newcomers, Sofia Boutella, was over-the-top violent, had a fun cameo by Mark Hamill, and was an all around fun time for all. What did I think of it? I thought it was… mostly good. While all of what I said is true, there was one detail about the film that I absolutely hated. The Kingsman training program is, obviously, very hardcore. Few people get through it. But then the final test is to get close to a cute little dog and then shoot it. Do that, and you’re a Kingsman. This pissed me off. The Kingsman prided themselves on being spies, of course, but also being gentlemen. This implies a level of grace, coolness, confidence, class. What’s graceful, cool, confident, and classy about murdering an innocent animal? Eggsy refuses to murder his dog and he’s thrown out of the Kingsman. What sense does that make?! If the dog was trained to fight back without prejudice, then fine, you gotta defend yourself and might teach you a thing or two about trust and betrayal and learning to overcome that kind of grief of killing your friend who tried to kill you. But no, Eggsy’s dog was a cute, innocent pug. Or maybe the exercise could be this: there is no failure in this test. It’s more of a placement thing. Like, okay, you murder the dog, that means you can follow orders to the tee. Field agents need to be able to do that, making you a desirable field agent. If you don’t kill the dog, you’re still a Kingsman, but because you didn’t follow your superior’s direct order, you’re assigned to intelligence work, like Mark Strong’s character, feeding tactical information, but never on the front lines himself. You know, something like that. But no, because you didn’t murder a defenseless animal, you can’t be a gentleman spy. Fuck the Kingsman, man. I never got past this element of the movie, so I personally give it a strong 3/5. As I said, the rest of the film is a load of fun.

But now we have a sequel that I know will be better than the first one. Why? Because comic book sequels have a tendency to be better than their predecessors. Plus, I’m sure there’s not going to be any more “dog murdering” bullshit to piss me off. This movie looks like it’s about the Kingsman getting wiped out by a terrorist organization and it’s up to Eggsy and Merlin, the two surviving Kingsman to work with their American cousins, the Statesman, to bring down this terrorist. As per usual, it looks fun, inventive, and bad-ass. So sign me up, bitches!

Here’s the onscreen talent. Starring, we have Taron Egerton (SING [2016], EDDIE THE EAGLE [2016], LEGEND [2015], and the upcoming ROBIN HOOD [2018]), Julianne Moore (THE HUNGER GAMES: THE MOCKINGJAY – PART 2 [2015], STILL ALICE [2014], BENNY & JOON [1993], and upcoming films WONDERSTRUCK [2017] and SUBURBICON [2017]), Mark Strong (MISS SLOANE [2016], JOHN CARTER [2012], and STARDUST [2007]), and Channing Tatum (LOGAN LUCKY [2017], THE EAGLE [2011], COACH CARTER [2005], and upcoming films with no release dates announced, GAMBIT and VAN HELSING). In support, we have Halle Berry (KIDNAP [2017], PERFECT STRANGER [2007], EXECUTIVE DECISION [1996]), Jeff Bridges (THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK [2017], SURF’S UP [2007], TRON [1982], and the upcoming ONLY THE BRAVE [2017]), Elton John (THE ROAD TO EL DORADO [2000], SPICE WORLD [1997], and 1 episode of TV show NASHVILLE [2012 – 2018]), Michael Gambon (HAIL, CAESAR! [2016], THE KING’S SPEECH [2010], HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN [2004], and the upcoming VICTORIA & ABDUL [2017]), and Colin Firth (BRIDGET JONES’S BABY [2016], NANNY MCPHEE [2005], SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE [1998], and upcoming films MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN [2018] and MARY POPPINS RETURNS [2018]).

