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Dressed to Kill 

Style is everything in Kingsman and Woodshock


KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE. Matthew Vaughn first came to prominence, at least in my narrow little world, producing Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000). Having gone down the rabbit hole of British crime cinema at the time, and being a sucker for quick, slangy dialogue, clever editing and perhaps over-stylized cinematography, those movies became semi-canonical. Watching and re-watching, I mis-ascribed more than a few attributes, both to the work and its creators. Seen now, Lock and Snatch both remain fun and quick, but time has proven that they were not the significant contributions to culture I thought them. And while the years have been kind enough to Vaughn professionally, they find Ritchie commanding mega-budgets, directing tent-pole studio movies (more successfully in some cases than others), disproving what I believed so fervently. It was all too easy to assume, back in those hazy days, that because the credits listed Vaughn as producer it was Ritchie supplying all of the creative drive, writing the words and placing the camera and making the art that would live before our eyes. Vaughn seemed the level head that could provide space for the reckless genius to work. And then he directed Layer Cake (2005), an altogether more controlled, mature and (sure, I'll say it) better movie than Ritchie's first two. It may well stand as an important addition to the debatably important genre of UK crime cinema and signaled the arrival of a strong, dynamic storytelling voice. While Vaughn did not write Layer Cake (J.J. Connolly adapted his own novel), his authority behind the camera, his aesthetic, sense of story and command of a cast, demonstrate a creator in firm control. He would, of course, go on to co-write everything else he directed. Ritchie would go on to prove, with a series of incomprehensible attempts to recapture the early magic, followed by a series of uninspired but financially successful Hollywood outings, that he was likely not the New Voice in the partnership after all.

Vaughn (usually collaborating with writer Jane Goldman) has meanwhile built a body of work that encapsulates many of the great things so frequently missing from the mainstream. Each of his movies takes place in a vast and vividly imagined world where the impossible becomes delightfully normal: a fantastical, magical kingdom (Stardust, 2007); a comically nightmarish modern city (Kick Ass, 2010); the Cold War as waged by mutants (X Men: First Class, 2011); and, in the case currently before us, a gloriously heightened world of style and violence and intrigue set within and beneath a tweaked version of the contemporary world.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) set the stage for what I am gleefully led to believe will be a trilogy. In it, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is plucked from obscurity and low-grade criminality in the housing estate by a benefactor named Harry Hart (Colin Firth). Years ago when they were comrades in arms, Eggsy's father saved Harry's life. In a gesture of tribute, Harry recommends Eggsy as a potential Kingsman. Kingsman, of course, being an elite, independent intelligence organization operated covertly by Saville Row tailors. (The movie merits more than a plot synopsis, so if you haven't seen it, go ahead and watch it now. This will keep.)

Shortly after the events of the first installment, Eggsy has settled in to Kingsman life. He and Princess Tilde (Hanna Alstrom) are in a committed, loving relationship and have taken up residence in Harry's house. His absence weighs heavy on Eggsy, of course, but there is some solace in his residual presence. Even as life begins to take on some degree of comfort and normalcy, though, a super villain must emerge. Said villain first sends an emissary with a vendetta in the form of Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft), Eggsy's posh nemesis from The Secret Service. Sporting a robotic arm, Charlie is now employed by a redheaded megalomaniac Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), who demands inviolate, murderous loyalty from the inner circle (sounds vaguely familiar). The sociopath/CEO controls the world's largest drug cartel, albeit from a secreted jungle location. She's tired of the lack of recognition, though, and so enacts a plan to hold the world hostage until drugs can become part of the "legitimate" global economy and she can take her rightful place on the Fortune 500. Since Kingsman stands in her way, she decimates it, leaving Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) in desperation. Their doomsday protocol leads them to Kentucky, where they discover the existence of an American counterpart organization called Statesman. And they're off to save the world all over again.

