Saturday, February 28, 2015

This Is Not Logical

Damn, Daamn, DAAAMN!

I stopped posting celebrity obituaries on my blog a few years ago, but I'm making an exception in this case. 

By now you've all heard the news that Leonard Nimoy, TV's Mr. Spock, has died at age 83.

We all knew this day was coming, as Nimoy's health began failing in recent months. Of course that doesn't make the news any easier when if inevitably arrives. This one cuts particularly deep though. I've been watching Leonard Nimoy on TV for pretty much my entire life-- since I was six years old in fact. It seemed like he'd always be around. Losing him is quite a blow, and makes me want to find Adam West and Stan Lee and give them both a big hug.

Over the years I've been within ten feet of William Shatner and the entire cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, minus Patrick Stewart. And I've talked with both Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar) and Robin Curtis (Saavk II). Sadly I never got the chance to meet Leonard Nimoy. Now I wish I had.

Nimoy was much more than an actor. He was a writer, poet, singer (!), photographer and a very successful film director, whose films grossed hundreds of millions of dollars. Sometimes I wonder if he racked up all those other achievements just to prove to people that he was more than just a pair of pointed ears.

When I was younger I thought Spock was the coolest person imaginable, and did my best to emulate him. Hey, there are worse role models for a kid. Some would say I copied his cold, emotionless demeanor a little too well.

His Star Trek co-stars all have nothing but praise for him, citing him as a professional and a gentleman, and as far as I know he was never embroiled in any tabloid scandals, which is more than most in Hollywood can say.

If nothing else, props to him for patiently enduring the hundreds of thousand of fans who over the years ran up to him, gave him the Vulcan salute and said, "Live long and prosper."

Friday, February 27, 2015

Fifty Shades Of Hay

The film Fifty Shades Of Grey continues to take the box office by storm, racking up an astonishing $400 million dollars worldwide in its first two weeks alone.

Based on the novel by author E.L. James, the erotic odyssey has divided audiences; some praise it as a tale of female sexual empowerment, while others dismiss it as "mom porn," or worse, a handbook for domestic abuse.

Of course it's no secret that Fifty Shades Of Grey started out as nothing more than steamy Twilight fan fiction. James wrote a series of salacious adventures starring Edward and Bella  and uploaded them to an online forum. Fans were so delighted by the tale they demanded she publish it for real. Fans who, by the way, obviously had no earthly idea how copyright laws work. 

James ultimately agreed with the public and decided her lascivious love story needed to be shared with the world. To that end she simply took her derivative work and replaced Edward and Bella with Christian and Ana, removed all the vampire and supernatural elements and violin! She had a brand new original soft porn trilogy fit for publishing. 

Against all logic, common sense and reason, Fifty Shades Of Grey became a huge hit, and James sat back and watched the semi trucks full of cash roll in!

I was so inspired by her success that I decided to start writing my own erotic fan fiction, based of course on one of my favorite TV shows, the 1960s sitcom Green Acres.

In my story, Betty Jo Bradley is an innocent young women who lives with her family at the Shady Rest Hotel in Hooterville. One day local farmer Oliver Wendall Douglas visits the Shady Rest, ostensibly to get away from his home for a while. He  tells Betty Jo that his wife Lisa finally had enough of country life and left him, moving back to New York City. The two begin a casual friendship.

Douglas begins taking a special interest in young Betty Jo, giving her lavish presents and showing her the night life in nearby Pixley. Betty Jo is taken by Douglas' sophisticated big city ways, and becomes enamored with him.

Douglas invites Betty Jo to his farmhouse and asks her to sign a non-disclosure agreement, laying out the "terms" of their relationship. She adds a few terms of her own to the contract and then signs it.

He then shows her a secret room under his dilapidated home, filled with numerous excess farm implements sold to him over the years by Mr. Haney. The two then begin an erogenous and often violent sexual relationship involving role playing and bondage, as Douglas uses the various farming tools on the innocent Betty Jo.

I call my new erotic fan fiction Fifty Shades Of Hay. If you need me, I'll be sitting by the phone, anxiously awaiting a call from a Hollywood producer who wants to turn it into the next box office bonanza.

Yeah, I know, this was a long way to go for that joke.

Sixteen Other Things Brian Williams Claims To Have Done

Last month NBC newscaster Brian Williams landed in hot water after admitting he fabricated the story of his helicopter taking fire in Iraq back in 2003. NBC has suspended Williams for six months over the incident, and it's not yet clear if he'll ever return.

Oddly enough, this isn't the first time Williams has embellished the truth. Here are Sixteen Other Things Brian Williams Claims To Have Done: 

• Took an Orcish arrow to the shoulder during the Battle Of The Five Armies.

