Feb 17 2015

Kingsman: You Are a Bad Movie and You Should Feel Bad

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“Jeeves is a secret agent, starring Colin Firth.” I should love that, right? I mean, I have one or two other buttons you could push, but this should be a slam-dunk “instant favorite” for me.

Nope.

I loathe this terrible, awful, no-good movie. Besides not actually being very good at what I would have considered its selling points, it is also deceptively marketed and prurient in its intent and tone. All of the “charm” is not charming. All of the “humor” is not funny. And instead of being escapist superspy fare, it’s just idiotic, hateful, sophomoric violence-porn with no aesthetic or story value.

In short, it sucks.

NOTE: There will be spoilers ahead, if it is indeed possible to “spoil” a movie that is already rotten. But you’ve been warned, in any case.

So we start things with a clear “George Lazenby couldn’t make it” James Bond stand-in being sheared in half by Gimmick Henchman, with one half flopping to the left and one half flopping to the right, Wile E. Coyote style. It’s dumb, but they’re trying to establish an OTT aesthetic, I get it. Amazing how there’s not even a drop of blood in this room full of rubber body parts, but yeah, okay, I get it. CGI dismemberment is fine as long as it’s not bloody, sayeth the ratings board. That enough would have knocked the movie off my faves list, but it isn’t the real problem.

So then we move into the main meat of the story, where Forgettable Protagonist Boy gets inducted into the Kingsmen, hitting all the same beats MiB did better, while Colin Firth investigates the mystery of Samuel Jackson as Lisping Steve Jobs Wants to Destroy the World. It’s serviceable if a bit dull, but leads to where the real problem is.

Samuel Jackson as Lisping Steve Jobs has stolen the macguffin from Secret Agent Super Dragon: he has a hate plague app implanted in cellphones all over the world, which makes people go berserk and kill everyone within plot device radius. He decides to run a test of this at the !Westboro Baptist Church; Colin Firth attends to investigate, gets hit by the mind control ray, and then spends the next ten minutes slaughtering everyone in the church, because he’s a badass superspy in a bulletproof suit and they’re all just degenerate hicks.

And then I walked out.

I’m told it gets worse from there. I don’t even want to imagine. But let’s dissect this moment of cinematic poo-throwing, shall we?

First and foremost, it’s clear that the movie thinks that filling the church full of annoying bigots makes it totally okay to spend ten minutes showing them all slaughtered one by one, in close up from almost Colin-Firth-cam view. It’s all super-quick cuts and choreography, and again without a drop of blood. You’re not supposed to be thinking about the horrors being inflicted on these people, you’re supposed to be impressed by what a badass Colin Firth is. (Luckily for us, we were reminded by a PSA at the beginning of the film that if a kid puts on harris tweeds and shoots up a school after seeing this, it’s totally not the movie’s fault.)

Well guess what, movie? It’s not okay. Do you maybe not understand what makes bigotry bad? The reason these hate group people are awful is because they would think it was funny to have a single person walk into a room full of [group they don’t like] and wipe them all out in gruesome ways. Ha, ha, darn those wacky bigots! …Wait.

Presumably the movie will then follow up with Colin Firth being all horrified at what he’s done and whinge about not having any choice, etc., etc. (I don’t know, because as I say, I walked out); and while that may theoretically be an out for the character, the filmmakers had a choice. You were the ones who chose to revel in this crap; you were the ones who said, “Hey, who wouldn’t want to vicariously slaughter a church full of crackers?”

I was shaking with rage when I walked out of the theater. Not just at what the movie had done, but that none of the previews or reviews had objected to this, or even fucking mentioned it. I went in expecting classic superspy escapist fare; instead I got loathsome violence porn. If I’d wanted to watch a goddamn Tarantino movie I would have had my head examined watched a goddamn Tarantino movie. One of my standing policies is to never willingly watch movies in which “murdering people and laughing about it is totally okay, as long as they’re the wrong sort of people” is a core value.

To hell with you, movie, and to hell with your poisonous mindset. You are absolute garbage, and you’ve brought shame to everyone involved in the production.

-The Gneech

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Jun 24 2012

From the Desk Of: The Emperor Of the Universe

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Please direct your attention to the following edicts:

  1. To more accurately reflect the truth, items formerly referred to as “Adult-Rated” will now be referred to as “Raging Hormonal Teenager-Rated.”
  2. All funds being spent on stupid, plotless, explodey movies will be diverted to world hunger, which should resolve the problem in about 20 minutes.
  3. All funds being spent on Twilight movies will be diverted to space exploration and colonization, which should have us permanently settled on Mars by 2016 (including travel time).
  4. J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek did not happen. Please remove all evidence to the contrary. (See also Edict #2.)
  5. Someone get us a sandwich.

As always, your cooperation in these matters is appreciated. Please continue to enjoy your pleasant lives under our benevolent rule.

