Saturday, February 21, 2015

Mark at the Movies: Kingsman - The Secret Service

Plot: In two opening scenes, we see two British government agents dispatched in two separate incidents, one heroically and one horrifically. The film then sets about on two tracks - one follows the recruitment and training of two new agents, the other a larger story about a megalomaniac tech genius out to wipe most of humanity from the face of the Earth. But hey, it's okay because he's got a good motive - he's trying to cure climate change issues. Global warming is likened to a body's fever, which is only a symptom of the illness - the underlying virus. He sees humanity as that virus. In fact, in one scene the bad guy compares himself and his scheme to God and Noah saving the Earth by wiping out the rest of the population. Into both of these storylines comes our hero - Harry Hart (codename: Galahad, all the agents have Camelot aliases) - who sets out to redeem a mistake that got the first agent above killed (by sponsoring his son - "Eggsy" - as a possible new replacement agent) and when he's not encouraging Eggsy, he's investigating the circumstances surrounding the second agent's death, which will lead him to cross paths with Valentine the Villain. One key plot point is that Valentine insures the loyalty of his accomplices by implanting them with a microchip that causes their heads to explode should they betray him.

Players: Colin Firth is nearly pitch-perfect as the Mr. Darcy-like Galahad, Samuel L. Jackson plays Valentine with whimsy, a lisp, and an unsettled stomach around bloodshed. Hardly the picture of evil you'd expect, which makes his plans all the more chilling. Taron Egerton, a fairly new Hollywood face, portrays Gary "Eggsy" Unwin, the son of the heroic Kingsman agent, who grew up in a rough neighborhood and is hardly the clean cut high class social elite type of trainee against whom he competes. Sofia Boutella, a former dancer with this her first big film, gets quite a bit of screen time as Valentine's chief henchperson, Gazelle. From the calf down, her legs and feet have been replaced with razor-sharp prosthetics which she wields to deadly (and quite graphic) precision. Mark Strong ("Merlin") is on hand as the Kingsman's tech expert, logistics expert, training expert, pilot, and man Friday. He acquits himself well in the role. Michael Caine brings his respectable skills to a smaller part as the head of the Kingsman Agency - "Arthur," of course - and clearly thinks little of young Eggsy's effort to qualify. Finally, an unrecognizable Mark Hamill has a brief early role as Professor Arnold, whom Valentine relies upon for climate change information.

Pilot: The film was directed by Matthew Vaughn, who has an X-Men movie and both "Kick Ass" movies to his credit and he is also helming the reboot of the Fantastic Four series. So, lots of experience in directing real life versions of comic book characters and stories. Kingsman: The Secret Service also began life as a comic book. There is, at the bottom of all the blood, mayhem, and in-your-face gore a decent message to the movie (see below), but I just cannot get past some of the directing choices he made. Here's hoping the FF reboot due out in August fares better.

Point: The film takes pains to express the thought, "Manners Maketh Man." This phrase was originally written by William Horman - an English Prep School Master in the late 1400s and early 1500s - in his book, Vulgaria, which was mainly Latin translations of common ("vulgar" would have been the word then) English phrases. The thought expresses an attitude of civility, respect, honor, and chivalry to which all men should aspire, and which Horman taught. And, in the end, that is the journey of transformation that "Eggsy" makes, though it is clear he came from good, honest, loyal and compassionate stock in the first place. So, like all good films, a principal character has his heart and life changed by the events of the film. That much, at least, they got right.

Particulars: The film starts out feeling very much like a parody of the "gentleman spy" popular during Sean Connery's early years as James Bond (and, indeed, that's the way the previews and the movie poster above spin it), but when a man's body is split in two - *vertically* - and you watch one half begin to slide away from the other you realize the movie has much more in common with the graphic violence, killing, maiming, bloodletting, and gore of The Walking Dead. At least in that show you know the zombies are dead already. Not so here. Some of the violence and mayhem you could call "stylized" - especially at the end of the movie when Valentine's implants are triggered - and some is clearly and intentionally "over the top"  (Monty Python's Black Knight scene comes to mind) but there is so much of it and it is so often shoved in your face that you could, quite literally, gag on it. In fact, one man in the film does. Directly at the camera. There is one extended and traumatically brutal scene in a church, where a congregation is shot, impaled, bludgeoned, axed, stabbed, and otherwise murdered. We're allowed to see the congregation (as a stand-in) for Fred Phelphs' Westboro Baptist Church, filled with hate, prejudice, and racism - but that simply does not justify the carnage Vaughn chose to spend precious minutes of his movie upon. And - I was just talking about this with a friend the other day - there is a heavily-influenced European sensibility and comfort with cursing, profanity, and crudities. The "F-Bomb" is dropped more than 110 times! In a 129-minute movie (less 9 minutes for the closing/opening credits), that's nearly once every 60 seconds. And finally, at the end of the movie, a captive woman who promises an agent anal sex if he frees her and saves the world is seen rolling over, revealing her bare backside.