• Invented Clamato.®

• Decapitated the Kurgan during battle, held his severed head aloft and shouted. "There can be only one!"

• Portrayed the little-known third Darrin Stevens on Bewitched.

• Was the actual author of Shakespeare's plays.

• Taught Tom Brokaw to do that weird "L" thing when he spoke in order to sabotage his career and take over his position.

• Sustained injuries when his starship was attacked by the Borg at the Battle Of Wolf 359.

• Trained the MTM kitten to meow on command.

• Was Lando Calrissian's co-pilot during the attack on the Death Star II.

• Came up with the concept of sitting behind a desk, dressing in a tailored suit and reading pre-written news stories to a television audience.

• Alerted the Colonial Militia of the approach of British forces before the battles of Lexington and Concord.

• Played "Bub" on the first five seasons of My Three Sons.

• Invented the internet, but fearing no one would believe him, talked Al Gore into taking the credit.

• Deduced the shocking plot twist in The Sixth Sense after hearing the title alone.

• Urged William Wallace to paint his face blue.

• Somehow got in trouble for exaggerating the truth while working for a news organization that deliberately feeds misinformation to the public on a daily basis.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

That Takes A Lot Of Ba... Er, Guts

My local animal shelter, the Vanderburgh County Humane Society, is having a benefit dinner to raise money for the spaying and neutering of pets. That's a good thing.

However, this is the logo they're using for the event. The spaying and neutering event. 

I... I'm not quite sure how I feel about this.

Man, I'd have given a year's pay to have been able to sit in on this marketing meeting. You don't see a lot of testicle-based ad slogans these days.

Marvel's Agent Carter Season 1, Episode 8: Valediction

Welp, so ends Season 1 of Marvel's Agent Carter. Will there be a second season? I hope so! When I first read that Marvel was producing a series about Captain America's non-superpowered gal pal, I thought it sounded as dull as dishwater. Fortunately that wasn't the case, and I enjoyed the show much more than I expected. Here's hoping for additional seasons!

If the series does continue, I think it'd be a good idea to follow this eight episode per season formula. That seems like just the right amount. It's enough time to set up a story arc without all the filler that longer seasons tend to have.

If there is a second season, I'd like to see a bit more adventure, rather than so much workplace drama. Don't get me wrong, seeing Peggy struggle for respect in the chauvinistic world of the 1940s was important, and a good way to shine a light on the inequalities that still exist in our time, but it's bee even better to see her team up with the Howling Commandos much more often.

It'd also be nice to see a bit more "retro" high-tech on the show. You know, death rays, jet packs, Nazi cyborgs, things like that. Embrace your comic book heritage, Agent Carter!

The series does have one major problem that I haven't yet discussed— it's a prequel. As regular readers of my blog know all too well by now, I cannot stand prequels. Why? Because no matter how bad things look for the characters in a prequel, we know nothing lasting's can happen to them. We know Dottie's not going to kill Peggy Carter, because we've already seen Captain America visit her when she's in her 90s. Howard Stark isn't going to be shot down over New York, because he still has to father his son Tony.

It's tough to generate much suspense when you already know the future histories of the characters.

That said, the writers did do an admirable job of ratcheting up the tension on the show. We know Peggy's not going to die, but she might get drummed out of the SSR. Stark can't die either, but will he bomb New York with his crazy gas? Maybe? Who knows? So well done there, writers.


The Plot:
The SSR investigates the incident at the movie theater from last week, and Peggy deduces that the audience savagely killed one another. Agent Sousa finds a suspicious canister and accidentally doses himself with the gas, causing him to try and kill Agent Thompson until he's subdued by the police. 

Meanwhile, Howard Stark shows up at the SSR and is placed under arrest. He somehow talks himself out of it, explaining that he invented the berserker gas, which he calls "Midnight Oil," as a way to keep soldiers awake. Unfortunately it had the unexpected side effect of turning soldiers into berserker killing machines. It was co-opted by an army general who used it at the Battle Of Finow to kill Russian troops. Stark feels guilty about this, and wants to use himself as bait to flush out Dr. Faustus and Dottie and get back his stolen tech. 

Dr. Faustus and Dottie are on their way to an airfield in order to carry out their master plan. They intend to fly a plane full of Midnight Oil over downtown Manhattan during the V.E. Day celebration. Suddenly Faustus hears Stark on the radio, and comes up with a new plan. Faustus and Dottie capture Stark during a press conference and take him to one of his hangars. There Faustus hypnotizes him into flying a plane over New York and releasing the Midnight Oil gas himself.