-The Gneech

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Mar 13 2011

Johnny Depp Channeling Don Knotts in an Artsy Comic Western Epic

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Rango is good! Go see it!

More details later when I have time.

-The Gneech

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Feb 07 2011

Okay … I’m Officially Jazzed About The Hobbit Now

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It’s official — they’re going to start filming on March 21st. Peter Jackson is at the helm again, with official sign-on by Christopher Lee as Saruman, Ian McKellan as Gandalf, Andy Serkis as Gollum, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Sylvester “Seventh Doctor” McCoy as Radagast, and Elijah Wood in a Frodo cameo. No word on Elrond, as far as I know, but also rumors (unconfirmed last I heard) of Orlando Bloom returning as Legolas.

The presence of Saruman, Galadriel, etc., is part of the whole “expanding on the storyline” plan, to flesh out the story by including the White Council’s ousting of “The Necromancer” from Dol Guldur in Mirkwood, which is hinted about in The Hobbit (mainly as the “business to the south” that Gandalf keeps disappearing to through so much of the book to take care of). Legolas’ presence is presumably a side-effect of the dwarves being the prisoner of Thranduil, Legolas’ father — it wouldn’t take much stretching for him to be one of the wood-elves who have the most face-time. (Maybe Bilbo had a little more inside help than he thought there, eh?)

Release date of December 2012. Yeah, baby! It’s about time! šŸ˜‰

-The Gneech

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Aug 10 2010

Praising With Faint Condemnation

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You may recall that I recently blasted the David Suchet Murder On the Orient Express — and I stand by that blasting. However, while I was researching that, I found out about a “modernized” 2001 made-for-TV version starring Alfred Molina, mostly by way of people shouting “Stay away! Stay away!”

Well, my curiosity was piqued to the point that I had Netflix shoot it off my way and took a look at it. And given my reaction to the last one, it may surprise you to hear that my verdict is: “It’s not that bad.” Or possibly, “It’s not bad for what it is.”

Is it Hercule Poirot? No. Let’s face it, the character of Poirot doesn’t really work outside of his historical context, and even if he did, Alfred “Throw Me the Idol, I’ll Throw You the Whip” Molina doesn’t really work as Poirot. He’s huge, he’s earthy; he’d make a great Larry Talbot. But a prim and dainty little detective? No. And for what it’s worth, the filmmakers seem aware of this: they downplay the eccentricity of the character, and instead introduce a pointless “exotic love interest” character to try to set up a sort of “Hercule Poirot, International Man of Mystery.” That doesn’t work either, but it’s not any fault of Alfred Molina’s, it’s just a dumb idea.

Made in the dot-com boom, a lot of the modernization revolves around technology: Daisy Armstrong’s father becomes a sort of Steve Jobs-ish software guru (as does his college pal, Arbuthnot), and Poirot finds several clues by looking up the Armstrong case on the internet — much to the outrage of many of the commenters I found about this film. But I didn’t have a problem with that: if you’re going to modernize a story, modernize it! I also think it’s worth giving the filmmakers points for addressing the fact that the “real” Orient Express has been more or less defunct since the ’70s [1], by having M. Bouc talk about his company’s revitalization of the line.

So, why am I more forgiving of this low-budget clunker than I am of the David Suchet version? It’s all about where you set the bar. This version makes no pretense of being a faithful adaptation of Christie’s work. Like the Margaret Rutherford “Miss Marple” movies, it uses Christie’s work as a launching pad to create its own thing. Does it succeed brilliantly? Well, no. There is some seriously clunky exposition and the only character to really make an impression is Ratchett himself. But at the same time, it’s not the slap in the face that the Suchet one was, either, and so I find myself feeling a lot more friendly towards it.

-The Gneech

[1] “The Orient Express” has a complex genealogy. You can still ride “an” Orient Express today, but it’s not the one Agatha Christie was writing about.

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Jul 12 2010

Murdering the Orient Express

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Some twenty-ish years ago, the BBC (and by extension on this side of the pond, PBS) began running a TV series based on Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, starring David Suchet as the quirky little detective.

And it was brilliant. David Suchet perfectly captured the strange mixture of warm, insightful playfulness and cold calculation that made Poirot so formidable a detective, not to mention nicely embodying Poirot’s long list of idiosyncrasies without becoming quite the grotesque that other actors had tended to turn him into in the past. Hardcore Christie purists might grumble about the way Col. Hastings, Inspector Japp, and Miss Lemon were crammed into every story with a crowbar because they were “part of the regular cast,” and there may have been moments when the series veered a bit towards being a situation comedy that just happened to have detective stories in it. But on the whole, it was brilliant. And many people, myself included, said of this series, “Man, I wish they’d do Murder On the Orient Express!”

