Friday, February 13, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service - review

I got a chance to see Kingsman: The Secret Service today with my wife, as we both had the day off. I've actually read the comic book series by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, and I re-read them fairly recently, so the series is pretty fresh in my brain. Since I enjoyed the series, and the director, Matthew Vaughan, has done some pretty good movies, I figured that I'd like this one.

The basic premise is that there's a, well, um, "secret service" that handles various major crises in the world, and it has several James Bond-esque agents working for it. When one of them dies while on duty, it's time to recruit a new member to take his place. Harry "Galahad" Hart (as played by Colin Firth) decides to give his "nephew" Gary "Eggsy" Unwin a shot, as Eggsy has shown a lot of potential while still making some pretty poor lifestyle decisions like getting involved in drugs and crime.

The movie then goes back and forth between Eggsy's initiation and the villain's master plan. The villain is played by Samuel L. Jackson, who utilizes a slightly distracting lisp in order to make himself seem awkward and nerdy. By the third act, it all comes together, as it's up to Eggsy to foil the villain's plan to make a serious dent in the world's population in order to "save the planet".

Overall, it was pretty damned entertaining. There was one action scene involving sky diving where I had to remind myself to breathe. Also, the characters were all pretty likable, and while Taron Egerton, who plays Eggsy, I think that he has a pretty good future ahead of him as a leading man. While it didn't stick 100% true to the comic, it was definitely close enough. The basic plot was the same, as were the character personalities and overall theme behind the story. Only minor details were changed, which kept things interesting enough to keep me on my toes. Oh, and for anybody who enjoyed the bit with Mark Hammill in the comics, you'll be surprised but probably not disappointed with how they change that bit.

I have to say that it kinda lost me in the last act. I don't want to give away too much, but let's just say that CGI is good for some things, but it's absolutely lame for blood and guts. I kept thinking to myself that I was looking at computer effects, and that completely took me out of the movie. Also, there's a really cheesy bit of dialogue toward the end that's both unbelievable and obviously intended as nothing more than a cheap laugh.

I was worried that those complaints would ruin it for me, but when I think back on it, I definitely liked more than I didn't. I'd probably enjoy watching it again, and while I might not buy it right away when it comes out, I might pick it up if I see it cheap (unless it streams on Netflix).

Macbeth in Comics

I've written about the comics adaptations of The Odyssey and Romeo and Juliet by Gareth Hinds on this blog, so I was looking forward to picking up his rendition of Macbeth when it came out this week. In a fun bit of coincidence, I picked it up on the very same day that I finished reading the play with my seniors. Or maybe it was fate. It's hard to know for sure what you have control of in your life after reading this play.

I was expecting to like this one, and I wasn't disappointed. While glancing through it at first, I was a bit disappointed that it lacked the vibrant colors of his Romeo and Juliet, but when I sat down to read it, it occurred to me that darker colors and grays are a bit more appropriate for this sort of a thing, and Hinds puts that to good use.

One bit that stands out is how he handled my favorite scene in the play, which is where Banquo's ghost makes an appearance. I remember that really capturing my imagination when I was in high school and talking about it with my dad, which was my first realization that when it comes to Shakespeare, there's a whole lot of stuff to talk about. Anyway, Hinds has the ghost look like what you'd imagine a generic ghost to look like (no, not the kind with a sheet - just all white) and as Macbeth proceeds to freak out, Banquo looks gorier and gorier, reducing down to a bloody skeleton.

Another great touch was when Macbeth speaks the line "I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, returning were was tedious as go o'er." He's sitting there in his dining hall with his wife, and at their feet is a pool of blood. That's one of those nice things about comics; the artist can literally draw the metaphor and it doesn't lose its impact.

I also appreciate how Hinds lets the reader in on his creative process in the end notes. I found myself learning some new things that I'll have to incorporate in my lesson plans. I already knew that the play was historically inaccurate (although I only recently learned that Banquo probably didn't even exist!) I didn't know that they didn't even have proper castles back in 11th Century. And to think that people get all up in arms about the inaccurate history in Braveheart! It's got nothing on this one, I think. But who cares? A good story is a good story, and if it's really good, it can inspire you to learn the truth.

