GOING IN STYLE (2017) Provides Mediocre Comedy

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going_in_style poster.jpg

GOING IN STYLE (2017) is a remake of a 1979 film of the same name by writer/director Martin Brest that starred George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg as three senior citizens who decided to spice up their lives by robbing a bank.

This time around, the director is Zach Braff [from TV’s SCRUBS (2001-2010)] and the three elderly friends are played by Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin.

I enjoy these three actors a lot, and they’re the main reason I wanted to see this movie.

The story has been updated to 2017, and the plot has as its villain the “evil” bank which is responsible for taking away these men’s homes and their pensions.

Joe (Michael Caine) is unhappy because his bank was less than clear about his refinanced mortgage, and as a result, his monthly payment has tripled.  He can no longer afford the payment, and since his daughter and granddaughter live in the house with him, he does not want to lose his home.

To make matters worse, he and his buddies Willie (Morgan Freeman) and Albert (Alan Arkin) learn that the company they had worked for is shifting its workforce overseas, and as a result it’s cancelling their pensions.

When Joe visits his bank to argue about his mortgage, three masked men burst in and hold it up.  They get away with the money, which gets Joe to thinking:  if he and his friends robbed a bank, his bank, they’d get their pensions back.  Worse case scenario, they go to jail, which for them isn’t so bad since they don’t have a lot of years left to live.  As Joe says to his buddies, in prison, they’ll have a roof over their heads, three meals a day, and better health care than they have in the outside world.

While Willie and Albert don’t agree at first, eventually they change their minds and set their sights on robbing a bank.

GOING IN STYLE is a likable enough movie, but it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before or done better.

In spite of its realistic plot points of the manipulative bank giving Joe misleading information about his mortgage, and the company cancelling its pensions because it’s moving overseas, the film just isn’t very believable, which is surprising because the screenplay, based on the 1979 screenplay by Edward Cannon, was written by Theodore Melfi.  Melfi wrote the screenplay for ST. VINCENT (2014) and HIDDEN FIGURES (2016) two films that I liked a lot.  His script here for GOING IN STYLE is nowhere as crisp as his work on those other two movies.

The story just never becomes real.  I never believed that these three guys would really rob a bank, or that they’d actually get away with it.  The film is more a set-up to have Caine, Freeman, and Arkin interact with each other.

And sure, they’re fun to watch, but the problem is I’ve seen these actors far funnier in other movies than they are here.  Which brings me to the biggest problem with this movie. It’s one thing for a comedy not to have the most believable plot, but it’s quite another for it not to be funny, and I just didn’t find this film all that humorous.

Sure, there are lots of little bits here and there that caused me to chuckle, and Caine, Freeman, and Arkin did a fine job with these little bits, but I rarely laughed out loud.  Part of the problem is the film is rated PG-13, and so the language is tame, which really works against a guy like Alan Arkin who can be hilariously funny when his humor is untamed. He’s very reserved here, as are Caine and Freeman.

The plot also goes to the syrupy sweet aisle one too many times.  Scenes with Caine and his granddaughter made me want to gag they were so cliché, as well as a subplot where Freeman’s character befriends a little girl during the heist.

Christopher Lloyd is also on hand as another friend, Milton, and he does his loony Christopher Lloyd shtick throughout which like a lot of other parts in this film, seemed old and tired.

The most energetic performance in the film clearly belongs to Ann-Margret who plays a woman trying to seduce Alan Arkin’s character, and this provides the film with its most unintentional  laugh as he resists her!  Who in their right mind would resist Ann-Margret? And at 75, she still looks amazing!  I was flabbergasted by how good she looked in this film.  Wow!

Joey King is okay as Caine’s granddaughter Brooklyn, and Peter Serafinowicz does a nice job as Caine’s ex-son-in-law. John Ortiz plays a man name Jesus who teaches them how to rob a bank.

Matt Dillon also appears as a less than intelligent FBI agent.  Like the rest of the film, his performance is nothing I haven’t seen him do before and do better.

GOING IN STYLE is a likable enough movie, but sadly it didn’t possess enough biting humor or a believable enough story for it to completely work for me, even with the presence of Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin.