Now for behind the scenes. Directing and co-writing is Matthew Vaughn, known for KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2015), X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011), STARDUST (2007), and the upcoming KINGSMAN 3, no release date announced. Co-writing the screenplay is Jane Goldman, known for MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN (2016), X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, STARDUST, and the upcoming KINGSMAN 3. Co-composing the score are Henry Jackman (KONG: SKULL ISLAND [2017], CAPTAIN PHILLIPS [2013], MONSTERS VS. ALIENS [2009], and upcoming films JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE [2017] and RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK-IT RALPH 2 [2018]) and Matthew Margeson (RINGS [2017], KICK-ASS 2 [2013], and SKYLINE [2010]). Finally, the cinematographer is George Richmond, known for EDDIE THE EAGLE, KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE, and the upcoming TOMB RAIDER (2018).

Overall, I’m excited for this. Not out of my mind, but I’m pretty hyped.

This is my honest opinion of: KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE

(SUMMARY)

The Golden Circle is the largest drug cartel in the world and no one knows that it’s ran by the nefarious Poppy (Julianne Moore). She, of course, wants to hold America hostage to legalize all drugs or she won’t give up the antidote to her latest drug, which has been secretly inserted in nearly every single drug that the common person can get, which is millions. But before all that, she gets rid of the only people that she knows can get in her way: the Kingsman. Effectively wiping out all of the Kingsman, with the notable exceptions of Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong). Desperate to find help, they seek it in the form of their organization’s American cousins, the Statesmen.

(QUICK REVIEW)

Meh, it’s not bad. Not as good as the first one, but not bad.

What I liked: Moore is usually a welcomed sight in anything that she’s in, so to see her as the villain in a movie like this was a kind of shock. But as far as that’s concerned, she was a lot of fun. Hell, her intro scene is having a dude send another dude through a meat grinder and makes a burger out of him and then makes the dude try a bite. It’s pretty fucked up, but I enjoyed how deliciously sinister she was (no pun, intended, but I’m taking credit for it anyway, so…. pun intended). And I think it’s hilarious that she kidnapped Elton John for her personal amusement, who is also really funny in the film. Kind of wished we saw more of her robotic creations doing shit, but the dogs were enough, I guess.

The comedy is still there, Egerton is charming as always, as are Firth and Strong. There is a sense of fun about the film, so it’s not boring, thank God. The action is awesome and delightfully violent, and pretty creative for the most part. I’ll never get tired of seeing Whiskey’s (Pedro Pascal) laser whip. Now Star Wars can’t put a monopoly on that idea.

But now for the negatives. Despite some solid talent, like Berry, Bridges, Tatum, they’re barely in the film, or barely contribute to the story, making you wonder why they were even in it at all. Which is pretty manipulative because a lot of the marketing surrounds these characters. I didn’t like how the movie kills off the entire Kingsman organization in its second movie. I mean, wouldn’t it be better to see Eggsy and his team take down a rival organization at their peak power to really showcase their tech, their intel, and their bad-assness? Why kill them off in the second film? I don’t get it. The subplot of Eggsy and his girlfriend Tilde (Hanna Alström) is a little annoying. He’s a spy, of course he’s going to be faced with situations of seduction. How would she not know that?

And fine, let’s talk about that controversial sex scene. Honestly, I thought because Poppy (Moore) created a female robot that does the Golden Circle tattoo thing, I figured that the sex scene would be about the robot fucking a dude or something weird like that. But nope, it’s about Eggsy fingering some blond girl who is the girlfriend to Poppy’s main henchman with a tracking device shaped like a condom that he’s supposed to shove up her vagina. Honestly, maybe I’m just a guy about it, but it took me a good minute to figure out at the end of the movie that this was the big ole controversy. I mean, it’s not overly graphic in the fingering, and technically does serve the plot of the story and carries dramatic weight, albeit in the subplot that I barely cared about. But the more I thought about it, yeah, this was unnecessary. A tiny tracking device can be placed anywhere and didn’t need to be implemented like this.

Overall, yeah, not quite as good as the first film, but it’s alright. If you’re a fan of the first one, I can’t imagine you feeling betrayed or not having fun with it. But I do recommend toning down your high expectations if you have them.

My honest rating for KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE: 3/5

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