With a little detective help from Jarvis, the SSR arrives at the hangar. Thompson and Sousa capture Faustus, and Peggy battles Dottie, seemingly killing her. Jarvis pursues Stark in a second plane, intending to shoot his boss out of the sky if need be. Peggy radios Stark, who's been hypnotized into believing he's retrieving Captain America's body from the Arctic. She manages to talk him down at the last second. Peggy then sees that Dottie's body is gone, just like the killer in a slasher movie.

Stark disappears again afterwards, but not before allowing Peggy and Angie to live rent-free in one of his many townhouses. Jarvis gives Peggy the vial of Captain America's blood, which he took without Stark's knowledge.

Peggy pours the blood into the river, indicating she's finally over Steve Rogers and is ready to move on with her life (and no doubt turning an unsuspecting fish into a super soldier).

In the obligatory epilogue, we see Dr. Faustus thrown into a jail cell, wearing an elaborate orthodontic device on his head to prevent him from speaking. His roommate emerges from the shadows, revealing himself to be Arnim Zola, creator of the Winter Soldier. Yikes!

• The concept of a gas that causes people to fly into a berserker rage and kill one another is very similar to a plot point in Kingsman: The Secret Service, which was released in theaters a week or so before this episode aired. 

I'm sure it was just a coincidence, but it's funny that two such unrelated properties had the same plot at the same time.

By the way, Stark called the berserker gas "Midnight Oil." My favorite band!

• I thought Agent Thompson and the rest of the SSR accepted Stark's story a bit too quickly. He went from Public Enemy #1 to trusted civilian advisor in seconds. They had a lot of story to wrap up in this episode though, so I suppose it's something we'll just have to roll with.

The same goes for Peggy's status in the SSR. Just a couple episodes ago she was drummed out of the SSR and accused of treason. Then after a simple nod from Chief Dooley before he exploded last week, she's back to being one of the boys again, barking out orders and chasing down evildoers with a shotgun.

• While examining the massacre at the movie theater, Agent Sousa finds a metal canister on the floor. He holds it inches from his face as he fiddles with it, dousing himself with the Midnight Oil gas. I'm starting to understand how he lost his leg— he probably saw a landline during the war and kicked it to see if it was active.

• Speaking of Sousa and his leg, or I guess lack of one— the extent of his injury and his agility seem to change based on the needs of the script. 

Most of the time it looks like he can't bend his knee, suggesting his entire leg is artificial. But when he finds the gas canister in the theater, he kneels down to retrieve it. I'm sure they probably had leg prosthetics with knees in the 1940s, but I doubt they were that nimble.

• Howard Stark's press conference was very reminiscent to the one Tony Stark gave at the end of Iron Man. The same goes for Peggy trying to talk down Stark in the plane— it was all very similar to the last moments between her and Steve in Captain America: The First Avenger. I'm sure this was all intentional, since this is Marvel and they like to connect everything.

• So does Dr. Faustus need to touch his ring to hypnotize someone or not? In previous episodes he's always spun his ring around his finger as he bores into someone's head, indicating it's a necessary part of the process.

In this episode Agent Sousa corners him and Faustus seemingly gets inside his head while his hands are in the air. Granted Sousa's got his ears plugged and isn't listening, but Faustus doesn't know that, and certainly seems to think he's influencing him. 

So if he doesn't need the ring to control minds, why'd he use it earlier?

• Dottie wears another outfit that's a subtle 1940s equivalent of Black Widow's costume.

• The big showdown between Peggy and Dottie was well done, but awfully short. Peggy knocked her out the window practically before the fight even got started. After so much buildup all season, I was expecting a little more.

• After Dottie falls out the window, Peggy looks out and sees her seemingly lifeless body lying on an airplane wing in a pool of her own blood. I get that Dottie's a super tough Black Widow agent, but dayum! That was a hell of a lot of blood she lost. And from a head wound yet. No doubt Dottie's staggering and vomiting all the way to the ER.

And did anyone in the audience NOT expect to see that Dottie'd crawled away at the end, like a female Jason Vorhees?

• Once Thompson and Sousa capture Dr. Faustus, they tie a gag around his mouth to prevent him from talking and controlling their minds. 

Here's a fun little experiment. Take a handkerchief and place it across your open mouth. Now pull it as tight as you can around your face. Have you done so yet? OK, now try to speak. Can you still talk? Of course you can! Sure, your voice is a little muffled, but you can still speak at least as clearly as the average ventriloquist!

I can't really blame the Agent Carter writers too much for this idiocy. This "mouth gag" trope has been going on since the earliest day of cinema.

• Once again, I'm a little disappointed in the scope of Leviathan. In the first episode the characters practically wet themselves just hearing the name. From that I got the impression it was a huge organization like HYDRA, but it appears to have been staffed by a scant four or five people. Surely there's more to it than that?

• Peggy seemed to take a backseat to the rest of the characters in this episode. There's no reason why she shouldn't have been the one flying the plane toward New York, thinking she was rescuing Steve Rogers, while Howard Stark tried to talk her down. It's her show, after all.