Raymond's Rating: Out of four stars, I give this film ... one-half of one star. And only because I have to give it something. If you want to wake up feeling good about yourself in the morning, stay home. As I told my wife, my brain is still cowering in the corner, hours after witnessing it.


Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. Find me on Twitter at This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. 1 Star=A Waste of Time; 2 Stars=Average to Poor; 3 Stars=Good and Possibly Quite Good; 4 Stars=Worth full price. 'Nuff said.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Favorite Super Bowl Spots

61. That's the number of home runs Roger Maris hit for the New York Yankees in 1961. It's also the number of Super Bowl Commercials I viewed and rated for USA Today's Ad Meter, a consumer rating and ranking of those ads.

But only four made my list of "home runs." They scored a perfect "10" on my list. They moved me in some way, made me remember the advertiser, and even raised my respect for the company and/or product a notch or two.

A few - such as the Snickers "Brady Bunch" commercial, came with too much pre-game hype and while it was definitely a quality spot, it had been so over-exposed it didn't move me enough to bump it up to the "10" range.

There were a number of commercials that I consider to have earned an Honorable Mention by ranking a "9" on my scorecard. Like this very fine work by NoMore.Org, a group dedicated to stopping domestic violence:

Why did I give it a "9"? The website - which is the key piece of information you need to see in that ad - is all the way at the end of a sentence that is left on the screen for an all too short a time at the very end of the spot. That address should have been up front, and that kept it from perfection.

Mindy Kaling's "Invisible" ad is another one I ranked a "9" ... I thoroughly enjoyed the commercial but it didn't make a "10" because I couldn't remember who the sponsor was or what the product was. And I loved the self-parodies Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson did for Kia and the Clash of the Clans tablet/phone app, respectively. Very well done, funny, and memorable ... just not moving. They didn't make me want to go out and buy a Kia or start playing the game. By the way, here are some links to those ads.

The Kim Kardashian self-parody for T-Mobile simply reminded me that no one really knows why she's a celebrity. Hated it.

But you didn't come here to read about the runner-ups. Here, then, are the four ads I picked as having "knocked it out of the park" in terms of hitting all the right emotional notes, memorability, and persuasiveness.

#4: Fiat's Blue Pill

It was funny, it was whimsical, it was full of impossible physics, and the ending brought it back full circle, with a perfect little epilogue. And all throughout, the little blue Fiat logo (not coincidental, I assure you) hid up in the right corner, letting us know this was all about a car. Loved it.

#3: Budweiser's Lost Dog

This is actually another one that received a lot of media attention prior to the game, but I loved it, anyway. The Anheuser-Busch ad agency started a story last Super Bowl (called "Puppy Love") about an unlikely dog-horse best friendship. And it worked. Still does. I'm raising a glass to you, Budweiser, and I love your Clydesdales. P.S. - *hated* all your other commercials this year. P.S.S. - the band behind that beautiful cover of "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" is called Sleeping At Last.

#2: McDonald's Pay With Lovin'

I recently read that McDonald's hired a new CEO to restore the company's failing reputation. If this is his first salvo toward renovating that storied franchise, I'm excited about what might yet be coming. The spot was creative, affirming, and made me want to go eat there again.

#1: Always' Like A Girl

I'll tell you what, I am thoroughly a man, but this commercial makes me want to go out and buy their feminine hygiene products just to support the flippin' company. For me, it was the most impressive ad of the evening.

So there you have it. And in case any of you were wondering, my pick for worst commercial of this year's Super Bowl (and possibly the entire decade) was the one created for LocTite Glue. It was so bad I won't even link to it.

You can see all 62 commercials (apparently I missed one), at the Ad Meter site.


Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. Find me on Twitter at This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. I also greatly enjoyed Mophie's "All Powerless" and the two Esurance spots.