Sunday, February 22, 2015

"Kingsman: The Secret Service"

The trailers for this movie made me raise my eyebrows at the action sequences and chuckle at the pasty British kid dressed like a street thug. I figured it could go either way as far as quality, especially with a runtime of 2 hours. Action movies these days as a rule are quite poorly made; the reasons for this are excellently outlined in the following video.

I'll grade Kingsman based on the video's rubric:

1. The story. The trailers sum up the plot simplistically: a young British man is recruited to a spy organization called Kingsman, takes part in their Hunger Games-esque training program, and saves the world from evil with James Bond gadgets. Plot elements include vengeance, terrorism, father/son legacy, classism, and a close relationship with a mentor. These are all cliches, but are presented in a highly entertaining, original fashion. 4.5 out of 5.

2. The hero. Gary (Taron Egerton), nicknamed Eggsy for reasons nobody bothers to explain, is lower class, directionless, and has a penchant for Vanilla Ice-style hip-hop attire. He's been in minor trouble with the police. His father was a Kingsman who gave his life for queen and country. His mother has since remarried to an abusive drunk. Once in Kingsman training, he has a difficult time fitting in with his fellow recruits, who were all plucked from schools like Oxford. Eggsy eventually earns their trust, becoming an unofficial leader. 4 out of 5.

3. The villain. Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) is a billionaire record mogul with a severe lisp. He's also a rabid environmentalist. He's been funding global warming research and believes that the only way to mitigate the damage being done to the planet is via mass genocide. His second-in-command Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) is a woman with prosthetic legs that are really swords. Valentine's public persona is so charming and generous that nobody has a clue he's up to anything sinister; that ability to deceive the public and influence important political figures is the scariest part of this character. 5 out of 5.

4. The stunts. The physical feats performed by the spies are either borderline unbelievable or downright impossible. In the context of the movie, you probably won't question any of them. An excellent job was done by those who actually performed the stunts. 3.5 out of 5.

5. The camerawork. The intense action sequences are filmed from different viewpoints, which keeps everything fresh. There's no dreaded "shaky cam" effects that could make certain audience members nauseous. 3.5 out of 5.

6. The vulnerability of the hero. Eggsy is just an ordinary London street kid. We learn that he had been in training for the British military, but dropped out because his mother was afraid that he would get killed in action. Before getting picked up by the Kingsman, he was unemployed. Training at the agency's country mansion and shopping for a suit gave Eggsy a taste of the finer things in life; their mock missions showed he had great potential. Everyone at the academy is competing for a single vacancy; if Eggsy fails, he will be back where he was: in the projects with nothing. His mother gets caught in the crosshairs of Valentine's master plan. If Eggsy isn't successful on the big mission, he will lose the most important person in his life. The stakes don't get higher than that. He isn't invincible to physical damage or to mistakes. 4.5 out of 5.

All these elements combine to make Kingsman one of the most original action movies to come along in recent years, although it should be noted there is source material involved. The movie is based on a comic book of the same title, which I had never previously heard of. I'm not a fan of comic book movie genre; the only ones I have been able to watch more than once were the original Iron Man and The Avengers. I can now add Kingsman to that list of exceptions. Catch it while it's still in theaters.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Cabin Fever

Kentucky does a lot of things well, however, preparing for any type of winter weather is not one of them. A few flurries send people dashing to the nearest store for bread and milk. Earlier this week, a severe snowstorm was predicted and Facebook was filled with pictures of bare shelves at Walmart. Such scares are common and I was fairly confident it wouldn't be as bad as predicted.

Well, the meteorologists picked this time to be right. Over a foot of snow fell on average; the governor declared a state of emergency. Every aspect of life has come to a grinding halt: government offices like the DMV and the health department, K-12 school districts, colleges, daycares, and even a major mall are shut down. I have been unable to leave my house for the last 3 days. 72 hours, 4,320 minutes....

If ever a song could sum up the feelings of an entire state, I think this Disney number would.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Justified: "Sounding"

Ava has gotten even more squirrelly and wants to leave Harlan County, Boyd, and Raylan far behind. She went to Noble's Holler asking for Limehouse's help to disappear, even offering up her engagement ring as payment. Limehouse didn't take her up on the offer. Raylan had a come-to-Jesus with his informant, telling her that unless she cooperates and gives the Marshals intel to use against Boyd, she's going right back to prison. The episode also answered the question of what Ava's maiden name was: Randolph.

One of the more disappointing moments in this episode, at least for me, concerned fan favorite character Bob Sweeney (Patton Oswalt). Last week's trailer showed him in a nicer uniform driving a shiny new car; I was hoping that meant he'd achieved his dream of becoming Trooper Bob. Alas, he's still a constable, just pawned some of his stuff to get new toys. However, it is still perilous to underestimate Bob, as one of Limehouse's henchmen found out when he got a Taser shot to the nether regions.