• At the end of the episode Jarvis hands Peggy the precious vial of Captain America's blood, saying she deserves to have it more than Stark or the American Government.

It's a good thing Peggy planned on dumping the blood, because it was probably no longer viable anyway. All through the season it was housed inside a cryogenic sphere, implying it needed to be kept on ice. For some reason Jarvis takes it out of the sphere and stores it in his hot, sweaty coat pocket before handing it over to Peggy.

• This would have been the perfect time for a cameo appearance by Daniel Whitehall, to further tie the series to Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. He was alive and causing trouble in WWII, so why not?

• In the epilogue we see Dr. Faustus in jail, wearing an elaborate metal appliance on his head to prevent him from speaking. How's he supposed to eat with all that metal clamping down on his mouth?

• I was very surprised to see Arnim Zola pop up in the epilogue as Faustus' cellmate. Hey, SSR guys, or US Government or whoever's jailing them— it's probably not a good idea to keep German and Russian criminal masterminds together in the same cell! Just FYI.


This week director Zach Snyder revealed an image of actor Jason Momoa as Aquaman, from the upcoming movie Batman V Superman: Superheroes On Parade.

So apparently at some point in the movie, Aquaman is transformed into Khal Drogo. Got it.

Wow, are you sure Momoa's not playing one of the villains in the film? Someone like Dread Man, or The Deadly Scowl? Seriously, he looks more like a biker gang member / Maori warrior / Burning Man attendant / Rob Zombie than he does the king of Atlantis.

I'm betting this change is due to the perceived lameness of the Superfriends version of the character. You know, the one where he could only talk to fish, not command them, and couldn't stay out of water for more than an hour, to the mirth of the general public.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by Aquaman's new makeover, given the grim, gritty and "grounded" nature of all the DC Comic movies. Superheroes shouldn't be fun, laws no! They should look terrifying and be feared as they kill ten times more innocents than they protect!

Personally I think Momoa would have made a better Sub-Mariner over at Marvel, but what do I know? Marvel Studios currently owns the movie rights to Prince Namor, so I wonder... did DC hire Jason Momoa as Aquaman just to pre-empt a potential Marvel Sub-Mariner movie?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Walking Dead Season 5, Episode 11: The Distance

This week marks a turning point on The Walking Dead, as the mysterious Aaron makes Rick & Co. an offer that will change the series forever.

As a reader of the comic book, I know who Aaron is and that his offer's on the level. Despite that, the TV writers did a great job making him seem somewhat suspicious, and sowing the seeds of doubt in the characters' minds (as well as the minds of the audience). They almost had me believing he was lying.

Rick's initial treatment of Aaron seemed harsh, but who can blame him? His little group's already been held captive by a psychotic one-eyed madman, and just a few months ago they came pretty close to being the main entree at a cannibal banquet. Who could blame him for being a bit mistrustful?

He did hang on to his suspicion long after the rest of the group believed Aaron though. It was interesting to see the subtle little shift in power as Michonne told him they were going to Alexandria, and he needed to dial it down a notch or twelve.

This episode would have made a good season finale. It would have been infuriating, as we'd have had to wait nine months or more to find out what's behind the Safe-Zone's gate, but a good finale nonetheless. In fact I'm actually surprised they didn't end the season here. That means there's probably something bad looming on the horizon again.

As I said before, this Alexandria story arc marks a huge change in the show. That's probably a good thing, because the group's been constantly on the run for five seasons now. How much longer could they realistically milk that formula? It's high time for a shakeup on the series.


The Plot:
Picking up where we left off last week, Maggie and Sasha bring Aaron into the barn. He admits he's been observing the group and thinks they'd make a good addition to his community. Rick is immediately distrustful of his offer, especially after Aaron says, "People are our greatest resource," which is pretty darned similar to Terminus' motto.

Aaron tells Rick he has a partner hiding nearby, just in case there's trouble. He also says there are two vehicles parked up the road that will take them to his Safe-Zone. Rick sends Glenn, Maggie, Michonne, Abraham and Rosita to find the vehicles and see if Aaron's story checks out.

Glenn's team finds the vehicles, which suggests Aaron's telling the truth, and drives them back to the barn. Aaron is reluctant to reveal exactly where his community's located, but says he'll drive them there in the morning, via Highway 16. Rick still doesn't trust him, and says he'll drive, taking Highway 23 at night. Aaron says 23 isn't safe, as his people haven't cleared it of walkers, but is ignored.