It’s a strictly by-the-numbers comedy that could have benefitted from both sharper writing and directing.

A little more style would have been greatly appreciated.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2015) Is Polished Entertaining Fluff

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Kingsman PosterMOVIE REVIEW:  KINGSMAN:  THE SECRET SERVICE (2015)

By Michael Arruda

 Matthew Vaughn wrote and directed KICK-ASS (2010) and X-MEN:  FIRST CLASS (2011), two of my favorite superhero films of recent years, so when I learned that he was writing/directing KINGSMAN:  THE SECRET SERVICE, my interest in this flick went way up.

I’ll say right now that KINGSMAN:  THE SECRET SERVICE is not as good as KICK-ASS or X-MEN:  FIRST CLASS, but it comes close.  Its action scenes look like a video game and are about as compelling, and its story is about as believable as a SPY KIDS movie.

The Kingsmen are an ultra-secret British spy organization even more mysterious than MI6.  The film opens in the late 1990s as a mission goes wrong and Kingsman Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is saved by a young protégé who gives his life to save Harry.  Harry later visits the agent’s wife and young son and tells them he owes them a debt, which years later the now young adult son Gary (Taron Egerton) collects when he finds himself in jail after stealing a car.  After Harry arranges for Gary to be released, he then goes about grooming him to become a future Kingsman.

Of course, you’re not just selected to become a Kingsman, you have to compete for it, and so Gary finds himself competing against other recruits in a series of tasks which are overseen by their trainer, who goes by the code name Merlin (Mark Strong).

Meanwhile the rich philanthropist Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) has caught the attention of the Kingsmen because of his connection to the murder of one of their agents who had been trying to rescue a kidnapped scientist Professor Arnold (Mark Hamill).  Harry, whose code name is Galahad, is assigned to the case and begins to infiltrate the empire of Valentine in order to learn what dastardly plot he has in store for the world, and it’s a doozy.

Of course, things don’t go as planned and before you can say Sir Lancelot young Gary finds himself as the world’s best chance for survival, and suddenly it’s up to Gary to save the day, with a little help from Merlin and Gary’s friend and young Kingsman agent, Roxy (Sophie Cookson).  Wait a minute.  Shouldn’t she be a Kingswoman?

Anyway, at times I really liked KINGSMAN:  THE SECRET SERVICE, and other times not so much.  In spite of this imbalance, it’s got enough good things going for it- strong direction, a clever script, and an excellent cast to tip the scale in favor of my recommending it.

First off, the cast is the best thing about KINGSMAN:  THE SECRET SERVICE.  Colin Firth is excellent as Harry Hart/Galahad.  He’s British to the core and makes the perfect gentleman spy.  While there are plenty of James Bond references throughout this movie, Firth’s performance calls to mind another fictional English spy from the 1960s, Patrick Macnee’s Mr. Steed from the TV show THE AVENGERS (1961-69).  Firth’s suave and debonair demeanor is reminiscent of Macnee’s Mr. Steed in that classic TV show.

Samuel L. Jackson chews up the scenery as mastermind supervillain Valentine, and he’s just as good as Firth if not better.  Jackson speaks with a lisp and gets to deliver some of the best lines in the movie.  One of the funnier bits in the film is that both Jackson’s Valentine and Firth’s Galahad are movie buffs and they exchange barbs about the old James Bond movies, which are quite funny.

The film is very cognizant of its origins and how it owes a lot to the James Bond films of old.  As such, it has a good time making jokes at its own expense, poking fun at itself, its characters, and its plot.  However, this only goes so far and on its own isn’t enough to make this film an instant classic.

Mark Strong, as always, is very good as Merlin, the agent who is in charge of training the young recruits and who by the film’s end finds himself with his two newest agents in the daunting position of having to save the world.

Interestingly enough, both Strong and Firth appeared in the substandard Nicole Kidman thriller BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP (2014) last year, and while both were fine in that movie, they’re better here in KINGSMAN.

