Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) on IMDb
Directed by Matthew Vaughn; stars Taron Edgerton, Mark Strong, Julianne Moore, Colin Firth, Michael Gamdon, Halle Berry, Elton John, Pedro Pascal, Hanna Alstrom, Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum. 141 mins. Cert. 15.

Taron Egerton, brightly suited and booted, leads the Kingsmen in this second slice of tongue-in-cheek mayhem. When their headquarters is destroyed and most of Kingsman high command assassinated, Eggsy and Merlin uncover an allied spy organisation in the US. The two elite organisations band together to defeat a common enemy – deranged, sugar-sweet, drug dealing mommy, Poppy. Poppy holds court over her mercenaries hidden away deep in the jungle. Her base a deluded burger bar drive-in replete with a Vegas style auditorium featuring star turn, Elton John, held hostage to perform as and when required.  Having unleashed a narcotic into the drug-chain, deadly to its users, Poppy demands a ransom from the US President for the antidote.

Taron Edgerton reprises his role as east-end wide boy Eggsy and has managed to capture the attentions of Princess Tilde, daughter of the King of Sweden, though so far has failed to put a ring on her finger. (I guess anything is possible if Prince Harry can date a US actress!) In an ironic twist of fate Tilde, along with millions worldwide, has been infected with the lethal drug leading Eggsy, Merlin, Harry and newcomer Tequila (Channing Tatum) to uncover the antidote and destroy Poppy’s hideaway.

What transpires is plenty of action and tongue-in-cheek humour. Of note is Sir Elton being held hostage who says little but whose pouting expressions of dismay and prima-donna outbursts of ‘I’m f**king Elton John’ are hilarious. Elton is both guarded and protected by Poppy’s two robotic watchdogs who have been programmed not to attack ‘friend’ Elton. Julianne Moore gusto and has immense fun in the role of demented Poppy, a serial mom with a truly vicious streak. One moment she is sweet as pie and a split second later your worst nightmare. See how gleefully she minces a disloyal employee then watches gleefully as his best friend tucks into the man-burger she has freshly cooked.

Director Vaughn assembles a stellar cast (almost a who’s who of Hollywood) and pulls out all the stops to make the ride as thrilling as possible. From the off Eggsy has to battle an assailant in the back of a black cab as they race at breakneck speed through the streets of London. If this has the look and feel of a Bond movie with its demented psychopaths seeking world dominance, high-speed chases, high tech gizmos and global locations (there’s even a visit to Glastonbury) then that’s exactly what it is with Edgerton as 003.5 Bond in training! Great to see Colin Firth resurface as Harry Hart and just hope the excellent Mark Strong’s Merlin survives the explosion to return in the next instalment. If not there’s always Halle Berry as the wonderfully nerdy Ginger. Along with Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal is eye-catching as duplicitous, lasso-weilding, Whiskey.

The script, written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, carries on the spirit and humour of the first Kingsman and this is as enjoyable a ride. With plenty of action, lots of eye-candy and humour, Kingsman: The Golden Circle provides an entertaining few hours at the local multiplex.

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Victoria and Abdul (2017) on IMDb
Directed by Stephen Frears; stars Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Olivia Williams, Michael Gamdon, Simon Callow, Eddie Izzard, Tim Pigitt-Smith. 112 mins. Cert PG.

The intertitle ‘Based on a true story…almost’ immediately alerts that this slice of royal history that takes liberties with its subject that is not depicted too seriously. Director Frears has the ability to extract humour in tragedy as he did so well in his 2006 film, The Queen, which depicts events following the untimely death of the Diana, Princess of Wales. My favourite line of the film is when the Queen, in a casual aside to Tony Blair, proclaims children to be such a blessing, a fact loaded with irony given the difficulties she so often faced with her own offspring.

Where family life was concerned Queen Victoria was contradictory, while she and Albert created the modern ideal of a Royal Family, Victoria is known to have loathed her nine offspring. Such disregard for her own children may account for the isolation and loneliness the Queen suffered in old age. The animosity between Victoria and her heir, Bertie, the Prince of Wales, is clear to see. Frears is careful not only to depict her solitude in the opening scenes of the film but also the dispassionate, businesslike way the Queen’s person is treated, more a commodity than a living person. Her treatment at the hands of her ladies in waiting is far from regal as her overweight torso is unceremoniously rolled and hoisted from bed and then sits motionless to be poked, tweaked and dressed before being wheeled out to interminable lunches, ceremonies, dinners and speeches. Heavy indeed is the head that wears the crown.

Judi Dench is majestic throughout giving her portrayal of Victoria grace and gravitas. She is no stranger to the role having portrayed Victoria twenty years earlier in John Madden’s film Mrs Brown (1997), the title referring to Victoria’s relationship with her Scottish servant, John Brown and the uproar it provoked. In Victoria and Abdul Dench reprises her role to depict the Queen’s relationship with a young Indian clerk, Abdul Karim, who is summoned from the far continent to present the Queen with a gift on the occasion of her Jubilee. The similarities between her relationship with John Brown are evident. The Prince of Wales, her family, the establishment and the royal household all disapprove of these relationships and on both occasions Bertie, Prince of Wales threatens to have the monarch certified if she doesn’t break off relations while her household threatens to resign, both threats Victoria dispatches with ease.