But that was twenty years ago. Poirot had a great run in the U.K. and over here, but eventually was cancelled as all good shows must someday be. Like so many other great TV detectives, David Suchet’s Poirot moved on to the occasional “movie special” instead of the regular weekly offering, allowing them to take on Christie’s longer works without abridging the heck out of them. Unfortunately, something changed along the way. Hercule Poirot, the quirky and offbeat Belgian detective who winked and chuckled at English society, became POIROT, ZEALOUS DEFENDER OF LAW AND ORDER! And his cases went from being charming parlour games, to GRIM CRIME DRAMA.

And thus, twenty years later, we are finally presented with David Suchet as Poirot in Murder On the Orient Express … and the series that used to portray Poirot so perfectly, instead gets it all wrong.

We start on a sour note with Poirot solving a case which results in a young and promising military officer blowing his brains out, spattering gore all over Poirot’s face. This scene, while unpleasant, at least has a hint of a precedent in the actual book; the scene that follows, in which Col. Arbuthnot and Mary Debenham happen upon a woman being viciously stoned to death for adultery, not only didn’t appear in the book but is completely contradictory to the deliberately-pedestrian way in which the the book starts. Things keep going from grim to grimmer as Poirot boards the train, meets Ratchett and turns down his job offer, and various characters begin throwing religion at each other and praying all over the place. (Do what now?) And Poirot finds himself telling Mary Debenham that the woman who was stoned to death “knew the rules of her culture” and that by breaking them she invited being brutally stoned to death in the street.

Wait, what?

The train may stay on the rails, but this script sure didn’t. 0.o The screenwriter (or director, or whoever it was making these decisions) was so intent on making a Big Damn Point about “justice” vs. “law” — whatever that point was, I never could quite figure it out — that they were perfectly happy to twist Poirot from a likable ex-cop who did amateur sleuthing as a mental diversion into a cold zealot who cares only about The Law (in capital letters) and believes that the slightest slip leads instantly to anarchy and barbarism. On top of this, all of the charm, all of the pleasant “conversationality” of Christie’s writing is thrown completely away, leaving only a bleak landscape where what little humor there is seems like a bitter jab instead of a friendly nudge. This Murder On the Orient Express has Poirot scowling and barely able to stomach the presence of Ratchett during the job offer and essentially refusing even to speak to him, instead of the book’s lighthearted exchange of, “At the risk of being personal, I don’t like your face.” By the end, both Poirot and the suspects are all nearly frozen to death, croaking at each other in grim darkness, and the presentation of the “right” solution to the Yugoslavian police is an angsty dark night of the soul for Poirot, instead of gently handing the decision to M. Bouc, the director of the line, and “retiring from the case.”

SPOILER ALERT: In one of the most egregious twists of character, even if it is a supporting character, Col. Arbuthnot, the steadfast British officer who was so upset that Ratchett was murdered instead of being sentenced to death by a jury of twelve, “the civilized way,” pulls out a gun with the intent to murder Poirot in order to prevent him from telling the police what actually happened — thus not only perverting the character, but also the whole damn point of the story. This, to me, falls under the heading of the screenwriter (or director, or whomever), putting themselves and their own desires above the work, which is something I always resent in any adaptation.

I don’t know the motivation behind turning Poirot from light whodunnit into bleak melodrama, and honestly I don’t care. But one idea that occurred to me was that they may have done it deliberately to distance themselves from the 1970s Albert Finney version of Murder On the Orient Express. That version is a grand symphony, a tribute not only to Agatha Christie but to the glories of old Hollywood and pre-war Europe, with the Orient Express itself all but waltzing across the screen in its own exuberance. What better way to be different from its exalted elegance than to be harsh and grim, right?

Unfortunately, for all of Albert Finney’s chewing the scenery in the 1970s film, he is at least chewing the scenery in ways compatible with what Agatha Christie actually wrote. The 1970s Murder On the Orient Express is an extremely faithful adaptation; one that even Dame Agatha herself was pleased with, after a lifetime of seeing her works hacked up and generally mucked around with. (And crying all the way to the bank, it’s true.) Admittedly, that leaves the makers of the Suchet version in a tough spot: how do you make a faithful adaptation of such a famous work, without simply doing again the extremely faithful adaptation that’s already been made? The key there I would think would be in letting it ride on David Suchet, with his subtle, nuanced, warm and humorous Poirot taking the stage instead of the eccentric, french-horn-laughing, wild-eyed Poirot of Albert Finney. Twenty years ago, when I was wishing for the David Suchet Murder On the Orient Express, that was what I was wishing for. The 1970s version had everything right except Poirot himself — the new version seems to get everything wrong including Poirot himself.

C’est la vie!

-The Gneech

CORRECTION: I should mention here that Agatha Christie’s Poirot is made by ITV, not the BBC; my apologies. It’s all “British television” to me. šŸ™‚

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