Rick, Glenn, Michonne and Aaron take the lead car, while the rest of the group follows closely behind in an RV. Of course Highway 23 is lousy with walkers, and Glenn plows through them in the car, eventually becoming separated from the RV. The car stalls after the engine is packed full of slimy walker parts. Aaron flees into the woods and is nearly killed by a walker. He's saved by Glenn, and the two of them rescue Rick and Michonne.

They reunite with the RV group, who've found Aaron's partner (and boyfriend) Eric, who somehow broke his ankle. Aaron reveals that the Safe-Zone is located in Alexandria, Virginia. The group heads there the next morning. During a break, Rick hides a gun near an abandoned house, which I'm sure won't become significant before the end of the season. They pull up to the gates of the Alexandria Safe-Zone, but Rick is still distrustful. He finally realizes Aaron was telling the truth when he hears the sound of children playing inside. Everyone leaves their vehicles and heads toward the front gate.

• Aaron's obviously recruited candidates for Alexandria before, but his methods do make him seem somewhat suspicious. Things like not telling the group he has a partner hiding nearby, admitting he's been observing and listening to them for days, and worst of all, the fact that he knows everyone's names. No wonder Rick doesn't trust him.

• Um, Rick, I know food's scarce and Judith's hungry, but feeding her raw acorns is probably not a good idea.

Acorns are full of tannic acid, are extremely bitter and are toxic in large amounts. They can be made edible, but only after extensive rinsing or boiling to remove the acid. Mashing them in a bowl ain't gonna do it. No wonder Judith was crying.

• Aaron tells Rick he brought applesauce for Judith. Rick is of course distrustful, fearing Aaron may have poisoned it. He forces him to taste it first. Aaron refuses, which again, seems highly suspicious on his part. Rick eventually forces him to eat a spoonful. A couple things here.

First of all, Aaron tastes the applesauce and doesn't immediately fall over dead, so Rick feeds it to Judith. I guess in Rick's mind, poison must work instantly, so the applesauce has to be OK.

Secondly, Aaron says he doesn't like applesauce because his mom used to force him to eat it to make him more "manly." I had no idea applesauce was such a masculine food. Take that, Popeye and your spinach!

• Aaron suggests they take Highway 16 to the Safe-Zone, because his people have cleared it of walkers. 

How the hell did they do that? Sure they could clear the road, but what's to stop it from filling up again a few hours later? It'd be like using your hands to try and keep the center of a bucket of water dry.

• I'm not exactly sure what part of the country the group's been in the past few episodes, but wherever it is, every "highway" looks like the exact same stretch of secluded two lane road with a forest on each side.

• On the way to Alexandria, Rick finds a stash of license plates in Aaron's glove box. Gosh, that's not suspicious at all. As creepy things go, that's just one or two levels below making a necklace out of the fingers of your victims.

Apparently Aaron gathers the plates from cars he encounters on the road, and sheepishly admits he's trying to collect license plates from all fifty states. I hate to break it to him, but he's never gonna have a complete set, unless someone drove over from Hawaii before the apocalypse.

• In the car, Michonne takes another look at Aaron's spooky, washed-out photos of the Safe-Zone. She suddenly notices there aren't any people in any of them and becomes suspicious. She immediately asks him Rick's Three Questions. You know, the three magic questions that are guaranteed to determine if someone is trustworthy: 1. How many walkers have you killed? 2. How many people have you killed? 3. Why?

I've never understood how these questions are supposed to prove anything useful. They seem like bullish*t job interview questions, such as "Tell me about your weaknesses." You ask a bullish*t question, you get a bullish*t answer.

• Rick's boneheaded idea to take the uncleared Highway 23 backfires when they encounter a road full of walkers. Glenn plows through them, painting the windshield in a thick coat of blood and gore that's very reminiscent of Emil's demise in Robocop.

• Rick and the others lose sight of the RV and stop, like idiots. When they get back in the car, of course it won't start. Ah, it's the classic Untimely Stalling Car trope.

• Zombie Kill Of The Week: Rick shoots a walker in the eye socket with a flare gun, causing its head to become a lovely translucent lamp shade.

• As the flaming-headed zombie burns brightly, the other walkers are momentarily distracted by the flickering light. I'd forgotten that the walkers on this show are fascinated by fire. Apparently so did all the other characters. Why haven't they used that fault to their advantage recently? They could have escaped the walkers following them last week by lobbing a few torches behind the herd.

• This was pretty subtle, so you might have missed it... Aaron and Eric are a gay couple! 

I have absolutely no problem with gay characters on the show. None at all. What I did think was ridiculous was the show's heavy-handed introduction of Aaron and Eric. Jesus, could they have been more blatant? First they stared longingly at one another across the room. Then in case you didn't get it, they embraced and passionately kissed. Then, just to drive the point home, Aaron tenderly held Eric's face in his hands. And for the dimmer members of the audience who still hadn't figured it out, they cooed and cuddled for a moment. You know what? I think those two might be gay!