Bob isn't the only one using electricity as a persuasive technique; Wynn Duffy used a cattle prod on a crooked prison guard who was fired after attempting to sexually assault Ava. Rachel and Tim are presumably trying to use that guard Feekus (sp?) to get information on Duffy and his connection to Markum and Katherine.

Boyd is still no closer to finding the right explosives expert to crack the safe at the pizza parlor. The one he hired this week succeeded in making something go boom, but probably lost his hearing in the process.

"Harum Scarum"

(Image source)

I've been a huge Elvis fan since I was a little girl, but had never seen any of his movies until this weekend, when I received this one for Valentine's Day. Elvis is pretty much playing himself as singer/actor/martial artist Johnny Tyronne. Johnny's latest project Sands of the Desert is predicted to be a huge success. Johnny is in an unnamed part of the Middle East doing a goodwill press tour to promote the movie.

Things are going well for him until he's kidnapped. Some revolutionaries who've seen his on-screen fights want him to assassinate the ruler of a small kingdom that's been cut off from modern culture for about 2,000 years. Johnny manages to escape his kidnappers and goes on the run, hoping to find an airport where he can catch a flight to the next stop on his press tour. The rest of the plot is thin and involves assassins, a bulgy-eyed thief, a little person, two cute orphans, and plenty of belly dancers.

At its best, the movie is campy fun. None of the locals look even vaguely Middle Eastern. Elvis is so charming that you forgive him for not being a great actor. During the film-within-a-film Sands of the Desert, Elvis kills a leopard by karate-chopping it. There are duels with very obviously plastic swords. I suspect the setting was chosen to cash in on the popularity of both Elvis and Lawrence of Arabia. Like all Elvis movies, this is a musical. The best song involves Elvis strutting around a marketplace imploring the belly dancing native girls to "shake that tambourine."

However, the fun grinds to a screeching halt during a scene where Elvis is sheltered by the caretakers of the orphans. The girl, who's probably 10 at the oldest, begs to be taken to America and promises to "be a good slave girl." She then shows Elvis some seductive dance moves while he sings to her. Yes, you read that right. It's pretty creepy to watch and it seems to go on forever.

That part aside, Harum Scarum was intriguing enough overall that I may well investigate some of The King's other movies.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Justified: "The Trash and the Snake"

The beginning of this final season has already seen plot twists that came quicker than a blind curve on a Kentucky back road, most notably the death of dim-witted gator poacher/neo-Nazi Dewey Crowe. Ava is out of prison and acting as a confidential informant for the Marshals with Raylan as her handler. Art is at home recuperating from his gunshot wound, leaving Rachel to ride herd over the lunatic misfits at the office.

Raylan is trying to sell his father's old property and turned down the offer from a bearded man named Ty Walker. Ty also made a generous offer for land owned by Raylan's former English teacher and her husband, which was also declined. The teacher and her husband died from carbon monoxide poisoning after their furnace malfunctioned. Raylan isn't so sure it was an accident. His suspicions are confirmed when Tim discovers plastic taped to the windows of her house.

The bad guy behind the scenes of the Harlan County land grab is Avery Markham played by Sam Elliott. He's got high hopes (pun intended) that marijuana will be legalized, which he will then grow in Harlan County. Avery's girlfriend Katherine (Mary Steenburgen) seems to know entirely too much about everyone's past, including parts of Ava's that aren't supposed to be public knowledge. Katherine tells Ava that she's the real brains behind Avery's scheme and she seems like the kind of woman who could kill you at the slightest provocation. Her silky menace reminds me of a character from another FX series, Gemma Teller-Morrow of Sons of Anarchy. I have a feeling she will meet a similar fate. Katherine and Ava have a lovely girls' day out involving snorting cocaine and ripping off a jewelry store.

Harlan's resident explosives expert Boyd Crowder is planning to blow up a safe in the basement of a local pizza parlor. Its owners are involved in the Dixie Mafia and rumor has it the safe has a few million dollars in it. He recruited the help of a wild-eyed safe-cracker played by Jake Busey, son of poster child for sanity Gary Busey. SPOILER: Jake does not survive to the end credits.

Additionally, Rachel running the office has meant a lot more screen time for one of my favorite characters: Deputy US Marshal Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts). We haven't learned anything else about his mostly shadowy past, but that's not really a big deal. It's a lot of fun to watch him and Timothy Olyphant play off each other. Tim's already had some good snarky one-liners; in an episode a couple of weeks ago, he saw Raylan watching nanny-cam footage of Willow and said, "I thought that was a random Internet baby." Last night, when Raylan told him about his former teacher, Tim asked if she "watered little Raylan, helped him blossom?" Raylan confessed that she was a mean old coot who nearly made him hate reading.

Next week's episode looks promising with Patton Oswalt reprising his role as Constable Bob.