Argylle

Posted on February 18, 2024 at 5:33 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for strong violence and action and some strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action-style peril, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None

Review by guest critic Danielle Mathias with many thanks.


Matthew Vaughn has a knack for cheeky yet surprising action movies. If we didn’t find that out from the Kingsman franchise, his new movie Argylle is surely one for the books. This time around, his quintessential and clueless leading character who is dropped into a world of spies is Elly Conway, played expertly by Bryce Dallas Howard. Elly is a successful writer of a spy series, Argylle, and when she’s stumped for a proper ending to her latest book, she takes off with her beloved cat, Alfie, to spend time with her mother and writing partner (Catherine O’Hara).

Does Elly ever make it to her mom’s? Of course not! On her train ride she meets a fan who happens to be a spy who happens to be there to save her life. Aidan (Sam Rockwell) swiftly awakens Elly to the world she’s always written about, but didn’t know existed–even though the players in this world knew all about her. Not only are her books accurate, they are verbatim what is happening in a real off the books spy operation that mirrors her fictional one. The powers that be are not best pleased that this new book hasn’t clued them into the goings on in the real world. Elly stopped her story as Agent Argylle was meeting a man about a master file, a file that could bring down the very organization he defected from. The master file, as you may have guessed, is the “McGuffin” everyone is always after in an action flick. Between the code decrypting and secret identities, Argylle takes us on a journey to find out who Elly really is and what she has hidden, even from herself, because it may be the key to everything.

Copyright 2024 Universal Pictures

Howard is a charming, awkward protagonist who is our conduit into the world; she’s just as lost as we are and as she learns we do, too. Playing opposite her is Sam Rockwell, who brings a structure and levity to the situation that is always needed. He is our benevolent guide in a story where no one can be trusted and he plays the sarcastic rogue well. The two play off of each other easily, if not cheesily. The all star supporting cast includes Catherine O’Hara, Brian Cranston, Samuel L Jackson, Arianna Debose, John Cena and a quick cameo from pop star and sometimes actress Dua Lipa and each brings their own distinct flavor of comedy no matter how long they’re on screen. Henry Cavill was as charming as ever in a role that was made for him. Though he isn’t as central or present as the promotion suggests, Cavill steals the screen when he is present.

Argylle has everything a Vaughn action movie needs, and, unusual for him, a toned-down PG-13 rating. It has a relatable lead, multiple techsavvy somebodies, well choreographed and complicated fight sequences, and absolutely absurd plot twists. While the CGI usage was a bit heavy handed and the absurdity took a turn for the worse toward the end, all in all, “Argylle” is a distinctly fun time with a surprisingly twist-filled plot and mind-bending fight scenes. And, as in any Vaughn film, there is a levity and a self awareness that many action movies lack, but sorely need.

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Posted on March 23, 2016 at 11:00 am

Copyright Warner Brothers 2016
Copyright Warner Brothers 2016

After the refreshing superhero palate-cleanser that was “Deadpool,” it’s tough to get back into the ponderous, self-important, choir-of-angels soundtrack, too long by at least 45 minutes. Even the title is much too long. Do we really need another scene (and then ANOTHER scene) of Bruce Wayne’s parents being shot in a comic book movie? But that is not going to daunt director Zack Snyder, who lives for this sort of thing, and so here we are. The movie is literally and metaphorically murky, with muddy cinematography that turns every character’s eyes into pupil-less, drone-looking pools, except for the guys who can make theirs glow, via effects so retro they could have come from the old Flash Gordon serials. The storyline is secondary at best, just a series of setups for action sequences. It’s no secret that if you want to have a human fight Superman, you have to find some kryptonite to make him susceptible to human weapons. But then when we need him to be back to full strength, there he is. At a crucial moment, the turning point is simply ridiculous. So much of the chaos could have been circumvented if a couple of the characters ever had a conversation — or a cell phone. And everything stops when character takes the time for a detour into computer files that do nothing but set up the next movie. Isn’t that what extra scenes after the credits are for?

Batman and Superman have a lot in common — they were both orphaned as children and long before Spider-Man learned that with great power comes great responsibility, they were both living that credo, standing for, as the Superman radio and television program said, “Truth, justice, and the American way.” Indeed, they had a long comic book bromance going until the 1980’s, when they began to be at odds, focusing on what separated them. They are, after all, literally from different worlds. Brooding loner Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is a vastly wealthy industrialist, his only confidant the trusty butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons). Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), was sent to Earth from Krypton as a baby, then found, adopted, and raised with a lot of love and support on a bucolic farm by the Kents. When he grows up, Clark Kent works as a reporter alongside the woman he loves, Lois Lane (Amy Adams).

An alien attack on Gotham destroys Wayne Enterprises’ headquarters building in a brief action sequence more arresting and visually striking than the ones that follow. Wayne, watching Superman up in the sky and suffering devastating loss and guilt over the deaths of his employees, is not sure whose side Supe is on. After the attack, Superman is treated as a hero, but Wayne is not the only one who is suspicious and threatened by someone so powerful that no earth laws could stop him if he decided to go rogue. Later, when Lane is captured, Superman’s rescue operation ends up with many people dead and many questions unanswered.

Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg, enjoying his twitches), as rich and powerful as Wayne, seems to be behind various nasty ventures, and is very, very interested in getting hold of some kryptonite, despite the objections of a Kentucky Senator (Holly Hunter). So, a lot of people here are concerned about power — how to use it, how to constrain it, how to balance it — and that would be a great issue to explore in a superhero movie in 2016, but this one is more interested in whether a rich guy with a utility belt can beat a guy with super-strength, invulnerability, laser-vision, super-speed, and the ability to fly, and then whether anyone can defeat a big monster who bursts from Kryptonian primordial ooze.

Any Batman movie has to have an elegant society party. This one is, hosted by Luthor, and a mysterious woman (Gal Gadot, by far the best part of the movie) shows up to tantalize Wayne with her beauty and steal the very data he was there to steal himself.

And any Superman movie has to have a trip to the Fortress of Solitude, so that happens, too, and all I could do was wish I was there instead of watching this film.

Parents should know that this film includes constant comic book style fantasy violence with many explosions, and massive destruction, nukes, supernatural and military weapons, scary monster, characters injured and killed, some strong language, alcohol including drinking to deal with stress, and non-explicit nudity and a sexual situation.

Family discussion: How would/should the world respond to a real-life superhero who could not be subjected to our laws? Or to a vigilante like Batman?

If you like this, try: the Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan Batman movies and the comic books

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Fantasy Series/Sequel Superhero

The Man from UNCLE

Posted on August 13, 2015 at 5:34 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for action violence, some suggestive content, and partial nudity
Profanity: Brief crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action-style violence, guns, chases, explosions, torture, bombs, some archival wartime footage
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 14, 2015
Date Released to DVD: November 16, 2015
Amazon.com ASIN: B00ZS21J6E

Copyright 2015 Warner Bros. Pictures
Copyright 2015 Warner Bros. Pictures

Guy Ritchie’s update of the 1960’s television spy series is sleek, sophisticated, and sexy, with lively banter, high style, and oodles of roguish retro charm.

Henry Cavill (“Superman,” “The Tudors”) takes the Robert Vaughn role of Napoleon Solo, an army vet turned cool, elegant high-end thief turned reluctant spy in a plea deal to avoid a jail sentence. We meet him as he is arranging an extraction from the divided city of Berlin. An auto mechanic named Gaby (Alicia Vikander of “Ex Machina”) is the daughter of “Hitler’s favorite rocket scientist,” a man who came to work for the United States after WWII but has now disappeared and is thought to be working for some very dangerous people who are interested in his invention, basically a quicker, smaller, atomic bomb. The CIA is not the only group to figure out that Gaby might be the way to find her father. A very tall, very determined Soviet agent named Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer of “The Social Network”) is after her, too. After a thrilling chase, Napoleon delivers Gaby to the CIA only to find out that he has been assigned to work with both Gaby and Ilya to find her father and make sure that the bomb does not fall into the wrong hands.

As with his “Sherlock Holmes” films, Ritchie has a lot of fun with the chemistry between his actors. There’s a fire and ice vibe; Napoleon’s understated confidence and unflappable charm plays off well against Ilya’s smoulder and barely-controlled rage. They call each other “Cowboy” and “Peril” (as in “Red Peril”) and one-up each other with gadgets that are endearingly analog. What they refer to as a “computer disk” looks like a scotch tape dispenser made out of Fiestaware. Vikander continues her unstoppable trajectory into superstardom with another impeccable performance. And then there are the bad guys. Elizabeth Debicki (“The Great Gatsby”) plays Victoria Vinciguerra, “a lethal combination of beauty, brains, and ambition.” She is a 1960’s high fashion vision, part Catherine Deneuve, part Jean Shrimpton, part Penelope Tree, and a femme fatale in the most literal and lethal sense. They should give Joanna Johnston the costume design Oscar right now, and maybe the Nobel, too for her take on 60’s couture, from Courreges to Mary Quant.

Ritchie’s kinetic camerawork, spiced up with some split screen work is accompanied by Daniel Pemberton‘s swanky cocktail-stirrer of a score. With Hugh Grant’s unmatchable dry wit as a spy honcho and charm to spare from the leads, it’s enormously entertaining — with a welcome hint at the end that a sequel is in the works.

Parents should know that this film includes extended action-style violence, chases, explosions, shoot-outs, bombs, torture, some disturbing images including archival wartime footage, sexual references and situations and brief nudity, drinking, and smoking.

Family discussion: How do Napoleon’s and Ilya’s backgrounds affect the way they approach their jobs? Do you agree with their decision about the computer disk? What has changed the most since the Cold War era shown in the film?