I'm surprised the writers didn't have the two of them turn to the camera and wink as they wrapped pink feather boas around their necks as they sang, It's Rainin' Men.

Compare this to the Season 4 episode Dead Weight, in which we saw the show's first homosexual couple, Tara and Alisha. Those two quietly hooked up with nary a fanfare. In fact Tara's still with the group, and her sexuality is no big deal. Why the difference?

We get it, The Walking Dead. You've got two gay men on the show now. You're the most diverse and all-inclusive zombie show on cable.

Maybe now that Aaron and Eric have joined the cast everyone will quit asking if Daryl's gay.

• When the RV dies, Abraham says they're screwed because they need a new battery. Glenn shows him a compartment inside the RV where extra batteries are stored. When Abraham asks how he knew that, Glenn smiles wistfully and walks away.

This was of course a subtle little nod to Dale, whose RV used to break down at regular intervals back in the first and second seasons. It was a nice little bit of acting by Steven Yeun as Glenn here.

• On the way to Alexandria, the group sees Washington DC, their former destination, off in the distance.

I'm wondering exactly where they're supposed to be here. A few episodes ago they found out Eugene was lying about a cure for the zombie plague, but decided to make their way north to DC anyway. Alexandria is south of Washington DC. So to drive past Washington they'd have to be coming from the north. 

I suppose maybe they could be coming up from the south and heading west— then they might be able to look to their right and see DC. The cities are six to seven miles apart though, so it's iffy as to whether they'd able to see it. Geography!

• Halfway through the episode I knew we weren't going to see the inside of the Alexandria Safe-Zone in this episode, and I was right. We only get to see the front gate. Because why take just one episode to show us something when you can drag it out into two?

• Rick still doesn't trust Aaron or believe that Alexandria is safe until he pulls up to the gates and hears the sound of children playing inside. At that point he finally relents and agrees to take his family through the gate.

Wouldn't it be funny if next week they entered and saw there was a tape deck blasting "The Sounds Of Children" into the air? And there was a group of hungry cannibals staring at them licking their lips? No? Too far?

Avengers 2: Electric Boogaloo

Today Marvel Studios released this new poster for Avengers: Age Of Ultron.

Looks pretty good, if a bit crowded. Best of all, after studying the poster I've deduced part of the plot! At some point in the movie, Iron Man uses his new shrink ray (that he borrows from Ant-Man) to reduce Hawkeye, Black Widow and Nick Fury down to hobbit size!

I'm betting in the finale they crawl inside Ultron and start pulling on wires and microchips until he shuts down, saving the day. It's gonna be awesome! Hurry up, May 1st!

Monday, February 23, 2015

It Came From The Cineplex: Kingsman: The Secret Service

We're still in the dreaded Beginning Of The Year Film Dumping Ground, but don't despair! There's a light at the end of the tunnel, as there are actually one or two movies out there worthy of your time. Like this one! It's been a long, long time since I've had this much fun watching a movie!

Kingsman: The Secret Service was written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, and was also directed by Vaughn.

It's very loosely based on the comic book The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. Millar was the writer of the Wanted and Kick-Ass comics, both of which became feature films. Gibbons was co-writer and artist of the Watchmen graphic novel, which also got the movie treatment.

Matthew Vaughn is also no stranger to comic book films, as he wrote and directed both Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class.

In addition to Vaughn as director, the film also has a very comic book-y cast, featuring Samuel L. Jackson (The Avengers), Michael Caine (the Dark Knight films), Mark Hamill (who played the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series and the Trickster in the 1990s The Flash series), and Mark Strong (Kick-Ass).

The movie pays homage to the early James Bond films and their various tropes, subverting them without resorting to outright mocking. Colin Firth's dapper and deadly Galahad character owes much to John Steed of The Avengers (the one with Diana Rigg, not the Marvel one), while the "Green Recruit Joins A Secret Organization" plot line is quite similar to that of Men In Black. It also revels in its insane level of over-the-top comic book violence, much like Vaughn's Kick-Ass did.

Colin Firth was an unusual choice for an action hero, but was surprisingly believable in the role. Watch out, Liam Neeson! 

The movie was set to premiere on November 14, 2014, but was pushed back to Mark 6, 2015. It was later moved up to October 24, 2015, but ultimately released on February 13, 2015. Jesus, make up your mind, guys!

Constant schedule shufflings like this are usually a sure sign the studio's got a bomb on their hands, but it turned out to not be the case this time.


The Plot:
Seventeen years ago, a team of Kingsmen (a super secret British spy agency) travels to the Middle East on a mission. Led by Galahad (played by Colin Firth), the operation goes horribly wrong and a fellow agent is killed. Galahad visits the agent's widow and young son Eggsy, giving the boy a medal with a phone number on the back. He tells Eggsy that if he ever needs help of any kind, to call the number.