Throughout the film the ageing monarch says little and Dench is adept at displaying Victoria’s feelings and emotion with a simple look. It is not so much in what she says and does but moreso in her sombre facial expressions that so eloquently depict the isolation and segregation Victoria feels from the court around her. This is a woman who, at an advanced age, has suffered her husband, confidantes and friends pass away and is now remote, set apart not only socially but also literally, from those around her who jockey for position and power. ‘We are all prisoners’ she confesses to Abdul in one poignant scene and it is her need for companionship and someone in whom she can confide that causes her misguided judgement in elevating Abdul’s status within the royal household. Comedian Eddie Izzard gives an assured and competent portrayal as Victoria’s son, Bertie, bringing perfect comic timing and outrage at Victoria’s increasing reliance on Abdul. Fast and Furious actor Ali Fazal is far too good looking to portray Abdul who, in real-life photos appears quite portly and short. Fazal is expressive in his wide-eyed innocence and does manage to display an element of quiet scheming in Abdul’s push for advancement.

What at first hand appears a lightweight tale of royal manners is in fact a skilful construct that identifies power politics within the establishment and the royal household. Lee Hall’s impressive screenplay covertly encompasses issues of ageing, mortality, isolation and loneliness and director Frears skillfully weaves these into the narrative. Victoria & Abdul is an engaging, entertaining movie that draws on the never-ending obsession with British royalty, manners and period drama.

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Wind River (2017) on IMDb
Directed by Taylor Sheridan; stars Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Graham Greene, Julia Jones, Apesanahkwat, Tantoo Cardinal, Gil Birmingham. 107 mins. Cert 15.

Drama based on actual events that surround the discovery of the part frozen body of a young native american woman. Veteran tracker Corey Lambert agrees to assist FBI Agent Continue reading

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God's Own Country (2017) on IMDb
Directed by Francis Lee; stars Josh O’Connor,  Alec Secareanu, Gemma Jones, Ian Hart. 104 mins. Cert 15. 

Francis Lee’s first feature as writer/director is an assured, captivating movie and a fine example of British filmmaking. Lee eloquently depicts the loneliness and isolation faced by Continue reading

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Dunkirk (2017) on IMDb
Director: Christopher Nolan. Stars Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Harry Stiles, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Luke Thompson, Michel Biel.  106 mins. Cert 12A.

Dunkirk opens with hundreds of soldiers stranded on the beach at Dunkirk awaiting transport across the Channel to England. Under an almost cloudless, blue sky ordered Continue reading

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) on IMDb
Directed by Luc Besson; stars Dane Dehaan, Cara Delevingne, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Clive Owen, Herbie Hancock, Chris Wu, Rutger Hauer. 134 minutes. Cert 12a

Director Luc Besson consistently has an eye for detail and over the past three decades has filled cinema screens with visually impressive images. Lucy (2014), The Fifth Element Continue reading

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Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) on IMDb
Director: Jon Watts; stars Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Gwyneth Paltrow, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly. 133 mins. Cert 12A 

Back in 2002 it was young Tobey Maguire who received the spider bite that turned this pubescent teen into a crime fighting warrior. Maguire’s Peter Parker, hiding behind the Continue reading

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Baby Driver

Baby Driver (2017) on IMDb
Directed by Edgar Wright; stars Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx. Cert 15. 112 mins.

Within the first five minutes this movie has more exhilarating energy, action, suspense and thrills than any superhero movie you will see this year. Writer/Director Edgar Wright assembles a stellar cast with young, charismatic Ansel Elgort leading the pack as ‘Baby’.

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Wonder Woman – Rise of the Warrior

Wonder Woman (2017) on IMDb

Directed by Patty Jenkins; stars Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielson, Elena Anaya. Cert. 12a. 141 mins.

Diana, princess of the Amazons, is trained to be an unconquerable warrior. When the calm and solitude of Themyscira, a sheltered island paradise, is invaded Diana meets an American pilot who tells her of the war raging in the outside world. Believing this to be the fulfilment of a prophesy which foretells the rise of Ares, the god of war, to wreak havoc and destruction, Diana leaves the sanctuary of her home to defeat Ares.

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King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) on IMDb
Director: Guy Ritchie; stars Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, David Beckham, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Eric Bana, Aidan Gillen, Freddie Fox, Craig McGinlay, Tom Wu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Neil Maskell, Annabelle Wallis. Cert. 12A, 126 mins.

Guy Richie’s take on the Arthurian legend is as far removed from Disney’s The Sword in the Stone as you can get. If anticipating a medieval romp through the lush green fields of England, with serf-like Arthur plucking Excalibur from the stone, forget it. Richie’s Arthur is a hard-boiled pimp, living literally off the back of the whores he protects as well as creaming off the profits from illicit business deals. In doing so young Arthur, unaware of his true heritage, has built a small fortune and gathered around him a group of loyal retainers.

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