If you like this, try: “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation,” “Torn Curtain,” and the old “Man from UNCLE” television series

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Trailer: The Man from UNCLE

Posted on February 12, 2015 at 9:37 am

Oh, how I loved The Man from U.N.C.L.E. when I was a kid. And this trailer for the new Guy Ritchie movie with “Superman’s” Henry Cavill and “The Social Network’s” Armie Hammer (plus Hugh Grant in the Leo G. Carroll role of Mr. Waverly) looks very tasty, doesn’t it?

Just a reminder of the original, with Robert Vaughn and that guy who plays Duckie on “NCIS.”

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Man of Steel

Posted on June 12, 2013 at 6:00 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive sci-fi/action violence including acts of terrorism, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: June 14, 2013

man of steelCome on, guys, can’t you give us one superhero who is not all angsty and conflicted? Director Zack Snyder, who presided over the ultimate superhero deconstruction in Watchmen, and producer/co-screenwriter Christopher Nolan, who put the cinematic “dark” in Batman’s Dark Knight have taken the original superhero, the one all the others are a reaction to, the one who never needed to be reminded that with great power comes great responsibility, and saddled him with an existential crisis.

This is less an updating of Superman than a downgrade.

That is not the fault of British actor Henry Cavill, who plays Clark Kent and Superman with a lot of heart behind that flawlessly heroic jaw, cleft chin, and broad shoulders.  It is the sour tone of the script and the drab look of the film, with completely unnecessary post-production 3D adding a greyish cast over the bleached-out images.

And a reboot really does not require yet another retelling of the origin story.  We all know about the little spaceship sent off from Krypton by Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara (Ayelet Zurer) before the planet exploded, and the baby who was discovered by the childless Kents, honest farmers who called their new son Clark.  Here the re-telling is used to lay the foundation for a battle of former Kryptonians, with towering rage specialist Michael Shannon as General Zod (memorably played in “Superman II” by Terrence Stamp).  A new wrinkle: as in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and “Gattaca”, the decadent, depleted Kryptonian society genetically programs fetuses for particular purposes.

In defiance of this system, Jor-El and Lara produce a child the old-fashioned way, the first such birth in generations.  But it is too late.  Krypton has ignored its inconvenient truths for too long.  The world, including technology that features a phone that looks like a talking pomegranate, is about to end.  General Zod, once Jor-El’s friend, rebels, killing Jor-El, and vowing revenge as he and his followers are sent to the Phantom Zone.  (And by the way, the Phantom Zone here is not nearly as cool as the rotating glass plane in “Superman II.”

After the Kryptonian prologue, we get a distractingly disjointed story, beginning with Clark as an adult, saving the day in secret and disappearing before he can be identified.  In flashbacks, we see that Martha Kent (Diane Lane) teaches him how to manage his super-senses without getting overwhelmed.  Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) tells his adopted son not to reveal his powers because the world is not ready to understand and appreciate him.  Though he loves his parents, Clark feels isolated and anguished.  He cannot help stepping in when rescue is needed (and in one case when a bully needs a comeuppance), but then he has to move on so his secret cannot be uncovered.

Lois Lane (Amy Adams), spunky as ever (“What can I say, I get writer’s block if I’m not wearing a flack jacket”) finds out Clark’s secret immediately.  She is not someone who is going to be fooled by a pair of glasses and a timid demeanor.  Indeed, one reason this story seems so sterile is that it leaves out some of the core elements of the Superman story.  No kryptonite.  Instead of graceful soaring through the sky, he takes off like a jumping bean.  He does not call himself Superman and is only called it once.  Instead of the iconic bright red and blue uniform, he wears a textured supersuit with a dramatic but not very practical  ankle-length cape.  Edna Mode, where are you when Superman needs you?

Clark keeps his secret, with tragic consequences, until General Zod arrives and insists that Earth surrender its lone Kryptonian.  This leads to a half-hour fight sequence that is ably staged but empty in spirit.  Post-production 3D effects are applied indiscriminately, with the pores of the actors’ skin unsettlingly immersive.  The action is indiscriminate and overblown.  Perhaps some day we will be able to appreciate mass destruction without painful associations.  But here and now, it feels gratuitous.  Clark Kent/Kal-El gets so caught up in his own existential angst he overlooks some complex moral issues in his fight with Zod.  The plot draws too heavily from “Star Trek” (in at least two places) and not enough from Superman’s decades of history.  What about Mr. Myxlplyx?  The City of Kandor?  Bizarro World?  Don’t make Superman into another Dark Knight.  Let Superman be his own super-self.

Parents should know that this film includes extended scenes of comic book-style action violence with fights, chases, explosions, tornado, planet annihilated, sad deaths of parents, crashes, and massive city-wide destruction. Many characters are injured and killed including fetuses. There is a non-explicit childbirth scene, some strong and crude insults, and some drinking.

Family discussion: Was Clark’s father right to tell him to keep his powers secret, no matter what the cost? How does this Superman differ from other portrayals and why? Is morality an “evolutionary advantage?” What would you pick for the symbol of your house?

If you like this, try: “Superman” and “Superman II” and the new book about the teenagers who created the character of Superman: Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

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