In the present day Eggsy (played by Taran Egerton) is now an unemployed young Londoner living with his mother, half sister and abusive stepfather. Eggsy's highly intelligent, but lacks motivation and purpose (don't we all?). After being arrested for stealing a car, he calls the number on the back of the medal. Galahad arranges his release and tells him of the existence of the Kingsmen, and urges him to join the organization.

Eggsy agrees and is taken to a secret underground bunker, where he and several other recruits compete for the chance to become the new Agent Lancelot (who was recently killed). The training is supervised by Merlin (Mark Strong). Through the power of a montage, the contestants are eliminated until only two remain— Eggsy and a young woman named Roxy.

Meanwhile, evil internet billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) announces he's giving away free cell phone and internet access to the world. Galahad poses as a billionaire and meets with Valentine to gather intel. Valentine says the rampant, unchecked human population is a virus, and global warming is the Earth's equivalent to a fever. He has a plan to cull the excess population before the virus kills the host.

To that end, Valentine has invented a signal that causes humans to become uncontrollably violent and kill one another. He abducts various celebrities, politicians and scientific minds and installs chips in their heads to protect them from his rage signal. He then plans to broadcast the signal throughout the world, causing humanity to destroy itself. Once that's done, he and his hand-picked group will remake the world in their own image.

Eggsy fails the final test and Roxy becomes the new Lancelot. Galahad tries to stop Valentine, but is killed by him. Eggsy then discovers that Arthur (Michael Caine), the head of the Kingsmen, has been compromised by Valentine. Eggsy kills Arthur, then teams up with Merlin and Lancelot to stop Valentine and save the Earth before it's too late.

Lancelot floats into the upper atmosphere in a high-altitude balloon and takes out one of Valentine's satellites, disrupting the rage signal. Eggsy and Merlin infiltrate Valentine's lair. Eggsy battles Valentine's assistant Gazelle, a woman with razor sharp prosthetic blade legs. He defeats her, kills Valentine, and saves the world.

Eggsy becomes the new Galahad, dressing just like his former mentor, and rescues his mother and sister from her abusive husband.

• In the comic book, Eggsy's character is named Gary London. In the film, he's Gary "Eggsy" Unwin. I wonder... did they call him Eggsy in the film because he's played by Taran Egerton? Or was that just a coincidence?

• This is some extreme title nitpicking her, but what the heck. Why is the film called KingsMAN? The organization is called KingsMEN. Is it referencing the tailoring shop, which is called Kingsman? Or is it alluding to Eggsy himself, who becomes a new Kingsman? Either way, it just sounds wrong.

• Things I Learned From This Movie: The existence of bespoke suits. "Bespoke" is a posh way of saying "customized" or "tailored."

By the way, all the Kingsmen's clothing and accessories were created by real life Savile Row clothiers in London, and can actually be purchased if you have the notion to dress like a gentleman spy (and have several thousand dollars to spare).

Oh, and the thick black 1960's glasses Firth wears in the film are a nod to Michael Caine's Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File.

• There are a couple of homages to classic 1960s TV spy series in the movie. The entry to the Kingsmen's headquarters is through a posh tailor shop, just like in The Man From Uncle. Later when Galahad is showing Eggsy his spy gear, he demonstrates a shoe with a spring-loaded blade in the toe, saying that older models used to have a phone in the heel, which is just like Maxwell Smart's footwear in Get Smart.

• There's a big, potentially fatal plot hole in the film— specifically the Kingsmen's selection process for new agents. Instead of discreetly inducting one new recruit, for some reason they hold a grueling Survivor-style elimination contest to fill the empty slot. Eggy's just one of eight or nine potential recruits vying for the coveted agent vacancy. That's certainly a novel approach for a top secret spy organization!

At first I thought maybe when a recruit washed out of the program, the Kingsmen would wipe his or her memory with the amnesia drug that Galahad used in the film. But Eggsy flunks the final test, and nothing happens to him. Galahad doesn't use his amnesia drug on him.

And later on when Eggsy infiltrates Valentine's super villain lair, he encounters his former fellow contestant Charlie, who was also eliminated from the program. Charlie definitely remembers Eggsy blows his cover, so obviously his memory wasn't wiped either.

So apparently whenever a recruit is rejected, the Kingsmen just turn them loose and hope they don't start blabbing about their existence.

• I'm not a fan of the weird lisp affected by Samuel L. Jackson in the film. He convinced director Vaughn to let him play the part that way, saying, "I did the lisp because people tend to dismiss people who have defects."

Jackson knows of what he speaks, because he stuttered when he was young and worked hard to overcome it.