As hoped, The Golden Circle provides more of the delicious detail and impossible action that made The Secret Service so great. But it also expands the world of the first movie, adding some emotional and political nuance while raising the bar for production design and fight choreography. Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry and Channing Tatum are introduced as members of the Statesman team. Colin Firth wears a cowboy hat and shearling jacket over a bespoke suit at an Italian ski resort: exquisite.

Kingsman movies, drawn from comic books by Mark Millar (Kick Ass), are by their very nature cartoonish, ultra-violent and, by one standard, very silly. But they are also gorgeously constructed, impeccable entertainments unlike any other. R. 141m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

— John J. Bennett

WOODSHOCK. In Woodshock's opening scenes, it becomes apparent that Teresa, played by Kirsten Dunst, is having a hard time dealing with her mother's recent death. Mixing up two patients' prescriptions at her work — a cannabis dispensary moonlighting in assisted suicide that would seem a strong contender for the title of Humboldt's Worst — aggravates the situation. Teresa enters a fugue state, losing herself in a fog of grief, depression and cannabinoid psychosis.

Produced by A24, Woodshock was shot in Humboldt County over five weeks in the summer of 2015 and directed by Kate and Laura Mulleavy, creators and artistic directors of the fashion line Rodarte. This is the first feature the Mulleavy sisters have directed. Their lateral move follows the leap made previously by fellow designer-cum-director Tom Ford, whose recent directorial efforts garnered measured acclaim. Couture crossover fanatics, rejoice: If three's a trend, we're two-thirds of the way to a new hyphenate genre.

Teresa is left grief-stricken and disconsolate after apparently helping her mother to die the month before. When she's not prone in bed or wrangling mutely with the men in her life — charismatic co-worker Keith (Pilou Asbaek), disappointing boyfriend Nick (Joe Cole) — she processes her grief by stomping frowningly through the redwood forest in a lacy slip and a fluffy mohair sweater. When she smokes the first of five joints laced with the mysterious substance implicated in that prior mercy killing, crystalline geometries fill the sky. Dusk falls and the fog comes in. Moths beat their wings against lightbulbs and the effect is like strobe flashes.

"Teresa, you're gonna have to take better care of yourself," Nick notes. She nods in affectless agreement. Next thing you know, vignettes of Teresa weeping whilst ironing and weeping whilst lying in bed are alternating with scenes of Teresa staggering about in her underwear in the middle of the night, wielding a rock to hammer stakes into the soggy ground, trying and failing to erect a barrier around the house. When she wakes up, there are crumbs of topsoil on the sheets.

The fence-building gesture is futile, like the other efforts Teresa makes to police her rapidly deteriorating boundaries. Small irruptions of the strange pass unremarked at first; gradually, these outbreaks become integrated into daily life. The sequences that telegraph these trips become increasingly baroque.

Viewers who come to the film expecting niceties like character development and a cogent plot might leave less than satisfied. Pacing is deliberate. Characters' motivations remain archly opaque and rudimentary scraps of dialogue offer scant help. But Woodshock can entertain, if you're prepared to be distracted by its shiny surfaces.

There are lots of those: wordless self-interrogations in the bathroom mirror and unexplained moments of levitation, along with one startling outbreak of gory violence. The climactic montage looks like a kaleidoscopic slideshow that cross-cuts redwood vistas with scenes of spurting blood. It verges on self-parody.

The exquisite surfaces that characterize the Mulleavys' couture look beautiful here too. No one is about to mistake this for social realism. But if you're yearning to envision a meticulously art-directed alternate version of the county with most of the tchotchkes, mildew, bongo drums, prayer flags, poverty, vice, twang and tragic haircuts edited out, this movie has got you covered. Three Corners Market on Myrtle Avenue got a shout from the crowd at the premiere when its neon sign beckoned from the fog.

The directors' previous foray into cinema came when they worked as costume designers on the psychological horror drama Black Swan (2010), directed by Darren Aronofsky. That film, like this one, uses costume to signal the progress of psychological deterioration. Clothes get sharper and shinier as their wearers' grasp on reality becomes more tenuous.

