Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)


Matthew Vaughn directs Taron Egerton, Mark Strong and Colin Firth in this over the top spy spoof sequel where the classy independents go American. 

A very baggy middle lets down this energetic retread of the original. Bringing Firth’s master agent back from the grave is sensible; spending quite so long messing around, looking for false emotion in his amnesia subplot is wasteful. Still once he is back so comes the funky action. A few of the gags don’t hit – basically as they have a warped Telegraph reader’s idea of what is cool at their base. Glastonbury isn’t “hip” but we only spend five minutes there, but having the charisma-free homunculus that is Elton John dominate the finale just because he was willing is almost unforgivable. These jarring wobbles weaken what is a big, spectacular, couldn’t give a shit, starry, bad taste Bank Holiday afternoon filler. Fast food, but we all like a gherkin and fat fused burp occasionally. No better or worse than the mid-level Roger Moore Bond’s that inspired it in spectacle, scale or sensibility but lacking the Pygmalion heart that made the first one stand out.



The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad (1988)


David Zucker directs Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley and Ricardo Montalbán in this spoof of cops shows. 

I loved this as a kid. I like it now. The inspired police siren credit sequence alone evokes waves of pleasing nostalgia – 10 year old me banging my VHS copy, longplay recorded off the telly, on for the hundredth time, no doubt with a Club bar and packet of Salt and Vinegar crisps to hand. Colourful, jaunty and with enough confidently sustained dumb jokes thrown against the wall that you don’t notice the low hit rate. The straight faced pairing of Neilsen (adorable) and Presley (something a whole lot more than adorable) manages to whack a fair few extra low balls out of the park. The finale is actually quite intense. Silly, silly movie.


Sahara (1943)


Zoltán Korda directs Humphrey Bogart, J. Carrol Naish and Bruce Bennett in this ensemble war movie where a desert tank picks up a passenger from just about every nation participating in World War II and then they have to work together to protect a well from a Nazi battalion. 

Blatant propaganda that plays to stereotypes but with the brilliant Bogie front and centre and a strong Western plot transplanted to keep you gripped.


The Spectacular Now (2013)


James Ponsoldt directs Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley and Brie Larson in this teen romance that sensitively explores the attraction between two mixed-up kids. 

This passed me by on release but I have enjoyed all of the James Ponsoldt’s movies I have discovered this year and the cast have all become big names since. So I gave it a try… and… Wow! Filmed with a slippery magic hour brightness and a timeless sense of fashion, this is an excellent teen movie trying to evoke the subtle truths of Say Anything… and Dazed and Confused – the teen genre’s high points. It casually explores the characters to start, allowing us to be seduced by their fresh faces and warmth to each other. There’s no love at first sight thunderbolts or fake rivalry. These kids get together with faltering uncertainty, they have sex with slightly worried / slightly surprised smiles on their faces and interact with the friends and exes still orbiting around them as people rather than as stock villains created to interrupt their binary happiness. Ponsoldt, with the help of some very charismatic leads, has somehow managed to bottle the temporary, elusive smoke of what a teen relationship actually feels and looks like. And then he introduces his second theme – our quirky and confident boy has bigger issues. Hinted at throughout the first hour, his alcohol dependency hides in plain sight. Characters comment on it obliquely but he is oblivious, we rarely see him in a scene without a drink to hand, and it is only when his new love Aimee starts carrying a hip flask to school too that we begin to question how healthy his lifestyle is, for them both. The movie switches on us – we thought we were being sold on a fun guy taking a chance on falling for a shy girl romance, a Cinderella story in faded t-shirts. Instead we start to explore what Miles Teller will be when he no longer has high school as a safety net to fall into, hungover each morning. Will he straighten up and be responsible? Will he grow up and stay with the girl clearly smitten on him? And as he explores who he is and what his future looks like, the heavier drama grips and still rings true. Remarkable stuff.


Night of the Comet (1984)


Thom Eberhardt directs Catherine Mary Stewart, Robert Beltran and Kelli Maroney in this cheap, unambitious horror comedy about valley girls surviving a near deserted LA, irradiated by a passing comet. 

Conceptually this should be a lot more fun as a cheerleader and an arcade machine  player take down zombies with machine guns. Sexy cult mania ensues, surely? But the thrills are not the priority. A perky attitude and laidback pace set this apart, often making it adorable. Beautiful even, but with barely any action, gore or killer jokes it ends up being at best a distracting in the moment mood piece.


The Box (2009)


Richard Kelly directs Cameron Diaz, James Marsden and Frank Langella in this Twilight Zone style mystery about a 70s couple given a red button with simple instructions  – if they press it they receive a million dollars, also if they press it someone they do not know will die. 

The Box is an absorbing supernatural thriller that gets off on its escalating sense period paranoia rather than set-pieces or logic. The first act recreates one those neat impending twist imminent Tales of of the Unexpected; faithful, tight and straight. The second hour shifts into the world of fantasy, punishment and fear without ever feeling like it has gone off the rails. It retains its grip even though we run off into unchartered territory, slowly looping in and out of the ramifications of the button being pressed. Kelly never really followed through on the brilliance of Donnie Darko. Here he at least taps back into his wunderkind debut’s woozy suburban angst but it is a colder, more detached experience. He lovingly recreates elaborate NASA testing factories and sitcom era kitchens then fills them with teasingly confusing bleakness. And I really like that. Langella convinces as the otherworldly choice giver and button deliverer. We also get Cameron Diaz’ last great performance now she has seemingly retired. Vulnerable yet curious, the comedy actress was rarely stretched by her likeable filmography, but this morality tale needs to be reassessed as one of her strongest dramatic risks.