Michael Caine adds class as the Kingsman’s patriarch agent, Arthur, and in a surprise bit of casting Mark Hamill shines in a brief role as Professor Arnold.  It’s a very small role, not enough for Hamill to make much of an impact in this movie, but when he’s on screen, he’s really good, and I couldn’t help but wonder, where has he been all these years?  Yeah, I know, he’s been a very successful voice artist for animated cartoons over the years, but it sure would have been nice to see him in more movies.

But what about the young cast members?  The leads?  After all, the film is mostly about young Gary (Taron Egerton).  Egerton isn’t bad, but the problem is he’s surrounded by some excellent actors, and sorry to say, he’s outclassed by them throughout.  I found myself wishing this movie was more about Colin Firth’s character.

Sophie Cookson is also very good as Roxie, Gary’s chief rival but also his closest friend— can anyone say HUNGER GAMES?  But she too is outclassed by the veteran cast in this one.

The most interesting of the young characters is Sofia Boutella as Gazelle, Samuel L. Jackson’s right hand woman and chief assassin.  She sports a very deadly— and razor sharp— pair of metal legs that can slice a man in half, which she does in this film.

So, I enjoyed the cast, but the story not so much. The biggest problem was I never really believed any of it.  The Kingsman as a concept is believable enough, but when we see these guys in action, their fight scenes look like video game sequences.  It’s all stylish and polished, but it looks oh-so-fake.  KINGSMAN:  THE SECRET SERVICE definitely has a plot, but its action sequences pretty much all fall flat.  They look great, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t look real.

As I said earlier, there are plenty of James Bond references, especially about how outlandish the old Bond films were, but even those films had action sequences that looked believable.  They were epic and grand in nature.  There isn’t anything epic about KINGSMAN.  And when Colin Firth goes into action mode and wipes out an entire church full of people, there is nothing believable about it.  It looks fake and phony.  Pass me the controller please so I can have a turn.

Even KICK-ASS was more believable than KINGSMAN.  There was a grittiness and realism in KICK-ASS that in spite of its farfetched superhero plot worked.  That is completely gone here.

Like KICK-ASS, KINGSMAN is rated R, and so there’s plenty of blood in the action sequences, but unlike KICK-ASS, none of it looks real.  Again, with fake looking violence, the action scenes in this one were a disappointment.

It’s also rated R for language, and this is mostly because of Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine’s colorful vocabulary.

Director Matthew Vaughn has made a movie in KINGSMAN that looks good, but it’s not quite the complete package as KICK-ASS or X-MEN:  FIRST CLASS.  Those films had pretty much everything.

The other problem I had with KINGSMAN is it never builds its suspense.  From the get-go, we see the Kingsmen in action.  There are stylish fights before we even know who we are supposed to be rooting for.  Plus, the film’s climax, while it’s certainly not a dud, isn’t overly exciting either.

The screenplay by Vaughn and Jane Goldman, who also co-wrote KICK-ASS and X-MEN:  FIRST CLASS with him, is based on the comic book “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, and it runs hot and cold.  For the most part, I liked it.  I enjoyed the characters and I enjoyed the film jokes, especially about the Bond films, but where it lacks is it never reaches out and grabs its audience with conviction.

The training sequences of the young agents were reminiscent of THE HUNGER GAMES where the young adults/teeny boppers have to compete against each other to make the grade, and only one of them is chosen, and oh yeah, if you fail you go home in a body bag.  You fail.  You die.  Sort of.  The film kind of cops out on this part later.

But a large chunk of the movie was about this training, and I can’t say that I liked this plot point all that much.  Every time the film dealt with the cadet training, I wished for more scenes with either Colin Firth or Samuel J. Jackson.

I never once feared for the characters’ lives, which is strange since characters do die in this film.  But I didn’t fear for them because I never really believed in what was going on, and for me, at the end of the day, if I don’t believe it, I don’t really enjoy it.  That being said, KINGSMAN has such a talented cast, as well as director and screenwriters, that the talent here actually overcomes the film’s shortcomings.  It’s just that with a credible story, this one could have been that much better.

Still, it’s all rather entertaining and is one of the more enjoyable pieces of fluff I’ve seen in a while.  I just wish it had been less fluff and more grit.