Several factors are rather halfheartedly advanced as potential motivators for discord. Nick, a logger, spends his days cutting down the redwood groves where Teresa likes to wander. "Do you ever feel bad about it —cutting them down?" she asks quietly at one point, early on. No straight answer — and no further queries — are forthcoming. Another unraveling strand involves Teresa's fraught relationship to domesticity and gender expectations. We see her staring at herself vexedly, dressing up repeatedly before the mirror, making up her lips by smearing them with blackberries. Soon, a tool associated with women's domestic work is wielded in an act of lethal violence. It's hard not to take the densely patterned arabesques of the bedroom wallpaper that frames Teresa's sleeping body as emblems for the confines of the home. Yet none of this adds up to more than the sum of the parts.

Dunst, who has been open about her experiences with depression, adds another role in this mode to her filmography. She appears in almost every scene and it is a credit to her meticulous, detail-oriented acting that she carries our attention with her largely mute performance — although it must be said that contrasting her performance here with the one she gave in Lars von Trier's Melancholia as a depressive counting down the final days of human life on earth brings this film's essential superficiality into relief.

The play of surfaces is the best thing about Woodshock and, at the same time, its limiting factor. The film's directors play to their considerable strengths, relying on their captivating way with surfaces and skins to such a degree that nothing in their picture is likely to get under yours. R. 100m. MINOR.

— Gabrielle Gopinath For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.


AMERICAN MADE. Tom Cruise as a pilot shuttling coke for a cartel and the CIA in a based-on-a-true-story trip back to the Reagan years. R. 115m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

FLATLINERS. Back from the dead, this time with Ellen Page heading up the team of rogue med students killing and resuscitating one another for science and, inadvertently, bad juju. PG13. 109m. BROADWAY.

RIO BRAVO (1959). John Wayne stars as a sheriff trying to keep order in the Wild West with the help of a soused Dean Martin and baby-faced Ricky Martin. NR. 141m. BROADWAY.

RUMBLE: THE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD. Documentary about the unsung role Native musicians have played in shaping American music. NR. 103m. MINIPLEX.

WELCOME TO WILLITS. Well, this looks batshit. Pot farmers, alien abductions and Dolph Lundgren in the Willits woods. Expect to see lots of Louisiana and Los Angeles. PG. 82m. MINIPLEX, MINOR.


AMERICAN ASSASSIN. Your dad's Cold War thriller and not in a good way, as this Vince Flynn novel adaptation hasn't caught up with the times. It's got style and solid performances but is neither fanciful nor realistic enough to succeed. Starring Michael Keaton. R. 111m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

FRIEND REQUEST. A popular student (Alycia Debnam-Carey) who connects with a campus pariah online is haunted on social media and IRL, which is nearly as evil as Zuckerberg with those targeted ads. R. 92m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

HOME AGAIN. A newly separated woman (Reese Witherspoon) takes on a trio of young, male housemates. PG13 97m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

IT. True to the spirit of the Stephen King novel, if not the letter, director Andy Muschietti wrests touching performances from child actors in a horror that blends old-fashioned jump scares with the dramas of early adolescence. And Bill Skarsgård is deeply creepy as Pennywise the Clown. R. 97m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE. The sharp little ninja figures you keep stepping on in the living room have an animated movie now. With Jackie Chan and Kumail Nanjiani. PG. 101m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

MOTHER! Billed as a shocker about a couple with unexpected visitors, Darren Aronofsky's multi-layered allegory borders on intellectual masturbation. Photography, sound and raw, high-wire performances still make it an immersive, unnerving experience. R. 123m. BROADWAY, MINOR.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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About The Authors

John J. Bennett

Gabrielle Gopinath

Gabrielle Gopinath

Gabrielle Gopinath is a critic who writes about art, place and culture in Northern California. She lives in Arcata. Follow her on Instagram @gabriellegopinath.

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