Friday, March 6, 2015

"Kingsman: The Secret Service" Review

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a special kind of movie. It's funny, it's clever, it has great action, and it's overall just a fun watch. But the best thing about it is that it knows just how absolutely absurd it is, and has no problem with that. It embraces its own insanity and has fun with it, and it drags you along with it.

All of the leads, as well as Michael Caine and Mark Strong in supporting roles, turn in great performances. However, the standouts for me are Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson. Colin Firth is someone who I'm used to seeing in Oscar-winning drama, playing mild-mannered, mousy characters. In this movie, Colin Firth's character is not only confident and in control, but is the physical powerhouse of the film. Samuel L. Jackson is always fantastic, but he usually plays loud, short-tempered characters if not downright psychopaths. In Kingsman, he plays the most likable character I've ever seen him. It's both a performance that only Jackson could give and a role that I feel Jackson desperately needed to have done, for a handful of reasons. Any scene where the two of them share the screen (which are blessedly plenty) is an absolute joy to watch.

The story is fantastic. It has a way of making classic tropes feel fresh and original. Even more, it managed to surprise me with moments that I really should have seen coming. Each moment helps to build the next moment, and each twist leads the story in a stronger direction than the last.

There's a training portion of the story, and I feel that this is the closest thing to a true weakness the film has. The moments, following a main character who has not yet grown into his own, going through challenges that we've seen many times before, enforcing many lessons that are time-worn if not quite tired, doesn't tend to capture full interest. These scenes are necessary, but they aren't all that fun. It's fortunate, then, that at the same time, the main plot of the movie is moving forward independently to this training sequence, and both captures and holds interest.

Ok, I lied. There's one other weakness. I don't feel that a moment near the end was established well enough, leading to some confusion on my part. But this wasn't nearly enough to ruin the awesomeness of the ending.

I can't overstate how witty this movie is. With references to old spy movies it's obviously inspired by to winking at classic tropes it's employing, it kept a grin on my face for most of the run time.

I also can't overstate the visual flare the movie has. In the beginning, the action is a bit choppy, which worried me, but for the rest of the film, the action is not only shot and edited with skill and care, but with a style all its own. There are two scenes in particular, one near the middle and one at the end, that are simply jaw-dropping, feasts for the eyes in the form of gratuitous violence.

Speaking of violence, this is another movie, like The Equalizer, which earns its R with gusto. Violence and gore, language, nudity and sexual content, this movie has it all, to varying degrees. The violence is largely stylized, but there are still a few people I couldn't in good conscience recommend the movie to.

On another note, the music of the movie is fantastic, with a blend of original composition and licensed music. The original music is sweeping and dramatic, in a way that makes me think of the iconic superhero themes. The licensed music, for the most part, is justified in-world by having it play somewhere, which I'm a sucker for.

Overall, the main thought I've had while writing this review is how much I'd love to go see it again. It gets a 9 for its sheer entertainment factor.



First, the part that I found confusing. Was it properly established that the microchips were easier to hack into than the SIM card activator, and I just missed it? It's possible. 

Second, the moments of awesome I'm speaking of are of course, the hate church, and the activation of the sim cards themselves. My jaw dropped for the entire first scene. And I was laughing for the entirety of the second. 

Last, a small thought: I'm not certain that signals broadcasting worldwide—or their absence—are instantaneous. According to Vsauce, a Youtube channel that I watch, if the sun suddenly vanished, we on Earth wouldn't know it for 8 minutes, because the light takes 8 minutes to reach us. I'm pretty sure the same concept goes for signals that are broadcast to/from satellites. But I'm bad enough at science, and the movie is good enough at handwaving, that I'm perfectly fine letting them get away with it.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Book Review: Saint Odd

I consider Odd Thomas to be one of the greatest books ever written, and the character who shares the name to be one of the greatest characters written.

So it's only natural that I've read all the novels, the "interlude" novella, and the prequel short story. It's only natural that I'd wait impatiently for the moment I could get my hands on the final novel, read it voraciously over the course of the next day, and immediately start tapping out a review.

So, how was it?

About how I'd expected. I loved some things about it, found others lackluster. Some things surprised me, others were just as I'd expected.

After the first few pages, Odd felt like Odd. Following him felt natural and right, as he returned to Pico Mundo. The voice was familiar and comforting, and in places the tension had the same familiar build that drove the early books so relentlessly, so effectively.

The book had several problems, though. The series-long tradition of retcon was firmly in place here, sometimes being just as obvious and cringe-worthy as that in Forever Odd, the second book in the series. In addition, the callbacks to the original novel--of which there were many--felt cheap and forced in many places.

All of that, every last bit of it, could have been forgiven. There were moments of true brilliance in this novel. Moments when it felt true to the original, or even better, when it felt like an honest continuation of the story, and an honest evolution of the character.

But then, the ending.

The last fifteen pages felt like they were only put through one solid draft and never revised. They felt like a summary of what happened, rather than prose SHOWING what happened. They felt lazy and rushed. I felt apathy from the author. And what else could I feel in return but apathy, and perhaps a little sadness?

The book got done what it needed to get done. It didn't RUIN the overall series. But by no means did it belong in a series with the first novel.

Saint Odd is worth a read  if you're a die hard fan of the series, who must know how it ends. But if you're a casual fan, just stick with the first three books. A cynical part of me says to stick with just the first one.