• Mark Hamill plays Professor Arnold, a climatologist kidnapped by Valentine. In the comic, the villain is named Dr. Arnold, and the first celebrity he kidnaps is Mark Hamill. Wakka wakka!

• Sofia Boutella plays Gazelle, Valentine's blade-legged henchman, er, woman. For the record, Boutella is not a double amputee, but is a renowned dancer. Her legs were replaced with blades through the magic of cgi.

Many classic Bond villains and henchmen had some sort of deadly handicap like Gazelle's. In Dr. No, the title character had metal hands, Tee-Hee had a metallic hook hand in Live And Let Die, and in Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me, Jaws had a set of metal choppers.

Irony Alert! This sounds like internet bushwah to me, but supposedly the producers approached Olympic amputee Oscar Pistorious, who really does have blades for legs, about playing the Gazelle role. He declined, wanting to focus on running instead of playing a psychotic killer in a movie. Of course in 2013 Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. 

• Moviegoers will no doubt be divided over the "Church Massacre" sequence, in which Galahad kills a hundred or so rage-induced members of a Kentucky congregation. For the record I loved it, and was very impressed with Colin Firth's fighting moves. Who knew the star of Bridget Jones's Diary was such a badass?

• I really wish Galahad hadn't been killed. His death was the only part of the film I didn't like. I get that it was done for plot purposes, but surely there was another way to show the stakes were high. If there's a sequel, do not be surprised if he returns somehow.

• When we see the conference room in the Kingsmen's headquarters, there are twelve chairs. That makes sense, as all the agents have King Arthur code names, and most versions of the story list twelve Knights Of The Round Table (Arthur, Lencelot, Galahad, Gawain, Geraint, Percival, Bors The Younger, Lamorak, Kay, Gareth, Bedivere, Gaheris and Tristan).

I'm assuming there are more than twelve people in the organization— there have to be secretaries, IT technicians and custodians, right? So the Arthurian names must be reserved for just  the top level agents.

• Right before Valentine puts his evil plan into motion, he notices that his "chosen one" guests seem down and aren't having a good time. He gives them a pep talk, using Noah's Ark as a metaphor. 

He says, "Noah and the ark. Was God the bad guy? Was Noah the bad guy? What about those little animals marching two by two? No!" Somehow this works up the crowd and they all perk up and are into the plan again.

Um... I hate to break it to Valentine, but God most definitely is the villain of Noah's Ark. He gets pissed when humanity, which he himself created, starts with the sinning, so he tells Noah to build and ark in order to save a chosen few while he floods the whole world and starts over. 

What about all the infants that God drowned in the flood? What sin could they possibly have committed, other than soiling their diapers? What about all the animals God killed? How the hell does an animal sin? Think of the billions of lives God snuffed out with the flood. Seems a bit overkill to me. I don't see how anyone could look at that story and NOT see God as a Bond villain.

• All of Valentine's guards and chosen people have microchips implanted in their heads, to protect them from the rage signal. Merlin figures out that he can incapacitate Valentine's people by overloading the chips, causing their heads to explode in an orgy of gore and violence. 

The exploding head effects looked extremely fake to me, like tiny, garishly-colored mushroom clouds. I'm assuming they made them look fake on purpose, to make the scene a little less bloody and horrific.

• Just a couple of days after this film was released, an episode of Marvel's Agent Carter series used the exact same "rage signal" plot. I'm sure it was just a coincidence, but it's funny how they both came out on practically the same day.

• Eggsy relays a message to his mother to lock her baby daughter in the bathroom for safety. She does so right before the rage signal starts up, causing her to try and break down the bathroom door in order to kill her daughter.

Oddly enough the signal doesn't seem to affect the baby. The signal's coming from the Mom's phone— did the bathroom door muffle the rage signal, or does it just not work on infants?

It would have been funny if it had though, seeing the mom and baby trying to claw through the door to get to one another.

• Valentine activates the rage signal by pressing his hand on his fancy hi-tech touch screen computer desk. As long as his hand is touching the desk, the signal will be broadcast. If he lifts his hand for even a second, the signal's interrupted.

Well that was certainly convenient! Not to mention stupid on Valentine's part. Why make such a cumbersome interface? It'd be like having to hold down the print key on your keyboard for as long as it takes your document to print. Why wouldn't Valentine just set it up so he pressed a button and was done with it?

They try to smooth this over with a lame explanation, but obviously this was done for plot trickery reasons, so that once Eggsy killed Valentine he'd slump to the floor and the rage signal would stop instantly. It was still mighty clunky though.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a fun and gleefully violent homage to classic Bond films and the gentleman spy genre, and one of the few bright spots in the otherwise dismal beginning of the year movie landscape. I give it an A-.
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