—END—

THE THREE SCROOGES- My Top 3 Movie Scrooges

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The THREE SCROOGES

By

Michael Arruda

 

If you’re like me, you break out the holiday movies during Christmas time and watch them year after year, regardless of how many times you’ve seen them.

 

For me, my favorite Christmas movies remain the different versions of Charles Dickens’ classic tale A Christmas Carol.  There’s something about dark films that I prefer over all others.  And so while I enjoy films like ELF (2003) and  A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983)  I like the story of Scrooge most of all.

 

I enjoy the story of how a man as cold as Scrooge can still change.  He learns that his selfishness hurts those around him, and that by being generous, he can make a difference in people’s lives.  Dickens also gives ample background to the Scrooge character.  We know exactly why Scrooge becomes the man he becomes, from the way his father treated him as a child, to his beloved sister’s untimely death.

 

There are many film versions of A CHRISTMAS CAROL.  I have three favorites, and so today I will share with you my picks for the three best Scrooges.

 

Michael Caine as Scrooge

Michael Caine as Scrooge

#3.  THE MUPPET CHRISTMA CAROL (1992) is certainly the most fun version of the Dickens’ tale.  Full of creative Muppet humor and a terrific memorable score by Paul Williams (who can forget the song “Marley &

Marley”), THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL is not only the most kid-friendly Scrooge tale, but also contains one of the best Scrooge movie performances, with Michael Caine playing it straight throughout.

 

While the Muppets around him crack jokes and sing songs, Caine plays Scrooge at his dramatic best.  He really is one of the best film Scrooges around.  In fact, there are only two film Scrooge performances that I like better than Michael Caine’s.

 

 

scrooge-patrick stewart

 

#2.  The 1999 version of  A CHRISTMAS CAROL, a made for television movie, features Patrick Stewart as Scrooge, and it’s one of Stewart’s best performances.  It’s a nice reminder of why STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION was so successful, because it had a quality actor like Patrick Stewart portraying Captain Jean Luc Picard.

 

As Scrooge, Stewart delivers a performance that is first-rate, certainly of the caliber that belongs in a theatrical film.  I particularly like the screenplay by Peter Barnes, as it includes a lot of the small details from the novel that you don’t often see in other film versions, like the ghost of Marley’s jaw being held together by the bandage wrapped around his jaw and head.

 Stewart’s Scrooge gets to partake in many of these small details. 

 

What I like best about Stewart’s performance is that he makes Scrooge’s cold personality seem so very natural, and not over the top at all.  When he says lines like “They should die and decrease the surplus population” he doesn’t sound like a lunatic, but a real person with real beliefs.  He also captures the wounded part of Scrooge’s personality, especially when he travels with the spirits and has to relive many painful moments from his past. 

 

There’s tremendous depth in Stewart’s performance, and in all the film versions of Scrooge, I’ve only seen one performance I thought was better.

 

 

scrooge - Alastair Sim

#1.  Alastair Sim, in the 1951 British version of A CHRISMAS CAROL (originally titled SCROOGE) is the definitive film Scrooge.

 

This version was adapted by Noel Langley, who wrote many movies, and was one of the writers who worked on THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939).  This is a deeply dramatic version of the Dickens tale and plays like a ghost story throughout.

 

Alastair Sim becomes Scrooge in this movie.  If you’ve read the novel and then you see this movie, you can’t help but think that Sim jumped off those pages and into this movie.  Sim also nails the “new” Scrooge, the joyous Scrooge after he has completed his time with the spirits, better than any other actor has ever done.  It’s an amazing transition to watch.  Great stuff.

 

The supporting cast includes many character actors who would go on to appear in Hammer Films, including Carol Marsh (HORROR OF DRACULA), Francis De Wolff (THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES), Miles Malleson (THE BRIDES OF DRACULA),and  Fred Johnson (THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN), as well as Universal Monster movie alum, Dr. Pretorius himself, Ernest Thesiger.

 

And even Patrick MacNee shows up as young Jacob Marley.

 

Great cast.  Great movie.  Even greater Scrooge.

 

So, if you’re in the mood this Christmas season to for the tale of Scrooge, you can’t go wrong with these Three Scrooges.

Nyuk!  Nyuk!

 Enjoy!

 

—Michael