I should probably note that for the most part, Hinds retains the original language. He doesn't format it into iambic pentameter, which actually makes it a bit easier to read, as it causes the reader to pay more attention to punctuation. Of course, like all adaptations, some scenes are cut, but nothing that I think anybody would consider a favorite scene.

I hope that we'll see more comics adaptations of Shakespeare, as it seems like a real no brainer. When it comes to comics, the artist is doing a job that's similar to the director, only he's completely in control of all the actors. Just as it would be worth it to see more than one stage production or more than one movie version of the same play, it would be great to see even more artists take a turn at this material.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

I can't explain The Who

Back in 1996, I got to see The Who when they brought their Quadrophenia tour to San Jose. I remember sitting next to a guy who said that he was a teenager when the album came out, and I replied that it came out the year that I was born (just a month before, actually).

Why were they touring for an album that was over twenty years old? It turned out that they were unable to perform that rock opera the way Pete Townshend envisioned it originally, and when the opportunity came along to do it the right way, with a large band with a horn section and large screens to tell the story, it was time to do it.

How was the show? It was great. Of course, original drummer Keith Moon wasn't there, since he had died back in 1978, but they were ably assisted by Zak Starkey, a protege of Moon's (and son of Ring Starr).

The whole show was a real treat for me, because Quadrophenia is easily my favorite album of theirs. I was just listening to it the other day, and I have to say that it's one of my favorite albums EVER. There's a lot of stuff that I loved in my 20s, and while I still love it to this day, it doesn't have the same kind of emotional punch for me as it did back then. This particular one though had me singing and feeling like it was still new to me. (Notable track: "The Punk and the Godfather". Maybe it's because I'm even older and more disillusioned now.)

I've written a few tributes to some of my favorite bands now, but for some reason I'm just getting around to writing about The Who. I've started and stopped writing posts about them before, never quite finding the right angle to take on how I feel about them. The thought came back to me recently as I've been listening to the audio of Pete Townshend's autobiography, Who I Am.

It's fitting (and simultaneously ironic and coincidental) that they have a song title that perfectly explains my inability to express how much their music means to me. I definitely feel something strong, but it's hard for me to put it into words.

Obviously, I wasn't around for when they first came on to the scene. For the longest time, they were just one more band on a long list of "oldies", and it wasn't until I started exploring classic rock that I started listening to them. One of the first CDs I bought was Who's Next, the reason being that I saw a video of Pearl Jam performing the song Baba O'Rily.

So, I don't have any memories of seeing them at Woodstock or having been a mod who used to fight the rockers in Brighton. I just had those CDs which I blasted in my car while on my way to college classes and/or my job at a grocery store. I remember that I even incorporated them into some of my creative writing short stories when I went to San Francisco State University, and I even snuck Pete Townshend into the background of a comic book I drew.

One thing that I can say for the band is that they're one of the few where each member is crucial to their sound. Yeah, they had albums after Moon died, but I don't recommend them all that much. He had one of the most distinctive drum styles. He was kinda the anti-Ringo Starr, who operates on the principle of "less is more". With Moon, it's "more is more", but it still goes with the music, never overtaking what the others are trying to do. Still, you can just sit there and listen to him and be entertained.

I especially don't recommend Endless Wire. Not only is Moon not present, but they're lacking one of the best bass players ever, John Entwistle. That man wasn't just part of the rhythm section. His playing was a crucial part of the melody of many of The Who's songs. There's a reason why he's one of the first to do a bass solo (on "My Generation").

Of course, Roger Daltrey also had (it's gone now folks, sorry) one of the greatest rock and roll voices ever, with him able to do a melodic love song and a lion's growl with equal effectiveness. Of course, without Pete, you don't have most of the ideas and songs from the band. Honestly though, I can't think of many bands where changing even one member has such a drastic effect. The Who is definitely one of those though.

Like I said, I wasn't there for when they first made it big, but I have a feeling that I would have liked them just as much had I been.