Film of the Week: Goldfinger (1964)


Guy Hamilton directs Sean Connery, Honor Blackman and Gert Fröbe in this premium 007 adventure where Bond tangles with a gold obsessed megalomaniac. 

This is the movie that has defined the tropes and format and quality of the Bond machine for the next five decades. As it, indisputably, is the dog’s bollocks. How many other films series have their peaks at their third film? Often a time when complacency and losing sight of core values becomes endemic in franchises.  It is easily the most relaxed and classiest of thrillers. Bond essentially patiently waits in the wings for Goldfinger’s evil plan (and it is a corker of a mad scheme) to reveal itself. Irradiate the world’s gold stores by nuking Fort Knox, creating financial chaos and giving old Auric the monopoly on the metal he loves. This leads to an incredible pop art finale where Bond is cuffed to a bomb and Odd Job and he fight for control of the ticking timer, razorsharp brimmed hat and all. Production design, agonising near silence then percussive score, muscular action and star power mix together perfectly. The meander we take to get to this point involves all the classics; quips, laser beam castration set pieces, quips during laser beam castration set pieces, nude women being suffocated in gold paint, an Aston Martin full of  Q Branch tricks (why would such a well armed car ever need a passenger ejector seat?… Oh…), that Shirley Bassey romper stomper of a theme song, plus my personal favourite moments… Tilly Masterson’s alpine assassination attempts on the villian. These classy location stalking sequences are beautiful and pleasurably overanxious, utterly true to Fleming too. They are often overlooked as Pussy Galore rocks up in the second half with her squad of sexy pilots. Being all iconic and shit. The bad girl is always going to overshadow the good girl. She bosses Bond about, is aloofly amused by his attempts to flirt, she is more than a match for him. Sure, he eventually seduces the lesbian out of her (it was a different time™) but you get the feeling there haven’t really been enough Honor Blackmans in the series since. Bond girls who probably vaguely remember that spy as a mere notch on the bedpost rather than vice versa. For such a leisurely actioner Goldfinger delivers thrills, laughs, glamour and Bond genuinely put in the ringer a few satisfying times. Perfection.



Flatliners (2017)


Niels Arden Oplev directs Ellen Page, Diego Luna and Nina Dobrev in this remake of the 1990 psychological thriller about med students experimenting with near death experiences. 

I have a massive soft spot for the original Flatliners. A teen friendly Jacob’s Ladder with amazing MTV gothic imagery, reuniting The Lost Boys dream team of Kiefer Sutherland and Joel Schumacher. It was a gateway horror film for me and holds up far better than its contemporary reputation suggests. This will never be thought of in the same way in 25 years time. Sutherland returns, maybe as the same character under a new name, only to have little effect on the precedings. The death sequences and fears that they bring back are uninspired. There’s a nice shock at the one hour mark but this is squandered by a trite resolution where characters who don’t deserve quite such an easy happy ending seemingly walk away scott free. With the exception of the ever likeable Page and Luna playing the oldest med students ever, there is very little to recommend this dull, flattened out retread.


Lock-Up (1989)


John Flynn directs Sylvester Stallone, Donald Sutherland and Tom Sizemore in this prison actioner where a convict due for release is transferred to a brutal penitentiary by a warden with an axe to grind. 

For a fan of 80s action, I never really had as much time for Sly as I did Arnie, Mel or Bruce. His flicks always seemed sloppy, cheesy and achingly unaware. Lock-Up serves up the usual mess of mawkish sentimentalism, macho comedy, male bonding montages, bicep flexing and uninvolving fights. But it somehow works better than other Sly flicks. Just as schizophrenic – a football match is treated as war, an oppressive guard regime allows them to build a muscle car for fun, jokes about bug racing precede tragic deaths – yet somehow a good time. It helps that Donald Sutherland, Sonny Ladham and a scarily young Tom Sizemore are all on hand to chew the scenery. I enjoyed Lock-Up despite all its inherent flaws.


THX 1138 (1971)


George Lucas directs Robert Duvall, Maggie McOmie and Donald Pleasance in this dystopian sci-fi drama where a human drone goes off his emotion suppressing meds’ and begins to feel love / yearn for freedom.

As a mood piece THX 1138 is unrivalled. It is a chillingly and convincingly, vertically intergrated vision of a hellish future where all human emotion is suppressed to make the people subservient components to a singularity. It is oppressive and avante garde. As confusing and nightmarish and believable as such a scenario should be. Where the film loses its edge is when it enters into thriller territory. The chases are bog standard. Only the final ironic punchline which ends the pursuit seems to fit the cold terror we witnessed in the first hour. Lucas’ creation has far more power when we are lost in a white abyss, or  fighting through a crush of unsympathetic commuters, or watching a terrifying robot overseer escort a toddler back to their cell. Whether any viewer would want to repeat a visit to such a visceral experience is up for debate though.